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January 10, 2006


Awesome post, Sara. Leave it to the current sleazy crowd to conflate 'redressing the government for grievances' with 'buying politicians'.

The only thing I'd take a little exception to is this:

But I frankly fault Lantos for not doing a total squish job on hin at the time, and keeping quiet now, as he developed the evidence and players -- and should have sent them down the chute fifteen years ago.

We aren't walking in their shoes, and I think we can sometimes expect too much from an indivudual member of congress, particularly in the House. They have to balance the good things they *can* get done with the cost of being an 'outlier' (AKA 'grandstander'). It has to be worth it, in a very real and moral sense (and for some members it is worth it, no doubt). Even if what one member of congress grandstands about is absolutely 100% right, that doesn't necessarilly translate into affecting change. Lantos was probably in no position to send them 'down the chute' years ago. Sad but true. Was Lantos a secret racist who didn't care about mere 'shwartzers'? Probably not. The only reason I bring this up is: I notice fed-up progressives/liberals (and I include myself in that number) often berate our own people rather than focus on the real gremlins, the real varmits. Of course you can do both, but...politics is a revoltingly simple game. Raw, crude, political power is the only currency in DC, not being 'right'. Republicans have figured out that liberals have no sense of humor about this sort of thing, and they play us on it relentlessly. They learned power politics from FDR, and current Dems - who don't even have to deal with the absurdity of a 'dixiecrat', racist wing of the party - have nonetheless forgotten the very lessons the GOP has learned. We are the truly progressive, humane party of the future, and we'll have to clean up the crappy mess sooner or later. That's a given, I think, for both Republicans and Dems. The question is: how soon?

Anyway, good catch, and good history. Tom Lantos may not have been able to call a fascist a fascist back then (he has done so plenty of other times), but we are free to do it now. Thanks for the good post.

excellent post.

I have thought about it, and I lean toward your conclusions. But there is more that I would like to know.

I am most interested in the contacts Abramoff made in the 80s. I suspect that was the foundation for all to come.

Easton, in Gang of Five, writes vaguely about the importance of Jack's Dad's "friends" in financing the early campaign to lead College Republicans. Who, I wonder? Easton describes Frank (Jack's Dad) as an executive who worked with Bloomingdale on Reagan campaigns. Other whispers I have seen suggest that Frank laundered mob money. I have seen nothing authoritative.

Anyway, next Jack was running around with Lehrman and Wheeler and Ollie North at Citizens for America seeking stingers for Afghan rebels and support for contras. Who else did Jack meet from the "off the shelf" gang of ex-spooks and rogue international businessmen?

Same crowd shows up at Jamba Jamboree in Angola when Jack moved to IFF.

Any link to his representation of Pakistani military (1995?) and Council of Islamic Banks (2002)?

Maybe not.

Also, the interest in things Israeli and South African is suggestive. In the 80s, didn't they cooperate on weapons and a few things?

Jack is probably just a hustler, but the fringe PR activities for intl folks from 80s is somewhat disquieting.

Also, a couple of questions for folks. Are the Indian casinos mobbed up? I have no idea. But why isn't anyone asking?

Also, how did Jack first link up to Willie Tan and the gang in Saipan?

Fascinating post, Sara. I don't have much to offer, but thanks for posting this...

Sorry for my late night bloviating...delete at will.

Lantos did make one referral to DOJ on the evidence uncovered in his hearings, and the step daughter of John Mitchell got some jail time. Secretary of HUD, Sam Pierce, made some sort of minor plea agreement. (If you remember, Pierce was the guy Reagan called "Mr. Mayor" when he was in his cabinet -- but he also was the guy J. Edgar Hoover had in mind to replace Martin Luther King, hid his efforts to destroy King with his Hotel Room Tapes worked as planned. Pierce apparently spent his time at HUD watching Soap Operas several hours every day.)

I really don't mean to "blame" Lantos -- rather I want to make the point that he had the ability at one point to make an Abramoff Career in DC impossible, and he went easy, and now we see what we see. It would, in my mind, be useful if he came forward now and reminded people about Abremoff's past history. At a minimum it would explain why Dan Burton was one of the favored recipients of Abramoff funds, even though he has little trouble getting re-elected over and over again.

We have a number of Indian Casinos in Minnesota, and there has been a major effort to keep the mob out over the years. I don't know about other states. Minnesota gameing has an interesting history, in that we established it by Constitutional Amendment -- an Amendment that both parties opposed, but which passed by about 75% at the polls. People wanted it legal and regulated, taxed and up front -- and not in the back rooms of bars and the like. The fact it was voted in by a significant margin makes the kind of effort Ralph Reed apparently did with Abramoff's money virtually impossible. Scanlon apparently tried to set up competition in Wisconsin, just over the river from the Twin Cities -- but he failed to win a vote to turn over a failing dog track to a Wisconsin Indian Tribe to convert into a Casino. I suspect there are many more local stories around the country very similar to that -- we need to collect them in one place to see the patterns. (Hint -- there is a great book to be done on Indian Gameing.)

In general, I support our Compact with the tribes in Minnesota. I do wish we had provided for some revenue sharing among the tribes -- as those that had tiny reservations near the urban core have done well -- but places like Red Lake where the school shooting occurred last year, are so isolated they cannot benefit. But for those that have developed casinos, and have re-invested their profits in businesses (shopping centers, building contractor firms) they have benefited all members of the tribes. It is interesting to see what a lot of capital can do for people in poverty!!! I toured an assisted living facility for tribal elders a few years ago, and they forgot nothing when they built it. Many people who moved in had never had indoor running water -- Among other things the gameing tribes have done is to build water and sewer systems on the reservation.

Interesting other background, about Pierce and....Dan 'Scumbag' Burton. God, these people are sleazy.

It would, in my mind, be useful if [Lantos] came forward now and reminded people about Abremoff's past history.

Yes, indeed.

It might be worth revisiting BCCI re: Pakistan's military and US lobbyists.

Great for getting back into this. I have a very unsympathetic view of Lantos, located as I am in the district next door. There is no reason why a Congressman from this area should be a blankcheck supporter of the Iraq war. His constituents certainly are not. Lantos voted for the war resolution and endorsed it again in September 2004. So I am disinclined to cut the guy much slack -- he has been too long in DC.

I have my doubts whether BCCI connects up to Abremoff's operations, though I could be wrong. While the head of BCCI was Pakistani -- the money was mostly Saudi and from the Gulf States, though I think it quite clear BCCI massively helped fund the Pakiatani Nuclear Project.

I had my hopes up two years ago that John Kerry would raise BCCI during the campaign -- afterall it was his subcommittee investigation that revealed the matter back in the late 1980's. But Campaign came and went, and not a whiff of BCCI lore. I had gotten all ready -- reread my BCCI books, underlined, made notes -- I was all ready to blog on it, but for some strange reason, even though Kerry hired his former investigator as part of his Campaign Staff -- it never surfaced.

What I would like to explore in more detail is how one successfully converts the narrative of corruption and scandal into usable politics. It really is something we are not particularly good at accomplishing. Teapot Dome, for instance, had no impact on the Harding to Coolidge to Hoover succession -- and Watergate, huge as it was, brought forth a little mouse called Campaign Finance Reform which held for perhaps 15-20 years. In recent years we've seen the retreat on Freedom of Information proceedures -- they haven't killed the law, but they have mastered slow rolling responses to requests. Essentially we need to understand why evicence of profound corruption produces so little.


I've been wondering that myself.

I've got two thoughts. First, our country doesn't punish white collar crime adequately. So it's hard for people to get really worked up over Abramoff when people in the private sector get 10 months for similar actions.

But I also think we don't do a good job of talking about consequences. Even Watergate--which did impact the privacy of real people--was a narrative about other people.


If you are feeling inspired, I'd love to hear "the five things most important for the public to know about BCCI."

As a bonus topic, I'd love to hear who (if anyone) profited from BCCI, and how.

I read a little back in the day, but I'd love to hear your perspective.

The profits from BCCI went in a number of different directions -- the owners and boards of smaller banks in Europe, the UK and the US that sold to BCCI (Remember Bert Lance) essentially were able to unload distressed property for decent coin in an invironment that favored mergers and buy-outs of distressed prices. They did not get a windfall but they got out of an industry where they could no longer compete with international money center banks with many tiers of financial services.

Many illegal and near illegal commercial projects benefited because they acquired a banking system that overlooked the illegal commodities at the core of the enterprise. Specifically the Arms Trade and the Drug Trade were able to operate without the need to carry cash around in duffle bags and the like. BCCI not only supplied the international financial services, it also made it possible to launder illegal cash, and move it into legal entities. Columbian Coke money could fly as cash to Panama, enter BCCI -- move among some of its branches, and emerge as legit money in New York or London to be used to purchase high end real estate. Flip that a few times among traders, and you have totally legitimate assets owned behind a shield of corporate interests.

The Pakistani Nuclear Project was very expensive -- and Pakistan certainly did not have its own resources to finance it. One has to look at the Pakistan and India Nuclear projects in parallel -- India had some technical assistance from the Soviet Union -- But India does collect taxes, and from the very beginning in 1947 it had an Atomic Energy Commission with a legitimate State Budget. Pakistan started late in the 1970's with Bhutto (the father) after the lass of E. Pakistan, and it never carried the effort as part of the National Budget. We really can't understand Pakistan unless we clearly understand its dependence on aid -- and for the so called "Islamic Bomb" that came from the Saudi's and the Gulf. BCCI was essentially a donor to the project. BCCI acted as the connection between Expats working in the Gulf and Saudi Arabia, and families that benefited from remittances. When BCCI went down these workers and their families paid a 100% tax. One could argue, I suppose, that they paid for "the Islamic Bomb." BCCI -- by putting the bomb in the hands of the Pakistani (and perhaps other) military orders clearly benefited the Military Class -- and those close to it. Essentially Pakistan is feudal -- those who count are the landowners and the military, As much as anything the "Bomb: cements into place this near pre-historic social and economic order. BCCI never, for instance, invested in Pakistani industry not connected to the military. The whole deal is to prevent the development of any competing domestic economic power center.

My personal interest in Pakistan dates from my last Co-op Job as an Antiochian in 1961 when, while working for an international education agency, I found myself in the midst of one of John Kennedy's first projects -- Peace Corps. I became the Academic Coordinator of the first training project -- initially it was for Chili but then things quickly changed, and it was for E. Pakistan. My job was, put in basic english, to take the State Department outline of training, and call faculty from New England Colleges and Universities and ask them to help President Kennedy, by coming to Vermont and teaching, for perhaps a day, their speciality. (Of course we released our roster of speakers to the press -- my intro 101 to Public Relations.) But in the process I met some fantastic folk from Pakistan -- and got myself a bibliography -- and eventually I was able to travel there (in the mid 80's) and take a million mental pictures, and over time integrate these with other information. I am no expert at all -- but I have opinions, and one is that the worst thing that ever happened was the partition of British India. For the most part Hindu and Muslim relations over time in "India" were a lot like relations among groups in New Orleans, they conflicted and sometimes it meant violence, but for the most part it produced Gumbo. This was good for the Islamic World -- and also good for the Indian Hindu world. Making Religion into a cause of Nationalism destroyed that as far as Pakistan is concerned -- but since India remains about 1/5th Muslim, not in India. (There are about 60 million more Muslims in India than in Pakistan -- and many of the Bangelore "new rich" are Muslims. Smart Pakistani's (many of whom have migrated) understand this dynamic.

You can't do BCCI without this context. BCCI essentially was a bank that advertised itself as one that followed Islamic rules against Uesery -- and offered banking without interest payments. Big deal, they called them advanced fees or commissions paid for deposits and my Quaker sensibility asks "What in the hell is the difference?" At one time the US Banks offered a toaster or a waffle iron if you oppened an account. Americans fall for the free small appliance, the people in need of sending money from the Gulf back to families in Pakistan fell for the Religious scam. (same deal) American small depositors are screwed by fees for services -- in Pakistan they lost it all when BCCI deposits went south.

What Kerry'Hearings addressed was really an edge of BCCI -- the part that was invested in the Arms and Drug Trade and had expanded into Central America and the off-shore bank centers in the Caibbean. And yes, that was part of it. Of course Kerry also found the US relationships -- and I suspect that his finding of Clark Clifford & Bert Lance sucking at the BCCI tit made him think twice. Of course Bush I and Bush II were sucking too -- and that probably is the problem.

The one thing I think totally crazy right now is the loud noise from so called "Liberals" to not engage in what is being called "Lobby Reform" I cannot understand that crowd at all, and I almost think they are wolves in sheeps clothing. Look -- there is a simple principle. Build a Berlin Wall between public policy actions (votes in committee or on the floor) and political fund raising and campaign finance. Whatever makes the wall higher and thicker, be for that -- nothing else really matters. We can discuss issues till our heads are in slings and it won't matter unless we can end the bidder's war in the political contribution/Campaign finance arena.

aah reform. When Gingrich is leading the effort, tighten the belt and zip up the zipper. Your instincts are on auction.


Bravo! I completely enjoyed your BCCI post. When you get a chance, you should post your bibliography -- though I am not sure when I'll have time to do the reading.

For some time, I have dispaired that there is no easily accessible history of India/Pakistan/Afghanistan available. I have daydreamed about an educational dvd or a 5 part PBS series. Anyway, I would like to see a basic history that uses maps and annimation. Something fun.

I picture in my mind a flat map of the world with a scroll of dates, and in each date little pop-ups announcing significant events/policial demarcations that would show generally what was occurring simultaneously in North America, South America, China, Europe, Africa, South Asia. Maybe 1500 BC, 300 AD, 800 AD, 1300 AD, 1500 AD, 1650, 1780, 1850, 1920, 1945, 1968, 1990. Or better yet, dates plugged to the history of South Asia.

Then, within that general structure, more detailed animation and maps to show: 1) migration of people in South Asia, 2) basic facts about economic activity at the time (geography, annimation of some basic farming or twon activities of the era, and 3) some info about politics and poetry.

Keep the story moving -- just an introduction -- but introduce the general public (target high school age?) to the swirl of people and events. Generate interest.

In your spare time, maybe you can organize a few universities to join to the task.

As for "lobby reform," let me take the bait. I am not against certain restrictions, but I am very suspicious about a PR campaign that implies that a few tweaks will adequately address the situation.

Look, as you probably know, our democracy is bought and sold every day. And it is perfectly legal. Indeed, most people consider it "normal."

At root, we have an incumbent protection system for Congressmen. Congress likes it; Congress has little incentive to change it. So it continues.

What are the foundations?

First, the private system of campaign funding. Congressman complain about the endless chore of raising money, but the need for constant fund-raising protects their jobs. No challenger has much chance without money, and ability of challenger to raise it is much less than ability of sitting Congressman.

Obvious answer is public financing, but that would erase the incumbent advantage. Zero chance it will happen unless the public demands it.

Second, there is gerrymandering. Again, the incumbents conspire not to rock the boat. Probably a constitutional amendment needed.

Third, lobbyists provide most of the substantive staff work for Congress. Unlikely to change unless real political parties develop.

Fourth, lobby firms provide an avenue of advancement for relatively skillless Hill Staff who want to marry, breed, and buy a house. Again, unlikely to change unless real political parties develop.

maybe fifth there is the problem of bribing Congressmen with trips, meals and no-show jobs for the wives.

By all means, let's attack no. 5. But let's not oversell our proposals as measures to restore democracy. Such "lobby reform" will not address the core problems, and so will have limited impact.

good impact

but limited

As to what to read -- India has about 250 million fluent English speakers, and they are creating a literature -- some in India, many doing it abroad.

The book that long since should have been made into a movie that would appeal to both Bollywood and Hollywood is Bharati Mukherjee's "The Holder of the World" -- 1993 -- which connects Puritan America (the world of the Salem Witch Trials) with Madress in the same period, and has lots of sex and missing white women and all. Mukherjee won the National Book Award for another novel in 1989 -- and she has about ten. She is now an American Citizen, and Professor at Berkley. She is not exactly someone who can be ignored. I think she has several books that could be film -- I would love to see sometone do Tiger's Daughter. I also think "Days and Nights in Calcutta" written with her French Canadian Husband could be a good film script.

Why has no Rushdie been done as a film? Shame and Midnight's Children are clearly filmable -- Good Lord there are 250 million English speakers in India alone, Don't know about Pakistan, but I would guess it is a third -- What is wrong with the owners of Twai and Dickens as modern language story tellers? Why don't their stories get made into feature films? It isn't as if they have no credentials you know. It isn't as if they cannot mediate between East and West if necessary. (By the way, Hollywood is stupid to underestimate the Bollywood audience -- it is huge.)

For a Feminist view of Partition, do look for Urvash Butalia's book "The Other Side of Silence" published by Duke in 2000. It was the Gandhi's the Mountbattens, the Jinnah's and the Patel's and Nehru's who authorized the partition, but it was women who organized the family systems that rescued people. Very worth a read as the partition generation is now aged.

wonderful. many books to look forward to reading. Now, to schedule some long train trips . . . .

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