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Consider:

"It is better to be drunk with loss and to beat the ground, than to let the deeper things gradually escape."

- I. Compton-Burnett, letter to Francis King (1969)

"Cynical realism – it is the intelligent man’s best excuse for doing nothing in an intolerable situation."

- Aldous Huxley, "Time Must Have a Stop"







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Tuesday, 3 January 2006

Topic: Backgrounder

Washington 90210: Alumni Note, Beverly Hills High School - Class of 1977

Tuesday, January 3rd, the dam broke in Washington, and Jack agreed to spill the beans. As in this account from CNN -
Former high-powered lobbyist Jack Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges, agreeing to cooperate in a federal corruption probe in Washington.

Abramoff, 46, faces up to 11 years in federal prison and must pay $26.7 million in restitution, said U.S. Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher.

She said Abramoff admitted to corrupting government officials and defrauding his own clients out of $25 million.

Abramoff admitted that he did not disclose receiving kickbacks on payments from Native American tribes to a partner's public relations firm.
And on it goes, so there's little need to add more here. This is bad news for one congressman from Ohio, and for Tom Delay, the former house leader already under felony indictment in Texas - years ago he called Abramoff one of his "closest and dearest friends." The current speaker of the house, Dennis Hastert, the same day decided to return sixty-seven thousand of Jack's dollars - actually, he will choose some charity to get the bucks. Some say six Republican congressmen will be implicated in accepting bribes, some say twelve, and some say twenty. All that will take time to play out, and there will be much speculation ahead of whatever happens.

The only odd thing is that, in the even longer MSNBC account of all this, we learn this whole investigation is being overseen by one Noel Hillman, "a hard-charging career prosecutor who heads the Public Integrity Section and who has a long track record of nailing politicians of all stripes." But we're also told "politics almost certainly will creep into the equation."

It seems that Hillman's new boss will be Alice Fisher, "who is widely respected but also a loyal Republican socially close to DeLay's defense team." Cute.

Yeah, try this detail, something overlooked last September while New Orleans was submerged and congress was in recess - Alice Fisher was appointed to this post in a "recess appointment." Note too that Carl Levin, a senator from Michigan, and a Democrat of course, had been blocking the nomination. Some agent had named Alice Fisher in an email saying we really were torturing folks down in Guantánamo, and he wanted to look into that. Did she have something to do with saying that was fine and dandy? Levin didn't get to ask the question. Like John Bolton at the UN, Alice Fisher was appointed through the procedural back door, and no one can do anything about either one of these two until 2007. That is most curious.

So what will come out? This fellow is also under investigation by a grand jury in Guam over a separate matter (see this, but that's not in play here, nor are his links to a scandal involving a multibillion-dollar Homeland Security contract (see this on that Unisys contract). This doesn't have to do with his paying folks at the Cato Institute to write opinion pieces at his direction (see this - they resigned and the Copley papers and others will no longer carry their columns). This is something else, bribing congressmen.

But this fellow - Beverly Hill High School, Class of 1977 - has been busy.

It seems he stiffed Tyco for almost two million for work he never did (see this) and then there's this -
On August 11, 2005, Abramoff and his partner, Adam Kidan, were indicted by a federal grand jury in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on fraud charges arising from a 2000 deal to buy SunCruz Casinos, a firm that ran "cruises to nowhere", where gambling was permissible. Kidan and a third associate, Ben Waldman, as yet unindicted, are accused of using a fake wire transfer to defraud Foothill Capital Corp. and Citadel Equity Fund Ltd that had agreed to lend $60 million to purchase the casinos on condition that Abramoff and his partners made a cash contribution of $23 million. The indictment alleges that the transfer was counterfeit. Kidan has since pleaded guilty in a deal which may require him to testify against Abramoff.

A warrant for Abramoff's arrest was issued by federal authorities on August 11, 2005; the next day he was released on bail of $2.25 million and ordered to return to Florida to face a preliminary hearing there on August 16, 2005. As part of his bail arrangements, Abramoff also was forced by a Los Angeles federal judge to surrender his passport, restrict his travel, and continue treatment for stress. FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael S. Clemens said Abramoff's high-level political contacts would not deter the FBI, stating that the Florida grand jury's decision to indict Abramoff "demonstrates that regardless of position, status, wealth, or associations, fraudulent activity will not be tolerated."
There's much more at the link. Last September there were those murder charges against three men for the murder of Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the seller of the Sun Cruz Casino. Those three? That would be Anthony Moscatiello, a former bookkeeper for the Gambino crime family, and two guys named Anthony Ferrari and James Fiorillo. This Tony Moscatiello seems to have received 145,000 from Abramoff's patner Kidan, through SunCruz, for something or other. Jimmy Ferrari got 95,000 "as payment for security services" - and lots of free casino chips.

Well, the casinos were auctioned off to new management in a bankruptcy action brought by Foothill Capital. And Foothill settled with Abramoff - for an undisclosed sum - and press accounts have suggested that Abramoff used his political connections to gain support for the deal in Washington (see this). As for Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, the murdered fellow who sold the Sun Cruz Casino to Jack and his partners, Tom DeLay, then the house minority whip, gave Boulis a flag that had flown over the capitol building. And Abramoff brought his lead financier in the deal to a fundraiser for DeLay in Abramoff's box at FedEx Field. And so on. Of course, our Republican congressman from out here in Orange County, Dana Rohrabacher, was listed as a financial reference for the Abramoff purchase of the Sun Cruz Casino. As he says - "I don't remember it, but I would certainly have been happy to give him a good recommendation. He's a very honest man."

Aren't they all? CNN reports here Abramoff's lawyer, Neal Sonnett, telling them that Abramoff will plead guilty in the original Florida case - falsifying a twenty-three million dollar wire transfer in order to obtain a sixty million loan to purchase the casino, and its fleet of offshore gambling boats. What the heck - his partner, Kidan, already did that.

And, just for giggles, here we see that just before those planes were flown into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the lead hijacker, Mohamed Atta, and several of the others, seem to have made multiple visits to the SunCruz casino cruise ship off the Gulf coast in Florida. That led to this - was Mohamed Atta using the casino to launder money for al Qaeda and maybe Atta was involved in a scheme with Abramoff and the mob to smuggle heroin. No, just a coincidence.

But this is not a nice man. See this - in 1995 Abramoff worked for the Global Council of Islamic Banks, whose chairman, Saleh Abdullah Kamel, was under investigation for alleged funding of terrorism, including Osama Bin Laden. Abramoff is also founder and former chairman of the International Freedom Foundation (IFF) a group that was bankrolled way back when by the apartheid South African army. (See this and this.)

It all seems so odd. Abramoff was born in Atlantic City, the one in New Jersey, where his father worked as an executive for Diners Club. In 1968 the family moved to Beverly Hills. That's the problem. This place makes one crazy. And then his father got to be buddies with Ronald Reagan.

Yeah, Abramoff went on from here - he graduated from Brandeis in 1981 and earned his JD at the Georgetown in 1986 - but he's still a Hollywood, Beverly Hills guy.

Those college years? Abramoff was elected chairman of the College Republican National Committee - a campaign managed by Grover Norquist with help from Ralph Reed, the Christian Coalition guy now running for Lieutenant Governor in Georgia. That committee, mad for Reagan, had Jack saying things like this - "It is not our job to seek peaceful coexistence with the Left. Our job is to remove them from power permanently." And Grover Norquist wants to drown government in the bathtub to rid us of all the "do good" stuff. Ah well. Does anyone recall the Republican National Committee tossing these college guys out as too over-the-top at the time?

After college? Well, in the second half of the nineties, Abramoff was employed by Preston Gates Ellis & Rouvelas Meeds LLP, the lobbying arm of Preston Gates & Ellis LLP - based in Seattle, the lobbying firm run by the father of Microsoft founder Bill Gates. Cool. Then he joined the law firm of Greenberg Traurig, where they said his job was to be "directly involved in the Republican party and conservative movement leadership structures" as "one of the leading fund raisers for the party and its congressional candidates."

That's how we got here.

But what about the middle period, the eighties?

Ah, those were the Hollywood years!

As James Verini explained in mid-August, in The tale of Red Scorpion - The strange Hollywood interlude of the most scandal-ridden man in Washington -
It was 1987, he was in his late 20s, and the presidency of his political hero, Ronald Reagan, was winding to a tarnished close. The Iran-Contra hearings covered the front pages, and Oliver North, whom Abramoff knew and admired, was about to be indicted. The Republicans were disillusioned, and after years of service to the party - as chairman of the College Republicans from 1981 to '85, he'd mentored Grover Norquist and Ralph Reed, had worked for one right-wing think tank, and founded another - Abramoff apparently was no longer sure he wanted to go into politics full time.

So he took a detour, doing what any other kid from Beverly Hills might when finding himself at a loss: He decided to try his hand at show business. Why not? Hollywood was no more than Washington for good-looking people, as the saying goes, and Abramoff, a student government officer and a football player at Beverly Hills High School, class of '77 (he graduated from Brandeis University in '81), was smart and charismatic and, if not actor handsome, at least physically imposing enough to be a producer. Through his father, a high-up executive at the Diners Club, he'd rubbed shoulders with some of L.A.'s elite.
So Abramoff moved here from Washington after finishing law school, and with his brother, Robert, formed a production company, Regency Entertainment. And they produced a movie - Red Scorpion, starring Dolph Lundgren, finally released in April 1989. The two brothers raised the sixteen million to get this made.

The basics from the Internet Movie Database here - "A Russian KGB agent is sent to Africa to kill an anti-Communist black revolutionary. However, he has a change of heart when he sees how the Russians and their Cuban allies are killing and repressing the locals, so he switches sides and helps the rebels."

Verini - "With its blatant propaganda, its collaboration with the apartheid South African government, and financial misdealing, it's notable, even for Hollywood, for being one of the seamiest productions in recent memory."

And Verini tells that tale -
The film was to be a manifesto for Abramoff; a Rambo-like morality tale and a grand indictment of communism - his Reagan Doctrine parable in action-packed Technicolor. And in the process of conceiving of and making it, Abramoff helped groom an African despot, rose to high levels in the K Street food chain, and got to play international spy.

"There was some indication even in those days that he was not the sort of person who would feel overly constrained by the rules," said Jeff Pandin, who worked closely with Abramoff in the 1980s.

The roots of "Red Scorpion" took hold in the early 1980s, when interventionist-minded folk in Washington had an array of global conflagrations to obsess over. The mujahedin were battling the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Contras were fighting the Sandanistas in Nicaragua. Some circles felt the United States was not doing enough to help them. The gripe heard in the office of CIA chief William Casey and among Oliver North's cabal in the National Security Council was that Reagan was not fully Reagan when it came to foreign policy. A cottage industry of think-tank intellectuals and private crusaders sprouted up to build support for one or another set of freedom fighters. Abramoff was among the most active.

In Angola, the rebel group du jour, the National Union of Total Independence for Angola, or UNITA, had been taking on the Soviet- and Cuban-backed government since the 1970s. UNITA's leader, a savvy warlord named Jonas Savimbi, had become a darling of the right. Savimbi received millions in aid and had even retained Washington lobbyists to press his case. Abramoff was interested in Angola, too. So was Lewis E. Lehrman, the millionaire behind the Rite Aid drugstore chain and the founder of the right-wing group Citizens for America, who made an unsuccessful run for governor of New York in 1982. Through Republican circles, Abramoff met Lehrman at some point in the early '80s, and in 1985 Lehrman hired him. Abramoff came to Lehrman with an idea: What about a convention of disparate anti-communist rebel leaders, put together and paid for by Americans? It screamed of Abramoff's cartoonishly outsized ambitions and worldview, and Lehrman liked it.
So the roots of the film are here. There really was a convention of anti-communist rebel leaders - in June 1985, in Jamba, Angola, at the UNITA headquarters - the mujahedin, Contras and Laotian folks, with the Angolans fighting the Cubans and Russians - set up by Jack Abramoff. Lehrman, the Rite-Aid guy, was there and read a letter of support from Reagan - and handed out framed copies of the Declaration of Independence. The called it the "Democratic International." The State Department was pissed.

Well, all that passed and the sponsors drifted apart. But Abramoff and his brother couldn't let it go -
He came up with the premise for "Red Scorpion" and hired Arne Olsen, a young screenwriter with no credits to his name, to write it. The Abramoffs told Olson they wanted to base the fictional African country in the film, Mombaka, directly on Angola, and the rebel leader on Savimbi. Olsen said he churned out a baldly propagandistic script.
And so he did. Don Steinberg, ambassador to Angola during the first Clinton administration, said this of Jonas Savimbi - "He was the most articulate, charismatic homicidal maniac I've ever met."

Ah but he was fighting the communists!

Anyway, it seems the movie was set to shoot in Swaziland, but at the last minute was moved to Namibia, then occupied by South Africa's apartheid government. Congress had passed (over Reagan's veto) the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act in 1986 - you do recall Cheney voted against it - making pretty much illegal to do business with South Africa or its proxies. No matter, the Abramoff brothers used South African Defense Force vehicles and equipment on the set and soldiers as extras. He has connections. And South Africa at the time was Savimbi's main backer.

There's at lot more detail you can read at the link. Warner Brothers notes the law and refused to distribute the film. Schapiro Glickenhaus Entertainment did that. Who? And lots of folks who worked on the film - actors, technicians, investors - didn't get paid. It turned out to be a mess -
When, inevitably, "Red Scorpion" was released, it was no study in nuance. Directed by Joseph Zito, whose previous credits had included the Chuck Norris movies "Missing in Action" and "Invasion U.S.A," the dramatis personae consist of scheming, cackling communists on the one hand - the Russians not only tear apart the rebel village with attack helicopters, but also randomly gas a band of peaceful Bushmen and their animals - and noble guerrillas on the other, and the barely intelligible Lundgren in between. The action sequences have all the panache of a subpar "A-Team" episode.

There are some inspired moments, such as the climax, when Argenziano's character, Col. Zayas, is left groping for his own dismembered arm, which clutches a live grenade (he doesn't reach in time). There is also a rousing speech delivered by the token freewheeling American, a foul-mouthed, boozing journalist played by M. Emmet Walsh: "As a matter of fact, in America, an American can swear whenever, wherever and however much he or she fucking well pleases!" he yells at Lundgren. "A little something called freedom of speech, which I'm sure you Russians aren't real familiar with!" In another nice touch, the closing credits roll over Little Richard's "All Around the World," remixed to include machine-gun and exploding-bomb sound effects.
You can catch it on cable now and then. Don't bother.

Note there was a Red Scorpion 2, in 1994, without that Lundgren lunk, and that went straight to video - Abramoff listed as an executive producer, but he didn't have much to do with it. His brother Robert stayed in Los Angeles and continued to produce films. He is now a full-time lawyer. Verini say he reached him at the offices of Burgee & Abramoff out in Woodland Hills, but the guy refused to speak about his brother or the first film - "It's a family matter and I prefer not to comment on anything."

So he's not talking, and his brother, the football player from Beverly Hills High School, Class of 1977, has finally come undone, and will bring down the congress and make a mess for the Republicans.

This guy's first forty-seven years has been a long, strange road.

And it started at Beverly Hills High School, as we see in this, from the Los Angeles Times, Wednesday, January 04, 2006 -
At Beverly Hills High School, Jack Abramoff's weightlifting prowess was the stuff of legend.

As a senior, he became the first member of the school's 2700 Club, lifting a combined total of 2,700 pounds in the power squat, dead lift, bench press, and clean and jerk.

His former football coach, Bill Stansbury, recalled a game against Inglewood when Abramoff legally blocked an opposing player and knocked him out cold.

Abramoff also helped organize charitable events, Stansbury said, among them a Quarter-Pounder-eating contest at a McDonald's, with some proceeds going to the American Cancer Society, and a celebrity basketball game to benefit a youth foundation.

... At Beverly Hills High, he earned a reputation for ambition, hard work and commitment. He held the school record for the power squat, which he completed while holding 510 pounds on his back.

"Jack showed good leadership and was very dedicated, probably the strongest kid on the team," recalled Stansbury, who was the football team's offensive line coach when Abramoff played as the starting center. "For his size, he was extremely strong and very aggressive."

Abramoff was president of the high school Lettermen's Club, said Stansbury, who is now a teacher and coach at Paso Robles High School. "Jack always had a clear mission of where he wanted to be and how he was going to get there. I had a lot of respect for Jack's work ethic."

... He ran for student council president at the Hawthorne School, a Beverly Hills elementary and middle school, in 1972. Heading into a runoff election, Abramoff was disqualified for exceeding the spending limit. The principal, Herbert recalled, penalized Abramoff for holding a party, stating it amounted to a campaign expenditure that pushed him over the limit.
Beverly Hills High School today...



































































The disguised working oil well on campus -



Posted by Alan at 21:12 PST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Wednesday, 4 January 2006 15:35 PST home

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