What a Tangled Web He Weaves! The Real John McCain Story

Everybody, even CNN, knows about John McCain’s involvement in the Savings & Loan scandal of the 1980s. But the way the media usually spin it, McCain was some kind of wide-eyed innocent who associated with crooks because he didn’t want to hurt their feelings. How was he to know they were crooks? They wore good suits and probably even $500 shoes like his. If you can’t tell a gentleman by his appearance, what’s the world coming to?

If reporters took the trouble to dig beneath the rubble the way we did when I was at the Toronto Star (the old Toronto Star, not the wishy-washy new version), they would find out there’s a lot more to this story than meets the eye. And, no, it’s not just old news.

Nobody tries to deny that when the S&L scandal exploded and Federal prosecutors were breathing down Charles Keating’s neck, Senator McCain intervened. But according to current political mythology, McCain was so chastened by his brush with the Senate ethics committee that he has been squeaky clean ever since. Indeed, he is painted as a “maverick” reformer dedicated to cleaning up Washington. It must be quite a strain for real reporters like Campbell Brown to pass on this nonsense with a straight face.

If she doesn’t know the story behind the story, she ought to. You know, of course, that Keating was convicted in the collapse of a number of S&Ls, including his own. And you must have heard that McCain and four other lawmakers were called on the carpet for playing footsie with Keating. But did you know that Ohio billionaire Carl H. Lindner Jr. was Charles Keating’s original partner, banker, and mentor? From what I read on the Internet, it was Lindner who got Keating mixed up in schemes involving BCCI characters, Saudi bankers, the Bush family and Iran-Contra money. Here’s an excerpt about BCCI from Wikipedia:

The Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) became the focus in 1991 of the world’s worst financial scandal and what was called a “$20-billion-plus heist.” Regulators in the United States and the United Kingdom found it to be involved in money laundering, bribery, support of terrorism, arms trafficking, the sale of nuclear technologies, the commission and facilitation of tax evasion, smuggling, illegal immigration, and the illicit purchases of banks and real estate. The bank was found to have at least $13 billion unaccounted for. The bank was dubbed satirically the “Bank of Crooks and Criminals International.”

lindnerSo why is Lindner (photo at right) important? The scuttlebutt is that a lot of money flowed through Keating to McCain in campaign contributions and an Arizona real estate deal. And Lindner keeps cropping up in connection with McCain (far right), long after Mr. Straight Talk supposedly mended his ways and became the scourge of the unrighteous.

The billionaire Cincinnati businessman was CEO of Chiquita Brands International from 1984 to 2001, and remained on the company’s board of directors until May 2002. And if you don’t know the history of Chiquita Bananas and its predecessor United Fruit Company, you should look it up. It is impossible for me to repeat the wretched litany of subversion, massacres and treachery attributed to this nefarious outfit in a blog. You need a book for that, and several books have been written on the topic. But, if you have time to browse the Web, you could start with the Wikipedia entry for The Banana Massacre (Matanza de las bananeras in Spanish) of 1928, and Google on from there. Here are a few of the accusations I found:

Chiquita’s predecessor, United Fruit Company, used its political might to convince the U.S. to topple the popularly elected government of Guatemala in the 1950s and more than 100,000 people were killed or disappeared as a result.

The company was sued for using toxic agrochemicals known to cause sterility and birth defects on Central American banana farms a decade after the substances were banned in the United States.

In March 2007, Chiquita Brands pleaded guilty to doing business with a terrorist organization, and agreed to pay a $25 million fine. Chiquita executives paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym AUC), which is described by George Washington University’s National Security Archive as an “illegal right-wing anti-guerrilla group tied to many of the country’s most notorious civilian massacres.”

Chiquita’s funding of violent paramilitaries does not end with the right-wing AUC. The fruit giant “had been making similar payments to the leftist FARC and ELN guerrillas” since 1989. Those payments ended in 1997 as “control of the company’s banana-growing area shifted” to the AUC, according to the Associated Press.

An investigation by England’s Guardian Newspaper has revealed that Chiquita is concealing an enormous portion of its income by sheltering it in offshore tax havens such as the Cayman Islands.

To be fair, Lindner has made large contributions to Democrats as well as Republicans, trying to secure protections for Chiquita in the midst of ongoing negotiations and disputes over terms of trade (such as the campaign against importation of Jamaican bananas into Europe). But the company’s loyalty to the Republican Party is illustrated by the fact that Chiquita’s vice president of corporate affairs, Joe Hagin, worked as the deputy campaign manager for George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential race.

What has that got to do with McCain? As it turns out, Lindner is still giving big campaign checks to McCain. According to a report by Nico Pitney in The Huffington Post, the Cincinnati billionaire recently co-hosted a $25,000-per-person fundraiser for McCain and the Republican Party in the wealthy Indian Hills neighborhood. The event raised about $2 million. Lindner also serves on McCain’s Ohio Victory Team. And among the 120 (or more) lobbyists running the McCain campaign, you will find a man named Stanton Anderson of McDermott Will & Emory, which represents Chiquita Brands. Also, McCain’s chief political adviser, Charlie Black, lobbied for Chiquita on two separate occasions in 2001. According to records, Black was paid $80,000 to work on foreign trade issues.

Not surprisingly, McCain has done favors on Lindner’s behalf. According to the Washington Post:

McCain promoted a deal (in the late 1990s) in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest involving property part-owned by Great American Life Insurance, a company run by billionaire Carl H. Lindner Jr., a prolific contributor to national political parties and presidential candidates.

I also found some extremely grave allegations against Lindner (and McCain’s beer-baron father-in-law) on the Internet, allegations that go far beyond the S&L scandal and Chiquita Banana. While the allegations have more to do with Cindy McCain’s father, Jim Hensley, and other controversial Arizona residents than with McCain himself, I found this curious excerpt from The Arizona Republic, dated Jan. 17, 1995:

About 300 guests turned out Saturday night to celebrate the 90th birthday of Joseph “Joe Bananas” Bonanno, retired boss of New York’s Bonanno crime family. He retired to Tucson in 1968…. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Gov. Fife Symington sent their regards by telegram.

You can make of that what you will, or you might want to do some checking on your own. Please use the Comment button to share your findings if you come up with anything that other readers of this blog might need to know.