Where is the wisdom of Mike Royko when you need it?
Royko was by far Chicago’s most beloved political columnist. His scathingly brilliant, uproariously funny writings on the Chicago political machine not only shone a light in the dark corners of corruption, favoritism, and mobbed up businesses of Richard J. Daley’s City Hall, he had fun doing it.
Several theories have arisen as to what Mayor Daley really meant a few days ago when he said:
“If they don’t like it, they can kiss my ass.”
On the surface, it appeared that the mayor was merely admonishing those who would dare question the royal favors he has bestowed upon his sons, Prince Curly, Prince Larry, and Prince Moe.
But it can be a mistake to accept the superficial meaning of anything the mayor says.
The mayor can be a subtle man. And as Earl Bush, his press secretary, once put it after the mayor was quoted correctly:
“Don’t print what he said. Print what he meant.”
So many observers believe the true meaning of the mayor’s remarkable kissing invitation may be more than skin deep.
One theory is that he would like to become sort of the Blarney Stone of Chicago.
As the stone’s legend goes, if a person kisses Ireland’s famous Blarney Stone, which actually exists, he will be endowed with the gift of oratory.
And City Hall insiders have long known that the kind of kiss Daley suggested can result in the gift of wealth.
People from all over the world visit Blarney Castle so they can kiss the chunk of old limestone and thus become glib, convincing talkers.
So, too, might people flock to Chicago in hopes that kissing “The Daley” might bring them unearned wealth. Daley, or at least his bottom, might become one of the great tourist attractions of the nation.
Royko thrived during a time when Chicago had two daily newspapers; the rather staid and conservative morning Tribune and the afternoon liberal Daily News where Royko would hold forth much to the delight of homeward bound train commuters. He was fearless, honest, and disdainful of politicians.
And he would have ripped Barack Obama to shreds over stuff like this:
A British-Iraqi billionaire lent millions of dollars to Barack Obama’s fundraiser just weeks before an imprudent land deal that has returned to haunt the presidential contender, an investigation by The Times discloses.
The money transfer raises the question of whether funds from Nadhmi Auchi, one of Britainâ€™s wealthiest men, helped Mr Obama buy his mock Georgian mansion in Chicago.
A company related to Mr Auchi, who has a conviction for corruption in France, registered the loan to Mr Obama’s bagman Antoin “Tony” Rezko on May 23 2005. Mr Auchi says the loan, through the Panamanian company Fintrade Services SA, was for $3.5 million.
Three weeks later, Mr Obama bought a house on the city’s South Side while Mr Rezko’s wife bought the garden plot next door from the same seller on the same day, June 15.
Mr Obama says he never used Mrs Rezko’s still-empty lot, which could only be accessed through his property. But he admits he paid his gardener to mow the lawn.
It should be mentioned that Obama got around a $300,000 discount on the $2 million plus house. The sellers deny there was any quid pro quo with the two buyers – that there is no connection between Mrs. Rezko paying full price for the lot next door and the bargain they gave the Obamas.
That may be so but the question is, where did Mrs. Rezko get the money?
It is unclear how Mrs Rezko could have afforded the downpayment of $125,000 and a $500,000 mortgage for the original $625,000 purchase of the garden plot at 5050 South Greenwood Ave.
In a sworn statement a year later, Mrs Rezko said she got by on a salary of $37,000 and had $35,000 assets. Mr Rezko told a court he had “no income, negative cash flow, no liquid assets, no unencumbered assets [and] is significantly in arrears on many of his obligations.”
Auchi is emerging as a key figure in the corruption trial of Rezko and also played a part in one of Rezko’s attempts to exploit his relationship with Obama. Obama denies he ever did any favors for Rezko or his associates but the crooked Obama fundraiser told prosecutors that after Auchi gave him another “loan,” he asked Obama to intervene with the State Department in order to get a visa for Auchi who was being denied entry into the US:
Prosecutors say that, after Mr Auchi was unable to enter the United States in 2005, Mr Rezko approached the US State Department to get him a visa and apparently asked “certain Illinois government officials to do the same.” Mr Obama denies he was approached. Mr Auchi’s lawyer has emphasised to The Times that it would be entirely false to imply that money had been lent by GMH to Mr Rezko in return for Mr Rezko seeking to assist Mr Auchi to obtain a visa. The two men’s relationship, the lawyer stressed, was a busines s one.
Allow me to introduce you to Nadhmi Auchi. He was charged in the 1950s with being an accomplice of Saddam Hussein, when the future tyrant was acquiring his taste for blood. He was investigated in the 1980s for his part in alleged bribes to the fabulously corrupt leaders of post-war Italy. In the 1990s, the Belgium Ambassador to Luxembourg claimed that Auchi’s bank held money Saddam and Colonel Gadaffi had stolen from their luckless peoples. In 2002, officers from the Serious Fraud Squad raided the offices of one of Auchi’s drug companies as part of an investigation of what is alleged to be the biggest swindle ever of the NHS. With allegations, albeit unproven, like these hanging over him, wouldn’t you think that British MPs would have the sense to stay away?
Perhaps you would, but I forgot to add a final fact about Mr Auchi: he is the thirteenth-richest man in Britain, and he has been able to collect British politicians the way other people collect stamps.
First of all, his business dealings make Rezko’s kickback schemes for political contributions look like the minor leagues of sleaze. Auchi had a hand in the biggest political and corporate scandal in post war Europe, the so-called “Elf Affair” where $2 billion francs up and disappeared from the French state oil company Elf.
In a fantastically complex scheme, oil company execs used the state owned company as their own piggy bank, loading up on goodies:
The Auchi case confirms that the political class is attracted to the sleaziest characters in capitalism. Auchi’s conviction was a part of the gigantic investigation into the corruption of the Elf oil company, the biggest fraud inquiry in Europe since the Second World War. Elf became a private bank for its executives who spent Â£200 million on political favours, mistresses, jewellery, fine art, villas and apartments. By any definition, this was news.
It was only due to the persistence of the French investigating magistrates that Auchi got to Paris. They issued an international arrest warrant in 2000. For three years, the Home Office refused to deport him. Two MPs, Vaz and an unnamed politician, made inquiries. Renaud van Ruymbeke, the French magistrate leading the investigation into the Elf scandal, all but accused Britain of sheltering fugitives. Only after his protests, and pressure from this newspaper did the Home Office relent. Then there were Auchi’s relations with Iraq which have a certain topicality.
What are those connections to Iraq? Nothing less than being an early and enthusiastic supporter of Saddam Hussein. He has admitted to taking part in the assassination attempt on former Iraqi prime minister Qasim which Saddam also took part. He must have realized the nature of Saddam because he left Iraq but kept doing business with the regime:
Auchi’s brother was among the many Baathists killed by Saddam, but the execution did not inhibit Auchi’s business dealings with Iraq which, he says, didn’t stop until the Gulf war of 1991. His first coup in the West was to broker a deal to sell Italian frigates to the Iraqi Defence Ministry, for which he received $17m in commission. Italian investigators claimed that a Panamanian company owned by Auchi was used to funnel allegedly illegal payments. Auchi denied he had done anything wrong.
In the mid-1980s he got to know Pierfrancesco Pacini Battaglia, a man whose role in directing money to politicians led Italians to call him ‘the one below God’. Saddam Hussein had ordered the construction of a pipeline from Iraq to Saudi Arabia. Battaglia and Auchi secured the contract for a Franco-Italian consortium. In a statement to New York lawyers Battaglia alleged he knew how. ‘To acquire the contract it was necessary, as is usual, especially in Middle Eastern countries, to pay commission to characters close to the Iraqi government… In this case, the international intermediary who dealt with this matter was the Iraqi, Nadhmi Auchi.’ Auchi has denied any wrong-doing.
Truly. Elegant. Sleaze.
Rezko was into Auchi for upwards of $27 million – monies that curiously never got paid back. But what Rezko had was a stake in a big land development project that he was only too happy to give Auchi a piece:
According to court documents, Mr Rezko’s lawyer said his client had “longstanding indebtedness” to Mr Auchi’s GMH. By June 2007 he owed it $27.9 million.
Under a Loan Forgiveness Agreement described in court, Mr Auchi lent Mr Rezko $3.5 million in April 2005 and $11 million in September 2005, as well as the $3.5 million transferred in April 2007.
That agreement provided for the outstanding loans to be “forgiven” in return for a stake in the 62-acre Riverside Park development.
The Obama-Rezko relationship must be understood in the context of the influence peddling, the casual corruption, the cronysm, the favoritism shown in less than open bidding – all part of a city and state political culture where the politician, the businessman, and the crook frequently rub elbows and sometimes wear each other’s hats. Obama hiring the daughter of a Rezko associate to work in his office (after Rezko had helped raise tens of thousands of dollars for his campaign) is no big deal. But this kind of “favor” done for Rezko is a different story:
The Chicago Tribune: â€œOn June 13, the Chicago Sun-Times reported that as a state senator, Obama wrote letters to city and state officials supporting Rezkoâ€™s successful bid to get more than $14 million from taxpayers to build apartments for senior citizens. The Sun-Times said the deal included $855,000 in development fees for Rezko and his partner, Allison S. Davis, Obamaâ€™s former boss, according to records from the project, which was four blocks outside Obamaâ€™s state Senate district.
Obama now regrets his association with Rezko and has given $150,000 to charity in order to atone for his sins.
Sorry Barry but it don’t work that way.
In the course of a 17 year relationship with Rezko, it is impossible to quantify the amount in contributions funnelled to Obama by Rezko using his ill gotten gains. Nor can it be ascertained at this time if the favors done by Obama for Rezko – large and small – involve him in illegal activities. It certainly has him enmeshed with some extremely shady characters in Rezko and Auchi.
At this point, unless there is a deliberate, concerted effort by the large media outlets to allow this story to die once Rezko is convicted, I find it probable that other revelations are yet to come that will show Obama to be just another machine politician, skirting the edge of ethics and the law – perhaps even going over the line and engaging in criminal activities.
Obama is not the Agent of Change. He is a calculating politician who plays the game the same way politicians have been playing it for hundreds of years – receiving money in exchange for favors from government for his friends and cronies. And if Mike Royko were alive, one has to believe that despite agreeing with his politics, Royko would have been relentless in taking Obama down, hammering away in his own inimitable style at the influence selling, the sweetheart deals, the pay for favors, and all the rest of this sleazy mess.
No Royko today. But we have an army of bloggers who can push this story into the mainstream and force the media to expend the resources necessary to get to the bottom of the Rezko-Obama enterprise. True, like Whitewater it is a very complex story and there is very little ease in the telling. But given the stakes, an effort should be made nonetheless.