The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Operation Board Games

HBO’s The Wire was one of the best dramas ever created for television. For four years, the show’s creator, David Simon, gave viewers a gritty look at the underbelly of city life in Baltimore, MD—crime, politics, corruption, the education system, and the media are all explored with a cynicism that is somehow appropriate for the story. The show was beyond good—it helped you understand the game.

Throughout its four years, The Wire chronicled what began as an undercover drug investigation. The police and prosecutors uncovered a web of members of a Baltimore drug gang and soon found connections between gang members and the upper echelon of Baltimore politicians, real estate developers and other business people. In all cases, money—big money—drove the process. The real players supported the investigation, but only wanted it to go only so far. The web broadens and becomes more complex as the story evolves.

Like all investigations, the small fry are easy pickins, but the real players insulate themselves well and are difficult to indict. There’s lots of smoke, so much that there’s little question of complicity, but not enough fire to bring charges in a court of law.

In a voluminous, five-part investigative report, Evelyn Pringle presents the story of Tony Resko and the web of politicians and money men who were all connected to his indictment and recent conviction. In some ways, Resko’s story has eerie similarities to The Wire—criminal connections, real-estate development, and corrupt political maneuvering.

One of the players in the Resko story is Barack Obama, and like the players in The Wire, there’s lots of smoke, so much that there’s little question of complicity, but not enough fire to yet accuse the Democratic nominee for President of criminal behavior.

Pringle contends that the on-going federal investigation, called "Operation Board Games" will
… lead to Obama's downfall and it will begin with what he claims was a "boneheaded" mistake in entering into real estate deal with the Syrian-born immigrant, Antoin 'Tony' Rezko, less than a month after Rezko received a $3.5 million loan from the Iraqi-born billionaire, Nadhmi Auchi, who ended up with Riverside Park, a $2.5 billion 62-acre development project in the Chicago Loop.

I don’t agree that Obama will take a fall, but more on that later.

The story begins with Obama, a rising star in Chicago politics, being named chairman of the IL Senate Health & Human Services Committee in January 2003. Pringle provides background:
A review of senate records from January 2003 to August 2003, shows Obama played a major role as chairman of that committee, in pushing through Senate Bill 1332, that led to the "Illinois Health Facilities Planning Act," which reduced the number of members on the Board from 15 to 9, making the votes much easier to rig.

Led by Obama, the Health & Human Services Committee, populated by hand chosen members, pushed to pass a new hospital run by “Mercy Health Systems, for which Bear Stearns served as a bond underwriter. The deal was to earn $1.5 million contribution for IL Governor Rod Blagojevich.”

Although Obama’s state senate committee pushed hard for the hospital, Pringle reports:
The Planning Board staff still recommended the rejection of Mercy’s proposal. On March 11, 2008, Jones told the jury that experts found the application failed to meet 18 criteria set up for the establishment of a new hospital. He said it was also too close to other hospitals that had too many empty beds and services not fully utilized.

Nonetheless, “The Chicago Way” prevailed and the hospital passed on its second try. A web of kickbacks, questionably legal campaign contributions (including $20,000 to Obama), and inappropriate construction contracts followed.

And that was only the beginning.

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, the same prosecutor who convicted Scooter Libby and won praise from Democrats, is now leading the investigation. Pringle notes:
US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald does not make a habit of destroying pubic officials by listing them in indictments for no reason, and the only two political candidates identified as receiving campaign money from Operation Board Games kickback schemes are Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and the US Senator from Illinois, Barack Obama.

The Operation Board Games web is enormously complex and a full explication is best left to Pringle. Do a Google search on “Curtain Time for Obama” to find each of the five parts of her report.

Although I have little doubt of Obama’s complicity in a corrupt Chicago political “Combine” of both Republicans and Democrats, I disagree with Pringle’s conclusion that Obama’s past actions during the 2003 – 2005 time period will be his undoing.

The web of connections is simply too complex and the MSM will refuse to investigate more fully, conveniently claiming that it’s all innuendo—nothing to see here, just move on.

But the Operation Board Games players, many with Middle Eastern origins and criminal backgrounds, keep popping up in Obama’s history. His claims of innocence or ignorance simply don’t hold up.

When asked for a reaction on the Resko conviction yesterday, Obama responded, “This isn’t the Tony Rezko I knew, but now he has been convicted by a jury on multiple charges that once again shines a spotlight on the need for reform.”

Based on the growing list of personal friends who “weren’t the people he once knew,” Barack Obama is either extraordinarily naïve or an extraordinarily bad judge of character.

In fact, David Simon of The Wire couldn’t have written better or more cynical dialogue.

But no matter, he’s the MSM’s guy, and he’ll skate through this sordid story of political corruption.

After all, he represents a new kind of politics, doesn’t he?