Tuesday, October 21, 2008


The best way to launder one’s criminally acquired stash is to die and leave it to your loved ones.

I was reminded of this because of the faux scandal of Barack Obama and his association with William Ayers on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform charity. I wasn’t reminded so much of William Ayers and his wild youth. Rather, I was reminded of Walter Annenberg.

Every time that a Kennedy, or someone who appears to be Kennedy-esque, shows his or her face in public, right-wing elements like to point out that Joe Kennedy was a rum-running, prohibition gangster. Joe Kennedy also invested lots of his ill-gotten wealth in Nazi Germany coming up to WWII. Unfortunately for right-wingers, it was Prescott Bush at the Brown Brothers Harriman Wall Street firm who handled Kennedy’s Nazi investments, so while Joe Kennedy and his money‘s familiarity with pre-war Nazis is often noted his broker isn‘t.

In the 1800s the Delano family, as in Franklin Delano Roosevelt, made its money in the Chinese “Opium Wars.” In case you’re not familiar with that part of American history, that was when Western powers fought Chinese warlords to import opium INTO China. Drug dealers, if you want to be coarse about it. Proponents of free trade, if you want to be more delicate.

In fact, the accrual of vast wealth by someone almost always comes at someone else’s expense. At some point a bunch of people got screwed for one guy to walk away holding a bag of money.

Soon after the death of Ronald Reagan I read Dan Moldea’s “Dark Victory: Ronald Reagan, MCA, and the Mob”, which actually follows Reagan’s financial growth through his many relationships with shady characters in Hollywood from his acting career right into the White House (the book was written in the mid-eighties). Moldea’s thrust was that Reagan, while presented to the public as an avuncular good guy, was really the Mob’s stooge.

I’ve read a few of Moldea’s books and have problems with some of his work, some books more than others. While Reagan did pal around with characters with unsavory criminal backgrounds he also worked with some pretty ugly political groups and fronted, for example, the Crusade For Freedom which was a CIA propaganda operation (in violation of its charter, but who’s counting violations?) that helped import Nazi and fascist residua into the U.S. after WWII (Think of Hans von Spakovsky‘s folks getting resettled among the German rocket scientists in Huntsville, Alabama). As we have come to find out, there has always been a kind of alliance between our intelligence services, fascists and criminals. Reagan was familiar with all three groups. Moldea’s book just focuses on one part of the trifecta.

A good friend of the Reagans was Walter Annenberg. Annenberg was a rich publisher of things like TV Guide. Before the TV age Walter and his father Moe Annenberg were mobsters. Both had been indicted in 1939 for tax evasion involving their wire service. The wire service was an integral part of the illegal mob-run national gambling syndicate in the middle of the Twentieth Century. Estimates are that at least half of all mob killings in the forties and the fifties in the U.S. were related to organized crime’s gambling operations. With gambling came the absolute corruption of police at every level throughout the U.S. (All levels. Read about J. Edgar Hoover’s mobbed up friends at the Del Charro resort and compare with how long it took for Hoover to admit there was “organized crime“ in America.) As Rufus King wrote in his book “Gambling and Organized Crime“:

“Whoever controlled the wire service ‘drops’ in a town became master of gambling activities there. And more often than not he controlled–the word is reasonably chosen, controlled–the community’s local law enforcement agencies...once you have got the patrolman–his lieutenant and his captain and the Chief–taking bribes from your organization for “protection” of a harmless little gambling enterprise, YOU HAVE GOT THEM FOR ALL PURPOSES.”

Of course, that’s how corruption works. (That’s why no one wants to give up on the War on Drugs. It’s too profitable. See: "Opium Wars" above.)

Well over a half-century ago Moe Annenberg made a plea-bargain and took the fall in exchange for the feds dropping charges against his son.

If you ever turn on Public Radio or Public Television, you’ll see lots of shows that are funded in part by the Walter Annenberg Foundation. There is the Annenberg School of Journalism, which funds studies and supplies experts throughout the media. Then there is the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, where Barack met Bill.

In short, the Annenberg money, made from illegal gambling, from the human weakness that makes poor jerks think that they can predict which horse will run fastest, from shakedowns and bribes and turf wars and murders and the mass corruption of American law enforcement, is now clean.

Do you think that any institution with the name Annenberg will ever do a study about the role of organized crime in America?

The word “venerable” comes from the same Latinate core that gave us “venereal,” as in “venereal disease.” “Venerable” means “commanding respect because of great age or impressive dignity; worthy of veneration or reverence, as because of high office or noble character.” To “venerate” is “to solicit the goodwill (of a god or spirit).” The core word, is, of course, “Venus,” the goddess of love, or more narrowly, “desire.”

Wealth and power buys its sycophants, but sycophants pay too. Free trade.

(This is a rewrite of a blog originally published on August 23, 2004 at my blog South Of Heaven. When I’m not writing about the relationship between the weather and my achy knees or my girlfriend’s old dog pooping on the rug I occasionally write about topics of broader interest. If this one interests you feel free to go through the stacks of past posts which go back over the better part of five years.)


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