Posted by: sean | December 10, 2008

“They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.”

When I got a hold of The Wire on DVD in Amman, one of my favorite leisure activities became introducing Clay Davis to Lebanon. For those who never caught the Wire bug, Clay Davis is a Maryland State Senator who epitomizes corruption in the Baltimore universe of HBO’s finest television series.

Lebanon is so corrupt that people here can identify with Clay Davis immediately. His graft, sleazy scheming and smooth talking almost seemed too perfect to me to actually be true. Almost, that is. And then last night I was acquainted with the shenanigans of the Democratic mayor of Illinois, Rod Blagojevich.

This guy has been trying to auction off Obama’s now-vacant Senate seat to the highest bidder, leveraging state funds to get critics at the Chicago Tribune canned, and basically just being corrupt as hell. The FBI has been investigating him for three years, and they’ve got him on tape complaining that Obama isn’t willing to do a quid pro quo for naming his successor in the Senate: “They’re not willing to give me anything except appreciation. Fuck them.”

By the way, he apparently talks like that a lot. So much so that there’s an amusing quiz out there where you have to pick whether each quote comes from Blogojevich or Tony Soprano. (I’ve already given you one of the answers.)

At the risk of offending my Slavic friends (if you’re reading this, Natasha, please forgive me, miláčku!), I can’t say that America should get to keep this gem all to itself. If you hadn’t noticed by his last name, he’s Serbian-American. Now I’ve had some experience with Serbs in international organizations, and I can tell you that they can hold their own when it comes to dodgy corruption schemes. A former Serbian office mate of mine (whom I had worked with for years and shall only call B) once deplumed me for thousands of Euros that she spent on clothes from Kenzo and Courrège. (It took over a year, beginning court proceedings and threatening to call social services on her for being a terribly mother to finally get my money back.) She also defrauded the French welfare system and was constantly scheming to get herself a higher paygrade and a permanent post. Now of course I know that these bad apples don’t represent most Serbians, but people like my former office mate and Rod Blogojevich give Serbia a bad name.

Finally, and more because it doesn’t warrant a post of its own but I still want to say it: I’ve been startled by the parallels with Lebanese corruption and fail-state-ness that I’ve come across in my research on the Congo, but after reading this gem from Michela Wrong’s book on the Mobuto years, In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz, I have to say that the Congolese have got Lebanon beat hands down:

For many Zaireans, Cleophas Kamitatu, a vocal critic of the president, set new standards in barefaced cheek, when, while serving as ambassador to Japan, he took advantage of high property prices and sold off the Zairean embassy in Tokyo (p. 102).

While it’s a journalistic account, Wrong’s book is a really good read, so if you’ve got an interest in Zaire under Mobuto, I highly reccomend it.


  1. I thought of the same Wire connection when I heard about this too! It’s sad that Illinois politics hasn’t improved much from the days of Ryan and Daly when I lived there – especially since I tend to pride myself on being a “Midwestern Democrat”, fiscally sensible but socially liberal. Perhaps its just a nostalgic construct?

  2. Haha! I’ve just spent an afternoon with my brother topping each other’s corruption stories (both of us being from the bureaucratophilic capitol of the world, the Netherlands.): his from Serbia, where he currently lives, and mine from Lebanon, which I call home…

    And speaking of corruption: you must surely have heard of the anti-corruption task force (don’t know the official name) installed by the Kenyan government a few years ago, which was dissolved entirely after a year or so because they had become even more corrupt than those they were investigating…

  3. It’s amazing to me just how corrupt Chicago, a city that functions nominally well, actually is. I think it probably never got past the old party machine corruption from the 20’s. I read the other day that 3 of the last 5 governors of Illinois have spent time behind bars…

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