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OPINION JOUNAL, WSJ - - Senator Barack Obama, the Illinois Democrat who is running for president, called on MSNBC and CBS Radio to disassociate themselves from Mr. Imus, and said that he would never go on the show again. He said he had appeared once, more than two years ago. "He didn't just cross the line," Mr. Obama said in an interview with ABC News. "He fed into some of the worst stereotypes that my two young daughters are having to deal with today in America.". . .

In what segment of American culture would one be most likely to encounter such stereotypes? We'd venture to say the answer is rap music, also known as hip hop. There's one rap band that actually calls itself Nappy Roots. And of course references to women as "hos" are commonplace in rap lyrics, such as this one by Christopher Bridges, who uses the stage name "Ludacris":

Ho (Ho)
You'z a Ho, (Ho)
You'z a Ho, I said that you'z a Ho (Ho)
You'z a Ho, (Ho)

You'z a Ho, (Ho)
You'z a Ho, I said that you'z a Ho (Ho)

You doing Ho activities
With Ho tendencies
Hos are your friends,
Hos are your enemies

At this point it gets too vulgar for this columnist to feel comfortable quoting. . .

HENRY ADASO, ABOUT RAP & HIP-HOP, MARCH 2 - Ubiquitous sound architect Timbaland is set to host a lavish fundraiser for Democratic Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton in Miami, FL this month. Timbaland (born Timothy Mosley) will host the fundraiser on Mar. 31, which is the last day of the first-quarter fund-raising period for Presidential candidates, according to the Miami Herald. The fundraiser is reportedly billed at $1,000 per attendee. Former President Bill Clinton is also slated to appear at the event. Now that Clinton has aligned herself with a hip-hop bigwig, I wonder which rap star is going to host Obama's fundraiser. May I suggest Kanye West.

MIAMI HERALD, MAR 31 - Hillary Clinton's fundraiser tonight in Miami-Dade -- billed as the biggest ever by a Democratic candidate in Florida -- at the adjacent homes of uber-donor Chris Korge and mega-rapper Timbaland. The money race has gotten so crazy this year that an individual candidate during these first three months may raise as much money - $30 million - as the entire field of presidential candidates did during the same time period in 2003.

The 2008 campaign is also expected to be the first since Watergate in which none of the presidential candidates accept public campaign financing because it would force them to curtail their spending.

The contenders pretend to be above the crass scramble for cash. ''96 hours to show substance works,'' said the e-mail from Edwards' campaign manager, accompanied by a last-minute financial appeal. Obama is posting the number of his donors to show that he is getting small checks from real people, including a ``special education teacher in Florida, a bartender in Colorado and a minister in New York.''

That's all well and good, but the modern-day campaign simply cannot stay afloat without the trial lawyer in Massachusetts, the oil executive in Texas and the investment banker in California.


Oh Oh


Yeah, get nigga

[Verse 1]
Redman got fire nigga
Shots are in your hood when I'm high nigga
Shots of Cuervo are fuckin up my liver
Shots from the cameras on my niggas
Girlfriend drunk, so I'll jump around wit her
I step inside, you're quiet like a mime nigga
My watch do more things than James Bond nigga
I'm gonna do it now, I ain't gonna try nigga
(Put it down, put it down, put it down girl)
You better grind, cause you ain't spending mine girl
When Timbaland plan and I'll do the ground work
Whether you in Tims, Air Force, or Converse
Let me see the high niggas on the left side
And whole muthafuckas smokin on the right side
You sayin "fuck Gillahouse" nigga likewise
This is how I walk up on your ho ? hey
Put it down. . .

And so forth


[It's always nice to see the archaic media catch up with the Progressive Review]

LAS VEGAS SUN - Barack Obama, a month ago: Democratic Party savior. Cool, smart, black, great personal story.

Barack Obama, this week: All flash, no substance. Fast and loose with facts, Hillary will pummel him. After a Las Vegas health care forum last week, Obama was deemed a disappointment by a national magazine writer, and the theme multiplied: Los Angeles Times, The Politico, the Associated Press, CNN.

Time magazine's Joe Klein made it official this week: "Even over here in the Middle East, you can feel the zeitgeist gently shifting - Obama ebbing, for the moment, at least in media-land."

The chattering herd loves a narrative, and this year, just as in past presidential years, the media are moving like a pack, hunting for their beloved conventional wisdom. . .

Obama's problem apparently began last week in Las Vegas at a union-sponsored health care forum. Other than former Sen. John Edwards, none of the candidates has specific health care plans. They agree on some general principles, which Obama laid out. Some in the pack found his performance lacking.

Tumulty, the Time correspondent who moderated the forum, wrote a blog post: "In the post-game chatter in the ladies room . . . there was a lot of complaining from people who had found his entire presentation vague and unsatisfying."

Allen, former White House beat reporter for Time and now a reporter at The Politico, published a piece Monday noting Obama's "tendency toward seemingly minor contradictions and rhetorical slips that serve as reminders that he is still a newcomer to national politics."

Richard Cohen, the liberal Washington Post columnist most reviled by liberals, hit Obama in his Tuesday column: "He may be manipulating the facts in order to wrap raw ambition in the gauze of a larger cause."

Finally, the Associated Press, that down-the-middle news organization, confirmed the received wisdom in a news story that probably ran in hundreds of papers: "The voices are growing louder asking the question: Is Barack Obama all style and little substance?

"The freshman Illinois senator began his campaign facing the perception that he lacks the experience to be president, especially compared to rivals with decades of work on foreign and domestic policy," the AP story said. "So far, he's done little to challenge it. He's delivered no policy speeches and provided few details about how he would lead the country.". . .

MARCH 2007


DAVID EHRENSTEIN, LA TIMES - Barack Obama, the junior Democratic senator from Illinois, is running for president. . . But it's clear that Obama also is running for an equally important unelected office, in the province of the popular imagination - the "Magic Negro."

The Magic Negro is a figure of postmodern folk culture, coined by snarky 20th century sociologists, to explain a cultural figure who emerged in the wake of Brown vs. Board of Education. "He has no past, he simply appears one day to help the white protagonist," reads the description on Wikipedia. . .

He's there to assuage white "guilt" (i.e., the minimal discomfort they feel) over the role of slavery and racial segregation in American history, while replacing stereotypes of a dangerous, highly sexualized black man with a benign figure for whom interracial sexual congress holds no interest. As might be expected, this figure is chiefly cinematic - embodied by such noted performers as Sidney Poitier, Morgan Freeman, Scatman Crothers, Michael Clarke Duncan, Will Smith and, most recently, Don Cheadle. And that's not to mention a certain basketball player whose very nickname is "Magic.". . .

The senator's famously stem-winding stump speeches have been drawing huge crowds to hear him talk of uniting rather than dividing. A praiseworthy goal. Consequently, even the mild criticisms thrown his way have been waved away, "magically." He used to smoke, but now he doesn't; he racked up a bunch of delinquent parking tickets, but he paid them all back with an apology. And hey, is looking good in a bathing suit a bad thing?. . .

Obama's fame right now has little to do with his political record or what he's written in his two (count 'em) books, or even what he's actually said in those stem-winders. It's the way he's said it that counts the most. . .

Like a comic-book superhero, Obama is there to help, out of the sheer goodness of a heart we need not know or understand. For as with all Magic Negroes, the less real he seems, the more desirable he becomes. If he were real, white America couldn't project all its fantasies of curative black benevolence on him.


ALI ABUNIMAH, ELECTRONIC INTIFADA - I first met Democratic presidential hopeful Senator Barack Obama almost ten years ago when, as my representative in the Illinois state senate, he came to speak at the University of Chicago. He impressed me as progressive, intelligent and charismatic. I distinctly remember thinking 'if only a man of this calibre could become president one day.'

On Friday Obama gave a speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee in Chicago. . . Reviewing the speech, Ha'aretz Washington correspondent Shmuel Rosner concluded that Obama "sounded as strong as Clinton, as supportive as Bush, as friendly as Giuliani. At least rhetorically, Obama passed any test anyone might have wanted him to pass. So, he is pro-Israel. Period.". . .

Obama offered not a single word of criticism of Israel, of its relentless settlement and wall construction, of the closures that make life unlivable for millions of Palestinians. . .

While constantly emphasizing his concern about the threat Israelis face from Palestinians, Obama said nothing about the exponentially more lethal threat Israelis present to Palestinians. . .

Obama said, "Hizbullah launched four thousand rocket attacks just like the one that destroyed the home in Kiryat Shmona, and kidnapped Israeli service members." . . . As anyone who checks the chronology of last summer's Lebanon war will easily discover, Hizbullah only launched rockets against Israeli towns after Israel had heavily bombed civilian neighborhoods in Lebanon killing hundreds of civilians, many fleeing the Israeli onslaught. . . In total, forty-three Israeli civilians were killed by Hizbullah rockets during the thirty-four day war. For every Israeli civilian who died, over twenty-five Lebanese civilians were killed by indiscriminate Israeli bombing -- over one thousand in total, a third of them children. . .

There was absolutely nothing in Obama's speech that deviated from the hardline consensus underpinning US policy in the region. Echoing the sort of exaggeration and alarmism that got the United States into the Iraq war, he called Iran "one of the greatest threats to the United States, to Israel, and world peace." While advocating "tough" diplomacy with Iran he confirmed that "we should take no option, including military action, off the table." . . .

Over the years since I first saw Obama speak I met him about half a dozen times, often at Palestinian and Arab-American community events in Chicago including a May 1998 community fundraiser at which Edward Said was the keynote speaker. In 2000, when Obama unsuccessfully ran for Congress I heard him speak at a campaign fundraiser hosted by a University of Chicago professor. On that occasion and others Obama was forthright in his criticism of US policy and his call for an even-handed approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

The last time I spoke to Obama was in the winter of 2004 at a gathering in Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood. He was in the midst of a primary campaign to secure the Democratic nomination for the United States Senate seat he now occupies. But at that time polls showed him trailing.

As he came in from the cold and took off his coat, I went up to greet him. He responded warmly, and volunteered, "Hey, I'm sorry I haven't said more about Palestine right now, but we are in a tough primary race. I'm hoping when things calm down I can be more up front." He referred to my activism, including columns I was contributing to the the Chicago Tribune critical of Israeli and US policy, "Keep up the good work!"

But Obama's gradual shift into the AIPAC camp had begun as early as 2002 as he planned his move from small time Illinois politics to the national scene. In 2003, Forward reported on how he had "been courting the pro-Israel constituency." He co-sponsored an amendment to the Illinois Pension Code allowing the state of Illinois to lend money to the Israeli government. . .

If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.


PAUL WATSON, LA TIMES - As a boy in Indonesia, Barack Obama crisscrossed the religious divide. At the local primary school, he prayed in thanks to a Catholic saint. In the neighborhood mosque, he bowed to Allah. Having a personal background in both Christianity and Islam might seem useful for an aspiring U.S. president in an age when Islamic nations and radical groups are key national security and foreign policy issues. But a connection with Islam is untrod territory for presidential politics. . .

No one knows how voters will react to a candidate with an early exposure to Islam, a religion that remains foreign to many Americans.
Obama's campaign aides have emphasized his strong Christian beliefs and downplayed any Islamic connection. The candidate was raised "in a secular household in Indonesia by his stepfather and mother," his chief spokesman, Robert Gibbs, said in a statement in January after false reports began circulating that Obama had attended a radical madrasa, or Koranic school, as a child.

"To be clear, Senator Obama has never been a Muslim, was not raised a Muslim, and is a committed Christian who attends the United Church of Christ in Chicago," Gibbs' Jan. 24 statement said. In a statement to The Times on Wednesday, the campaign offered slightly different wording, saying: "Obama has never been a practicing Muslim." The statement added that as a child, Obama had spent time in the neighborhood's Islamic center.

His former Roman Catholic and Muslim teachers, along with two people who were identified by Obama's grade-school teacher as childhood friends, say Obama was registered by his family as a Muslim at both of the schools he attended. That registration meant that during the third and fourth grades, Obama learned about Islam for two hours each week in religion class.

The childhood friends say Obama sometimes went to Friday prayers at the local mosque. "We prayed but not really seriously, just following actions done by older people in the mosque. But as kids, we loved to meet our friends and went to the mosque together and played," said Zulfin Adi, who describes himself as among Obama's closest childhood friends.

The campaign's national press secretary, Bill Burton, said Wednesday that the friends were recalling events "that are 40 years old and subject to four decades of other information." Obama's younger sister, Maya Soetoro, said in a statement released by the campaign that the family attended the mosque only "for big communal events," not every Friday.,0,5315525,full.story


RICK KLEIN, BOSTON GLOBE - A review of Obama's record during his 26 months in Congress reveals that he has taken a more nuanced and cautious position on the war than the full-bore opposition. Campaigning for the Illinois Senate seat in 2003 and 2004, Obama scolded Bush for invading Iraq and vowed he would "unequivocally" vote against an additional $87 billion to pay for it. Yet since taking office in January 2005, he has voted for four separate war appropriations, totaling more than $300 billion.

Last June, Obama voted no to Senator John F. Kerry's proposal to remove most combat troops from Iraq by July 2007, warning that an "arbitrary deadline" could "compound" the Bush administration's mistake. And last week, he voted for a Republican-sponsored resolution that stated the Senate would not cut off funding for troops in Iraq. . .

Obama has voted for war appropriations because he wants the troops provided for fully, said Bill Burton, an Obama spokesman. Aides said that Obama has criticized the war several times early in his Senate career, but that he delayed rolling out specific plans and major Senate speeches while learning about his new office.

DAN BALZ, WASHINGTON POST - A brewing argument over Iraq between the presidential campaigns of Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama broke into public view here Monday night when Clinton's chief strategist challenged Obama's credentials as a consistent opponent of the war. Mark Penn and Obama strategist David Axelrod engaged in a pointed and occasionally heated exchange during a public forum at Harvard University over the issue that has become the central point of dispute between the two leading candidates for the 2008 Democratic nomination. Clinton (N.Y.) voted for the October 2002 resolution authorizing the Iraq war, while Obama (Ill.), then a state senator, publicly opposed the war. . .

Penn, responding to a question about Clinton's vote for the resolution, used the opportunity to attack Obama, arguing that he had said in 2004 that he was not sure whether he would have voted against the resolution had he been in the Senate. "Obama said he didn't know exactly how he would have voted in Congress because he didn't have the full intelligence," Penn said.

Axelrod quickly interrupted Penn and disputed his interpretation of events, charging that the Clinton strategist had distorted the meaning of what Obama had said at the time. . .

Penn also argued that since Obama arrived in the Senate in 2005, his voting record has been virtually identical to Clinton's. "Senator Obama voted $301 billion in funding. So did Senator Clinton," he said. "Senator Obama voted against a definite withdrawal date. So did Senator Clinton." Penn went on to say that when it comes to their records, there is "very little difference in the Senate, where people actually have to cast votes," and argued that the nomination battle should not be decided on the basis of the two senators' war records. . .


THOMAS BEAUMONT, DES MOINES REGISTER - Illinois Sen. Barack Obama on Sunday told a small group of Iowa Democrats that U.S. policy in the Middle East can be compassionate as well as tough . . . Obama told the Muscatine-area party activists that he supports relaxing restrictions on aid to the Palestinian people. He said they have suffered the most as a result of stalled peace efforts with Israel. "Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people," Obama said while on the final leg of his weekend trip to eastern Iowa. "If we could get some movement among Palestinian leadership, what I'd like to see is a loosening up of some of the restrictions on providing aid directly to the Palestinian people," he added.


TOM BEVAN, REAL CLEAR POLITICS - On March 2 the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about Craig Robinson. Robinson is the head coach of the Brown University men's basketball team, and he also happens to be Barack Obama's brother-in-law. Obama married Robinson's younger sister, Michelle, in 1992. . . In the early 1990s, when his sister brought her new boyfriend home for the first time, Craig Robinson was understandably wary. Now read how the article ends: "As for his brother-in-law, Robinson still shakes his head when he remembers that initial meeting. "We were talking about a variety of things and he said, 'I'm thinking about running for president one day,' " Robinson said. "I said, 'President? President of what?'". . . So, if Robinson's recollection is accurate, more than five years before Barack Obama first ran for elected office he was thinking and talking somewhat openly about running for President. . .


SOMERVILLE NEWS, MA - Before Barack Obama was a United States senator and a presidential hopeful, he was a Harvard University law student living in Somerville who parked in bus stops and accumulated hundreds of dollars in parking tickets. And for nearly two decades those parking tickets went unpaid, until a representative of Obama's settled all his outstanding debts with Cambridge's Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department Jan. 26.

Obama attended Harvard Law School from 1988 to 1991. During his time at Harvard, Obama lived at 365 Broadway in Somerville, according to his parking tickets. Records from the Cambridge Traffic, Parking and Transportation office show that between Oct. 5, 1988 and Jan. 12, 1990 Obama was cited for 17 traffic violations, sometimes committing two in the same day. The abuses included parking in a resident permit area, parking in a bus stop and failing to pay the meter. Twelve of Obama's 17 tickets were given to him on Massachusetts Avenue.

In one eight day stretch in 1988, Obama was cited seven times for parking violations and was fined $45. Thirteen of the 17 violations occurred within one month in 1988.

Obama's disobedience of the rules of the road earned him $140 in fines from the City of Cambridge. The tickets went unpaid for over 17 years and $260 in late fees were added to the tab. On Jan. 26, the fines and late fees were paid in full. The final tally for Obama's parking breaches was $400, according to Cambridge Traffic, Parking and Transportation.

Obama spokeswoman Jennifer Psaki said the presidential candidate's parking violations were not relevant. "He didn't owe that much and what he did owe, he paid," Psaki said. "Many people have parking tickets and late fees. All the parking tickets and late fees were paid in full."

Psaki declined to comment further. She refused to say how the fines went unpaid so long and what prompted Obama to finally pay them.


Sam Smith

If I just found out that one of my friends had left 17 parking tickets in Somerville, Massachusetts unpaid nearly two decades it would not lessen my affection towards that friend. As has been said, a friend is one who knows your faults and doesn't give a damn.

[Besides, I didn't return the copy of "The Care and Feeding of Hamsters," which I borrowed from the Cleveland Park Library in 1973 until I found it in my basement in 1991. The maximum fine was $7; I paid $25 out of guilt which may have been more than necessary since I seem to have been made a life member of the Friend of the Cleveland Park Library as a result.]

If I found that someone had accumulated the parking tickets shortly before becoming president of the Harvard Law Review I would have been smugly amused by the confirmatory evidence for my assumptions about that institution.

If the offender had run for State Senate of Illinois from a Chicago district, I would have probably supported him since the violations were in the lower range of offenses generally associated with that post.

But what if the offender had an repetitive tendency to write things in books and speeches like the following?

"Our failure as progressives to tap into the moral underpinnings of the nation is not just rhetorical, though. Our fear of getting 'preachy' may also lead us to discount the role that values and culture play in addressing some of our most urgent social problems."

Or as the violator put it down in Selma just the other day:

"One of the signature aspects of the civil rights movement was the degree of discipline and fortitude that was instilled in all the people who participated. Imagine young people, 16, 17, 20, 21, backs straight, eyes clear, suit and tie, sitting down at a lunch counter knowing somebody is going to spill milk on you but you have the discipline to understand that you are not going to retaliate because in showing the world how disciplined we were as a people, we were able to win over the conscience of the nation. I can't say for certain that we have instilled that same sense of moral clarity and purpose in this generation."

I tend not to follow the moral reiterations of people with 17 unpaid parking tickets, especially one who seems to have abruptly stopped accumulating them once the Harvard Law Review presidency was in sight and didn't bother paying them until a still higher presidency was in sight.

There is a bit of arrogance, contempt and self indulgence lurking behind such behavior. One unpaid ticket is a messy desk, two is a messy schedule, three a messy life, but 17 suggests a certain philosophical indifference to the law or other psychological flaw.

Not that all fines should be paid. For example, just 14 miles down the road from Somerville is Concord, Massachusetts, where in July of 1846 Henry David Thoreau was arrested by Constable Samuel Staples for failure to pay the poll tax, a dramatic, albeit admittedly unpreachy, statement in opposition to slavery. A veiled woman, perhaps his aunt, arrived to pay his fine but Thoreau refused to leave. Then, according to Wendy McEloy:

"According to some accounts, Emerson visited Thoreau in jail and asked, 'Henry, what are you doing in there?' Thoreau replied, 'Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?' Emerson was 'out there' because he believed it was shortsighted to protest an isolated evil; society required an entire rebirth of spirituality."

In the present instance, the 17 unpaid Somerville parking tickets have resulted in neither jail nor are they likely - despite the offender's best desires - to result in an entire rebirth of spirituality. Instead, they stand as a reminder of the sometimes subtle, sometimes simple, accord we strike with each other in order to live in the same town. And how some observe this accord and others think they are too clever or too important to bother.

It is a small matter that becomes somewhat more significant when one thinks about the past six years under a president who has routinely ignored the laws of the United States in order to satisfy his egoistic and psychotic needs. Many of these violations have their roots in behavior and attitudes learned as a young man, including at college.

It's not an insurmountable problem but it doesn't help much when your media representative declares the issue not relevant. After all, as they say: deceive me once, shame on thee. . . Deceive me, the Traffic, Parking and Transportation Department, the Democratic Party, the media and the voters 17 times until your consultants tell you better pay up, shame on all of us.

From left to right, Michelle Obama, then Illinois state senator Barack Obama, Columbia University Professor Edward Said and Mariam Said at a May 1998 Arab community event in Chicago at which Edward Said gave the keynote speech. [Ali Abunimah archives]

HOW OBAMA LOST INTEREST IN PALESTINE: If disappointing, given his historically close relations to Palestinian-Americans, Obama's about-face is not surprising. He is merely doing what he thinks is necessary to get elected and he will continue doing it as long as it keeps him in power. Palestinian-Americans are in the same position as civil libertarians who watched with dismay as Obama voted to reauthorize the USA Patriot Act, or immigrant rights advocates who were horrified as he voted in favor of a Republican bill to authorize the construction of a 700-mile fence on the border with Mexico.

THE OBAMA-JFK MYTH   TODAY'S JOHN R. STINGO AWARD goes to any member of the media who compares Barack Obama with John F. Kennedy on any grounds other than gender and age. The JFK connection is pure spin - part of the audacity of hope-hustling that is at the heart of the Obama campaign. In fact, not only is Obama quite unlike Kennedy, all of today's presidential candidates would have a hard time against either Kennedy or Nixon in an argument.


BY ALL RIGHTS, the character of Barack Obama's father should be of little concern to the voter. But, like John Kerry with his war record, Obama has tried to get maximum mileage out of his family story and thus has to be prepared for the consequences.

An alternative approach, as we suggested with Kerry, is to shut up about it and let others do the talking. It's a hard concept for politicians to get, especially hyper-egoed politicians.

An exception, however, is John McCain who has gone through more hell than anyone running for president. And while that hasn't improved his rightwing politics, he does provide an example of how to handle one's past. For example, just before interviewing McCain, Don Imus mentioned that someone had remarked that he thought McCain was really stiff. Imus explained it was because of his war injuries. The response: then why doesn't he talk about them?

When McCain came on the air and Imus pressed him, he laughed about it and commented that maybe he should wear a sandwich board labeled, "Eat at Joes and by the way. . ."

One can't imagine either Obama or Kerry responding in a similar fashion. It's one of the reasons you get the swift boat affair or stories like this:

DAILY MAIL, UK - It is a classic story of the American dream made real: an impoverished Kenyan goatherd rising to become a brilliant Harvard-educated economist. On the way he fights racial prejudice at home and corruption at work, survives the heartbreak of a broken relationship and, despite it all, leads the fight to rid Africa of its colonial legacy.

This extraordinary story is told by US Presidential hopeful Barack Obama as he recalls the life of the man who inspired him to political success - his father.

Mr Obama's book, Dreams From My Father, is flying off the shelves of US book stores, exciting and astonishing readers in equal measure. It is a bestseller, and no wonder - because the story just gets better and better. . .

"My story is part of the larger American story," he declared in the electrifying speech that won him his Senate seat just two years ago. "In no other country on Earth is my story even possible.". . .

His lovingly written account of the debt he owes his father, also called Barack Obama, will do no harm at all to his presidential hopes.

Indeed, by offering up a conveniently potted account of his personal history in this way, he might even have made a preemptive strike on those sure to pose the awkward questions that inevitably face a serious contender for the White House.

Yet an investigation by The Mail on Sunday has revealed that, for all Mr Obama's reputation for straight talking and the compelling narrative of his recollections, they are largely myth.

We have discovered that his father was not just a deeply flawed individual but an abusive bigamist and an egomaniac, whose life was ruined not by racism or corruption but his own weaknesses.

And, devastatingly, the testimony has come from Mr Obama's own relatives and family friends. . .

TIME - Obama's wife, Michelle, earns $45K a year sitting on the corporate board of Treehouse (formerly Dean) Foods, whose biggest customer is - you guessed it - Wal-Mart. Not to mention that Treehouse appears to have a bit of an executive compensation issue. According to the article by Greg Hinz of Crain's Chicago, the CEO of Treehouse earned $26.2 million in salary and stock options last year, making him the second highest paid exec in the state, ahead of the CEO's of corporate giants Motorola and Abbot Labs. And three other execs at Treehouse made over $10 million last year, all working for a company with only $700 million in revenues.



GLEN FORD, BLACK AGENDA REPORT - "Barack Obama is our son and he deserves our support," declared Illinois Senate President Emil Jones Jr., speaking to a gathering of Black Democrats at the party's winter meeting, in Washington, earlier this month. By Jones' logic, Condoleezza Rice deserves automatic African American support as "our daughter," and Colin Powell, her predecessor as George Bush's Secretary of State, was due fealty as "our brother."

Jones' embrace of the entire African American family tree must also, therefore, extend to U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Clarence Thomas, the most reactionary, anti-Black member of the High Court; and to "our brother" J. Kenneth Blackwell, the former Ohio Secretary of State whose consuming mission in 2004 was to deny the franchise to as many fellow Blacks as possible. . .

Jones and the larger political current he represents would utterly gut Black politics of all substance, rendering the entire electoral process worthless to the Black masses. Perhaps the greatest irony of Jones' issueless directive is that it masquerades as a Black empowerment strategy. In a transparent bid to shame Blacks in the Hillary Clinton camp - another political desert - Jones said African Americans don't "owe" anyone. Jones elaborated later, in a conversation with a Chicago Sun-Times reporter. "How long do we have to owe before we have an opportunity to support our son?" he said.

In other words, Black people's "debt" to the Clintons - as if such ever existed - has been paid, and now it's time to herd Black voters behind Obama, like so many cattle. Jones' brand of politics holds that Black people don't have interests or political ideals, only obligations to one politician or the other. In Jones' world, African Americans are constantly indebted, but nobody owes them anything - certainly not Obama, "our son.". . .

Jones' remarks exemplify an extraordinary vulgarization of African American politics, the product of uncritical, Jim Crow-era reflexes that linger within the Black polity, combined with the growing influence of corporate money in the Black leadership-creation process.


BARACK OBAMA, IOWA STATE UNIVERSITY - We ended up launching a war that should have never been authorized, and should have never been waged, and to which we now have spent $400 billion, and have seen over 3,000 lives of the bravest young Americans wasted.

CHICAGO SUN TIMES - Obama, in an interview with the Des Moines Register right afterward, told the paper, "I was actually upset with myself when I said that, because I never use that term," he said. "Their sacrifices are never wasted. . . . What I meant to say was those sacrifices have not been honored by the same attention to strategy, diplomacy and honesty on the part of civilian leadership that would give them a clear mission."

[If you support the war, the lives were not wasted. If, however, you think the war was pointless and/or illegal, badly planned and counter-productive, then the lives were wasted. It's as simple as that. . . except to the media and politicians]


CONFIRMING our view that no president of the Harvard Law Review should be elected president of the United States, Barack Obama has given us a frightening insight into how he handles crises.

It wasn't actually that big a crisis, but you'd never know from Obama's reaction. It was caused by a Los Angeles Times article that suggested Obama had exaggerated his role in the effort to get asbestos out of some Chicago apartments. The story - a familiar one of a big time pol rewriting history - didn't get much play but the Obama campaign came back with a 1700-word response faithfully reproduced online by the Chicago Tribune.

Among the high points that only a former editor of the Harvard Law Review could enjoy was Obama's argument that one Hazel Johnson was an activist and not an organizer, perhaps the best piece of political quibbling since Bill Clinton [another Ivy law grad] wondered what "is" is. Obama even had a cite:

"Loretta Augustine-Herron, who was the basis for the character "Angela" in Dreams of My Father, was present at the initial meeting with the Chicago Housing Authority to discuss the issue of asbestos in the Altgeld Garden apartments. When asked about the role that Johnson played in the asbestos work at Altgeld, Augustine-Herron said, 'Hazel was there [for the asbestos work]. . . [she] might have been an activist. But she was not an organizer.' [Conversations with Loretta Augustine-Herron, 2/9/07, 2/14/07]"

Of course, there have innumerable activists and organizers who have done similar things to getting rid of asbestos in an apartment without ever once thinking that they should run for president. But then, perhaps they just didn't have the sort of touch the Chicago Sun Times described and the Obama campaign proudly quoted:

"Altgeld Gardens resident Hazel Johnson, 69, worked with Obama in the Developing Communities Project on pushing the Chicago Housing Authority to remove asbestos from public housing and other issues. She remembers Obama renting a bus to take a group of residents downtown to protest at CHA headquarters. 'He even got us coffee and doughnuts," she said. "And he didn't have to do that.'" [Chicago Sun Times, 10/3/04]

How can you resist a candidate like that?


NATHAN GONZALES, WALL STREET JOURNAL - In 1997, Obama voted "present" on two bills (HB 382 and SB 230) that would have prohibited a procedure often referred to as partial birth abortion. He also voted "present" on SB 71, which lowered the first offense of carrying a concealed weapon from a felony to a misdemeanor and raised the penalty of subsequent offenses.

In 1999, Obama voted "present" on SB 759, a bill that required mandatory adult prosecution for firing a gun on or near school grounds. The bill passed the state Senate 52-1. Also in 1999, Obama voted "present" on HB 854 that protected the privacy of sex-abuse victims by allowing petitions to have the trial records sealed. He was the only member to not support the bill.

In 2001, Obama voted "present" on two parental notification abortion bills (HB 1900 and SB 562), and he voted "present" on a series of bills (SB 1093, 1094, 1095) that sought to protect a child if it survived a failed abortion. In his book, the "Audacity of Hope," on page 132, Obama explained his problems with the "born alive" bills, specifically arguing that they would overturn Roe v. Wade. But he failed to mention that he only felt strongly enough to vote "present" on the bills instead of "no."

And finally in 2001, Obama voted "present" on SB 609, a bill prohibiting strip clubs and other adult establishments from being within 1,000 feet of schools, churches, and daycares.

If Obama had taken a position for or against these bills, he would have pleased some constituents and alienated others. Instead, the Illinois legislator-turned-U.S. senator and, now, Democratic presidential hopeful essentially took a pass.


EDWARD MCCLELLAND - When reporters go one on one with Barack Obama, they end up writing things they'll regret in the morning papers. It's a phenomenon called "drinking the Obama juice." One besotted scribe called him "tall, fresh and elegant." And the august Atlantic Monthly mooned about Obama's "charisma, intelligence and ambition, tempered by a self-deprecating wit," titling its article "The Natural."

OK, Obama is tall (6 feet 2 inches), intelligent (Harvard Law, two bestselling books), and damn, he's ambitious (running for president after two years in Congress). But he's no natural.

As a correspondent for the Chicago Reader, I covered Obama's 2000 campaign to unseat Bobby Rush, the ex-Black Panther who's been a Democratic congressman from Chicago's South Side since 1993. It's the only election Obama has ever lost. As even one of his admirers put it, "He was a stiff." You think John Kerry looked wooden and condescending on the campaign trail? You should have seen this kid Obama. He was the elitist Ivy League Democrat to top them all. Only after losing that race, in humiliating fashion, did he develop the voice, the style, the track record and the agenda that have made him a celebrity senator, and a Next President. . .

Wherever Obama went, he talked like a poli-sci thesis. Here's how he bragged on himself back then, as I reported in the Reader: "My experience of being able to walk into a public housing development and turn around and walk into a corporate boardroom and communicate effectively in either venue means I'm more likely to build the kinds of coalitions and craft the sort of message that appeals to a broad range of people.". . .

Back in 2000, when I interviewed Obama in his cubicle-size office at a downtown law firm, he started the meeting by checking his watch. Then he dissed his congressional district, half-joking that he was more committed to the South Side than his opponents, because, number one, he'd moved there from Hawaii, and number two, he could have been raking it in on Wall Street. . .

I'd thought Obama had campaigned like an ass, but I expected him to run for the U.S. Senate. And I expected him to win. His white upbringing would appeal to suburbanites, while South Siders might figure that Obama was as black a senator as they were going to get, after the Carol Moseley Braun debacle. His braininess, his haughtiness, his sense of entitlement -- they could only be pluses in a Senate campaign. They don't call that place Ego Mountain for nothing.

In 2004, I went down to his Michigan Avenue campaign office to interview him for the Reader. His press secretary had already scolded me for the "negative" quotes in my last article. I was expecting another preening, insecure performance. But Obama charmed me right away. He did it to dozens of reporters that year. "Good to see you again," he intoned, casually, gliding across the room like Fred Astaire playing Abe Lincoln. He had doffed his suit coat for shirtsleeves.. . .

Later, when I called his office for follow-up questions, Obama jumped on the line and drilled me with more details of his healthcare plan. He also repeated his "E Pluribus Unum" speech, tweaking a few words. He was proud of that one.

A few weeks after that, I heard him speak at a North Side organic restaurant known for its liberal politics. . . That wasn't the Obama I'd known. But it was the Obama America came to know. I was sold. I voted for him twice that year. That July, the Democrats made him the keynote speaker at their convention. . .

Terry Link believes that losing that congressional race liberated Obama to be the real Obama -- the bright young charmer Link had met as a fellow freshman in Springfield. . .

So what do you make of a campaigner whose persona changed so drastically in four years? That he's finally learned to be himself, or that he's putting on an act? He's doing both. All great politicians are also great performers. . . Obama has also grown into the character he was born to play: the great uniter who can bring together old and young, black and white, Democrat and Republican. So far, he's playing it brilliantly. Even his comic timing has improved . . .

Some of us, though, are still trying to figure out how he got to be Elvis, Lord Byron and Bobby Kennedy, all in the same dark suit.

DEMOCRACY NOW - In political news, Democratic Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama has suggested he would increase the Pentagon's budget if elected president. Obama made the comment during a campaign stop in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He said that because the Iraq war has depleted our military "there's probably going to be a bump under an Obama presidency in initial spending just to get back to where we were."

MATT TAIBBI, ROLLING STONE - Here's the thing about Obama, the reason they call him a "natural" and a "rare talent." When Hillary Clinton spouts a cliché, it's four words long, she's reading it off a teleprompter, and it hits the ear like the fat part of a wooden oar. Even when Hillary announced she was running for president, she sounded like she was ordering coffee. Obama on the other hand can close his eyes and the cliches just pour out of his mouth in huge polysyllabic paragraphs, like Rachmaninoff improvisations. In this sense he's exactly like Bill Clinton, who had the same gift. He is exactly what is meant by the term bullshit artist.


[Given in memory of the late New York columnist who, as AJ Liebling put it, never permitted "facts to interfere with the exercise of his imagination."]

TO PETER SLEVIN OF THE WASHINGTON POST for his touching description of Barack Obama's past that fills the gap left by the lack of meaningful activities in his present. The story was modestly headlined, "Obama Forged Political Mettle In Illinois Capitol." Makes you wonder where Biden, Vilsack, Edwards and Richardson forged their political mettle.

Turns out that Obama "emerged as a leader while still in his 30s by developing a style former colleagues describe as methodical, inclusive and pragmatic. He cobbled together legislation with Republicans and conservative Democrats, making overtures other progressive politicians might consider distasteful. Along the way, he played an important role in drafting bipartisan ethics legislation and health-care reform."

Wow, it doesn't get much better than that for the Washington elite. And he's black to boot.


MIKE ALLEN, POLITICO - It was only about two years ago, during a meeting with reporters at his Illinois campaign headquarters after his election to the U.S. Senate, that he ridiculed as "a silly question" whether he would run for president or vice president before his term ends in 2011. . . "I can unequivocally say I will not be running for national office in four years, and my entire focus is making sure that I'm the best possible senator on behalf of the people of Illinois."

As he told NBC's Tim Russert on "Meet the Press" after his election in 2004, "I don't know where the restrooms are in the Senate." Then last October, on the same show, he backed away from the pledge, saying it reflected his "thinking at the time" but that he had not thought about the idea "with the seriousness and depth that I think it required.". . .

At the DNC meeting, Obama surprised some in the audience by seeming to scoff at the intricacy of public policy. "There are those who don't believe in talking about hope," he said. "They say, well, we want specifics, we want details, we want white papers, we want plans. We've had a lot of plans, Democrats. What we've had is a shortage of hope."

A former Democratic official in close touch with several of the campaigns said: "Downplaying the importance of specific plans and ideas seems like a really strange strategy from somebody who is clearly very smart, policy-wise, but hasn't established that with the broader public yet.". . .

KARIN STANON, AP - Bruce Harrison, founder of the Waikoloa, Hawaii-based Family Forest Project, says he found links between the Democratic senator from Illinois and Presidents George Washington, James Madison, Harry Truman and Jimmy Carter. Apparently the common ancestor is one Lawrence Washington, an English wool merchant born circa 1500. Lawrence is Obama's great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather on his mother's side. Lawrence was George Washington's great-great-great-great-great grandfather on his father's side. In addition to four presidents, Stanton reports, Lawrence Washington's descendants include Gen. George S. Patton, Adlai Stevenson, and Quincy Jones.

TIM NOAH, SLATE - Stanton neglects to tell readers that this Obama ancestor built the Washington family estate in Oxfordshire, Sulgrave Manor, on land that King Henry VIII confiscated from the Catholic Church. She also neglects to point out that, according to the same genealogical database, George Washington is President George W. Bush's 11th cousin eight times removed, and that Dubya may be "at least a 79th great-grandson of the famous King Solomon of the Bible, whose name is synonymous with great wisdom." Talk about regression to the mean!

AND WHILE WE'RE ON THE TOPIC, you may have missed this from last August:

ROBIN GIVHAN, WASHINGTON POST - Barack Obama, the junior senator from Illinois, offers an easy smile from the cover of the fall issue of Men's Vogue. He has been shot by celebrity photographer Annie Leibovitz, who has given him the high-gloss treatment for which the Vogue brand is famous. . . In the cover image, he is shown wearing a crisp white shirt and a pale blue tie with a pattern of fine stripes. But since there are no grand flourishes, the eye zeroes in on the details. The barrel cuffs. The fact that the forearm button on the left sleeve is undone. The tiny wrinkles along the seams. One gets the impression that Obama wasn't fussed over and primped -- at least not lavishly.

The picture of him in his white shirt and his quiet smile against the wood-grain backdrop of his Chicago home office is all about ease, control and confidence -- but not specifically power. Inside the magazine, the senator is photographed in his Capitol Hill office and he once again is wearing a white shirt and a blue tie, this one with tiny white dots. In this image, the tie is loosened, his sleeves are rolled up and the shirt is wrinkled. Leaving it so obviously mussed was, without question, intentional. The subtext is clear: The lawmaker is at work. He is not posing or posturing. It is as though the photographer -- without assistants, without a sittings editor -- popped in for a minute and Obama swiveled around in his office chair for the shot. Click, flash. And he went back to the hard work of government.

There is a photo of Obama standing on the steps of the Capitol and being swarmed by a group of students as if he were a rock star. They are in shorts and T-shirts. He wears a dark suit with his tie snugly knotted. And there is a Camelot-like portrait of the family cuddling on the grass in their Chicago back yard. He wears khakis, and his shirt sleeves are pushed up as he hugs his two young daughters. His wife, Michelle, looks on -- her legs tucked under her and a strand of neat beads around her neck. A reader would be forgiven for trying to find evidence of a touch football game in the photo.

In each image, Obama is pictured in warm light or soft focus. He is pondering, nurturing, working. But never glad-handing, pontificating or fundraising. The pictures celebrate the idea of Obama rather than the reality of politics.


JOHN MCCASLIN, WASHINGTON TIMES - Sen. Barack Obama knew as early as the third grade that he wanted to be president of the United States. The Voice of America and its Indonesian TV service are reporting that the Illinois Democrat, who recently made it official that he is seeking the presidency in 2008, "declared his goal of becoming president when he was in grade school in Indonesia more than 35 years ago." In an interview with VOA's Indonesian Service, Mr. Obama's third-grade teacher said he wrote in a class assignment that he "wanted to be president," according to VOA's Web site. The assignment was called, "What do you want to be when you grow up?"


THE PROBLEM WITH POST-MODERNIST CANDIDATES like Obama and Clinton is that you have to keep deconstructing them. And what you find is more likely to give you a headache than clarity. For example, we all know that Obama opposed the war in 2002. But did you know that Obama voted in 2006 against a Senate resolution calling for getting troops out of Iraq by July 2007? Those voting for the resolution: Akaka, Boxer, Durbin, Feingold, Harkin, Inouye, Jeffors, Kennedy, Kerry, Lautenberg, Leahy, Menendez and Wyden.

Then on Feb 12, 2007, CNN reported, "Sen. Barack Obama called Monday for U.S. troops to start leaving Iraq in 2007, arguing that the threat of an American pullout is the best leverage Washington has left in the conflict."

This, from Eric Ruder, gives a further sense of what we're up against:

ERIC RUDER, COUNTERPUNCH, AUG 3, 2004 - For those hoping for an alternative to Bush's war on the world, Obama's rise has raised many hopes. In 2002, Obama spoke at an antiwar rally in Chicago, and as the convention neared, he reiterated his view that the U.S. war on Iraq was a defining campaign issue.

Nevertheless, his performance before and at the convention confirmed that even the party's new liberal star would fail to oppose the U.S. occupation of Iraq in any meaningful way.

Like Kerry, he only quibbled over the hows. The day before his speech, Obama told reporters, "On Iraq, on paper, there's not as much difference, I think, between the Bush administration and a Kerry administration as there would have been a year ago." He added, "There's not that much difference between my position and George Bush's position at this stage. The difference, in my mind, is who's in a position to execute."

The speech itself took Bush to task for lying about the reasons for war and for invading and occupying "without enough troops to win the war, secure the peace, and earn the respect of the world." In other words, Obama, the great liberal hope, thinks that Bush should have sent more troops--and that the Democrats are more capable of seeing the war on Iraq through to victory.

Obama is a gifted politician. Like Bill Clinton, he knows how to encourage people of opposite political beliefs to see what they want to see in his speeches and policy prescriptions. Thus, even Rich Lowry, a right-wing booster of the Bush gang, praised Obama's speech for its "hawkish attitude," its "rallying cry of unity" and its "authentic, unashamed" embrace of "an awesome God."

This method carries through on other issues. Obama finds a way to talk left--but makes it clear that he will never pose a threat to corporate interests or make a policy proposal that would carry a hefty price tag.

IT IS SUCH bobbing and weaving that adds appeal to John Edwards' flat out admission to error on the war. After all, when Obama and Clinton do something wrong, they don't have to apologize, they simply redefine what happened. Edwards handled things differently:

JONATHAN DARMAN NEWSWEEK, FEB 19 - In the fall of 2005, John Edwards sat down with a pad and pen and scrawled out three simple words: "I was wrong." It was nearly three years after he'd joined a Senate majority in voting to authorize war in Iraq. After an unsuccessful run as John Kerry's vice presidential candidate in the 2004 election, Edwards had returned home to North Carolina and watched as the war descended into chaos. Increasingly filled with regret, he concluded that the three-word confession would be the right way to start a Washington Post op-ed admitting his vote was a mistake.

But when a draft came back from his aides in Washington, Edwards's admission was gone. Determined, the senator reinserted the sentence. Again a draft came back from Washington; again the sentence had been taken out. "We went back and forth, back and forth," Edwards tells Newsweek. "They didn't want me to say it. They were saying I should stress that I'd been misled." The opening sentence remained. "That was the single most important thing for me to say," Edwards recalls. "I had to show how I really felt."


TIM HAMES, TIMES, UK - Far the most worrying - part of this saga is the way that Mr Obama rebuts . . . criticism on the rare occasions that he is confronted with it. When he was pressed in a recent interview for detailed positions he replied that, unlike others in the 2008 struggle, he had already expressed himself in two books that had sold well.

Extensive research confirms that Kermit the Frog has also released two tomes that attracted a substantial share of dollars (Before You Leap and One Frog Can Make a Difference). As far as I am aware, Kermit is not in line for the Democratic nomination next time. . .

Mr Obama is supposedly sweeping the nation, if not the globe, perhaps the solar system. Despite this, he is, after months of publicity that a Hollywood star would die for, miles behind Mrs Clinton in all national polls for the Democratic prize and is far from establishing a lead in Iowa or New Hampshire, the Alpha and Beta of presidential primary politics. Yet, never mind the numbers, who cares about statistics when charisma is lurking out there?

Charisma is the most overrated attribute in politics. This is not to deny that some eminent statesmen - Roosevelt, Churchill, Kennedy - have exhibited the quality. They all, nonetheless, acquired it alongside experience. Franklin Roosevelt had no great reputation as a speaker before his election. Winston Churchill was mocked by a contemporary for spending hours rehearsing his impromptu addresses. John. F. Kennedy was scarcely Cicero until he raided the family fortune to hire writing talent.

The reality, on either side of the Atlantic, is that - while personal charisma is the icing on the cake - proven competence is the cake itself. For every Sir Richard Branson who runs a business well, there must be a hundred, probably a thousand, duller chief executives who are huge assets for their corporations. . .



PAUL HOGARTH, BYOND CHRON - "Barack's Senate record has been cautious -- but he's not a triangulator," said an old friend of mine who used to work closely with Barack Obama and was one of his former students at the University of Chicago. "He's always been an incrementalist, but has the right long- term vision," said another friend from Chicago who has followed his career closely over the years.

Both of these people are leftists who wouldn't say such kind words about Obama if they felt that a familiar politician had sold out after reaching the national stage. They're answering a question that many progressives have about a politician who was unknown less than three years ago -- who really is Barack Obama?. . .

Obama's new book, "The Audacity of Hope," offers some insights about who he really is -- but I can't say that I felt either assured or dejected after reading it. If you look beyond the optimistic and eloquent rhetoric that makes it an uplifting book to read, it's still hard to determine whether Obama would be a visionary President like FDR who moves the country decidedly to the left -- or just another Bill Clinton who will sell out for the sake of expediency.

I grew up in Chicago, and actually lived three doors down from Barack Obama -- right when he was kicking off his political career with a run for the Illinois State Senate. I never knew him all that well, but I remember him as a staunch progressive who echoed the spirit of the late Mayor Harold Washington. . .

But Obama's record in the Senate has been a mixed bag for many progressives, and has surprisingly been more moderate than his Illinois colleague, Dick Durbin. . . He's been a good vote against George Bush's Iraq policy and for withdrawal, but we haven't heard the sense of moral outrage from him that so many of us feel on a daily basis. And if you go to websites like Daily Kos, it won't be long before you find leftists grumbling about how Obama spends his time lecturing progressives for being too harsh and too partisan in their dismay at Republicans and conservative Democrats. . .

Throughout the book, I found myself continuously frustrated by Obama's deference to Republicans and the excesses of the Bush Administration -- as he gives the opposition a certain aura of credibility that they simply do not deserve. As he discusses the Senate debates over the President's "war powers" to combat terrorism and the Republicans' manipulation of the Terri Schiavo affair, he writes "as much as I disagreed with [their positions], I believed they were worthy of serious debate."

What you don't get from his book is a sense of outrage that the political spectrum has moved so far to the right that we are today debating questions that were called insane twenty years ago. As Obama himself even admits, "by nature I'm not somebody who gets real worked up about things."

A more charitable view is that Obama is an eternal idealist who longs for a time when political opponents can disagree without being disagreeable -- as he deplores the partisanship that plagues Washington. . .

Obama's on our side -- but there's one thing that you can really tell from reading his book: he is cautious to a fault. And that's not the Obama I remember.



[It is noteworthy that Barack Obama's schooling - and the fact that he is black - seems to be the most interesting thing anyone can write about him. But the media still can't get the madrassa thing right. Despite the spin being put on it by Obama's own staff and the media, Obama did go to a madrassa; it's just that a madrassa isn't what a lot of people think it is.

Thus we find ourselves in the classic Washington conundrum: arguing about the real nature of something that intrinsically isn't real. Obama is doing a bad job of trying to suppress his education and religious influences and his opponents are doing a bad job in trying to suggest there was something evil to it all.

While Bill Sammon doesn't get madrassa right, he does have a good review of Obama's own description of his past. So read, enjoy and remember that pretty soon there'll be enough Muslims in the country that you'll want one on the ticket. . . .Sort of like Hillary Clinton discovering a Jewish grandmother just in time for her New York Senate race.]

BILL SAMMON, DC EXAMINER - Although Sen. Barack Obama is a Christian, his childhood and family connections to Islam are beginning to complicate his presidential ambitions.

The Illinois Democrat spent much of last week refuting unfounded reports that he had been educated in a madrassa, or radical Islamic school, when he lived in Indonesia as a boy. "The Indonesian school Obama attended in Jakarta is a public school that is not and never has been a Madrassa," said a statement put out by the senator's staff. But the school did teach the Quran, Islam's holy book, along with subjects such as math and science, according to Obama, who attended when he was 9 and 10.

"In Indonesia, I had spent two years at a Muslim school," he wrote in his first memoir, "Dreams from my Father." "The teacher wrote to tell my mother that I made faces during Koranic studies."

Obama - whose father, stepfather, brother and grandfather were Muslims - explained his own first name, Barack, in "Dreams": "It means 'Blessed.' In Arabic. My grandfather was a Muslim."

In his second memoir, "The Audacity of Hope," Obama added: "Although my father had been raised a Muslim, by the time he met my mother he was a confirmed atheist."

Still, when his father, a black Kenyan named Barack Obama Sr., died in 1982, "the family wanted a Muslim burial," Obama quoted his brother, Roy, as saying in "Dreams."

The statement put out by Obama's office last week referred to his father simply as "an atheist," without mentioning his Muslim upbringing.

But with pundits already making faith a major issue in this presidential campaign - as evidenced by questions about Republican Mitt Romney's Mormonism - Obama's religious background is likely to come under further scrutiny.

"He comes from a father who was a Muslim," said civil rights author Juan Williams of National Public Radio. "I mean, I think that given we're at war with Muslim extremists, that presents a problem."

Obama's grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, for whom the senator was given his middle name, Hussein, was fiercely devoted to Islam, according to an account in "Dreams." The grandfather, who died in 1979, was described by his widow when Obama visited Kenya in the late 1980s.

"What your grandfather respected was strength. Discipline," Obama quoted his grandmother as telling him. "This is also why he rejected the Christian religion, I think.

"For a brief time, he converted, and even changed his name to Johnson. But he could not understand such ideas as mercy towards your enemies, or that this man Jesus could wash away a man's sins.

"To your grandfather, this was foolish sentiment, something to comfort women," she added. "And so he converted to Islam - he thought its practices conformed more closely to his beliefs."

When Obama was 2 years old, his parents divorced and his father moved away from the family's home in Hawaii. Four years later, his mother married an Indonesian man, Lolo Soetoro, who moved his new wife and stepson to Jakarta.

"During the five years that we would live with my stepfather in Indonesia, I was sent first to a neighborhood Catholic school and then to a predominately Muslim school," Obama wrote in "Audacity." "In our household, the Bible, the Koran, and the Bhagavad Gita sat on the shelf."

Obama's stepfather was a practicing Muslim.

"Lolo followed a brand of Islam that could make room for the remnants of more ancient animist and Hindu faiths," Obama recalled. "He explained that a man took on the powers of whatever he ate: One day soon, he promised, he would bring home a piece of tiger meat for us to share."

"It was to Lolo that I turned to for guidance and instruction," Obama recalled. "He introduced me as his son."

Although Obama wrote of "puzzling out the meaning of the muezzin's call to evening prayer," he was not raised as a Muslim, according to the senator's office. Nor was he raised as a Christian by his mother, a white American named Ann Dunham who was deeply skeptical of religion.

"Her memories of the Christians who populated her youth were not fond ones," Obama wrote. "For my mother, organized religion too often dressed up closed-mindedness in the garb of piety, cruelty and oppression in the cloak of righteousness."

As a result, he said, "I was not raised in a religious household."

Later in life, however, he was drawn to the writings of an influential American Muslim who served as the spokesman for the militant Nation of Islam.

"Malcolm X's autobiography seemed to offer something different," Obama wrote. "His repeated acts of self-creation spoke to me; the blunt poetry of his words, his unadorned insistence on respect, promised a new and uncompromising order, martial in its discipline, forged through sheer force of will."

He added: "Malcolm's discovery toward the end of his life, that some whites might live beside him as brothers in Islam, seemed to offer some hope of eventual reconciliation."

While working as a community organizer for a group of churches in Chicago, Obama was repeatedly asked to join Christian congregations, but begged off. "I remained a reluctant skeptic, doubtful of my own motives, wary of expedient conversion, having too many quarrels with God to accept a salvation too easily won," he wrote.

But after much soul searching, he eventually was baptized at Trinity United Church of Christ. "It came about as a choice and not an epiphany; the questions I had did not magically disappear," he explained. "But kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side of Chicago, I felt God's spirit beckoning me. I submitted myself to His will, and dedicated myself to discovering His truth."

Obama's family connections to Islam would endure, however. For example, his brother Roy opted for Islam over Christianity, as Obama recounted when describing his 1992 wedding. "The person who made me proudest of all," Obama wrote, "was Roy. Actually, now we call him Abongo, his Luo name, for two years ago he decided to reassert his African heritage. He converted to Islam, and has sworn off pork and tobacco and alcohol."

NOW about this madrassa business. First from a Philip Weiss column we quoted the other day, an explanation by Palestinian scholar Saifedean Ammous:

"The term Madrasah simply means school, and is used exactly as in English, so you could use it to refer to a Jewish, Christian or Islamic Madrasah, as well as a public, private, elementary or secondary Madrasah. In the English language, and due to the amount of coverage that some of these schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan have been getting over the last few years, the term Madrasah has been associated with religious schools that supposedly indoctrinate and train terrorists."

"Obama clearly went to a Madrasah in Indonesia, in that he clearly went to a school. . . Even if he did go to a religious school, that almost certainly doesn't mean that it was a place where they learned Koran and not chemistry. In all likelihood it was an Islamic school inasmuch as Catholic schools in America are Catholic: a regular school teaching all the regular subjects, but putting a little extra emphasis on religion and the morality of its students."

WIKIPEDIA - In the Arabic language, the word implies no sense other than that which the word school represents in the English language, such as private, public or parochial school, as well as for any primary or secondary school whether Muslim, non-Muslim or secular. Unlike the understanding of the word school in British English, the word madrasah refers in American English to a university-level or post-graduate Islamic school. . .

A typical Islamic school (madrasah) usually offers two courses of study: a "hifz" course; that is memorization of the Qur'an . . . and an 'alim course leading the candidate to become an accepted scholar in the community. . . Depending on the educational demands, some madrasahs also offer additional advanced courses in Arabic literature, English and other foreign languages, as well as science and world history. . .

In India, there are around 30,000 operating madrasahs. . . Madrasah education is always provided for free. As a result, the madrasahs often have a multifarious student enrollment, including some Hindus and Christians. . .

Due to administrative mishandling, radical political indoctrination of students and adopting a more conservative view of the simple teachings of Islam, especially in certain Muslim countries such as Pakistan, madrasahs nowadays are frequently deemed as ideological and political training grounds for hatred against the West. In Pakistan in particular, the heavy emphasis on religious teachings to the exclusion of more economically viable subject areas has been criticised. There are also many allegations and documented cases of physical abuse in madrasahs, especially in the UK, such as corporal punishment, beatings and other such practices; such criticisms are usually limited to western countries, as practices such as these are an established pedagogic norm in many nations like Pakistan, Bangladesh or Nigeria.

US STATE DEPARTMENT, MARCH 14 2006 - Today, during her visit to Ma 'Muriyah madrassah in Jakarta, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the creation of the Indonesian version of Sesame Street, the popular educational children's television program. The new program will be funded through a $8.5 million grant from the U.S. Government through the United States Agency for International Development to the Sesame Workshop.

Secretary Rice, Ambassador B. Lynn Pascoe, and USAID Mission Director William M. Frej were welcomed to Ma 'Muriyah by Mr. Sidi Muralin Singedekane, owner of the school, and Headmistress Yawairiyah. Speaking to students, teachers and education officials, Secretary Rice said the Indonesian version of Sesame Street will help build a foundation for successful life-long learning for millions of Indonesian children, as it has for children around the world. . .

While at Ma 'Muriyah, Secretary Rice visited the classrooms for second and sixth graders who are participating in USAID's Decentralized Basic Education Program. The program introduces more participatory teaching and learning techniques to help increase student's performance in math, science and reading. . .

Ma 'Muriyah madrassah is an elementary and junior high school in the Cikini neighborhood. Of the madrassah's 125 students, half come from disadvantaged families. Many live in temporary houses along the river.


Sam Smith

Since the establishment media is trying to get us to elect a man as president on the basis of one speech he gave, I thought it might be useful to go back and look at Barack Obama's 2004 talk.

Before preceding further, it should be noted that electing anyone on the basis of a speech is a dangerous way of going about politics because, in the first place, you're not necessarily voting for the person who wrote it. I have long argued that speech writers ought to be listed on the ballot alongside their candidates and if any writer gets fired or leaves, then a special election needs to be called to select a new speechwriter-enhanced politician.

But that reform is a long way off so we'll just go along with the dominant principle that anyone who gives a good speech is entitled to be president.

Unfortunately, Obama's 2004 speech wasn't all that good. One can't read it without a sense that it wasn't the all too familiar cliches that appealed to the media and voters as much as the fact that they were being delivered by a black man. What Obama did was to say absolutely nothing that a centrist white voter would find offensive or nerve troubling. Not a hint of Jackson, Sharpton, Farrakhan or King.

The speech consisted of 2341 words (including the applause credits listed in the transcript). These broke down into the following:

15% - A description of Obama's family
7% - Standard cliches about the U.S.
10% - Standard warm and fuzzy anecdotes
16% - Words in praise of the candidate, John Kerry
8% - Cliches about hope
15% - We're all in this together, there's nothing much to argue about

The last theme can be summed up as why can't the pro-war, anti-abortion, evolution-despising Christian evangelical and the secular, pacifist, pro-gun control gay just be friends? It is a theme that seems to be central to Obama's current plans. Yet what does Obama have to offer to resolve such conflicts? Nothing but mushy, goo-good imprecations of the sort we used to hear from our fourth grade teacher. It's actually a lot harder than that.

There was one other theme in the speech - taking 8% of the words - that was startling to rediscover: Obama was subtlety but distinctly anti-government. A sample:

"Now, don't get me wrong, the people I meet in small towns and big cities and diners and office parks, they don't expect government to solves all of their problems. They know they have to work hard to get a head. And they want to. Go into the collar counties around Chicago, and people will tell you: They don't want their tax money wasted by a welfare agency or by the Pentagon.

"Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can't teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to teach, that children can't achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white. They know those things.

"People don't expect -- people don't expect government to solve all their problems. But they sense, deep in their bones, that with just a slight change in priorities, we can make sure that every child in America has a decent shot at life and that the doors of opportunity remain open to all. They know we can do better. And they want that choice.

So now we're going waste months in the search for a candidate who will provide "just a slight change in priorities." And that, in his own words, is precisely what Obama promises.

What Obama was doing was sending a signal to the establishment that he wouldn't cause any trouble, that he was willing to join the extremist center, that most dangerous faction of American politics - the one that starts wars, destroys the environment, and celebrates economic equality all the time bragging about how moderate it is. Besides, as Harry Truman said, "Whenever a fellow tells me he is bipartisan, I know he is going to vote against me."


The following is not from the works of Barry Goldwater but from a Chicago resident running for president: "Perhaps the single biggest thing we could do to reduce [inner city] poverty is to encourage teenage girls to finish high school and avoid having children out of wedlock."


TONY ALLEN-MILLS, TIMES, UK - He is a media darling, a paparazzi target and a source of inspiration for millions of Democrats who dream of retaking the White House in 2008. But Senator Barack Obama, the charismatic African-American who is shaking up the presidential primary race, has not impressed some of America's most powerful black activists. Civil rights leaders who have dominated black politics for much of the past two decades have pointedly failed to embrace the 45-year-old Illinois senator who is considering a bid to become America's first black president.

At a meeting of activists in New York last week, the Rev Jesse Jackson, the first black candidate to run for president, declined to endorse Obama. "Our focus right now is not on who's running, because there are a number of allies running," Jackson said.

The Rev Al Sharpton, the fiery New York preacher who joined the Democratic primary race in 2004, said he was considering another presidential run of his own. And Harry Belafonte, the calypso singer who became an influential civil rights activist, said America needed to be "careful" about Obama: "We don't know what he's truly about."

The unexpected coolness between the old civil rights guard and the new Democratic hopeful has added an intriguing twist to the budding rivalry between Obama and Senator Hillary Clinton, who hopes to emulate her husband, former president Bill Clinton, in attracting support from black voters. . .

When asked about Obama's likely candidacy, [Sharpton], renowned for outrageous self-publicising antics, shrugged: "Right now we're hearing a lot of media razzle-dazzle. I'm not hearing a lot of meat, or a lot of content. I think when the meat hits the fire, we'll find out if it's just fat, or if there's some real meat there.". . .

"He's a young man in many ways to be admired," Belafonte said. "Obviously very bright, speaks very well, cuts a handsome figure. But all of that is just the king's clothes. Who's the king?",,2089-2546081,00.html



EXCITING NEWS on the Obama front: Media Matters reports that Dick Morris lied when he said that Obama had never introduced a bill. Turns out he has introduced 152 bills and resolutions. The best Media Matters could come up with were these:

- A bill that passed Congress "to promote relief, security, and democracy in the Democratic Republic of the Congo."

- A bill directing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to establish guidelines for tracking spent fuel rods.

- A bill extending provisions in the Safe Drinking Water Act that relate to preventing and detecting contamination.

- A bill amending the Clean Air Act to establish a renewable diesel standard.

- A bill improving benefits and services for members of the armed forces and veterans.

Give that man the White House. It doesn't get much better than that.

A CHICAGO BUSINESS MAGAZINE, CRAIN'S, reports that Obama's wife earns $45,000 a year on the board of a company whose major customer is Wal-Mart. The company, Treehouse, earns $700 million a yeawr with $36 million of it going to four top executives.

GLEN FORD AND PETER GAMBLE, BLACK COMMENTATOR, DECEMBER 2005 - U.S. Senator Barack Obama has planted his feet deeply inside the Iraq war-prolongation camp of the Democratic Party, the great swamp that, if not drained, will swallow up any hope of victory over the GOP in next year's congressional elections. In a masterpiece of double-speak before the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations, November 22, the Black Illinois lawmaker managed to out-mush-mouth Sen. John Kerry - a prodigious feat, indeed.

Obama's speech had the Democratic Leadership Council's brand stamped all over it. Triangulating expertly, Obama first praised the war record of Rep. John Murtha (D-PA), who has called for immediate steps towards U.S. military redeployment out of Iraq, hopefully in six months, then dismissed both Murtha's bill and any hint of "timetables" for withdrawal. In essence, all Obama wants from the Bush regime is that it fess up to having launched the war based on false information, and to henceforth come clean with the Senate on how it plans to proceed in the future. Those Democrats who want to dwell on the past - the actual genesis and rationale for the war, and the real reasons for its continuation - should be quiet.

Both sides are wrong, says Obama - deploying the classic triangulation device - for engaging in a "war of talking points" - "one I am not interested in joining." Then Obama positions himself above the fray. . .

In the near term Obama, a semanticist with a vengeance, says, "we need to focus our attention on how to reduce the U.S. military footprint in Iraq. Notice that I say 'reduce,' and not 'fully withdraw.'". . .

In a speech of 4,250 words, Obama manages to only once speak any variant on the word "occupation" - and he puts that in someone else's mouth. He drapes himself in military (and political) camouflage, agreeing with "our top military commander in Iraq…that a key goal of the military was to 'reduce our presence in Iraq, taking away one of the elements that fuels the insurgency: that of the coalition forces as an occupying force.'"

Obama sees virtue in a prolonged American military presence:

"I believe that U.S. forces are still a part of the solution in Iraq. The strategic goals should be to allow for a limited drawdown of U.S. troops, coupled with a shift to a more effective counter-insurgency strategy that puts the Iraqi security forces in the lead and intensifies our efforts to train Iraqi forces.

"At the same time, sufficient numbers of U.S. troops should be left in place to prevent Iraq from exploding into civil war, ethnic cleansing, and a haven for terrorism." Here we see contradictions so glaring, that we cannot believe a man of Obama's intelligence to be innocent of rank, purposeful obfuscation. If the U.S. troops are to remain in place in order to "prevent" Iraqis, in and out of government, from taking certain actions, then the Americans are meant to be a classic occupying force - the real power in Iraq.

It becomes clear that, in matters of war and of peace, Barack Obama is engaged in a balancing act - one that he believes can be endlessly perfected by the proper use of speechifying and terminology.

"We must find the right balance - offering enough security to serve as a buffer and carry out a targeted, effective counter-insurgency strategy, but not so much of a presence that we serve as an aggravation. It is this balance that will be critical to finding our way forward." . . .

In his senatorial incarnation, Obama does his best to avoid aggravating anybody - except the people to his left. Certainly, he does not want to aggravate the Bush Pirates, lest they resume saying nasty things about "reasonable" people such as himself. . .

Everyone with a political antenna understands that Obama is jockeying for position as a VP or presidential nominee-maker in 2008. He has created a political action committee, Hope Fund, to finance 14 of his senatorial colleagues - ten of whom are DLC (that's half of the DLC presence in the Senate.) Although not a formal member of the DLC, Obama's stance on the Iraq war places him squarely in their camp on this issue - and he is advertising the fact. The arc of his ambition dictates his position.

ANTI-WAR, JANUARY 2005 - Recently, the Democratic Party's rising "progressive" star Barack Obama said he would favor "surgical" missile strikes against Iran. As Obama told the Chicago Tribune on September 26, 2004, "[T]he big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures [to stop its nuclear program], including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point ... if any, are we going to take military action?"

He added, "[L]aunching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in" given the ongoing war in Iraq. "On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse." Obama went on to argue that military strikes on Pakistan should not be ruled out if "violent Islamic extremists" were to "take over."

A CHICAGO BUSINESS MAGAZINE, CRAIN'S, reports that Obama's wife earns $45,000 a year on the board of a company whose major customer is Wal-Mart. The company, Treehouse, earns $700 million a yeawr with $36 million of it going to four top executives.


JUSTIN RAIMAONDO, ANTI-WAR - [Obama] supported Joe Lieberman over Ted Lamont, donating $4,200 to the eventual candidate of the "Connecticut for Lieberman" Party. He also gave $10,000 to defeat antiwar stalwart Christine Cegelis, who nonetheless came within a few thousand votes of winning against a decorated war hero.