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Barack Obama's closet

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By Dateline D.c.
Sunday, Jan. 14, 2007

The holidays are over, Christmas decorations and cards put away, and before the bills are due presidential campaigns for 2008 are under way.

To win in politics a sense of timing is vital; discreditable information is being leaked early in the game. But by voting day, scandals have become old stories and hardly a vote is lost.

Possible candidates for the White House in 2008 are furtively letting out secret sins. Yet there is always some reticence when large campaign contributions are at stake.

From the left there is Barack Obama and John Edwards, with Hillary Clinton pretending to be at the center. To the right, there is Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rudy Giuliani and John McCain, who is beginning to talk like a Republican.

Finally, there are the wannabes -- senators and former senators, including Al Gore and John Kerry; at least one congressman, Dennis Kucinich; and an assortment of those who hear "Hail to the Chief" in their dreams.

Today, let's look at some facts about the junior U.S. senator of Illinois, Barack Hussein Obama. He is the only black currently serving in the upper chamber. He delivered the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention while serving as an Illinois state legislator. In November 2004, he was elected to the U.S. Senate. Opinion polls identify Obama as the second-most-popular choice among Democrats for their party's presidential nomination in 2008 behind Sen. Hillary Clinton.

In October the senator talked to a group of magazine editors in Phoenix. The topic came around to his first book, "Dreams From My Father," in which he said he had used marijuana and cocaine. Obama said he had not tried heroin because he did not like the pusher who was trying to sell it to him.

Said the senator later in an interview: "It was reflective of the struggles and confusion of a teenage boy." Usually, when discussing drug use, politicians urge kids and their parents to "Just say no" to drugs. Barack Obama forgot to do so.

(use drop cap here) Soon after he was elected, Obama and his wife Michelle closed on a $1.65 million home. On the same day an adjacent empty lot was sold for $625,000. The new owner then sold Barack a 10-foot strip of the land for $104,500 so he could build a fence.

These transactions would have been met with only raised eyebrows had the purchaser of the empty lot not been Rita Rezko.

Rita's husband is Antoin "Tony" Rezko, an American of Syrian descent and a major fundraiser, not only for Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (whose administration is under federal investigation) but also for Obama, whom he has known for some time.

Tony also is under federal investigation -- for trying to collect millions in kickbacks on government deals. Gov. Blagojevich's wife, Patti, is heavily involved in Rezko's real estate business. And as these stories were breaking, she was telling the FBI that she was a law-abiding citizen who would never do anything wrong.

But a grand jury failed to believe her boss, Tony, when he told them that he, too, was innocent of any wrongdoing: He was indicted, pleaded not guilty to all charges and is awaiting trial.

Obama did no wrong. But he expressed regret. As he told the Chicago Sun-Times: "I misgauged the appearance presented by my purchase." Is he really so oblivious to appearances or the risks of becoming indebted to the wrong people?

(use drop cap here) Our story shifts to Baghdad. Ayham Alsammarae, an American of Iraqi descent who is a Cabinet member and Electricity minister, was jailed and waiting trial on corruption charges. But he escaped jail and claims to be out of Iraq. His whereabouts are unknown. He left with the assistance of "foreigners," according to Iraqi police, who say an earlier escape attempt was assisted by two U.S. security contractors since departed from Iraq.

Alsammarae is a friend of Tony Rezko; the FBI is said to seek information on $2 billion in missing money meant to rebuild Iraq's infrastructure.

But back in Chicago, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) is more important than Iraq or Washington. ACORN and its associated Midwest Academy, both founded in the 1970s, continue to train and mobilize activists throughout the country, often using them to manipulate public opinion through "direct action." It's sometimes a code for illegal activities.

Prior to law school, Barack Obama worked as an organizer for their affiliates in New York and Chicago. He always has been an ACORN person -- meeting and working with them to advance their causes. Through his membership on the board of the Woods Fund for Chicago and his friendship with Teresa Heinz Kerry, Obama has helped ensure that they remain funded well.

Since he graduated from law school, Obama's work with ACORN and the Midwest Academy has ranged from training and fundraising, to legal representation and promoting their work.

Today, Barack Obama's conduct and "misgauging appearances" are the responsibility of his Democrat colleagues. In two years, it might be yours and mine.

Dateline D.C. is written by a Washington-based British journalist and political observer.



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