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Tuesday, March 11

All About Barack

Readers who've closely followed the Rezko-Obama issue are probably familiar with the reports I feature in this post. What I've done is juxtapose quotes from the reports with statements made by Barack Obama or in support of him.

This approach omits discussion of much important data in the reports and reorganizes parts of Lin Farley's enormously informative report, Follow the Money.

My aim is to convey a pattern of Barack Obama's behavior as a politician; I think this is best done by pointing up the vast difference between his statements and facts on the ground. I've only used a few examples but I stress that additional examples abound.

I have a few comments to add at the end but now it's time to roll the camera:

A young voter sits typing at the computer, earnestly explaining why he loves Barack Obama:
... Tell them about all the amazing things Senator Obama has been able to do during this camaign. ... Tell them so that they gain the courage once again to report above the fray and above the politics as usual so that America can have a discussion about the future and so that America can see what Barack is really about. ...
-- Active Honesty blog at Barack campaign website
"The day after New Year's 1996, operatives for Barack Obama filed into a barren hearing room of the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners. There they began the tedious process of challenging hundreds of signatures on the nominating petitions of state Sen. Alice Palmer, the longtime progressive activist from the city's South Side. And they kept challenging petitions until every one of Obama's four Democratic primary rivals was forced off the ballot.

"This was for the 13th district in Chicago, a Democratic stronghold; the real election is the Democratic primary, with the actual general election being a coronation.

So by sending his lawyers to force all the other candidates off the primary ballot, Obama cleared the decks for an essentially unopposed election.

"One of the lesser candidates, Gha-is Askia, summed up Obama perfectly:

'Why say you're for a new tomorrow, then do old-style Chicago politics to remove legitimate candidates? He talks about honor and democracy, but what honor is there in getting rid of every other candidate so you can run Scot-free? Why not let the people decide?'
-- From Chicago Rules by Dafydd
Presidential hopeful Barack Obama brought his message to San Antonio ... He chose to highlight his proposals to help those hurt by the subprime mortgage crisis. ... He said he wants to penalize unscrupulous lenders and return the ill-gotten monies to homeowners so they can stay in their homes.
"Seven of the [Obama] campaign’s top 14 donors are officers and employees of the companies that either originated or bundled fraudulent mortgages.

"These seven Wall Street firms are in the order of money given: Goldman Sachs, UBS, AG, Lehman Brothers, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Credit Suisse. ...

"Penny Pritzker, finance chairwoman for the Obama campaign, according to Earl Offari Hutchinson, headed up the borderline shady and failed Superior Bank. It collapsed in 2002. The bank’s ... role in fueling the sub-prime crisis [is] well known and documented. It engaged in deceptive and faulty lending, questionable accounting practices, and charged hidden fees. ... It made thousands of dubious loans to mostly poor, strapped homeowners. A disproportionate number of them were minority. ...

"According to the Woodstock Institute, a Chicago non-profit that studies housing issues, the subprime fall-out was far higher in the predominantly black and Latino neighborhoods of South and Southwest Chicago.

"The predictable happened when many of those lost their homes. When the bank collapsed Pritzker and bank officials skipped away with their profits and reputations intact. ..." [1]
-- From Follow the Money
I’m here because somebody marched. I’m here because you all sacrificed for me. I stand on the shoulders of giants.
-- Barack Obama, 2007 Selma Voting Rights March Commemoration

There is no better advocate for African Americans than Barack Obama. ... Barack has spent his entire career fighting for justice ... As President, you can trust that he will hear your voice, understand your concerns, and act on your priorities.
-- African Americans for Obama blog at Obama campaign website
"[Tony] Rezko, after all, built part of his fortune by exploiting the black community that Obama had served in the state Senate, and by milking government programs meant to benefit black-owned businesses.

"But Obama took Rezko’s money even after the businessman was sued by the city of Chicago for failing to heat his low-income apartments, and even after Rezko was caught using a black business partner to obtain a minority set-aside for a fast-food franchise at O’Hare Airport."
-- Edward McClelland,Chicago journalist
I am in this race to tell the corporate lobbyists that their days of setting the agenda in Washington are over. I have done more than any other candidate in this race to take on lobbyists -- and won. They have not funded my campaign, they will not run my White House, and they will not drown out the voices of the American people when I am president.
-- Barack Obama, Des Moines, IA, November 10, 2007
"According to the Center For Responsive Politics, a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy, the 20 top contributors to the Barack Obama campaign are Wall Street financial companies, their registered lobbyists, and go-to law firms. ... There is also a large hedge fund, Citadel Investment Group, which is a major source of fee income to Wall Street.

"There are five corporate law firms that are also registered lobbyists; and one is a corporate law firm that is no longer a registered lobbyist, but does legal work for Wall Street.

"The cumulative total of these 14 contributors through February 1, 2008, was close to 3 million ($2,872,128). ...

"Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska said Obama’s much repeated disavowal of lobbyist contributions is “less than pure” because he has wealthy executives who employ lobbyists raising money for him.

"Gravel singled out Obama fundraiser, Robert Wolf, America’s chairman for Swiss-based UBS Investment Bank, a “foreign owned bank” he said with “lobbyists in Washington.” At that point employees of UBS had given at least $142,000. ...

"These top five contributors to the Obama campaign have filed as registered lobbyists: Sidley Austin LLP; Skadden, Arps, et al; Jenner & Block; Kirkland & Ellis; Wilmerhale, aka Wilmer Cutler Pickering. Bob Bauer, counsel to the Obama campaign, is an attorney with Perkins Coie, that law firm is also a registered lobbyist. ...
-- From Follow the Money
In the first two weeks of the 110th Congress, Senator Obama helped lead the Senate to pass the Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act, a comprehensive ethics and lobbying reform bill, by a 96-2 vote. ... Most importantly, the final reform bill contained a provision pushed by Senator Obama to require the disclosure of contributions that registered lobbyists “bundle” – that is, collect or arrange – for candidates, leadership PACs, and party committees.
-- From Barack Obama's Senate website
"Major fundraisers, often called ‘bundlers’, are playing a gigantic role in financing the [Obama] campaign.

"In the last half of 2007, Obama raised $58 million, of that amount at least $13 million came from ‘bundlers’ and Chicago Tribune Staff reporters Mike Dorning and John McCormick wrote, “the total is probably much higher.” ...
-- Follow the Money
Obama's years as an anti-poverty organizer give him insights into one of our greatest challenges: how to end cycles of poverty.
-- Nicholas D. Kristof, columnist for The New York Times

We need to mobilize and support the election of Barack Obama not only because he is progressive and fully qualified to be president, but also because only his campaign can force all Americans to overcome the centuries-old silences about race that still create a deep chasm across this nation’s democratic life. In the end, we must force our fellow citizens who happen to be white, to come to terms with their own whiteness, their guilt and fears about America’s terrible racial past.
-- Dr. Manning Marable, writing for The Black Commentator
"On February 10, 2005, Obama voted in favor of the passage of the misnamed Class Action Fairness Act of 2005 which seriously hampers the rights of ordinary citizens to challenge corporations.

"Senators Biden, Boxer, Byrd, Clinton, Corzine, Durbin, Feingold, Kerry Leah, Reid and 16 other democrats voted against it. So did 14 state attorneys general, including Lisa Madigan of Obama’s home state of Illinois. She called it a “corporate giveaway.”

"The Senate also received a desperate plea from more than 40 civil rights and labor organizations, including the NAACP, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Human Rights Campaign, American Civil Liberties Union, Center for Justice and Democracy, Legal Momentum (formerly NOW Legal Defense Fund) and Alliance for Justice. They wrote:

'Under the Act citizens are denied the right to use their own state courts to bring class actions against corporations that violate state wage and hour and state civil rights laws, even where that corporation has hundreds of employees in that state. Moving these state law cases into federal court will delay and likely deny justice for working men and women and victims of discrimination. The federal courts are already overburdened. Additionally, federal courts are less likely to certify classes or provide relief for violations of state law'

"The bill which will seriously impair labor, consumer and civil rights involved five years of pressure from 100 corporations, 475 lobbyists, and tens of millions of corporate dollars to buy influence. It also involved the active participation of the Wall Street firms now funding the Obama campaign.

"The Civil Justice Reform Group, a business alliance comprising general counsels from Fortune 100 firms, was instrumental in drafting the class action bill, according to Public Citizen which also said in a 2003 report that Mayer-Brown partners and employees gave close to $100,000 [$92,817] to the Obama campaign by December 31, 2007.

"Mayer-Brown, hired by the US Chamber of Commerce, spent $16 million in 2003 lobbying the government on class action reform.

"According to a comprehensive report form the nonprofit group, United for A Fair Economy,

"But it appears that the identity politics carefully nurtured and enforced by the Obama campaign [see John Lewis statement on the Obama campaign pressure to switch his super-delegate vote from Hillary] has successfully concealed from the African American community, as well as most Americans, that Barack Obama supported this bill–while his opponent Hillary Clinton did not. In other words he protected those companies, according to federal data, which best exploited the African American community.

"People of color are three times more likely to have subprime loans. High-cost loans account for 55 percent of loans to blacks, but only 17 percent of loans to whites. If there had been equitable distribution of subprime loans, losses for white people would be 44.5 percent higher and losses for people of color would be about 24 percent lower. This is evidence of systemic prejudice and institutional racism."
-- From Follow the Money
We've made our best effort to run the most ethical campaign possible in all ways and release donations when appropriate.
-- Barack Obama's press secretary, Bill Burton, June 2007
"During his 12 years in politics, Sen. Barack Obama has received nearly three times more campaign cash from indicted businessman Tony Rezko and his associates than he has publicly acknowledged, the Chicago Sun-Times has found. [...]"
-- Chicago Sun Times

Here I end because the above article takes us into the Byzantine Rezko-Obama fundraising relationship. For those who are daunted by the complexities I think the best place to start is where it all began for the American public, which was during the debate in which Hillary Clinton accused Obama of working for a slumlord:

A website called MYDD presents a coherent facts check on the accusation and related issues. Once you have the basics down you'll be in a better position to wend your way through the rest of the Rezko-Obama maze, which is still adding on twists and turns.

The pattern that emerges from the accounts reminds me of Eve Harrington and her climb to stardom in All About Eve.

Indeed a viewing of Joe Mankiewicz's classic tale of ambition, manipulation and betrayal might be the easiest way to understand Obama's relationship with a Chicago circle that includes the likes of Penny Pritzker and Tony Rezko.

One might argue that Barack Obama simply fitted himself into the corrupt milieu; that he went along and got along in order to survive Chicago politics. If that's true, what is there about his history to suggest he'll stand up to business as usual in Washington, once he arrives in the White House?

1) If you're interested in learning more about Superior's predatory practices you can start with Obama's Sub-Prime Conflict by Dennis Bernstein
February 28, 2008

I do not know, and I am not sure I want to know, why the Wikipedia article on Penny Pritzker has nothing to say about her involvement with the Superior Bank scandal. For that matter, there is not a Wikipedia article on the scandal, which is to the mortgage business what Enron was to stock manipulation and accounting fraud.

As to Ms Pritzker's relationship with Barack Obama, the article only mentions that she's the national finance chairwoman of his presidential campaign. I wouldn't expect the article to mention Pritzker's long friendship with Obama, but it is surprising that it doesn't mention that Pritzker was on the finance committee for Obama’s 2004 Senate campaign.
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