Hillary Clinton apparently is hanging on in the Democratic race for president so that she can step in if Barack Obama stumbles, but so far Obama has sailed over hurdles such as the race-baiting incident while the Clinton campaign looks increasingly desperate as she lags in the race for delegates.

Chuck Todd and Domenico Montanaro of NBC News’ “First Read” noted (3/25) that Obama led among pledged delegates 1,408-1,251 while Clinton led among superdelegates, 255-218. Added together, Obama’s overall delegate lead is 120, 1,626-1,506. If the remaining contests split up “as expected” meaning Clinton wins her base states (Pa., Ky., W.V. etc.) and Obama wins his base states (N.C., Ore., Mont. etc.) and the two split Indiana, the two campaigns will likely split 566 delegates down the middle 283-283 (margin of error +/- 5 delegates). “This means Obama would need 34% of the uncommitted superdelegates to hit the magic 2,024 number, while Clinton would need 72% of the uncommitted Supers to hit 2,024.”

Markos Moulitsas of DailyKos.com noted (3/13) that Obama also leads by more than 800,000 in the popular vote, 16-12 in state primaries won, 14-3 in state primaries won and 30-15 in overall states won. Under Democratic delegation selection rules, Clinton would have to start winning upcoming primaries in Indiana, Oregon, Kentucky, Montana, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and West Virginia with two-thirds majorities to close that gap or she would have to persuade superdelegates to ignore the electorate. Recent polls showed Clinton with substantial leads in Pennsylvania and West Virginia before Obama’s Philadelphia speech, while Obama expanded his lead in North Carolina after the Philadelphia speech. There were no recent public polls in the other states.

During the height of the controversy over Obama’s former pastor, a Gallup tracking poll showed Clinton opened up a 7-point lead nationally, but three days after the Philadelphia speech Obama had regained the national lead, 48% to 45%. The poll found that 71% of voters who were following the story thought Obama did a good job of explaining Rev. Wright. Some 73% of Democrats polled agreed with Obama’s views on race relations in the US, against only 14% who disagreed. Among independents, 65% agreed with Obama and only 25% disagreed.

As for the impact on Obama’s electoral fortunes, most voters say these recent events will make no difference in their vote. As many said they are less likely to vote for Obama as said they are more likely to.

The Wright episode shows that Democrats can expect no breaks from the mainstream news media, which called Obama to account for his pastor but gives John McCain a pass on the inflammatory remarks of preachers who have endorsed him, such as Rev. John Hagee, the San Antonio evangelist who not only called the Catholic Church “the great whore” who conspired with Hitler to exterminate Jews, but also believes Hurricane Katrina was a righteous punishment for the sins of New Orleans; Rev. Rod Parsley, an Ohio pastor who believes America was founded in part to destroy the “false religion” of Islam; as well as Revs. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson, whom McCain denounced as agents of intolerance in 2000 but now embraces as having “a major role to play” in the Republican Party.

CLINTON FINANCES ARE SHAKY. Obama is in the strongest financial shape, with $38.8 mln in cash on hand, and the campaign is almost debt-free, Leslie Wayne reported (3/22) in the New York Times. Over all, Obama has raised $190 mln and spent $158 mln. Clinton, at the end of February, owed $8.7 mln to campaign vendors. While she has $33.2 mln in cash on hand, only $11.7 mln can be used for her primary effort, with the rest set aside, by federal regulations, for the general election. Once the outstanding debt is factored in, Clinton has only $3 mln in free cash for the battles ahead—one-tenth of the $31 mln the Obama campaign has in primary cash.

VAST LEFT-WING CONSPIRACY TAKES SHAPE. Progressive groups plan to spend $400 mln mobilizing voters this year, Robert Borosage of Campaign For America’s Future said at the Take Back American conference in Washington, D.C., previewing what would be an unprecedented effort on the left in a single election season. Some groups are barred by their nonprofit tax statuses from backing candidates or engaging in partisan politics, but Rock the Vote and Women Voices-Women Vote will promote voting by young people and unmarried women, respectively; ACORN advocates for expanded housing opportunities; and the National Council of La Raza backs Hispanic causes. Borosage said they intend to spend a combined $75 mln registering and mobilizing voters, according to Politico.com (3/18). Then there are labor heavyweights Service Employees International Union, Change to Win and the AFL-CIO. They can spend money on both mobilization and partisan politicking. Plus, a Supreme Court ruling in 2007 granted them more flexibility in funding and airing hard-hitting issue ads right up until Election Day. MoveOn.org aims to spend $30 mln trying to elect a Democratic president and 60 Democratic senators.

LABOR TAKES ON M’CAIN. Although the Democratic nomination is still up in the air, the AFL-CIO has decided to step in against John McCain now, rather than leaving him to raise money and attempt to look presidential with no opposition. Its McCain Revealed campaign will be making the case to 13 mln union households in 23 states (particularly in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota) that McCain would represent a third Bush term, Laura Clawson noted at DailyKos.com (3/13). The labor federation has budgeted a record $53.4 mln for their political efforts this year, the bulk of which will be focused on the presidential race. (Affiliate unions will no doubt spend heavily as well.) The money will go not to TV ads but will pay for a grassroots mobilization including fliers to be distributed in the workplace, mail pieces, phone calls and canvassing. Change to Win, a coalition of seven unions and six million workers, including Teamsters, Laborers, Service Employees, Carpenters, Farm Workers, Food and Commercial Workers and UNITE HERE, plans to spend $100 mln to elect pro-worker candidates.

CLEAN AIR COALITION PROTECTS TRUCKERS. A labor-environmental alliance won a huge victory 3/20 when the Los Angeles Harbor Commission unanimously approved a clean-air plan requiring shipping companies at the Port of Los Angeles—the nation’s busiest—to buy and maintain a modernized fleet of big rigs and employ thousands of independent truckers who currently operate under contract. As Kate Sheppard noted at Prospect.org (3/25), Jimmy Carter in 1980 signed the Motor Carrier Act that deregulated the trucking industry, turning drivers into independent contractors who became responsible for maintenance, route planning and parking. That has been hard on truckers, who average an annual salary of $30,000. So most drive old, polluting diesel rigs, which has dirtied the air around Los Angeles and other ports. California set a goal of cutting diesel pollution in the state 85% by 2020, and trucks at the port are some of the first targets for action. The problem is, few of the drivers can afford to buy new trucks, which cost upwards of $125,000.

The issue brought together groups as disparate as the Teamsters, the National Resources Defense Council and the American Lung Association under the umbrella of the Coalition for Clean & Safe Ports (cleanandsafeports.org), to force a change in the trucking system. Under the new system, drivers will be employees of trucking companies, which will be responsible for getting them new trucks and taking care of those trucks. “Drivers will get better wages, benefits and the right to unionize. Community members get the clean air they’ve been pushing for over the past 20 years,” wrote Sheppard, who also wrote on the issue for In These Times magazine. “It truly is an example of the good guys winning, and winning because they were able to merge interests. It’s also a strong precedent for all the other ports in the country.”

A spokesman for the American Trucking Assn. derided the plan as a “scheme to unionize port drivers” and told the Los Angeles Times that his group would sue the port, alleging that the plan violates court rulings allowing the trucking industry unrestricted access to markets nationwide.

NADER CALLS FOR NEW ANTIWAR MOVE. Now that the Iraq occupation has lasted longer than World War II, independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader called on war critics, including four-star generals, admirals, ambassadors, cabinet secretaries, top national security advisors and a former president, to step up their efforts. “Never in our nation’s history have so many such professionals at so many levels opposed a war involving the United States. For that matter, never before was there so much muzzled opposition to a war inside the Department of Defense—up to the four-star general level,” he said. “... I call on these stand-up Americans, who are already on the public record with incisive, analytical opposition, to come together into a powerful force for ending the Iraq war-occupation, both military and corporate. ... These experienced, free-to-speak Americans can press members of Congress to directly face their responsibilities to the American people to end this destruction of a country and its populace, which never threatened the United States, to end the consequential perils to our country and bring our soldiers home without further casualties.” (See votenader.org.)

M’CAIN ADOPTS NEOCON TAX AGENDA. John McCain has reversed himself on the Bush tax cuts, which he once said came “at the expense of middle-class Americans.” Now he has offered his own massive tax cuts, mostly for corporations, that are as costly as Bush’s tax cuts and even more regressive, winning the heart of far-right tax activist Grover Norquist, who only three years ago was calling McCain “the nut-job from Arizona” and a “gun-grabbing, tax-increasing Bolshevik.” Here’s what Norquist says about McCain now: “[John McCain] campaigned on being very good on taxes in this election cycle… that he will continue to make [the Bush tax cuts] permanent, that he will veto any tax increase, period, that he wants to cut the corporate rate from 35% to 25%, that he wants to have full expensing, that he wants to abolish the AMT … In addition to being the Americans for Tax Reform’s entire agenda, that is a very pro-growth set of policies he has put forward, and he articulates why they are important.”

But according to a new analysis by the Center for American Progress Action Fund, McCain’s new proposals would double the size of the Bush tax cuts, costing more than $2 tln in their first decade; do virtually nothing for the middle class, as only 12% of the tax cuts will go to the bottom 80% of households, while 58% will go to the top 1% of households; and it would follow Norquist’s blueprint that’s been called a “stealth approach to tax reform”—and that aims to abandon progressive taxation in favor of a wage tax imposed mainly on low- and middle-income households. (ThinkProgress.org, 3/21.)

MORE TROUBLE FOR GOP. The special election to replace Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.), who quit to become a lobbyist, is giving national Republicans more heartburn. The Cook Political Report rates Louisiana’s 6th District as a tossup as moderate Dem state Rep. Don Cazayoux is expected to face GOP newspaper publisher Woody Jenkins in the 5/3 special election. The Baton Rouge-based district gave President Bush 59% in 2004, but party registration is 49.6% Dem to 28.1% GOP, and turnout in the special primary appeared to reflect party registration; 47,632 voted in the Dem primary while just 29,875 voted in the GOP. Of course, the Report noted, it is difficult to gauge how the district has changed since Hurricane Katrina added tens of thousands of New Orleans-area residents to the Baton Rouge area. Jonathan Singer noted at MyDD.com (3/20) that this race is good news for House Dems after Bill Foster (D) won a 3/8 special election in former GOP House Speaker Denny Hastert’s 14th District in Illinois. “The House GOP simply cannot afford to ... invest serious dollars defending another open seat special election—particularly one that they should be able to win without an investment by the National Republican Congressional Committee,” Singer wrote. “If the Republicans keep on having to pour money into safe districts like Illinois 14 (which leans about 5 points more Republican than the nation as a whole in presidential elections) and Louisiana 6 (which tended to lean about 6 points more Republican than the nation as a whole before Hurricane Katrina shook things up in the state), there’s simply no way they’re going to be able to defend even more vulnerable seats come November — let alone go after potentially vulnerable Democratic seats.”

HOUSE DEMS REJECT WHITE HOUSE SPY DEMANDS. The House on 3/14 approved a revision of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that denies retroactive immunity to lawbreaking telecoms and refuses to grant most of the new powers the president demanded to spy on Americans without warrants. The bill passed comfortably, by a 213-197 margin. Glenn Greenwald of Salon.com noted (3/14) that many of the 21 conservative "Blue Dog" Dems who previously had indicated their support for telecom immunity, as contained in and the Rockefeller bill that the Senate approved, voted (and spoke) in support of the House bill. (Only 10 Dems voted against the bill, including at least a couple of progressives who think the bill doesn't go far enough). “It is possible that the House will ultimately end up capitulating to the President, but I have real doubts about whether that will happen,” Greenwald wrote. “They have defied the standard GOP terrorism-exploitation attacks for weeks, allowed the Protect America Act to expire (once the President refused to extend it), and now passed a very good bill even in the midst of intense GOP/media attacks. They did so as a result of a shrewd strategy and a willingness to frame and engage the debate aggressively.”

RETIRING REP: BUSH ‘KILLED REPUBLICAN BRAND.’ Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), who is retiring this year, told the Washington Post (3/16): “You have a very unhappy electorate, which is no surprise, with oil at $108 a barrel, stocks down a few thousand points, a war in Iraq with no end in sight and a president who is still very, very unpopular. He’s just killed the Republican brand.”

‘JUSTICE’ OK’S SATELLITE RADIO MONOPOLY. The Justice Department gave approval 3/24 to the merger of rival radio networks, XM and Sirius, which would create a de facto monopoly in satellite services now used by more than 17 mln subscribers. The proposed $5 bln merger must still be approved by the Federal Communications Commission. The merger is opposed by consumer groups and broadcasters who say it will force up prices and reduce programming now available from the two competing systems, the New York Times reported (3/25). “The Bush administration has apparently never seen a telecommunications merger it didn’t like,” said Rep. Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), who leads the House Energy subcommittee on telecommunications. Gene Kimmelman, a spokesman for Consumers Union, the nonprofit organization that publishes Consumer Reports magazine, said “If this is what our competition cops do,” he said, “we might as well close shop and save taxpayers a few hundred million dollars because they’re not doing their jobs.”

GRAVEL LIKES GREEN PREZ CANDIDATE. Democratic presidential candidate Mike Gravel announced (3/11) that he was supporting Jesse Johnson for the Green Party nomination for president. After meeting with Johnson, former chair of the West Virginia Mountain Party and two-time candidate for statewide office, recently in Washington, D.C., Gravel stated, “My political party long ago walked away from taking the necessary steps that will safeguard our nation’s and our children’s futures. I worked dedicatedly throughout my career as a US senator to protect the precious resources our country had within it’s boundaries as well as to mitigate the negative impact our businesses and individuals were having on the planet. I have watched the ever important job of stewarding these gifts vanish from the political landscape and I hold the Democratic Party leadership responsible for giving up that fight.” Gravel spokesman Jon Kraus said the former Alaska senator was still a Democratic candidate for president but made a “cross-party statement of support, not an endorsement.”

DCCC LEADER WON’T BACK DEM CHALLENGERS. Despite her role as co-chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Red-to-Blue program, which is supposed to support Dems who challenge incumbent Republicans, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) has refused to endorse Dem challengers in three critical races in her home region of South Florida. Fellow Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-Fla.) also has announced he would stay on the sidelines as Dems challenge right-wing Repubs, including Annette Taddeo against Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen; Raul Martinez against Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart; and Joe Garcia against Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart. Steve Clemons of TheWashingtonNote.com noted (3/24) that “the Diaz-Balart brothers and Ros-Lehtinen are not moderate in any sense of the word, are embracers of Bush's wars, and have been responsible for sustaining a counter-productive embargo of Cuba by the United States that 183 nations of the world voted against us on this past year in the United Nations. Debbie Wasserman Schultz is helping to defend the political turf of not the best in the Republican Party -- but the worst.” Contact Wasserman Schultz, email AskDebbie@DWSforCongress.com, phone 202-741-7154; DCCC Chair Chris Van Hollen, email chris@vanhollen.org, phone: 301-942-3768; DCCC office (dccc.org), phone: 202-863-1500.

FARMER CLAIMS VICTORY IN SEED BATTLE. Percy Schmeiser, the Saskatchewan farmer who took on Monsanto after the agribusiness giant sued him for violating its patent on genetically engineered canola seeds in 1997, finally earned a moral victory that he hopes will encourage others to take up the cause. Monsanto sued Schmeiser and his wife after plants grown from genetically modified canola seeds were found on their farm east of Saskatoon. Monsanto sought damages totalling $400,000. But Schmeiser denied using the Monsanto seeds, arguing that the seeds blew onto their property from neighboring farms. Although the Schmeisers lost their court battle in a 2004 decision by the Supreme Court of Canada that found that plant genes and modified cells can be patented, the court ruled the Schmeisers did not have to pay damages. Monsanto agreed to pay the Schmeisers $660 to settle a small-claims court case they brought against the company for costs associated with removing the patented Roundup Ready canola from their field in 2005. “After 10 years, finally justice has been served,” Mr. Schmeiser told the Toronto *Globe and Mail* (3/20). “I really feel that if a farmer is now contaminated, he has a right to go after Monsanto for liability and to clean up the contamination. By settling out of court, Monsanto now realizes the seriousness of the liability issue.” Monsanto agreed to pay the costs associated with removing the canola back in 2005. However, the Schmeisers refused the offer because the company insisted the couple sign a release stating they would never talk about the terms of the agreement.

WAR COSTS MOUNT. The death toll for American soldiers in Iraq officially reached 4,000 on 3/24, but Chris Bowers noted at OpenLeft.com that is only the beginning, as other fatalities include 135 journalists, 308 non-American military coalition forces, 1,001 non-military contractors (as of 6/30/07), 8,057 Iraqi security forces, between 15,000 and 45,000 Iraqi military forces during the invasion and an estimated one million civilians. Bowers also noted that nearly four million living Iraqis are now refugees, roughly 16% of the population, 40% of the middle class and larger percentages of religious and ethnic minorities. Between 60% and 70% of Iraqi children suffer from psychological trauma. Also, 29,451 American soldiers and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians, have been injured. And the war will cost more than $3 tln.

“All of this needs to be pointed out because, whenever one of these milestones are reached, it implies that the only suffering taking place as a result of the Iraq war is to be found within the American military,” Bowers wrote. “Such a narrow focus ignores the wide swath of destruction that the Iraq war has wrought. As long as there is a narrow focus on the efforts of the United States military, the war appears to be an honorable, gracious effort on the part of America with costs that, while grave, are ultimately discrete and containable. However, when one considers that the war has either killed or displaced more than 20% of Iraq’s pre-war population, that is has resulted in the European Union surpassing the United States as the world’s leading economic power, and that it has both caused and revealed significant weakness in our military capacity, the true nature of the Iraq war becomes apparent. In effect, we instigated a genocide in Iraq, and lost our status as the world’s sole superpower as a result. At this point, we are about one presidential election away from becoming the Soviet Union after their invasion of Afghanistan, and watching Americans who were ten years old when the war began die in the sands of Mesopotamia.”

M’CAIN SNUBS GI BILL. On his first day in office in January 2007, Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) introduced the Post-9/11 Veterans Educational Assistance Act of 2007, intended to be “a mirror image of the WW II GI Bill.” A new version with bipartisan support was introduced in February to help fund education for service members who had served in active duty since 9/11/01. Veterans would receive education benefits equaling the highest tuition rate of the most expensive in-state public college or university and a monthly stipend for housing. Webb has 51 co-sponsors, including nine Republicans, but John McCain is not among them. Webb said he may need 60 co-sponsors to ensure Senate passage, but added that many more Republicans could vote for the bill if McCain endorsed it. ThinkProgress.org noted that this is not the first time Webb has taken McCain to task when it comes to veterans’ advocacy. In September, McCain refused to support Webb’s bill to ensure service members get adequate time at home between deployments. McCain castigated the effort, declaring he “hoped” Congress would reject the bill because it “would create chaos.” McCain repeatedly has voted for billions of dollars to fund the war in Iraq, which is expected to cost more than $3 tln. By contrast, the cost of the new GI Bill is projected to be about $2.5 bln a year—roughly the cost of US operations in Iraq for one week.

WHITE HOUSE DESTROYED COMPUTER DRIVES. Older White House computer hard drives have been destroyed, the White House disclosed to a federal court 3/21 in a controversy over millions of possibly missing e-mails from 2003 to 2005, the Associated Press reported. The White House told a federal magistrate it would be fruitless to undertake an e-mail recovery plan that the court proposed after the National Security Archive (NSA) and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) sued to recover up to 10 mln missing emails and to ensure no more are lost. Nick Baumann noted at Motherjones.com that destroying hard drives is common practice but permanently destroying data is another matter. “It’s highly unusual. If the White House knew there was even a chance that the hard drives were the last repositories of the missing emails, it must have realized it might be irrevocably destroying data it was compelled to preserve.”

It’s likely the White House knew of problems with its archiving system while it engaged in its normal practice of replacing computers. As Mother Jones reported in February, the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) told the White House on 1/6/04 that it was “operating at risk by not capturing and storing messages outside the email system.” Documents released at a House oversight committee hearing in February reveal that the White House knew of a “critical security issue” with the archiving system in 2005. And a 15-person team of administration employees created a report in 2005 that pointed to some 700 days for which there was a suspiciously low amount of archived email (for about 400 of those days there was no archived email at all). On 4/13/07, Dana Perino, the White House press secretary, said “I wouldn’t rule out that there were a potential 5 million e-mails lost.”

DEMOCRACY-BUILDNG WEEKENDS. Democracy Unlimited of Humboldt County, Calif., invites concerned citizens to one of two empowering weekend retreats in 2008. “Community Organizing for Deep Democracy” will be offered in Humboldt County Aug. 7-11 (with optional day trips) and in Sonoma County, Calif., Oct. 10-12. These three-day workshops will help participants organize in their own communities to reclaim citizen sovereignty from corporate rule. Tuition runs from $250 to $400, which includes meals and lodging. See www.duhc.org/deepDemocracy.html or phone 707-269-0984.

CHILEAN EXPERIENCE REVEALS INSECURITY. Jeff Nygaard spotted a news item that Chile had granted pensions to nearly 600,000 poor who had been left out of the country’s much-vaunted private pension system. Nygaard, who writes at Nygaardnotes.org (3/21), recalled that the privatized Social Security program in Chile was held up as a model for the US to follow. Now, 27 years after Chilean privatization plan was inaugurated, the Inter-American Development Bank tells us that “the privately managed accounts only covered 55% of workers—a percentage greater than privately-managed pension systems in other countries but below Chile’s expectations.” Most of the groups left out by private pensions are the poor and self-employed, street vendors and farmers who saved little for investment, despite a government mandate that workers save for their retirement through private investment accounts.

“Now, if that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s just like the ‘mandates’ that are popular in certain circles when talking about health care reform in the US,” Nygaard wrote. “The Massachusetts plan, the California plan, the Hillary Clinton plan—they all require, or would require, individuals to purchase insurance. Obama’s not that different.”

The best-known “individual mandate” plan is the Massachusetts Health Care Plan, under which the deadline for people to buy insurance was 12/31/07. But the Concord, N.H., Monitor reported “The Massachusetts plan ... has had to exempt an estimated 20% of its population from the mandate because they can’t afford to participate. And the cost of subsidizing insurance for the many low-income residents who signed up for the plan greatly exceeded predictions, and that’s before the double-digit increase in rates insurers are expected to charge next year.”

HUCKABEE DEFENDS WRIGHT. Give Mike Huckabee, a former Baptist preacher, some credit for speaking up in defense of Rev. Jeremiah Wright. On MSNBC’s Morning Joe (3/19), Huckabee said, “As easy as it is for those of us who are white, to look back and say “That’s a terrible statement!” … I grew up in a very segregated south. And I think that you have to cut some slack—and I’m gonna be probably the only Conservative in America who’s gonna say something like this, but I’m just tellin’ you—we’ve gotta cut some slack to people who grew up being called names, being told ‘you have to sit in the balcony when you go to the movie. You have to go to the back door to go into the restaurant. And you can’t sit out there with everyone else. There’s a separate waiting room in the doctor’s office. Here’s where you sit on the bus …’ And you know what? Sometimes people do have a chip on their shoulder and resentment. And you have to just say, I probably would too. I probably would too. In fact, I may have had more of a chip on my shoulder had it been me.”

LOW-INCOME FAMILIES SPEND MORE ON ENERGY. Families making less than $50,000 per year will pay 22% of their after-tax income for energy, double the burden of just a decade ago, according to Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC), a group that promotes clean-coal technology. In the US 60 million households spend nearly $1 of every $4 in net earnings for energy, with energy costs now approaching the proportion for housing. Poorest families suffer the most, using 54% of their after-tax income for transportation and personal energy, such as home heating and lighting. Only when families earn more than $50,000 a year energy purchases become a manageable part of the family budget, dropping to just 9% of after-tax income. Energy prices have increased almost 19% in the past year. To compound the household budget problem, food prices have gone up more in the past year than they have in nearly 20 years, including an 18% increase in milk prices and a more than 30% hike in egg prices. See americaspower.org.

From The Progressive Populist, April 15, 2008

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