Obama, McCain Sweep Potomac Primaries

Barack Obama and John McCain were the big winners in yesterday’s primaries of Maryland, Virginia, and the District of Columbia.

Maryland:

  • Obama 61, Clinton 35%
  • McCain 55, Huckabee 30%

Virginia:

  • Obama 64, Clinton 35%
  • McCain 50, Huckabee 41%

Washington D.C.:

  • Obama 75, Clinton 24%
  • McCain 68, Huckabee 17%

Obama has now won 22 of the 32 states awarding delegates, claiming the lead in total delegate count by a 1270 to 1231 margin, including 1114-989 in pledged delegates. John McCain holds a 819-240 delegate lead over Huckabee. Up next on the schedule are Wisconsin and Hawaii for next Tuesday the 19th.

Senate Votes for Retroactive Immunity

The Senate voted today on the Dodd/Feingold amendment, which would have struck provisions providing immunity from civil liability to members of the telecom industry that participate in the government’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Despite the best efforts of Senator Chris Dodd, the Senate voted 67-31 against the bill; Hillary Clinton and Lindsey Graham did not vote. Dodd was quite disappointed with the outcome and claimed: “We’ve just sanctioned the single largest invasion of privacy in American history.”

telecom immunity

Obama Wins Maine; Hillary Shakes Up Campaign

Barack Obama completed his sweep of this weekend’s Democratic primaries by winning the Maine caucus on Sunday. He bested Hillary Clinton by a 59-40% margin, capturing 15 of the 24 available delegates. Obama has now pulled slightly ahead in the delegate count (1143 to 1138), but the race remains in a dead heat.

The Obama camp is looking ahead to this Tuesday’s contests in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, where the Illinois Senator is leading current polls.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton has changed her campaign manager, replacing Patti Solis Doyle with Maggie Williams, who served as Clinton’s chief of staff when she was First Lady.

On the Republican side, Mike Huckabee is challenging John McCain’s slim victory in Washington state. Republican officials named McCain the winner with 87% of the votes tallied, though his lead was just under two percentage points. Huckabee insists he still has a shot to win the nomination:

There are only a few states that have voted. Twenty-seven have not. People in those twenty-seven states deserve more than a coronation, they deserve an election. They deserve to have their voices and their votes heard and counted. I know the pundits, and I know what they say. ‘The math doesn’t work out.’ Folks, I didn’t major in math; I majored in miracles, and I still believe in those, too.”

Based on Huckabee’s 490 delegate lag and McCain’s poll numbers in upcoming states, it looks like it may take something short of a miracle for Huck to win the prize. I guess he is not a fan of math or science.

Between Barack and a Hard Place

It was only a matter of time before I used that corny line.

This Saturday Barack Obama swept the states of Louisiana (57-36%), Nebraska (68-32%), and Washington (68-31%), as well as the Virgin Islands (90-8%). He increased his delegate count to pull within striking range of Hillary’s lead; they now stand at 1123 Clinton, 1120 Obama.

The Democratic battle continues today with Maine’s primary, where 34 delegates will be awarded.  Then Tuesday are the contests in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, awarding 38, 99, and 101 delegates respectively.  Current polls show Obama with double-digit leads in the delegate-rich states of Maryland and Virginia.

In the Republican contest, Mike Huckabee surprised by winning the states of Louisiana (43-42%) and Kansas (60-24%) while making a strong showing in Washington (McCain 26%, Huckabee 24%, Paul 21%, Romney 16%, Undecided 13%).  He captured all 36 delegates from Kansas, while the Louisiana and Washington delegates have yet to be distributed.

John McCain still holds a commanding lead in delegate totals with 724 to Huckabee’s 234.  The Republicans duel on Tuesday in the same locations as Democrats.  They will fight for the 19 delegates in D.C., 37 delegates in Maryland, and 63 delegates in Virginia; both Virginia and D.C. are winner-take-all contests. Look for John McCain to extend his lead on Tuesday, as he is currently leading Maryland and Virginia polls by double-digit margins.

Behind Obama and Clinton

Now that the Democratic field has been whittled down to just two candidates, it is important to highlight the differences between the two. For help, Stephen Zunes from Foreign Policy in Focus takes a look at the advisers behind Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama:

Voters on the progressive wing of the Democratic Party are rightly disappointed by the similarity of the foreign policy positions of the two remaining Democratic Party presidential candidates, Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama. However, there are still some real discernable differences to be taken into account. Indeed, given the power the United States has in the world, even minimal differences in policies can have a major difference in the lives of millions of people.

As a result, the kind of people the next president appoints to top positions in national defense, intelligence, and foreign affairs is critical. Such officials usually emerge from among a presidential candidate’s team of foreign policy advisors. So, analyzing who these two finalists for the Democratic presidential nomination have brought in to advise them on international affairs can be an important barometer for determining what kind for foreign policies they would pursue as president. For instance, in the case of the Bush administration, officials like Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, and Richard Perle played a major role in the fateful decision to invade Iraq by convincing the president that Saddam Hussein was an imminent threat and that American forces would be treated as liberators.

The leading Republican candidates have surrounded themselves with people likely to encourage the next president to follow down a similarly disastrous path. But what about Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton? Who have they picked to help them deal with Iraq war and the other immensely difficult foreign policy decisions that they’ll be likely to face as president?

Contrasting Teams

Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors tend to be veterans of President Bill Clinton’s administration, most notably former secretary of state Madeleine Albright and former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger. Her most influential advisor – and her likely choice for Secretary of State – is Richard Holbrooke. Holbrooke served in a number of key roles in her husband’s administration, including U.S. ambassador to the UN and member of the cabinet, special emissary to the Balkans, assistant secretary of state for European and Canadian affairs, and U.S. ambassador to Germany. He also served as President Jimmy Carter’s assistant secretary of state for East Asia in propping up Marcos in the Philippines, supporting Suharto’s repression in East Timor, and backing the generals behind the Kwangju massacre in South Korea.

Senator Barack Obama’s foreign policy advisers, who on average tend to be younger than those of the former first lady, include mainstream strategic analysts who have worked with previous Democratic administrations, such as former national security advisors Zbigniew Brzezinski and Anthony Lake, former assistant secretary of state Susan Rice, and former navy secretary Richard Danzig. They have also included some of the more enlightened and creative members of the Democratic Party establishment, such as Joseph Cirincione and Lawrence Korb of the Center for American Progress, and former counterterrorism czar Richard Clarke. His team also includes the noted human rights scholar and international law advocate Samantha Power – author of a recent New Yorker article on U.S. manipulation of the UN in post-invasion Iraq – and other liberal academics. Some of his advisors, however, have particularly poor records on human rights and international law, such as retired General Merrill McPeak, a backer of Indonesia’s occupation of East Timor, and Dennis Ross, a supporter of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank.

Contrasting Issues

While some of Obama’s key advisors, like Larry Korb, have expressed concern at the enormous waste from excess military spending, Clinton’s advisors have been strong supporters of increased resources for the military.

While Obama advisors Susan Rice and Samantha Power have stressed the importance of U.S. multilateral engagement, Albright allies herself with the jingoism of the Bush administration, taking the attitude that “If we have to use force, it is because we are America! We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall, and we see further into the future.”

While Susan Rice has emphasized how globalization has led to uneven development that has contributed to destabilization and extremism and has stressed the importance of bottom-up anti-poverty programs, Berger and Albright have been outspoken supporters of globalization on the current top-down neo-liberal lines.

Obama advisors like Joseph Cirincione have emphasized a policy toward Iraq based on containment and engagement and have downplayed the supposed threat from Iran. Clinton advisor Holbrooke, meanwhile, insists that “the Iranians are an enormous threat to the United States,” the country is “the most pressing problem nation,” and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is like Hitler.

Iraq as Key Indicator

Perhaps the most important difference between the two foreign policy teams concerns Iraq. Given the similarities in the proposed Iraq policies of Senator Hillary Clinton and Senator Barack Obama, Obama’s supporters have emphasized that their candidate had the better judgment in opposing the invasion beforehand. Indeed, in the critical months prior to the launch of the war in 2003, Obama openly challenged the Bush administration’s exaggerated claims of an Iraqi threat and presciently warned that a war would lead to an increase in Islamic extremism, terrorism, and regional instability, as well as a decline in America’s standing in the world.

Senator Clinton, meanwhile, was repeating as fact the administration’s false claims of an imminent Iraqi threat. She voted to authorize President Bush to invade that oil-rich country at the time and circumstances of his own choosing and confidently predicted success. Despite this record and Clinton’s refusal to apologize for her war authorization vote, however, her supporters argue that it no longer relevant and voters need to focus on the present and future.

Indeed, whatever choices the next president makes with regard to Iraq are going to be problematic, and there are no clear answers at this point. Yet one’s position regarding the invasion of Iraq at that time says a lot about how a future president would address such questions as the use of force, international law, relations with allies, and the use of intelligence information.

As a result, it may be significant that Senator Clinton’s foreign policy advisors, many of whom are veterans of her husband’s administration, were virtually all strong supporters of President George W. Bush’s call for a U.S. invasion of Iraq. By contrast, almost every one of Senator Obama’s foreign policy team was opposed to a U.S. invasion.

Pre-War Positions

During the lead-up to the war, Obama’s advisors were suspicious of the Bush administration’s claims that Iraq somehow threatened U.S. national security to the extent that it required a U.S. invasion and occupation of that country. For example, Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security advisor in the Carter administration, argued that public support for war “should not be generated by fear-mongering or demagogy.”

By contrast, Clinton’s top advisor and her likely pick for secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke, insisted that Iraq remained “a clear and present danger at all times.”

Brzezinski warned that the international community would view the invasion of a country that was no threat to the United States as an illegitimate an act of aggression. Noting that it would also threaten America’s leadership, Brzezinski said that “without a respected and legitimate law-enforcer, global security could be in serious jeopardy.” Holbrooke, rejecting the broad international legal consensus against offensive wars, insisted that it was perfectly legitimate for the United States to invade Iraq and that the European governments and anti-war demonstrators who objected “undoubtedly encouraged” Saddam Hussein.

Another key Obama advisor, Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment, argued that the goal of containing the potential threat from Iraq had been achieved, noting that “Saddam Hussein is effectively incarcerated and under watch by a force that could respond immediately and devastatingly to any aggression. Inside Iraq, the inspection teams preclude any significant advance in WMD capabilities. The status quo is safe for the American people.”

By contrast, Clinton advisor Sandy Berger, who served as her husband’s national security advisor, insisted that “even a contained Saddam” was “harmful to stability and to positive change in the region,” and therefore the United States had to engage in “regime change” in order to “fight terror, avert regional conflict, promote peace, and protect the security of our friends and allies.”

Meanwhile, other future Obama advisors, such as Larry Korb, raised concerns about the human and material costs of invading and occupying a heavily populated country in the Middle East and the risks of chaos and a lengthy counter-insurgency war.

And other top advisors to Senator Clinton – such as her husband’s former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright – confidently predicted that American military power could easily suppress any opposition to a U.S. takeover of Iraq. Such confidence in the ability of the United States to impose its will through force is reflected to this day in the strong support for President Bush’s troop surge among such Clinton advisors (and original invasion advocates) as Jack Keane, Kenneth Pollack, and Michael O’Hanlon. Perhaps that was one reason that, during the recent State of the Union address, when Bush proclaimed that the Iraqi surge was working, Clinton stood and cheered while Obama remained seated and silent.

These differences in the key circles of foreign policy specialists surrounding these two candidates are consistent with their diametrically opposed views in the lead-up to the war.

National Security

Not every one of Clinton’s foreign policy advisors is a hawk. Her team also includes some centrist opponents of the war, including retired General Wesley Clark and former Ambassador Joseph Wilson.

On balance, it appears likely that a Hillary Clinton administration, like Bush’s, would be more likely to embrace exaggerated and alarmist reports regarding potential national security threats, to ignore international law and the advice of allies, and to launch offensive wars. By contrast, a Barack Obama administration would be more prone to examine the actual evidence of potential threats before reacting, to work more closely with America’s allies to maintain peace and security, to respect the country’s international legal obligations, and to use military force only as a last resort.

Progressive Democrats do have reason to be disappointed with Obama’s foreign policy agenda. At the same time, as The Nation magazine noted, members of Obama’s foreign policy team are “more likely to stress ’soft power’ issues like human rights, global development and the dangers of failed states.” As a result, “Obama may be more open to challenging old Washington assumptions and crafting new approaches.”

And new approaches are definitely needed.

Republican Electoral Scheme in California Fails

The campaign by California GOP strategists to reallocate the states’ electoral votes by congressional district has failed.  The effort was pushing to propose a ballot measure that would redistribute California’s 55 electoral votes by congressional district, instead of the normal winner-take-all system. If approved, the ballot measure would ensure an estimated twenty extra electoral votes to the GOP nominee.

The campaign failed to turn in the 400,000 signatures by February 4th; they also sited a lack of funding to get the measure on the ballot. “It’s not going to make the ballot this year,” said David Gilliard, a Republican organizer of the campaign. “The money never materialized to put it on the ballot.”

Many Democrats claimed the effort was an attempt to steal the 2008 election for the Republicans.  In fact, Paul Singer (a financial backer of Rudy Giuliani) revealed himself as the source of an anonymous donation, creating questions that the measure could be violating election laws.

So, at least for this election, California’s 55 electoral votes will continue to be awarded to the winner of the states’ popular vote.

Kucinich Faces Fierce Opposition for House Seat

From Kevin Zeese at Dissident Voice:

On the Hill some call it being McKinney’d — the treatment Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney received when she was in Congress. Twice, rather than protecting the incumbent, the Democrats put up well funded challengers against her. Now, it looks like Dennis Kucinich may be facing the same treatment in Cleveland.

There is a report circulating the web that before the Nevada primary Kucinich was visited by representatives of Nancy Pelosi and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the right wing Israeli lobby. They told him that if he would drop his campaigns to impeach Cheney and Bush, they would guarantee his re-election to the House of Representatives. Kucinich threw them out of his office.

Kucinich has aggressively challenged the Democratic Party leadership in Congress and on the presidential campaign trail on the issues of war, civil liberties, impeachment and big business control of government. He’s even refused to pledge to endorse the party’s presidential nominee.

The Democratic leadership has insisted that impeachment was off the table since taking control of the House in 2006. Congressman Conyers, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, has even refused to investigate whether President Bush and Vice President Cheney have violated the law. But Kucinich pushed the issue. He introduced articles of impeachment against Cheney, then against Bush and he brought the issue up on the House floor. He pushed and pushed to try to make sure the president and vice president were not above the law.

On the campaign trail he didn’t let Senator Clinton or Obama get away with campaign peace rhetoric in the Democratic primary while they voted war funding with no strings attached in the senate. He pointed out that their rhetoric was not consistent with their actions. He pushed the issue of all troops being removed; while Obama and Clinton parse their words carefully making it clear they will withdraw only some of the troops and neither promising a complete troop withdrawal even by 2012.

And he pierced the veil of campaign rhetoric of Democrats who call for “universal health care” but put forward plans that will enrich their donors in the private health insurance industry.

On issue after issue Kucinich pushed against the Democratic Party leadership — now, it seems he is paying a price.

In Cleveland, Kucinich is being challenged by several candidates. The one that is getting the most attention and funding is City Councilman Joe Cimperman. He’s served on the council for ten years and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars from real estate interests to challenge Kucinich. He’s been saying that Kucinich focuses too much on campaigning for president and not on the district. The Mayor of Cleveland and the Cleveland Plain Dealer has endorsed Cimperman.

Kucinich, who has been focused on the presidential campaign, has very little money in the bank (reportedly only about $30,000). He’s been putting out fundraising appeals and has a fundraiser planned with Sean Penn.

Back home the issue of right wing Israeli lobby funding is becoming an issue. Cimperman put out a press release that urges Kucinich to refute a report in the People’s Weekly World Newspaper that said the “Kucinich campaign charged” that Cimperman’s effort to unseat Kucinich was financed in large part from “a right-wing pro-Israel group.”

Cimperman has been somewhat theatrical in his campaign. He’s been putting up signs “Where’s Dennis?” and describing him as a “Missing Congressman.” Cimperman took the poster to Kucinch’s office and delivered a copy on videotape. Kucinich responded by asking Homeland Security to investigate the filming of government property. Cimperman responded with another video calling Kucinch a hypocrite for violating his privacy while railing against government intrusion into people’s lives.

No doubt if Kucinch had kow-towed to Nancy Pelosi, been less aggressive in his comments in the presidential debates and agreed to endorse the Democratic presidential nominee, the Democratic Party would be discouraging opponents and coming to the aid of an incumbent who has been in the House since 1996.

But elected officials like McKinney and Kucinch who challenge the Democratic Party line — who think for themselves and feel a responsibility to fight for their constituents and challenge corporate power — are a hindrance to the party leadership. They get in the way and let the public know what is really going on. So, they must be either tamed or made an example of. If Kucinich gets McKinney’d you can be sure the message will be received. Those, like Congressman Conyers, who’ve been around for awhile (Conyers has been in the House since 1965) know better than to step too far out of line. So, Conyers has remained silent on Bush’s law breaking — protecting his committee chairmanship by being afraid to use it. Conyers has been tamed but Kucinich hasn’t. So, Kucinich needs to be taught a lesson that other members will learn from. The growing revolt of the “Out of Iraq Caucus” needs to be kept impotent. Knocking out Kucinich will prevent others from too loudly disobeying leadership.

Kucinich has faced tough battles in Cleveland before. When he was mayor he stood up to corporate interests that wanted to take over Cleveland’s public utility and survived a recall election. And, Cimperman is not the only challenger, there are several, so the anti-Kucinich vote may be sufficiently divided for the congressman to retain his seat.

If he doesn’t Kucinich may find new political opportunities that give him a bigger platform. Perhaps he will leave the Democratic Party with whom he has had so much disagreement and join Cynthia McKinney in the Green Party — a party whose platform is consistent with his. If so a McKinney-Kucinich ticket could be an interesting development in the 2008 election year. The Democrats may regret their punishment of both McKinney and Kucinich.