SUPERDELEGATES REVOLT:

Democratic power broker and pre-eminent superdelegate

Donna Brazile

declared recently that “if 795 of my colleagues decide this election, I will quit the Democratic Party.” Brazile wants the famed superdelegates to remain un- committed, as she is, in the hopes that a clear front-runner will emerge by convention time. Brazile’s Democratic compatriot, Bill Clinton’s strategist

Paul Begala

, goes a step further, calling the superdelegates “an abomination to democracy.” “They should be abolished, and I predict they will be,” he says. “Anything that can’t be easily explained shouldn’t be continued.”

Joe Andrew

, former chair of the Democratic National Committee, agrees. “I’m very worried about superdelegates determining the nomination,” he says. Though he supports Hillary Clinton, Andrew pledges to use his superdelegate ballot to back whichever candidate wins the popular vote. Another prominent Democrat, Representative

Jesse Jackson Jr

., a co-chairman of the Obama campaign, has said he’d be willing to forfeit his superdelegate status. “If it better serves justice,” Jackson wrote in a recent Chicago Tribune editorial, “I’d be willing to give up my automatic superdelegate slot.” He then added this caveat: “(as long as my colleagues join me).”   ARI BERMAN

THE BATTLE OF BERKELEY:

What do organic lunches for public school kids have to do with recruiting marines? Ask GOP Senator

Jim DeMint

, who’s trying to cut $243,000 in federal funding for the

Chez Panisse Foundation

, a nutrition awareness program for children, in retaliation for the Berkeley City Council’s stand against military recruitment.

The saga opened last September when

Code Pink

began protesting outside a Marine Corps recruitment center in downtown Berkeley. Armies of breast-feeding mothers, yoga practitioners and acupuncturists set up camp, hoping to create a “hostile environment” for the “few and the proud.” In late January, the City Council issued a proclamation calling the Marines “uninvited and unwelcome intruders” and honored Code Pink with a designated parking spot (every Wednesday) in front of the center.

Right-wingers furiously took to their keyboards.

Michelle Malkin

called the events an “anti-military siege.” A blogger for

Move Forward America

smeared Code Pink as a “Communist, terrorist-supporting anti-war group.” Enter DeMint and his Semper Fi Act of 2008, which would cut more than $2 million of federal funding for the city (including those organic lunches) and give the money to the Marines.

Faced with this backlash, the City Council announced plans to rescind its proclamation. Mayor

Tom Bates

says members will be “restating their policy” and has invited other groups to apply for parking rights in front of the center. Meanwhile, Code Pink–which is pushing an ordinance to prohibit recruitment offices within 600 feet of residential or public-use areas–vows to keep demonstrating. But neocons aren’t backing down either: California Republicans just proposed legislation that would punish Berkeley with a smaller transportation budget until it stops its “war on the U.S. Marine Corps.”   DINELLE LUCCHESI

IMMUNITY FOR SALE:

The motivation behind

George Bush

‘s threats to veto any Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) renewal that didn’t offer retroactive telecom immunity was always clear: if pending cases against telecom companies were dropped, the details of his illegal wiretapping program might never see the light of a courtroom.

But for Congress, backing the telecom industry was another matter–one tied to the industry’s lobbying clout and financial largesse. With $39 million in contributions since 1990,

AT&T

is Congress’s second-largest financier. Since 1998

Verizon

has spent $80 million to lobby Congress. And last year Democrat

John Rockefeller

, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee, received a sudden $48,500 cash infusion from AT&T and Verizon–even though he’d never been a recipient of their attention before.

“Follow the money,” says

Ellen Miller

of the Sunlight Foundation. “The telecom industry has spent millions, because for them, there’s no higher-profile issue than this one.” With the Senate folding on the matter by a 68-to-29 margin, Democrats–nineteen of whom voted with the GOP–looked poised to let Bush and his corporate enablers slip away.   TE-PING CHEN

LANTOS’S LAST ACT FOR AIDS:

When, on the eve of invading Iraq,

George W. Bush

tried to soften the blow by announcing a massive $15 billion global AIDS initiative, longtime AIDS advocates were thrown into a quandary.

PEPFAR

, as the initiative came to be known, would dramatically increase foreign aid for HIV. But the measure had been butchered by two key Bush constituencies–Big Pharma and evangelical conservatives–and thus was designed to provide only pricey name-brand drugs and to emphasize abstinence-only until marriage. Seasoned advocates expressed anxious enthusiasm over the infusion of funds–and then went about ferociously campaigning for generic drugs and real-world prevention.

Five years later, Bush’s initiative is up for reauthorization. And this time, with the help of a Democratic-led Congress, PEPFAR has been beautifully koshered. The draft bill, written by Representative

Tom Lantos

–his last significant legislative effort before his death on February 11–strikes the abstinence-only earmark, removes an antiprostitution pledge, requires that HIV medications be purchased “at the lowest possible price…on the world market” and ups the budget to $50 billion over five years.

Now it’s the Christian right that’s up in arms. Representative

Chris Smith

, former leader of the New Jersey Right to Life Committee, agitated at a February 7 press conference for restoration of the abstinence earmark. The

Family Research Council

and

Focus on the Family

have mobilized their foot soldiers to restore the bill’s “values,” claiming that the new draft, with its clause requiring coordination among HIV and family-planning services, “funds international abortionists.” GOP Foreign Affairs Committee members followed marching orders, offering language February 13 that restores the abstinence earmark and excises any mention of drug users or gay men. If every Democrat on the committee closes ranks, the Lantos draft could squeak onto the House floor. It promises to be a bloody fight ahead, with a tremendous amount at stake.   ESTHER KAPLAN