Matt Stoller

Godzilla Amazon: The Amount of Power in Jeff Bezos' Hands Should Frighten All Americans

To understand the depth and breadth of Jeff Bezos’ ambitions for the company he built, type into your browser. The domain Bezos registered in 1994 will redirect to Amazon, the company aptly, and ambitiously, nicknamed The Everything Store. He tells his shareholders that the company will act like an aggressive startup — that at Amazon, it is always Day One. 

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8 Huge Corporate Handouts in the Fiscal Cliff Bill

Throughout the months of November and December, a steady stream of corporate CEOs flowed in and out of the White House to discuss the impending fiscal cliff. Many of them, such as Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, would then publicly come out and talk about how modest increases of tax rates on the wealthy were reasonable in order to deal with the deficit problem. What wasn’t mentioned is what these leaders wanted, which is what’s known as “tax extenders”, or roughly $205B of tax breaks for corporations. With such a banal name, and boring and difficult to read line items in the bill, few political operatives have bothered to pay attention to this part of the bill. But it is critical to understanding what is going on.

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Why Is the Left Defending Obama?

The 2012 election is Tuesday. We face a choice between Barack Obama, a candidate whose Presidency we can examine and evaluate, and Mitt Romney, who is a dangerous cipher. My argument – made last week in “Progressive Case Against Obama“, is that progressives should evaluate these risks honestly, with a clear-headed analysis of Obama’s track record.This piece sparked a massive debate that has had both Obama loyalists and Republicans resort to outlandish name-calling, evidently as a result of their unwillingness or inability to address the issues raised. 

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Walmart, the Most Powerful Company in the World, Admits that Protests and Strikes Lead to Wage Increases

For the first time ever, a strike is taking place in America aimed at the most powerful company in the economy: Walmart. Workers at Walmart stores across the country, as Josh Eidelson reports, are threatening to walk out on Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year. These labor actions are coming on top of earlier labor actions at Walmart’s warehouse contractors linked to “non-payment of overtime, non-payment for all hours worked, and even pay less than the minimum wage.”

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Why Neil Barofsky’s Book “Bailout” Matters

Neil Barofsky’s new memoir Bailout, is not just a great read, it’s also a very important story about what happened after the financial crisis. Barofsky, who was the Special Inspector General for TARP, was in a vantage point to view the entirety of the Obama policy apparatus, from the use of TARP to pad bank balance sheets to Treasury’s PPIP program to the reorganization of the auto industry to the housing crisis. And he doesn’t disappoint, packing the story full of flashy anecdotes which give more than any book I’ve read a sense of what it’s like to be in DC in a powerful position where your goal is not to get along with the actors controlling the status quo. The book paints the atmosphere in DC’s melange of agencies, bureaucracies, and Congressional halls as a mix between the drudgery and petty bureaucracy of Office Space and the world-cleaving tension of Too Big to Fail. As a Congressional staffer, I worked a bit with Barofsky’s office, so I’m going to give a slightly different perspective on the book than what you might have read elsewhere. You see, what very few have picked up on, even those who liked this book, is that it’s essentially a story about the importance of Congressional oversight in reigning in corruption, and the problems of our imperial Presidency.

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Corruption Is Responsible for 80% of Your Cell Phone Bill

Last year, a new company called Lightsquared promised an innovative business model that would dramatically lower cell phone costs and improve the quality of service, threatening the incumbent phone operators like AT&T and Verizon.  Lightsquared used a new technology involving satellites and spectrum, and was a textbook example of how markets can benefit the public through competition.  The phone industry swung into motion, not by offering better products and services, but by going to Washington to ensure that its new competitor could be killed by its political friends.  And sure enough, through three Congressmen that AT&T and Verizon had funded (Fred Upton (R-MI), Greg Walden (R-OR), and Cliff Stearns (R-FL)), Congress began demanding an investigation into this new company.  Pretty soon, the Federal Communications Commission got into the game, revoking a critical waiver that had allowed it to proceed with its business plan.

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Why Ron Paul Challenges Liberals to Come Up with Real Solutions on Finance and War

 The most perplexing character in Congress, ideologically speaking, is Ron Paul. This is a guy who exists in the Republican Party as a staunch opponent of American empire and big finance. His ideas on the Federal Reserve have taken some hold recently, and he has taken powerful runs at the Presidency on the obscure topic of monetary policy. He doesn’t play by standard political rules, so while old newsletters bearing his name showcase obvious white supremacy, he is also the only prominent politician, let alone Presidential candidate, saying that the drug war has racist origins. You cannot honestly look at this figure without acknowledging both elements, as well as his opposition to war, the Federal government, and the Federal Reserve. And as I’ve drilled into Paul’s ideas, his ideas forced me to acknowledge some deep contradictions in American liberalism (pointed out years ago by Christopher Laesch) and what is a long-standing, disturbing, and unacknowledged affinity liberals have with centralized war financing. So while I have my views of Ron Paul, I believe that the anger he inspires comes not from his positions, but from the tensions that modern American liberals bear within their own worldview.

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Occupying the Conventions? How Protests Will Change Politics-as-Usual in 2012

Every era has an iconic image, like a protester standing up to a tank in Tiananmen Square, a military officer shooting a handcuffed Vietnamese prisoner in the head at point-blank range, or the famous zeppelin Hindenburg crashing in flames. These images can end wars, destroy industries or memorialize a moment for a nation forever. The image speaks to us through its raw potency and ability to freeze an instant into a frame. It becomes iconic because it captures a particular cultural zeitgeist. These two elements – authenticity and timeliness – grant such images power.

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How America Could Collapse

The following article first appeared on the Web site of The Nation. For more great content from the Nation, sign up for its e-mail newsletters here.

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Evan Bayh Forming Blue Dog Caucus in the Senate

I suppose they should formalize it yet.

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Why the Right Will Oppose Getting Us Out of Recession

In a post about Depression Economics, Paul Krugman discusses deflation, or dropping price levels.  I'm seeing deflation in the local real estate market, as buyers are holding back because they think prices will keep dropping.  One theory is that deflation raises the value of money, which is true.  If one dollar buys more real estate tomorrow than today, the value of money goes up.  Presumably, this is expansionary since it is increasing the total monetary base in the economy, and has what's known as a 'real balance effect'.

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Minnesota Recount Going Well for Franken

Update (From Steve Benen): In Minnesota, Norm Coleman's lead over Al Franken is down to just 136 votes. As of last night, about 46% of the 2.9 million ballots had been counted as part of the statewide recount.

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Republican Soul-Searching in Five Minutes

After the election, I was half-interested in the discussions around the Republican party.  Should they become moderate?  Will they become more conservative?  How will they use the internet?  Blah blah blah.  There's a lot to learn about politics from the Republicans and the details of how they reform, but the general gist of the matter seems pretty clear.

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Are BushCo Using the Economic Meltdown to Rob Us Blind?

Obviously conservatives and Republicans in Congress are throwing tantrums about how any additional provisions to the $700 billion blank check are partisan maneuvers to take advantage of a crisis.  They say this as if Hank Paulson isn't a conservative Republican asking for $700 billion for his conservative friends on Wall Street.  This is an ideological war and they are assaulting America.  I'd call it treason but it's legal.

On the flip side, this crisis is our chance to thrash the conservative movement and it's one Democrats should jump on.  I've had anti-corruption fighter David Donnolly note that this is a good moment to get public financing through, since it's obvious that our political system is totally corrupt and needs systemic reform.  This is a good moment to reform the Bankruptcy code.  And it's also a good moment to really shift the rules and help labor (where the hell is labor, by the way); here's a note from Joshua Zeitz, candidate for Congress in NJ-04.

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Is John McCain Dying of Cancer?

I just got back from a dermatologist for a check-up (growing up in Miami with outdoor summers requires this), and I asked her about McCain and skin cancer.  He's had various types of the disease and I wanted to get a sense of whether he's really in danger or if this is one of those treatable forms of cancer.  And she told me that basically, some skin cancers are not that bad, but malignant melanoma - the kind McCain has had in two separate places - is not one of those.  It's bad.  Real bad.  And unlike most cancers, it doesn't really go away, even after years in remission.  Sam Donaldson had it on his ankle, and thirteen years later it returned in the same spot.  McCain has had it on two separate 'primaries' (not recurrences, which aren't as bad), and you can clearly see the post-surgical scars of having his lymph nodes checked (and partially removed).  This is not a healthy guy, this is a 72 year old man with a fairly high likelihood of serious illness and death within the next few years.

I asked Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican, about John McCain's cancer, and he said that McCain is in remission.  The video is above.  You can see above that Kyl is taken aback, but he says that he trusts what John McCain told him.  But why?  That might be good enough for a Republican Senator, but why should that be the test for the voters?  Why should we trust McCain on his medical past?  It's not just that McCain has stretched the truth in this campaign, as even Karl Rove noted, or that he's acted as desperately as you'd expect a dying man to act when stretching for his lifelong dream of the Presidency, it's that McCain has simply refused to release his medical records to the public and confined select members of the press to a three hour window with no electronic equipment to examine his records.  Brave New Films is on this question, and more than a thousand doctors have signed up to ask him to release his medical records.  You should sign this petition and watch the video, it is downright scary.  While this race is between Obama and McCain, President Palin is not an unlikely outcome (as Matt Damon noted).

Did McCain Tamper With the Drug Enforcement Agency to Protect His Career?

A whistleblower is coming forth against John and Cindy McCain, and the picture he is painting is not a pretty one. You've probably heard about Cindy McCain stealing prescription drugs from her charity in the 1990s. Today, Tom Gosinski, her former employee and once a close friend of the McCains, came out on the record about the entire sordid episode.

And it appears that McCain used his Senate staff and resources to cover up Cindy's drug use, and potentially to prevent the Drug Enforcement Agency from investigating his wife's theft of illegal prescription drugs. John McCain certainly used his political connections to begin a campaign of intimidation against Gosinski, because at the time -- this was after the Keating 5 scandal -- another major scandal would have derailed his career. Gosinski stayed quiet out of fear until today; a recent fight with cancer has strengthened his resolve. As he told me today, if he can beat cancer, he can go on the record regarding how the McCains do business.

Gosinski was an employee of Cindy McCain who helped her run her charity, the American Voluntary Medical Team (AVMT), in the early to mid-1990s. At the time Gosinski worked for her, Cindy McCain was addicted to prescription painkillers, taking between 30 and 50 pills a day of Vicodin and/or Percocet. She had doctors writing out prescriptions in other people's names, including Gosinski's. When Gosinski found one of the prescription slips, he got angry, and Cindy had him fired. This part of the story is just kind of sad, but not damning; Cindy McCain was a lonely and bored wife who turned to drugs in place of what was a loveless marriage full of fundraisers and, in all likelihood, various infidelities (or so were the rumors Gosinski heard at the time).

Now, it begins to get dangerous and vicious after Gosinksi was fired. At first the McCains said they'd help him find a job, but it became clear to Gosinksi that McCain was using his political connections to blackball him from another job in Republican politics in Arizona. So he sued the McCains for wrongful termination and went to the Drug Enforcement Agency to find out the legal repercussions of having prescriptions for painkillers written in his name. To retaliate, McCain then had his political ally Rick Romley open an extortion investigation against Gosinksi. In the course of that investigation, it was revealed that the DEA was circling around Cindy McCain and her charity. It's not clear what they were investigating her for, but it is clear she was bringing illegal prescription drugs around the world on a diplomatic passport secured for her by McCain's Senate office.

McCain's Senate staff and Senate resources were intimately involved in Cindy's work with the charity. John McCain procured her a diplomatic passport, which meant that her bags were not searched by customs, and Mark Salter and Torie Clarke were both coordinating with Gosinski on logistics for the trips abroad. Here's Gosinski on the coordination with McCain's Senate staff.

The charity was supposed to conduct medical missions abroad, but Cindy was also stealing from the charity's supply of drugs for her own personal use. In August of 1994, the story was going to come out, and so John McCain came out with his side of the story. He claimed he didn't know that Cindy McCain was using drugs until 1994, a clear lie. Cindy McCain overdosed in 1991, and John McCain went to the hospital in Sedona and told the hospital staff not to make the information about Cindy public. Gosinski heard about the overdose in 1992, after he began work for Cindy McCain.

There are lots of unanswered questions, but the basic contours of the story are clear: John McCain used his position as a senator to help his wife avoid being searched by customs, and somehow his wife managed to avoid any charges by the DEA or the state (which has mandatory minimums in cases like this) on drug charges despite ample evidence. Did the DEA or the state not file charges against her because of political pressure? Did they keep this on the federal level to avoid mandatory minimums for Cindy McCain because of political pressure from McCain? Did John McCain and/or his Senate staff tamper with a criminal investigation of his wife and her conspiracy to fraudulently obtain illegal drugs?

Whether illegal or not -- and an investigation by Congress should be conducted -- this is clearly a massive and overreaching case of both corruption on a personal, sordid level and an abuse of power. And you might be seeing Gosinski in the mainstream media soon.

We need an investigation into what happened here. What did McCain know about the investigation of his wife, and did he use his power as a senator to help her abuse drugs or avoid prosecution? When he was one of a hundred senators, it was of minor importance. And now? Well, it would be nice to know if the next president is engaged in behavior more characteristic of an influence-peddling mob boss than an upright politician.

Update: Nick Juliano at Raw Story has more on the allegations coming out against McCain. There are journal entries from Gosinski and details about the McCain's "marriage of convenience." I'm still struck by the diplomatic passport for Cindy that allowed her to keep her own bags away from customs, which would have found her drug stash when she was on non-surgical trips to El Salvador and Bangladesh. This passport was procured by John McCain's Senate office, and McCain aides Salter and Clarke often worked on logistics for Cindy's charity.

Guess Who Pays for Mainstream Media Political News?

Sometimes a picture tells the story quite nicely.

Who Pays for the News?

DC Democrats Campaigning Against Progressive Dem Annette Taddeo

Here's something to note.
Anxious Miami Beach officials huddled Tuesday with Florida Department of Transportation representatives, summoned by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who met with the group, along with representatives of Reps. Lincoln and Mario Diaz-Balart and Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
So that's three Republicans and a top Democratic leader meeting, and that Democratic leader has pretty much endorsed these three Republicans. Odd, but on local issues, there's a logic to it we can accept. When you combine it with a whisper campaign against Ros-Lehtinen's opponent, though, this begins to really smell.

So let's look closer at a subtle campaign against Ros-Lehtinen's progressive Democratic opponent, Annette Taddeo. This campaign is designed to get two memes out there, that Taddeo can't win and that Ros-Lehtinen is 'moderate'. The first meme is designed to lock out institutional support from Taddeo, the second to help Ros-Lehtinen portray herself as moderate to voters. The notable thing about this campaign against a progressive Democrat is that it's coming from Democrats in the local establishment and parts of the DC establishment. The rumors of Ros-Lehtinen's strength are allowing groups like EMILY's List to not come in to the race, citing viability questions. To his credit Chris Van Hollen at the DCCC has reserved airtime in FL-18, so there is recognition she can pull this off. And I will have stats soon on EMILY's List support of candidates of color to show why the group should come in for Taddeo.

The Money-Laundering Operation at the Heart of the Democratic Party

Every week or two I read another article in Roll Call, the Hill or the Politico on the increasing clout of the Blue Dog caucus.  Today's came out in Roll Call, titled 'Blue Dogs' Bite Gets Stronger'. Anna Palmer's article opens with the sentence, "Blue Dogs get ready: The ranks of obsequious lobbyists looking to curry favor - and contribute to your war chest - is set to explode."  The article also dubs Blue Dogs 'pro-business' and 'fiscally conservative'.

Since the 2006 elections, the Blue Dog political action committee has become one of the fastest growing, and is among the largest in Democratic leadership. Already it has nearly doubled its fundraising this cycle from the $1.2 million raised in 2006. This cycle, through the end of May, it had raised more than $2.2 million, according to CQ MoneyLine.

That puts it nearly on a par with House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer's (D-Md.)AMERIPAC, which as of the end of April had raised more than $2.2 million.

"We've always been fairly successful with fundraising, even when we were in the minority," said Vickie Walling, chief of staff to Tennessee Rep. John Tanner, a founding member of the group.

Going on to the FEC site lets you see the truth about the Blue Dog PAC - 85% of its money - $1.95M - comes from conservative corporate interests.  The list is pretty standard.  Walmart, Verizon, AT&T, Charter, Comcast, US Chamber of Commerce, Raytheon, Boeing, etc.  And Steny Hoyer's PAC - AmeriPAC - isn't much better. Roughly 65% of his money comes from PACs, most of them similar to the ones flooding the coffers of Blue Dogs - Raytheon, AT&T, Boeing,etc. 

From Hoyer and the Blue Dog PAC the money spreads outward.  Just check out the list of candidates and committees Hoyer supports, from the Congressional Black Caucus to conservatives like John Barrow, Al Wynn, Don Cazayoux, Larry Kissell, Brad Ellsworth, and the Blue Dogs to progressives like John Hall, Dennis Schulman, Jim Himes, and Darcy Burner.

Now don't get me wrong, I like a lot of the people that Hoyer gives to, which is the point.  We've endorsed some of them on our Better Democrats page.  It's just important to note that much of the capital funding the Democratic Party is corporate PAC money, sluiced through figures such as Steny Hoyer and the Blue Dog caucus.

This has real consequences, for the business community.  Check out the roll call for the net neutrality amendment that went down to defeat in 2006, 269-152.  Blue Dogs voted against it, by and large, which is not so much pro-business as it is pro-telecom and cable industry and anti-technology and innovation.  Or if you look at the people protecting the large tax credits for oil and gas, just check out the Blue Dog caucus and you'll find a good number in there. And telecom immunity matters deeply to businesses that don't break the law.

The sluicing funds within the Democratic Party represent relationships that make it really easy to go along with the status quo. They are at their heart network systems, dense thickets built to withstand change.  I'm really quite excited about some new mapping tools I saw at Personal Democracy Forum which will help us understand just how dense the networks are, on all sides. 

Comcast Censoring Political Ads Critical of Its Actions

Glenn Greenwald is reporting that Comcast is refusing to run an ad critical of Representative Chris Carney, an ad which features Comcast itself as a major donor to and beneficiary of Carney's policy choices.  The network told him that they would "face potential liability for any defamation contained in the spot."

Comcast in this case concocted a factual inaccuracy and is refusing to run the ad.  While there's no excuse for this blatant conflict of interest, the company created an artifice of legal barriers that most stations simply do not.  Censoring advertisements from network and cable TV is a common practice in our political discourse, one that often goes unremarked.  Here are some recent examples:

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Centrist Climate Bill Deserves Defeat

Today in Roll Call, I'm reading a funny little exchange about the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act which subsidizes businesses and sort of imposes an economy-wide cap on carbon emissions.  The bill is strongly backed by Barbara Boxer and most of the major green groups, with the prominent exception of Friends of the Earth (and a weaker opposition from LCV and the Sierra Club).
"We are about to take up the most important fight of our generation, and we have no strategy, no message and no plan to get out of this," one senior Senate Democratic aide said....

"Boxer is walking us off a cliff," another senior Senate Democratic aide said.
The only group to do paid media against this bill was the Friends of the Earth, who realized early on (as did most liberal bloggers discussing this issue) that the politics didn't make sense.  You can't cut the baby in half with regards to climate.  Either you tax carbon in some form and use it to build a socially just society, or you tax it and give the money to business elites, leveling the rest of the middle class in the process.  The result of the latter scenario is 'nuclear feudalism', with a superrich class and the rest of us steeped in poverty.

Lieberman-Warner was the bill that taxed carbon (through a confusing cap and trade mechanism) and gave the money to businesses.  Business elites realized a few years ago that funding the deniers was only useful as a wedge to solicit subsidies around carbon.  In other words, they were saying something along the lines of "Don't side with the crazy environmentalists, don't side with the crazy deniers, side with moderate pro-business reasonable people who agree that climate change is a problem but don't want to cost the economy money."  If that sounds like the immigration or Energy bill or war funding fiascos, you wouldn't be far off, as the architecture of those conversations is the same as the architecture of this one.

White Boomer Women Dropping Support for Obama

Obama's numbers have come down, but Josh Orton is missing the picture.  It's women, specifically, white women, who are unhappy and switching over to, mostly, undecided.

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Obama Ratchets-Up His Attacks on Big Media

On Friday, I wrote about how Obama is subtly sending out signals that he is going to reform media by emphasizing a more diverse ownership structure. Currently, radio station ownership is mostly held by white men. Latinos own 2.9% of all radio stations and African-Americans own 3.4% of them. TV is even worse. According to Free Press, "people of color own just 3.15 percent of commercial television stations in the United States... while women own just 5.87 percent of television stations."

Pledging a more diverse ownership structure is a serious challenge to the current media environment. Today, Obama pledged to use antitrust tools to work on media consolidation.

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West Virginia Secretary of State Disenfranchising Thousands of Obama Voters?

I got a call today from Mark Levine, the election protection attorney for Donna Edwards and one in whom I have a good amount of trust, and he told me about a brewing problem in West Virginia which will probably end up disenfranchising thousands of Obama voters. Here's the nub of the issue. West Virginia has an open primary, which means you can vote even if you are an independent. However, if you are a Democrat or a Republican, you are automatically given a normal ballot in a primary. If you are an independent, you are pointed to a touch screen device which does not list a Presidential choice.

If you are an independent, you have the option of requesting a Democratic or Republican ballot so you can vote in the Presidential primary, but you have to request it. And unless you know to request it, you will end up with no vote in the Presidential primary. The Secretary of State has decided not to inform people of this fact, which will leave potentially thousands of voters in West Virginia who came to vote for Obama without a choice.

Independents, in other words, are being disenfranchised. There's a full press release on the flip.

Do Americans Really Want a War Hero for President?

McCain is obviously hinging his whole campaign on his POW time in Vietnam, with this spot closing with 'An American President Americans Have Been Waiting for'. This is a frequent tool he deploys when he speaks with the press, saying things like 'I haven't been questioned this hard since Hanoi'.

I can't help but think that it's a foolish narrative. 1992, 1996, 2000, and 2004 all saw the candidate without military service elected over the candidate who had served, in several cases heroically. There's a standard conservative narrative about America, one that existed before Hollywood but has been perfected by the entertainment business. In that narrative, baseball was a pastoral sport untainted by money until greedy city corruptors got their mitts on it, rural America is a place free of sin and greed, war is glorious and divine, segregation was an anomaly, businessmen are self-made, and Americans want a hero for a leader. It's the Horatia Alger myth spun in various webs outward, a timeless perfection that is America.

Liberal myths look different, and focus on love of country not as the embodiment of perfection but as the embodiment of our own capacity to improve who we are. This demands an honest understanding that yes, we have flaws. The story that Obama and Clinton tell by their very presence is about our ability to change direction, include those who are different, and build a diverse messy democracy that works. It's a much more real and beautiful story in my opinion, and it's also more powerful at this moment when we are confronted with immense tragedies, many of which are of our own making. And people know this. There are no Rambo style movies coming out anymore emphasizing the indestructable muscle bound American heros and dominating the culture. The top eight grossing movies of 2007 were Spiderman 3, Shrek, the Transformers, Pirates of the Caribbean, Harry Potter, I am Legend, the Bourne Ultimatum, and National Treasure: Book of Secrets. All of these emphasize either flawed heros doing battle with themselves, an incompetent, overpowered, or actively malicious state, the apocalypse, or an ironic challenge to mainstream cultural norms as the route to happiness. This is just not a good environment for an excessively sincere call to serve instruments of national power.

Will Racial Prejudice Send Old Democrats Running to McCain?

Here's the first bit of evidence I've seen on how race will matter from the primary to the general.
The vast majority of Democratic voters say they would support either Obama or Clinton over McCain. But in an Obama-McCain matchup, 14% of Democratic voters say they would support McCain, compared with 8% who would do so if Clinton is the nominee.
One-in-five white Democrats (20%) say that they will vote for McCain over Obama, double the percentage who say they would switch sides in a Clinton-McCain matchup (10%). Roughly the same number of Democrats age 65 and older say they will vote for McCain if Obama is the party's choice (22%). Obama also suffers more defections among lower income and less educated Democratic voters than does Clinton.
In addition, female Democrats look at the race differently depending on the matchup. While 93% of women in the party say they would vote for Clinton over McCain, just 79% say they would support Obama over McCain.
A quarter of Democrats (25%) who back Clinton for the nomination say they would favor McCain in a general election test against Obama. The "defection" rate among Obama's supporters if Clinton wins the nomination is far lower; just 10% say they would vote for McCain in November, while 86% say they would back Clinton.

While race is often considered the most important factor, I do not actually think that is the case here.  The most obvious parallel, where a sizeable chunk of Democrats chose to vote for an incredibly hawkish maverick style politician with an undeserved reputation for liberal politics, was the 2006 Lieberman-Lamont race.  I in fact said that the 2006 Senate race at the time was a test run for John McCain's campaign, and all campaign strategists working on the Presidential race noticed exactly what the limits were of the liberal coalition at that time.

Watching the Senate Rot in Slow Motion

First of all, I'm really glad we elected Jim Webb a Senator from Virginia. He has worked on some essential topics, including military contracting, Iran and prisons, that few politicians will touch. And he's far better than the racist and somewhat sadistic George Allen, who in his youth apparently used to beat people with pool cues.

That said, Webb has been incredibly underwhelming as a Senator; his response to the State of the Union last year was stunningly good, with a promise that Democrats would show Bush a different path if he refused to change policies on Iraq. Unfortunately, there was no follow-through whatsoever, and Webb's credibility has been shot full of holes, with bad votes on FISA, tax policy, and censuring Moveon members like me (AliceDem in the comments reminds us of his poor votes on the Peru Free Trade agreement and his letter asking the FCC to allow more media consolidation). He has in some ways become a sad joke of a figure, a heroic figure neutered by his own deference to the authoritarians he ran against and at one point in his life, worked for. He endorsed George Allen and George Bush in 2000, and in some ways, he still does.

I expect him to be a great Senator one day, but as of yet, this environment is designed precisely around his weaknesses, not his strengths. Though he is willing to take on tough issues, he is unable to make any progress. Military contracting, Iran, the Webb amendment on Iraq - all have been stymied, with record disapproval from the public against Democrats for their failures. It's as if he cannot bring himself to use actual leverage against the Commander-in-Chief, because that's not how one does business.

What I find especially interesting is how his failed leadership has had such a devastating impact on his staff. Mark Levine details a conversation he had with a Webb staffer on the FISA legislation. It's a long and interesting conversation, and it shows how frustrated this staffer really is at the pressure received about his vote on this and other matters. As it happens, I have worked a bit with this staffer, and I like her very much, but it is clear that the lack of dialouge from Webb with the liberals who got him elected has created a tense and difficult environment and filtered down.

Obama Wins Indonesia and More Primary News

* Obama wins 75% of the votes from Democrats abroad in Indonesia.

* Clinton is up by 10 in the latest SurveyUSA poll in California. There are lots of polls out there, but I have one piece of advice. Don't stake your hopes on Zogby, ever.

* I got this NAACP Presidential questionnaire filled out by Obama and Clinton. They have almost no policy disagreements, except Obama doesn't include green energy in his budget proposals. I find Michelle Obama's statements about whether she'd support Hillary Clinton in line with the general arrogance of the Obama campaign.

* The kids are loving this one (to your right) on the youtubes. It really is awesome, though not quite as good as 'You and I' by Celine Dionne.

* Be aware of the womenfolk. Cato at Dailykos discusses the Boston Obama rally with breathless excitement.

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MoveOn Considers Making a Democratic Endorsement

I alluded to the creative class institutions moving to Obama yesterday, and sure enough, Ari Melber reports on the biggie.

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Is This the Iraq Recession?

I just got back from the New America Foundation forum on the economic crisis, with presenters from the McCain, Edwards, Obama, and Clinton. Apparently the Romney, Paul, and Huckabee campaigns were going to send reps, but did not. I wanted to test out the 'Iraq Recession' frame, which Moveon put out in an email a few days ago when discussing the stimulus.

Basically, this is the closest any of us are going to get to Davos, the exclusive global elite conference going on in Switzerland right now where the freakout du jour is the credit crunch and coming recession. Multiple Democrats made the point that this is not a 'subprime' mortgage crisis, it's a credit crisis reflecting many sectors of the economy. Leo Hindery from the Edwards campaign said it's a crisis involving regulatory neglect combined with trade, current account, Federal, state, and consumer deficits and debt. He was by far the most radical in his diagnosis of the problem, which coheres with the politics of the Presidential campaign.

Gary Gensler of the Clinton campaign spoke, and I found his speech interesting for the way that he framed Clinton's thinking about policy. Gensler said that Clinton is an extremely thorough policy-maker, and won't put out policy unless she has personally ensured that it is rigorously done. But he also added that she is listening to voters on the campaign trail (he spoke of her 'conversation' with the country that she announced upon the start of her campaign), and she is hearing that middle income voters are suffering because of housing and energy costs. This explains why her plans are targeting these areas, and why she's become much more liberal in her rhetoric. Gensler also mentioned Clinton's embrace of 'smart trade' instead of simply free trade.

Kevin Hassett of the McCain campaign also spoke, and he gave a remarkably uninspiring and status quo argument for tax cuts for corporations as well as entitlement reform (ie. gutting Social Security). Hassett basically doesn't see anything particularly problematic in our current predicament except that the long-term crises of Medicare and Social Security are going to cause the markets to 'punish' us, and that corporate tax rates have stacked the deck against companies that invest in America due to lower tax rates abroad. In an unwitting nod to Naomi Klein's Shock Doctrine, he spoke of the current economic crisis as a great opportunity that we should not squander to fix our longer term problems, as well as lauding Bill Clinton's record on free trade and attacking Hillary's recent move away from it.

The Incredible Shrinking Bill Clinton

I don't particularly care if Bill Clinton chooses to step out of his elder statesman role, but this is very annoying.

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