Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Cruising the Web

As the Democrats struggle to turn the story of the DNC hacks into an attack on Trump by arguing that the Russians are behind the hack and that Putin is trying to help Trump get elected, let's remember when a prominent Democrat actually went to the Soviets for help in defeating Reagan. In 1984 Ted Kennedy approached the Soviets who were then led by the former KGB head, Yuri Andropov, and tried to negotiate help in opposing Reagan. We found out about Kennedy's efforts when Yeltsin opened up the Soviet archives in 1991. Sean Davis links to the story as reported in Forbes.
Picking his way through the Soviet archives that Boris Yeltsin had just thrown open, in 1991 Tim Sebastian, a reporter for the London Times, came across an arresting memorandum. Composed in 1983 by Victor Chebrikov, the top man at the KGB, the memorandum was addressed to Yuri Andropov, the top man in the entire USSR. The subject: Sen. Edward Kennedy.

“On 9-10 May of this year,” the May 14 memorandum explained, “Sen. Edward Kennedy’s close friend and trusted confidant [John] Tunney was in Moscow.” (Tunney was Kennedy’s law school roommate and a former Democratic senator from California.) “The senator charged Tunney to convey the following message, through confidential contacts, to the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, Y. Andropov.”

Kennedy’s message was simple. He proposed an unabashed quid pro quo. Kennedy would lend Andropov a hand in dealing with President Reagan. In return, the Soviet leader would lend the Democratic Party a hand in challenging Reagan in the 1984 presidential election. “The only real potential threats to Reagan are problems of war and peace and Soviet-American relations,” the memorandum stated. “These issues, according to the senator, will without a doubt become the most important of the election campaign.”

Kennedy made Andropov a couple of specific offers.

First he offered to visit Moscow. “The main purpose of the meeting, according to the senator, would be to arm Soviet officials with explanations regarding problems of nuclear disarmament so they may be better prepared and more convincing during appearances in the USA.” Kennedy would help the Soviets deal with Reagan by telling them how to brush up their propaganda.

Then he offered to make it possible for Andropov to sit down for a few interviews on American television. “A direct appeal … to the American people will, without a doubt, attract a great deal of attention and interest in the country. … If the proposal is recognized as worthy, then Kennedy and his friends will bring about suitable steps to have representatives of the largest television companies in the USA contact Y.V. Andropov for an invitation to Moscow for the interviews. … The senator underlined the importance that this initiative should be seen as coming from the American side.”

Kennedy would make certain the networks gave Andropov air time–and that they rigged the arrangement to look like honest journalism.

Kennedy’s motives? “Like other rational people,” the memorandum explained, “[Kennedy] is very troubled by the current state of Soviet-American relations.” But that high-minded concern represented only one of Kennedy’s motives.

“Tunney remarked that the senator wants to run for president in 1988,” the memorandum continued. “Kennedy does not discount that during the 1984 campaign, the Democratic Party may officially turn to him to lead the fight against the Republicans and elect their candidate president.”

Kennedy proved eager to deal with Andropov–the leader of the Soviet Union, a former director of the KGB and a principal mover in both the crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and the suppression of the 1968 Prague Spring–at least in part to advance his own political prospects.
When this story broke in the 1990s, I was horrified at what seemed as close to treason as I could imagine a prominent American senator getting. But the story was quickly buried and Kennedy kept his prominent and powerful position in American politics and his conduct was barely mentioned in all the hagiographic eulogies when he died.

It's cute to see the Democrats suddenly so worried about Russians hacking when they're just shrugging off concerns that the Russians had hacked Hillary's unsecured server. Those were the secrets of the U.S. government, not the documents of a political party.

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After the story of DNCLeaks, is there much doubt that Hillary's server was hacked. If this was indeed done by the Russians, they sure showed a deft sense of timing in their release on the eve of the Democratic convention. It makes us wonder if they have documents from Hillary's server and will release some damaging documents on the eve of the election. That thought must terrorize the Clinton campaign.

Julian Assange is already pointing to Hillary's hypocrisy at condemning what people at the DNC were doing to further her campaign while stifling Sanders' campaign. But Hillary is also saying nice things about Debbie Wasserman Schultz and giving her a job on her campaign.
Now, of course, Hillary Clinton has tried to immediately produce a counter-example by putting out a statement, within hours, saying that Debbie Wasserman Schultz is a great friend, and she’s incorporating her into her campaign, she’s going to be pushing for her re-election to the Congress.

So that’s a very interesting signaling by Hillary Clinton that if you act in a corrupt way that benefits Hillary Clinton, you will be taken care of. Why does she need to put that out? Certainly, it’s not a signal that helps with the public at all. It’s not a signal that helps with unity at the DNC, at the convention. It’s a signal to Hillary Clinton partisans to keep on going on, you’ll be taken care of. But it’s a very destructive signal for a future presidency, because it’s—effectively, it’s expanding the Overton window of corruption. It doesn’t really matter what you do, how you behave; as long as that is going to benefit Hillary Clinton, you’ll be protected.

The Washington Post lists the ten most damaging things in the DNC's leaked emails. I imagine that big donors won't be pleased to read about how members of the DNC referred to them. This tidbit about how a Clinton lawyer advised the DNC how to respond to a Sanders complaint displays a suspicious level of coordination.

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Josh Gelernter has an interesting explanation of why police shoot unarmed suspects. He remembers trying out the FBI's FATS machine which is a simulator for the Firearm Training System.
It works like this: A trainee stands in front of a movie screen, onto which are projected pre-filmed interactions with potentially dangerous suspects (played by actors). The scenes play out differently depending on the choices the trainee makes (different middles and ends are selected by an instructor). The choices the trainee has to make tend to boil down to shooting or not shooting. He has in his hand a gun that shoots light beams. He shoots at the screen, and the FATS machine records where the virtual bullets go.

When I was the trainee, I got killed over and over again. Everything happens very fast: A suspect shoves your partner, and a split second later your partner’s gun is in the suspect’s hand, and you’re dead. A suspect’s hand drifts out of sight behind a kitchen island — even though your partner is shouting at him to keep his hands up — and suddenly he’s holding a gun, and you’re both dead. A suspect charges you, suddenly, and you don’t shoot because you can’t see a gun. He has a knife in his waistband, but before you realize it, you’re dead.

Conversely, a lot of scenarios can be resolved peacefully. People shout and scream, but they keep their hands up, and everyone lives — assuming you don’t get carried away and shoot them. The point of the FATS machine is to prepare agents for the split-second life-or-death decisions that all law-enforcement officers are inevitably required to make. It teaches something that the FBI has learned over decades of dealing with bad guys: that if someone you’re trying to arrest does something with his hands other than keep them in plain sight, there’s a good chance that he’s planning to shoot you. That’s why policemen shout the keep-your-hands-where-I-can-see-them thing so emphatically. They want to be sure that if you do something else with your hands, it isn’t accidental.

It also teaches agents to treat unarmed suspects like armed suspects until they know better. Particularly the ones who charge or attack. The fact is, there’s no way of knowing whether someone is unarmed or just pretending to be unarmed, until he’s been searched.
Gerlernter explains how he came to appreciate the difficulties that police have in making these split-second life-or-death decisions. He recommends critics of the police take a turn at the simulator so that they could understand why it is so important to comply with the police when they demand suspects keep their hands up.
Last year, a self-described “radical political activist” and Black Lives Matter protester named Jarrett Maupin agreed to go through a FATS-style police exercise — not using a FATS machine, but using paintball guns in a parking lot. Maupin was told to question a man behaving suspiciously. The man’s hands disappeared momentarily behind a car, reappeared holding a gun, and Maupin was “killed.” In the next exercise, two unarmed men were having a loud argument. Maupin approached them, one of the men starting walking aggressively toward Maupin — and Maupin shot him dead.

A local Fox affiliate in Phoenix filmed Maupin’s experience (you can watch it on YouTube). Afterward, one of the local reporters tried the same exercise, and got exactly the same results. The reporter asked Maupin what conclusions he’d drawn from the experience. “I didn’t understand how important compliance was,” said Maupin. “But after going through this, yeah, my attitude has changed. This is all unfolding in 10 to 15 seconds. People need to comply with the orders of law enforcement officers — for their own sake.”

Maybe the answer to racial tensions and anti-police protests is for police to offer every member of Black Lives Matter a chance to take the test that Maupin took. Or maybe the police should start doing FATS-machine demos in high-crime neighborhoods, to help people understand the decisions cops are faced with. Maybe they should open FATS arcades. I bet they’d be popular.

In the meantime, though, it’s worth remembering: Policemen, FBI agents, DEA agents, et al., have a very tough job.

Juan Williams argues that, while Clinton won the nomination, Bernie Sanders actually won the entire war by moving the Democratic Party far to the left.
This is not your father’s—or even your older sister’s—Democratic Party. It is far more left-leaning than under Bill Clinton or President Obama.

Almost 60% of Democratic voters agree that “socialism has a positive” impact on society, according to a February poll by OnMessage Inc. and the American Action Network. In Iowa 43% of Democrats said in January that they would use the word “socialist” to describe themselves, a survey by the Des Moines Register and Bloomberg Politics found.

Forty-seven percent of Democrats told Gallup last year that they are both “socially liberal and economically moderate/liberal”—the highest level in the poll’s history. In 2001 only 30% of Democrats described themselves that way. Between 2000 and 2015 the percentage of “Democratic and Democratic-leaning registered voters” who consider themselves liberal has gone up to 42% from 27%, according to a Pew study in February.

Mrs. Clinton has been running to the front of this liberal parade. This month she wrapped her arms around one of Mr. Sanders’s biggest causes by backing tuition-free college at in-state public universities for families making under $125,000 a year.

She broke with Mr. Obama by calling for repeal of the so-called Cadillac tax on health-insurance plans, a priority for labor unions. She gave a sop to the teachers unions by backtracking on her decades-old support for charter schools. It is clear that in this new liberal order of Democratic politics, the unions will be the enforcers.

Mrs. Clinton is now even backing a “public option”—a Medicare-style government program to compete against private insurance companies. This idea was so radioactive during the debate over the Affordable Care Act that Democrats jettisoned it for fear of being tarred as proponents of socialized medicine.

With the implicit support of Mrs. Clinton and her allies, the Sanders coalition added language to the Democratic platform calling to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, put a price on climate-altering emissions like carbon, and abolish the death penalty.
Don't worry. She can flip back during the general election. It's not as if her opponent is known for consistency in his political positions.

Jim Geraghty depicts Tim Kaine as "painfully generic" running mate. Kaine has also mirrored the elastic position on issues that Clinton and Trump have demonstrated.
Kaine’s bland, risk-averse political persona means he’s a fascinating measuring stick of the leftward shift in Democratic politics over the past decade. The 2005 era Tim Kaine sounded downright Republican: “I believe that marriage is between a man and a woman and that marriage is a uniquely valuable institution that must be preserved.” “I supported reducing Virginia’s sales tax on food and prescription drugs. I supported tax reform that eliminated the marriage penalty, reduced everyone’s income tax, and took over 140,000 Virginians off the tax rolls entirely.” He believed in enforcing “the current Virginia restrictions on abortion and passing an enforceable ban on partial birth abortion that protects the life and health of the mother” and “fighting teen pregnancy through abstinence-focused education.”

His campaign literature promised, “Tim Kaine strongly supports the Second Amendment. As the next Governor of Virginia, he will not propose any new gun laws.”

Once he was elected governor, Kaine pushed for tax increases again and again. He began by pitching $1 billion tax increase, as well as increasing car registration fees and imposing steeper fines on drivers who got tickets. Two years later, he proposed a $1.1 billion plan to hike the titling tax and vehicle registration fees. In his final year in office, Kaine proposed increasing the state’s income tax another percentage point to 6.75 percent. Republican state legislators blocked all these proposals.

In 2009, Kaine’s dedication to the party started getting in the way of his day job; he spent “about 30 percent of the workweek, on average” as chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Of course, that was his final year as governor.

Once elected to the Senate in 2012, Kaine “tried to cultivate an image as an abortion-rights champion. He’s pleased reproductive rights’ groups with a perfect voting record.” He discovered that he believed in gay marriage in 2013.

By 2011, Kaine, who once ran ads falsely implying NRA President Charleton Heston praised his record, said he supported measures to restrict the number of bullets that can be fired from a single magazine. Recently he declared that the Orlando nightclub terror attack was “just an additional wake up call that we need to find solutions to reduce this scourge of gun violence.”

Maybe Kaine and Hillary bonded over how lucrative life in elected office can be. While he was governor, Kaine received $186,899 in gifts and travel – Redskins tickets, cases of wine, etecetra. He didn’t get in legal trouble the way Bob McDonnell did because he disclosed all of the gifts on the proper forms.

Just as Tim Kaine changed his political positions in order to improve his political standing, as George Will argues, Mike Pence has also sold his political principles for a mess of pottage.
Pence, a broad-spectrum social conservative saddened by our fallen world, can minister to the boastful adulterer and aspiring torturer who Pence thinks belongs in the bully pulpit. Actually, the sole benefit of Trump’s election would be in making the presidency’s sacerdotal role — the nation’s moral tutor — terminally ludicrous.

In May, Pence endorsed Ted Cruz but larded his endorsement with lavish praise of Trump, who excuses Pence for buckling “under tremendous pressure from establishment people.” In a year of novelties, now this one: A presidential candidate calls his running mate weak.

It will be interesting to see if Pence will defend his defensible opposition, as a congressman, to Medicare Part D, the prescription-drug entitlement. When George W. Bush proposed this bit of “compassionate conservatism,” House Democrats voted 195-9 against it, deeming it insufficiently compassionate to seniors and excessively compassionate to pharmaceutical companies. Nineteen House Republicans, including Pence, voted against it, largely because this was the first major entitlement enacted without provision for funding. To give the Bush administration time to twist arms and dangle enticements, Republicans held open the floor vote for two hours and 51 minutes, twice as long as the previous longest House vote. It passed 216-215.

If pharmacology had been as potent in 1965 as it has become, prescription drugs might then have been included in Medicare. Today, will a pliable Pence amend his convictions and repent his resistance to this now immensely popular entitlement? Trump, Pence’s new lodestar, sees nothing amiss with the existing entitlement system and disparages those (remember the man who used to be Chris Christie?) who think trillions of dollars of unfunded liabilities are problematic.

Pence also has strongly favored free trade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement that Trump calls “the worst economic deal in the history of our country.” Never mind. In 1980, George H. W. Bush denounced Ronald Reagan’s “voodoo economics” until Reagan selected Bush as his running mate, whereupon Bush decided that it was very good voodoo economics. The malleable shall inherit the earth.

Aaron Blake writes at the Washington Post
that the following comment from Hillary isn't going to help her get past her reputation for dishonesty.
In an interview alongside her new running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Clinton made the highly questionable decision to suggest that she is held to a different standard than everybody else. And that's not a paraphrase — she said "everybody else."
HEre is the cute:
CLINTON: Well first, I will take responsibility for any impression or anything I've ever done that people have legitimate questions about. But I think that it's fair to say there's been a concerted effort to convince people like that young man of something, nobody's quite sure what, but of something. I often feel like there's the Hillary standard and then there's the standard for everybody else.
Yeah, the woman whom the FBI director exposed for lie after lie about breaking a law and then said it wasn't worth it to prosecute her even though it's clear that others were prosecuted for much less, thinks that she's treated by a standard different from the standards used for others.

Blake was also not impressed by this line from Hillary.
Clinton says, "I will take responsibility for any impression or anything I've ever done that people have legitimate questions about."

This quote is so full of qualifiers as to render it almost meaningless. Clinton takes responsibility for any "impression" of corruption and for any actions causing people to have "legitimate questions about" her. Clinton doesn't have an honesty or corruption problem, you see, that's just the "impression" people get. And she also takes responsibility for the "legitimate questions" she has raised about herself — but apparently not for the illegitimate ones?

And it seems she thinks there are plenty of illegitimate ones. "I often feel like there's the Hillary standard and then there's the standard for everybody else" almost sounds like a re-hash of the "vast right-wing conspiracy" — that thing Clinton famously alleged conspired to take down her husband, then-President Bill Clinton, in the late 1990s.

As with that quote, you can bet "the Hillary standard" will be used against Clinton with gusto. It will be used to paint the picture of a candidate who thinks Americans' reservations about her are overblown and based on misinformation. It will be used to suggest Clinton doesn't actually plan on reforming her ways.

Again, we could argue all day about whether "the Hillary standard" exists. But to your average swing voter who thinks the email server thing is a legitimate issue, this sounds a lot like Clinton blowing it off.

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Ah, the real-world effects of increasing the minimum wage.
One of the last classic Brooklyn diners is biting the dust — and soon they’ll all die off due to the state’s minimum-wage increase and other factors, restaurateurs and economic experts predicted Friday.

The owner of the four-decade-old, 24-hour greasy spoon, Del Rio Diner in Gravesend, said his place is closing down because he can’t afford to pay cooks $15 an hour, along with rising rents and expensive Health Department inspection fees.

“The minimum-wage law was the straw that broke the camel’s back. We’d need to raise the burger to $9 from $6.45. I don’t want to do that to my customers. They’ve been good to me. These are middle-class people,” said owner Larry Georgeton, 66....

“The outlook for this business model is bleak. If you’re a diner, going automated isn’t an option. Neither is raising prices on your working-class customers — a $20 sandwich isn’t going to work,” said Michael Saltsman, research director at the Employment Policies Institute, which studies job growth. “It’s too bad because it’s these sorts of restaurants that make neighborhoods unique.”

Other old-school Brooklyn diners such as the Vegas in Dyker Heights, the Mirage in Midwood and the Floridian in Marine Park are also at risk, Saltsman said.
We were in New York on our trip and noticed how many diners there were and were wishing that there were more such diners in Raleigh; it would seem such a shame if such restaurants would end up closing because of short-sighted economic policies.

Slate is concerned that 2016 might be the worst year in human history. Such concerns just betray their historical ignorance.
When news of the truck killings in Nice, France, broke last week, I started seeing variations of the same sentiment on Twitter and Facebook: Is this the worst year ever, or what? (“Dear 2016,” one meme asked. “Y U No End Soon?”) Terror attacks, Zika, Brexit, police shootings, Syria, Trump, record-hot temperatures, the losses of Prince and David Bowie—this has been one unrelenting turn around the calendar. Have terrifying events truly piled up on each other in 2016, in a way they didn’t in any other year in human history? Or is it impossible to judge the awfulness of a year while it’s still unfolding? Do we just notice negative happenings more these days because of our high levels of connectivity? And what does “worst year” even mean—“worst year” for Americans, for humanity, for the planet?
Oh, please. 2016 is nowhere near the worst year in history. So Slate asked a bunch of historians what year they would pick. When my husband told me about this article and the question, the years that I thought of were 1348 as the year the Black Death began in Europe or 1943 when the Holocaust began in earnest in WWII. I could also have picked 1860 as symbolizing the beginning of the Taiping Rebellion in which somewhere between 20 and 70 (that's quite a spread in estimates, isn't it?) million people died as well as millions were displaced. It really dwarfed the American Civil War which began the following year. Other dates could be chosen to symbolize the tens of millions killed by the Soviets or by Chinese communists.

Two of the historians they asked also picked 1348 and 1943. But some of the other choices really mystified me and betrayed a real bias for the United States' history. Two picked 1836 and 1837 because of Indian wars in the US, the Trail of Tears, and the Panic of 1837. Sure, those were bad events, but not the worst for humanity. I realize that it's difficult to pinpoint one year when most events stretch over time. Two historians pick 1876 and 1877 as the years connected to the end of Reconstruction for setting back hopes of racial equality for a century. Really? The end of Reconstruction was worse than the institution of slavery itself? If you're going to pick a symbolic year, how about 1619 for the year that African slaves first arrived in the American colonies or some date in the 1640s when slavery began in large numbers in the Caribbean on the sugar plantations there. What a lot of people don't realize is that about 90% of Africans kidnapped into slavery and brought to the West were brought to Caribbean and South American colonies. The reason that there were so many more slaves in the U.S. by the 19th century was because those brought to the Caribbean tended to die early and those brought to the U.S. were much more fertile thus increasing the number of slaves in the U.S. For the purposes of Slate's inquiry, wasn't slavery worse than Jim Crow? I think some of the reasoning used by Slate's historians betrays a bit more about their own biases than about history.

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