Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Cruising the Web

Michael Tomasky, no Republican cheerleader, is worried that the Bernie Sanders wing of the Democratic Party might be endangering the party's chances in 2020. He takes on the Bernie Bros are already imposing "purity Olympics" because they attacked Kamala Harris for being a "corporate stooge" just like Hillary Clinton. Tomasky explains to Sanders supporters that Bernie has the luxury of being a more doctrinaire liberal because he's lucky enough to be from Vermont where radical leftism, evening calling oneself a socialist, is perfectly fine.
The fact that Sanders is from the state he’s from gives him the luxury of purity. I don’t doubt that he’s principled. But it’s also a fact that he (along with colleague Pat Leahy) faces less pressure from powerful interests than probably any other senator in the country.
Why? Because of the nature of their state. Nearly every state has either a big corporation of a large extractive industry or something. Not Vermont. Vermont has no huge banks. It’s home base to no massive corporate conglomerates. It doesn’t have a single billionaire. The biggest “company” in Vermont is the state university. And of course it’s home to all the left-leaning back-to-the-earth types who started moving there in the 1970s. When that’s your state, and it’s 95 percent white to boot, and a mere 150,000 votes will win you statewide elections, you have a lot of freedom to do and say whatever you please...

When you’re running in California, it’s a different ball game. Harris has raised $16.5 million since 2015, when she started running for the Senate. She got off easy because no first-rank Republican pursued the Senate seat; in 2022, assuming she hasn’t moved into the White House, she can probably expect that things will be different and she’ll need to raise $50 million. Bernie, by contrast, raised around $7.8 million for his last election but spent only $3 million and at this point could win by spending $200,000 if he wanted to.
Harris is running in an insanely more expensive state. It’s also a much more complex state. California has tech, of course, but also huge banking and retail and oil-refining businesses, and a hundred other things. A senator shouldn’t prostrate herself before these interests, but as they all represent jobs in her state, she can’t simply denounce them as capitalist predators. She’s bound to take some donations that Sanders would refuse—or simply wouldn’t need to solicit in the first place. And I can guarantee you that if Bernie Sanders were a senator from California, he either wouldn’t be the same Bernie Sanders we know today—or he wouldn’t be a United States senator.
Tomasky points out that no possible 2020 candidate will be ideologically pure and Democrats just have to accept that. This sort of worry about a "purity Olympics" in a primary race, reminds me a lot of what the Republicans have gone through in the past few elections. Some Republican voters imposed their own litmus test on GOP candidates and decided no one was pure enough and so we ended up with Trump, a man who is no ways a true conservative, getting the nomination.

Appallingly, two prominent Democrats who may be interested in running in 2020, are demonstrating that Democratic candidates will need to abandon traditional support for Israel. JOnathan S. Tobin writes about Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, who have supported Israel while running in those two states, but now are catering to the left's disdain for Israel.
The influence of the far left is the only thing that might explain why Booker and Gillibrand are presenting themselves to their party’s base as less than fully supportive of Israel. The context for this development is a sea change in the Democratic party that has been taking shape over the past two decades. Where once the Democrats were the lockstep pro-Israel party and Republicans were divided about backing Israel, the parties’ positions are now reversed. Republicans today are nearly unanimous in their enthusiastic support for the Jewish state, and they oppose all measures that endanger its security. Now it is the Democrats who are split, with polls showing that those who identify with the party are far less likely to back Israel than Republicans are....

Congressional Democrats also demonstrated the limits of their sympathy for Israel during the debate over the Iran nuclear deal. When President Obama declared that support for the agreement was a litmus test of party loyalty, few Democrats bucked him. Both Gillibrand and Booker supported the deal’s ratification by the backhanded method the administration employed rather than by gaining the support of two-thirds of the Senate – which the Constitution requires for treaties.

In 2016, Democrats growing split over Israel was evident in the Clinton and Sanders campaigns. The candidates disagreed over Israel’s right of self-defense and over support for Palestinian ambitions — one of the few areas where they differed substantively. The Clinton forces were able to quash any potential revolt over the issue, but the presence on the platform committee of Sanders delegates such as Representative Keith Ellison and Cornel West — prominent supporters of anti-Israel measures — was a harbinger of the growing animosity toward Israel.

Loyalty to Obama might explain if not excuse why Booker and Gillibrand abandoned their past promises to be tough on Iran, but they have no compelling excuse about their recent departures from pro-Israel positions.

In Booker’s case, it was an astonishing vote against the Taylor Force Act in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. For Gillibrand, it was an announcement that she will oppose the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Yet while both Booker and Gillibrand rationalized their positions as being related to supposed flaws in the bills, the subtext was a not-so-subtle signal that they are edging away from Israel in order to be more attractive to the voters who might decide the next Democratic presidential nomination.
The Taylor Force Act is a law to tie the Palestinian Authority's support of terrorists to U.S. aid. Booker was one of four committee Democrats to oppose the law. The Israel Anti-Boycott Act would prohibit American companies from supporting the boycott, divest, and sanction movement that targets Israel.
Anti-Israel groups and the ACLU claim that it will restrict free speech, but, as the bill’s lead co-sponsors (Democratic senator Ben Cardin and Republican Rob Portman) explained in a letter to the group, its language clearly targets only those who engage in discriminatory commercial conduct. The courts have already ruled such laws to be constitutional and said that they don’t infringe in any way on First Amendment rights to free speech.

But responding to pressure from the ACLU and to hostile left-wing questioners at town-hall meetings, Gillibrand flipped from being a sponsor to an opponent of the legislation, saying that its language needed to be changed before she would consider backing it.

Both Booker and Gillibrand know that it was only the heavy-handed tactics of the Democratic establishment and its super-delegate rules that dragged the more centrist Clinton over the party’s finish line in 2016. All the energy within the party was on the left. If Clinton had faced someone who outflanked her to the left (other than a septuagenarian socialist), she would have never have been the Democrats’ nominee.

In 2020, no Democrat will have the advantages Clinton possessed heading into 2016. The balance of power among Democrats is almost certainly going to be further to the left. That’s why both Booker and Gillibrand are acting as if they know their long-shot hopes depend on being acceptable to anti-Israel radicals. Both have demonstrated their ability to be chameleons in the past — Gillibrand’s transformation from a centrist pro-gun “Blue Dog” member in the House to a left-wing senator is an especially egregious example of how one gets ahead in today’s Democratic party.

The message Booker and Gillibrand are sending out is clear: If abandoning Israel is part of the price of victory in 2020, they are very willing to pay it.

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If you've wondered how the Maduro's government in Venezuela is surviving despite being so unpopular and people starving because the economy is so poor, Mary Anastasia O'Grady explains how Cuba is propping up the Maduro government. She urges the Trump administration to do more to help the Venezuelan opposition.
Any U.S.-led international strategy to liberate Venezuela must begin with the explicit recognition that Cuba is calling the shots in Caracas, and that Havana’s control of the oil nation is part of its wider regional strategy.

Slapping Mr. Maduro’s wrist with sanctions, as the Trump administration did last week, won’t change Castro’s behavior. He cares only about his cut-rate Venezuelan oil and his take of profits from drug trafficking. To affect things in Venezuela, the U.S. has to press Cuba.

Burning Cuban flags, when they can be had, is now practically a national pastime in Venezuela because Venezuelans understand the link between their suffering and Havana. The Castro infiltration began over a decade ago when Fidel sent thousands of Cuban agents, designated as teachers and medical personnel, to spread propaganda and establish communist cells in the barrios.

As I noted in this column last week, since 2005 Cuba has controlled Venezuela’s citizen-identification and passport offices, keeping files on every “enemy” of the state—a k a political opponents. The Venezuelan military and National Guard answer to Cuban generals. The Venezuelan armed forces are part of a giant drug-trafficking operation working with the FARC, which is the hemisphere’s largest cartel and also has longstanding ties to Cuba.

These are the tactical realities of the Cuba-Venezuela-Colombia nexus. The broader strategic threat to U.S. interests, including Cuba’s cozy relationship with Middle East terrorists, cannot be ignored.

John Sexton links
to a fascinating, but chilling interview with Associated Press reporter Hannah Dreier about what it is like in Venezuela today. She's been reporting on Venezuela since 2014 just as the country has been declining into a truly disastrous state.
Since 2014, American journalist Hannah Dreier has documented just that in Venezuela, once one of the world’s wealthiest nations and still home to what are believed to be the planet’s largest oil reserves. She wrote for the Associated Press about what it was like to live in a place with the world’s highest murder rate—and the world’s highest rate of inflation. About the breakdown of hospitals and schools, and how the obesity epidemic that plagued a rich country was quickly replaced with people so hungry they were rooting through the garbage on her doorstep.

Most of the time, few paid attention, at least in part because Dreier was the last U.S. journalist even to get a work visa to live in Venezuela; when she moved there to cover the story, she says, “I felt like I had walked across a bridge as it was burning behind me.”

....And Dreier tells me she spent her first year in Venezuela convinced the media narrative about the country falling apart was all wrong.

Then, Dreier recounts, her life changed. First, her friends—middle-class young professionals like herself—started losing weight. She lost power and water. Crime became so rampant her colleagues congratulated her on a “good robbery” when she was held up in broad daylight and all she lost were her belongings. By the time she was grabbed off the street after an interview one day earlier this year, she was overwhelmed with relief when she found out she’d been snatched by the secret police and not far more vicious kidnappers.

Money became almost worthless, and she started carrying paper grocery bags full of 100-bolivar notes to pay for even small things. Her choices for food were empty supermarket shelves or $25 black-market Cheerios. She watched as ordinary people stood on line for bread, milk and toilet paper. One day the bakery around the corner started organizing a queue—not to sell the bread they had already run out of, but for the privilege of allowing people to rummage through their trash. The screams she heard one morning were of neighbors savagely beating an accused thief; a “lynching,” it was called.
Read the entire interview. It's chilling how a country so quickly could descend into such a dangerous and depressing condition with a ruthless dictator backed by the Cuban military. She points out how toothless the sanctions were that Trump just put on Maduro's personal assets.
There’s no reason to think Maduro has any U.S. assets. This is a man who railed every day against the U.S. empire. Why would he put his money in Miami property, or anything here?

So, the sanctions will prevent him from buying things in the U.S. and from doing business with Americans, which he wasn’t trying to do anyway, and Trump gets to say that this is a big, strong step. And Maduro, in Caracas, is also making hay with these sanctions and spending lots of time talking about them, and saying that they prove that the U.S. is a bully and that the U.S. is trying to ruin the Venezuelan economy—so, kind of a gift.
HEr recommendation is much more encompassing.
Dreier: That’s oil sanctions. Ninety-five percent of Venezuela’s revenue comes from oil. It’s basically the only way the government is getting money right now. And the U.S. happens to be the biggest customer for that oil, and one of the very few governments still paying cash for oil. So, if the U.S. put an oil embargo in place, that would have a huge, dramatic effect, immediately, on Venezuela, and the government would probably default. There would be a reshuffling of alliances. But, it always seems to be that there are only bad options with Venezuela, because those oil sanctions would also probably lead to maybe famine-level hunger, to extreme suffering, and nobody really wants that either.

Glasser: So, we’re locked in a terrible position of having declared Venezuela a dictatorship, and yet being the main customers propping up the government that we’ve now declared a dictatorship.

Dreier: It’s always struck me as a very strange thing. We’ve declared Venezuela a dictatorship, and Venezuela has declared us as basically an evil empire, and yet this oil trade is so central to both countries. So, we’re kind of locked in this rhetorical battle with each other, but also locked in this very important commercial relationship that neither side seems to want to disrupt.
She is one brave journalist, but she has had to leave the country and there aren't any other American journalists reporting from there.

She says that the opposition is worn out and giving up and just want to leave. When I heard a Venezuelan student leader of the opposition speak this summer, he said that the regime is happy to have people like him leave the country. He fears that there will come a time that the only people left will be those too economically desperate or too frightened to oppose the government. It's all so very depressing to witness the ruin of a country that used to be a wealthy and functioning democracy.

Of course, we're still waiting for those on the left who used to praise Chavez and Maduro to acknowledge what is happening. For example, British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was a big admirer of Chavez and supporter of Maduro can't bring himself to criticize Maduro and resorts to a despicable moral equivalency.
Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the “violence done by all sides” in the Venezuela conflict but stopped short of criticising its socialist president, Nicolás Maduro.

The Labour leader called for “dialogue and a process” to improve the situation, stressing the importance of recognising the government’s “effective and serious attempts” to reduce poverty, improve literacy and the lives of the poor.

Some Labour MPs have urged Corbyn to personally condemn Maduro, whose regime is accused of locking up opposition leaders and violating human rights. But in addition, the shadow minister Chris Williamson blamed the US for “aiding and abetting” opposition protesters trying to topple the socialist government.

Speaking after an event in Crawley, West Sussex, Corbyn did not single Maduro out for criticism. “I’m very sad at the lives that have been lost in Venezuela,” he sad. “The people who have died – either those on the streets or security forces that have been attacked by people on the street – all of those lives are terrible for the loss of them,” he said.

“There has to be a dialogue and a process that respects the independence of the judiciary and respects the human rights of all.”

Corbyn was a longtime admirer of Venezuela under its late socialist leader Hugo Chávez, whom he described in 2013 as “an inspiration to all of us fighting back against austerity and neoliberal economics in Europe”.
Yes, blame the victims for daring to oppose a dictator.

Giles Udy found this tweet from Corbyn that is quite ironic considering Corbyn's "neutrality" between the oppressed the oppressor.

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William A. Jacobson at Legal Insurrection looks at the success Trump has had in nominating conservative judges and getting them on the bench. Amazingly, he's on a faster rate in getting his nominations on the bench than Barack Obama did. He links to an article by James Warren touting this as "the biggest political story most journalists are missing."
As Allan Smith of Business Insider makes clear, "When it comes to nominating judges to the federal bench, Trump is moving at a breakneck pace. And the number of nominees for vacant U.S. attorney positions, a crucial area, is dwarfing" that of Barack Obama, at least at this stage.

If these picks could be the ultimate Trump legacy, consider that "through July 14, roughly a week shy of Trump's six-month anniversary in office, he had nominated 18 people for district judgeship vacancies, 14 for circuit courts and the Court of Federal Claims, and 23 for US attorney slots. Du ring that same timeframe in Obama's first term, Obama had nominated just four district judges, five appeals court judges, and 13 U.S. attorneys. In total, Trump nominated 55 people, and Obama just 22."

In The New Yorker, Jeffery Toobin cites the nomination of Kevin Newsom for the Atlanta-based Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals (covering cases in Georgia, Alabama and Florida) as prototypical: he’s got “excellent formal qualifications, including a degree from Harvard Law School, a Supreme Court clerkship, and a stint as the solicitor general of Alabama, where he excelled at defending the state’s imposition of capital punishment against legal challenges.”

And, importantly, he is young — just 45 — and a political conservative who’s been a member of the right-leaning Federalist Society….
In so many ways, Trump is short-sighted and haphazard. But not in all. It’s a story most are totally missing.
Thank you, Harry Reid. Reid's getting rid of the filibuster for district and circuit court nominees, the path wouldn't have been set to get rid of it for Supreme Court nominees. And the beneficiary is President Trump. He might be slow at getting his nominations in for other positions in his government, but he's working at a respectably fast clip for the judicial nominations. And conservatives who are discontented with Trump and the GOP Congress so far can at least find a silver lining that Trump is on pace to nominate a significant fraction of the federal judiciary. Maybe it helps that he's outsourced his nomination list to the Federalist Society.

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This is funny - some in Massachusetts are criticizing Trump for vacationing in New Jersey instead of New Jersey. Two Boston Globe writers are criticizing for not going to a place like Martha's Vineyard or Kennebunkport. Yes, because Donald Trump is totally a Martha's Vineyard type of guy.

China is worried because so many of their military are addicted to playing a certain video game.
Playing video games has become more popular among PLA personnel since last year, when they were allowed to have smartphones in their barracks, and “not a small number of soldiers and officers have become addicted to Honour of Kings”, the newspaper report said.

Some officers were cited as saying that entire platoons of soldiers were seen doing nothing on weekends but playing the game in their barracks on their cell phones, according to the paper.

“The security threat cannot be ignored if a soldier has been suddenly called into real-life combat and yet his mind continues to linger in the game he was just playing,” it said.