July 2015, Part 4

Jim Miller on Politics

Pseudo-Random Thoughts

Here's A Significant Detail in the Chaka Fattah story..
A federal grand jury indicted Rep. Chaka Fattah of Pennsylvania and four associates on racketeering conspiracy charges, accusing them of misusing hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxpayer, charity and campaign funds.

The charges are the culmination of a long-running Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of Mr. Fattah, a 58-year-old Democrat who represents Philadelphia.  Many of the charges stem from Mr. Fattah’s failed bid to win the nomination for mayor in 2007.

Mr. Fattah, first elected to Congress in 1994, serves on the appropriations committee overseeing the Justice Department’s budget.  Democratic leaders said he would step down from the panel while the case proceeds.
(Emphasis added.)

So, for years, while the Justice Department has been investigating Fattah — he has been sitting on the committee that determines their budget.  And, before the 2010 election, he was part of the Democratic majority on that committee.

Historically, the Appropriations subcommittees in Congress have had considerable autonomy, so much so that a bureaucrat, speaking of "my committee", often means a subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.  So Fattah was in an excellent position to influence the budgets of those investigating him, especially before the 2010 election.  (The investigation appears to have started soon after his run for Philadelphia mayor, in 2007.)

(Quibble:  Fattah's 2nd district includes about half of Philadelphia — and a few suburban areas.  I'd have followed the Almanac of American Politics and said that he represents "North and West Philadelphia".   But I'll add that the Journal article is the best I've seen on the Fattah indictment, and is far better than the New York Times article on the same subject.)
- 8:04 AM, 31 July 2015   [link]

Hillary Clinton Refuses To Take A Position On The Keystone XL Pipeline:  Chris Cillizza thinks her excuse is absurd.
Here's Hillary Clinton's "answer" to a question about whether she supports or opposes the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline at a townhall in New Hampshire today.

"If it’s undecided when I become president, I will answer your question," Clinton said.  "This is President Obama's decision.  I'm not going to second-guess him."
As Cillizza goes on to say:  "If Clinton's position is that she can't take a public stance on any issue that has some sort of pending business before this White House, then she's not going to be able to take a position on, well, anything."

Clinton attempted to defend her non-answer by noting that she had been head of the State Department, which had to rule on the pipeline, since it started in Canada.  She didn't add that her own State Department had, essentially, approved the pipeline, only to have it stalled, indefinitely, by President Obama.

Here's the song I dedicated to President Obama back in February.  Like Obama, Clinton ought to "make up her mind" on the pipeline.  And tell us now what she would "finally decide".

(For the record:  I could probably think of a few issues where business is not "pending", but it wouldn't be easy, and most would be trivial.)
- 5:57 AM, 31 July 2015   [link]

That African Lion Was Named after this colonialist?
Cecil John Rhodes PC (5 July 1853 – 26 March 1902[1]) was a British imperialist, businessman, mining magnate, and politician in South Africa.  An ardent believer in British colonialism, Rhodes was the founder of the southern African territory of Rhodesia, which was named after him in 1895.  South Africa's Rhodes University is also named after Rhodes.  He set up the provisions of the Rhodes Scholarship, which is funded by his estate.
(I omitted several standard links in that quotation.)

That's what I heard today, and it seems almost certain to be true, since, as you probably know, the country of Zimbabwe used to be part of the colony he founded, Rhodesia.

Also, "Cecil" does not sound like a Bantu name.

That fact might be a small part of the reason that people in Zimbabwe are less excited about this controversy than people in, for example, Hollywood.  Another reason is more traditional.
"Why are the Americans more concerned than us?" said Joseph Mabuwa, a 33-year-old father-of-two cleaning his car in the center of the capital.  "We never hear them speak out when villagers are killed by lions and elephants in Hwange."
Lions, elephants, and other large African animals aren't threats to people in Hollywood, as they are in many parts of Africa.
- 5:35 PM, 30 July 2015   [link]

Congressman Chaka Fattah Indicted:  For a long list of crimes.
U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah paid off an illegal $1 million campaign loan with federal grants and charitable donations, funneled campaign funds toward his son's student loans and disguised a lobbyist's bribe as payment for a Porsche his TV anchor wife never sold, prosecutors said Wednesday in announcing a racketeering indictment against him.

The 11-term Democrat from Philadelphia led a conspiracy that engaged in bribery, fraud, money laundering and other crimes and netted him hundreds of thousands of dollars, federal investigators said.
This shouldn't have been a surprise to the Obama White House, since a long-time Fattah aide, Gregory Naylor, pled guilty last year to a set of charges that clearly implicated Fattah.

But it was a surprise, or so they say.
The White House was not aware of an impending indictment on Rep. Chaka Fattah when the Pennsylvania Democrat traveled on Air Force One earlier this month with President Obama.
I would bet that Valerie Jarrett really wishes she hadn't posed for those pictures with the congressman.

Fattah came along on the trip to watch President Obama give a speech on "criminal justice reform", a subject that may be of special interest to Fattah, right now.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi says the charges are "deeply saddening", but that she won't ask him to resign.  (If you are a Republican operative, you don't want him to resign, either; you want a big trial peaking, in September and October of next year, just in time to help Republicans in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.  Republicans have no chance of winning his seat; the 2nd district is the "third most Democratic Congressional District out of the 435 in the nation", but a trial could help them in marginal districts near by, might even help a Republican presidential candidate win Pennsylvania.)

(Fattah acquired his unusual name when he was adopted.

It's of no great importance, but it's so funny that I have to share it with you.  Fattah is trying to minimize the charges by saying, "This isn't Deflategate", a comparison that would not have occurred to me.)
- 7:47 AM, 30 July 2015   [link]

Washington State Governor Jay Inslee Should Invite Al Gore To Visit This Area:  Because we could really use a little help from the "Gore effect" right now.

It's probably too late to get the former vice president up here for this weekend, but our summer is far from over.  Governor Inlsee should direct one of his staffers to check the weather forecasts regularly and, if another hot spell looms, think up some excuse to get the former vice president up here to cool things down.

Those who doubt Gore's powers may want to read about what he has just done to winter in parts of Australia.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.

(The staffer should also prepare to put out a discreet warning to hotels where Gore might stay, so they can protect their masseuses.)
- 6:24 AM, 30 July 2015   [link]

How Well Did Michael Oren Get Along With The Bush Administration?   Quite well, somewhat to his surprise..
My opposition to the Iraq War should have alienated me from the Bush administration.  Instead, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was reportedly "curling up" with my book at night and urging the press corps to read it.  Vice President Dick Cheney invited me to discuss Middle East matters at the White House and to brief the president's staff.  Then, in May 2008, George W. Bush selected me to be the only Israeli-American delegate on his first official visit to Israel. (about 11 percent of the way through)
(Which Oren book?   This one.

At that time, Oren had dual citizenship.  He was required by American law to give up his American citizenship, before he could be accepted as the Israeli ambassador to the United States.)

This reminds us that the Bush administration was far more open to people with opposing ideas than the Obama administration.

And that Bush understood the 80 percent rule — that if someone is with me 80 percent of the time, they are my friend, not my enemy.  (That rule is often ascribed to Ronald Reagan, perhaps correctly, though I am nearly certain that the rule has been around, in one form or another, for centuries.   It's a conclusion almost any practical politician would come to.)

(Americans may wonder where Oren would fit, ideologically, if he were an American politician.  He was raised in a solidly Democratic household, and appears to hold some of the ideas common to such households, when he was growing up.  People my age, or a little younger, might think of him as a Hubert Humphrey/"Scoop" Jackson Democrat.  For a little evidence along those lines, see this description of his party.)
- 3:20 PM, 29 July 2015   [link]

Donald Trump And The Mob?  I am linking to this post, without endorsing or criticizing it.
Trump was building his eponymous empire of hotels, casinos, and high rises in the early 1980s in New York City and Atlantic City.  In both places, the construction industry was firmly under the thumb of the mafia.  And in both places there are literally concrete connections between La Cosa Nostra and Trump’s lavish projects.  Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Cay Johnston, who has covered Trump for decades, has written a very useful list of questions for Trump.  Many focus on his ties to the mob.  In addition in his 1992 book, “Trump, The Deals and the Downfall,” author Wayne Barrett lays out a slew of suspicious dealings and associations.
I simply don't know enough about Atlantic City and New York City to have an opinion.  But I can say that the post is not obviously wrong, because there are places in the United States where someone in Trump's businesses would almost have to deal, perhaps at arm's length, with the mob.

(Here's some background on David Cay Johnston, with the usual caveats.  Those questions he has for Trump are interesting, by the way.)
- 10:29 AM, 29 July 2015   [link]

Antelope In Zimbabwe Are Celebrating:  Or would be if they followed the news even casually, because they would have learned that a male lion — their deadly enemy — had been killed.

Should the rest of us care?  Not particularly, in my opinion, since I find stories like this one far more important.
A 10-year old girl killed 16 people in a suicide bombing in the northeastern Nigeria city of Damaturu on Sunday.

The girl detonated her explosives next to a crowded market as shoppers were being screened by security services.  According to the BBC, around 50 people were injured.

The city has already faced two other suicide bombings in July alone.

Although Boko Haram hasn’t claimed responsibility for the attacks, the Islamist group has carried out a string of similar bombings recently.   The renewed violence comes after Nigerian forces successfully pushed the group back earlier this year in a concerted offensive.
Why did the terrorists use a little girl for this attack?  Probably because little girls are easier to fool than grown men.  She may have had no idea what was in the package she was carrying.

(You may be wondering how the Nigerian government achieved those successes.  Part of the answer is that they hired professionals.
Nigeria says the lack of equipment slowed down its counter-insurgency operations, with the government taking up other options, including the controversial move to employ private security companies.

Reports in March said that hundreds of these "military trainers" from South Africa and former Soviet Union countries were operating on the front lines in military operations against Boko Haram.

The Nigerian government has not specified whether these personnel have ever been involved in direct combat.
It isn't hard to understand why the Nigerian government wouldn't publicize what these mercenaries are doing.)
- 9:30 AM, 29 July 2015   [link]

If You've Been In Any Tourist Areas Recently, you'll appreciate this cartoon.
- 3:34 PM, 28 July 2015   [link]

First Thoughts On The Kindle:  As I've mentioned, I've been using an Amazon Kindle recently, specifically, if you are curious, this one.

I had an unhappy out-of-the box experience with the device and am still learning to use it, so I am not ready to do a full review, but I can say a few things about it.

First, currently it does not save you money on your book purchases; the costs for standard paperback and Kindle versions of a book are about the same, typically.  (You can save money on a few Kindle-only versions.  For example, I found a collection of Poul Anderson stories for only 99 cents the other evening.  They aren't among his best, but they are worth reading and, as far as I know, mostly not available elsewhere, except in old science fiction magazines.)

Second, the screen is readable, even for old eyes like mine, in bright light, and no light at all.

Third, the designers chose to make it almost exactly the size of a standard paperback.  That may have been a mistake.  Many of us would prefer a larger screen size, as large as a typical quality paperback, or even a typical hardback.  And some would probably prefer a smaller screen size.
- 3:09 PM, 28 July 2015   [link]

Urban Planners Versus Mental Health Experts:  As far as I can tell, almost all urban planners think everyone should live in cities.  They would, I suppose, if pressed, admit that, for the moment, it is necessary to have a few of us live on farms, for food production.   (And a few do not practice what they preach, and instead live in suburbs, or even exurbs, while advocating greater density for everyone else.)

The urban planners seem unaware of many of the costs of greater density, in particular the damage that cities do to our mental health.

But mental health experts know about them as Gretchen Reynolds reminded us, in this recent New York Times article.

Most of us today live in cities and spend far less time outside in green, natural spaces than people did several generations ago.

City dwellers also have a higher risk for anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses than people living outside urban centers, studies show.

These developments seem to be linked to some extent, according to a growing body of research.  Various studies have found that urban dwellers with little access to green spaces have a higher incidence of psychological problems than people living near parks and that city dwellers who visit natural environments have lower levels of stress hormones immediately afterward than people who have not recently been outside.

(Only a snarky Republican would add that urban dwellers in the United States have another psychological problem, a propensity to vote for the Democratic Party.)

What Reynolds is saying, though she never uses the "s" word, is that people who live in classical, tree-lined suburbs or in the country, are likely to be healthier, mentally, than those who live in urban cores.  (Here, I am using "suburb", not as it is legally defined in the United States, but as a description of neighborhoods.  In that sense, there are parts of Seattle that are "suburban", and parts of some of Seattle's suburbs that are "urban".  Put simply, the more trees and the fewer people per acre, the less "urban" an area would be.)

She doesn't cite any of those studies; instead she goes on to discuss an interesting experiment that may show one of the ways cities damage the people who live in them.

Any numbers guy (or gal) will be annoyed that Reynolds does not give us even a hint about the size of the mental health damages from living in cities.

I can't give you an overall number — and don't know whether anyone else can, either — but I can give you a startling example that I ran across a couple of years ago.

Environmental factors associated with the development of schizophrenia include the living environment, drug use and prenatal stressors.[4]  Parenting style seems to have no major effect, although people with supportive parents do better than those with critical or hostile parents.>[1]  Childhood trauma, death of a parent, and being bullied or abused increase the risk of psychosis.[37]  Living in an urban environment during childhood or as an adult has consistently been found to increase the risk of schizophrenia by a factor of two,[1][4] even after taking into account drug use, ethnic group, and size of social group.[38]  Other factors that play an important role include social isolation and immigration related to social adversity, racial discrimination, family dysfunction, unemployment, and poor housing conditions.[1][39]

(Emphasis added.)

So living in a city doubles the chances a person will come down with schizophrenia, a terribly debilitating disease.

Given that finding, few of us would be surprised to learn that urban living also doubles the chance that a person will suffer from "anxiety, depression and other mental illnesses".  Though, of course, anyone serious about this subject will want to see lots of studies, with lots of numbers, before coming to any firm conclusion about the size of the problem.

And almost all of us would — I hope — want to ask our urban planners whether they consider those costs when they make their plans calling for greater density.

Cross posted at Sound Politics.
- 2:16 PM, 28 July 2015   [link]

Yes, Women Are Prejudiced Against Short Guys:  Yesterday's Wall Street Journal had a mildly interesting article on a lawsuit against price fixing in the human egg market.  (In the United States, donors usually receive no more than $10,000 per "egg-donation cycle".)

As part of the article, there was a brief description of the other reproductive market, a description that included this paragraph:
Sperm banks generally don't charge a premium for sperm from men with particularly desirable characteristics of looks or intelligence.  Such screening is often done by sperm banks, said Ms. [Rene] Almeling, by requiring donors to either be enrolled in a four-year college or have a college degree, and to be taller than around 5 feet 8 inches.  "Short doesn't sell," she said.
In my experience, most women want a mate who is at least somewhat taller than they are.  (Do lesbians want the fathers of their children to be taller than they are?  The article doesn't say, but lesbians do sometimes use these banks.)

(I was going to put Napoleon in the title, as a famous example of a short guy.  But it turns out that he was of average height, 5 feet 6 inches, for his time.  That's something I had known, now that I think about it, but forgotten, in favor of the myth.

You should be able to find the Journal article at MSN, with this search.   Here's Almeling's book.)
- 6:47 AM, 28 July 2015   [link]

President Obama Lectures The African Union:  This morning, I did something I often do; I watched a half hour of BBC America.  As a result, I ended up doing something I rarely do; I watched Barack Obama give a speech.

If you are wondering why I broke my usual rule against watching political speeches, it was because the BBC had promised another story in their series on human trafficking, and I wanted to see that story, both for what they said — and what they didn't say.  But they cut to a live feed of Obama's speech and so I kept watching, hoping they would soon get back to what I did want to watch.

However, not wanting to spoil my breakfast, I watched, but didn't listen.  As soon as Obama came on, I pressed the mute button.

What I saw was a man lecturing other men and women, in a rather condescending manner.  He didn't seem to be interacting with his audiences, as good speakers always do.

He was, I thought, literally looking down his nose at them.

But, perhaps I was seeing what I wanted to see, as we all do, at times.  I suppose now I'll have to read the speech to see if the impression I got from his appearance was accurate.
- 5:56 AM, 28 July 2015   [link]

The Seattle Mariners Turned A 3-6-2-2 Triple Play:  (With a little help from Toronto base runners.)

Even if you don't know much about baseball, you probably realize that's unusual, and it is; it last happened in the major leagues in 1955.

You can watch it here, or read a longer description of it here.

What I like most about that play is that one of the players involved didn't realize it was a triple play, until he was told about it after the game.  When something really weird happens right in front of us, we don't always see it.
- 4:03 PM, 27 July 2015   [link]

Barack Obama And Hillary Clinton, Ideologues Frozen in Time:  There is a famous quotation from John Maynard Keynes that explains much about this leader, and this would-be leader, of the Democratic Party:
The ideas of economists and political philosophers, both when they are right and when they are wrong, are more powerful than is commonly understood.  Indeed the world is ruled by little else.  Practical men, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist.  Madmen in authority, who hear voices in the air, are distilling their frenzy from some academic scribbler of a few years back.  I am sure that the power of vested interests is vastly exaggerated compared with the gradual encroachment of ideas.  Not, indeed, immediately, but after a certain interval; for in the field of economic and political philosophy there are not many who are influenced by new theories after they are twenty-five or thirty years of age, so that the ideas which civil servants and politicians and even agitators apply to current events are not likely to be the newest.  But, soon or late, it is ideas, not vested interests, which are dangerous for good or evil.
Our political leaders almost always have theories about how society should work, and how it does work, theories that they acquire before they have reached twenty-five or thirty.  They may not realize that their political beliefs constitute a theory, and they do not always realize that their theories are necessarily incomplete and flawed, as all theories of how humans behave must be.

Although much about that part of Obama's life is obscure, we can be reasonably certain that he had acquired his theories by the time he had graduated from Columbia.  And we can be quite certain that Clinton had acquired hers by the time she had graduated from Wellesley.

So far I haven't said anything very controversial, anything that a supporter of Obama or Clinton would likely object to — but I think many of them would object to this conclusion:  As far as I can tell, neither Obama nor Clinton has modified their theories, significantly, since they left college, even though events should have forced them to.  They are stuck with the ideas they had then; they are frozen in time.

They are not, just as Keynes said, alone in this.  On Saturday, the New York Times ran an article on Bernie Sanders that argued that he had not changed his ideas since his days growing up in Brooklyn.  Nor is this stability — to give it a nice name — found only on the left.  Talk show host Rush Limbaugh has not changed his ideology for decades, even though it conflicts with the real world in some places.  Occasionally, you can even hear from him echoes of intra-party fights from the 1940s. which, presumably, Limbaugh inherited from his father and grandfather.  (Oddly, though Limbaugh seems unaware of this, he has also picked up some ideas from the left of his youth.)

But I do think that Obama and Clinton are unusual, for working politicians, in their ideological rigidity, in their unwillingness to test their theories, from time to time, against the real world.

(The "academic scribbler" who most influenced them?   Saul Alinsky, of course, though he wasn't just an academic scribbler.)
- 3:13 PM, 27 July 2015   [link]

Philip Bump Agrees with what I said about Hillary Clinton in this post, and adds data from other polls to strengthen the argument.
A poll released Sunday from NBC/Marist reinforces one from last week by Quinnipiac University that found her to be as unpopular as Donald Trump in key swing states.  In Iowa and New Hampshire, Clinton's net favorability — those who view her positively minus those who don't — was negative-23 and negative-20, respectively.
Nationally, Democrats still love her, but independents dislike her and Republicans hate her.  So, assuming those numbers don't improve for her, she might win the nomination — and lose the general election.

Though Bump doesn't discuss this, there is some reason to think that her numbers among Democrats will decline during the nomination campaign, since her opponents will be forced to attack her.  Those attacks may help them in the short run — and may help Republicans in the long run.

(If you read the whole post, you'll find that Bump thinks she might succeed in the general election by appealing to the "non-white vote".  Perhaps, but I don't see her having the appeal to non-whites of a natural politician like her husband, or for obvious reasons, Barack Obama.)
- 12:51 PM, 27 July 2015   [link]

Is A Kiss Just A Kiss?  It depends on the culture.
Science has taught us a lot about a smooch.

Researchers have discovered kissing helps you choose the right mate and helps you live longer.   They have found you use 146 muscles when you pucker up and swap 80 million new bacteria when you lock lips. And you will spend some 20,000 minutes — or two weeks — of your lifetime doing it.

But the cultural significance of a kiss may not be that widely shared, according to new research published in American Anthropologist.

Researchers at the University of Nevada and Indiana University found fewer than half of the world’s cultures kiss in a romantic way.  Although many societies consider kissing to be a romantic or erotic activity, others have gone as far as to call it “gross” and ask why anyone would “share their dinner.”
The Washington Post article describes this as a new finding.  It's not; I've known about this cultural difference for years, but it does appear that the researchers did a more comprehensive study than most (all?) earlier studies.

There is a small political point.  In some cultures, Myanmar's for instance, kissing is something husbands and wives do, in private.  So President Obama committed a serious faux pas when he kissed Myanmar dissident Aung San Suu Kyi in public.  (You can find pictures of their encounter with this search.)

If Obama knew about these cultural differences, he wouldn't have made that mistake — I hope.

(The title of the post comes from the song, "As Time Goes By", best known from Casablanca.)
- 9:01 AM, 27 July 2015   [link]

Some People Are So Separated From Nature In Their Daily Lives that they don't understand that some animals are wild.
Every year, more than three million people pour into Yellowstone National Park, eager to escape the cramped cubicles and tiny apartments from whence they came.

They gaze upon the geysers.  They marvel at the mountains and valleys.  They hike around miles of picturesque trails.  In other words, they get closer to nature.

Occasionally a little too close.

On Tuesday, a 43-year-old Mississippi woman and her six-year-old daughter were snapping a selfie in front of a wild bison when the massive animal attacked.
Or that even large tame animals, domestic cows for instance, should be treated with respect.
- 7:36 AM, 27 July 2015   [link]

Worth Buying:  (And you may still have time to do it.)  This weekend's edition of the Wall Street Journal, if only for this essay by Niall Ferguson.

Ferguson begins by quoting some insights on "conjecture" from Henry Kissinger, and then turns to the nuclear "deal" with Iran:
In short, for all the high-flown rhetoric of the president’s speeches, his goal is the classic realist objective of a balance of power in the region.  The technicalities of the Iran deal—the number of centrifuges, the size of the enriched-uranium stockpile, the rigor of the inspections regime—need not detain us here.  The key question is whether or not slowing down Iran’s nuclear program will increase regional stability.  Critics of the deal should acknowledge that it might, for in the realm of conjecture there are no certainties.   But the president and his advisers should admit that the probability is very, very low.
(Emphasis added.)

In short, Ferguson thinks that President Obama and Secretary Kerry have made very bad bet for the United States — and that it is likely that their successors, and the world, will pay a very heavy price when the bet comes due.

As I usually avoid saying, read the whole thing.  (This search should get you there, if you aren't able to buy a copy.)

(This Wikipedia biography of Ferguson is probably reasonably accurate, though more than the usual caveats apply.

If you know even a little game theory, and want to pursue the question further, I'd suggest constructing a payoff matrix, and then assigning probabilities to the regional stability outcomes.)
- 12:52 PM, 26 July 2015   [link]

Jackie Mason Has Some Bitter — And Funny — Things to say about the Iran "deal".

For instance:
"First Obama said we can inspect them any time, any place, whenever we please.  Now it turns out ‘whenever we please’ except when they don’t allow it.  If they don’t want it it’s up to them.  So then we have to wait 28 days [sic] to inspect, as if to say for the 28 days we can trust them completely, because they’ll do nothing.  They’ll just hold the bomb in front of us waiting for us to come so they can show it to us.  That’s how stupid this negotiation is to us," he said.

"Do you know that in the restaurants of New York, they have an inspection system.  You can surprise any restaurant without notice that you can walk in and inspect them. . . So we are protected in this city from a bad tuna fish.  We’re not protected from a bomb but we’re protected from a bad quality of a tuna fish," Mason joked.
Not bad, I'd say, whether you see it as bitter commentary, a joke, or, as I do, both.

(I've been looking for an authoritative explanation of the inspection rules, but haven't found one yet.  I don't even know if there are other secret agreements governing the inspections.  But I have already learned enough to conclude that they will not do much to delay Iran's efforts to develop nuclear weapons.)
- 9:48 AM, 26 July 2015   [link]

Bernie Sanders Got His Job With A Little Help From The NRA:  The National Rifle Association helped a socialist in an election?

Yes, they helped him win his first state-wide election in Vermont.
A few days before Election Day in 1990, the National Rifle Association sent a letter to its 12,000 members in Vermont, with an urgent message about the race for the state’s single House seat.

Vote for the socialist, the gun rights group said.  It’s important.

“Bernie Sanders is a more honorable choice for Vermont sportsmen than ­Peter Smith,” wrote Wayne LaPierre, who was — and still is — a top official at the national NRA, backing Sanders over the Republican incumbent.
Why?  Because the Republican incumbent, Peter Smith, had temporally gone soft on "assault" weapons.

Sanders won easily (56-40), though he had lost six state-wide races before then, including one to Smith in 1988.  And he has been in Congress ever since, first as member of the House (1991-2006), and then the Senate (2007-present).

(Did the NRA endorsement make the difference?  It's hard to say, without detailed polling data.  In 1988, Sanders had come in second to Smith in a three-way race, 41-36, with a Democrat, Paul Poirier, getting 19 percent.

Republicans came close to defeating Sanders in the 1994 election (50-47), but not before or since.

Formally, Sanders is usually called an independent, even though he caucuses with the Democrats, and is running for the Democratic nomination for the presidency.  I hesitated over whether to call him a "socialist", that is, a person who holds socialist beliefs, or a "Socialist", as the current Almanac of American Politics does, but decided to go with the first since he is not now — as far as I know — a formal member of a socialist party.  If this Wikipedia article is correct, he has not even joined the Vermont Progressive Party.  (He was, early in his political career, a member of the Liberty Union Party, which is socialist.)

So Sanders is a socialist, an independent, or a Democrat, depending, I suppose, on which audience he is talking to at the time.)
- 8:33 AM, 26 July 2015   [link]