Tuesday, May 31, 2016

A Sublime Thing, Like Space or Mathematics

From the Sublime to the Brooksiculous!

Richard Barthelmess contemplates whacking a policeman with a ukulele in D.W. Griffith's The Love Flower (1920). Via Fritzi.

David Brooks ("Big and Little Loves", May 31 2016) is interested in the concept of the sublime!

Ever since the days of ancient Greece, philosophers have distinguished between the beautiful and the sublime.
Sadly, no. According to my trusty Wikipedia, while an interest in the sublime goes back to classical antiquity, the dichotomy between beauty and sublimity as exclusive categories was invented in England, in the late 17th century, by John Dennis, who found himself, on a trip to Switzerland, struck by the contrast between his previous experience of the beauty of nature as a "delight that is consistent with reason" on the one hand, and on the other the spectacle of the Alps "mingled with Horrours, and sometimes almost with despair". And explicitly argued for the first time by Edmund Burke in his 1756 Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful.

Brooks is working clearly on pure memories from something like 35 years ago, when he was first curating his self-image as the sort of interesting young man who has a favorite philosopher nobody else in the dorm has ever heard of, Burke, of course, and his lovely distinction between the dreadful revolutionary categorical continentals and the modest, conservative, whimsical, hobbity Englishmen of the 1790s. He wrestled, no doubt, through the first four or five pages of Burke's gnarly and unpleasant treatise on aesthetics—life was so hard in the days before Google!—for an only partly cribbed term paper, and what remains of it in his frazzled, weary brain has gotten divorced from Burke's name:

The Strange Case of the Missing Lieberman

One version of the Lieberman proposal; the Arabs get all the pink dots, while the IDF patrols the spaces in between. Viable Opposition.

From the National Review, in an article that does not once mention the name of Avigdor Lieberman:
Obama’s Childish Attempt to Undermine Israel’s New Government
The administration’s dislike of Benjamin Netanyahu trumps its stated Israel policy.
By Josh Gelernter — May 28, 2016
Well, that's one interpretation. I for one have a hard time seeing how the addition of Avigdor Lieberman as defense minister and Sofa Landver as immigration and absorption minister will make the coalition any more likely to back a two-state solution, since the Likud still has a large majority in the cabinet and claims it supports a two-state solution too (Netanyahu's position is so vague that there are literally public debates in Israel over what he actually means, but the majority of his party's members reject the concept).

Monday, May 30, 2016

The stupid! It scathes!

Happy Memorial Day! Another bloody long one—mostly because of all the quotes. I'd have made it shorter but I didn't want to take the extra time.

I vote for Gene too. Mara's honest-and-trustworthy numbers are going through the floor. Image tweeted sometime in late March by Stacy Smallwood.

Mara Liasson on NPR yesterday morning:

This was a bad week for Hillary Clinton. The State Department inspector general released a report that was very scathing. And it contradicted a couple of assertions she's made in the past about her using a private server for her emails. She'd said in the past that the arrangement was allowed. Now, she never said she asked for permission and got it. But she did say it was allowed. And the inspector general said no, it wasn't allowed. And if she had asked us, we wouldn't have let her do it, or we would've told her not to do it.

The report was "very scathing"? What was the thing about it that "scathed", "scorched", "seared", or "assailed with withering denunciation"? The next sentence begins with "And", indicating that it's about something in addition to the scathe factor, which remains unexplained. The report's conclusion, in full, states:

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Annals of Derp: Douthat Gets a Head Start


Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, has stopped calling the Trump a would-be "caudillo"—I guess his confessor must have gotten to him and explained carefully that to a properly conservative Catholic, caudillo means the "Caudillo by the Grace of God" Generalísimo Franco and not a bad guy, just because he didn't care for elections or trade unions or people speaking languages other than Castellano. (He's been proclaimed a saint by Pope Gregory XVII of the Palmarian Catholic Church, whatever that is). Unless you're one of those Vatican II modernists and heretics, in which case you probably think saints shouldn't be sponsoring torture and rape, death squad killings, concentration camps and political penal colonies, stealing children from their parents, and medical experiments meant to "establish the bio-psych roots of Marxism".

Now he's calling Trump something new—
Donald Trump is many things — man’s man, ladies’ man, strength-worshiping Poujadist.
The link there doesn't work (the fact that it hasn't been repaired suggests that nobody ever checks out Ross's links, which doesn't surprise me); it's meant to go to the Wikipedia biography of the mid–20th-century "populist" politician Pierre Poujade, who was the scourge of the Fourth French Republic, with his Union de Défense des Commerçants et Artisans (Union for the Defense of Shopkeepers and Artisans), a forerunner of today's Front National (the youngest member of parliament after the 1956 elections was none other than a 28-year-old Jean-Marie Le Pen, head of the Poujadiste youth wing).

Poujade's UDCA was meant to represent the French petite bourgeoisie against the elites of the Parisian Grandes Écoles and especially against the contribuable or social security tax that funds the French welfare state. It was anti-intellectual (Poujade boasted about his lack of formal education), pro-colonial (angry at France's ongoing loss of Indochina and Algeria), and xenophobe. In short very much a typical American Republican, with the obvious differences of time and place (Poujade was especially exercised by a Jewish prime minister, Pierre Mendès-France, US Republicans are driven mad by an African-American president).

Yes, Trump's a kind of Poujadiste, but he's not alone.

Today's device for endorsing Trump while continuing to pretend he's not endorsing Trump is in the Safirian form of offering himself up as a Trump speechwriter, or in this case debate coach, suggesting lines Trump could use in debates this fall, on the example of how he might attack Clinton's plans to approach or achieve universal pre-K:

Clinton: “… been fighting for working families for my entire career. That’s why I have a detailed plan to offer tax credits that make day care affordable. I’ll double funding for Head Start. I’ll partner with states to expand universal pre-K. And I’ll guarantee 12 weeks of paid family leave.”
Moderator: “Mr. Trump?”
Trump: “We are not winning. America is not winning. And here comes — this is typical, folks — here comes Crooked Hillary, and of course she wants America to become more like France....”
One of the things Trump needs to do, naturally, is reference Douthat:

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Those chads didn't hang themSELVES, you know!

Doctor Steins with Tardis. Via wibbilywobblytimeywimey.
Steve M is being a worrywort again, this time on the possibility that Dr. Stein, the Green candidate, could do to Secretary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic candidate, what Nader did to Gore 16 years ago, in the election that Changed Everything (including giving birth to the anguished political blog: Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo made its first appearance a week after the ballot, specifically to track developments in the elections theft, on November 12 2000, though the earliest post I can find is from November 13).

Because if the cool-kid Sanders supporters can't vote for Sanders in the general election they will be voting for Stein rather than voting for Clinton, judging from the popular press (BuzzFeed and The Atlantic), and this could take the election away from Clinton the way the Nader vote took the election away from Gore in 2000. Really?

Friday, May 27, 2016

David Brooks penetrates the student movement. Well, not quite.

Image via Amazon Fashion.
David Brooks is jumping today ("Inside Student Radicalism") into the rightwing crowd howling around Nathan Heller's "Letter from Oberlin" on the perils of intersectionality in the little to medium-sized private liberal arts college, in the current New Yorker, which offers many hilarious examples of campus excess, the student who wanted trigger warnings posted for Sophocles's Antigone (students could be affected by the heroine's argument in favor of suicide), or the theater professor who slipped on a Groucho Marx nose or something like it ("a rubber nose and glasses") during an interview, while Heller wasn't looking ("a grown man, having a meeting with a reporter from The New Yorker, behaving that way", shrieks Rod Dreher, who will certainly behave with the utmost sobriety if a New Yorker reporter ever interviews him), or the president who likes to talk over issues with students over ice cream, because "There is nothing like ice cream to bring people together".

(For Dreher, that function is better filled by "a salade gourmande, which was a green salad with haricots verts (those matchstick-thin French green beans), fresh mushrooms, in a mustard vinaigrette, with a side slab of pâte de foie gras" to start, followed by chicken in a creamy sauce with fresh morels. It's astonishing, by the way, what a timid Anglo eater Dreher is, considering how sophisticated he thinks he is, ordering the chicken in Lyon where he's afraid to try tripe, andouillettes—the man is from Louisiana!—or even the house specialty of pike quenelles. And he believes tripe [stomach lining] and chitlins [small intestine] are the same thing, the ignoramus.)

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Economic downturns kill people. With cancer.

Architect David Adjaye's rendering of the projected Gahanga International Children's Cancer Center near Kigali, Rwanda, where health insurance is mandatory (with zero premiums for the poor). Via De Zeen
And government-run health care systems prevent it. A study by Mahiben Maruthappu, Johnathan Watkins, et al. reported in The Lancet this week found in a study of cancer outcomes in 75 countries from 1990 to 2010 that
Unemployment rises were significantly associated with an increase in all-cancer mortality and all specific cancers except lung cancer in women. By contrast, untreatable cancer mortality was not significantly linked with changes in unemployment. Lag analyses showed significant associations remained 5 years after unemployment increases for the treatable cancer class. Rerunning analyses, while accounting for UHC [Universal Health Care] status, removed the significant associations. All-cancer, treatable cancer, and specific cancer mortalities significantly decreased as PEH [Public Expenditure on Health] increased. Time-series analysis provided an estimate of more than 40 000 excess deaths due to a subset of treatable cancers from 2008 to 2010, on the basis of 2000–07 trends. Most of these deaths were in non-UHC countries. 
Let's just say that again.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

West of Eden: Fascism may be here.

Image via emaze.

Thomas P. Friedman, better known as Thomas L. Friedman, Mystax Malinconicus, is in a saturnine humor as regards a former favorite country of his:
Israel has recently been under intense criticism on the world stage. Some of it, like the “boycott, divestment, sanctions” (B.D.S.) campaign, is a campus movement to destroy Israel masquerading as a political critique. But a lot of it is also driven by Israel’s desire to destroy itself — thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s steady elimination of any possibility that Israel will separate itself from the Palestinians in the West Bank.
That somewhat comical formulation—"This is no time to be committing suicide, there are people out there trying to kill you!"—points at some kind of truth, but it's not something Tom really wants to hear.

The formula on BDS is a little like one of those Radio Yerevan jokes from the former Soviet Union:

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Yond Hillary has a workaholic look

Let Brooks have men about him that are fat,
Sleek-headed men and such as sleep a-nights.

Buster Keaton in Roscoe Arbuckle's His Wedding Night (1917). Via Oh, So?
Shorter David Brooks, "Why Is Clinton Disliked?", New York Times, May 24 2016:
I think I've got the answer to this vexing question—it's got to be because we don't know what her hobby is. Why, she may not have a hobby at all! You can't expect Americans to put up with that!
Because it can't possibly have anything to do with a 25-year campaign of calumny, libel, and prurient fantasies accusing her of everything from insider futures trading to murder, with allegations of sexual oddity, support for terrorists, simple bribery, and selling the influence of the secretary of state to fund her gigantic appetite for um funding Haitian earthquake relief and bolstering her hated husband's reputation as a humanitarian, with the eager complicity of the media widely reporting every story ("some say, said some") though it can never show a foundation in fact for any of them. Somewhat abated after 2000 when she wasn't running for president and then when Barack Obama was, but revived since a couple of years ago at triple the original force.

No, it's because we don't know whether she collects cat figurines, or works on cryptic crosswords in her spare time:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Please don't feed the neocons

This is a thing you can do in Ethiopia, feeding hyenas. Via Lipstick Alley.
The neoconservative eminence Robert Kagan endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in February, in the second-last sentence of a lengthy denunciation of the Trump that doesn't otherwise mention her at all, and taking the distressed tone of a father suggesting that the family will have to sell little Clara into slavery, regrettable as that option might be, if everybody is to survive:
For this former Republican, and perhaps for others, the only choice will be to vote for Hillary Clinton. The party cannot be saved, but the country still can be.
This week Kagan came up with a still more furious condemnation of the Trump, "This is How Fascism Comes to America", in which I notice that he doesn't mention Clinton at all, and Corey Robin noticed another thing, which is that Kagan's argument against Trump takes the mirror image of a familiar form:
According to Kagan:
What he offers is an attitude, an aura of crude strength and machismo, a boasting disrespect for the niceties of the democratic culture that he claims, and his followers believe, has produced national weakness and incompetence.
This, remember, is what makes Trump not a normal political candidate. It’s what makes him a candidate whose appeal and program “has transcended the party that produced him.”

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Douthat on the Great Facebook Massacre

Image via Michael Ferry at First Draft.
So apparently deep in the subterranean regions of the Facebook world, the News Curators toil, unseen and unappreciated, writing their headlines and teasers for the trending topics in the upper right of your timeline, and a little bit more. It turns out that the Trending Module algorithm doesn't work quite as well as advertised, or, more to the point, as well as Twitter's, and it needs to be goosed from time to time, and one of the things they do is to "inject" stories that fail to trend on their own into the mix, from the front pages of ten different big-time sources (CNN, the New York Times, BBC, and the like), or just stories that seem so serious that it's embarrassing not to have them (the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight 370, the killings of the Charlie Hebdo staff, Syria stories, #BlackLivesMatter). They're also empowered to switch a story from its coverage in a less respectable source like RedState or Breitbart to a more trustworthy one, or deactivate it altogether, if not enough sources are covering it.

Perhaps because their backgrounds are more literary than techie, they're not regarded as real Facebook people but "disposable outsiders". They're not employees but contract workers, like proofreaders or Uber drivers, supplied by a temp agency, a dozen or more squeezed into makeshift quarters in the New York offices. Though they have fancy degrees from Ivy schools and résumés from the New York publishing scene, they are not invited into the Facebook world. If there's an 8:00 happy hour for the proper employees, the News Curators aren't invited; they keep working, into the night. The turnover is pretty high. They believe that their real function is to train the algorithm—one day it will know how to do their jobs and they'll all be fired.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Harping, Carping, and Barking: Hooey, baby

Jonah Goldberg, back from a National Review Cruise on the Danube:
NR Cruises are special things. They are filled with friends of National Review, often lifelong friends. No one who hates the magazine plunks down that much hard-earned money to spend a week drinking, eating, and touring with its writers and editors (and other passengers who are fans of the magazine). As a result, nearly all disagreements are like family disagreements.
It's so cute how he feels the need to explain why there weren't any passengers who hate NR. Strictly speaking, I suppose it would be more correct to say nobody on board hates NR except the staff, who don't have to pay, and the undercover reporters from Harper's, which if nobody has ever done that before I'd like to say I'm totally available for the next cruise, if they'd spot me a wardrobe. Just kidding!

It's going to be aboard the MS Nieuw Amsterdam, taking seven days to circumnavigate the island of Cuba, mostly at a safe distance from its Communism-tainted territorial waters—

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Golden Chain

Barbara Stanwyck in Alfred E. Green's Baby Face (1933), via An Honest Ghost.
Shorter David Brooks, "The Fragmented Society", New York Times, May 20 2016:
I'm so clued in that Yuval Levin name-checks me in his new book, and yet there are things in that sucker even I didn't know, on virtually every page, although all the examples I can think of seem to be things I say myself all the time, like political polarization in Congress seems to be on the rise since its period of decline in 1910-40 and income inequality, diminishing from 1925 to 1970, has also begun to rise, and immigration, slowing from 1910 to 1975, has been going up. These factors, as opposed to the Internet, which arrived later, have caused us to become a fragmented society. Levin argues that our politics are based upon nostalgia for a less fragmented time. Conservatives lament the new lack of social cohesion and liberals complain about the inequality. Both are wrong, in Levin's view, because that's just the way things are nowadays and we can't do anything about it. These phenomena are the downsides of choices we have made for perfectly good reasons, like the desire to enjoy more flexibility, creativity, and individual choice, as when we buy cheap products around the world, and so there's nothing to be done. Therefore what we do will have to be the opposite of what we have done in the past. Unlike the policies of the Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, and Bush administrations when all this unfortunate fragmentation took place, we will have to adopt subsidiarity, devolving more power and choice from the federal government to local authorities. This is all quite true, but I'd like to say that I disagree with it in part. I think it is important, as we are taking away power from the federal government, that we should also give more power to the federal government, for example by instituting radical new ideas like national service and OMG look at the time and I've run out of space.
Levin's book is The Fractured Republic: Renewing America's Social Contract in the Age of Individualism (Basic Books, 2016), and I don't know if it's as much of a mess as the way Brooks portrays it, although it's inevitable that it should suffer from that cognitive dissonance between the fatalistic declinism of the conservative narrative (nostalgia aside, you can never have it as nice as it used to be) and the need to claim that your prescriptions are going to do the patient some good (you'll be as good as old!)

Brooks's basic argument, that he has thought of a way to disagree with Levin's argument even though Levin mentions him by name, is contained in paragraphs 14-16 of his column:

Friday cheap shots: Baseless Rhetoric

Image via the Toms River Patch.
Now we know what the price of Christie's Trump endorsement was: cash (via WNYC).
At a rally of about a thousand people at the armory in Lawrenceville, New Jersey, Thursday, Governor Chris Christie introduced the guest of honor, saying: "Let me bring you the next President of the United States, Donald Trump!"
But this was no ordinary political Trump rally. Tickets cost $200 a person, and the money was used to pay off Christie’s debt left over from his presidential campaign.
WNYC's Matt Katz says that with about 1,000 people attending the rally, that went a long way toward wiping out Christie's $250,000 debt. And that wasn't all. 
"Before the event, Trump did a roundtable fundraiser that cost between $20,000 and $25,000 a person, There were about 18 people there," Katz said. "That money was actually used to pay off Bridgegate lawyers that the state Republican party had hired after they got hit with subpoenas more than two years ago. There’s a half-million dollars owed to those Bridgegate attorneys. And now, thanks to Trump — who six months ago campaigned against Christie by saying he knew about Bridgegate — that debt is mostly paid off."
And what Trump gets out of it is a representative of the "conservative establishment" he can victimize in public, to his (pained) face:

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Douthat, just saying: His angst evident in his hair

Macy's bone structure is completely different, but he could capture some of the psychotic character of Bill Kristol.
Monsignor Ross Douthat, Apostolic Nuncio to 42nd Street, does something really peculiar ("The Dying of the Third-Party Dream"):

Of all the strange images of this strange campaign, I find myself particularly struck by this vision: Mitt Romney, pacing alone in one of his many houses, his angst evident in his faintly mussed-up hair, placing pleading phone calls to Republican politicians asking them to run as a third-party candidate against Donald Trump.
That bizarre, existential one-act play — “Conversations About Trump,” opening Off Broadway, with Josh Brolin as Romney and the voice of William H. Macy as John Kasich — is apparently where the quest for a conservative alternative to Trump and Hillary Clinton ran into a wall.
I'm an idiot about celebrity news, so it didn't occur to me that that bit was meant rhetorically, and I was quite disappointed when the link led not to further information on this imaginary play but to a dumb insider article about Republicans in the Washington Post, by Philip Rucker and Robert Costa, the GOP's earnestly savvy ambassador to the wider world. And Dr. Google couldn't uncover any information about Conversations about Trump either.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

For the record: #FeelTheDerp

Hey, it's not Latinos that made the mistake!
Wishful thinking is not generally effective thinking. Accepting something you noticed in somebody's blog ("Sanders has a significant lead among Hispanic voters and other races" in a May 5 poll), and then translating it into a more majestic sentence that means something totally different ("Bernie has won most Latino votes to date") does not get you closer to the truth but further away. Not checking the link, or not noticing that there is no link, doesn't help either. It is likely that Clinton has received considerably more total Latino votes than Sanders to date, and on the other hand it is likely that Sanders's current popularity in the Latino community is nearly as high as Clinton's and could be even higher, and it's really hard to judge how true either is, because the exit polls are not perfectly reliable and the samples of ethnic minorities within broader samples are just too small. Storify from this morning below the fold:

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

There's more than one way of being ripples

Lost Hills, California. Photo by Chloe Sorvino/Forbes.
Another day, another dateline. Another little chunk of David Brooks's life. Stung by his failure to realize that Donald Trump was going to be the Republican presidential nominee this year, he's ripped himself yet again out of the bourgeois strata where he generally spends the the big chunks, and gone where he feels least comfortable, out into the pain, as his preferred approach to leaping across the chasms of segmentation, "One Neighborhood at a Time".  We all have some responsibility to do that.

Thus in early May he seems to have visited decaying Pittsburgh, where he chatted with school principals and factory owners, and the whitewater rafting country of West Virginia, where I could see no evidence he ever wandered as far from his room as the hotel's bar.

Today it's Lost Hills, California, where I'm afraid he's not going to find a lot of Trump voters; underemployment is no problem, because everybody has a job on the 70,000 acres of Paramount Farms, world's largest vertically integrated supplier of pistachios and almonds. Nor are there a lot of broken families:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Monday Trump Dump

Image from Reddit via Giphy.
Trump responds to allegations from British prime minister:
“Number one I’m not stupid, I can tell you that right now. Just the opposite. I don’t think I’m a divisive person. I’m a unifier.” (Via Independent)
Well, then, that settles that. Who would know better than the man himself? He's not so sure whether he's divisive or not, but he's positive on the stupid issue. No pussyfooting or equivocation, no "I have no recollection of being stupid" or "it depends on what the meaning of 'stupid' is". Just boldly acknowledging the fact.

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Douthat on what bigots can teach us

Mayor Sadiq Khan of London (newly elected in the "biggest individual mandate in British history") poses for a selfie in a lovely, typical London crowd. Photo by Daily Mail
In what seems to be a kind of collateral damage from the Trump campaign, Monsignor Ross Douthat, apostolic nuncio to 42nd Street, has really gone full troll; there was that crazed column a few weeks ago where he urged us to pay more attention to neo-reactionaries, monarchists, Falangists, and advocates of Empire (cafeteria-style, just picking up on the good ideas and leaving the anti-Semitism in the steam table), and today he's giving us the generalized version, "When the Wrong are Right".

It's all about those Trump voters, of course; the undereducated, underemployed white working class. Douthat accepts the conventional wisdom that those are the people putting Trump ahead in the Republican primary contest, and accepts the premise that they are a bunch of racial bigots, and then asks:
What happens if the bigoted sometimes get things right?
I'd guess for those questions on which bigots are generally right, non-bigots tend to be right too, so that the bigoted view isn't that important. It doesn't make much sense to imagine questions where you'd only be able to get a correct answer from a bigot in the dictionary sense, that is from a
person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially :  one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance
since he or she, being unreasonably prejudiced by definition, is clearly less likely to be right on any particular point where others are wrong than a non-bigot, whose mind is subject to change in the face of evidence. How do you like that Jesuitical logic, Ross?

A question that needs to be re-addressed here is whether the Trump voters really are more or less equivalent to the undereducated, underemployed white working class at all, which a lot of us including me seem to have tacitly accepted without wondering if there's any evidence for it; because Nate Silver at FiveThirtyEight has done some modeling from exit poll data that calls it into question:

Saturday, May 14, 2016

For the record: Is Hillary Clinton the Worst Human Being in the Universe?

Photoshop by somebody who doesn't like her, but it doesn't have that effect on me.

[Update: There used to be a Storify sequence here involving a Daily Caller story, but it's vanished. It probably included the following

But I think the Dean Leh tweet I was responding to has been deleted]

What's unsourced in the Daily Caller story is the story. There are all kinds of links to secondary remarks and interpretations, studding the paragraphs like Christmas ornaments, but the stipulations that add up to a serious-sounding allegation and the $100 million from Middle Eastern governments aren't linked at all. Based on the reporting at Politifact, the actual sum would be somewhere between around $18 million and $75 million, alongside between $31 million and $75 million or so for the Australia-Canada-Netherlands-Norway-UK-Germany. There's no way of estimating a narrower range.

Since the "issue" became a thing in early 2015, the Foundation has stopped accepting contributions from any government other than those of the six white-people countries listed above, and worked to make its reporting of donations more transparent, for what it's worth.

The idea that the Foundation is a corrupt party seeking to enrich itself like Dr. Evil or something irritates hell out of me. You can complain all you want about the quality of its work, particularly in Haiti, or the neoliberal bias for market solutions that they have in common with donors like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg (for my money dudebro icon Pierre Omidyar is far worse in that respect, having done real, serious harm), but I don't see how you can accuse Bill Clinton of anything worse than trying to top Jimmy Carter by being bigger and flashier. It's vulgar, but it's not mean.

And the same goes for the Arab governments, really, which were trying to make themselves look like full and mature members of the Big Nations club; they were encouraged to donate through the Clinton Foundation because Bill made it so easy, the way the nouveaux riches of the Internet economy like to donate online, doing their due diligence with online organizations like Charity Navigator; and because Bill made it so pleasant, the same way he's always gotten anybody to do anything, starting with voting for him, by schmoozing with them and giving them the impression he thinks they're really smart and generous and good people. In a happier context—if not for the violent and dishonest context of the Bush wars—it could have been a really good thing, and in itself it really wasn't exactly bad.

The vast right-wing conspiracy and its pseudo-leftist enablers, however, especially at the Investors' Business Daily, have been determined to find something wrong with it, most notably in the enormous piece by David Sirota, Andrew Perez, and Matthew Cunningham-Cook of June 3 2012 that tried to persuade the world that those Arab government donations were a bribe to Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, to entice her to fill up their arms depositories with "biological and chemical weapons": or as the famous Jeanette Sandernista put it,

Their case depends on a pretty convoluted misreading of the evidence, which consists mainly of online State Department documents from the end of the Bush and beginning of the Obama administrations.

US companies sell arms to foreign governments through two routes: through the Pentagon as "foreign military sales" (FSM), and directly, making the deal and then seeking authorization from the State Department, as "direct commercial sales" (DCS). The latter at least are supposed to be publicly divulged, and from fiscal years 2007 through 2009, for some reason historians may some day wonder about, the State Department DCS notices were a lot more detailed than they had been before or would be after; in particular, providing information on the specific breakdown of sales in category XIV, Toxicological Agents, Including Chemical Agents, Biological Agents, and Associated Equipment.

Which sounds like chemical and biological weapons of mass destruction, but isn't at all. Since the Chemical Weapons Convention of 1993 (ratified under President Bill Clinton), the State Department is not actually permitted to authorize the sale of any chemical or biological agents for use in the prosecution of international war, but it can allow the sale of category XIV(d), "tear gases and riot control agents" for use in domestic law enforcement, together with various kinds of techniques for defending your country against chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons, including equipment for detecting them, medical countermeasures, and technical data, and subcategory XIV(f), "Components, parts and associated equipment specifically designed or modified for military operations and compatibility with military equipment" for defense against chemical and biological weapons, which last constitutes the bulk of most nations' requests. It is illegal for US companies to sell tear gas for use in international war, but not to sell it for "normal" police work, just as they are also allowed to sell it to US police departments, but for foreign sales they have to get a license from the State Department, and the same goes for equipment used to defend yourself against WMD.
Prior to Clinton’s tenure at State, Congress and the public could see some of the details of Category 14 exports. Those interested in scrutinizing the sales were supplied a breakdown of the transactions into separate categories such as “tear gases and riot control” and other wares classified as “medical countermeasures” like vaccines to protect against exposure to chemical and biological warfare. But as Clinton’s State Department increased its export approvals, it also stopped providing a breakdown of such exports. Key details are now effectively secret.
Which is true also for the reports from 2006 and earlier. Can we blame Hillary Clinton for that too?

So anyway the reports from 2007 through 2009 give you specific dollar figures for these things for all the countries that were permitted to make purchases from US manufacturers in class XIV, and you can see exactly how much the client governments spent on tear gases and riot control agents—30 to 40 countries each year—over the course of the period, from $150 for Kuwait in 2007 (they spent $37,010 the following year) to $5,850,000 for Algeria in 2009 (up from $5,500 in 2007).

That number for Algeria seems like a lot. The only figure even close is the $5,135,300 spent by Peru in 2007, although Canada spent nearly $9 million on riot-control agents over the three-year period; France, Mexico, Chile, and Turkey over $3 million each; and Israel almost $3 million. To Sirota et al., it seemed like evidence of some kind of criminality on Hillary Clinton's part as secretary of state:
Algeria received just $2,110 worth of State Department authorizations in the chemical and biological weapons category in fiscal 2008 [correctly, $22,110, including zero chemical or biological weapons; it was all XIV(f)]. But the next fiscal year -- 80 percent of which was under Clinton’s tenure -- the country received more than $6 million worth of such Category 14 authorizations. Five-point-eight million dollars of the authorizations were for items classified as “tear gases and riot control agents.” The next year, the Algerian government gave the Clinton Foundation $500,000. Amid the Arab Spring revolts in 2011, Algerian security forces used tear gas on protesters in the capital.
The implication being that (1) Clinton recklessly let the Algerians have these colossal quantities of tear gas which Condoleezza Rice had sensibly denied; (2) the donation to the Clinton Foundation (for Haitian earthquake relief) was a kind of gratuity for the service; and (3) they must have known they were going to need it when the Arab Spring blew up two years later, even though it came as a huge surprise to everybody else, including the Tunisian and Egyptian masses who did the actual work.

Do I need to explain in detail what's wrong with these?

1. The difference in allocations from one year to the next means nothing. Chile goes from $350,070 in FY 2008 to $3,337 in 2009, and Singapore from $21,525 to $20; over the same period Denmark goes from $43,350 to $1,018,540, though it didn't give a dime to the Clinton Foundation. Some countries have radically different budgets year to year on this, others are steady shoppers like Greece ($27,070 in 2007, $55,250 in 2008, $55,561 in 2009).

2. The job of the secretary of state isn't to decide whether the country is a good country or not, but to certify whether it can legally receive the weapons it wants to buy, under the US law governing such matters; the default is to approve everything, since it's American companies, with American employees, that are making whatever it is, and the only reason for rejecting a sale of riot control agents will be if, in the secretary's estimation, they are likely to be used in an international battlefield situation instead of "properly", in domestic law enforcement, as the law requires. They certainly shouldn't have permitted sales of tear gas to Israel, which uses tear gas copiously and sometimes lethally in Gaza and the West Bank and on the Lebanese border, but there's no more excuse for denying to Algeria than Canada (or more unfortunately Turkey, which uses tear gas on Kurdish populations inside national borders). Neither Rice nor Clinton actually made these decisions, as a matter of fact; they were too mechanical for the secretary's attention.

After 2009 the State Department went back to the old practice of not breaking the numbers down into subcategories, so there's no way of telling how much money was authorized for tear gas from FY 2010 onwards, just as for 2006 and earlier, which turns other parts of the Sirota et al. argument into unverifiable nonsense,
Secretary Clinton seemed to pursue contradictory policies where Egypt was concerned. Autocratic governments have used chemical weapons to suppress internal dissent, and in 2011, Clinton announced as part of her support for an international treaty that outlaws the stockpiling of chemical weapons, she would “reaffirm our commitment to finish the job” of eliminating such stockpiles. But U.S. approvals for the exports of Category 14 weapons to Cairo increased even though Egypt was one of only three countries whose governments have taken no action to sign or ratify the treaty.
(The other two countries are North Korea and South Sudan. Israel, unmentioned in the IBT article, has not ratified. Syria suddenly ratified in 2013, under US/Russian pressure, and Somalia also did. Angola and Myanmar ratified in 2015.)

Again, the Chemical Weapons Convention, a product of the Bill Clinton administration, is aimed at the elimination of chemical weapons of mass destruction, though it includes provisions on the use of riot control agents in international conflicts. Hillary Clinton as secretary had almost no role in setting the policy, I don't see how she could, but it's not contradictory anyhow. Tear gas continues to be legal, under US law, in the US, Mexico, Norway, and Trinidad and Tobago, and it's legal in Egypt too. But in point of fact there is no way of knowing whether the permissions for tear gas purchase went up after 2009 anyway, because the State Department numbers don't say how much went for XIV(d) as opposed to XIV(f) and the other categories. Total category XIV sales to Egypt were 1,893,927 in 2008 with zero tear gas, $1,258,250 in 2009 with $458,090 worth of tear gas, to $1,709,049 in 2011 with no specifications for class (d)—can't find anything at all for 2010, actually—and $1,727,239 for FY 2012, so at this point I can only suppose that they're completely making things up (there are some outlandish-looking numbers credited to the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt, which would hardly have supplied them, and which I can't find referenced anywhere else).

And then—
Her State Department cleared Egypt to continue purchasing arms the U.S. government classified as "toxicological agents,” a broad designation that included chemical and biological weapons, as well as vaccines -- this, at the very moment Mubarak’s forces were unleashing one toxicological agent, tear gas, against protesters demanding his ouster.
—trying to suggest that it might have been sarin or god-knows-what is extremely irresponsible; if it wasn't tear gas or the equivalent, it wasn't a toxicological agent at all, because it couldn't have been approved. And finally,
In 2011, ABC News reported that Egyptians protesting against Mubarak were attacked by the regime’s police with tear gas made by an American company called Combined Systems Inc. (Tear gas is considered a chemical weapon under the Chemical Weapons Convention, and is banned in wartime.) That firm is part-owned by the Carlyle Group, which paid the Clinton Foundation for a Bill Clinton speech in 2012 though the Clinton Foundation did not disclose it at the time. In all, the Carlyle Group has donated at least $350,000 to the foundation, including a fee for a Hillary Clinton speech months after she left office in 2013. 
Given that her standard fee seems to be $225K, and Bill's a good deal more, that last number would appear to be ridiculously low, as if it were the Clintons giving the break to Carlyle rather than the other way around.

Just no. I would totally be much happier with the world if Bill and Hillary would not take money from the Carlyle group, but the attempt to suggest that their speaking fees were blood money for Hillary's work in getting illicit chemical WMD into Egyptian army hands (they sell to Tunisia, Yemen, Germany, Netherlands, India, East Timor, Hong Kong, Argentina, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone, alongside Egypt and Israel, probably because there aren't really that many tear gas firms) is about something that really didn't happen.

And about the other countries in question (Bahrain, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and UAE) they had even less information, or, more precisely, none.

I'm not saying, you know, that Hillary Clinton is a lovely and virtuous person, I don't really think I know, but every time you look at an allegation like this it turns out to be utter bullshit.

Update 5/19:Turns out the fierce Jeanette Sandernista isn't exactly an engaged voter at least in the US:

2007-09 class XIV(d) sales authorized by the State Department, by country (because I have some kind of OCD and couldn't stop doing it as long as the data held out):

FY 2009: $13,980 to Afghanistan, $5,850,000 to Algeria, $80,583 to Australia, $13,351 to Bermuda, $578 to Burkina Faso, $3,592,408 to Canada, $3,337 to Chile, $30,404 to Colombia, $1,018,540 to Denmark, $261,250 to the Dominican Republic, $635,794 to Ecuador, $458,090 to Egypt, $293,750 to France, $55,561 to Greece, $360,000 to Guatemala, I'm sorry to say, $61,525 to Guyana, $24,202 to Haiti (which was of course taking money from the Clinton Foundation, not giving it), $479,250 to Honduras, $115,040 to Hong Kong (!!), $1,050,532 to Israel, $345 to Jordan, $16,675 to Lithuania, $476,350 to Mexico, $52,000 to New Zealand, $248,952 to Panama, $176,130 to Peru, $20 to Singapore, $59,880 to South Korea, $12,945 to Sweden, $906 to Thailand, $26,027 to Trinidad and Tobago, $920,423 to Turkey, and $2,161 to the United Arab Emirates.

FY 2008: $3,083,237 to Argentina, $193,698 to Australia, $650 to Bahamas, $18,795 to Bahrain, $3,738 to Belgium, $2,736 to Brazil, $1,635,298 to Canada, $350,070 to Chile, $6,000 to Congo, $43,350 to Denmark, $810 to El Salvador, $55,250 to Greece, $7,085 to Guyana, $130,571 to Hungary, $2,607 to Iceland, $197,316 to Israel, $37,010 to Kuwait, $37,336 to Mexico, $65,175 to Papua New Guinea, $291,168 to Peru, $800 to Romania, $21,525 to Singapore, $3,500 to Slovenia, $254,405 to Tunisia, $619,290 to Turkey, $167 to UK, and $21,460 to Uruguay.

FY 2007: $5,500 to Algeria, $63,956 to Argentina, $56,045 to Australia, $34,650 to Bshamas, $493,300 to Bahrain, $13,420 to Belize, $293,660 to Bolivia, $3,520,448 to Canada, $2,792,000 to Chile, $248,917 to Colombia, $220,245 to Dominican Republic, $138,246 to Ecuador, $17,124 to El Salvador, $3,200,000 to France, $27,070 to Greece, $285,000 to Guatemala, $2,785 to Guyana, $13,068 to Hong Kong, $35,250 to Iraq, $1,654,536 to Israel, $150 to Kuwait, $20,000 to Lebanon, $7,882 to Lithuania, $2,308 to Malaysia, $3,367,155 to Mexico, $1,386 to Netherlands, $2,360 to Netherlands Antilles, $59,553 to New Zealand, $6,516 to Norway, $141,870 to Panama, $5,135,300 to Peru, $46,600 to Sierra Leone, $27,080 to Singapore, $49,484 to South Korea, $5,250 to Sri Lanka, $27,956 to St. Lucia, $9,392 to Trinidad and Tobago, $1,653,818 to Turkey, $17,829 to Turks and Caicos, $26,651 to the United Arab Emirates,

You won't believe this one stupid trick the Washington Post used to get clicks

You can't use a simple algorithm to decide which way is left; you have to apply some real-world conteztualized knowledge.
Seeing some chatter originating in the Wapo this morning about the startling new Trump strategy of "running to Hillary's left", wooing the Sanders voters:
“Now, I’m no fan of Bernie Sanders, but he is 100 percent right,” Trump told a crowd [in Eugene, OR] this weekend. “He is 100 percent right: Hillary Clinton is totally controlled by the people that put up her money. She’s totally controlled by Wall Street.”
It's obviously worth asking yourself to what extent this is "left", as opposed to typical Republican populist posturing—how it's different from Ted Cruz railing against "crony capitalism" and "corporate welfare" and the "Washington cartel". What's Trump's proposal? You know, for not being controlled by Wall Street, other than claiming that he's as rich as Lloyd Blankfein, and therefore incorruptible, just like um wait a minute.

Friday, May 13, 2016

And today in international Trumpery

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key, reacting to news reports last week in the Panama Papers leak on how New Zealand has become a haven for international tax cheats and money launderers (the Mossack Fonseca law firm from which the Panama Papers come has a prominent and profitable office in Auckland), responded with bizarre accusations that notable charities—Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and the International Red Cross—are somehow culpably involved in the same corruption, and that a Green MP, Mojo Mathers, is the holder of a foreign trust.

Then on Wednesday afternoon, addressing a question from Mr. Shaw, co-leader of the Green Party, as to why he refused to apologize for these allegations, he shouted until the speaker ejected him from the house. Today's international conservative movement, people, showing the way of Burkean civility and restraint.

I started thinking of it as a kind of modest preview of President Trump. Trump's not going to be a prime minister, of course, so he won't be hanging around in Congress, except there's that annual State of the Union address, nominally presided over by the Speaker of the House:

Don't mean a thing

The singer and actress Audra McDonald showed up on the TV talking, nothing wrong with that, she knows how and all, but I felt the need to listen to her sing something. So there's this Ellington tune, with the New York Philharmonic.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Keep hope alive!

Via Tracy Viselli/Feminists Will Kick Your Ass.
Mr. Pierce is out there concern-trolling Hillary Clinton, or that's really the wrong way of putting it, because his concern is plainly sincere (he's glad to say that she's "the only sane and plausible choice available" and that the added benefit of electing a woman president is a "genuinely big honking historic deal"), and sort of meaningless in that he doesn't seem to doubt she'll win in any case, but the effect is trollish all the same:

as a seeker of votes, as an applicant for the world's most powerful temp position, for the second time in a row, she's proving to be something of a mediocrity. I realize that the results last night in West Virginia will not mean very much down the road. They are products of skewed demographics and the playfulness of a number of voters who would not vote Democratic in the fall if you paid them in gold to do so. I realize that a large part of the difference between her winning margin in 2008 and her losing margin Tuesday night can precisely be measured as the difference between running against the "black guy" and having worked for the "black guy." I also realize that she only lost the delegate count to Bernie Sanders 16-11, which does little to slow her grim and inexorable march to the podium in Philadelphia this summer. But, dear god, she really leaves West Virginia with a very clean clock.
How clean? Well, Jesus, Charlie, 234,027 voters showed up (in an open primary) to vote for a Democrat, giving Bernie Sanders 51% of the vote to 36% for Clinton (the bulk of the balance going to local attorney Paul T. Farrell, Jr., representing the zombie coal industry, insisting if you keep pretending it's not dead it might turn out to be alive). Whereas in 2008, there were 359,910 voters in the Democratic primary splitting 67% for the same Hillary Clinton and 26% for young Barack Obama. That latter is what I would call a dear-god clock-cleaning. Whatever happened to young Obama, by the way? Did he find some more friendly career opportunity where he wouldn't have to depend on that vote-getting?

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Cheap shot: Pat McCrory

Why is this governor smiling? "I'm Pat McCrory, and I approved forcing this so-called 'trans man' into the ladies' room in North Carolina because it says on his birth certificate he's a lady!" Authentic image from the StandWithPat website. Not sure what they meant to accomplish with it. H/t Tengrain.