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,

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