No Proof that Hillary Clinton Took Bribes as Secretary of State

While I have never intended for this blog to be political in nature, I am still very much interested in critical thinking, challenging unsubstantiated claims, and questioning data that may be misrepresented to manipulate opinion - and these days that pretty much means talking politics!

Recently I've heard several attacks on Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Rodham Clinton (HRC), alleging that she took bribes in the form of donations to the Clinton Foundation in exchange for favors to foreign governments. Those are very serious allegations of treason and corruption! Frankly they seem pretty dubious to me given that a Republican-led House and Senate have shown willingness to put HRC "on trial" in multiple hearings about Benghazi and her emails - if these allegations had "meat," why wouldn't Hillary be on trial for them too?

Let's take a look. To prove these allegations, we would need to show that:

A. the Clinton Foundation is some sort of "slush fund" through which HRC can take donations that would otherwise be illegal or seen as untoward.
B. foreign governments received favors in return for making donations to the Clinton Foundation during HRC's tenure as Secretary of State (SoS).

Let's examine each in turn:

A. The Clinton Foundation is a legitimate nonprofit that has raised more than $2B and that spends 89% of its funds fulfilling its charitable mission (according to the American Philanthropy Institute). I have had students involved in one of its projects, the Clinton Global Initiative. Charity Watch has rated it an "A" on an A+ to F scale. It is non-partisan and has frequently collaborated with charitable efforts from both Bushes. For a deeper examination of its use of funds, see this post from factcheck.org. It is legit.

But, legit or not, could it still be used as a front for HRC bribes? Before HRC became Secretary of State, she was on the Board of the Clinton Foundation. Upon her SoS appointment she resigned from the Board and a special agreement was put into place for ethics reviews of foreign donations to the foundation. HRC joined the foundation in 2013 after having left the SoS post. At no time has she or Bill ever been able to withdraw money from the foundation's funds so it does not seem to be a "slush fund."

It does appear that, as SoS, HRC took advice from a former adviser who was at that time employed by the Clinton Foundation. So the most damning thing you can say about her potentially nefarious SoS use of the foundation is that she was able to use it to employ someone whom she could not get hired directly into the State department.

B. The Clinton Foundation did take foreign donations while HRC was SoS, e.g. in response to the Haiti relief efforts. Eyebrows were especially raised around donations that could have impacted decisions on Russia and AlgeriaAll such donations except one went through State ethics reviews. Since HRC's time as SoS the fund has provided an unprecedented level of transparency, disclosing donors annually and quarterly. No one has ever found any smoking gun of wrongdoing and, again, I'm sure many - with much more time and inclination than I - have tried.

CONCLUSION: There simply isn't enough evidence to suggest that HRC was using the Clinton Foundation as a "slush fund" or that she was quid pro quo'ing with foreign governments as SoS. If you want to believe that HRC's behavior was unethical, you can craft an argument that it was unethical by citing coincidence as evidence and projecting nefarious intent onto HRC's motivations and actions. However, I don't see anything here that would convince an objective observer that there was anything untoward going on.


Lies in Politics

Some version or another of this chart has been making the rounds on facebook:

It is a summary from Politifact of the truthfulness of statements made by several prominent US politicians leading into the 2016 presidential election. Each of the politicians has made at least 50 statements rated by Politifact but, to be clear, this chart represents the rating of ALL of each politician's statements, not the ratings of just a cherry picked 50 statements.

This chart isn't perfect. For one thing, its data comes from Politifact, which claims to be independent but is owned by the Tampa Bay Times, which traditionally has a left-leaning bias. However, factcheck.org (an independent non-profit) largely agrees with these ratings and my own digging indicates that they're pretty legitimate.

One striking takeaway is that the current Republican nominee for President is at the top of the list for telling half truths, misrepresentations of information, and outright lies. Can that really be so?

Let's take a look at statements recently made by the Republican nominee and the GOP alleging that the DNC email leak is proof of rampant racism in the DNC. The statements call out three specific emails; let's examine each in turn:

1. ALLEGATION: The DNC refers to its strategy for Latino voters as "Taco Bowl Engagement."
EMAIL: "Attached is a script for a new video we’d like to use to mop up some more taco bowl engagement, and demonstrate the Trump actually isn’t trying."
It is pretty clear that the email is referring to the Republican nominee's own "taco bowl" tweet, not referring to Latino voters as such.

2. ALLEGATION: The DNC mocked a black woman's name (LaQueenia Gibson).
EMAIL: "LaQueenia is a NAME!
I'm sorry, boo. I hope you got a raise with this title."
The first sentence seems to be impressed with the regal name, not to be mocking it, and the second sentence has nothing to do with the name; it is in response to the previous email about frustration with endless meetings and calls to organize an event. Even if it were a racist email, the author doesn't even work at the DNC.

3. ALLEGATION: The DNC made anti-Semitic remarks about Bernie Sanders.
EMAIL: "It might may no difference, but for KY and WVA can we get someone to ask his belief. Does he believe in a God. He had skated on saying he has a Jewish heritage. I think I read he is an atheist. This could make several points difference with my peeps. My Southern Baptist peeps would draw a big difference between a Jew and an atheist. "
I don't see anything anti-Jewish here; the author is pointing out that the religious segment will prefer someone with religion - even if it isn't their religion - to someone who doesn't believe in God at all.

CONCLUSION: While the DNC emails do show some pretty despicable actions to thwart the democratic process, they do not show rampant racism, as the right wing media has claimed.

It is especially worrying that the representation of these quotes has been deliberately provided out of context so as to make them seem racist; I'm sure the vast majority of readers are taking the articles at face value and not reading the original emails themselves.

If facebook is any evidence, today we spend much of our time in echo chambers, surrounded by people and news sources that affirm our already held beliefs. That is why it is more important than ever that we exercise critical thinking, about which I have written before.

It makes sense that the Republican nominee should be hyperbolic and contrarian; he is challenging the status quo so he needs to convince people that the status quo is bad. No one (in my lifetime) did this more masterfully than Bill Clinton, who somehow convinced American voters that it was "Time For a Change" despite George H. W. Bush's record presidential approval ratings, winning the first Persian Gulf War decisively, a healthy economy, etc. Still, the need to be hyperbolic and contrarian is not license to lie to voters.

As I spend more and more of my time debunking fallacious and misleading political claims these days, I will try to include some of the more significant analyses on this blog. As an ardent Independent voter with a 50/50 Republican/Democrat presidential voting record, I don't have a vested interest in hammering any particular party or candidate. After all, the other takeaway from the above chart is that all candidates are lying to us at least somewhat and that is simply disgraceful; America deserves better.


Four on the Fourth Race Report

Last week I raced my third annual Four on the Fourth 4-mile road race, the first event of the three-event Tour de Carrboro. Because I now have a full half year of training by power (and power data from a previous four-mile road race), I was comfortable running this race by power instead of pace or heart rate.

My PR last year was 27:45 so I was shooting to improve by at least 15 seconds. Back in April I averaged 403W (Watts) over my 4-mile race but, if you exclude the first and last splits (when I was generating extra power due to my hot start and strong finish), I averaged 392W during the main part of the race. Believing myself to be in better running shape now, I decided to target 400W during the main part of this race, hoping that would translate to 4:22/km or better.

The day of the race it turned out to be drizzly - very humid but also cool and overcast, a real blessing in July! I was well nourished from the previous day's 4th of July Eve feast so, after a long warmup, they sounded the gun and we were off!

KM 1: The first KM is a gentle downhill slope so I knew I would be able to keep a good pace at my target power. The first KM took 4:00; I averaged 413W and reached a heart rate of 169 BPM. Good.

KM 2: The second KM is flat-ish but again net downhill. I averaged 410W with an average HR of 171 BPM; it took 4:14. 1/3 of the way through the race my power output was a little high but I was feeling good.

KM 3: Flat. 403W, 173 BPM; 4:20. Right on track.

KM 4: Another net downhill: 388W, 175 BPM; 4:14. Still right on track.

KM 5: This is where you have to pay for all that downhill; this KM is a big uphill. 411W, 177 BPM; 4:32. I was really proud of my consistent power despite the grade change.

KM 6: Another uphill but this time with the end in sight. 421W, 181 BPM; 4:19.

Final .47KM: This finishes up on a quarter mile track. I managed to pass several people here toward the end. 457W, 188 BPM; 1:39 (3:31 pace).

Final time: 27:16 - a 29s improvement over last year! Average power 411W - 407W during the main part of the race. Perhaps most importantly, my greatest improvement over last year was the uphill portion of this race; for that I give credit to the uphill power intervals training I have been doing.

It was a good race, a good PR, and continued validation that that training by power is working. 'Murica!


Batman vs Superman Ultimate Edition Review


When I first saw Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice, I was really disappointed. Now, having seen the "Ultimate Edition," which features 30 minutes of additional footage that had been cut to make the theatrical release more "accessible," I think it's a better movie - still deeply flawed, but better.

My original reaction can be summed up by a Facebook post I made on my brother's wall:

It earned an "E" for "Exceeds Expectations," because expectations were low. It was better than Man of Steel - which doesn't say much. Batfleck was pretty good - although I don't love the gritty, kill-happy Batman. Superman was - to your point - so un-fun, but definitely a badass. In fact, he was so much of a badass that it was more than a little unbelievable that there was even a "vs" to be had - and it required him to turn off his brain out of plot convenience. I didn't love Lex Luthor, but I commend Eisenberg for going all in on the portrayal choice - I just didn't think that choice worked well.

Wonder Woman was nice; I could have used more of her but I get that this wasn't her movie. My biggest beef was how the Justice League stuff was so clumsily shoe-horned in. And I also object to the very last scene; the movie had made a hard choice but then completely backed off of it.

I think there were three different potentially good movies in there: Batman v Superman, what SHOULD Superman be/do, and Dawn of Justice League. It's too bad they had to try to cram them all together, thereby diluting them all. I'm looking forward to the director's cut, though. It has 30 min of extra footage so maybe it will feel more coherent and less mismashed.

Indeed my past self turned out to be quite prescient. The #1 benefit of this new edition is that the plot is much, much, much more coherent. Specifically the opening scene in Africa makes much more sense, the reasons that people blame Superman for the resulting carnage make much more sense, Lex Luthor's role in orchestrating the incident (and others) make much more sense, and Clark's anti-Batman stance makes much more sense. Additionally, Lois actually has a reason to be in this movie other than just being a damsel in distress McGuffin.

Much of my original criticism remains, however: I simply don't like this jaded, cynical Batman or this brooding Superman. Superman is supposed to be a symbol of hope for truth, justice and the American way (Speaking of which, happy American Independence Day to all!) but this representation is totally uninspiring. The plot makes more sense now but it still requires multiple characters to do things that are totally out of character . . . because reasons . . . and relies on goofy deus ex Marthas to get where it's trying to go.

This is a much better version but, at the end of the day, this is still 3 movies cut down and crammed into one - kind of the opposite of Jackson's The Hobbit adaptation! If you hated the theatrical cut, you won't love this version but you'll hate it less. If you loved the theatrical cut, you'll still love this. If you were on this fence about the theatrical cut, this might push you over the edge to liking the movie.