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Nederlog

Sep 7, 2016

Crisis: Hillary Clinton, Bill Clinton, Math Destruction, "Moral Idiocy"
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Introduction

1.
The Unrelenting Pundit-Led Effort to Delegitimize All
     Negative Reporting About Hillary Clinton

2. Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary
     chancellor’ of a for-profit college

3. Weapons of Math Destruction
4. America and the Plague of ‘Moral Idiocy’
Introduction: 

This is a Nederlog of Wednesday, September 7, 2016.

This is a crisis log with 4 items and 4 dotted links: Item 1 is about Glenn Greenwald on Hillary Clinton and her courageous defender Paul Krugman (he thinks himself); item 2 is about Bill Clinton's enormous payments; item 3 is about the role of mathematics in the present world: dangerous and very ill- controlled; and item 4 is about the USA and a supposed plague of "moral idiocy", in which I cannot believe: There are no leading politicians and generals who are "moral idiots", but there are a lot who knowingly break the laws because they also know they will not be prosecuted.

Also, I like to draw your attention to a previous Nederlog, called Rewriting my site, that is indeed about that, or more precisely: About a resized graphical background that is necessary since I have now a normal sized squarish monitor. [0] This will take quite a lot of work, which I will continue after having finished the present crisis item. (It will probably be done before the end of September. I do not yet know when, but I will say so in Nederlog if it is finished.) And here is the link to Rewriting my site, that shows how much I have corrected.

1. The Unrelenting Pundit-Led Effort to Delegitimize All Negative Reporting About Hillary Clinton

The first item today is by Glenn Greenwald on The Intercept:

This starts as follows:
In his New York Times column yesterday, Paul Krugman did something that he made clear he regarded as quite brave: He defended the Democratic Party presidential nominee and likely next U.S. president from journalistic investigations. Complaining about media bias, Krugman claimed that journalists are driven by “the presumption that anything Hillary Clinton does must be corrupt, most spectacularly illustrated by the increasingly bizarre coverage of the Clinton Foundation.” While generously acknowledging that it was legitimate to take a look at the billions of dollars raised by the Clintons as Hillary pursued increasing levels of political power — vast sums often received from the very parties most vested in her decisions as a public official — it is now “very clear,” he proclaimed, that there was absolutely nothing improper about any of what she or her husband did.
That very, very brave Paul Krugman! Defending Hillary Clinton from journalistic investigations! Such enormous moral courage!

Actually, I am speaking in irony. Here is a part of my reasons for speaking ironically about Krugman - and this is quoted from
January 29, 2016 (between two occurrences of "---"):

---

(..) I'd like to insert my own view of Krugman, simply because I have read him almost every day now since more than 2 1/2 years, which is over 500 times. It comes to this:

I started the crisis series on September 1, 2008 (in Dutch, but quite good) and wrote 189 Nederlogs on that subject until I first read about Edward Snowden, on June 10, 2013. Since then I wrote mostly about the
crisis, simply because it, together with the universal spying on everyone by the Western secret intelligence services, is the most threatening news there is, at least for ordinary (non-rich) Westerners. (It is because all the rights of ordinary people, and all their welfare, are very seriously threatened by the crisis and by the secret spying. Also, the secret spying on everyone would only be done in an undemocratic, authoritarian state, or so I think.)

Since June 2013, I am each day reading approximately 40 files to check the news, and to find items I wish to review. For that reason, I also included Paul Krugman's column in the New York Times in the list, which means I have read his column at least 5 times a week since 2013.

So why did you almost never read anything about Paul Krugman's opinions - while getting a lot about (for example) Chris Hedges? Basically, because he doesn't have any interesting opinions, and also because he is a far lesser writer than is Hedges (with whom I also often do not agree, but at least he is interesting and he writes well).

Finally, I still think that as an economist Paul Krugman is more sensible than many - but that is only on economy, and not on politics, philosophy, psycho- logy or what not, and besides I don't think present-day economics is a serious science (almost no economist saw the crisis of 2008 coming, for one example).

---

In fact, the above was quoted from an earlier take-down of Krugman by Greenwald. And I agree with Greenwald that Krugman simply is boring most of the time, indeed because he is too much middle-of-the-road.

Here is more Greenwald on Krugman, from yesterday, September 6, 2016:
Krugman — in a tweet proclamation that has now been re-tweeted more than 10,000 times — heralded himself this way: “I was reluctant to write today’s column because I knew journos would hate it. But it felt like a moral duty.”
This does sound rather ridiculous for someone with daily access to the papers and a Nobel Prize in economy. But it may be - I don't know - an honest reflection of Krugman himself on his own great courage.

Here is Greenwald on the current differences in American journalism as regards the reportings on Trump and on Clinton:
There is probably no more die-hard Clinton loyalist in the U.S. media than Paul Krugman. He has used his column for years to defend her and attack any of her critics.
(...)
He spent the 2016 primary maligning Sanders supporters as unstable, unserious losers (the straight, white, male columnist also regularly referred to them — including female and LGBT Sanders supporters — as “bros”). And now he’s assigned himself the role as Arbiter of Proper Journalism, and — along with virtually all other Clinton-supporting pundits and journalists — has oh-so-surprisingly ruled that all journalism that reflects poorly on Hillary Clinton is unsubstantiated, biased, and deceitful.
Yes, indeed. And this is the other reason why Paul Krugman sunk a lot in my estimation: His maligning Bernie Sanders. For I found not only I had to read
through very many quite boring bits by Krugman that did not say anything interesting that I wanted to review; he also - indeed - maligned Sanders.

And now - according to Greenwald, who is often correct - he sets himself up as the "
Arbiter of Proper Journalism" and - not really surprising, for such Arbiters - uses "leftish" [1] totalitarianism as his measuring stick: Whoever criticizes the divine Hillary must be biased and deceitful.

That pattern is both very common and rather stupid. Clearly Hillary Clinton is far from perfect, and clearly one should continue to look critically at both Clintons, e.g. for facts like these:

Beyond quid quo pros, the Clintons’ constant, pioneering merger of massive private wealth and political power and influence is itself highly problematic. Nobody forced them to take millions of dollars from the Saudis and Goldman Sachs tycoons and corporations with vested interests in the State Department; having chosen to do so with great personal benefit, they are now confronting the consequences in how the public views such behavior.
Yes, indeed. And here is more on Bill Clinton:

2. Inside Bill Clinton’s nearly $18 million job as ‘honorary chancellor’ of a for-profit college

The
second item is by Rosalind S. Helderman and Michelle Ye Hee Lee:

This starts as follows, and I will quote just one bit of it, to illustrate by what means poor politicians like the Clintons originally were worked themselves up to multi-millionaires, who now seem to own over $120 million.

They did it - among other things, like requesting $250,000 for a speech of half an hour to superrich bankers [2] - by means like this:

While much of the controversy about Hillary Clinton’s State Department tenure has involved donations to her family’s charity, the Clinton Foundation, a close examination of the Laureate deal reveals how Bill Clinton leveraged the couple’s connections during that time to enhance their personal wealth — potentially providing another avenue for supporters to gain access to the family.

In addition to his well-established career as a paid speaker, which began soon after he left the Oval Office, Bill Clinton took on new consulting work starting in 2009, at the same time Hillary Clinton assumed her post at the State Department. Laureate was the highest-paying client, but Bill Clinton signed contracts worth millions with GEMS Education, a secondary-education chain based in Dubai, as well as Shangri-La Industries and Wasserman Investment, two companies run by longtime Democratic donors. All told, with his consulting, writing and speaking fees, Bill Clinton was paid $65.4 million during Hillary Clinton’s four years as secretary of state.

The Laureate deal brought Bill a mere $18 million, and altogether Bill scored $65 million in just four years, in which his wife was secretary of state.

There is a lot more on the Laureate deal in the article. I'd say it illustrates how the super rich and their politicians are beyond the principles that regulate ordinary people. Thus, the Clintons get paid for a speech of half an hour or an hour as much as I earn in 25 years (in dole money, for I am ill).

For me, such payments are very sick major corruption, and indeed I am not a relativist: The moral principles that apply to me are - broadly - the moral principles that apply to everyone.

3. Weapons of Math Destruction

The third
item is by Peter Woit on his Wordpress site:
This starts as follows:
Cathy O’Neil’s important new book Weapons of Math Destruction, is out today, and if you’re at all interested in the social significance of how mathematics is now being used, you should go out and get a copy.
Peter Woit is an American theoretical physicist and mathematician, whose site I regularly follow because I am interested in mathematics and physics; because I agree with him on string theory (it is untestable, and therefore not real science); and because he seems a sensible guy.

And the idea of "weapons of math destruction" is rather interesting (1) because most American mathematicians these days end up as effective
spies who work for the NSA, while (2) Godfrey Hardy (<- Wikipedia) insisted as late as 1940, in A Mathematician's Apology  (<- Wikipedia), that he studied pure mathematics (in which he excelled) because "it could not be misused to cause harm
". (Quoted from the last link.)

I mention Hardy mostly because I did read his booklet more than forty years ago (and he was a great mathematician), but clearly I never believed he was right in maintaining that pure mathematics "
could not be misused to cause harm": Evidently it can, and indeed it is, lately, and in a lot of ways.

Here is Woit on some of the harm mathematics and mathematicians did recently:
As far as I’ve ever been able to figure out, the role of mathematical modeling in the mortgage backed securities debacle was as a straightforward accessory to fraud. Dubious and fraudulent lending was packaged using mathematics into something that could be marketed as a relatively safe investment, with one main role of the model that of making it hard for others to figure out what was going on. This worked quite well for those selling these things, with the models successfully doing their job of obscuring the fraud and keeping most everyone out of jail.
Yes, I quite agree - and this was also a main cause of the collapse of 2008. Here is a brief recommendation of Woit:
While this part of the story is now an old and well-worn one, what’s new and important about Weapons of Math Destruction is its examination of the much wider role that mathematical modeling now plays in our society.
I agree about mathematical modeling, but did not read Cathy O'Neil's book. Here is O'Neil quoted:

In fact, I saw all kinds of parallels between finance and Big Data. Both industries gobble up the same pool of talent, much of it from elite universities like MIT, Princeton and Stanford. These new hires are ravenous for success and have been focused on external metrics – like SAT scores and college admissions – their entire lives. Whether in finance or tech, the message they’ve received is that they will be rich, they they will run the world…

In both of these industries, the real world, with all its messiness, sits apart. The inclination is to replace people with data trails turning them into more effective shoppers, voters, or workers to optimize some objective… More and more I worried about the separation between technical models and real people, and about the moral repercussions of that separation. If fact, I saw the same pattern emerging that I’d witnessed in finance: a false sense of security was leading to widespread use of imperfect models, self-serving definitions of success, and growing feedback loops. Those who objected were regarded as nostalgic Luddites.

I wondered what the analogue to the credit crisis might be in Big Data. Instead of a bust, I saw a growing dystopia, with inequality rising. The algorithms would make sure that those deemed losers would remain that way. A lucky minority would gain ever more control over the data economy, taking in outrageous fortunes and convincing themselves that they deserved it.

I fear that O'Neil is quite correct, and that the two main reasons she is quite correct are that (1) in fact few people except mathematicians do understand
mathematics, and (2) the mathematicians, for the most part, have one rather peculiar talent, namely for mathematics, but are otherwise like ordinary people [3], which is to say they are easily corrupted by promises of money and the assurances that "
they will be rich, they they will run the world…"

To end this, here is more Woit:

Finally, there’s a chapter on Facebook and the way political interests are taking advantage of the detailed information it provides to target their messages, to the detriment of democracy.

To me, Facebook is perhaps the most worrisome of all the Big Data concerns of the book. It now exercises an incredible amount of influence over what information people see, with this influence sometimes being sold to the highest bidder. Together with Amazon, Google and Apple, our economy and society have become controlled by monopolies to an unparalleled degree, monopolies that monitor our every move. In the context of government surveillance, Edward Snowden remarked that we are now “tagged animals, the primary difference being that we paid for the tags and they’re in our pockets.” A very small number of huge extremely wealthy corporations have even greater access to those tags than the government does, recording every movement, communication with others, and even every train of thought as we interact with the web.

I quite agree, and indeed I myself completely avoid Facebook, Google, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and I am meanwhile also convinced that one of the
main things that threaten that neofascism will be the social system of tomorrow are the computer and the cellphone: I do not want to be tagged
and traced by assholes who spy on everyone for the government or for dataminers, simply because they are paid a lot and said goodbye to all moral norms, all decencies, and all moral principles of legal equality and privacy.


4. America and the Plague of ‘Moral Idiocy’

The fourth item is by Lawrence Davidson on Consortiumnews:

This starts as follows:

It was on Aug. 12, 1949, that the nations of the world, with Nazi atrocities still in mind, updated what are known as the Geneva Accords. This constituted an effort to once again set limits on the wartime behavior of states and their agents.

Among other things, the accords set the range of acceptable behavior toward prisoners of war, established protections for the wounded and the sick, and the necessary protections to be afforded civilian populations within and approximate to any war-zone. Some 193 countries, including the United States, have ratified these agreements. Now, as of August 2016, they are 67-years-old. Have they worked? The answer is, in all too many cases, no.

In just about every major conflict since 1949 the Geneva Accords have been partially or completely ignored. Certainly that was the case in the Vietnam War, where civilian deaths came close to 1.5 million people. The treaties have had minimal impact in Afghanistan (during both the Russian and U.S. invasions), Iraq, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, Russia’s military activity in Chechnya, and various conflicts in Africa and Asia.

So there you are: There are very widely signed legal agreements that attempt to limit the horrors of war, since 67 years no less, but these legal agreements are usually broken in cases of real wars.

That is the fact, and I agree to it. Here is the first reason these legal agreements have been very widely broken, by virtually all nations that
went to war since 1949:

There are likely two main reasons why the Geneva Accords have had so little influence on behavior: hypocrisy and ignorance.

As to hypocrisy, it is the case that, except in rare instances, there are no serious consequences for violating the law. Particularly, if you are agents of a strong state, or the ally (like Israel) of a strong state, the chances of state leaders or agents being arrested for war crimes or crimes against humanity is exceedingly low.

I completely agree on the hypocrisy. Then there is this about ignorance:

As to ignorance, to date it is obvious that the politicians and soldiers who wage war, or who are responsible for the arming and training of allies who do so, do not regard seriously, and in some cases are not even familiar with, the Geneva Accords. In my experience, they often cannot, or will not, discuss them when asked, and regard statements referencing the disobeying of illegal orders in the Uniform Code of Military Justice, to be rightfully honored only in the breach.

And that is the important point. We can safely say that when it comes to waging war, or for that matter, aiding and abetting others doing so, the accepted behavior of both soldiers, statesmen, and diplomats is that called moral idiocy.

I agree that most warring parties simply act as if they don't know the Geneva Accords, or indeed only demand that their enemies satisfy them.

But real ignorance of the Geneva Accords, which certainly exists, is no good as an excuse, and is not for the same reason that I cannot plead ignorance of the Dutch laws that I broke as a Dutchman: "Every citizen is supposed to know the law" (which is an article of the Dutch laws, even if very few read all of the lawbooks).

At least the same holds for any politician and any general who is involved in war: They must know what laws do apply. Ignorance of the laws that do apply is, in their cases, simply a proof of incompetence.

And I do not agree that dishonest hypocrites can be excused as moral idiots:

Moral Idiocy is not something this writer, creative as he is, has simply made up. It is a real concept in psychology that has been around for over a century. However, in our increasingly relativistic societies, it has fallen into disuse.

Briefly, it means the “Inability to understand moral principles and values and to act in accordance with them, apparently without impairment of the reasoning and intellectual faculties.” The key word here is “understand.” It is not that moral idiots do not know, intellectually, that something called morality exists, but rather they cannot understand its applicability to their lives, particularly their professional lives.

At best they think it is a personal thing that operates between friends or relatives and goes no further – a reduction of values to the narrowest of social spaces. This is paralleled by the absence of such values as guiding principles for one’s actions in the wider world.

There are innumerable examples of such apparent moral idiots acting within the halls of power. The following short list specific to the U.S. reflects the opinion of this writer: George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, Oliver North, Richard Nixon and, my favorite, Henry Kissinger. Those reading this both in and outside of the United States can, no doubt, make a list of their own.
I am a psychologist (with an excellent M.A.) and I should say that (1) I never heard of either the term or the idea during my studies or after it; (2) there also is no Wikipedia item "moral idiocy"; and I should add that (3) I also disbelieve in both the term and the concept as they are defined here.

That is, I simply deny that there is an "
[i]nability to understand moral principles and values and to act in accordance with them, apparently without impairment of the reasoning and intellectual faculties" (as applied to leading politicians).

And what I affirm is that all normal people, including politicians, are quite capable of understanding moral principles and moral norms (if they were not, they would never be politicians), but that most normal people and most politicians use the moral principles and norms they do understand normally in
hypocritical and dishonest ways, and demand something close to perfection from their enemies, while they hardly demand anything of their own groups, other than conformism to the accepted attitudes in their own groups.

Also, to say that - quite ordinary, quite normal - hypocrisy and dishonesty about moral norms, that are quite differently evaluated when speaking of one's own groups and friends than when speaking of the groups one opposes and the people one dislikes, does not amount to hypocrisy and dishonesty, but amounts to a specific blindness called "moral idiocy", in fact makes excuses and puts up lies to defend one's own willful breakers of moral norms.

They are not blind; they know what they do; they serve their own groups and their own interests; and they quite well know what moral norms are.

They only do not want them to be applied to their own groups.


And if this is not clear yet, it gets clear when one considers those given as example of "moral idiots": Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Nixon and Kissinger, among others.

Come on!! These are not moral idiots: they are moral criminals, who ought to appear or have appeared in courts of international law. And the reason that they don't appear in such courts is simply that the USA is the most powerful nation on earth. It is not that those named committed no crimes, nor is it that those named did not know they were crimes. They committed them because they knew that the chances that they would ever be prosecuted were nil.

The article ends as follows, in a way I cannot agree to:

Moral idiocy can be seen as a very long-standing cultural flaw that often gives license to the violence that law and cultural mores are, simultaneously, trying to control. And, who are those who most often take advantage of this loophole? Ironically, it is the very people who lead our societies and those assigned to defend the culture and enforce the law. Lack of accountability makes for very poor public hygiene.

No. US war criminals - by the standards of the Geneva Accords - are not moral idiots who could be excused because they just can't see what other people can see quite clearly: They are war criminals.

And the reason they are not prosecuted is simply that the USA is too strong and doesn't allow it.

---------------
Notes

[0] Incidentally: I do want to keep my sites to look reasonable on the monitors (and computers and OSs) that I use, and I am trying to do so for
the new monitor I have, but I gave up (by 2012) trying to please everyone:

I do take care it works well on Firefox, on Ubuntu, on a normal sized squarish monitor, but I will not check anymore how my site is displayed on other monitors, other OSs and other screens: Too much work for my health. (I guess it works on most systems, since it is html that ought to work the same everywhere, but I lack the health to check and repair.)

[1] My reason to write "leftish" - between quotes - is mostly that I reject the idea that many of the modern "leftish" groups and persons (like the multi- millionaires Tony Blair and Bill Clinton) are in almost any way Leftish as my own parents and grandparents were:

They are not, for they are usually only concerned with political correctness and the rights of LGBTQ people, and possibly the environment, while my parents and grandparents, who were real Leftists, were concerned with inequalities, underpayment, exploitation, trade unions, resistance against Nazism and fascism, the law and its abuses, and the chances for a socialist revolution.

The themes of what made someone a Leftist and what makes modern "leftists" were and are completely different.

[2] This means that the Clintons are supermen who earn with one speech of half an hour to an hour what I earn in 25 years. (And I do not think that is fair, indeed.)

[3]
As I have said quite a few times in Nederlog: There are many human talents, but very few humans have any of them in a great way, though some do, while almost no one has two major talents (or more) in a great way.

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