Thursday, May 28, 2015

Scholastic Publishing Novel on Transgender Eight-Year-Old By Self-Described 'Fat Queer Activist'

     The speed with which the transgender agenda is moving may end up making the same-sex marriage debate look slow and deliberative by comparison. And now Scholastic, the children's publisher that specializes in distributing and selling books through schools, is poised to bring the issue to a middle school classroom near you. The medium is George, the story of an eight year old boy named George who desperately wants to be considered a girl.
     George is the first effort by author Alex Gino, self-described on Facebook as a "[p]rogressive middle grade novelist, author of GEORGE (fall 2015, Scholastic). Fat queer activist, glitter liberationist, urban gardener, and then some." Gino's bio on Twitter is similar:

     Although the book will not be published until August, Scholastic is sending pre-publication copies to teachers for feedback on the novel. The letter accompanying the advance copies of the book reads as follows: 

     Although the book is targeted at middle-schoolers, George tells the story of a fourth grader named George, a boy who has "always" thought of himself as a girl. He keeps a stash of Seventeen and other girls' magazine hidden in his room, chafes at being called a "boy" or "young man", and is mortified by his own anatomy. A class production of Charlotte's Web brings the issue to a head when George wants to portray the spider Charlotte, a part offered only to the girls in his class.
     The author Gino exclusively uses female pronouns to refer to George throughout the story, distracting for an adult but potentially unsettling for the novel's preteen and young teen target audience. The book's back-flap bio of the author takes a different tack, saying of Gino that "George is their first novel," a remarkable grammatically incorrect concession for an educational publisher to make in a children's book.
     Although George uses Charlotte's Web as the vehicle to tell this eight year old boy's story, readers may find that the story The Emperor's New Clothes comes to mind as well. Although not everyone immediately accepts George's new gender, many of the cool characters do, and the reader is given the impression that reason will win the day and the others will come around. There is one mention by George's mother about George seeing a therapist to talk about "these things", but the mother says she probably needs someone to talk to about it also. There is no discussion of what other feelings that conflict with biological reality (race, appearance, age) might also be worthy of affirmation.
     When asked to comment on the appropriateness of having a self-described "fat queer activist" be the one to address such a difficult, sensitive and controversial subject, a spokesperson for Scholastic initially replied, "Please provide an address and I’d be happy to send a copy of the book so you can make an informed judgment on the content." [A copy of the book had already been obtained for this story.] After a follow up inquiry, Scholastic provided the following statement:
Author Alex Gino has been working on GEORGE for more than twelve years and, during that time, the issue of gender identity has come out of the shadows and is now very much a part of American life.  What GEORGE manages to do – with sensitivity and grace – is bring questions of identity to younger audiences in a natural and truthful way and with an age-appropriate storyline.  As we have shared the book with educators, parents, and librarians, the resounding refrain has been, “This is the book we’ve been looking for!”  These parents and educators have told us that rather than having young readers overhear conversations among adults or in the media, the book helps them to have the conversation directly with children, in a way that is deeply appropriate for their age level.  They value the message of GEORGE as one that everyone, child and adult, can benefit from:  BE WHO YOU ARE. 
     The spokesperson did not respond to a question about whether or not Scholastic has published any books with alternative points on view on transgenderism.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Someone (Ahem) Did a Statistical Analysis of Vox.com Photos, And It's Actually Pretty Depressing

    The other day, Vox.com ran a piece entitled "Someone did a statistical analysis of New Yorker cartoons, and it's actually pretty depressing." The semi-serious article presented the findings in the "semi-satirical journal Proceedings of the Natural Institute of Science" regarding the race and gender of characters in the semi-iconic New Yorker cartoons. The study found that "[o]ut of 1,810 total characters, 1,277 (about 70.6 percent) were male, and 1,714 (94.7 percent) were white." Vox writer Joseph Stromberg argues that there is a "need for accurate representation of nonwhite guys", and not just in movies and on TV. Stromberg quotes Amy Rothschild of the FiveThirtyEight blog asserting that it's a problem "[w]hen whole groups of people appear as stereotypes or not at all[.]" Rothschild was referring to children's books, but Stromberg says "adults are impressionable, too."
     After reading the article, I became curious about what impressionable adults might find to skew their something-other-than-the-content-of-a-persons-character worldview on the site where the article appeared, Vox.com. Since Vox does not regularly produce cartoons, I decided to use as a proxy a Google search of the Vox.com site of the first 100 facial images since the beginning of 2015. (Small sample size, but I have staff limitations.) You won't, as they say, believe what happened next:

    Read 'em and weep:
  • 81% "white dudes", as Vox likes to say
  • 9% women, all white
  • 10% non-whites (and four of them are President Obama)
     Others may come up with slightly different figures. I am particularly bad at guessing a person's race (maybe that's a good thing?)
     Anyway, to try to eliminate the possibility that Google itself is the culprit in white-male-skewing the results, I also conducted a general (the whole web) image search for "faces" since the beginning of the year.

     At a glance, the results seem more eclectic (certainly more women than men), but I did not conduct a full statistical analysis (again, staffing issues...).
     I decided to do a few more for comparison. Here's the New York Times:

     Looks like quite a variety.

     How about MSNBC?

     Whoa. Elizabeth Warren is looking pretty lonely there, eh, MSNBC?
     And finally, just for fun, The New Yorker's website:

     It appears the "white dude" dominance at The New Yorker is largely confined to the cartoons.

     So what conclusions can we draw from these analyses? Got me. I think I got a C in Statistics in college. I told you we have staffing issues.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Bill Clinton on Martin O'Malley in 2014: 'Terrific Governor,' 'Best Run State'

     As former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley emerges as perhaps the most significant threat to Hillary Clinton in her quest for the Democratic nomination for president, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation may be trying to downplay O'Malley's connections to the organization. At the annual meeting in June 2014 for the Clinton Global Initiative, O'Malley appeared on stage with Bill Clinton to announce O'Malley's involvement with a project of CGI called the Mid-Atlantic Infrastructure Exchange (MAX). Clinton praised O'Malley as "a terrific governor of Maryland" and noted his education reforms in particular [remarks related to O'Malley begin around 5:00 in the video]:

    Clinton went on to note that "Maryland at least twice during [O'Malley's] two-term tenure has been voted the best run state in the country". The former president was optimistic about O'Malley and the Democratic Party's future in Maryland, predicting, "his lieutenant governor who he endorsed... I think will succeed him [as governor in November 2014 election,] showing that the people of Maryland like where they're going and believe in what they're doing." Republican Larry Hogan actually went on to beat O'Malley's lieutenant governor Anthony Brown in a shocking upset in the 2014 race.
    But despite Bill Clinton's warm welcome and praise for O'Malley, the former governor's appearance is difficult to find in the Clinton Foundation's recap of the 2014 CGI meeting. O'Malley's name appears only once on the foundation's website, pictured below [highlight added]:

    However, the link provided takes users to "CGIA 2014 Commitment Announcement: Scaling Community Advantage Capital for Small Business" rather than O'Malley's announcement. Video of his appearance with Bill Clinton is on the Clinton Global Initiative's YouTube channel, but is listed as "CGIA 2014 Commitment Annoucement [sic]: AFL-CIO and MAX"; O'Malley's name is not mentioned in the description. O'Malley is not listed as as a participant in the Clinton Global Initiative's agenda for the 2014 meeting, either.
    The fate of the Mid-Atlantic Infrastructure Exchange that O'Malley announced is something of a mystery as well. It is not mentioned on the Clinton Foundation website, and does not appear to have a website of its own, either. Emails to the Clinton Foundation and to Martin O'Malley's office inquiring about the Mid-Atlantic Infrastructure Exchange and O'Malley's involvement have gone unanswered.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Bill and Hillary Clinton's Million Dollar Day

     Disclosure forms filed last week with the Federal Election Commission by Hillary Clinton provide fascinating details of the remarkable money-making machine that is the once-and-possibly-future First Couple. Between January 2014 and the filing of the forms on May 15, 2015 (up to and including a speech by Bill Clinton to the American Institute of Architects the day before the filing), the Clintons made about $30 million, approximately $25 million from speeches alone.
     Both of the Clintons have given speeches regularly in the 16-month period covered in the filing with rarely more than a few weeks off in between engagements. Often events are crowded together during a period of several days, sometimes with more than one speech on the same day. On a single day last October, Bill and Hillary delivered a total of four speeches, taking home over $1 million. Those four speeches fell in the middle of a three-day blitz that brought in a total of $1,511,000. (Mrs. Clinton edged out her husband $786,000 to $725,000.)

Hillary Clinton

Bill Clinton

     Now that Hillary Clinton is a declared candidate, she has stopped giving paid speeches. The former president, however, shows no signs of slowing down. Less than two weeks before his wife announced her candidacy, Bill Clinton was paid $765,000 over a two-day period for three speeches:

     Although the audiences for the Clintons vary widely, the actual content and duration of the speeches is not always revealed. However, a YouTube video of Bill Clinton's recent speech to the American Institute of Architects, apparently recorded by an attendee, shows that the $250,000 fee paid to Mr. Clinton purchased the group a 23 minute speech, an hourly rate of about $652,000.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

An Interview With Hillary Clinton

     Since Hillary Clinton officially announced her second run for the White House, the press has only managed to elicit thirteen answers from the Democratic frontrunner. As a handy reference, I set up a Twitter account called Hillary Answers with each of her thirteen answers in a tweet. But as long as Mrs. Clinton is avoiding talking to the press, I figured why not use this resource to conduct an interview in absentia?
     What follows is how an interview might go if Mrs. Clinton agreed to sit down with Speak With Authority:

Speak With Authority: Madame Secretary, thanks for providing some answers for this faux interview even though you're not really here. I think it's a wonderful idea.

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: Let's start off with the Clinton Foundation. Lots of controversy about foreign donations, influence, and speeches by you and your husband involving companies and foreign governments that also lobbied the State Department when you were Secretary of State. Isn't there at least an appearance of impropriety?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: But it's not just your opponents that have raised these questions. Even some Democrats are concerned about the apparent conflicts of interest.

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: What is it then that you are going to make this campaign about? Have you got a plan?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: But your website still doesn't have an "issues" page. When will you spell out what is important to you and what you plan to do as president?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: Well, how about foreign policy? Do you have any regrets about the "Russian Reset" or policies regarding Libya, Iran, or the Middle East in general?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: That sounds familiar... where have I heard that before?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: Do you feel that the fact that you and your husband made $30 million since the beginning of 2014 helps or hurts your ability to connect with the average voter?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: So you believe the financial success of you and your husband demonstrates that "you can get ahead and you can stay ahead"?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: There are some who say your "Scooby van" trip to Iowa was just a glorified sight-seeing trip that lacked substance and allowed you to avoid hard-hitting interviews like this one. Is that true?

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: That's all the time we have for now, mostly because I'm having trouble coming up with questions that fit one of your answers. But I trust this interview was not too uncomfortable and we'll be sitting down in person with you very soon.

Secretary Clinton:

Speak With Authority: When do you think that in-person interview might be?

 Secretary Clinton:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Confirmed by ABC News: George Stephanopoulos Was Clinton Global Initiative Member in 2010, 2011

    John Sexton of Breitbart News did some more digging and uncovered additional details about George Stephanopoulos's involvement with the Clinton Foundation's Clinton Global Initiative that I first reported Friday. Sexton was also able to get a response from ABC News:
George Stephanopoulos’ connections to the Clinton Foundation may be more substantial than he has so far admitted. 
An archived page of the Clinton Global Initiative website lists George Stephanopoulos as a “notable member” for the years 2010 and 2011. ABC News has confirmed Mr. Stephanopoulos was a member during both years.
    Read his entire story here.

Note: Mediaite also ran a piece on Stephanopoulos and CGI based on my original story.

George Stephanopoulos Was a Member of the Clinton Global Initiative [Updated]

UPDATE: See new post including new information via John Sexton of Breitbart News.

     George Stephanopoulos, under fire for not clearly disclosing donations of $75,000 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation (via Andrew Stiles of the Washington Free Beacon), was at some point a member of the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI), an arm of the Clinton Foundation. The foundation's website lists Stephanopoulos along with other "notable past members" of CGI, among them Tom Brokaw, Anderson Cooper, and Greta Van Susteren, Rupert Murdock, and T. Boone Pickens:

     According to the foundation, the "CGI membership fee is $20,000 per calendar year, $19,000 of which is tax deductable [sic]." (Some complimentary memberships are available for "nongovernmental and nonprofit organizations.") Stephanopoulos has acknowledged (via CNN) giving $75,000 to the Clinton Foundation between 2012 and 2014; the Foundation's website reports Stephanopoulos as giving between $50,001 and $100,000. After an initial response, the communications office of the Clinton Foundation did not answer emailed questions regarding the duration or timing of Stephanopoulos's membership, if his membership was a paid membership, or if the tax-deductible membership fees count toward donation totals.
     Membership benefits include annual meeting attendance and various networking opportunities. At one time, membership included access to a members-only website that has "a member directory, a messaging system, and commitment information," but it's not clear if that website still exists.
     George Stephanopoulos's relationship with the Clinton Foundation goes back at least nine years. He acted as moderator of a panel discussion that included former President Jimmy Carter at CGI's annual meeting in 2006 (where he was referred to on the Foundation's blog as "the smart and funny George Stephanopoulos"). As recently as 2014 he served on a panel of judges along with Chelsea Clinton at "Up to Us, a nationwide campus competition sponsored by the Peter G. Peterson Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative University and Net Impact", which seeks to engage students in "America’s long-term fiscal and economic challenges." Stephanopoulos also participated in the CGI annual meeting in 2007 and 2009.
     ABC News did not return an email seeking answers about what years Stephanopoulos was a member of CGI, if he paid the membership fee, and, if so, was the membership fee in addition to the $75,000 of donations he has acknowledged.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Clinton Campaign: Hillary Didn't Have "A Lot of the Usual Resources" of Other Candidates

     As the 2016 Hillary Clinton campaign closed the books on its first month of operations, campaign manager Robby Mook emailed supporters with a rather remarkable claim: Hillary Clinton "didn't have a lot of the usual resources that other candidates might have" to launch a campaign. Tellingly, Mook provided only two examples to back up his assertion: "No big email list" and not even a Facebook page (!) in place until 30 days ago. Here's how the email begins:
Friend -- 
In the last month, we've gone from zero to 100. 
I mean that (almost) literally: When we launched this campaign, we didn't have a lot of the usual resources that other candidates might have. No big email list or anything like that -- up until 30 days ago, Hillary didn't even have a Facebook page!
     However, there are a few "resources" that Mook has overlooked:

  • A Twitter account with well over three million followers even before Mrs. Clinton announced her campaign. (In contrast, Sen. Bernie Sanders has 317,000 followers, Martin O'Malley has 67,000).
  • A previous presidential campaign in 2008 under her belt with all the contacts, experience, and networks that go with it.
  • Despite Mook's statement that the Clinton campaign has "no big email list", Time reported in January 2014 that the super-PAC "Ready for Hillary" had rented Hillary Clinton's 2008 campaign email list, after which the PAC reported its "biggest online fundraising day in @ReadyForHillary history!"
  • During the two years before her announcement, the Ready for Hillary super-PAC pushed Mrs. Clinton to enter the race. According to the PAC's website, they acquired "over 4 million identified supporters and more than 135,000 donors, who have made over 215,000 separate contributions. We have raised over $15 million and received more than 55,000 contributions of the symbolic $20.16. Ready for Hillary has held over 1,300 events in all 50 states, Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, and with Democrats Abroad in 5 different countries. This movement has also received the backing of hundreds of elected officials all across the country." (The PAC, of course, cannot coordinate with Mrs. Clinton's actual campaign organization now that she has declared.)
  • A stint as Secretary of State, arguably the highest profile position in the federal government after the president, from 2009-2013.
  • Her time as a high-profile senator from New York from 2000-2009.
  • Mrs. Clinton was First Lady from 1992-2000.
  • Mrs. Clinton's husband served as President of the United States from 1992-2000.
  • Bill Clinton, according to the Washington Post, gave 542 speeches all over the world, earning $104.9 million in just the first twelve years after leaving office, potentially opening a vast network of donors and contacts for his wife.
  • Mrs. Clinton herself made millions of dollars on dozens of speeches herself after leaving her position as secretary of state, per a Politico report, again providing tremendous publicity and contacts.
  • A globally recognized charitable foundation, the Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation, bears her name, and apparently the foundation has no plans to drop "Hillary" from the name.
  • The New York Times reported in April that the Clinton campaign may spend up to $2.5 billion on the 2016 campaign.
    All things considered, Mrs. Clinton may actually have more resources at her disposal than any candidate for president in U.S. history, Mook's assessment notwithstanding. It remains to be seen if that will be enough to win her the Democratic nomination that eluded her in 2008 and beyond that, the White House itself.

    Here's the entire text of the email from campaign manager Robby Mook:

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Obama Foundation's Not-Ready-for-Prime-TIme Website... Now With Bacon Pancakes! [Updated]

    Tuesday, the Barack Obama Foundation announced the Barack Obama Presidential Center and Library will be located in Chicago, but it will likely be several years before the public gets its first look. However, for a limited time, the public can get a look at the foundation's not-ready-for-prime-time website. The site has blog entries back as far as January 2014, but as foundation activity increases as the president's tenure draws to a close, the website is ramping up. The foundation wants to be ready for whatever gets thrown at it, including the kitchen sink. Literally.

The page is filled with website samples, including... "text that people will think is awesome!"

    There's even a sample video. Ten minutes about makin' bacon pancakes.

     There's also some good news for parents:

     And science fiction fans are not forgotten:

     Presumably the website designers are not aware they have neglected to draw the blinds. I have emailed the foundation for comment. Updates as events warrant.

UPDATE: The site is fixed already, first thing this morning. Still waiting for my "thank you" email.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Kerry: Under Deal, 'Guarantee' Iran 'Won’t Possibly Be Able to Advance' Nuke Program

     In an editorial for the new issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Bill Kristol notes the "ludicrous" "guarantee" Secretary of State John Kerry made last week regarding Iran's so-called breakout capacity towards nuclear weapons. Kerry told Israelis:
I say to every Israeli that today we have the ability to stop [the Iranians] if they decided to move quickly to a bomb and I absolutely guarantee that in the future we will have the ability to know what they are doing so that we can still stop them if they decided to move to a bomb.
     This is not the first time Kerry has used the word "guarantee" in reference to the Iran nuclear deal. A month ago, in an interview with PBS's Judy Woodruff, Kerry responded as follows when Woodruff asked if this deal was more about delaying Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons than about denying those weapons altogether:
SECRETARY KERRY: Absolutely not. Not in the least. No, it is not just about that. It’s about denying them a nuclear weapon. And the reason I can say that with confidence is that we will have a sufficient level of transparency, of inspections, of accountability, of tracing of uranium, of following the production of their centrifuges, of knowing what is happening in their program, that if they began to increase their enrichment in order to be able to move to create a nuclear weapon, we would know immediately and be able to take actions.

So I don’t agree with that assessment. This is a guarantee that for the next 15 to 20 years they won’t possibly be able to advance that program. And then when they become a more legitimate member of the nonproliferation community and subject to lifetime inspections and investigation, we will have accountability.
      As Kristol points out in his editorial, absolute guarantees when it comes to Iran's nuclear progress are wishful thinking at best. And even though the deal purportedly binds Iran for 10 years, Kerry sanguinely extends his "guarantee" to "15 to 20 years."
     In any case, as with all guarantees, it's the fine print that matters. And with the extent of Congress's oversight of the proposed deal still in doubt, it remains to be seen whether or not anyone will read that fine print before a final deal with Iran is signed.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Hillary Clinton Fundraises Off Mother's Day

   Hillary Clinton wants you to wish her a Happy Mother's Day... and maybe send a few dollars her way, as well. Often, organizations that support politicians or candidates (such as the Democrat or Republican National Committees) will solicit such greetings for holidays and special occasions. But in this case, Hillary Clinton's own campaign isn't leaving it to chance. 
     Potential well-wishers are asked to enter their names, email addresses, and zip codes (not optional):

     Once the contact information is submitted, well-wishers are invited to become donors as well:

     Card signers also receive an immediate email asking for a donation. The email doesn't indicate if it's a one-time contact or if card signers are added [*see update below] to a regular mailing list.

     Flowers are apparently optional.

*UPDATE: On Mother's Day, another fundraising email was received at the address used to sign Mrs. Clinton's Mother's Day card.

Note: A version of this post, before the update, first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Weekly Standard Magazine: Foster Care and Religious Freedom

     My debut article for The Weekly Standard appears in the May 11, 2015 issue. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends the "first guide to best practices for working with transgender youth", a publication put out by New York City's child services department, and the overwhelming message is affirmation.
    I believe a key point in the article is this:
Pregnancy, having a child, disability, and citizenship are all objectively verifiable conditions; gender identity is not. The guidelines state that a child who experiences “gender fluidity” and changes gender identity is to be affirmed, but they are silent as to what other expressions of identity must be affirmed and which may be regulated by the adults in the children’s lives.
    Read the whole article here.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Federal Workplace Safety Agency Takes On Transgender Restroom Access

     The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) isn't just about hard hats and safer machinery anymore. The federal government agency charged with regulating workplace conditions has formed an "alliance" with a "national social justice advocacy organization for transgender people" primarily to promote gender-appropriate restroom access. The agreement, signed on April 27, is part of a larger OSHA program to partner with groups "committed to worker safety and health to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries, and illnesses."
     This particular alliance provides for the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE) to "[r]eview, promote and disseminate the OSHA-developed bulletin of recommended best practices for restroom access for transgender workers." In return, the NCTE will disseminate general OSHA information on a quarterly basis via its website or other method as well as provide OSHA representatives opportunities to speak at NCTE events.
     The press release announcing the agreement notes:
A report released by NCTE and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force found that 55 percent of transgender people surveyed lost a job due to bias. Twenty-two percent of workers in the National Transgender Discrimination Survey reported that they were denied access to gender-appropriate restrooms on the job.
     OSHA describes the Alliance program as follows:
Through its Alliance Program, OSHA works with unions, consulates, trade and professional organizations, faith- and community-based organizations, businesses and educational institutions to prevent workplace fatalities, injuries and illnesses. The purpose of each alliance is to develop compliance assistance tools and resources, and to educate workers and employers about their rights and responsibilities. Alliance Program participants do not receive exemptions from OSHA inspections or any other enforcement benefits.
     OSHA's agreement with the National Center for Transgender Equality will last for two years.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

State Dept. Spending $500K on a Cricket League in Afghanistan

     Most American wouldn't know a donkey drop from a paddle scoop, but nevertheless, half a million taxpayer dollars will be going to support a cricket league in Afghanistan. The current grant opportunity looks to  build on what was considered a successful 2014 program. The plan is for at least five regional cricket teams from throughout Afghanistan to compete in what is called the Sixers tournament in the fall of 2015.
     The recently announced $500,000 grant by the State Department goes beyond simply organizing teams for a league. The State Department wishes the grant awardee to "organize, produce and TV broadcast the Sixers tournament", train Afghans in sports broadcasting, "develop positive messaging"
to promote the games, and evaluate the program's impact.

     According to the Afghan Cricket Board, British soldiers played cricket in Afghanistan as early as 1839, but not until the 1970s did interest in the sport begin to pick up among the native population. Afghanistan's national cricket team has even had some success in recently completed 2015 Cricket World Cup tournament, beating Scotland in a surprise victory.
     The State Department says that this Sixers tournament is "essential to the further development of the cricket sector in Afghanistan" and even credits the country's participation in the World Cup for helping to unify the embattled nation:
Afghanistan’s 2015 World Cup participation unified the country and showed that Afghans can overcome the ethnic and regional barriers that fuel much of the country’s strife. In the last year the Men’s National team received glowing coverage in the international media, describing cricket as “an expression of hopes of national unity, national recognition, national achievement, and at the bottom of it all, peace.”
    Cricket is often thought of as a British sport, but the game is popular throughout many other parts of the world. The International Cricket Council (headquartered in Dubai) lists Africa, Asia, Pacific East-Asia, the Americas and Europe as the regions covered by the council.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Taxpayers Foot $49K Bill for Air Conditioning, 'Staging' for Obama's Town Hall in Jamaica

     When President Obama visited Jamaica in early April, he held a town hall meeting with "Young Leaders of the Americas" at University of the West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica. The president made remarks and took questions for only about 75 minutes in the Assembly Hall building on the Mona campus of the university, but the State Department issued four contracts totaling almost $50,000 for "staging" and the installation of generators and air conditioners.
    The initial "staging" contract was $39,935 with a followup change order for $3,675. The exact nature of the work is not spelled out, and the contractor is simply listed as "Miscellaneous Foreign Awardees." Photos of the event appear to show a low stage with several rows of seating on risers for selected representatives of the Young Leaders of the Americas and a row of flags from the nations represented at the meeting. Behind the stage, a high white wall was emblazoned with an official seal and draped with red, blue and gold bunting.
     There were also two contracts for the generators and air conditioners, one for $4,060 and another for $1,264. Temperatures in Kingston were in the 80s on the day of the president's visit. It is unclear if the building, Assembly Hall, is usually air conditioned. The university's website says the hall is the "main ceremonial venue" for the school, and is offered for rent on weekdays to outside groups for $50,000 and on weekends for $70,000. The website cooltechnologies.org says that the Mona campus underwent a "conversion of nearly 4,000 window, mini-split and central air conditioning units" to more efficient "hydrocarbon units" for "significant cost benefits", but does not specifically mention the Assembly Hall building.
     Just two days before his appearance in Jamaica, President Obama conducted a roundtable at the White House on the health effects of climate change and noted that certain health conditions are exacerbated by hotter temperatures, and this is a problem "particularly among the poor and minority populations who don’t always have easy access to air conditioning."
    There's no indication if the air conditioning installed for the town hall at the university was a temporary or permanent addition to the building at the university. The university did not respond to a request for further information.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.

Biden: 'Dream of Every Irish-Catholic Father is for His Daughter to Marry a Jewish Surgeon.'

     Although neither the White House nor the State Department released statements or posted greetings on the 67th Independence Day of the nation of Israel last Thursday, Vice President Joe Biden did attend the annual Israeli Independence Day Celebration at the Andrew W. Mellon Auditorium in Washington and delivered remarks. The speech was vintage Joe Biden, beginning with his opening line:
Ron, Mr. Ambassador, my name is Joe Biden, and everybody knows I love Israel. 
     He then plunged into a recounting of his own family's blend of Catholicism and Judaism, telling the crowd that "the dream of every Irish-Catholic father is for his daughter to marry a Jewish surgeon."
I was thinking as Ron was saying that he doesn't know what it’s like in Catholic families -- whether we argue as much as allegedly occurs in Jewish families.  Well, I settled all that.  Two of my three children married Jews.  (Laughter.)  And you want to see what happens then.  (Laughter.)  
As a matter of fact, my daughter -- I -- the dream of every Irish-Catholic father is for his daughter to marry a Jewish surgeon.  (Laughter.)  And she did.
     As the vice president turned to the subject at hand, Israel's Independence Day, he immediately landed in gaffe territory, misstating the country's age by a decade:
Look, the fact of the matter is that 77 years [sic] ago, at midnight on May 14, 1948, against all odds, in the wake of searing tragedy, defiant in the face of overwhelming military numbers massed on its borders, the modern State of Israel was born. 
     Biden then likened the relationship between the United States and Israel to family, alluding to the recent disagreements between Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Obama administration:
[W]e’re like family.  We have a lot to say to one another.  Sometimes we drive each other crazy.  But we love each other.  And we protect each other.   
      The vice president spent much of his speech recounting the Obama administration's support of Israel ("No president has ever done more to support Israel’s security than President Barack Obama") and detailing why the current negotiations with Iran and the pending deal over nuclear development is in Israel's and the world's best interests ("[I]f the final deal on the table that doesn’t meet the President’s requirements, we simply will not sign it.")
     Biden drew his remarks to a close by retelling the story, which he acknowledged he often repeats, of his meeting with the legendary Israeli prime minister Golda Meir:
I’ll conclude -- and my friends kid me and I imagine Ron may, as well -- telling you the story about my meeting with Golda Meir.  The reason I do it had a profound impact on me, one of the most consequential meetings I’ve ever had in my life.  I think I’ve met every major world leader in the last 36 or 37 years in the world, in a literal sense. 
But I remember meeting for close to an hour with her.  She went through what happened in the Six-Day War, and the price that was paid.  And I just had come from Egypt.  They let me go to Egypt and go to the Suez Canal.  And I was saying to she and Rabin that I thought that they were getting ready to attack again.  And everyone including my military and Israeli military thought I was crazy. 
I remember driving from Cairo all the way to out to the Suez.  And you could see these great plumes of dust and sand.  But none it seemed isolated.  It turns out it was maneuvers taking place in the desert.  And I was really worried.  And we went through, and she painted a bleak, bleak picture -- scared the hell out of me, quite frankly, about the odds.  
And all of a sudden she looked at and she said, would you like a photograph?  And I said, yes, ma’am.  And those double-blind doors opened up into that hallway -- not hallway.  It looks like -- it’s a foyer.  And we walked out, and the press was standing there.  We didn't say anything.  We just stood side by side.  And she must have thought I looked worried.  And it’s an absolutely true story.  She didn't look at me, she spoke to me.  She said, Senator, you look so worried.  I said, well, my God, Madam Prime Minister, and I turned to look at her.  I said, the picture you paint.  She said, oh, don't worry.  We have -- I thought she only said this to me.  She said, we have a secret weapon in our conflict with the Arabs.  You see, we have no place else to [go].
     Biden's full remarks can be found on C-SPAN here.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard under the headline, "Joe Biden Misstates Israel's Age in Independence Day Remarks".

Clinton Foundation Retains 'Hillary' in Official Name

     Shortly after Hillary Clinton announced her candidacy for president, the Clinton Foundation announced: "In light of Secretary Clinton’s decision to run for President, Secretary Clinton has stepped down from the Clinton Foundation board[.]" While Mrs. Clinton was removed from the board (she no longer appears on the website page listing directors), the foundation has not given any indication that her name will be removed from the official name of the foundation, the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
     When President Clinton started the foundation after leaving the White House, it was initially called the William J. Clinton Foundation. However, according to the foundation, the name was changed in 2013 to the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation after Mrs. Clinton's tenure as secretary of state, in part to "acknowledge [her] role in shaping the Foundation":
In 2013, to recognize the contributions of Secretary Clinton and Chelsea to the Foundation and to acknowledge their role in shaping the Foundation, the Foundation was renamed the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation.
     Now that Mrs. Clinton is a presidential candidate, it remains unclear if the retention of "Hillary" in the foundation's name indicates that Mrs. Clinton will continue to make "contributions" to the foundation and have a "role in shaping" its work. The full name, the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation, is still recorded as the official name, appearing in the answer to the first "frequently asked question" provided on the website [emphasis added]:
     While Mrs. Clinton has been removed from the board of directors, it appears from the way the website of the foundation is structured that she is expected to return in the future. Rather than simply delete the page (archived here) that provided Mrs. Clinton's biographical information, the site blocked access; an attempt to access the current page is met with "Access denied":

     A search of the IRS's database of charities indicates the foundation's name is currently still the Bill, Hillary & Chelsea Clinton Foundation. The foundation has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the status of the organization's name.

Note: A version of this post first appeared at The Weekly Standard.