Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Free Bradley Manning

Wikileaks, Journalism, and Justice

Bradley Manning has been charged with transferring thousands of classified US documents to the whistleblower website Wikileaks. Since the alleged leak, he has been kept in inhumane conditions during his detention first in Kuwait and then in the marine base in Quantico, Virginia.

Under the user name BRADASS87 private Bradley Manning told fellow hacker Adrian Lamo  that he had access to documents that revealed, “incredible things, awful things, that belong in the public domain.” That is why he leaked state secrets to the press. Manning first tried to get the Washington Post to publish a classified video that showed US troops killing two Reuters journalists in Iraq. When they turned him down, he sent the video to Wikileaks, who published it. He later went on to release thousands of classified documents to Wikileaks. Wikileaks decided which documents it wanted to release and released them in batches over a period of several months.

Those documents proved to be a treasure-trove of information relating to a variety of critical issues. The leaks showed that the US government was drastically under-representing the number of civilians that died in the Iraq and Afghan wars, that the US military ignored hundreds of reports of torture of Iraqi prisoners at the hands of Iraqi police, that the US was spying on UN delegates, and that Pakistan’s intelligence agency supported the Afghan Taliban. In short, Wikileaks uncovered some of the most important stories of our time and revealed facts critical to understanding US foreign policy.

Bradley Manning was arrested in Iraq on May 26, 2010 and began his detention in Kuwait on May 29. Bradley Manning was transferred to the brig at the Quantico marine base in Virginia on July 29.

According to Manning’s lawyer David Coombs, Manning is held in solitary confinement in his cell at Quantico for 23 hours a day on weekdays. During his exercise hour he is taken to an empty room where he is allowed to walk. When it is time for Bradley to sleep he must strip down to his boxer shorts and surrender his clothing to the guards. His clothing is returned the next morning. On weekends and holidays Bradley is allowed 3 hours of contact with approved visitors.

Bradley Manning has to face this humiliating treatment despite the fact that he still awaits trial 11 months after he was first detained in Kuwait. Throughout this entire time he has spent the vast majority of his days in solitary confinement.

His treatment is even more infuriating when one considers that the legal questions involved in the case were settled long ago in the nearly identical Pentagon Papers Case. The Supreme Court decided that the government couldn’t keep The New York Times from publishing reports that revealed extensive lies by the US government on the war in Vietnam.  And the leaker, Daniel Ellsberg, was cleared of all charges by the federal judge William Byrne who said of the case, “The totality of the circumstances of this case which I have only briefly sketched offend a sense of justice.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

It is certainly understandable that the military doesn’t want its classified documents leaked to the press. But we should not hold a man indefinitely without trial in inhumane conditions. When the trial is held, Bradley Manning should be punished by a dishonorable discharge from the military and be sentenced to time served. These documents have proved irreplaceable in understanding the state of US foreign policy and have had no discernable impact on our national security.

In the meantime, Bradley Manning will be moved to Fort Leavenworth here in Kansas. Let’s hope that that brings at least a slight improvement in the conditions of his imprisonment.

Originally Posted April 19,2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Voter Fraud
Exaggerations and Consequences

Kris Kobach has had a lot to say about voter fraud. He made voter fraud and what to do about it the central issue of his successful campaign to be elected Kansas Secretary of State, the person responsible for running elections in Kansas. On his campaign website he stated that he believes, “Voter fraud is a very real problem in Kansas.” He further elaborated that, “organizations that promote voter fraud have burrowed into every corner of our country” and that “the threat is real and time is short.” During a campaign stop with his mentor former US Attorney General John Ashcroft Kobach proclaimed that he feels voter fraud is “the civil rights issue of our time.”

One can have no doubt then that Kris Kobach believes that voter fraud is rampant in Kansas and that Topeka must take bold and decisive action to combat it. That is why he proposed and helped pass HB 2067 which requires voters to show a photo ID in order to vote and provide proof of citizenship through a passport, birth certificate or other specific legal document in order to register to vote.

This has rightly raised concerns from democrats and from various advocates for minority groups including the NAACP, the National Organization for Women, and the Kansas Equality Coalition who fear that these requirements will suppress voter turnout among groups least likely to own photo IDs: the elderly and the poor. It would also make voter registration drives all but impossible.

So the question arises: Is voter fraud so prevalent that it is worth combating in a way that risks disenfranchising voters? Or to put it more simply, does Kansas have extensive voter fraud?

During an election news conference in October Kobach though he had found definitive proof that the answer was yes. He mentioned a list compiled by KSHB-TV, a local TV news-station and the advocacy website Kansas Watchdog. The list showed that 1,966 people appeared on the social security death list as well as Kansas voter registration rolls. Kobach opined, “Every one of those 1,966 identities is an opportunity for voter fraud waiting to happen.” He then went on to highlight some follow-up work his team had done. They had found that Alfred Brewer was on the social security death list and that, “An Alfred K. Brewer voted in the 2010 primary election. Is it the same one? We are still trying to achieve confirmation of this but it certainly seems like a very real possibility.” Case closed, a documented case of someone fraudulently voting in someone else’s name! The next day a reporter for the Wichita Eagle found Alfred Brewer outside his Wichita home raking leaves. The Alfred Brewer who had died was his father. Brewer said of the incident, “I don’t think this is heaven, not when I’m raking leaves.” Brewer was the only case that Kobach highlighted of a dead man voting.

As for the previous Secretaries of State, Chris Biggs and Ron Thornburgh, both acknowledge that voter fraud really isn’t a major problem. And our Saline County Clerk Don Merriman agrees, “I think we’re chasing a problem that isn’t really there. I have been doing elections for 11 years, and been part of the process for more years, and we have had no problems. It is not running rampant in the state.”

The definitive work on voter fraud in Kansas was done by Ron Thornburgh, the Republican who served as the Kansas Secretary of State for 16 years. He compiled a report on voter fraud in 2008. The report details 30 reports of alleged voter fraud dating back to 1998, involving at least 120 ballots. The report also acknowledged that many of the reports came without reliable evidence. 13 reports alleged people voted in others’ names, but most involved family voting for other family or nursing homes voting for residents. These people broke the law, but did so mistakenly, not out of a grand conspiracy. 2 of the remaining reports alleged double voting, one of which resulted in a conviction.

In January Kobach released his own report in order to show the need for HB 2067. This investigation dated to 1997 and found 59 allegations of voter fraud involving at least 221 ballots. Why the discrepancy between the Thornburgh and Kobach reports?  Kobach’s study did cover a slightly larger period of time than Thornburgh. I also find it likely that Kobach included some clearly baseless allegations fraud as he did in the case of Alfred Brewer. Kobach also suggested that his report only captured 10% of the voter fraud that actually occurred, a number that he made up. Thus while Thornburgh stated in his study that 120 as the maximum number of fraudulent votes that could have been cast, Kobach suggests that the real extent of voter fraud is 10 times larger than 221 ballots. Amazing.

Kobach estimates that 2,210 fraudulent ballots were cast from 1997-2010, a wildly inflated number that no honest expert would agree is accurate. For the time being, let’s assume he is correct. What percentage of the votes for president and governor that were cast from 1997-2010 in the state of Kansas does Kris Kobach think were fraudulent? 




Kobach believes that 3% of 1% of the votes cast in the general elections for president and governor from 1997-2010 are fraudulent. (2,210/6,762,691 = 0.000327).   The number of votes cast for Governor and President in the state of Kansas from 1997-2010 came from a group of documents at the Secretary of State website. If I had included primary and local elections, the number would have been even smaller. 

Based on this fact, it’s hard not to come to the conclusion, as Chris Biggs and Ron Thornburgh did, that voter fraud is minimal and not a significant problem in Kansas.

Originally Posted April 18th, 2011

Monday, April 11, 2011

Associated Press Leaves out Important Context in Anticipation of President’s Deficit Reduction Plan

My local paper, the Salina Journal, had one national political story on its frontpage today, an Associated Press article about Obama’s soon to be released 2012 budget. The article, written by Laurie Kellman, had the headline

Obama deficit plan on the way

And the subtitle

President expected to target programs for seniors, poor

Cutting entitlements are among the most unpopular things a politician can do, so a presidential decision to address the issue of the growth of entitlement spending is incredibly newsworthy. But the word target brings to mind a hunter with a gun, as if Obama was going to kill or maim Medicare and Medicaid. Let’s see if the body of the article is any better.
The second paragraph reads:
Much will be revealed at midweek, when the House and Senate are expected to vote on a budget for the remainder of this fiscal year and Obama reveals his plan to reduce the deficit, in part by scaling back programs for seniors and the poor.
The fifth and sixth paragraph state:
Presidential adviser David Plouffe said Obama has long been committed to finding ways for the nation to spend within its means. He confirmed that the president would unveil more specifics for deficit reduction with a speech Wednesday that would reveal plans to reduce the government’s chief health programs for seniors and the poor. “You’re going to have to look at Medicare and Medicaid and see what kind of savings you can get,” Plouffe said Sunday.
The rest of the 13 paragraph article focused primarily on the 11th hour deal that was reached Friday night that averted a government shutdown.
Nowhere in the article does Kellman mention the other ways that the Obama has tried to reduce the deficit. Plouffe, the Obama advisor mentioned in the Associated Press article, affirmed on NBC’s Meet the Press the Obama’s administration’s belief that letting the bush tax cuts expire for the top 2 percent of income earners is an important part of deficit reduction.

Plouffe stated on CNN’s State of the Union that defense spending cuts need to be on the table as well. On top of that the Obama administration has already frozen the pay of federal public sector workers. The Obama administration really does adopt an all of the above approach to deficit reduction, to the dismay of liberals and conservatives alike. But the impression that the reader comes away with from the Associated Press article is that Obama only plans to reduce the deficit by cutting aid to seniors and the poor.
The article also ignores how Obama’s deficit reduction plan compares to the plan republicans have already released. The Republican plan eliminates Medicare as we know it for those under 55 and replaces it with a voucher system that saves money by passing the burden of rising medical costs onto seniors. It also turns federal Medicaid spending into a block grant to the states, transferring more of the cost of Medicaid to the states, which are already dealing with record deficits of their own. There is no way that Obama’s plan would cut these programs as deeply as the republican plan does. The republican plan would also dramatically reduce taxes on corporations and high income earners. The Associated Press doesn’t show how the likely administration proposal would compare to the drastic cuts in Medicare and Medicaid Republicans have already proposed.
Thus the Associated Press gave readers across the country an inexcusably incomplete description of Obama’s deficit reduction plans and gives no reference to how his likely proposals on entitlements compare to those republicans have already submitted. The Associated Press has written many good articles, especially on world news, but let’s hope their future coverage of the budget debate provides its readers with more context than it did today.

Originally Posted April 11. 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Dedication and Detail:
The Rachel Maddow Show

I am a regular listener of The Rachel Maddow Show. Many of the stories they have been covering recently illustrate my favorite aspects of Rachel's research and commentary style. Rachel and her staff have dug deep into the most important stories of our time to find the important details that were not known before. Rachel then connects these details in a seamless and sequential manner to build her larger position that illuminates these topics in a way no one else could.

TRMS showed their journalistic vigor by releasing the findings of an investigative report detailing how unsafe deepwater drilling in the Gulf of Mexico remains. That’s not something opinion shows often do. Most of the time spent on FOX and MSNBC during primetime is spent providing opinions on topics based on the research and facts that are uncovered by other groups. 

The report began by explaining the findings of an investigation by the Norwegian firm Det Norske Veritas that was commissioned by the Bureau of Ocean Management, Regulation, and Enforcement (formerly the MMS). The investigation found that the devise that is designed to prevent the next Oil Spill, the blowout preventer, doesn’t work when there is a blowout. Seriously!

The Rachel Maddow Show also obtained the oil spill response plan for the first new drilling permit that was granted since the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill.  That response plan was written one year before the BP oil spill, showing that it hadn’t applied any of the lessons learned from the disaster. Several more permits have been granted since.

TRMS also highlighted that Transocean, one of the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, gave its executives bonuses for their awesome safety record for the same year that the disaster occurred.

Rachel also did a great job showing that despite republicans repeatedly proclaiming their belief in limited government, the actions of republican governors have been incredibly intrusive on people’s personal lives. Rick Scott, the republican governor of Florida, issued an executive order mandating drug testing of public sector employees. Rick Synder, the republican governor of Michigan, signed into law the ability of the state to dissolve elected city governments if the state decides there is a fiscal emergency. She also brought up various cases where republican groups and politicians tried to obtain the private e-mails of college professors who had political opinions they disagree with.

Maddow’s coverage of Libya in many ways has resembled that of NBC Nightly News, with field reports from Richard Angle and this great discussion with Michael Issikoff on covert units being sent to Libya. Make no doubt about it, Maddow has aired her opinions on the US involvement in Libya, but it has been complimented with the best in depth coverage of the topic that NBC can provide.

It is for all of these reasons and more that Rachel Maddow has become the highest rated program on MSNBC and keeps me as a regular listener. Keep the good work coming Rachel!

Originally Posted April 3, 2011