Privatized Debtor Jail, Voting Fraud, Lost Freedom -- And Happy Fourth!

In advance of the Fourth of July holiday, we'll excerpt today powerful columns about lost freedoms in the country.

First is the story of a woman jailed for more than 40 days in Alabama by a private probation company for failure to pay a $179 speeding ticket, whose costs (including for her jailing) are now more than $3,000, which much of it owed to the private probation company. FireDoglake columnist David Dayen describes in Probation as a Revenue Scheme for Cash-Strapped States how privatization now sweeping through the nation's justice system, especially in red states, is fundamentally incompatible with government's unique power to convict and imprison.

Dianne FeinsteinNext, Kevin Drum at Mother Jones surveys federal and state efforts to increase restrictions on voting to combat fraud. In The Dog That Voted and Other Election Fraud Yarns, he finds remarkably few instances of actual voting fraud congruent with the crackdown. "That's not to say that there's none at all," he writes. "In a country of 300 million you'll find a bit of almost anything. But multiple studies taking different approaches have all come to the same conclusion: The rate of voter fraud in American elections is close to zero." Further, he says:

In her 2010 book, The Myth of Voter Fraud, Lorraine Minnite tracked down every single case brought by the Justice Department between 1996 and 2005 and found that the number of defendants had increased by roughly 1,000 percent under Ashcroft. But that only represents an increase from about six defendants per year to 60, and only a fraction of those were ever convicted of anything. A New York Times investigation in 2007 concluded that only 86 people had been convicted of voter fraud during the previous five years. Many of those appear to have simply made mistakes on registration forms or misunderstood eligibility rules, and more than 30 of the rest were penny-ante vote-buying schemes in local races for judge or sheriff. The investigation found virtually no evidence of any organized efforts to skew elections at the federal level.

Finally, Glenn Greenwald at Salon argues that U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat at right, has provided the groundwork for a major law enforcement effort curtailing independent reporting. In Dianne Feinstein targets press freedom, he analyzes her call for the prosecution of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assage and says: "there is no sense in which Feinstein’s denunciation applies to WikiLeaks but not to The New York Times (and, for that matter, senior Obama officials)."

Greenwald continues:

Indeed, unlike WikiLeaks, which has never done so, the New York Times has repeatedly published Top Secret information. That’s why the prosecution that Feinstein demands for WikiLeaks would be the gravest threat to press freedom and basic transparency in decades. Feinstein’s decades-long record in the Senate strongly suggest that she would perceive these severe threats to press freedom as a benefit rather than drawback to her prosecution designs.

So many battles...

But it's good to remember that July Fourth fireworks are supposed to remind us all of the historic -- and never-ending -- fight for freedom.

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment



Related News Coverage


Reuters via Huffington Post, Rick Scott Plans To Resume Voter Purge Effort In Florida, Aug. 5, 2013. Florida Governor Rick Scott is planning a new effort to purge non-U.S. citizens from the state's voter rolls, a move that last year prompted a series of legal challenges and claims from critics his administration was trying to intimidate minority voters. Voter protection groups identified a number of errors in the state's attempt to identify people who are not American citizens on Florida's voter lists months ahead of the U.S. presidential election in November 2012. The search also sparked several lawsuits, including one by the U.S. Justice Department, which claimed the effort violated federal law since it was conducted less than 90 days before the election. "We were recently informed that the State plans to continue their efforts to remove non-citizens from Florida's voter rolls," Miami-Dade Elections Supervisor Penelope Townsley said in a statement.

FireDogLake, Probation as a Revenue Scheme for Cash-Strapped States, David Dayen, July 3, 2012.  If you liked for-profit prisons pushing tougher sentencing and leading to a sharp increase in the warehousing of US citizens, then you’ll love for-profit probation: Three years ago, Gina Ray, who is now 31 and unemployed, was fined $179 for speeding. She failed to show up at court (she says the ticket bore the wrong date), so her license was revoked.  When she was next pulled over, she was, of course, driving without a license. By then her fees added up to more than $1,500. Unable to pay, she was handed over to a private probation company and jailed — charged an additional fee for each day behind bars.  For that driving offense, Ms. Ray has been locked up three times for a total of 40 days and owes $3,170, much of it to the probation company. Her story, in hardscrabble, rural Alabama, where Krispy Kreme promises that “two can dine for $5.99,” is not about innocence.   It is, rather, about the mushrooming of fines and fees levied by money-starved towns across the country and the for-profit businesses that administer the system. The result is that growing numbers of poor people, like Ms. Ray, are ending up jailed and in debt for minor infractions.

Mother Jones, The Dog That Voted and Other Election Fraud Yarns: The GOP's 10-year campaign to gin up voter fraud hysteria—and bring back Jim Crow at the ballot box, Kevin Drum, July / August, 2012. What's the problem with cracking down on voter fraud? And why shouldn't voters be required to show photo ID? If you need ID to cash a check or buy a six-pack, why not to vote? The answer—surprising to many—is straightforward: Not everyone has, or can easily get, a photo ID. Among blacks, the young, and the poor—all of whom vote for Democrats at high rates—the rate was about 80 percent. Overall, 91 percent of registered Republicans had some form of photo ID, compared to only 83 percent of registered Democrats. Still, Republicans argue, anyone can obtain a photo ID with a modest amount of effort if they really want to vote. And isn't this small amount of inconvenience worth it in order to crack down on fraud? Sure—but first there needs to be some actual fraud to crack down on. And that turns out to be remarkably elusive. That's not to say that there's none at all. In a country of 300 million you'll find a bit of almost anything.


Legal Schnauzer, How Much Sleaze Will Be Unearthed In Investigation of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce? Roger Shuler, July 2, 2012. The U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold most of the Obama health-care law was by far the most-watched story of last week. But a story that might prove to be more important in the long run quietly unfolded in Albany, New York.  It could wind up shining light on organizations and individuals who have befouled the political environment here in Alabama. Eric T. Schneiderman, the attorney general of New York, launched an investigation of tax-exempt groups that are heavily involved in political campaigns. A case involving the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and its high-profile director Tom Donohue, is a focal point of the probe. It might also examine groups led by the billionaire Koch brothers and Republican strategist Karl Rove.

Salon, Dianne Feinstein targets press freedom, Glenn Greenwald, July 2, 2012. The California Democrat, long a prime defender of the Surveillance State, renews her assault on the First Amendment. The supreme Senate defender of state secrecy and the Surveillance State, California Democrat Dianne Feinstein, yesterday issued a statement to Australia’s largest newspaper, The Sydney Morning Herald, demanding (once again) the prosecution of WikiLeaks and Julian Assange. To see how hostile Feinstein is to basic press freedoms, permit me to change “Assange” each time it appears in her statement to the "New York Times":

The head of the US Senate’s powerful intelligence oversight committee has renewed calls for [The New York Times] to be prosecuted for espionage. . . .I believe [The New York Times] has knowingly obtained and disseminated classified information which could cause injury to the United States,” the chairwoman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Dianne Feinstein, said in a written statement provided to the Herald. ”[It] has caused serious harm to US national security, and should be prosecuted accordingly."

As [Electronic Frontier Foundation's] Trevor Timm noted, there is no sense in which Feinstein’s denunciation applies to WikiLeaks but not to the New York Times (and, for that matter, senior Obama officials).



Huffington Post, White House Leaks: Whistleblower Jesselyn Radack Expresses Concern About Investigations (VIDEO), Jack Mirkinson, June 15, 2012. As the investigation into possible White House leaks gets underway, one notable whistleblower said on Thursday that she worries about the consequences of the controversy. The fallout from the appearance of high-level security details in a number of New York Times stories has quickly grown, with Attorney General Eric Holder opening a probe and with Republicans and conservative pundits hammering the White House for what they say are calculated leaks. (The White House has vehemently denied this.) On Thursday's "Democracy Now," Jesselyn Radack, who exposed flaws in the interrogation of the so-called "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh, spoke about the controversy. While she said that she thought the information had been leaked "for political gain," and that the Obama administration was guilty of "hypocrisy" for also waging an unprecedented war against whistleblowers, Raddack expressed concern about the investigations. "The answer is not to have even more leak investigations," she said. "The answer is to take a serious look at what the administration discloses, both good and bad, which should be out there for public debate."

Salon, Assange asks Ecuador for asylum, Glenn Greenwald, June 19, 2012. The WikiLeaks founder is motivated by one thing: a desire to avoid extradition to the U.S. Can anyone blame him? Julian Assange was scheduled within days to turn himself over to British authorities for extradition to Sweden, where he is wanted for questioning in connection with a sexual assault case in which he has never been charged. Instead, Assange earlier today went to the Embassy of Ecuador in London and sought asylum from that country under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Ecuadorian Foreign Minister, Ricardo Patino, issued a statement indicating that his government is “evaluating the request” and that Assange will remain under protection at the Embassy pending a decision. Ecuador may seem like a random choice but it’s actually quite rational. In 2010, a top official from that country offered Assange residency (though the Ecuadorian President backtracked after controversy ensued).

Supreme Court Update

CBS News, Roberts switched views to uphold health care law, Jan Crawford, July 1, 2012. Chief Justice John Roberts initially sided with the Supreme Court's four conservative justices to strike down the heart of President Obama's health care reform law, the Affordable Care Act, but later changed his position and formed an alliance with liberals to uphold the bulk of the law, according to two sources with specific knowledge of the deliberations.

Salon / Huffington Post, Roberts wrote both Obamacare opinions, Paul Campos, July 3, 2012. This weekend CBS News’ Jan Crawford reported that Chief Justice John Roberts switched his vote in regard to upholding the bulk of the Affordable Care Act. Crawford reports that Roberts voted with the rest of the court’s conservatives to strike down the individual mandate, but in the course of drafting his opinion changed his mind, and ended up siding with the court’s four liberals to uphold almost all of the law.  It’s notable that Crawford’s sources insist on the claim that the joint dissent was authored specifically in response to Roberts’ majority opinion, without any participation from him at any point in the drafting process that created it. It would, after all, be fairly preposterous for the four dissenters to jointly “author” an opinion that was in large part written originally by the author of the majority opinion to which the joint dissenters were now so flamboyantly objecting. Yet that, I am told by a source within the court with direct knowledge of the drafting process, is exactly what happened. My source insists that “most of the material in the first three quarters of the joint dissent was drafted in Chief Justice Roberts’ chambers in April and May.” Only the last portion of what eventually became the joint dissent was drafted without any participation by the chief justice. This source insists that the claim that the joint dissent was drafted from scratch in June is flatly untrue. Furthermore, the source characterizes claims by Crawford’s sources that “the fact that the joint dissent doesn’t mention [sic] Roberts’ majority …  was a signal the conservatives no longer wished to engage in debate with him” as “pure propagandistic spin,” meant to explain away the awkward fact that while the first 46 pages of the joint dissent never even mention Roberts’ opinion for the court (this is surely the first time in the court’s history that a dissent has gone on for 13,000 words before getting around to mentioning that it is, in fact, dissenting), the last 19 pages do so repeatedly.

SCOTUSBlog, Tuesday Round-Up, Nabiha Syed July 3, 2012. Coverage of and commentary on the Court continue to parse Thursday’s landmark ruling in the Affordable Care Act litigation. Much of the coverage and commentary focuses on the Chief Justice’s vote and reactions thereto.  At Politico, Jennifer Haberkorn and Darren Samuelsohn describe conservatives as “seeing red” after Sunday’s story by Jan Crawford of CBS News reporting that the Chief Justice switched his opinion to uphold the mandate. The Atlantic Wire and Reason also report on this “anger” and “fury,” while Noah Feldman at Bloomberg View, Laurence Tribe at PBS, Robert Barnes of The Washington Post, William McGurn of the Wall Street Journal, Ilya Shapiro of Cato@Liberty, Adam Liptak of The New York Times, and Mark Sherman of the Associated Press all discuss the Chief Justice’s vote.  And at Slate, Barry Friedman and Dahlia Lithwick dispute accusations that the Chief Justice acted politically, arguing that “on a nation’s high court, in which legal precedents rarely decide cases, what one calls law and what goes in the vernacular by politics often come together.”

Catching Our Attention on other Justice, Media & Integrity Issues

OpEd News, Trans Pacific Partnership: Corporate Escape From Accountability, Paul Craig Roberts, July 2, 2012. Information has been leaked about the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is being negotiated in secret by US Trade Representative Ron Kirk. Six hundred corporate "advisors" are in on the know, but not Congress or the media. Ron Wyden, chairman of the Senate trade subcommittee that has jurisdiction over the TPP, has not been permitted to see the text or to know the content. The TPP has been called a "one-percenter" power tool. The agreement essentially abolishes the accountability of foreign corporations to governments of countries with which they trade. Indeed, the agreement makes governments accountable to corporations for costs imposed by regulations, including health, safety and environmental regulations. The agreement gives corporations the right to make governments pay them for the cost of complying with the regulations of government. One wonders how long environmental, labor, and financial regulation can survive when the costs of compliance are imposed on the taxpayers of countries and not on the economic activity that results in spillover effects such as pollution.

Chicago Tribune, Tribune investigating ethics policy violation by content provider Journatic; Company that provides content for TribLocal used false bylines, Robert Channick, July 1, 2012.  A national radio report this weekend revealing that hyperlocal content provider Journatic used false bylines in several stories that ran in TribLocal online has prompted an investigation by the Chicago Tribune. Journatic, brought in to run part of the Tribune's community news operation, has acknowledged its mistake and said it would discontinue the practice.  "This American Life," which is produced by Chicago public radio station WBEZ-FM, included a 23-minute segment focusing on Journatic's use of low-paid Filipino freelancers to cull and format information for stories, some of which were published under aliases.  In interviews this weekend with the Tribune, Journatic co-founder and CEO Brian Timpone said altered bylines were commonly used for its real estate stories, a separate enterprise from its newspaper content service. Timpone said some of its newspaper clients, including TribLocal, had asked to republish those stories on their hyperlocal sites, which Journatic allowed. But the company neglected to remove the altered bylines.  "We've used aliases on Blockshopper stories, some of which were published in Tribune's websites," Timpone said. "It was an oversight on our part — we should have addressed that."  Timpone said Journatic has supplied more than 10,000 news stories to TribLocal, covering everything from village hall meetings to local police blotters. He said no false bylines have ever been used on those stories, and that although the reporters receiving credit might not all be locally based, all are accurately identified.  "They're all real people," Timpone said.