Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Legitimacy of Elections and Voter ID Laws

As we approach the 2016 elections - after a Democratic Party primary season now thought to have here:
been - um - manipulated. See
On July 22, 2016 WikiLeaks released around 20,000 emails apparently from top DNC officials, illustrating that Democratic officials favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders. The email release, only days away from the Democratic Primary, shed light into potential election fraud (the DNC hasn’t confirmed the accuracy of the email release) and questions regarding how Clinton won the presumptive Democratic nomination.
Or here.

Of course, these allegations are mostly from frustrated Sander supporters who now feel the burn that their votes did not count because of various types of putative fraud.

A timely topic, even from a national security point of view, because one of the potential effects such fraud in the voting process may have on how people view the legitimacy of their government - if they decide it was not really elected at all, but imposed on them by powers beyond their control, they may not support it.

And this doesn't even begin to touch the conspiracy theories that hold the recent Wikileaks revelations were some sort of Russian plot to favor Mr. Trump over Hilary - see Hillary Clinton campaign blames leaked DNC emails about Sanders on Russia, a theory which seems to suggest, as some would have it, that the real corruption was the revealing of the corruption and not the primary corruption itself, if you follow me.

Well, now, there comes before us the challenges to voter identification laws - as now represented by the 20 July 2016 Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals case Veasey v. Abbott specifically Texas Senate Bill 14:
In 2011, Texas (“the State”) passed Senate Bill 14 (“SB 14”), which requires individuals to present one of several forms of photo identification in order to vote.
Plaintiffs claim that SB 14’s photo identification requirements violate the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act because SB 14 was enacted with a racially discriminatory purpose and has a racially discriminatory effect.
Plaintiffs also claim that SB 14’s photo ID requirement places a substantial burden on the fundamental right to vote under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, and constitutes a poll tax under the Fourteenth and Twenty-Fourth Amendments. The State defends SB 14 as a constitutional requirement imposed to prevent in-person voter fraud and increase voter confidence and turnout.
The State’s stated purpose in passing SB 14 centered on protection of the sanctity of voting, avoiding voter fraud, and promoting public confidence in the voting process. No one questions the legitimacy of these concerns as motives. The disagreement centers on whether SB 14 was passed with impermissible motives as well.
Impermissible motives apparently including discrimination against protected classes by denying the right to vote to people for whom the burden of providing one of the various permitted forms of voter ID is too heavy and would exclude "disfavored" groups of people from participating in the election process.

There's much better analysis of the current state of voter ID laws in Richard A. Epstein's Are Voter ID Laws Racist?
There are few things as controversial in American political life as voting rights. The issue surged to the fore this past week in Veasey v. Abbott when the Fifth Circuit, by a 9-6 vote, delayed the enforcement of Texas Law SB 14. This law limited the forms of photo identification that could be used when registering to vote to state driver’s licenses, U.S. passports, military photo IDs, concealed weapon permits, and U.S citizenship certificates with photographs. Although the law provided for some exceptions for poor and disabled persons, it has been attacked as the most restrictive voting rights law in the United States.
The issue of the constitutionality of photo IDs arose in 2008 in Crawford v. Marion County Election Board, where the Supreme Court, by a 6-3 vote, upheld an Indiana ID law that required voters to show either state or federal picture ID by denying that such a requirement unduly infringed on anyone’s right to vote. The Court only looked at the constitutional challenge and did not consider the 1982 Voting Rights Amendments, presumably because none of the parties thought it could support a claim. Instead, Justice Stevens wrote that the law was neutral on its face, and had a permissible justification of preventing voter fraud that could upset the results of individual elections and undermine public confidence in the electoral process.

One way to look at Crawford is that preventing voter fraud is important enough to justify the small burden on individual citizens of showing photo ID—a burden no greater than that faced for getting on an airplane. The record makes this view attractive. In Texas, the required IDs were held by over 95% of the population, but among the registered voters, “Hispanic and Black voters were respectively 195% and 305% more likely than their Anglo peers to lack SB 14 ID.” No one claimed this differential rate of registration was attributable to any form of state discrimination. Texas did not charge for the required ID, though there was evidence in the record that some individual plaintiffs had difficulty in navigating the system. It was also agreed that the Texas law passed in 2011 only after tremendous political struggle on a straight party-line vote, which reflected the dominance of Republicans in both houses of the Texas legislature.

There is little question that the Fifth Circuit could have easily dismissed the entire case by a respectful citation to Crawford. But instead, it took out the heavy artillery to upend the Texas statute. If Veasey survives, it will be exceedingly difficult for any photo ID law to pass muster in the United States, at least in the absence of heavily documented instances of fraud, and perhaps not even then.
The decision in Veasey is a careless condemnation of the current system on racist grounds. It may well be that the Texas system is far from ideal, and it would be foolish for any outsider to be overconfident that the ideal set of precautions has been adopted in this case. But based on the weak evidence presented here, it is surely a mistake for a majority of the Fifth Circuit to block the law within months of a presidential election. The Supreme Court should stay Veasey and review the outcome in light of its own now denigrated decision in Crawfold. The odds are 4-4 that this will not happen.
You should read the whole 203 page decision to understand how the Fifth Circuit balanced the risk of voter fraud against that of "voter suppression."

Apparently it decided that it may be necessary to destroy fair elections (no fraud) to insure fair elections (no suppression). Or something.

UPDATE: Part of one of the dissents is priceless: From page 102 -
No one doubts our unwavering duty to enforce antidiscrimination law. But in this media-driven and hyperbolic era, the discharge of that duty requires the courage to distinguish between invidious motivation and shadows. The ill-conceived, misguided, and unsupported majority opinion shuns discernment. Because of definitive Supreme Court authority, no comparable federal court precedent in over forty years has found a state legislative act motivated by purposeful racial discrimination. Even more telling, the multithousand page record yields not a trace, much less a legitimate inference, of racial bias by the Texas Legislature. Indeed, why would a racially biased legislature have provided for a cost-free election ID card to assist poor registered voters—of all races—who might not have drivers’ licenses? Yet the majority emulates the clever capacity of Area 51 alien enthusiasts who, lacking any real evidence, espied a vast but clandestine government conspiracy to conceal the “truth.”

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sea Piracy Drops to 21 Year Low

Sea piracy drops to 21-year low, IMB reports:
Piracy and armed robbery at sea has fallen to its lowest levels since 1995, despite a surge in kidnappings off West Africa, according to a new report from the International Chamber of Commerce's International Maritime Bureau (IMB).

IMB's global piracy report shows 98 incidents in the first half of 2016, compared with 134 for the same period in 2015. When piracy was at its highest, in 2010 and 2003, IMB recorded 445 attacks a year.

In the first half of 2016, IMB recorded 72 vessels boarded, five hijackings, and a further 12 attempted attacks. Nine ships were fired upon. Sixty-four crew were taken hostage onboard, down from 250 in the same period last year.

"This drop in world piracy is encouraging news. Two main factors are recent improvements around Indonesia, and the continued deterrence of Somali pirates off East Africa," said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB, whose global Piracy Reporting Centre has supported the shipping industry, authorities and navies for 25 years.
A great deal of the credit for the reduction in piracy should go to the IMB and its reports on the dangers to mariners of crimes at both at sea and in port which helped gather world-wide attention to the problem.

Especially useful have been the "Live Piracy Reports" and "Live Piracy Maps" which allow rapid assessment of trends in areas around the world. Here's the current 2016 Piracy Map showing piracy and armed robbery incidents occurring to date:

A change in tactics of sea criminals is noted:
Despite global improvements, kidnappings are on the rise, with 44 crew captured for ransom in 2016, 24 of them in Nigeria, up from 10 in the first half of 2015.

"In the Gulf of Guinea, rather than oil tankers being hijacked for their cargo, there is an increasing number of incidents of crew being kidnapped for ransom," said Captain Mukundan.

The Gulf of Guinea accounted for seven of the world's 10 kidnapping incidents, with armed gangs boarding vessels 30 to 120 NM from shore. Nigerian attacks are often violent, accounting for eight of the nine vessels fired upon worldwide. IMB says many further assaults go unreported by shipowners.

IMB reported two further kidnap incidents off Sabah, where tugs and barges were targeted. And in early June, a tug and barge was hijacked off Balingian, Sarawak in Malaysia and its palm oil cargo stolen.
Obviously, the kidnapping of crews is much easier to accomplish than the taking of the entire ship - and, unlike Somalia during its piracy heyday as a failed state, the keeping of hostages is less cumbersome than trying to park a ship somewhere.

Various terrorist groups in Nigeria and the Southeast Asia have turned to hostage taking from vessels to fund their operations. See here and here. From the latter Tanker Operator link referring to the Gulf of Guinea:
“In addition, it may be that for the time being, the drop in oil prices has made oil theft a less lucrative proposition than kidnapping for ransom.
“There are indications that some kidnappers have such belief in their business model that they are increasing their logistical capacity to take in and hold more hostages, possibly for longer than is now normally the case. There are also signs that their understanding of the ‘kidnap market’ is evolving – in other words, they may be able to target their attacks with greater precision and demand higher ransoms."

Of course, there's always the story of Caesar's revenge on the pirates who held him for ransom, as set out here.

An Update on Political Correctness Run Amok

Toward the end of my post Political Correctness Run Amok, I wrote:
... does not Gov. Cuomo open up his own state to similar acts by other states on the basis of NY laws with which they disagree? Suppose NY has laws which Texas feels violate the Second Amendment - will Texas now forbid government funding of travel to New York until NY changes its laws to meet Texas standards?
An answer of sorts to that question comes in a set of complaints, referred to in New York Gov. Cuomo accused of violating Hatch Act after state ads run in North Carolina:
A former North Carolina Supreme Court judge has filed complaints with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel and a New York state ethics panel alleging that taxpayer-funded ads Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration has run in North Carolina violated the Hatch Act by interfering with the gubernatorial and legislative races in that state.

The commercials, which reference the state’s so-called transgender bathroom law, among policies by other states, “mention North Carolina and its leadership in a transparent attempt to criticize, interfere and affect the impending North Carolina elections,” according to the federal complaint filed by the retired judge, Robert F. Orr.
The federal complaint criticizes the ads as going “beyond appropriate economic-development recruitment,” saying: “By using public funds to promote New York as supporting certain policies and implicitly criticizing contrary political decisions made in North Carolina, an ethical imitation has been breached.”

The complaint specifically identifies Mr. Cuomo as having violated the Hatch Act, along with several employees of Empire State Development, New York’s economic-development agency.
According to this:
The Hatch Act restricts the political activity of individuals principally employed by state, District of Columbia, or local executive agencies and who work in connection with programs financed in whole or in part by federal loans or grants

Political Activities and Examples of Prohibited Activities
Covered state, District of Columbia and local employees may not:
use official authority or influence to interfere with or affect the results of an election or nomination ...
Good luck, Justice Orr, in getting this matter heard in today's PC climate.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: "Dangerous Assignment"

U.S. Government Agent Steve Mitchell travels the globe investigating cases of espionage, sabotage and threats to National Security.

Stars Brian Donlevy.

Here's the first radio show from 1949:

Donlevy also took the show to television for 39 episodes.

On Midrats 24 July 2016 - Episode 342: Turkey, Erdoğan & its Miltary - with Ryan Evans

Please join us at 5pm EDT (US) for Midrats Episode 342: Turkey, Erdoğan & its Miltary - with Ryan Evans:
The events of the last week in Turkey brought that critically important nation in to focus, and we are going to do the same thing for this week's episode of Midrats.

Turkey has a history of military coups as a byproduct of an ongoing drive to be a modern secular nation against the current of a deeply Islamic people. This week we are going to look at how Turkey found itself at another coup attempt, the response, and the possible impact for Turkey and its relationship with NATO, Russia, Europe, and its neighbors.

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Ryan Evans.
Mustafa Kemal Atatürk- Father of Modern Turkey

Ryan Evans is a widely published commentator and recovering academic. He deployed to Helmand Province, Afghanistan from 2010 – 2011 as a Social Scientist on a U.S. Army Human Terrain Team that was OPCON/TACON to the British-led Task Force Helmand. He has worked as assistant director at the Center for the National Interest, a research fellow at the Center for National Policy, and for the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence in London. He is a Fellow of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and received his MA from the King's College London War Studies Department.
Join us live if you can or listen later by clicking here. Or pick the show up later from either our iTunes page here or our Stitcher page here.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Political Correctness Run Amok: Using the NBA All-Star Game to Punish North Carolina

This article in The Washington Examiner "George Orwell, call your office" with this great quote about Silicon Valley:
"People here pride themselves on a kind of militant open-mindedness," Manjoo writes. "It is the kind of place that will severely punish any deviations from accepted schools of thought."
spurred me to look again at the pressure being brought on North Carolina as a result of it now famed House Bill 2 (see here), now including the National Basketball Association's decision to move the 2017 NBA All-Star game from Charlotte:
“While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2,” the NBA’s statement read.

The league did however, acknowledge that the NBA and the Hornets have been “working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change.”

The league issued a statement Thursday saying the alternate site for 2017 will be named in the next few weeks. The NBA is focused on New Orleans, league sources told online site The Vertical.

McCrory and state legislators who support HB2 have said important privacy concerns are at stake. Following the NBA’s decision Thursday, McCrory continued to defend the law.

“American families should be on notice that the selective corporate elite are imposing their political will on communities in which they do business, thus bypassing the democratic and legal process,” the Republican governor said in an emailed statement.

A spokesman for Attorney General Roy Cooper, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate, called the All-Star Game news “incredibly disappointing.”

“How many damaging blows does North Carolina have to take before Governor McCrory realizes that HB2 must be repealed?” the spokesman said.
The "climate created by HB2? What the heck is that? No private enterprise is affected by HB2 - at least as far as bathroom usage. The climate is seems mostly to be an effort to attack the Republican governor and state legislature. Any resident of NC is now well familiar with the "Moral Monday" movement which has been complaining ever since the Legislature passed into Republican hands during the last election - complaints covering everything from redistricting to voter ID to HB2.

Friday Fun Film: "Deep Sea Diving: The Technique of Diving" (1943)

Hard hat Navy divers have a proud tradition -

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Back to the Future: Harpoon Missiles on a High Speed, Minimally Manned Combatant?

Sometimes you just have to laugh instead of crying - here's the caption of the nearby photo:
USS Coronado (LCS 4), an Independence-variant littoral combat ship, launches the first over-the-horizon missile engagement using a Harpoon Block 1C missile. *** U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Bryce Hadley (Released)
Roughly a zillion years ago we had high speed, minimally manned warships firing Harpoon missiles:

As set out here, the Pegasus-class PHMs carried 2 quad Harpoon launchers - 39 years ago.

So, good move, LCS masters, on bringing the LCS up to 1977 weapons standards- sorta.
Above are 6 PHMs zipping along - presumably with 48 Harpoon missiles available. Something tells me all 6 cost less that a single LCs. Probably much less.

According to Defense News, Coronado's deployment configuration will be one quad box launcher.

I guess it's a start.

Update: fixed a math error and Harpoons entered the fleet in 1977.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

On Midrats 17 July 2016 Episode 341: Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 17 July 2016 for Midrats Episode 341 "Russia in 2016 with Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg
From the sacking of the Baltic Fleet leadership, fighting in Syria, to developments from Central Asia to the Pacific - Russia in 2016 is on the move.

To discuss the who, what, where, and why of Russia in 2016, our guest for the full hour will be Dr. Dmitry Gorenburg, Senior Analyst, CNA Strategic Studies, an Associate at Harvard’s Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies, an author, and host of the Russian Military Reform blog.

Dr. Gorenburg focuses his research on security issues in the former Soviet Union, Russian military reform, Russian foreign policy, ethnic politics and identity, and Russian regional politics. He is also the editor of the journals Problems of Post-Communism and Russian Politics and Law and a Fellow of the Truman National Security Project. From 2005 through 2010, he was the Executive Director of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later by visiting our iTunes or Stitcher pages.

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: Secrets of Scotland Yard "Bone from a Voice Box"

A post-WWII true crime series, based on actual cases from Scotland Yard, a/k/a The Metropolitan Police Service.

This one takes a few seconds to get going.