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Vox Sentences: Obama decides Chelsea Manning has suffered enough

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President Obama frees Chelsea Manning after seven years in prison; Britain edges closer to Brexit; the president-elect goes hard against a civil rights icon.


Chelsea Manning rainbow banner Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images
  • President Obama announced Tuesday that he is commuting the bulk of the remaining prison sentence for Chelsea Manning, who leaked hundreds of thousands of documents published by WikiLeaks exposing the scope and consequences of the US war on terror. [NYT / Charlie Savage]
  • Manning was one of 209 prisoners whose sentences Obama reduced on Tuesday — part of an aggressive White House campaign to reduce sentences in Obama's last year of office, which hasn't, so far, been met with an equally aggressive effort to issue full pardons. [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • Most of the beneficiaries of clemency under Obama have been nonviolent drug offenders. Manning's case couldn't be more different. Civil liberties advocates defend her as a whistleblower working to expose US military atrocities, but she was sentenced to 35 years in prison in 2010 — the longest sentence for a leak prosecution in US history. [The Intercept / Jeremy Scahill]
  • Furthermore, much of her time in custody has been spent in solitary confinement (which is regarded as torture by the UN). [The Guardian / Chelsea E. Manning]
  • This was even harder to bear for Manning than most. Transgender people have a hellish time in prison, and Manning's struggle to get sex reassignment surgery while incarcerated caused her severe distress. [Vox / German Lopez]
  • The case against Manning — as made by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan — is that her actions put Americans (or the local Afghan and Iraqi civilians they worked with) in danger by revealing sensitive information. [Ed O'Keefe via Twitter]
  • But there's little firm evidence for this proposition. [McClatchy / Nancy A. Youssef]
  • And even some figures who disapprove of what Manning did supported her commutation, believing seven years' imprisonment was enough punishment for her crimes. [Lawfare / Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes]
  • Interestingly, Manning's release (scheduled for May 17) might put WikiLeaks on the hook for a promise made last week: that founder Julian Assange would allow himself to be extradited to the US in his own ongoing legal saga. The only catch: It's not clear the US is trying to extradite him. [Jeremy Scahill via Twitter]

Brexit: still a thing

UK Prime Minister Theresa May Kirsty Wigglesworth/AFP/Getty Images
  • After months of anticipation, UK Prime Minister Theresa May on Tuesday delivered a speech laying out her plan for implementing Britain's exit from the European Union. [NYT / Stephen Castle and Steven Erlanger]
  • In the speech, May confirmed her intention to seek a full withdrawal from the European single market (replacing it with a free trade deal between the UK and EU) and to reject the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. She promised to strike a deal with the EU and put it up for a vote in both houses of Parliament. [Independent / Theresa May]
  • The formal process of Brexiting will begin when the UK invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. [CNN / James Masters]
  • May has said in the past that she wants to invoke the provision by the end of March, but the UK Supreme Court still needs to vote on whether there needs to be another vote of Parliament before that happens. Once Article 50 is invoked, negotiations can take up to two years, bringing the process to March 2019. [Vox / Zack Beauchamp]
  • If the deal fails in Parliament, that doesn't stop Brexit. It just means that Brexit will happen with no preferential trade deal between the UK and EU, a situation guaranteed to screw over the former. [Bloomberg / Emma Ross-Thomas and David Goodman]
  • All told, May seems to be planning a "hard Brexit," with maximal disruption to trading arrangements, which raises the odds of dire economic predictions of the exit's effects coming true. [Vox / Zeeshan Aleem]
  • Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister of Scotland, is already plotting another independence referendum. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, and it's quite possible that its voters will be likelier to back independence in the wake of Brexit. [FT / Jim Gallagher]

Happy Martin Luther King Jr. weekend!

People standing in front of John Lewis hero mural Paras Griffin/Getty Images
  • Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) called President-elect Donald Trump "illegitimate" Friday. So, of course, the president-elect spent his Saturday attacking the civil rights hero for being "all talk, talk, talk — no action or results." [Vox / Dara Lind]
  • The result was a rare bipartisan defense of Lewis and chiding of Trump. It turns out that a man whose skull got fractured by police in the name of equal rights is not a person you can accuse of being all talk. [Washington Post / Cleve R. Wootson Jr.]
  • (Trump's attack might have actually helped a new generation learn about Lewis's role in the civil rights movement — his graphic novel memoir shot to No. 1 on Amazon over the weekend.) [The Guardian / Danuta Kean]
  • Weirder, and less remarked upon, was Trump's insistence that Lewis should focus on his "falling apart," "crime-ridden" Fifth Congressional District of Georgia, which includes most of Atlanta. Atlanta residents were quick to point out that those descriptions are not at all true. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution / Carrie Teegardin, Greg Bluestein, and Jennifer Brett]
  • But Trump appears unable to understand that not all black Americans live in or represent "inner cities" that look like something out of a 1980s dystopia. [Vox / Jenée Desmond-Harris]
  • Ironically, Lewis's "illegitimate" comments were in the context of his announcement that he's not attending Trump's inauguration Friday. Then Trump's attack on Lewis spurred dozens more Democrats to join the boycott. It's not looking as bad as Nixon's 1973 inauguration (which 80 Democrats skipped), but it might get up there. [MSNBC / Steve Benen]


  • A great vintage hot take, calling for a third-party presidential ticket of Martin Luther King Jr. and Walter Reuther in 1964. [Dissent / Bernard Rosenberg and Michael Walzer]
  • SNAP (food stamps) is one of the most successful social programs in the United States. So why are health scolds so bent on attacking it? [Jacobin / Joe Soss]
  • "They're good dogs, Brent," explained for people who missed 2016's greatest meme. [Washington Post / Abby Ohlheiser]
  • Between 1939 and 1989, Bulgaria's economy grew faster than the US's, and the Soviet Union's grew faster than Holland's. Eastern bloc communism was clearly bad, but was it really that bad for economic growth? [Bloomberg / Charles Kenny]
  • Marla Maples, Donald Trump's second wife, is attending the inauguration and attempted to pay her hairdresser in "exposure." [Washington Post / Emily Heil]


  • "I find it hard to believe that [Donald Trump] rushed to some hotel to meet girls of loose morals, although ours are undoubtedly the best in the world." [Vladimir Putin via Bloomberg / Olga Tanas, Henry Meyer, and Ilya Arkhipov]
  • "Rosenberg bought the pair of [inauguration] tickets on Craigslist from a 'Second Amendment activist' in Katonah, NY, last week and immediately listed them on his Facebook account, as well as back on Craigslist. But after receiving no interest, he visited a handful of white supremacist websites, including the Daily Stormer, where he posted listings for the tickets on the site's message boards. Even then, nobody expressed interest." [NY Daily News / Adam Edelman]
  • "Should people in Mali be forced to live in Mali because somebody in London thinks that some variety of human existence would be lost if they all came to England?" [Branko Milanovic]
  • "During a few short years from the mid 1860s to the early 1870s, the Klan went from an inside joke among a gang of a friends to a secret empire rumored to control the entire country … They were college boys, and they were dealing with a brand new historical phenomenon: They were bored." [Pacific Standard / Malcolm Harris]
  • "Mrs. Calment left no heirs. She also outlived Andre-Francois Raffray, a lawyer who 32 years ago, when she was merely 90, bought the apartment she used to live in on a contingency contract. He would pay her 2,500 francs (now about $400) a month until she died, and then the apartment would become his. Mr. Raffray died a year ago at 77, after paying Mrs. Calment more than $180,000, better than double the apartment's market value. His family was still paying when she died." [NYT / Craig Whitney]

Watch this: Obamacare in Trump country

Why Obamacare enrollees voted for Trump. [YouTube / Sarah Kliff and Johnny Harris]

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