The Power of Confirmation

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How powerful is information if it only confirms what we already know? As over 90,000 documents detailing military intelligence on the war in Afghanistan flood into the public sphere, that’s exactly what we are finding out.

Released by Wikileaks, the documents provide vivid descriptors of efforts to contain the Taliban, and, most strikingly, reveal a potential alliance between al Qaeda and Pakistani intelligence.

But for all of the clamoring by government officials to diffuse attention from the information contained in these reports, commentators almost unanimously agree on one thing — we already knew this. These thousands of documents only give voice to what the government and media has already told us: That winning a war against terrorists is a near impossible task with few victories and many failures.

So was it worthwhile to release all of this information? In a word, yes. Not only does it confirm that the news we have been fed about the war in Afghanistan is, for the most part, accurate, but it also gives us the information with almost zero bias.

Yes, it’s possible that Wikileaks and the publications it partnered with to release the documents picked and chose what to make public. And no, it is likely not possible to confirm the accuracy of every piece of information contained in these volumes of history. But for the most part, these newly public facts stand alone – apart from the partisan bickering that can obscure the truths of war, and apart from the news media that sometimes fails to capture world events with infallible accuracy.

With a compendium of knowledge out in the open, the public and officials on both sides of the aisle can look inward and revise their own visions of the war on Afghanistan. These documents could force the president to make a swift decision to either reassert his policy in Afghanistan or come up with an exit strategy. And they could force the public to take apolitical views on a war that had become fodder for policy wonkery.

Open information, whether or not it provides a smoking gun revelation, has the power to refocus interests and align people in working towards a better strategy. Whether or not a solution emerges depends now on how long we can lift the fog of war for.


Where’s the beef with MA health insurance caps?

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Recently we’ve caught wind of internal e-mails undermining the public messaging from Governor Deval Patrick’s administration about somewhat controversial push to block rate increases on health insurance premiums.

As a Boston Herald editorial summarized:

Just in case anyone thought the Patrick administration’s health insurance rate cap was anything other than an exercise in raw political pandering, along comes a set of e-mails that proves the point.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information request made by State House News Service, we now have a glimpse into how the administration crafted and rallied to defend what has turned out to be an indefensible policy.

Many of the e-mails were in response to a column by Mike Widmer, head of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, who pointed out what a dreadful idea the rate cap was. But the oped, which ran in The Boston Globe on March 17, did nothing to prevent the administration from going ahead with the cap officially on April 1. The e-mails showed administration officials were less concerned about the policy than about the spin!

The Associated Press had apparently filed its own  request for the e-mails discussing the rate cap, but one thing is conspicuously missing from both reports: The actual e-mails themselves.  Not surprising, but a bit obnoxious: Why can’t we see for ourselves how the Patrick administration was discussing the proposed internally? Soon, state willing, we will. MuckRock has filed our own request (click the link if you’re a registered member), which we’ve reproduced below the fold.