So that’s why the GOP is so insistent that voter fraud exists

It seems they have firsthand experience:

The number of Florida counties reporting suspicious voter registration forms connected to Strategic Allied Consulting, the firm hired by the state Republican Party to sign up new voters, has grown to 10, officials said, as local election supervisors continue to search their forms for questionable signatures, addresses or other identifiers.

After reports of suspicious formssurfaced in Florida, the company — owned by Nathan Sproul, who has been involved in voter registration efforts since at least the 2004 presidential election — was fired last week by the state Republican Party and theRepublican National Committee. The party had hired it to conduct drives in Colorado, Nevada, North Carolina and Virginia.

In Colorado, a young woman employed by Strategic Allied was shown on a video outside a store in Colorado Springs recently telling a potential voter that she wanted to register only Republicans and that she worked for the county clerk’s office. The woman was fired, said Ryan Call, chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

The Florida Division of Elections has forwarded the reports of possible fraud to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for investigation. Prosecutors in some affected counties are also investigating. It is unclear how many forms have been forwarded, in all: in Palm Beach County, the election supervisor found 106 suspicious forms, but the number in several other counties is far lower.

Bay County has found eight suspicious forms with the Republican Party registration code connected to Strategic Allied. In Pasco County, three have been found.

The state Republican Party, which paid the company $1.3 million to register voters here, said it would file an elections fraud complaint against Strategic Allied, which is based in Tempe, Ariz.

Why (not) to vote for Obama

As the election approaches, I’ve found myself waffling among various choices:

  • voting to re-elect President Obama
  • voting “none of the above”
  • voting “Foreign Policy: Ron Paul; Economic Policy: Paul Krugman; Social Policy: Barney Frank”
  • (lastly, voting for Tom Brady)

You’ll notice “vote for Romney” is not present anywhere on that list. Strange as this may sound, during the Republican primaries, I honestly believed the whole “Romney is out of touch with the average voter” meme was simply on-point messaging from a well-oiled Democratic PR machine. But it turned out that the spin was a lot closer to the truth than I’d initially imagined (either that or the Democratic PR team is even better than I’d thought). I wouldn’t have voted for him anyway, as I think Obama’s a far better choice. But my “unfavorable” (to borrow polling terminology) impression of him has greatly increased in recent months.

That said, I hardly think Obama has come out smelling like roses. The Atlantic recently published an essay by Conor Friedersdorf (currently the most popular article on its site) titled “Why I Refuse to Vote for Barack Obama.” In it, Friedersdorf identifies three key disappointments in the Obama administration: drone strikes in Pakistan, extrajudicial assassinations of American citizens, and a conflict in Libya that was not approved by Congress:

In different ways, each of these transgressions run contrary to candidate Obama’s 2008 campaign. (To cite just one more example among many, Obama has done more than any modern executive to wage war on whistleblowers. In fact, under Obama, Bush-era lawbreakers, including literal torturers, have been subject to fewer and less draconian attempts at punishment them than some of the people who conscientiously came forward to report on their misdeeds.) Obama ran in the proud American tradition of reformers taking office when wartime excesses threatened to permanently change the nature of the country. But instead of ending those excesses, protecting civil liberties, rolling back executive power, and reasserting core American values, Obama acted contrary to his mandate. The particulars of his actions are disqualifying in themselves. But taken together, they put us on a course where policies Democrats once viewed as radical post-9/11 excesses are made permanent parts of American life.

There is a candidate on the ballot in at least 47 states, and probably in all 50, who regularly speaks out against that post-9/11 trend, and all the individual policies that compose it. His name is Gary Johnson, and he won’t win. I am supporting him because he ought to. Liberals and progressives care so little about having critiques of the aforementioned policies aired that vanishingly few will even urge that he be included in the upcoming presidential debates. If I vote, it will be for Johnson. What about the assertion that Romney will be even worse than Obama has been on these issues? It is quite possible, though not nearly as inevitable as Democrats seem to think. It isn’t as though they accurately predicted the abysmal behavior of Obama during his first term, after all. And how do you get worse than having set a precedent for the extrajudicial assassination of American citizens? By actually carrying out such a killing? Obama did that too. Would Romney? I honestly don’t know. I can imagine he’d kill more Americans without trial and in secret, or that he wouldn’t kill any. I can imagine that he’d kill more innocent Pakistani kids or fewer. His rhetoric suggests he would be worse. I agree with that. Then again, Romney revels in bellicosity; Obama soothes with rhetoric and kills people in secret.

To hell with them both.

I not only sympathize with Friedersdorf’s thesis. I am nearly convinced by it. In fact, maybe I already am. (I’m still not sure how I’ll vote, although I’m fairly certain it won’t be for Tom Brady.) But I recently fell upon an equally arresting argument for the opposite position, and from the unlikeliest of sources: comedian and Daily Show correspondent John Hodgman (perhaps best known for playing the clunky PC in those then-ubiquitous “I’m a Mac” commercials).

On a web site called 90 Days, 90 Reasons, which describes its mission as compelling “a wide range of cultural figures to explain why they’re voting for Obama in 2012, in the hopes that this might re-inspire the grassroots army that got Obama elected in the first place,” Hodgman does so in hilarious yet eloquent fashion:

Like many, I first heard of Barack Obama when he spoke at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. Though I lived at that time on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, I was listening to him on the radio at our summer house in the five college area of Western Massachusetts. I say this to set the scene, and also to re-assert my credentials as an elite, affluent, northeastern liberal, and thus, at that time, a non-American. In case you had forgotten.

Listening to Obama, I realized I agreed with him on most issues, but mostly I was electrified by the premise of the speech, which was essentially that we are all part of the same country, but which I took to mean “people in blue states are actual humans as well.” There weren’t many people saying this in 2004. Not even many Democrats. And while I was instantly thralled by this on a purely selfish level, I also liked that the sentiment flowed in reverse as well. I have disagreements with, but no need to demonize, conservative America, as indeed many of them are my family, even right here in supposedly liberal Massachusetts. We are all one, he said in 2004, and I was so excited. This guy is going to lose so BEAUTIFULLY, I thought.

But it didn’t happen that way. I can place the moment I knew I was wrong. In July of 2008, I was driving past the empty hole where the new World Trade Center had STILL not been built, and I heard on the radio (I LOVE PUBLIC RADIO, REMEMBER) that Obama had reversed his position on the update of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and would agree with a compromise that would grant telecom companies immunity from prosecution for cooperating with warrantless wiretaps. I had to look all that up, because I honestly forgot what the specific issue was at the time. All I remember was that knife twist in my gut of deep disappointment. I learned then that Obama was going to disappoint; that his ideals were tempered by a kind of rough pragmatism; and that he would be willing to personally alienate ME. ME OF ALL PEOPLE. The one person who knew best about how to run a presidential campaign and ranked Obama’s performance as a candidate solely upon his adherence to a few very specific positions that I cared most about. HOW COULD HE WIN THIS ELECTION WITHOUT ME? And then I realized: Oh. How can he win the election WITH an asshole like me?

Now that I’ve looked it up, I still disagree with his decision on the FISA update. But what I remember is this: not only would I have to get used to that knife twist of disappointment, I would have to learn to enjoy it. Because that’s the moment that I realized that Obama actually intended to win…

And of course, the cost of losing is very high. As a supporter of health care reform, same sex marriage, women’s rights, tax fairness, a domestic policy responsive to the realities of the present day as opposed to toxic nostalgia, and an international policy that punishes our enemies more than it rewards our private contractors, I may not always agree with the speed or execution of Obama’s policies. But I know that a loss this year would not be seen as a noble failure. It would be seen as a repudiation of these values for a long time to come. Losses transform ideals into irrelevant fantasy, and idealists into weepy self-pitiers, like old-school Red Sox fans and Tea Partiers and people who really believe some day that Firefly might come back.

There’s more, of course, and it’s definitely worth reading the whole thing. As for me, I remain undecided but, like the U.S. as a whole, leaning Obama.

When will the National Popular movement see some…movement?

I’m surprised there haven’t been more articles like this one:

Here’s how the plan would work. Individual states pass legislation to join an interstate compact, under which member states will award all their electoral votes to the winner of the national popular vote. When states representing 270 electoral votes — the number needed to become president — have signed on, the plan goes into effect. Thus it’s in the power of state Legislatures and governors to catalyze the move.

So far, the bill has been introduced in 47 states. It has been passed into law in Illinois (21 electoral votes) New Jersey (15), Maryland (10 ), and, just last week, Hawaii (4), and is under active consideration in any number of others. In Massachusetts, the bill has a majority in both the House and the Senate, says Pam Wilmot, executive director of Common Cause of Massachusetts.

If the plan goes into effect, it would change the nature of campaigns in a big way. Right now, it doesn’t matter if a candidate wins a state by 10 votes or 10,000; once you have a majority, every additional vote is essentially wasted. Thus there’s little point of campaigning in states that lean strongly for either party.

Earlier this month, the New Yorker‘s Hendrik Hertzberg continued his championing of the movement and noted a prominent new convert:

Al Gore, whose margin of popular victory in 2000 was four times bigger than John F. Kennedy’s in 1960 and only a little smaller than Richard Nixon’s in 1968, has never made a secret of his disagreement with the infamous Supreme Court decision that put his outvoted opponent in the White House. But Gore has been silent, as far as I know, about the over-all electoral system that makes it possible for the Presidency, alone among American elected offices, to be denied to the candidate who comes in first and awarded to the one who comes in second. Until now.

Last Thursday, while leading a panel discussion on Current—the cable network he founded, runs, and, during the conventions, anchors—Gore casually endorsed the National Popular Vote initiative, this blog’s favorite cause…

I’m pretty sure that Gore’s long hesitancy about backing the N.P.V. was due less to a reluctance to seem self-pitying (remember “Sore Loserman”?) than to a desire to keep the plan from becoming a purely partisan political football.

Not all broken clocks are right even twice a day

Benjamin Netanyahu:

During an address to the Britain’s House of Commons, Netanyahu said that Russia is still passing ballistic missile technology to Iran and that the Iranians are only a year away from acquiring long-range nuclear missile capability.

“If the supply of Russian technology is not stopped, then within a year Iran would become self-sufficient and would be able to create those missiles on its own,” Netanyahu said.

Oh, and…this was in November 1997. Then, the next year (Jay Bushinsky and Liat Collins, “PM: It may be too late to stop Iran, Iraq nuclear plans,” Jerusalem Post, June 9, 1998; no link):

Prime Minster Binyamin Netanyahu yesterday repeated that Israel is doing everything to thwart Iran’s attempts to arm itself with nonconventional ballistic and nuclear weapons.

Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee that the international community had largely ingnored the issue until Israel had begun raising it. He said although there had been a change, it was not sufficient and it is possible that Israel will not be able to prevent Iran and Iraq from acquiring nuclear capability. He said the nuclear tests by India and Pakistan had created a lack of balance in the international system.

You see, if there’s one thing the global community can count on, it’s that Iran will always be on the verge of developing a nuclear weapon.

When advertising works

Beautifully shot, haunting soundtrack. This is pretty close to a perfect commercial.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SGmml46_eds]

And since I’m on the subject, I’m also a fan of this slightly longer one, for a very different product. Again, it’s the combination of subtle music and, in this case, a phenomenal narrating voice.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRB0i9-AUQs]

It’s That Time of the Year Again: Supreme Court Preview 2012 – 2013

The width of the smile seems to be inversely proportional to the amount of time the Justice has been on the court.

After a busy summer spent lecturing abroad, appearing at book promotions, publicly sparring with other federal judges, attending Yankees games and having their homes robbed, the Supreme Court is set to start its 2012-2013 session next Monday, October 1st. Though it may not quite match last term’s level of drama with its Affordable Care Act and immigration rulings, this term promises to bring a few blockbusters as the Court prepares to tackle cases on hot-button issues such as affirmative action, gay marriage, government wiretapping and capital punishment for the mentally incompetent. The Supreme Court’s calendar for the term is not entirely set in stone–an opening conference held on September 24th  placed six new cases on the docket, and more cases are yet to be added–but here are some highlights we can expect to see in this coming year:

  • Revisiting Affirmative Action in Higher Education: Abigail Fisher, a Caucasian student, applied but did not gain admission to the University of Texas. She claims that UT unfairly denied her a spot on the basis of her race: under a 1997 Texas law, automatic admission to state-funded universities, including UT, is granted to the top 10% of students in every Texas high school regardless of race. At UT, race is then used as one factor among many to determine admission for the rest of the remaining spots. Fisher did not make the top 10% cutoff at her high school and her application was passed down to the pool that took the applicant’s race into consideration. In 2003, SCOTUS ruled in Grutter v. Bollinger that the University of Michigan could constitutionally take race into account as one factor in its admissions decisions since racial diversity in higher education was a “compelling state interest.” Sandra Day O’Connor famously wrote in her opinion then that she expected the Court to review this ruling again in 25 years, when racial disparities had (hopefully) faded to the point where affirmative action for ethnic minority students was no longer necessary. It has only been nine years since Grutter, but the Court has seen some personnel changes and a marked shift to the right since then–and some believe that Justice John Roberts (who has in a previous case indicated that racial diversity at the elementary school level is not a compelling state interest) & Co. are ready and willing to either overturn or restrict the Court’s previous ruling. Fisher will be argued on October 10th.
  • Gay Marriage (Finally) Makes Its Way Up to SCOTUS… We Think: Last year saw a boom of gay marriage cases being fought in various federal appellate courts across the country, and a number of these decisions have now been petitioned to the Supreme Court. Of the various cases seeking review, most involve challenges to the constitutionality of the Defense Of Marriage Act (which currently denies federal benefits to same-sex couples even if their marriages are legally recognized by their home states), while one involves an appeal from the Ninth Circuit’s February 2012 decision finding unconstitutional California’s Proposition 8 (which changed the state’s constitution to bar same-sex marriage). This last case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, is the most marquee of the bunch, though Emily Bazelon of Slate argues in this essay that proponents of gay marriage should want SCOTUS to take a step-by-step approach and hear one of the less-glitzy DOMA cases instead of Hollingsworth–which may demand too much of SCOTUS by seeking a sweeping decision that marriage is (or is not) a basic right guaranteed to all. SCOTUS has not decided exactly which case to grant cert to yet, if any–none of the six new cases that it agreed to review on Monday involved gay marriage–but Ruth Bader Ginsburg did mention at a University of Colorado conference this summer that the high court is likely to hear a DOMA case this term.
  • Can Suspected Drunk Drivers be Forced to Undergo Warrantless Blood Tests?: In a case concerning the privacy rights of motorists stopped by police for drunk driving, the Supreme Court will consider Missouri’s appeal of a state supreme court ruling that its police wrongly administered a warrantless, non-consensual blood test on Tyler McNeely. Under current Fourth Amendment jurisprudence, there are certain defined exceptions that would justify a police officer’s warrantless search and seizure of a person, but McNeely claims that none of these exceptions applied to his blood test, which was forcibly taken at a hospital less than a half-hour after he was first pulled over and refused to take a breathalyzer test. McNeely argues that over half the fifty states have laws prohibiting law enforcement from administering non-consensual blood tests without a warrant. On the other hand, Missouri argues that the 1966 precedent of Schmerber v. California allows for warrantless blood tests where the “special facts” exception exists, including the fact that the body begins eliminating alcohol from its blood shortly after drinking.
  • While We’re On the Subject of Warrants, Drug-Sniffing Dogs Come Under Scrutiny As Well:

    Franky the drug-sniffing dog. We’re not sure what the white stuff around his muzzle is.

    On October 31st, the Court will hear a pair of Florida cases involving drug-sniffing dogs and warrantless searches. In Florida v. Jardines, the defendant argues that the police violated his Fourth Amendment Rights against illegal search and seizure when they brought a drug-sniffing dog named Franky to sniff at his door without a warrant. Jardines contends that there was no probable cause for the sniff, which constituted a search in and of itself. Meanwhile, in Florida v. Harris, the Supreme Court will decide whether an “alert” from drug-sniffing dog Aldo can be assumed credible (thereby establishing probable cause for a warrantless search) merely on the basis that Aldo attended sniffing school, or whether prosecutors must provide more detailed information to show that the dog is indeed reliable. The Florida Supreme Court ruled last year in favor of the latter approach, ordering that the State provide evidence of the dog’s training and certification, field performance records, and evidence of the handling officer’s own experience and training.

  • Capital Punishment, Habeas Relief and the Mentally Incompetent: In the U.S., inmates who have been tried and sentenced to death have a right to challenge their convictions and sentences in a habeas corpus hearing. The Supreme Court has also held that the Eighth Amendment bars capital punishment for the insane and the mentally disabled. But what happens when an inmate is convicted of a capital crime, sentenced to death, and then argues at the habeas corpus petition stage that he is mentally incompetent and therefore cannot assist his lawyers in preparing the petition? Is he entitled to a competency hearing? Two Circuits have found that inmates do have a “right to competence” at the habeas stage and have granted mentally incompetent inmates indefinite stays until they become competent–meaning that if they never do become competent, their death sentence is effectively turned into life imprisonment. Supporters say that it is unjust to force the mentally incompetent into habeas proceedings if they cannot help their own counsel assemble their case, and point out that capital punishment for the insane and mentally disabled is unconstitutional anyway. Opponents argue, however, that these indefinite stays run contrary to the state’s interest in the finality of convictions. The Supreme Court will hear arguments for Ryan v. Gonzales and Tibbals v. Carter on October 9th.
  • Corporations Behaving Badly and Causing Human Rights Atrocities Abroad: The Alien Tort Statute was penned in 1789 to provide for foreign citizens redress for violations of international law, in United States courts. Modern applications of this law have focused on bringing to justice former government officials accused of atrocities abroad, but Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum adds a Citizens United-esque twist: can corporations be sued under the ATS for genocide, torture and other violations of international law committed abroad? And what is the exact scope of the ATS in cases where the alleged violations were committed outside of the U.S., anyway? The Second Circuit said no to the first question in 2010, dismissing the case based on its holding that corporate liability is not a universally recognized norm of customary international law. Upon Kiobel’s appeal, the Supreme Court held oral argument on the case in February 2012, but took the unusual step of ordering further argument for the new term beginning in October. This will be the first argument of the 2012-2013 year: look for the justices to focus not so much on the corporate liability issue but on the question of whether Kiobel can even bring her case in an American court for human rights abuses committed on foreign territory.
  • Government Wiretapping: The Supreme Court referees on October 29th the latest chapter in the fight between national security and civil liberties. In Clapper v. Amnesty International USA, a group of strange bedfellows (including Amnesty Int’l, the New York State Bar Association and the Gun Owners Foundation) have banded together to sue the government over the constitutionality of a provision in the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that permits the “targeting” of “persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States” for the purposes of “gathering foreign intelligence information.” Amongst other things, the law authorizes the government to wiretap such persons’ communications. The trouble for Amnesty and friends, however, is that in order to even sue in federal court, they must have standing, which requires them to show that they have suffered or will imminently suffer the injury they are complaining of. Unfortunately, they have no definitive proof that the government is in fact wiretapping their communications. Despite this obstacle, the Second Circuit permitted the case to proceed; SCOTUS will now decide whether the group does in fact have standing to sue.
  • Davids v. Goliaths–Immunity for Government Officials in Military and Prison Contexts: On Monday, the Supreme Court added to its docket not one but two cases from lawyerless petitioners, each involving the rights of individuals to sue the federal government. Millbrook v. United States arises from the claims of Kim Lee Millbrook, an inmate at a federal prison in Lewisburg, Pennsylvania who accused three prison guards of sexually assaulting him. Though his suit was dismissed by the lower courts, Millbrook handwrote an appeal in pencil to the Supreme Court, which then decided to use Millbrook’s case to resolve the question of government liability for claims made against federal prison guards, according to the Associated Press.  Meanwhile, Levin v. United States addresses government liability for tortious acts committed by military medical personnel. The case arises from a battery claim against the U.S. government, made by a Guam resident whose eye was allegedly damaged in a botched cataract operation carried out by a U.S. Navy surgeon. Levin appealed to the Supreme Court after the Ninth Circuit ruled against him and held that the federal government has sovereign immunity from battery claims.
  • Does the Government “Take” Your Land If It Repeatedly Floods Those Lands? Finally, the Supreme Court will settle this term the age-old question of whether the government must compensate parties under the Fifth Amendment’s takings clause if it repeatedly causes those parties’ properties to flood, thus “taking” the private property for “public use.” Arkansas contends that over a six-year period, the United States Army Corps of Engineers did just that to one of its forests, the 23,000-acre Dave Donaldson Black River Wildlife Management Area, causing degradation of the forest’s timber and destroying wildlife habitats. The government’s response is that the lands were not rendered completely unusable because the flooding was only “temporary” and the waters always receded. It maintains that its behavior may constitute a tort but does not rise to the level of a “taking.” While this case may sound a little bit like a no-brainer–why shouldn’t the government pay back the state for this recurring damage?–SCOTUS has in the last half-century chipped away slowly at the Takings Clause, going so far as to allow a Connecticut city to take over private property, without compensation, for the purpose of selling it to a private developer (in 2005’s Kelo v. City of New London). Oral argument for Arkansas Game & Fish Commission v. United States will be held on October 3rd.

Victoria Kwan holds a J.D. from Columbia Law School in New York and has just completed a clerkship with a judge in Anchorage, Alaska. She tweets as @nerdmeetsboy and will continue to post periodically here on legal issues. Rumor has it she and Jay Pinho are dating.

Mitt Romney needs to fire his advisers

The man is now flailing. His campaign’s policy incoherence has been an issue ever since the beginning, but this is getting ridiculous:

Mitt Romney on Wednesday cited his record in shepherding through the Massachusetts health care law as a sign of his empathy for all people, talking far more openly than usual about a controversial plan that has caused him so much strife with conservative Republicans.

“Don’t forget — I got everybody in my state insured,” Romney told NBC late Wednesday afternoon. “One hundred percent of the kids in our state had health insurance. I don’t think there’s anything that shows more empathy and care about the people of this country than that kind of record.”

Romney made the comments just before going on stage in Toledo, for a rally in which Romney used President Obama’s health care law as a chief example of what’s wrong with the current administration. The dichotomy of his statements further illustrated the tightrope Romney has had to walk in pledging to repeal President Obama’s federal law, while simultaneously trying to take credit for the state-level plan he signed into law in Massachusetts.

“I will repeal Obamacare and replace it with real health care reform,” Romney said during the rally. “Obamacare is really Exhibit No. 1 of the president’s political philosophy, and that is that government knows better than people how to run your lives.”

“I don’t believe in a bigger and bigger government,’’ he added. “I believe in free people pursuing their dreams. I believe in freedom.”

Some people never change

Bill Clinton’s still in the hunt:

They — there are only two countries I’m eligible to run for the leadership position is if I move to Ireland and buy a house, I can — I can run for president of Ireland, because of my Irish heritage.

And because I was born in Arkansas, which is part of the Louisiana Purchase, any person anywhere in the world that was born in a place that ever was part of the French empire, if you move to — if you live in France for six months and speak French, you can run for president…

However, I once polled very well in a French presidential race. And I said, you know, this is great, but that’s the best I’d ever do because once they heard my broken French with a Southern accent, I would drop into single digits within a week and I’d be toast. I just don’t think — that’s what I think. I think the system we have may have some opportunity costs.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vSKfOH7GOKY]