Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday that his office found 17 non-citizens illegally cast ballots in the 2012 presidential election — and has referred the case for possible prosecution... Husted also found that 274 non-citizens remain on the voting rolls. President Obama beat Mitt Romney in Ohio by just 2 percentage points in November 2012.
Hmmm. So how does 17 citizens compare to Obama's 2 percent winning margin? Weigel does the math. That's 17 out of a winning victory of 166,272 votes. Not exactly a deal breaker.
Oh, and these 17 all had driver's licenses, so a photo ID law wouldn't have helped here. Nor was there any plot to steal votes. Just a minuscule thimbleful of random folks who cast votes they shouldn't have. Maybe by accident—in fact, maybe not at all, since how these cases often turn out—but in any case, an absolute maximum of 17. Weigel concludes by comparing this to the 200,000 votes that were spoiled in Ohio in the 2004 election:
The situation's improved since then, but there remain many, many more votes lost because of flawed ballots or attritition from long lines than votes canceled out out by the confirmed ballot of a non-citizen. And a great deal of legal work has come up dry in the hunt for the mythical "buses of illegal voters" being spirited in from cities or campuses to stuff the polls.
But if you just read Fox, you've learned that the voter fraud problem is very real.
Last week I mentioned the peculiar story of David Wildstein, an executive at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, who closed down several lanes of the George Washington Bridge last October in apparent retaliation against the mayor of Fort Lee for not supporting Chris Christie's reelection campaign. It all seemed pretty sleazy, but I also figured it was "vanishingly unlikely" that Christie himself had anything to do with this. It was embarrassing for him, but that was all.
Bill Baroni and David Wildstein, former executives at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, have sought outside counsel amid an investigation into why traffic lanes leading to the nation's busiest bridge were closed, the documents showed.
....Mr. Wildstein recently hired Alan L. Zegas, a criminal lawyer from Chatham, N.J., to represent him, according to an email sent from Mr. Zegas to the state Legislature Tuesday....Mr. Baroni retained Michael Himmel, of Lowenstein Sandler LLP. Mr. Himmel works at the firm's New York City and Roseland, N.J. offices, and specializes in white collar crime, according to his biography.
Read Mark Kleiman for more on just why this is such bad news for Christie. This scandal is starting to look like it has more legs than I thought.
Edward Snowden would like Brazil to grant him political asylum. And why not? The Brazilian public was pretty ticked off over revelations that the NSA had hacked into Petrobas, and Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, was pretty ticked off when she learned that the NSA had been monitoring her email and cell phone. But apparently canceling a state trip to the United States is about as far as she's willing to go:
Brazil has no plans to grant asylum to Edward Snowden even after the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor offered on Tuesday to help investigate revelations of spying on Brazilians and their president, a local newspaper reported.
The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper, citing unnamed government officials, said the Brazilian government has no interest in investigating the mass Internet surveillance programs Snowden revealed in June and does not intend to give him asylum.
In the end, no matter how annoyed they are and how much public posturing they do, very few countries are willing to risk the massive breakdown in relations that would be the likely result of harboring a wanted American fugitive. Snowden is going to have a helluva hard time finding a permanent home anywhere other than Russia.
I'm thinking about switching to Chrome as my default browser, but first I need to check and see if I can still blog successfully using it. It's not officially supported by MoJo's tech staff, you see. So I need something to write about.
I know! How about the War on Christmas™? Dan Amira shares with us the video clip on the right, which is certainly amusing. It turns out that Fox News, which is ground zero for outrage over this stuff, airs house spots that wish everyone "Happy Holidays." Hah!
But I have a question. The conservative take on all this is that "Happy Holidays" is some kind of secular leftist plot. Or a multi-culti plot. Or something. But at least as far back as when I was a kid, we got cards wishing us "Holiday Greetings" or "Greetings of the Season," or some such. And since we were all one big Christian nation back then, and no one cared about Eid or Kwanzaa or atheists or even Hanukkah, really, I always assumed that this particular greeting was about New Year's. "Happy Holidays" meant you were including both Christmas and New Year's, not that you were including Christmas and some godless pagan festival.
Am I crazy? Or is that where it started?
POSTSCRIPT: In case you're wondering, Chrome seems to work fine, as you can see by the fact that this post exists. Oddly, though, our (supposedly) WYSIWYG editor and preview function don't display YouTube embeds in Chrome. In fact, this particular embed didn't even show up when I published the post. Then after a few minutes it finally did. But even then, it still didn't show up when I went back into editing mode. That's pretty strange.
Everything else seems to work fine, though Chrome lacks some useful features I've gotten used to. But I guess that's life.
Phone records should be stored privately, not by the government. If the NSA needs phone records, it should get a warrant for them. Like a subpoena, the warrant should be "reasonable in focus, scope, and breadth."
More broadly: "As a general rule and without senior policy review, the government should not be permitted to collect and store mass, undigested, non-public personal information about US persons for the purpose of enabling future queries and data-mining for foreign intelligence purposes."
The FBI should no longer be allowed to issue National Security Letters on its own. NSLs should be issued only if a warrant is approved. Nondisclosure orders should be more restricted; should last no more than 180 days; and should not prevent the target of the NSL from challenging its legality in court.
Generally speaking, companies that are ordered to produce information should be allowed to "disclose on a periodic basis general information about the number of such orders they have received, the number they have complied with, the general categories of information they have produced, and the number of users whose information they have produced in each category."
Surveillance of non-US persons "must be directed exclusively at protecting national security interests....[and] must not be directed at illicit or illegitimate ends, such as the theft of trade secrets or obtaining commercial gain for domestic industries."
If a US person is inadvertently surveilled, that information cannot be used as evidence in any court proceeding.
The NSA should be headed by a civilian. Leadership of the NSA should be separated from leadership of the military's Cyber Command.
"Congress should create the position of Public Interest Advocate to represent the interests of privacy and civil liberties before the FISC." In addition, more FISC decisions should be declassified.
The government should commit itself to stop trying to undermine public encryption standards.
These are useful recommendations, especially 1, 2, 3, 6, and 8. Recommendation 7 is already a dead letter, since President Obama has said he plans to keep dual-hatted leadership for the NSA and Cyber Command.
How much of this will survive the president and Congress? I'd like to say I'm optimistic, but I'm not, really. These recommendations are useful but modest, and I suspect that Congress will whittle them down even more. Stay tuned.
So what does this mean? In a nutshell, markets will probably freak out temporarily. Econ pundits will write about a hundred thousand words today exploring every possible nuance of the decision. Ben Bernanke will tell everyone to calm down. In a day or two, there will be some news about the holiday buying season and the whole thing will be forgotten. Five years from now, there will be several doctoral dissertations about what it all really meant.
Substantively, though, this just isn't that big a deal. You may now return to your regularly scheduled Obamacare bashing and/or defending.
UPDATE AT 11:12 AM: Apparently the Dow is up 100 points on the taper news. So markets don't seem to be freaking out after all. If this holds, it will be the most quickly disproven prediction I've ever made, and yet another lesson that you should never make predictions. Will I ever learn?
Three weeks after President Obama hailed a landmark deal to suspend most of Iran's nuclear program for the next six months, the mood among U.S. officials about the next round of negotiations has shifted from elated to somber, even gloomy.
....Problems already have emerged. Technical talks in Vienna aimed at implementing the initial deal stopped Thursday when Iranian negotiators unexpectedly flew back to Tehran, reportedly in response to the Obama administration's decision to expand its blacklist of foreign companies and individuals who have done business with Iran in violation of sanctions.
....Even before Thursday's interruption, experts had struggled to determine how to sequence the complex next steps involved: neutralizing a stockpile of medium-enriched uranium and freezing most other enrichment operations in exchange for granting Iran access, in installments, to $4.2 billion of its own funds held in banks overseas and easing sanctions on petrochemical and auto exports.
None of this surprises me. Even with the incentive of shucking off the sanctions that have crippled their economy, the price the Western allies is asking might just be too high for Iran to accept. In the end, ensuring that Iran can't build a bomb requires dismantling nearly all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure and putting in place extremely intrusive monitoring of what's left. There are a hundred different ways this could run aground on both sides.
Hopefully, this is just the normal trough in negotiations after the initial bloom of goodwill from getting talks started. After all, both sides have good reason to want to make a deal. But if I had to guess, I'd put the odds of success at 50 percent or less.
Paul Krugman channels Simon Wren-Lewis today to complain about the economic triumphalism of British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has been crowing that his austerity policies are finally paying off. In reality, both men say, Cameron implemented austerity policies in 2010 and 2011, but then eased up. And now that he's eased up, the economy is starting to improve. Austerity had nothing to do with it.
I want to use this as a springboard to make two random-but-connected points:
Politically, message consistency is key. Ronald Reagan never varied from his insistence that tax cuts would supercharge the economy, so when the economy finally did pick up in 1983, tax cuts got the credit even though they almost certainly played only a small role. Likewise, austerity is getting the credit in Britain because Cameron has never varied from his insistence that it would work. Liberals tend to be much worse at this kind of economic message discipline. When the economy improves, they get a lot less credit because they haven't relentlessly prepared the public with a very simple message about what they've been doing.
On a related note, Wren-Lewis points out that Britain's central government deficit in 2013 was 7.5 percent of GDP. Cameron touts this as evidence of his fiscal stinginess. In America, the federal deficit in 2013 was 4.1 percent of GDP. Conventional wisdom ignores this and continues to wail that we need ever more spending cuts in order to reduce our still-unconscionable deficits. One again, note the difference that message discipline makes.
My point is not that message discipline is everything. The real world matters more. But it does matter. If you want credit for good things, you have to make up a simple, plausible story about what you're doing and then stick to it like glue until things finally turn up. It worked for Reagan and it's working for Cameron. Obama, on the other hand, never had a consistent story, so he's not getting any credit as the economy improves.
POSTSCRIPT: Needless to say, Obama also had much less control over the economy than Cameron, who doesn't have to put up with a fractious Congress. So from a message point of view, maybe he was just screwed. Still, I suspect Obama could have done better than he did.
It started with the fiscal cliff showdown and then barreled straight into Scandalmania (Benghazi+IRS+AP subpoenas); Edward Snowden and the NSA leaks; the Syria U-turn; the government shutdown; and finally the Obamacare website debacle.
Steve Benen takes a look at these same events and pushes back:
Twice congressional Republicans threatened debt-ceiling default; twice Obama stood his ground....Congressional Republicans shut down the government to extract White House concessions. Obama and congressional Democrats stood firm and the GOP backed down....forged an international agreement to rid Syria of chemical weapons....The “scandals” the media hyped relentlessly in the spring proved to be largely meaningless.
Nice try! And there's something to this. Obama did manage to squeeze out "victories" in the fiscal cliff and government shutdown fights, Scandalmania mostly turned into a nothingburger, and Syria and Iran may yet turn out to be foreign policy wins.
But at best, that's for the future. For now, 2013 just looks a year that Obama barely survived, bruised and bloody. It's possible that the other guy looks even worse, of course, and after watching John Boehner's press conference a couple of days ago, I'd say it's fair to think so.
The good news, such as it is, is that all this stuff might set up Obama for a decent 2014. If Republicans realize it's pointless to pick more debt ceiling fights; if Obamacare starts working smoothly; if we strike a decent deal with Iran; and if the economy picks up—if all those things happen, then 2014 will look pretty good. It probably can't look much worse.
Sue Spanke of Missoula, Mont., was highly displeased this fall when she learned her health insurance had been canceled....After angrily calling her state auditor's office, Spanke, a self-employed artist in her 50s, found she was eligible for a federal subsidy. Her new insurance will cover her for a mere $30 to $40 a month with a deductible of only $500. She had been paying $350 a month for a Blue Cross policy with a $5,000 deductible. "I went from a horrible policy that didn't cover anything, that was breaking me, to the best policy at the best price I've had since I was in my 20s," she said.
....In Lancaster, Pa., Lori Lapman, 58, learned her health plan was being canceled in September—by October things were looking up. Per The Sunday News: "Sitting at a laptop with a certified health law helper, Lapman went to HealthCare.gov, found it running smoothly, and bought a subsidized Highmark plan that allows her to keep her doctors while saving her money. Her canceled plan cost her $520 a month. Her new coverage? Only $111.73."
....In a letter to the editor in The Santa Maria Times, Allan Pacela told the story of how after his wife lost her insurance this fall, she found much better coverage under Obamacare. The couple is now saving $8,000 per year for a "much better plan."
There's more at the link, and all from doing a quick Nexis search of newspapers across the country. Just imagine what we might find out with a little bit of old-school shoe-leather reporting.
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