There's been plenty of news lately about big companies urging their employees to vote in the 2012 presidential election and, in some cases, nudging those employees to vote for the GOP ticket. Executives at Westgate Resorts, ASG Software Solutions, and a handful of other businesses have even warned that an Obama vote could lead to layoffs. Romney himself, as In These Times reported, told business owners during a June conference call to "make it very clear to your employees what you believe is in the best interest of your enterprise and therefore their job."

Another CEO has joined the pro-Romney push. Last week, Brooks Smith, the CEO of Interactive Communications (also known as Incomm), the country's leading purveyor of prepaid gift cards and debit cards, forwarded a Romney campaign fundraising email to all of his employees. The email, ostensibly written by Romney, slams President Obama for irresponsibly running up the nation's debt and deficits. "We need to get serious about this before it's too late," the email says. "My plan for deficit reduction cuts and caps federal spending, balances the budget, and reduces our nation's debt—to put America on a path to prosperity."

A former Incomm employee forwarded Smith's message to Mother Jones, after receiving it from a current employee.

Incomm's website says it did nearly $10 billion in sales in 2009, and has one billion customers each week. Incomm's customers include Walmart, Best Buy, Target, and 7-Eleven.

Asked about the Romney email Smith circulated to his employees, an Incomm spokeswoman wrote in a statement that the CEO "neither shared any personal views nor suggested the employees take any specific action." She went on: "However, Mr. Smith feels the information he shares is important information for individuals to have when choosing their candidates. Of course, whom they vote for is their decision alone."

Here's the email from Smith:


When a set of State Department emails were released Wednesday, one reporting that a local Islamist militia had claimed responsibility for the attack on the US consulate in Benghazi that killed four Americans, including the US ambassador to Libya, conservatives thought they had the smoking gun that the Obama administration had lied about what had occurred. 

Reuters reported Wednesday that on September 11—the day of the attack—a State Department email with the subject header "Ansar al-Sharia Claims Responsibility for Benghazi Attack" was sent to the White House. The message stated that "Embassy Tripoli reports the group claimed responsibility on Facebook and Twitter and has called for an attack on Embassy Tripoli." Case closed, conservatives said: The White House had engaged in a cover-up.

"[T]he president and his advisers repeatedly told us the attack was spontaneous reaction to the anti-Muslim video and that it lacked information suggesting it was a terrorist assault," wrote Jennifer Rubin, president of the Washington Post's Mitt Romney fan club. "Bottom line? Barack Obama was willfully and knowingly lying to the American people," wrote Danielle Pletka, vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. (Of course, the idea that the video played a role is not inconsistent with the idea that the attack was an "act of terror," a phrase the president himself used to describe the attack in the days following the incident.)

There's only one problem—well, actually, there are many, but one big one: The email appears to have been incorrect. Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi, the group suspected of attacking the consulate, never claimed responsibility for the assault. In fact, according to Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who monitors jihadist activity online, Ansar al-Sharia in Benghazi didn't post about the attack on its Facebook or Twitter page until September 12, the day after the attack. They expressed their approval of the incident, but they didn't take credit; they did imply members of the group might have been involved, according to Zelin, stating, "Katibat Ansar al-Sharia [in Benghazi] as a military did not participate formally/officially and not by direct orders." The statement also justifies the attack by implicitly alluding to the anti-Islam video linked to unrest in other parts of the Middle East, saying, "We commend the Libyan Muslim people in Benghazi [that were] against the attack on the [Muslim] Prophet [Muhammad]."

"It is possible staffers were mistaken in the heat of the moment," wrote Zelin in an email to Mother Jones. "Not only was there no statement from ASB until the following morning, but it did not claim responsibility." (Zelin provided Mother Jones with screenshots of AAS's Twitter feed and Facebook page, which he also provided to CNN. It's possible the posts could have been deleted, but there's no way to prove that.)

Even if the State Department email had been accurate, conservatives pounced on it eagerly without underlying corroboration, thereby providing a pretty good example of how complicated intelligence analysis can be and why it's a bad idea to simply jump on a piece of information that fits your preconceived biases. The email was just one piece of information gathered in the aftermath of the attack. While the White House's initial explanation that the attack had begun as a protest turned out to be wrong, the email itself doesn't bear on two of the major remaining questions: what role the video played and whether the attack was planned or spontaneous. 

You'd think that this would be obvious, but in the future it's a good idea to remember that just because someone posts something on Facebook, that doesn't necessarily mean it's true. Even better: Just because someone said someone posted something on Facebook doesn't mean it's true. Even if you really, really want it to be.

Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief David Corn and New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait joined Chris Matthews on MSNBC's Hardball Wednesday to talk about irrational exuberance regarding Mitt Romney's prospects, and why Democrats should stay confident heading towards November 6th.

David Corn is Mother Jones' Washington bureau chief. For more of his stories, click here. He's also on Twitter.

Earlier this week, the New York Times' Nate Silver wrote about the gaping "gender gap" at the heart of the presidential race, specifically the degree to which women are breaking for Barack Obama and men are breaking for Mitt Romney. On average, polls show Obama beating Romney by 9 points with women, while Romney has a 9-point advantage with men. All in all, that's an 18-point gender gap, a powerful indicator of just how much each candidate's chance of victory depends on one sex or the other.

(Update: Does a new AP poll mean the gender gap is gone? Not so fast.)

The red-blue gender gap has grown during the past two decades, but women and men's presidential preferences have often diverged. According to historical Gallup survey data, in 1952, women supported Republican Dwight Eisenhower by more than 5 points over men; likewise, men broke toward Democrat Adlai Stevenson by 5 points. (Total gender gap: 10 points.) By the '80s, women supported Democratic candidates much more solidly than men. In the 2008 election, 57 percent of women voted for Obama, compared with 50 percent of men; 50 percent of men voted for John McCain, while 43 percent of women did. (Total gender gap: 14 points.)

In short, women have been increasingly backing Democrats by the binderful. Nearly 30 years of exit-poll data tells the story:

The shift has been most dramatic among women 18 to 29 and single women. A new report from the the Voter Participation Center finds that the gap between married and single women's support for Democrats is profound. In 2008, unmarried women chose Obama over McCain by a whopping 41 points, while McCain carried married women by 3 points. This is big news for Democrats, especially considering that unmarried women made up 23 percent of voters in 2008. The gender gap helps explain why this year's race is so tight. A slice of recent swing-state polling by Public Policy Polling shows that it's very pronounced in key battleground states, including Ohio, Florida, Wisconsin, Virginia, and Iowa. (And that's just one pollster's results.)  

So why are more women flocking to Democratic presidential candidates (and fleeing Republicans)? The answer doesn't seem too complicated, what with stuff like this, this, and this. A recent Gallup poll in 12 swing states found that more than half of female voters said that abortion or equal opportunity were their top election priority—issues that the president's campaign has repeatedly hammered Romney, Paul Ryan, and Republicans on.

Or maybe it's just hormones.

Update, 10/25: According to a just-released AP poll, Romney has erased his 16-point disadvantage with women and his lead with men has shrunk to 5 points. However, this is is just one poll; it will be interesting to see if other nationwide tracking polls show similar shifts in the week ahead. As Nate Silver's post explained, nine major polls show a significant gender gap; the 18-point split he cited was an average of those. It didn't include AP. If you factor in the new AP poll, Obama has an average 8.5-point advantage with women; Romney's average advantage with men is 8.7 points.

Update 2, 10/25: A new ABC News/Washington Post poll finds a 14-point gender gap, with support for Obama falling among unmarried women.

This article has been revised.

Gloria Allred.

Is this the October Surprise of 2012? Attorney Gloria Allred appeared in a Canton, Massachusetts, court today to petition a judge to unseal records in the decades-old divorce case of Tom Stemberg, the founder of Staples. Allred was there with Stemberg's ex-wife, Maureen Sullivan Stemberg, and what the two want made public is Mitt Romney's testimony from the nasty divorce trial. Romney, as he often boasts, helped Stemberg create Staples when he Romney was running Bain Capital, and TMZ has reported that anonymous sources say that Romney, in that testimony, lowballed the value of Staples stock. In court, Allred noted that she has a copy of Romney's testimony, but she has yet to say what's in it. (The Boston Globe is also asking the court to lift the gag order that was placed on the parties to the divorce.) The judge, according to the live-tweeting of David Bernstein, a reporter for the Boston Phoenix, recessed the hearing until tomorrow. Atypically, Allred left the courthouse without saying much.

It seems that Maureen Sullivan Stemberg has been trying to get her story told—including the Romney angle—for several years. Four years ago, Dragon-Lion Media, a movie production company based outside of Los Angeles, announced it was making a documentary about her, with her cooperation. It issued a press release noting that this "first-time tell all tale of the interweaving relationships and strange bedfellow[s]" in her life would feature Romney, without specifying what role he would play. But Edmund Druilhet, the founder and CEO of Dragon-Lion Media, tells Mother Jones that Stemberg had discussed with him her belief that Romney had testified falsely to help Tom Stemberg during the trial. "She told me all about that," he says. And Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti, who was tapped to be the writer on the documentary, says that when she was working with Maureen Sullivan Stemberg she read the Romney testimony and that Romney on the stand said that Staples at that time was just "a dream," and that stock in the company was not worth much. "That really stood out to me," Ranson-Polizzotti recalls. Maureen, according to Ranson-Polizzotti, firmly believed that Romney had lied on the stand to benefit her ex-husband.

The press release indicated Maureen Sullivan Stemberg was bitter about her divorce settlement, noting the film would expose the "injustice" of the Massachusetts court system.

Here's the press release:

DRAGON-LION MEDIA's Edmund Druilhet has just announced the production of "The Maureen Sullivan Stemberg Story: A Portrait In Courage", a true-life documentary film based on factual events from her childhood up to today. Maureen the first wife and inspiration for Staples which Tom Stemberg founded in 1985. Prior to 1985 he was out of work for almost three years. Tom Stemberg, served as CEO and drove the company through its growth from infancy to what is now a worldwide superstore based on the idea of a home-office. Maureen Sullivan Stemberg ran her own very successful interior design business from just such a home-office. She also designed Trump Penthouses at the Plaza. Over the past 20 years, Maureen Sullivan Stemberg has proven to be one of the most talented Interior designers in the industry. She has owned and operated successful design firms in both Boston and palm beach, taking on upscale clients with the most discriminating taste. "Her ability to transform any room into a timeless masterpiece has boosted her reputation as a visionary with inpeccable attention to detail" —Traditional Homes Magazine 1985.

In Sullivan Stemberg's own words: "I am so proud to say I was born in South Boston, came home to live with my siblings and parents in a two bedroom project. My family, valued cultural learning and discussed politics at the breakfast table. It was reading, writing and the knowledge of the world around me -- a greater knowledge than my own backyard was instilled in me from a very early age and I've learned to carry that torch with me wherever I have gone since then: shining my flashlight in hidden corners, highlighting those things that I feel require some attention on my part, be it the arts, child abuse and all the way to certain medical issues that are under-reported. I was taught to speak-up, and I do, and I am proud of my parents for teaching me this and proud of my own ability now to stand up for what I believe in. This is why I am humbled, grateful and pleased to have my story be told in this film documentary."

Maureen Sullivan Stemberg will provide an in-depth account in this first-time tell all tale of the interweaving relationships and strange bedfellow that business has made in her life. Such luminaries include former Governor of Massachusetts, Mitt Romney - who was the former Republican nominee in the 2008 Presidential campaign, as well as one of the first major investors for Staples while he was employed by Bain Capital, Boston, MA. This story will include the injustice of the Mass. Probate Justice system. Other heavy hitting names have yet to be released in this as of yet untold story including Dola Davis Hamilton Stemberg.

The documentary will feature Ms. Stemberg, interior designer and social advocate, whose design work has been featured in such places as House and Garden, House Beautiful, and The New York Times as well as Who's Who in Interior Design: One Hundred Top Designers (published by Rizzoli), among others. Notably, Ms. Sullivan Stemberg was selected by Who's Who Woman of Distinction for 2006, featured for her design work, and most notably for her charitable social endeavors, and most importantly to her, her work with abused children. Sullivan Stemberg is also recognized for her charitable work and advocacy for people with autoimmune diseases and conditions.

The documentary will also feature writer Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti who will be interviewing various people involved throughout her life, past and present. Anyone discussed in the documentary will be contacted for their response.

The documentary is to be sourced to Lifetime Television as well as broadcasting companies throughout the United States, Europe, and worldwide.

Sadi Ranson-Polizzotti has been named as the writer and editor of the documentary. Ranson-Polizzotti is a full-member of the national PEN America Foundation.

Clearly, Maureen Sullivan Stemberg has been seeking attention for a while. Though the movie never went into production, she may now receive an audience with this attempt to cast Romney in a starring role.

Indiana Senate candidate Richard Mourdock, left, with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).

Richard Mourdock, who's running for US Senate in Indiana, is only the latest Republican to court controversy with comments about rape and pregnancy. On Tuesday night Mourdock voiced his opposition to abortion even in cases of rapes, saying that a pregnancy resulting from rape is "something God intended to happen."

Mitt Romney has already distanced himself from Mourdock's rape comment. "We disagree on the policy regarding exceptions for rape and incest but still support him," Romney's campaign said in a statement. However, Mourdock's Senate campaign has benefited from the largesse of Romney's running mate, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). Ryan's leadership political action committee, Prosperity PAC, gave $5,000 to Mourdock's campaign during the 2012 election cycle.

Mourdock has received tens of thousands of dollars more from other lawmakers' leadership PACs. Mourdock backers include Sens. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), John Barasso (R-Wyo.), Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), and Rob Portman (R-Ohio), who is a top Romney campaign adviser.

Before his rape comments, Mourdock enjoyed a modest lead in his Senate race over Democratic congressman Joe Donnelly, according to RealClearPolitics.

Correction: The headline of this post initially misspelled Mourdock's name.

Pfc. Heriberto Lozano, a scout with Troop A, 1st Squadron, 1st Cavalry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, runs back to his base camp after conducting training on dismounted patrol and reconnaissance operations at Doña Ana Range Complex, New Mexico, Oct. 16, 2012. US Army photo.

On November 6, Americans will vote on at least 174 ballot measures in 38 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, weighing in on everything from legalizing marijuana to abolishing the death penalty. Here's a look at some of the most prominent issues being decided:

Banning Same-Sex Marriage
Maryland and Washington passed bills earlier this year legalizing same-sex marriage. But gay marriage opponents, led by groups like the National Organization for Marriage, are backing referendums in both states that would prevent the laws from being enacted. Marriage equality supporters have outraised their rivals $10.5 million to $1.8 million in Washington and $3.2 million to $835,000 in Maryland (including $250,000 apiece from libertarian hedge fund manager Paul Singer and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who has pledged an additional $500,000 to boost marriage equality supporters in Maine, Minnesota, and Washington). Meanwhile, Maine may be the first state to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote; supporters there have outraised marriage foes $3.4 million to $430,000. In all three states, same-sex marriage leads in the polls. In Minnesota, the campaign to pass a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage is being outraised by $5.5 million and is trailing in the polls

Legalizing Pot
Medical marijuana is legal in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington, but in November all three states have the chance to legalize it for recreational use. A pro-pot measure leads narrowly in Colorado, where a total of $3.7 million has been raised on both sides and pot supporters have outspent their foes by a 4-1 margin. The DC-based Marijuana Policy Project has contributed $1.2 million to the legalization effort, and Progressive Insurance chair Peter Lewis has given $875,000. The Florida-based Save Our Society From Drugs has given $210,000 to the opposition; the Colorado-based Focus on the Family is also a prominent foe. Legalization appears to be headed for defeat in Oregon but enjoys a wide lead in Washington, where legalization supporters have outraised their opponents by $3 million. Meanwhile, Arkansas and Massachusetts voters will decide whether to legalize medical marijuana.

Restricting Abortion
In Florida, voters have the opportunity to amend their state constitution to outlaw public funding for abortion with exceptions for federal requirements and to save the life of the mother. Current polls show a tight race. Opponents of the measure have raised more than $2.4 million, half of it from Planned Parenthood groups. That's more than 10 times what supporters have taken in.

Requiring Voter ID
Voters won't have to produce IDs at polling stations in Minnesota, but they will be voting on whether they'll have to in the future. Amendment 2 would enshrine a voter ID requirement into the state constitution. The amendment's main opponent, the AARP-backed Our Vote Our Future, has outraised its supporters $183,000 to $135,000. The main group leading the voter ID charge is, a front group run by the social-conservative Minnesota Majority, which also supports the state's anti-gay marriage amendment. Support for the voter ID amendment has waned significantly, but it still maintains a clear advantage.

Fighting Money in Politics
After Citizens United invalidated their state's century-old campaign finance restrictions, citizens in Montana responded with a ballot initiative that would demand that state officials enact a policy rejecting corporate personhood. The initiative polls well and its supporters have raised more than $100,000 (including more than $95,000 from the campaign finance reform group Common Cause). But its critics question its constitutionality since the Supreme Court already struck down the state's challenge to Citizens United earlier this year. In California, Proposition 32 would ban corporations and unions from spending employee paycheck deductions on politics. Yet because corporations rarely spend paycheck deductions on politics, Democrats have decried the plan as one-sided attack on organized labor. Prop. 32's opponents have raised more than $58 million, nearly all of it from unions; supporters have raised more than $45 million. Colorado's Amendment 65, supported by reform groups including Common Cause, Public Citizen, and People for the American Way, would urge the state's congressional delegation to support a constitutional amendment to mitigate the impact of Citizens United.

Killing the Death Penalty
proposition-deluged voters will also vote on Proposition 34, which would abolish the state's death penalty and commute at least 725 inmates' sentences to life without parole. (No inmates have been executed since 2006, when a federal judge placed a hold on lethal injection in the state.) Supporters of the proposition have dwarfed their opponents' fundraising efforts, $5.6 million to $245,000. Donors include Chicago investor Nicholas Pritzker (whose wife Susan sits on Mother Jones' board of directors), a fund run by New York billionaire Charles Feeney, and a number of Hollywood stars and Silicon Valley execs. Still, Prop. 34 appears to be headed toward defeat, thanks in part to an emotional ad campaign that features stories of death rows inmates' victims. The campaign's supported by several district attorneys, law enforcement officers, and the father of the girl whose kidnap and murder nearly two decades ago led to California's death penalty. However, Prop. 36, another criminal justice measure that would revoke part of the state's three-strikes law, is polling very well.

Protesting Obamacare
In 2010, citizens of Arizona, Missouri, and Oklahoma signaled their distaste for Obamacare by voting to defy the bill's insurance mandate (a similar measure failed in Colorado). This year, Alabama, Florida, Montana, and Wyoming are voting on related protest initiatives. There hasn't been a great deal of spending related to the measures, and if any pass they would likely have no effect because they would violate federal law. Missouri is also taking another stab at Obamacare; this time voters will decide whether to prohibit the governor from setting up insurance exchanges without approval from voters or the legislature.

Protecting Collective Bargaining
Voters in Michigan will have the chance to protect the collective bargaining rights through Proposal 2, a constitutional amendment that would prevent a potential effort akin to Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's recent victory for a right-to-work law. Protect Our Jobs, a labor coalition supporting the measure, has raised more than $8 million, more than a quarter of which has poured in from out-of-state unions. An opposing group called Citizens Protecting Michigan's Constitution, supported by business groups, has raised just $345,000 as of the end of September, $130,000 of it from the state's Chamber of Commerce. Last year, a similar measure passed in Ohio. Supporters of that measure raised more than $30 million, giving them a 4-1 cash advantage.

Ending Hostile Takeovers
In 2011, Michigan Republicans enacted a controversial emergency-manager law that gives a governor-appointed official unprecedented control over the budgets of economically devastated cities. Proposal 1, which has become increasingly popular as support for the emergency-manager law wanes but still faces an uphill battle, would repeal the law. Spending on the proposal has been modest; most of it has come from the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, which has donated $166,000 toward legal costs and the initial petition to get the measure on the ballot.

Reclaiming the Grand Canyon?
State sovereignty advocates are at it again in Arizona. Proposition 120 declares the state's "sovereign and exclusive authority and jurisdiction over the air, water, public lands, minerals, wildlife and other natural resources within its boundaries," prompting Salon to ask if the state is attempting to wrest control of the Grand Canyon from the federal government. The measure was placed on the ballot by Republican lawmakers asserting the tea party mantra of states' rights. No one's polled voters on Prop. 120, but it has environmental activists spooked that it could endanger federal environmental protections. A group called Stop the Legislature's Land Grab, sponsored by the Sierra Club, has raised at least $3,425 to oppose the measure.

Sgt. Saral Shrestha accepts his Soldier of the Year award

The US Army named its soldier of the year on Monday. He's a special forces-connected sergeant, an officer-in-training, an Afghanistan vet... and a recent immigrant to the United States from Nepal.

Sgt. Saral Shrestha, a native of Kathmandu, came to America in 2007 and enlisted in the Army in 2009; according to his parents, he came on a student visa but was granted US citizenship in an Army naturalization ceremony. He currently serves as a power-generator technician with the 3rd Special Forces Group, supporting their missions overseas, and reportedly tore up the stiff competition for the service's coveted prize. 

"The competition included urban warfare simulations, board interviews, physical fitness tests, written exams, and battle drills simulating what soldiers would encounter in combat," the local Ft. Bragg newspaper reports. That probably wasn't hard for Shrestha, who'd already deployed to the Afghan war zone and plans to take an officer's commission after he finishes a master's degree. (As motivation, Shrestha cited his great grandfather, who served in the British Army during World War II. "I heard his stories when I was growing up and I guess that inspired me to some extent," he told the Republica, a Nepali daily newspaper.)

At last night's presidential debate on foreign policy, Mitt Romney repeated one of his signature foreign-policy talking points on Iran:

I'd make sure that [Iranian president Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad is indicted under the Genocide Convention. His words amount to genocide incitation. I would indict him for it.

/Flickr ; /FlickrGage Skidmore/Flickr ; Daniella Zalcman/Flickr

Romney has been saying this since at least the end of 2007. As I noted last year when he brought this up several times in the heat of the Republican primaries, Romney is wading into murky, if not downright implausible, territory here. When he talks about indicting Ahmadinejad, Romney is specifically referring to the the Iranian leader's infamous applause line calling for Israel to "be wiped off the map." That rhetoric was widely condemned when he first said it back in the Bush years. But unless a statement can be taken into direct evidence as proving premeditation and intent to perpetrate mass murder, it would be exceedingly difficult to bring charges under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide against a foreign leader, let alone haul him before the International Criminal Court.

Elizabeth Blackney, an anti-genocide activist and author (and Romney supporter), questioned Romney's plan when we talked about this last November: "There are so many layers to [Romney's] argument that need to be explored [before any potential US support for an indictment] because the implications are very serious...US policy has been to not honor the International Criminal Court; we are not a signatory to the Rome Treaty. So is Romney signaling that he would recommend law enforcement under the [statute]... and fundamentally change American policy toward the ICC and the Genocide Convention? [The governor's comment] was not very well thought out."

Reactions following Monday night's debate were similar: "And as the President of the United States, Romney wouldn't have the power on his own to bring anyone up before the International Criminal Court [ICC]. But it's one of those bits of posturing that nobody, not even his own supporters, actually believes," writes The American Prospect's Paul Waldman.

After the debate, Romney campaign aides clarified Romney's comment to TPM's Benjy Sarlin, suggesting that a Romney administration would support the "World Court" arresting and trying the Iranian president. (While the "World Court" is indeed a nickname for the UN's International Court of Justice, campaign officials most likely meant the ICC, which actually prosecutes crimes against humanity and genocide.) Greg Sargent at the Washington Post was quick to point out that members of Romney's own foreign policy advisory team, particularly John Bolton, cringe at the idea of American leadership deferring to international bodies like the ICC.

In his determination to project more toughness on Tehran during the final weeks of the election, Romney might do well to think of another—and less legally muddled—argument than "arraign Ahmadinejad now!"