Tuesday Reads: SCOTUS and Voting Rights, Iraq War Buildup, and Reno Saccoccia

morning paper cat dog

Good Morning!!

There’s a great big sloppy white mess outside my house this morning–something like 6 or 7 inches of heavy, wet snow. I’m not sure how I’ll get out of here; I may have to try to hire someone to dig me out. Anyway, I’m resigned to being stuck in the house for today at least.

Soooo… let’s see what happening in the news.

I’m going to start out with some news from the Supreme Court. Yesterday the court debated another voting rights case, and once again Sonya Sotomayor went toe-to-toe with right-wing judicial activist Antonin Scalia. This time it was a case from Arizona over whether a state can require proof of citizenship beyond what is required by federal voter registration forms. Here’s some background from Spencer Overton at HuffPo:

The latest case involves the simple question of whether Arizona can refuse to accept a federal voter registration form. But the stakes are much higher. A victory for Arizona could accelerate a nationwide trend of political operatives attempting to manipulate election rules for political gain, and could undermine the power of Congress to protect voting rights.

The National Voter Registration Act requires that all states “accept and use” a single, uniform voter registration form for federal elections. States can still use their own registration forms, but they must also accept and use the Federal Form. The purpose of the Federal Form is to increase participation by preventing states from erecting barriers to voter registration.

The Federal Form requires that prospective voters check a box and sign the form affirming they are U.S. citizens under penalty of perjury. Arizona, however, adopted a state law requiring “satisfactory proof” of U.S. citizenship to register, such as a birth certificate, U.S. passport, or state driver’s license that shows citizenship.

As a result, Arizona initially rejected over 31,000 voter registration applications — including citizens who registered using the Federal Form. Community-based registration drives were hit especially hard, because they rely on approaching individuals who may not be carrying a birth certificate or similar documentation (or unwilling to give a photocopy of these sensitive documents to a registration-drive volunteer). For example, community-based registration drives in Arizona’s largest county — Maricopa County — dropped 44%.

chair_sonia_sotomayor1

Obviously, if Arizona wins the case, other red states would pass similar laws that would trump federal voting regulations. Yesterday, Sotomayor and Scalia “clashed” over the Arizona law. Talking Points Memo:

Much as they did weeks ago during arguments over the constitutionality of the Voting Rights Act, the two justices on Monday each led the charge on opposite sides of the case — Scalia for less federal involvement in states’ ability to set their voting laws, and Sotomayor for broad national authority to protect citizens’ right to vote.

Sotomayor’s opening volley began immediately after Arizona Attorney General Thomas C. Horne stepped up to defend his state’s law. She fired off a series of questions, which she would continue asking in different flavors throughout his argument, about inconsistencies between Arizona’s Prop 200 and the NVRA.

“If I see the purpose of the NVRA to simplify registration, how are Arizona’s provisions consistent with that objective and purpose, given that … many people don’t have the documents that Arizona requires?” Sotomayor said. She asked Horne why he thinks Congress would have required states to accept a voter registration form if states can then turn around and require additional information like a passport or birth certificate.

“Why isn’t that just creating another form?” she demanded. Arizona, she said, may object to the fact that proof of citizenship isn’t required, but “that’s what Congress decided.”

As for Scalia:

The conservative jurist wasn’t convinced requiring people to attest under oath was sufficient.

“So it’s under oath — big deal,” Scalia said. “If you’re willing to violate the voting laws, I suppose you’re willing to violate the perjury laws.” He posited that only “a very low number” of voters would be harmed by a requirement to submit proof of citizenship.

Well that makes sense–not. Why bother having witnesses swear to tell the truth in court cases then?

Of course Anthony Kennedy was his usual waffling self. Again from TPM:

At one point, Kennedy wrestled with whether Arizona’s proof-of-citizenship requirement crosses a line. He asked the state’s attorney general, who was defending the law, whether states may also require proof of one’s address or date of birth when registering to vote. If so, he posited, then the federal requirement “is not worth very much.”

At another point, he launched a defense of Arizona’s actions in principle and took issue with some of the reasoning by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which ruled against Arizona.

“The state has a very strong and vital interest in the integrity of its elections,” Kennedy said, “even when those, and perhaps especially when those are elections of federal officials. And it seems to me the Ninth Circuit’s new test did not give sufficient weight to that interest.”

Roberts is apparently “leaning slightly” toward Arizona’s point of view. It’s really frightening that voting rights are in the hands of this conservative court. Thank goodness for Sotomayor’s willingness to be vocal in her arguments. Here are couple more interesting tidbits:

“Let me give you this example,” Alito said. “A person rides up to a place to register on a bicycle and gets out and hands in the federal form. This boy looks like he is 13 years old and he is carrying school books, he is wearing a middle school t-shirt, but he has filled out the form properly. Are they required to register him?”

Retired Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, a native Arizonan who in 2010 ruled against her statein this case from a lower court on which she occasionally sits, was present in the chamber.

In the final moments, Scalia warned the Obama administration’s lawyer, who was arguing against Arizona, that if the constitutionality of the NVRA form is challenged in broader terms, “You’re going to be in bad shape — the government’s going to be.”

There was a little bit of good news from the Court yesterday, according to HuffPo: Supreme Court Refuses To Hear Goldman Sachs’ Appeal To Financial Crisis Lawsuit.

Goldman Sachs Group Inc suffered a defeat on Monday as the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a decision forcing it to defend against claims it misled investors about mortgage securities that lost value during the 2008 financial crisis.

Without comment, the court refused to consider Goldman’s appeal of a September 2012 decision by the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York. Goldman shares sank more than 2 percent.

That court let the NECA-IBEW Health & Welfare Fund, which owned some mortgage-backed certificates underwritten by Goldman, sue on behalf of investors in certificates it did not own, but which were backed by mortgages from the same lenders.

Goldman and other banks have faced thousands of lawsuits by investors seeking to recoup losses on mortgage securities.

The bank has said that letting the 2nd Circuit decision stand could cost Wall Street tens of billions of dollars.

{{applause}}

David Frum posted a fascinating article at The Daily Beast late yesterday on the lead-up to the Iraq War. Frum was a speechwriter for George W. Bush at the time. You should read the whole thing, but I’ll just quote this one intriguing portion:

The first time I met Ahmed Chalabi was a year or two before the war, in Christopher Hitchens’s apartment. Chalabi was seated regally at one end of Hitchens’s living room. A crowd of nervous, shuffling Iraqis crowded together at the opposite end. One by one, they humbly stepped forward to ask him questions or favors in Arabic, then respectfully stepped backward again. After the Iraqis departed, Chalabi rose from his chair and joined an engaged, open discussion of Iraq’s future democratic possibilities.

The last time I saw Chalabi was in his London apartment, on the very eve of war. My little group arrived past midnight. Chalabi was listening to the evocative strains of Sufi music. He showed me a black-and-white photograph of seven men, wearing the clothes of the 1940s. They were the board of directors of a company his father had founded: a mixed group of Sunni, Shiite, and Christian, and even a Jew. Chalabi remarked that this picture was taken while Europe was tearing itself apart in genocidal violence. He didn’t add that it was taken shortly after British forces defeated a pro-Axis coup in Baghdad—but failed to prevent a murderous pogrom against Baghdad’s Jewish population.

I was less impressed by Chalabi than were some others in the Bush administration. However, since one of those “others” was Vice President Cheney, it didn’t matter what I thought. In 2002, Chalabi joined the annual summer retreat of the American Enterprise Institute near Vail, Colorado. He and Cheney spent long hours together, contemplating the possibilities of a Western-oriented Iraq: an additional source of oil, an alternative to U.S. dependency on an unstable-looking Saudi Arabia.

You might imagine that an administration preparing for a war of choice would be gripped by self-questioning and hot debate. There was certainly plenty to discuss: unlike the 1991 Gulf War, there was no immediate crisis demanding a rapid response; unlike Vietnam, the U.S. entered the war fully aware that it was commencing a major commitment.

Yet that discussion never really happened, not the way that most people would have imagined anyway. For a long time, war with Iraq was discussed inside the Bush administration as something that would be decided at some point in the future; then, somewhere along the way, war with Iraq was discussed as something that had already been decided long ago in the past.

I’m running out of space, so I’ll leave you with this follow-up to the Steubenville rape trial.

Reno

From Deadspin: Fire This Asshole: Why Does Steubenville’s Football Coach Still Have His Job?

Reno Saccoccia is a local legend, in the way that 30-year coaches of football powerhouses in economically depressed Ohio Valley towns tend to be legends. He’s in the Ohio Coaches Hall of Fame. He’s won three state titles. When Saccoccia won his 300th game last year, a sellout crowd of more than 10,000 people packed Harding Stadium—christened “Reno Field” in 2007—and chanted “Reno, Reno, Reno” as he left the field.

He breakfasts regularly with the sheriff. His sister-in-law works in the county’s juvenile court, where he is licensed as a mediator. He “molds young boys into men.” So how did Saccoccia react when he got word that two of his young boys were accused of raping a passed-out student?

On the night of the assault, a Steubenville student recorded this video joking about it. Off-camera, someone says “Trent and Ma’lik raped someone.” Among the text messages released at the trial of Trent Mays and Ma’lik Richmond, one sent by Mays indicated that Saccoccia had seen the video:

Deleate that off You-tube. Coach Sac knows about it. Seriously delete it.

Saccoccia would later claim he was unaware of the social media evidence, angrily telling a reporter that he didn’t “do the internet.” But a flurry of texts sent on August 13, the day after the incident, indicated that Saccoccia had heard what had happened.

Even as all of Steubenville gradually heard the rumors, even after a local blogger alerted the country to what had happened in Steubenville, those involved in posting and sharing the photos and videos continued to play. They were only suspended eight games into the season, more than two months after the assault and arrests.

Less than a month later, Saccoccia testified on behalf of Mays and Richmond in a hearing to determine whether they would be tried as adults.

As we all know, the “boys” were tried as juveniles and got off easy. Seriously, this asshole has to go!

I have some more stories to share, but I’ll put them in the comments . . .   What are you reading and blogging about today? I’m stuck in the house, so I have all the time in the world to click on your links and read!


Saturday Morning Reads

Good Morning!!

Wonk the Vote is taking care of some personal business today, so I’m filling in for her. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of exciting political news at the moment, so I’ve got a bit of a potpourri of links for you.

The most bizarre story out there right now is that Jason Russell, one of the founders of “Invisible Children,” an organization that recently released a video on Joseph Kony that went viral on the internet, has been hospitalized after an apparent breakdown.

Jason Russell, 33, was allegedly found masturbating in public, vandalizing cars and possibly under the influence of something, according to the SDPD. He was detained at the intersection of Ingraham Street and Riviera Road.

An SDPD spokesperson said the man detained was acting very strange, some may say bizarre….

Police said they received several calls Thursday at 11:30 a.m. of a man in various stages of undress, running through traffic and screaming.

Police recognized that Russell needed medical treatment, and he wasn’t put under arrest. ABC News has more detail on the incident. It sounds pretty bad.

Russell was allegedly walking around an intersection wearing “speedo-like underwear.” He then removed the underwear and made sexual gestures, sources told TMZ, which posted video of a publicly naked man purported to be Russell.

Several bystanders held Russell down until police arrived, ABC’s San Diego affiliate reported.

San Diego police spokesperson Lt. Andra Brown told NBC San Diego that Russell was “screaming, yelling, acting irrationally.” He was running into the roadway and interfering with traffic, although there were “no reports of actual collisions.” Bystanders reported he was in “various stage of undress,” although by the time police arrived, he had his “underwear back on.”

Invisible children is saying that Russell was hospitalized for exhaustion and malnutrition.

To be honest, I haven’t watched the video, because my sister saw it and told me it was very emotionally manipulative. She told me that in the film, Russell talks frankly to his son about Kony’s violent crimes in a way that sounded like child abuse to me. Plus, like many groups who are active in African countries, Invisible Children seems to be run by right wing Xtians. So I avoided seeing the film don’t know much about it. I’d be interested in the opinions of anyone who has seen the film.

I did find some background in The Guardian UK:

Invisible Children has shot to fame in recent weeks after one of the videos that it produces in order to publicise the atrocities of Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army went viral. Viewed more than 76m times, the video gave a high profile to the group’s cause, but also put the tiny charity at the centre of global scrutiny.

Critics have condemned the group for a perceived lack of transparency in its financial records and for over-simplifying a complex issue. They accused the group of being fame-seeking and of having an overtly western focus on what is a regional African problem. Some also pointed out the group had taken large donations from rightwing Christian fundamentalists groups in the US, who have also funded anti gay-rights causes.

However, the group and its many defenders mounted a strong defence, detailing its financial history and saying that their sole aim was to highlight a dreadful and ongoing human rights cause that had garnered little attention for decades. They were also hailed for using social media to engage young people in social activism.

Yesterday a jury in New Jersey Dharun Ravi guilty a hate crime for spying on roommate at Rutgers, Tyler Clementi and posting videos on the internet of Clementi and an older male in sexual encounters. Three days later, Clementi committed suicide by jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

A former Rutgers University student was convicted on Friday on all 15 charges he had faced for using a webcam to spy on his roommate having sex with another man, a verdict poised to broaden the definition of hate crimes in an era when laws have not kept up with evolving technology.

“It’s a watershed moment, because it says youth is not immunity,” said Marcellus A. McRae, a former federal prosecutor now in private practice.

The student, Dharun Ravi, had sent out Twitter and text messages encouraging others to watch…. The case set off a debate about whether hate-crime statutes are the best way to deal with bullying. While Mr. Ravi was not charged with Mr. Clementi’s death, some legal experts argued that he was being punished for it, and that this would result only in ruining another young life. They, along with Mr. Ravi’s lawyers, had argued that the case was criminalizing simple boorish behavior.

I for one am very pleased with the verdict. Ravi’s behavior went way beyond bullying, IMO. I’m sick of seeing young people driven to suicide by behaviors that are characterized as “bullying” because they’re been carried out by young people in school. If adults acted in the same ways, their behaviors would be seen as harassment, stalking, and even outright violence.

Last night George Clooney was arrested in DC along with several legislators for protesting outside the Sudanese embassy.

A group of U.S. lawmakers and film star George Clooney were arrested at Sudan’s embassy in Washington on Friday in a protest at which activists accused Khartoum of blocking humanitarian aid from reaching a volatile border region where hundreds of thousands of people may be short of food.

Protest organizers said those arrested included U.S. Representatives Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, Al Green of Texas, Jim Moran of Virginia and John Olver of Massachusetts – all Democrats. Organizers said Ben Jealous, president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Martin Luther King III, the son of the slain U.S. civil rights hero, also were arrested.

Clooney, his father Nick and the other anti-Sudan activists ignored three police warnings to leave the embassy grounds and were led away in plastic handcuffs to a waiting van by uniformed members of the Secret Service, a Reuters journalist covering the demonstration said.

I was glad to see that some members of the Massachusetts delegation were involved.

The suspect in the Afghan mass murders has been identified.

The military on Friday identified the soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan villagers earlier this week as Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, a 38-year-old father of two who had been injured twice in combat over the course of four deployments and had, his lawyer said, an exemplary military record.

Bales’ name was kept secret for several days because of

concerns about his and his family’s security.

An official said on Friday that Sergeant Bales was being transferred from Kuwait to Fort Leavenworth, Kan., home of the Army’s maximum security prison. His wife and children were moved from their home in Lake Tapps, Wash., east of Tacoma, onto Joint Base Lewis-McChord, his home base, earlier this week….

Little more than the outlines of Sergeant Bales’s life are publicly known. His family lived in Lake Tapps, a community about 20 miles northeast of his Army post. NBC reported that he was from Ohio, and he may have lived there until he joined the Army at 27.

Bales enlisted right after 9/11 and has had four combat deployments. It’s hard to understand how that could be permitted, especially after he suffered a traumatic brain injury. The story notes that the day before the shootings, Bales had seen a fellow soldier lose his leg.

CNN reports that Bales family said he did not want to go to Afghanistan after he had already served three combat deployments, lost part of his foot, and suffered the TBI.

“He was told that he was not going to be redeployed,” [Bales’ attorney John Henry] Browne said. “The family was counting on him not being redeployed. I think it would be fair to say he and the family were not happy that he was going back.”

Browne painted a picture of a decorated, career soldier who joined the military after the 2001 terrorist attacks and had spent his Army life at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma, Washington. Browne called him a devoted husband and father to his two young children who never made any derogatory remarks about Muslims or Afghans.

I’ve got a few political links for you. Indiana Governor Mitch Daniels is making news again. Naturally it relates to the war on women. He says the Republican presidential candidates “mishandled the recent debate over women’s health and contraception.”

In an interview with Reuters, he voiced misgivings about how the Republican presidential candidates have framed issues, especially the recent debate over women’s health and contraception.

The Obama administration’s recent decision to require religious institutions such as Catholic-run hospitals to offer insurance plans that cover birth control for women, which his administration later modified under pressure from critics, was “a radical expansion of federal power,” Daniels said….

“Where I wish my teammates had done better and where they mishandled it is … I thought they should have played it as a huge intrusion on freedom,” Daniels said.

Instead, he said they got dragged into a debate about women’s right to contraception, an issue which was settled 40 years ago.

Daniels said they should have framed the argument as one about government intrusion on personal liberty. He said the Obama rule was like saying that because Houston yoga is healthy, the government should require it.

Excuse me? What about the “intrusion” on women’s “freedom?” And what a stupid analogy. The government isn’t requiring anyone to use birth control. Why won’t Mitch just ride away on his Harley Sportster and leave us alone?

Of course not a day goes by without Mitt Romney saying something idiotic. Yesterday, right after his plane landed in Puerto Rico, Romney attacked Supreme Court Justice Sonya Sotomayor.

The justice, nominated by President Barack Obama in 2009, is beloved by local Democrats and Republicans as the high court’s first member of Puerto Rican descent.

“In looking at Justice Sotomayor, my view was her philosophy is quite different than my own and that’s the reason why I would not support her as a justice for the Supreme Court,” Romney told reporters Friday afternoon, just minutes after his plane touched down in San Juan. “I would be happy to have a justice of Puerto Rican descent or a Puerto Rican individual on the Supreme Court, but they would have to share my philosophy, that comes first.”

The issue puts Romney at odds with a majority of local voters and his most prominent Puerto Rican supporter, Gov. Luis Fortuno, standing at Romney’s side as the former governor or Massachusetts made his remarks. It also underscores the challenges facing Republican candidates as they bring popular conservative rhetoric to an area packed with Hispanic voters ahead of Sunday’s GOP president primary.

And, as if that wasn’t enough of an insult, Romney then followed the poor example of his opponent Rick Santorum and lectured the locals about making English their official language.

Romney and his rival Rick Santorum have supported the conservative push to formalize English as the official language across the country. On Puerto Rico, an American territory that will vote on its political status, including statehood, on Nov. 6, most residents speak Spanish as their primary language.

Santorum made headlines earlier in the week after saying that Puerto Rico would have to adopt English as its main language to attain statehood, a dominant political issue here.

Can you believe the nerve of these guys? I’ll end on a humorous note–another story mocking Mitt Romney. You know how I love to mock my former governor. It seems that in 2006, Romney

declared September “Responsible Dog Ownership Month” in the state.

Eleven dogs and 35 humans gathered at the State House for an event celebrating the governor’s proclamation on Sept. 21 of that year, according to a contemporaneous newsletter from the Massachusetts Federation of Dog Clubs and Responsible Dog Owners.

“We have a pervasive problem because of people who don’t act as responsible dog owners,” Jennifer Callahan, then a Democratic member of the state legislature, said at the time, citing the hundreds of thousands of dogs that wind up in shelters every year.

ROFLOL! The Seamus on top of the car story didn’t appear in The Boston Globe until 2007.

That’s it for me. What are you reading and blogging about today?