It’s Gotta Be True

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For President’s Day

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Unless It Changes, Capitalism Will Starve Humanity By 2050

By Drew Hansen/ Forbes/ February 9, 2017

Capitalism has generated massive wealth for some, but it’s devastated the planet and has failed to improve human well-being at scale.

• Species are going extinct at a rate 1,000 times faster than that of the natural rate over the previous 65 million years (see Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School).

• Since 2000, 6 million hectares of primary forest have been lost each year. That’s 14,826,322 acres, or just less than the entire state of West Virginia (see the 2010 assessment by the Food and Agricultural Organization of the UN).

• Even in the U.S., 15% of the population lives below the poverty line. For children under the age of 18, that number increases to 20% (see U.S. Census).

• The world’s population is expected to reach 10 billion by 2050 (see United Nations’ projections).

How do we expect to feed that many people while we exhaust the resources that remain?

Human activities are behind the extinction crisis. Commercial agriculture, timber extraction, and infrastructure development are causing habitat loss and our reliance on fossil fuels is a major contributor to climate change.

Public corporations are responding to consumer demand and pressure from Wall Street. Professors Christopher Wright and Daniel Nyberg published Climate Change, Capitalism and Corporations last fall, arguing that businesses are locked in a cycle of exploiting the world’s resources in ever more creative ways.

“Our book shows how large corporations are able to continue engaging in increasingly environmentally exploitative behaviour by obscuring the link between endless economic growth and worsening environmental destruction,” they wrote.

Yale sociologist Justin Farrell studied 20 years of corporate funding and found that “corporations have used their wealth to amplify contrarian views [of climate change] and create an impression of greater scientific uncertainty than actually exists.”

Corporate capitalism is committed to the relentless pursuit of growth, even if it ravages the planet and threatens human health.

We need to build a new system: one that will balance economic growth with sustainability and human flourishing.

A new generation of companies are showing the way forward. They’re infusing capitalism with fresh ideas, specifically in regards to employee ownership and agile management.

The Increasing Importance Of Distributed Ownership And Governance

Fund managers at global financial institutions own the majority (70%) of the public stock exchange. These absent owners have no stake in the communities in which the companies operate. Furthermore, management-controlled equity is concentrated in the hands of a select few: the CEO and other senior executives.

On the other hand, startups have been willing to distribute equity to employees. Sometimes such equity distribution is done to make up for less than competitive salaries, but more often it’s offered as a financial incentive to motivate employees toward building a successful company.

According to The Economist, today’s startups are keen to incentivize via shared ownership: 

The central difference lies in ownership: whereas nobody is sure who owns public companies, startups go to great lengths to define who owns what. Early in a company’s life, the founders and first recruits own a majority stake—and they incentivise people with ownership stakes or performance-related rewards. That has always been true for startups, but today the rights and responsibilities are meticulously defined in contracts drawn up by lawyers. This aligns interests and creates a culture of hard work and camaraderie. Because they are private rather than public, they measure how they are doing using performance indicators (such as how many products they have produced) rather than elaborate accounting standards.

This trend hearkens back to cooperatives where employees collectively owned the enterprise and participated in management decisions through their voting rights. Mondragon is the oft-cited example of a successful, modern worker cooperative. Mondragon’s broad-based employee ownership is not the same as an Employee Stock Ownership Plan. With ownership comes a say – control – over the business. Their workers elect management, and management is responsible to the employees.

REI is a consumer cooperative that drew attention this past year when it opted out of Black Friday sales, encouraging its employees and customers to spend the day outside instead of shopping.

I suspect that the most successful companies under this emerging form of capitalism will have less concentrated, more egalitarian ownership structures. They will benefit not only financially but also communally.

Joint Ownership Will Lead To Collaborative Management

The hierarchical organization of modern corporations will give way to networks or communities that make collaboration paramount. Many options for more fluid, agile management structures could take hold.

For instance, newer companies are experimenting with alternative management models that seek to empower employees more than a traditional hierarchy typically does. Of these newer approaches, holacracy is the most widely known. It promises to bring structure and discipline to a peer-to-peer workplace.

Holacracy “is a new way of running an organization that removes power from a management hierarchy and distributes it across clear roles, which can then be executed autonomously, without a micromanaging boss.”

Companies like Zappos and Medium are in varying stages of implementing the management system.

Valve Software in Seattle goes even further, allowing employees to select which projects they want to work on. Employees then move their desks to the most conducive office area for collaborating with the project team.

These are small steps toward a system that values the employee more than what the employee can produce. By giving employees a greater say in decision-making, corporations will make choices that ensure the future of the planet and its inhabitants.

 

 
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Will Trump Step Down?

By Arlen Grossman

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President Donald Trump will soon resign, possibly in a matter of weeks. I don’t know any more than anyone else, and maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but that’s the feeling I have.

The drip, drip, drip of troubling revelations reminds me very much of Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal that forced the President to resign. Trump is even more unpopular than Nixon, so if it can be proven that his campaign colluded with the Russian government to sabotage the 2016 election, which seems more and more likely, the President will be in more than a heap of trouble.

Now it is true that Trump lives beyond the reality-based world, and can often position himself in a dense cloud of denial.  But we also know that he is a fanatical consumer of news media, and if developments point in the direction of a serious scandal, he may not be able to stand up to it.

We all know he does not tolerate criticism well, and a constant stream of it might just be more than he can stomach. He can’t be enjoying the media assault and the lousy poll numbers. Even Republicans in Congress can see the handwriting on the wall and may be compelled to call for an independent investigation. Trump may be asking himself, “Is this what I signed up for? Is it worth it?”

If the evidence points to a potential for impeachment, or completely destroys his credibility–what’s left of it–he may not want to continue spinning his wheels and pumping up his alternative reality. Trump can’t be having much fun, with a constant barrage of negative press and continuous damaging reports. He spent his whole life in business being fawned over, with people close to him pumping up his fragile ego. Now he’s up against a constant barrage of negative press. Can he handle this much intense pressure? He must have a breaking point, and it may come sooner than later.

It is quite possible that he will be out of office within weeks.Recent revelations combined with Trump’s narcsissistic and tenuous personality may be too much for him to deal with. I think he would rather step down and blame the press and other “enemies” than be impeached or forced to resign. 

We may be seeing a President Pence sooner than we would have thought possible.

 

Published in OpEd News February 17, 2016

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We Must Know the Truth

This is the worst scandal involving the White House and a foreign power since Iran-Contra. Demand the facts.

US President-elect Donald Trump (L) stands with Trump National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn (R) at Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, where he is holding meetings on December 21, 2016. (Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images)

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: there MUST be an investigation by an independent, bipartisan commission of Russia’s ties to Donald Trump and his associates and that nation’s interference in our elections. Emphasize independent and bipartisan. That commission must have full subpoena power to call witnesses and make them testify under oath or risk prosecution. Hearings must be held out in the open, and televised live for the nation and the world to see. That’s what a democracy is all about.

The resignation of national security advisor Michael Flynn makes such an inquiry even more imperative. On Friday, winging his way to Mar-a-Lago on Air Force One, Trump told the press he knew nothing about the previous night’s Washington Post report that Flynn had secretly discussed lifting sanctions against Russia with Russia’s ambassador to the United States. But on Tuesday, press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that Trump had known about Flynn’s phone calls – and his lies about it – weeks ago.

Why was nothing done until the media broke the story? And why did Trump lie? As the National Lampoon joked back during the Watergate era, rephrasing the crucial questions aimed at Richard Nixon: “What did the president know and when did he STOP knowing it?”

Is it possible Trump and Flynn had been talking all along and keeping it to themselves? Who authorized Flynn to speak with the Russian ambassador on Trump’s behalf in the first place? The president himself or chief strategist Steve Bannon? Or someone else? Was Flynn a lone gun? Who can tell with all the lies?

And another thing: if the White House has known what was going on for weeks, why was Flynn still attending intelligence briefings as late as Monday? That’s what White House resident spin doctor Kellyanne Conway told the Today’s show Matt Lauer on Tuesday. Otherwise,  Conway – who shortly before his resignation told the press that Flynn still had Trump’s confidence – was her usual duplicitous self.  Why the media keep turning to her for answers no one can trust is yet another indignity inflicted on the American public in this unfolding saga.

There is nothing as dangerous to democracy – with its need for checks and balances of power to protect the integrity of our system – as one-party rule. 

And where are the Republican patriots willing to come forward and place country and democracy over party and a venal lust for power? Other than John McCain, they’ve been mum or simply said ta-ta and thanked Flynn for his service. Late Tuesday, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said it’s “highly likely” the Senate intelligence committee will investigate Flynn’s discussions with the Russian ambassador, but does anyone really think a Republican-dominated inquiry, with strings pulled back stage by McConnell, will dig for the truth and let the facts fall where they will?

Jason Chaffetz, chair of the House Oversight Committee, says he won’t investigate the Flynn affair – “I think that situation has taken care of itself.” How about that for respecting the public’s need to know?  And Rep. Chris Collins of upstate New York, the man with the dubious distinction of being the first member of Congress to endorse Trump’s candidacy, told CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Tuesday morning, “I think it’s just time to move on.” When asked why so many of his GOP colleagues were silent he suggested, “Well, [it’s] Valentine’s Day, and I guess they’re having breakfasts with their wives.”

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it?

There is nothing as dangerous to democracy – with its need for checks and balances of power to protect the integrity of our system – as one-party rule.  Unless there are responsible Republicans who will break ranks and join the Democrats in calling for an independent and bipartisan joint commission to investigate these astonishing developments in a fair and impartial way – with televised hearings – one of the greatest, perhaps the greatest, assaults on democracy in our 240-year history will go unpunished except for a few culprits like Flynn.

Americans must know whether the candidate of one party worked with a foreign power to influence the election against his opponent.

We repeat: This noxious scandal requires an open, independentbipartisan investigation with public hearings. Now. No patriot can settle for anything less.

 

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Is Our President Mentally Unstable?

Andrew Sullivan says journalists should be talking about Trump’s mental health

By Brian Stelter/ CNN/ February 12, 2017

 

“To have such an unstable figure, incapable of accepting reality, at the center of the world, is an extremely dangerous thing,” Sullivan said in an interview for Sunday’s “Reliable Sources” on CNN. 

 Sullivan’s view is that the president is exhibiting “bonkers” behavior — and that if they tip toe around it, journalists are doing the public a disservice. 

 

Sullivan, a pioneering blogger who is now a contributing editor to New York magazine, recently started what he’s calling a “weekly diary.” His first entry addressed what he called “the obvious question of the president’s mental and psychological health.” 

“I know we’re not supposed to bring this up — but it is staring us brutally in the face,” Sullivan wrote.

Chris Ruddy, a friend of Trump and the CEO of Newsmax Media, called Sullivan’s assessment “over the top.” 

“Are you guys really connected to reality?” Ruddy asked CNN’s Brian Stelter on “Reliable Sources.” 

“To believe, as Andrew claimed, that because he got the murder statistic rate wrong, that therefore he’s a pathological liar, and therefore he’s mentally unstable, I really think that’s over the top,” Ruddy said in appearance just after Sullivan’s. 

Ruddy cited Trump’s history in real estate, reality television and his successful presidential campaign as signs of mental acumen. 

“If he’s crazy, he’s crazy like a fox,” Ruddy said. “So I would not underestimate his abilities.” 

In the CNN interview, Sullivan elaborated by saying that there’s a disconnect between on-air and off-air conversations. 

“Certainly, if you are not on camera or not writing, people are talking about this all the time,” Sullivan said. 

He defended his scrutiny of Trump’s mental health by saying he is not a shrink, “but I am a human being and I can tell if someone is saying things that we know not to be true and never corrects it.” 

He cited the president’s false depiction of the U.S. murder rate and bogus claims about widespread voter fraud. 

He said it pained him to raise these questions. “God knows, I wish I weren’t here having to say this,” Sullivan said. “No one wants to be here saying this. I don’t want to believe the president of the United States is just delusional or cannot accept reality. Of course not. It pains me. It gives me great pain and concern and distress. But at some point, being a writer or a journalist requires one to simply say what one is seeing in front of one’s eyes. And sometimes you have to say that in plain English.” 

A search of TV news closed captioning transcripts shows that the subject very rarely comes up on newscasts and talk shows. 

But several Democratic legislators and a number of liberal commentators have similarly questioned the president’s mental health. 

Rep. Ruben Gallego called Trump “mentally unstable” in a radio interview last month. Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted earlier this month, “Should he get mental health exam?” 

Over the weekend on HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher,” Senator Al Franken said some of his Republican counterparts privately “say that he is not right mentally. And then some are harsher.” 

Pressed for details on CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday, Franken said “a few” Republicans had expressed that concern to him. 

Sullivan’s overarching point, in the “Reliable Sources” interview, was that democratic debates require a common set of facts. 

“When the central figure in our political system is creating an entire world of unreality, how are we supposed to respond?” he asked. “And I think we have to respond.  We have to respond by saying ‘Excuse me, Mr. President, with all due respect, you keep telling us things that are not true. Can you please stop this?’ And if you can’t stop it, if you simply keep asserting the world is one way when it really isn’t, because everybody else can see it, then we have a serious problem at the very heart of our government.” 

Writers and reporters, he added, need to “say and call it as we see it.” 

 
 
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What if…..?

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Trump Senior Advisor Makes Wild Claims

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ALT-RIGHT LYNCH MOB

And Then the Breitbart Lynch Mob Came for Me

For 15 years, I’ve spoken out against executive overreach. But in the Trump era, even theoretical criticism puts a target on your back.

By Rosa Brooks/ Foreign  Policy/ February 6, 2017

SiriusXM Broadcasts New Hampshire Primary Coverage Live From Iconic Red Arrow Diner - Day 1

Here’s how lynch mobs form, in the age of the alt-right and “alternative facts.”

First, you inadvertently wave a red flag at an arena full of bulls. Then you sit back and wait for the internet to do its dark magic.

In my case, the red flag was a few paragraphs at the end of a recent column, speculating on what would happen if Donald Trump truly and dangerously lost his marbles. I wondered about one “possibility … that until recently I would have said was unthinkable in the United States of America: a military coup, or at least a refusal by military leaders to obey certain orders”:

The principle of civilian control of the military has been deeply internalized by the US military, which prides itself on its nonpartisan professionalism.… But Trump … [is] thin-skinned, erratic, and unconstrained — and his unexpected, self-indulgent pronouncements are reportedly sending shivers through even his closest aides.

What would top US military leaders do if given an order that struck them as not merely ill-advised, but dangerously unhinged? An order that wasn’t along the lines of “Prepare a plan to invade Iraq if Congress authorizes it based on questionable intelligence,” but “Prepare to invade Mexico tomorrow!” or “Start rounding up Muslim Americans and sending them to Guantanamo!” or “I’m going to teach China a lesson — with nukes!”

It’s impossible to say, of course. The prospect of American military leaders responding to a presidential order with open defiance is frightening — but so, too, is the prospect of military obedience to an insane order. After all, military officers swear to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not the president. For the first time in my life, I can imagine plausible scenarios in which senior military officials might simply tell the president: “No, sir. We’re not doing that,” to thunderous applause from the New York Times editorial board.

Needless to say, when I wrote this, it didn’t occur to me that anyone could construe it as a call for a military coup. Perhaps this should have occurred to me, given the current state of American political discourse, but it didn’t. I received a couple of polite email messages from readers who argued that I shouldn’t have even raised this as a hypothetical possibility, but most initial comments came from readers who took what I wrote in the spirit in which it was intended: What might happen if the US president gave an order that was truly, frighteningly unhinged, and all normal checks and balances had failed? Could we imagine a military refusal to obey the commander in chief? Should we imagine it?

Those are serious questions, and they deserve serious discussion. After all, America was founded by men who came, slowly but surely, to believe that they could no longer obey their government. From the perspective of American political mythology, they were heroes; from the British point of view, they were traitors. (Remember Patrick Henry? “If this be treason, make the most of it.”) With our history, it’s surely important to ask ourselves whether something like that could ever take place again. Political theorists continue to debate the propriety and role of disobedience and resistance to authority. Shouldn’t we debate those questions, too?

Regardless, a few days passed quietly by after the column’s publication. Then, on Thursday morning, Breitbart — the “news” site previously run by Steve Bannon, now Donald Trump’s top political adviser — ran a story about my column, headlined “Ex-Obama Official Suggests ‘Military Coup’ Against Trump.”

By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats.

Within a few hours, the alt-right internet was on fire. The trickle of critical email messages turned into a gush, then a geyser, and the polite emails of the first few days were quickly displaced by obscenity-laced screeds, many in all capital letters. My Twitter feed filled up with trolls.

Soon, extremists and conspiracy-oriented outlets from InfoWars to openly white supremacist websites had moved from claiming that I had “suggested” a coup to asserting that I was demandingplanning and threatening the violent overthrow of the US government. (Together with my sinister friend George Soros, of course, and a cabal of deranged left-wing academics.)

By mid-afternoon, I was getting death threats. “I AM GOING TO CUT YOUR HEAD OFF………BITCH!” screamed one email. Other correspondents threatened to hang me, shoot me, deport me, imprison me and/or get me fired (this last one seemed a bit anti-climactic). The dean of Georgetown Law, where I teach, got nasty emails about me. The Georgetown University president’s office received a voicemail from someone threatening to shoot me. New America, the think tank where I am a fellow, got a similar influx of nasty calls and messages. “You’re a fucking cunt! Piece of shit whore!” read a typical missive. My correspondents were united on the matter of my crimes (treason, sedition, inciting insurrection, etc.). The only issue that appeared to confound and divide them was the vexing question of just what kind of undesirable I was. Several decided, based presumably on my first name, that I was Latina and proposed that I be forcibly sent to the other side of the soon-to-be-built Trump border wall. Others, presumably conflating me with African-American civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, asserted that I would never have gotten hired if it weren’t for race-based affirmative action. The anti-Semitic rants flowed in, too: A website called the Daily Stormer noted darkly that I am “the daughter of the infamous communist Barbara Ehrenreich and the Jew John Ehrenreich,” and I got an anonymous phone call from someone who informed me, in a chillingly pleasant tone, that he supported a military coup “to kill all the Jews.”

My experience is not unusualAnyone who attracts the attention of the alt-right is in for a rough ride. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done in the past: Even lifelong conservatives can find themselves on the wrong side of the baying mob. Consider the experience of National Review’David French. He made the mistake of “calling out notorious Trump ally Ann Coulter for aping the white-nationalist language and rhetoric of the so-called alt-right.” Within days, French, his wife and his children were all subjected to vicious, racist and obscene attacks.

Sometimes I wonder who they are, these people who spend their free time sending vitriolic messages to strangers. Often, I imagine them as actual trolls, leaving their computers only to kick the occasional puppy, smack their children or tend to their basement meth lab. Other times, I imagine something even worse: Perhaps these are all seemingly normal people who go about their days smiling politely at strangers but then go home and start spewing.

It’s hard to know, of course. They tend not to use their real names.

The alt-right has long occupied the internet’s darker corners, but with the elevation of Bannon to the Trump White House and National Security Council, it’s now occupying the White House itself.

Tempted as I am to blame it all on the age of Trump, this isn’t a new phenomenon. Like most journalists and public commentators, I’ve been through similar rounds of harassment and threats before, usually by sparked tussles with Bill O’ReillySean Hannity and the like. Generally, the storms of hate mail pass in a week or two. Extremists have always been out there; the internet just gave them a means to join up and amplify their voices.

Still, something feels different now.

Partly, I think, it’s just that the world feels a little more perilous in the wake of December’s Comet Ping Pong shooting. Remember that? It started with an alt-right internet rumor so absurd that most of us just laughed: Hillary Clinton was reportedly running a child sex ring out of the backroom of a DC pizza parlor (presumably in all the spare time she had between the Benghazi cover-up and running for president). It was crazy, ridiculous, the kind of thing no one could possibly take seriously — until a young man from Salisbury, North Carolina, did take it seriously and decided to pack up his gun and pay Comet Ping Pong a visit.

No one was hurt in the shooting, thankfully. But the Comet incident made it harder to dismiss crazy internet-driven threats as unpleasant but harmless hot air.

Here’s the other thing that’s different now:

The alt-right has long occupied the internet’s darker corners, but with the elevation of Bannon to the Trump White House and National Security Council, it’s now occupying the White House itself.For nearly 15 years, I’ve written and spoken out against what I have viewed as excessive secrecy and dangerously broad assertions of executive power. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush’s administration asserted the legal right to detain suspected terrorists anywhere in the world and hold them in secret without normal due process protections. I worried that the secrecy and lack of due process created too much possibility of abuse: If the United States could designate someone a terrorist based on classified evidence, capture him in Nigeria or Bosnia and send him off to a secret detention facility, what would prevent a vindictive official from deciding that a CIA black site was just the place for a journalist asking too many inconvenient questions?

I’ve been equally critical of the expanded use of target killings under former President Barack Obama’s administration. If the US president says it’s OK to secretly order the death of a suspected terrorist based on secret evidence, and then kill the suspect in a secret airstrike with no subsequent acknowledgment, what kind of example are we setting for Vladimir Putin and other repressive regimes — and what would prevent an abusive US president from using the same power in the future to get rid of a political opponent?

For decades … [w]e’ve had the luxury of assuming that the fearsome coercive powers of the federal government would be exercised responsibly and constitutionally. … Looking ahead, I’m not sure we will continue to have that luxury.

But even during the darkest days of the Bush administration, I always assumed that these were rhetorical questions. I didn’t doubt that senior US officials would generally act in good faith. I raised these questions not because I could truly imagine a US president targeting journalists or political critics for detention or death but simply to highlight how dangerous it was to create a system in which the wisdom and integrity of senior officials are our sole protection against abuse. What happens if one day you get a leader with neither wisdom nor integrity? What happens if you get a sadist or a madman? This, after all, is why the founders of the Republic demanded a “government of laws and not of men.”

Today, these no longer seem like purely rhetorical questions. Steve Bannon, who once described Breitbart as a “platform for the alt-right,” is now sitting on Trump’s National Security Council, and we have a president whose vindictiveness is legendary, as is his penchant for threats and snap decisions made without consultation. We have a president who doesn’t hesitate to use his bully pulpit to bully those who cross him, from college students to foreign leaders to federal judges. And we have a president who unapologetically admires murderous strongmen like the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. (In a Super Bowl Sunday interview with Fox News’ Bill O’Reilly, Trump shrugged off O’Reilly’s comment that Putin is a “killer”: “There are a lot of killers,” Trump said. “We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”)

For decades, we’ve had the luxury of assuming that the United States would always have a professional, nonpartisan civil service. We’ve had the luxury of assuming that the fearsome coercive powers of the federal government would be exercised responsibly and constitutionally. For those of us who often find ourselves criticizing government actions, that has been a vital assumption: For the most part, we’ve been able to take for granted that notwithstanding occasional mistakes, the FBI and Secret Service will focus on genuine threats and won’t target journalists, NGO advocates or other critics

I’m not suggesting that Trump’s next move will be drone strikes targeting his journalist critics. But I am suggesting that we are no longer living in a time of normal politics. Trump and Bannon have told us as much.

This makes it more important than ever for the rest of us to keep asking hard questions and having uncomfortable conversations, no matter how many filthy and threatening emails and tweets we get. The alternative is worse: If journalists and commentators let themselves be intimidated into silence; if Trump’s attacks on judges and civil servants lead them to back away from their commitment to the rule of law; if the FBI and Secret Service become tools of executive vengeance rather than impartial instruments of justice; if military leaders become too cowed to recall that their most fundamental duty is to the US Constitution, not to Donald Trump….

Well, then Trump will be right that America is no better than Putin’s Russia.

 

ROSA BROOKS

 

Rosa Brooks is a law professor at Georgetown University and a senior fellow with the New America/Arizona State University Future of War Project. She served as a counselor to the US defense undersecretary for policy from 2009 to 2011 and previously served as a senior advisor at the US State Department. Her most recent book is How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything. Follow her on Twitter: @brooks_rosa.

 
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What Could Go Wrong?

House Republicans Just Voted to Eliminate the Only Federal Agency That Makes Sure Voting Machines Can’t Be Hacked

By Ari Berman/ The Nation/ February 7, 2017

In a little-noticed 6-3 vote today, the House Administration Committee voted along party lines to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission, which helps states run elections and is the only federal agency charged with making sure voting machines can’t be hacked. The EAC was created after the disastrous 2000 election in Florida as part of the Help America Vote Act to rectify problems like butterfly ballots and hanging chads. (Republicans have tried to kill the agency for years.) The Committee also voted to eliminate the public-financing system for presidential elections dating back to the 1970s. 

“It is my firm belief that the EAC has outlived its usefulness and purpose,” said Committee chair Gregg Harper (R-MS), explaining why his bill transfers the EAC’s authority to the Federal Election Commission. 

Thirty-eight pro-democracy groups, including the NAACP and Common Cause, denounced the vote. “The EAC is the only federal agency which has as its central mission the improvement of election administration, and it undertakes essential activities that no other institution is equipped to address,” says the Brennan Center for Justice.

This move is particularly worrisome given reports that suspected Russian hackers attempted to access voter-registration systems in more than 20 states during the 2016 election. Moreover, the Presidential Commission on Election Administration set up by President Obama in 2014 outlined an “impending crisis” in voting technology and the Brennan Center found that 42 states used voting machines in 2016 that were at least a decade-old and at risk of failing. The EAC was the agency tasked with making sure these voting systems were both modernized and secure.The EAC is not a perfect agency. It lacked a quorum of members from 2010 to 2014 and was paralyzed by inaction. Then, last year, its executive director unilaterally approved controversial proof-of-citizenship laws in Kansas, Georgia, and Alabama, which the federal courts subsequently blocked.

 

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But given the threats to American democracy at this moment, the EAC needs to be strengthened, not replaced.

It’s particularly ironic that the Trump administration is preparing to launch a massive investigation into nonexistent voter fraud based on the lie that millions voted illegally while House Republicans are shutting down the agency that is supposed to make sure America’s elections are secure. It’s more proof of how the GOP’s real agenda is to make it harder to vote.  

 

 

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