Easter Eggs and Trojan Horses in the Democrats’ Flagship Bill, H.R. 1 (“For the People Act of 2019”)

Easter Eggs and Trojan Horses in the Democrats’ Flagship Bill, H.R. 1 (“For the People Act of 2019”)

HR1 (text here) was, symbolically, the first bill introduced in this session of the House, and it rapidly aqquired 227 co-sponsors — of whom not one was a Republican. The bill garnered a lot of positive coverage. From the Brennan Center for Justice:

The Brennan Center has long advocated for, and in many cases helped innovate, many of the reforms outlined in H.R. 1.  “Perhaps more than ever, Americans understand the problems facing our democracy,” said Weiser. “They are hungry for bold and effective solutions to those problems — like those in H.R. 1 — and real action on those solutions.”

Weiser submitted written testimony in support of the Act in advance of Thursday’s hearing.  In her comments on Thursday, she highlighted three of the reforms outlined in H.R. 1:

  • Restoring the Voting Rights Act, a landmark civil rights law that was hobbled by the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision;  
  • Automatic voter registration (AVR), which would streamline how Americans register to vote — and could add up to 50 million new voters to the rolls; and
  • Small-donor public financing, which would amplify the voices of ordinary voters by providing public funds to match small donors. 

Thursday marked the latest in a series of hearings on H.R. 1, which have focused on elements of the bill ranging from presidential ethics to election security. The bill marks the first time in decades that either major political party has made comprehensive reform of the systems of democracy a central priority.

(Let me pause to compliment the Brennan Center for not using the noxious phrase “our democracy.” As the old joke goes, “What do you mean, ‘we’?”) Democrat House organ The New Yorker:

[Last week,] a hearing on H.R. 1, the For the People Act, took place in the House of Representatives. Elijah Cummings, Democrat of Maryland, the new chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, referred to the bill, in his opening remarks, as “one of the boldest reform packages to be considered in the history of this body.” He added, “This sweeping legislation will clean up corruption in government, fight secret money in politics, and make it easier for American citizens across this great country to vote.” That statement was not partisan hyperbole. The bill is a broad, imaginative, and ambitious set of responses to the most pressing challenges facing American democracy, many of which preceded the 2016 election, but almost all of which were brought into sharper focus by it.

Implicit in the choice to take up an electoral-reform bill as the first act of the new Democratic majority in the House was the decision to confront not only these injustices but, more fundamentally, the forces that have allowed them to come into existence. The bill contains provisions to insure access to paper ballots, in order to verify the accuracy of voting results; to establish early voting in all states for federal elections; and to launch independent redistricting commissions, to address the problem of partisan gerrymandering.

(“Access” to paper ballots. Oh.) Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, in a scathing WaPo Op-Ed, dubbed it “the Democrat Politician Protection Act,” and given what we know about how the liberal Democrat establishment operates, it would be strange indeed if the bill did work in their favor, institutionally. Now, I have no doubt that there are good things in the bill; but it’s 600 pages long, and I don’t have time to go through it all to find them. I do think, however, that the bill presents four major problems: Two Easter Eggs, little hidden surprises, and two Trojan Horses, something seemingly benign that is in fact destructive (in this case, of democracy, ironically enough in a bill titled “For the People”). The two Easter Eggs are raised barriers to small parties and digital voting; the two Trojan Horses are a role for the intelligence community, and the nature of campaign contribututions.

Easter Egg: Barriers to Small Parties

Bruce Dixon comments:

HR 1 is surgically aimed to eliminate federal matching funds for Green Party candidates by raising the qualifying amount from its current level of $5,000 in each of 20 states to $25,000 in 20 states. HR 1 would cut funding for a Green presidential candidate in half, and by making ballot access for a Green presidential candidate impossible in several states it would also guarantee loss of the party’s ability to run for local offices.

From the Bill:

SEC. 5202. ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS FOR MATCHING PAYMENTS.

(a) Amount Of Aggregate Contributions Per State; Disregarding Of Amounts Contributed In Excess Of $200.—Section 9033(b)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended—

(1) by striking “$5,000” and inserting “$25,000”; and

(2) by striking “20 States” and inserting the following: “20 States (disregarding any amount of contributions from any such resident to the extent that the total of the amounts contributed by such resident for the election exceeds $200)”.

Easter Egg: Digital Voting

Program testing can be used to show the presence of bugs, but never to show their absence!–Edsger W. Dijkstra

In other words, digital must be removed everywhere in the voting and tabulating process, because otherwise the vote is vulnerable to hacking and election fraud. That’s why hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public, are the world standard. To quote another programming proverb: “The cheapest, fastest, and most reliable components are those that aren’t there” (Gordon Bell).

From the Bill; I’ve helpfully underlined and noted in square brackets the problematic portions of the text:

SEC. 1502. PAPER BALLOT AND MANUAL COUNTING REQUIREMENTS.

(a) In General.—Section 301(a)(2) of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 (52 U.S.C. 21081(a)(2)) is amended to read as follows:

“(2) PAPER BALLOT REQUIREMENT.—

“(A) VOTER-VERIFIED PAPER BALLOTS.—

“(i) PAPER BALLOT REQUIREMENT.— (I) The voting system shall require the use of an individual, durable, voter-verified, paper ballot of the voter’s vote that shall [A]be marked and made available for inspection and verification by the voter before the voter’s vote is cast and counted, and which shall be counted by hand [B]or read by an optical character recognition device or other counting device. For purposes of this subclause, the term ‘individual, durable, voter-verified, paper ballot’ means a paper ballot marked by the voter by hand [C] or a paper ballot marked through the use of a nontabulating ballot marking device or system, [D]so long as the voter shall have the option to mark his or her ballot by hand.

“(II) The voting system shall provide the voter with an opportunity to correct any error on the paper ballot before the permanent voter-verified paper ballot is preserved in accordance with clause (ii).

“(III) The voting system shall not preserve the voter-verified paper ballots in any manner that makes it possible, at any time after the ballot has been cast, to associate a voter with the record of the voter’s vote without the voter’s consent.

“(ii) PRESERVATION AS OFFICIAL RECORD.—The individual, durable, voter-verified, paper ballot used in accordance with clause (i) shall constitute the official ballot and shall be preserved and [E]used as the official ballot for purposes of any recount or audit conducted with respect to any election for Federal office in which the voting system is used.

“(iii) MANUAL COUNTING REQUIREMENTS FOR RECOUNTS AND AUDITS.— (I) Each paper ballot used pursuant to clause (i) shall be suitable for a manual audit, and shall be counted by hand in any recount or audit conducted with respect to any election for Federal office.

[A] “be marked” leaves the agent doing the marking unspecified (see notes [C] and [D).

[B] “or read by an optical character recognition device or other counting device” means that the count need not be by hand, and need not be public.

[C] “marked through the use of a nontabulating ballot marking device or system,” for example, hackable touch screens.

[D] “shall have the option to mark his or her ballot by hand” means that voting machine vendors can use UI/UX “dark patterns” to discourage hand-marking.

[E] “used as the official ballot for purposes of any recount” means that the paper ballot is not the official ballot (!!) until a recount is performed. But how do we know to perform a recount if an election has been successfully hacked? Why not just make the paper ballot the official ballot to begin with[1], and get rid of all the digital cruft, as they do in Canada, Germany, and the UK?[2]

Collectively, the notes show that the section title — “Subtitle F—Promoting Accuracy, Integrity, And Security Through Voter-Verified Permanent Paper Ballot” — is at best deceptive and at worse a bait-and-switch. This entire section is so sloppy and bad it might as well have been written by an e-voting lobbyist. For me, it calls the good faith of the entire bill into question. Anybody who thinks this bill advances the cause of paper ballots in any way is a fool gravely mistaken.

Trojan Horse: Intelligence Community

From the Bill; I’ve helpfully underlined and noted in square brackets the problematic portions of the text:

SEC. 3201. NATIONAL STRATEGY TO PROTECT UNITED STATES DEMOCRATIC INSTITUTIONS.

(a) In General.—Not later than one year after the date of the enactment of this Act, the President, acting through the Secretary, in consultation with the Chairman, the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the Attorney General, the Secretary of Education, the [A] Director of National Intelligence, the Chairman of the Federal Election Commission, and the heads of any other appropriate Federal agencies, shall issue [B] a national strategy to protect against cyber attacks, influence operations, disinformation campaigns, and other activities that could undermine the security and integrity of United States democratic institutions.

(b) Considerations.—The national strategy required under subsection (a) shall include consideration of the following:

(1) The threat of a foreign state actor, foreign terrorist organization (as designated pursuant to section 219 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1189)), or [C] a domestic actor carrying out a cyber attack, influence operation, disinformation campaign, or other activity aimed at undermining the security and integrity of United States democratic institutions.

(2) The extent to which United States democratic institutions are vulnerable to a cyber attack, influence operation, disinformation campaign, or other activity aimed at undermining the security and integrity of such democratic institutions.

(3) Potential consequences, such as an [D] erosion of public trust or an undermining of the rule of law, that could result from a successful cyber attack, influence operation, disinformation campaign, or other activity aimed at undermining the security and integrity of United States democratic institutions.

(4) Lessons learned from other Western governments the institutions of which were subject to a cyber attack, influence operation, disinformation campaign, or other activity aimed at undermining the security and integrity of such institutions, as well as actions that could be taken by the United States Government to [E] bolster collaboration with foreign partners to detect, deter, prevent, and counter such activities.

(5) Potential impacts such as an erosion of public trust in democratic institutions as could be associated with a successful cyber breach or other activity negatively affecting election infrastructure.

(6) Roles and responsibilities of the Secretary, the Chairman, and the heads of other Federal entities and non-Federal entities, including chief State election officials and representatives of [F]multistate information sharing and analysis center.

(7) Any findings, conclusions, and recommendations to strengthen protections for United States democratic institutions that have been agreed to by a majority of Commission members on the National Commission to Protect United States Democratic Institutions, authorized pursuant to section 32002.

(c) Implementation Plan.—Not later than 90 days after the issuance of the national strategy required under subsection (a), the President, acting through the Secretary, in coordination with the Chairman, shall issue an implementation plan for Federal efforts to implement such strategy that includes the following:

(1) Strategic objectives and corresponding tasks.

(2) Projected timelines and costs for the tasks referred to in paragraph (1).

(3) Metrics to evaluate performance of such tasks.

(d) Classification.—The national strategy required under subsection (a) shall be in unclassified form [G] but may contain a classified annex.

[A] Awesome. Now we’ve got the intelligence community signing off on the health of our “democratic instiutions” (shot called here, December 2016).

[B] No doubt outsourced to the Atlantic Council, CrowdStrike, New Knowledge, or some other intelligence community cutout.

[C] As, for example, this blog.

[D] Seems rather capacious. Does the notion of “public trust” even exist in law? Even so, it’s hard to imagine what actions any disinformation campaign could undertake that would undermine public trust more than Bush v. Gore, Bush’s subsequent WMD disinformation campaign that got us into Iraq, Obama’s grant of impunity to banksters, or many other actions performed by public men and women.

[E] As for example embedding foreign intelligence agents in domestic political campaigns?

[F] Not grammatical, but reminds me of “Fusion Centers.”

[G] Oh. Matt Taibbi summarizes:

Classified annexes are a legislative innovation that grew up after the Church-Pike congressional investigations in the 1970s into foreign assassinations and other unregulated behaviors of the intelligence agencies. Classified annexes basically allow for separate secret appropriations for personnel, costs, even directives. Though common, such a provision with this kind of bill would concern any rational observer.

To recap: A bill that’s ostensibly about promoting democracy would mandate the creation of a new, potentially classified Executive Branch directive targeting both foreign and domestic “disinformation” and “influence.” The president, the Defense Department and the security agencies would have a mandate to combat a broad range of activities deemed resultant in an “erosion of public trust” and/or a threat to “democracy.”… The only way a secret government strategy to prevent “an erosion of trust” wouldn’t be at least a little scary is if you have complete confidence the government knows the difference between legitimate dissent and improper “influence.”

[Excuse me a moment. I have to go take a shower]. In short, it’s hardly surprising the CIA Democrat Andy Kim has this to say:

I’m dubious that giving the intelligence community any power over our voting process whatever returns us to a government “of, by, and for the People” but you do you, Andy! You do you![3]

Trojan Horse: Contributions

I can’t parse out the clauses under “TITLE V—SMALL DOLLAR FINANCING OF CONGRESSIONAL ELECTION CAMPAIGNS,” but here is The Intercept’s summary:

The first bill Democrats plan to move in January when they take control of the House will mark a major step forward on a longstanding progressive goal: public financing of congressional campaigns

The provision is a largely overlooked part of a sweeping anti-corruption bill Democrats plan to start the year with and will be bestowed with the symbolic designation of HR1. The program, based on Maryland Rep. John Sarbanes’s “Government By the People Act of 2017,” would offer subsidies for individuals who want to make small contributions to political candidates. And eligible candidates would qualify for matching contributions that vary based on a candidate’s agreement to restrictions on how they finance their campaigns.

Combined with the broad surge of small-dollar contributions — Democrats alone raised more than $1 billion that way in 2018 — the public financing system would dramatically reshape the political economy of federal politics.

Three years, or even two years ago, I would have said “Small contributions! Great!” Now, I am not so sure, and my doubts can be explained by referring to this chart:

(Please use the chart as a crude visual only; I know that this is rate of growth, not absolute numbers. But I feel that the shape of the chart will be much the same for absolute numbers, and will also show the 1% and the 10% pulling away.) Now, ask yourself who is best able to make a “small” contribution? Who is most likely to be able to give? Trivially, those at the 95th percentile, who are 1%-ers or aspirational 1%-ers, whose wages grew by 21.5%. Ditto, those at the 90th percentile, actual 10%-ers, most likely in the professional class that is the Democrat base. And who is less likely to be able give? Those struggling at the 70th percentile and below. In other words, “small contributions” (like small donors) conceals a class bias that looks a whole lot like the reintroduction of property rights as a qualification for voting. I think the real direction of reform lies elsewhere, with the elimination of yet another complex eligibility scheme (“matching”) and the introduction of complete public financing, greatly shortened campaigns, and other robust measures (like, say, eliminating campaign advertising in digital media, and encouraging it in local newspapers, who could use the subsidy).

Conclusion

In short, the critique that HR1 is designed to reinforce liberal Democrat institutional power, no matter the other virtues of the bill, is not without force. HR1 cripples small third parties like the Greens, continues to enable election theft by domestic actors, gives the intelligence community (Democrat allies, as events subsequent to November 8 show) power to pronounce on the heatlh of the country’s democratic institutions, and gives the Democrats’ professional base — very much opposed to the working class — more leverage over candidate funding. If any Democrat thinks this bill will arrest the “erosion of public trust,” this ain’t it, chief.

NOTES

[1] If this were done, two entire sections — “Subtitle D—Promoting Cybersecurity Through Improvements In Election Administration” and “Subtitle E—Preventing Election Hacking” — could be eliminated, at least with respect to voting systems, greatly simplifying the bill and saving money and resources better deployed elsewhere.

[2] The least cynical answer is corruption of officials, by the voting machine vendors, at the state and local level where the machines are purchased and maintained (and where it’s cheapest). The most cynical answer — at least the most cynical I have been able to come up with — is that the both parties have a common interest in stealing elections, and hence wish to maintain the technical means to do so.

[3]. Andy Kim([x] Asian) “was a war planner and civilian strategist, not a soldier. According to his campaign biography, ‘I worked at the White House on countering terrorism and protecting our country, advised the Secretary of Defense and the Pentagon on national security, and I served in Afghanistan as a strategic adviser to Generals David Petraeus and John Allen. When I served in Afghanistan, no one asked me if I was a Democrat or a Republican. We all worked together focused on the mission of keeping our nation safe.’ He does not detail his final position: two years as director for Iraq on Obama’s National Security Council.” And we all know how well that went.

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.

34 comments

  1. jsn

    Lambert, when you posted this, today’s Water Cooler vanished. Maybe it’s just my machine, but I’ve tried to reload a few times and all that’s left is the comments.

    Reply
  2. Oregoncharles

    Thanks for highlighting that Dixon quote, Lambert. This really is a Dem party power grab, with a few good provisions providing a fig leaf.

    Fortunately, the Republican Senate is likely to think so, too.

    I’m debating whether it’s worthwhile to write to my Dem congress critters about it. DeFazio is OK part of the time, but not when party interests are at stake. Or timber interests, come to think.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      What’s bugging me is that everybody knows this will never pass the Senate (Dixon points out that the worse bits might be extracted, and passed). So now is not the time to negotiate with ourselves! So this ugly piece of work is the best the Democrats plan to ask for, and they’ll negotiate down from there.

      Reply
  3. Chauncey Gardiner

    How deeply disappointing… as we see the doors being closed and the locks quietly clicked into place by those intent on preserving the status quo I am reminded of President John F. Kennedy’s observation that those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable. For almost without exception, the latter circumstances have historically been incredibly destructive. Let’s hope for the best on this and that simply overturning the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision and assuring the integrity of elections end up being the legislative purpose of a much briefer and cleaner piece of legislation.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      Plenty of the reforms — I’m guessing! — are OK. We really ought to restore the Voting Rights Act, and redistricting is a shambles and Commissions would probably be better than having parties vote themselves seats by gaming the district boundaries.

      That said, from the the big picture level, the Democrats have (a) firmly fixed in place the ability of domestic actors to steal elections via digital and (b) handed the ability to delegitimize any given election based on the views of the intelligence community. I don’t find that re-assuring. (Paper ballots are at the nexus of both these issues, of course).

      Reply
  4. Fraibert

    I don’t have time to look through the whole law, but skimmed the first part and had some impressions.

    First, I am wondering whether the automatic voter registration provisions are constitutional. There is a doctrine called the “anti-commandeering doctrine” that prohibits the federal government from passing laws that compel states to use state resources or state authority to accomplish federal purposes. It seems to me that the federal government explicitly telling the states how to conduct election registration may run afoul of this doctrine, even if such registration is for federal office.

    One can counter with arguments from Congress’ power under the 14th and 15th amendments, but I think the entire scheme might be legally vulnerable.

    Also, a cynical eye would note section 1015(a), which in part states that:

    “[A]n individual shall not be prosecuted under any Federal law, adversely affected in any civil adjudication concerning immigration status or naturalization, or subject to an allegation in any legal proceeding that the individual is not a citizen of the United States on any of the following grounds: . . .

    (2) The individual is not eligible to vote in elections for Federal office but was automatically registered to vote under this part.

    . . .

    (4) The individual . . . did not make an affirmation of citizenship, including through automatic registration, under this part.”

    In short, the Democrats recognize that this scheme will probably result in noncitizens being registered to vote. But, then a later part of section 1015 (with a wink and a nod) states that:

    “(c) Protection of election integrity.—Nothing in subsection (a) or (b) may be construed to prohibit or restrict any action under color of law against an individual who—

    (1) knowingly and willfully makes a false statement to effectuate or perpetuate automatic voter registration by any individual; or

    (2) casts a ballot knowingly and willfully in violation of State law or the laws of the United States.”

    So, the Democrats are fine with having noncitizens registered to vote in federal elections–but then expect these individuals not to vote.

    (Edit: Removed some inaccurate statements.)

    Reply
    1. marym

      The portions of the bill you reference offer necessary protection to someone registered as a result of human or system error, and allow prosecution for willful registration fraud or illegal voting.

      It doesn’t imply being “fine” with people being registered or attempting to vote in error. It’s a recognition of something that also happens today under various circumstances. What’s not “fine” is that often now the penalties are unjustly harsh; and it would surely not be “fine” if such errors were cause to put someone’s immigration status at risk.

      Reply
      1. Fraibert

        Here’s the thing. It’s a bit wonky.

        As it already stands, it appears that federal law only provides consequences for noncitizens voting, not for simply for registering. See, e.g., Immigration and Nationality Act sec. 212(a)(10)(D) (“Any alien who has voted in violation of any Federal, State, or local constitutional provision, statute, ordinance, or regulation is inadmissible.”) and 18 U.S.C. sec. 611 (“It shall be unlawful for any alien to vote in any election held solely or in part for the purpose of electing a candidate for the office of President, Vice President, Presidential elector, Member of the Senate, Member of the House of Representatives, Delegate from the District of Columbia, or Resident Commission . . .”).

        In short, as far as I can tell, the act of automatic registration itself would not affect immigration status or constitute a federal crime. And, to the extent that states can proscribe unlawful registration, it isn’t even clear that this law prohibits states from doing that. At best, I suppose the law does protect against inadmissibility and removability on a theory that registering to vote through an automated system implies a claim of citizenship. (False claims of citizenship are grounds for being inadmissible and removable.)

        In any case, it seems to me is that some number of noncitizens may get automatically registered (understandable by itself) and then are expected to not vote anyways (this strikes me as less plausible).

        Reply
        1. marym

          Voter databases are cluttered with ineligible voters because ordinary citizen voters don’t delete their registration when they move. Despite the fact that such database inaccuracies are held up as an excuse for voter suppression measures, or for claims of voter fraud, these ineligible voters don’t vote. If they did, the unending attempts on the right to demonstrate voter fraud would have produced results.

          It strikes me as even less plausible that people would jeopardize their immigration status by voting illegally. In fact in our world the may be more vulnerable if they even try to get the error corrected, as it would draw attention to them.

          Reply
  5. Craig Dempsey

    I am getting tired of having to give the Republicans an “F” and the Democrats a “C” after every election, so for 2016 am giving Hillary a “D” (and that does not stand for “Democrat!”) Maybe we could persuade the likes of Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the ACLU to go over this bill and write model language for what it should say. I fear our abominable current voting system is a feature, not a bug, for the politicians. We cannot even get to first base without driving ourselves crazy!

    Meanwhile, months after the election, North Carolina has had to declare total failure in one Congressional election, and now is starting the primary and general election process all over. The current Congress may be half over before that poor district gets any representation in Congress at all. If this is American Exceptionalism, I would rather be normal!

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > Maybe we could persuade the likes of Common Cause, the League of Women Voters, and the ACLU to go over this bill and write model language

      I’m guessing the NGOs were already heavily involved in this. (Interesting that Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, previously worked at the ACLU; presumably his Rolodex was viewed as an asset….)

      Reply
  6. Joe Well

    re: the Greens

    It has always fascinated me how the US has managed to successfully fail to be a multiparty democracy (the standard among human rights groups) and instead continue as Communism +1. Here we see in real time an example of one wing of the duopoly crushing a very weak challenge.

    And before you think I’m exaggerating, in Cuba since the 1990s, candidates have been able to run as independents, they just can’t coordinate with each other because that would be a party. So the presence of a few non-aligned office holders does not make the US a multiparty democracy. And there is debate in Cuba on public policy, only within a narrow, amorphously defined range. I’d say the difference with the US is a matter of degree.

    Reply
  7. Carolinian

    Re Dixon–he says this as well

    HR 1 cites as the “congressional findings” justifying the legislation a set of cowardly accusations levied by an anonymous group but given wide distribution by the Washington Post, as Glen Greenwald wrote about at the time. Greenwald mentions that Black Agenda Report was one of the institutions anonymously accused. Still, the cowardly accusations somehow count as “congressional findings” robust enough for HR 1 to institutionalize an annual report from the Pentagon, the the intel, the cops and their contractors

    However having downloaded the bill text I’m finding no such justification stated. Maybe I’m just missing it?

    In any event the proposed commission would simply be another study group looking into “foreign influence.” Don’t they have a dozen of those already? Strangely for all the looking they never seem to spot the elephant in the room.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      > However having downloaded the bill text I’m finding no such justification stated.

      I looked for this too at BAR, and was extremely disappointed not to find it. Institutionally, however, the point is the same.

      Reply
  8. jo6pac

    In short, the critique that HR1 is designed to reinforce liberal Democrat institutional power, no matter the other virtues of the bill, is not without force.

    In short, the critique that HR1 is designed to reinforce far right of center demodogs institutional power, no matter the other virtues of the bill, is not without force.

    I’m sure they are doing this because they know what’s good for us serfs.

    Reply
    1. Lambert Strether Post author

      I return to my no doubt oversimplified distinction between liberals and left: The left puts the working class first. Both liberals and conservatives put markets first, liberals with many more layers of indirection (e.g., complex eligibility requirements, credentialing) because that creates niches from which their professional base benefits. I don’t see a reason to make a lot of distinction between shades of liberal opinion, as centrists, “progressives,” etc.

      Reply
  9. The Rev Kev

    I’m surprised that they did not stick in a provision that all political candidates had to be vetted by the intelligence community as well. Lots of these so-called problems would disappear if they went back to paper ballots hand-counted in public but they won’t. Sure you might have some local cheating but you could station observers at each booth to stop that becoming an issue. The cheating that has gone on with computer voting are as epic as they are almost unknown to the general public. How would the US be different if Gore had been allowed to win back in 2000? We will never know. If I were the Democrats, I would be careful about signing up tens of millions of people to have the vote. Lots of them probably never voted for a reason and do the Democrats really want to find out when it is too late what that reason was?

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      ‘They’ don’t have to put such a provision in the bill. The “Intelligence Agencies” have already assumed that prerogative. I’m thinking that the Agencies have extended the “all powers not arrogated to the Federal Government” argument one step further. According to this logic, “all powers not arrogated to the Federal Government or State Governments” naturally devolve to the Agencies capable of exercising such functions.
      Is it “Might Makes Right” or “Right Makes Might?”

      Reply
      1. Lambert Strether Post author

        That’s an acute formulation of the change to the Constitutional order contemplated post-2016; a revision of the Tenth Amendment:

        The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people the Agencies capable of exercising such functions .

        Of course, there’s no change needed if you believe the intelligence community is the health of the State, and so represents the people by definition.

        Reply
        1. The Rev Kev

          Nice way to take ‘the people’ out of the Constitution. I have heard, though I have never checked it, that the Australian Constitution does not mention the people at all. How is that for finesse.

          Reply
          1. ambrit

            Quite finessial on the face of it, but, that can be ‘snookered’ by changing the definition of “Agency” where ‘the People’ are concerned.
            Thus, “the People” are now considered to be served properly because ‘they’ have “Agency.” Not too torturous at all.
            As for the Australian ‘Constitution,’ well, I had heard it mentioned that “that lot” were not the most, shall we say, ‘particular’ where it comes to legality. I could be constructing a calumny though. So, if I have inadvertently traduced anyone’s character; “S– off.”

            Reply
    2. Lambert Strether Post author

      > I’m surprised that they did not stick in a provision that all political candidates had to be vetted by the intelligence community as well

      I think serious candidates will have agreed to be vetted “voluntarily.” And informally. Only if Sanders another Trump slips through will the process become formal. These people prefer to with through nod and winks norms and leaks, not openly.

      Reply
  10. William Hunter Duncan

    So what is a person to do if he has come to hate the so-called “Democratic” party and their shameless elitism/love for the imperial/self-assured superiority, but recognizes the Republican brand as retrograde moneygrubbing warpiggery?

    Reply
    1. ambrit

      Be like the character in the Godzilla ‘kaiju’ film from a few years ago. “Let them fight!”
      Right now, both formal organizations are showing signs of imminent fracture. Just as the old Whig Party dissolved and reconstituted as the Republican Party, (in the North,) so can the ‘modern’ Democrat and Republican Parties. Really, at present, all I can see holding either party together is institutional inertia.
      But then, what do I know?

      Reply
    2. James McFadden

      Try helping the Greens become a viable alternative. Unfortunately most people have become political spectators and will only root for a team that they think can win … Rather than becoming a citizen-participant who works to build a party not subservient to corporate rule in our current form of inverted totalitarianism (see Sheldon Wolin’s Democracy Incorporated). Get involved. Build an alternative to the two wings of the Business Party.

      Reply
      1. Yves Smith

        Ahem, you need to have a conversation with Lambert about the Greens in Maine, and I gather this sort of thing is true of the Greens in many states. They so misused a very promising candidate that he vowed never to run for office again. The Greens are totally unserious about wanting power.

        Reply
  11. Rod

    Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.
    H Zinn
    I’m interested in a HR Bill aimed at solving the “direct action by concerned citizens” conundrum.

    But for now I’ll settle for replacing SC’s touch screen system with something more accountable(yes, last Presidential, my 2000 model malfunctioned mid ballot and I was shifted to another). Our Legislature thinks that’s big bucks even for a state that turned out 65% registered voters in the 2016 Gen.

    Reply
  12. Tyronius Maximus

    If this was real reform, it wouldn’t be supported by either party. Cynical? Maybe. Tell me how it’s not accurate.

    Reply
  13. Lambert Strether Post author

    Summarizing more pointedly, for all the other good things the bill does, it:

    1) Optimizes for election theft by insiders using digital voting systems;

    2) Gives the intelligence community veto power over the legitimacy of election results;

    3) Increases the power of the Democrat base in the 10% by giving them matching funds.

    * * *

    Better solutions would include:

    1) Hand-marked paper ballots, hand-counted in public as a mandate

    2) Eliminate all campaign donations, no matter the amount, by publicly funding elections

    3) Election day as a national holiday (not the pissant “encourage private sector” stuff)

    4) Optimize campaigning for in-person appearances and print*, eliminating social media advertising entirely, and limiting TV advertising for some period before the vote)

    5) Forbid polling for some period before the vote.

    And for anybody whinging about #4 and #5, please tell me what was so wrong with “our democracy” during the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

    NOTE * Yes, this is a much-needed subsidy for print and local newspapers. I think they are far more Jackpot-ready than the Intertubes in any case.

    Reply

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