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Infoshop News / Rebecca Solnit on the #MeToo Backlash
« Last post by Alternative Media Project on Yesterday at 06:00:47 PM »
Rebecca Solnit on the #MeToo Backlash

This thing has gone too far. It has terrified people, driven them out of their workplaces and even professions, made them afraid to speak up and punished them for speaking. This thing, by which I mean misogyny and violence against women (and girls, and men, and boys, and even babies, but I?m going to skip the horrific baby story that was reported last week).
Source: Rebecca Solnit on the #MeToo Backlash
Infoshop News / An Anarchist Review of Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
« Last post by Alternative Media Project on Yesterday at 06:00:47 PM »
An Anarchist Review of Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff is a popular book about Trump and his administration. It may be popular because it focuses on Trump's bizarre personal peculiarities rather than the political context and the forces which led to Trump's presidency.
Source: An Anarchist Review of Michael Wolff, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House
Infoshop News / Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Globalisation ? 3 Interlinked Problems
« Last post by Alternative Media Project on Yesterday at 06:00:47 PM »
Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Globalisation ? 3 Interlinked Problems

Pollution and climate change are already causing many health and food insecurity problems in the world. Pollution and climate change are set to cause much larger problems in the near future, as was recently discussed at the annual UN climate summit COP23
Source: Climate Change, Peak Oil, and Globalisation ? 3 Interlinked Problems
Trump Has Really Stepped In It Now, As Stormy Daniels Payoff Likely Crosses Legal Lines

The $130,000 hush money paid to the porn actress opens up legal and tax issues for Trump.

Donald Trump and his enablers may face numerous legal problems over $130,000 of hush money paid to porn star Stormy Daniels, one of two women known so far to have taken money in return for promising to keep silent about illicit sexual relationships with Trump after his 2005 marriage to Melania Knaus.

We don?t know how Daniels was paid?in cash installments, a single check or some other device. How hush money is paid has implications for federal banking and tax laws, as three major politicians learned the hard way in this century.

Indictable offenses are possible for campaign finance law violations, banking law violations and tax law violations. Of course, since Trump is president he may be able to cajole, persuade or threaten administration officials into taking no action.

There is an alternative explanation, a lurid one for sure, for why Trump would want to keep porn actress Daniels from speaking about their sexual encounter. That reason may, or may not, have been campaign-related, as we shall see below.

For now, the best forum to learn how many other Stormy Daniels were paid off, and who bore the cost, would be for Congress to get involved. So far Congress has mostly refused to do its duty under our Constitution?s system of checks and balances on the exercise, and abuse, of executive power.

Congress could hold public hearings, after investigators armed with subpoenas obtain financial records and compel testimony, about all hush money payments since Trump announced his presidential bid in June 2015. If the facts warrant, going back further in time could reveal significant facts Trump has hidden that go to his fitness to hold any public office.

Trump has a long history of demanding absolute silence from those around him, sometimes using structured payments to ensure that silence endures for years or decades, as we shall see below.

Campaign staffers had to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Trump even required some campaign volunteers to sign nondisclosure agreements.

Because of his extensive use of hush money and nondisclosure agreements much of Trump?s unsavory conduct has been hidden from public view. Trump and his lawyers are quick to make sure anyone who has an agreement requiring them to keep quiet follows it to the letter, as we shall see below.

The $130,000 paid to Daniels, whose legal name is Stephanie Clifford, was agreed to just before the November 2016 election. Daniels has had sex on camera with men and women in more than 100 porn videos. She has implied in an interview with In Touch Weeklythat Trump also romped with Jenna Jameson, who is believed to be the biggest grossing porn star in the world.

The timing of the Daniels hush money is significant. It was paid just before voters went to the polls in November 2016.

The hush money clearly was paid to keep the bosomy performer from becoming Trump?s Gennifer Flowers, which might have cost Trump the White House. (Flowers is a cabaret singer and onetime Arkansas State employee who went public about a long-running affair with Bill Clinton, nearly derailing the Democrat?s 1992 presidential campaign.)

The official line on the porn actress payoff is classic Trump: nothing here folks, so move along.

Michael Cohen, a longtime Trump lawyer, gave a Feb. 13 statement to The New York Times that is designed to create the impression that he paid the hush money out of the kindness of his heart:

?Neither the Trump Organization nor the Trump campaign was a party to the transaction with Ms. Clifford, and neither reimbursed me for the payment, either directly or indirectly. The payment to Ms. Clifford was lawful, and was not a campaign contribution or a campaign expenditure by anyone.?

Notably missing from the artfully worded denial is Donald Trump himself. The statement would also exclude any business entity Trump owns that is not under the umbrella of the Trump Organization.

Only an audit of Cohen?s billings to Trump, Trump-related entities and other sources of money he received could establish whether the statement given to The Times is true, false or misleading. And only a thorough review of money that changed hands between Trump and Cohen could resolve the issue of why Donald Trump is notably unmentioned in the Cohen statement and why the statement refers only to Trump entities that are considered part of the Trump Organization.

Cohen can assert whatever he wants about the hush money having no connection to the Trump campaign. However, he doesn?t get to decide that. The Federal Election Commission, and, potentially, jurors in a criminal trial, get to determine whether the Daniels payoff was a disguised campaign contribution.

Individual donors legally can give no more than $2,700 to a presidential candidate. The Daniels payoff was more than 48 times that limit.

The Federal Election Commission?s guide for citizens notes that contributions can be made in many forms.

?Most people think of contributions as donations of money in the form of checks or currency. While these are common ways of making a contribution, anything of value given to influence a federal election is considered a contribution,? the FEC guide explains. ?All the contributions you make?whatever their form?count against your per committee limits.?

Paying a porn actress to keep silent about an illicit affair just days before an election would seem to qualify as ?anything of value? to aide a presidential campaign.

On the other hand, if indeed Cohen paid off Daniels as a self-motivated act of kindness and this has absolutely nothing to do with the election?a far-fetched interpretation, for sure?then the IRS should be asking questions.

Congress allows individuals to make gifts worth no more than $15,000 per person to anyone else. Larger gifts must be reported on Form 706 and are subject to the gift tax. If Cohen filed a gift tax return, he could just make it public.

The gift tax and hush money became an issue for former Senator John Edwards when he sought the Democratic party nomination for president in 2008 after being John Kerry?s running mate in 2004.

Edwards was indicted over hush money he paid to Rielle Hunter (who was also known by four other names). Hunter became the former senator?s mistress in 2006 and had a love child with him. Edwards lied about and denied the affair and the child until 2010, when he came clean.

Hunter was paid about $1 million to keep quiet, some of which prosecutors charged was run connected to the campaign, which would violate federal election law. Prosecutors said $700,000 of the money came from a Mellon banking and oil heiress, then 100 years old. However, the heiress had filed a gift tax return, which made the gift proper as a matter of tax law. Edwards was free to use the money any way he chose.

In 2012, Edwards was acquitted on one count and a mistrial was declared on the other five. The Justice Department declined to try the five remaining charges a second time.

A related tax question is whether Trump or Cohen took the $130,000 as a tax deduction. Hush money payments for sexual misconduct can, in many cases, be tax deductible. That means you and other taxpayers share in the cost of payoffs to hide indiscretions.

How the payments were made is also important.

The highest-ranking elected official to go to prison is former House Speaker Dennis Hastert.

The Illinois Republican and former high school wrestling coach confessed in 2016 of violating banking laws by structuring $1.7 million in hush money to avoid filing cash transaction reports. These reports are used to reduce tax cheating, track drug trafficker money as well as spot terrorist cash flows.

Hastert, after initial denials, confessed to abusing several boys including a 14-year-old wrestler, who as an adult was paid to keep silent. Hastert served 13 months in prison. He is now suing to get his victim to give back the $1.7 million.

Similarly, the IRS Criminal Investigation Division looked into payments arranged by Eliot Spitzer, then governor of New York, to prostitution services. Spitzer, a wealthy Democrat, paid at least $80,000 for sex, using wire transfers, some of them for $4,000.

While Spitzer escaped prosecution, he had to resign in disgrace as governor of New York in March 2008 after the New York Times exposed the corruption. Four people were indicted in the Emperor?s Club V.I.P. prostitution ring which employed 50 working women in New York Washington and as far away as London and Paris.

Among those who could reveal much about Trump?s conduct are his ex-wives, Ivana and Marla. However, if either woman spoke up it would put them in financial and legal jeopardy because their divorce decrees require them never to speak about Trump without his explicit permission.

Ivana, for example, is covered by this language, approved by a New York family court judge:

?Without obtaining [Donald Trump?s] written consent in advance, [Ivana] shall not directly or indirectly publish, or cause to be published, any diary, memoir, letter, story, photograph, interview, article, essay, account, or description or depiction of any kind whatsoever, whether fictionalized or not, concerning her marriage to [Donald Trump] or any other aspect of [Donald Trump?s] personal, business or financial affairs, or assist or provide information to others in connection with the publication or dissemination of any such material or excerpts thereof.?

Trump has publicly warned Marla Maples to keep her mouth shut.

In 1999, when Trump made a failed bid to win the presidential nomination of fringe organization the Reform Party, Trump told Neil Cavuto of Fox News that Marla Maples would not be making any more unflattering comments about him in public after she said she would not be silent if he was on the road to the White House.

?We have a confidentiality agreement, and I?m sure that she?ll abide by it now,? Trump told Cavuto on Oct. 20, 1999.

?You have a confidentiality?you?re not allowed to talk!? Trump continued. ?And she [Maples] goes out and says I wouldn?t this, I wouldn?t that. So, I say why am I paying money to somebody that?s violated an agreement? But we?ll see what happens in the future. And if in the future she continues, I guess I?ll have to take very strong measures.?

New York State, where the cash-for-silence payments were arranged, has a 1991 law against secret agreements in court-approved settlements. That law is incredibly weak, however, allowing judges to seal records for ?good cause.?

The alternative explanation for the payoff to porn actress Daniels relates to some creepy details and to how Trump has repeatedly used Rupert Murdoch?s New York Post to create the impression that he is a great Don Juan. Among other puff pieces, the Post ran a cover with his smiling face and the headline ?best sex ever.?

Maples, playing herself on the sitcom Designing Women after the couple divorced in 1999, looked into a camera and declared she never said that.

Daniels gave numerous interviews about her fling with Trump in 2011, and told In Touch Weekly that sex with Trump was ?textbook generic. It wasn?t like, ?Oh my God, I love you.? He wasn?t like Fabio or anything. He wasn?t trying to have, like, porn sex?. It was one position, what you would expect someone his age to do. It wasn?t bad.?

Those comments and others she made about another porn star, Jenna Jameson, raise the prospect that Trump and Cohen were alarmed about how revelations that he was nothing special in the sack would devastate Trump?s ego. During the campaign, Trump made self-aggrandizing references to the size of his genitals, including during a debate with other candidates from the party of family values.

This raises the possibility that it was sexual panic rather than fear of losing the election, that motivated the hush money payment. And of course, the hush money could have been paid for both reasons?fear of losing an election and fear of becoming known for coming up short in the bedroom.


Related Stories

Source: Trump Has Really Stepped In It Now, As Stormy Daniels Payoff Likely Crosses Legal Lines
Infoshop News / Another Mass Shooting. Another Case in Which Signs of White Violence Didn?t Raise Alarms.
« Last post by Alternative Media Project on Yesterday at 06:00:42 AM »
Another Mass Shooting. Another Case in Which Signs of White Violence Didn?t Raise Alarms.

Like these other young men who turned violent, lots of people who interacted with Cruz saw the day coming when he would do something drastic, maybe even one day shoot up a school.
Source: Another Mass Shooting. Another Case in Which Signs of White Violence Didn?t Raise Alarms.
Infoshop News / Accusing Facebook of ?Effectively Banning Professional Journalism,? Brazil?s Largest Paper Ditches Platform
« Last post by Alternative Media Project on Yesterday at 06:00:42 AM »
Accusing Facebook of ?Effectively Banning Professional Journalism,? Brazil?s Largest Paper Ditches Platform

Facebook has become "inhospitable terrain for those who want to offer quality content," said Folha de S. Paulo's executive editor
Source: Accusing Facebook of ?Effectively Banning Professional Journalism,? Brazil?s Largest Paper Ditches Platform
Scott Pruitt Offers a Laughable Explanation For Why He's Flying First Class on Taxpayers' Dime

Does he expect us to feel sorry for him?

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been secretive about his schedule and the travel bills he?s been racking up at great taxpayer expense. From Politico:

PA on Wednesday retracted its claim that Administrator Scott Pruitt has received a ?blanket waiver? to fly first class whenever he travels, after Politico pointed officials to federal travel rules that appeared to bar such arrangements.

Pruitt has been routinely flying first class at taxpayers? expense after securing what EPA spokesman Jahan Wilcox had described as "blanket waiver,? Politico reported Tuesday. But the General Services Administration says federal rules require agencies? oversight staffers to sign off on officials? first- or business-class travel "on a trip-by-trip basis ... unless the traveler has an up-to-date documented disability or special need.?

Wilcox changed his explanation after Politico pointed out that section of the regulations. GSA does allow first-class travel for security reasons, but only if agencies request a waiver for each trip.

"As such, for every trip Administrator Pruitt submits a waiver to fly in either first or business class," Wilcox said, amending the agency's earlier statement, which yielded criticism from Republican lawmakers and led Democrats to request an inspector general investigation.

So, it was a ?blanket waiver? and then it wasn?t? Pruitt also got a waiver to fly in the lap of luxury on a trip to Italy. From CBS News:

In early June, Pruitt traveled to Italy for meetings at the Vatican and to attend a summit with international energy ministers. Taxpayers picked up the tab for his round-trip business-class flight, which cost at least $7,000, several times the cost of what was paid for other staffers who accompanied him on the trip.

CBS News has learned that when Pruitt returned home from Milan on June 11, he flew on Emirates Airlines, whose business class cabins are some of the world's most luxurious, complete with an onboard lounge that promises what the airline calls a "truly unique journey."

To take the flight, Pruitt needed special dispensation. Government officials are bound by the Fly America Act, which requires them to "use U.S. air carrier service for all air travel? funded by the U.S. government."

It?s one special waiver after another, at huge expense to taxpayers, for a man who is systemically dismantling the policies of the EPA, policies meant to protect the general public from polluted air and poisoned water. It?s been one big giveaway after another to mega-corporations, putting the general public at increased health risk for the future. So, how does he justify all of this fancy schmancy champagne and caviar service at our expense? 

?He was approached in the airport numerous times, to the point of profanities being yelled at him and so forth,? Henry Barnet, director of the agency's Office of Criminal Enforcement, told Politico.

?The team leader felt that he was being placed in a situation where he was unsafe on the flight,? said Barnet, a career employee and longtime law enforcement official who joined EPA in 2011.

EPA offered the explanation after five days of controversy over Pruitt's travel that started with a Washington Post report that he and EPA staff had racked up more than $90,000 in travel in early June.

What has Pruitt so spooked that he has to have a 30-person security team with round-the-clock protection and simply, positively has to be booked in the most expensive travel seats possible? 

As an example, Barnet recounted on incident from October at the airport in Atlanta. An individual approached Pruitt with his cell phone recording, yelling at him ??Scott Pruitt, you?re f---ing up the environment,? those sort of terms,? Barnet said.

Unbelievable. And they call liberals ?snowflakes?? Here?s an idea for Scott Pruitt and Republicans like him?maybe just stop acting like jerks and enacting policy after policy to harm people and the environment? Maybe, as the man at the airport said, stop fucking up the environment? 


Related Stories

Source: Scott Pruitt Offers a Laughable Explanation For Why He's Flying First Class on Taxpayers' Dime
Richard Mellor / Another School Shooting. Why is This Happening?
« Last post by Richard Mellor on February 16, 2018, 06:01:17 PM »
Another School Shooting. Why is This Happening?

Why We?re Underestimating American Collapse

The Strange New Pathologies of the World?s First Rich Failed State

You  might say, having read some of my recent essays, ?Umair! Don?t worry!  Everything will be fine! It?s not that bad!? I would look at you  politely, and then say gently, ?To tell you the truth, I don?t think  we?re taking collapse nearly seriously enough.?

Why?  When we take a hard look at US collapse, we see a number of social  pathologies on the rise. Not just any kind. Not even troubling,  worrying, and dangerous ones. But strange and bizarre ones. Unique ones.  Singular and gruesomely weird ones I?ve never really seen before, and  outside of a dystopia written by Dickens and Orwell, nor have you, and  neither has history. They suggest that whatever ?numbers? we use to  represent decline???shrinking real incomes, inequality, and so on ?we  are in fact grossly underestimating what pundits call the ?human toll?,  but which sensible human beings like you and I should simply think of as  the overwhelming despair, rage, and anxiety of living in a collapsing  society.

Let  me give you just five examples of what I?ll call the social pathologies  of collapse???strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones  we don?t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never  really seen before in any modern society.

America  has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That?s one every other  day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough???but it is just a  number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another  way. America  has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than  anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In  fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique  feature of American collapse???it just doesn?t happen in any other  country???and that is what I mean by ?social pathologies of collapse?: a  new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.

Why  are American kids killing each other? Why doesn?t their society care  enough to intervene? Well, probably because those kids have given up on  life???and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you?re  right???and it?s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren?t  killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.

So  there is of course also an ?opioid epidemic?. We use that phrase too  casually, but it much more troubling than it appears on first glance.  Here is what is really curious about it. In many countries in the  world???most of Asia and Africa???one can buy all the opioids one wants  from any local pharmacy, without a prescription. You might suppose then  that opioid abuse as a mass epidemic would be a global phenomenon. Yet  we don?t see opioid epidemics anywhere but America???especially not ones so vicious and widespread they shrink  life expectancy. So the ?opioid epidemic????mass self-medication with  the hardest of hard drugs???is again a social pathology of collapse:  unique to American life. It is not quite captured in the numbers, but  only through comparison???and when we see it in global perspective, we  get a sense of just how singularly troubled American life really is.

Why  would people abuse opioids en masse unlike anywhere else in the world?  They must be living genuinely traumatic and desperate lives, in which  there is little healthcare, so they have to self-medicate the terror  away. But what is so desperate about them? Well, consider another  example: the ?nomadic retirees?. They live in their cars. They go from  place to place, season after season, chasing whatever low-wage work they  can find???spring, an Amazon warehouse, Christmas, Walmart.

Now,  you might say????well, poor people have always chased seasonal work!?  But that is not really the point: absolute powerlessness and complete  indignity is. In no other country I can see do retirees who should have  been able to save up enough to live on now living in their cars in order  to find work just to go on eating before they die???not even in  desperately poor ones, where at least families live together, share  resources, and care for one another. This is another pathology of  collapse that is unique to America???utter powerlessness to live with  dignity. Numbers don?t capture it???but comparisons paint a bleak  picture.

How  did America?s elderly end up cheated of dignity? After all, even  desperately poor countries have ?informal social support  systems????otherwise known as families and communities. But in America,  there is the catastrophic collapse of social bonds. Extreme capitalism  has blown apart American society so totally that people cannot even care  for one another as much as they do in places like Pakistan and Nigeria.  Social bonds, relationships themselves, have become unaffordable  luxuries, more so than even in poor countries: this is yet another  social pathology unique to American collapse.
Yet  those once poor countries are making great strides. Costa Ricans now  have higher life expectancy than Americans???because they have public  healthcare. American life expectancy is falling, unlike nearly anywhere  else in the world, save the UK???because it doesn?t.

And  that is my last pathology: it is one of the soul, not one of the limbs,  like the others above. American appear to be quite happy simply  watching one another die, in all the ways above. They just don?t appear  to be too disturbed, moved, or even affected by the four pathologies  above: their kids killing each other, their social bonds collapsing,  being powerless to live with dignity,or having to numb the pain of it  all away.

If  these pathologies happened in any other rich country???even in most  poor ones???people would be aghast, shocked, and stunned, and certainly  moved to make them not happen. But in America, they are, well, not even  resigned. They are indifferent, mostly.

So  my last pathology is a predatory society. A predatory society doesn?t  just mean oligarchs ripping people off financially. In a truer way, it  means people nodding and smiling and going about their everyday business  as their neighbours, friends, and colleagues die early deaths in  shallow graves. The predator in American society isn?t just its  super-rich???but an invisible and insatiable force: the normalization of  what in the rest of the world would be seen as shameful, historic,  generational moral failures, if not crimes, becoming mere mundane  everyday affairs not to be too worried by or troubled about.

Perhaps that sounds strong to you. Is it?

Now  that I?ve given you a few examples???there are many more???of the  social pathologies of collapse, let me share with you the three points  that they raise for me.

These  social pathologies are something like strange and gruesome new strains  of disease infecting the body social. America has always been a  pioneer???only today, it is host not just to problems not just rarely  seen in healthy societies???it is pioneering novel social pathologies  have never been seen in the modern world outside present-day America,  period. What does that tell us?

American  collapse is much more severe than we suppose it is. We are  underestimating its magnitude, not overestimating it. American  intellectuals, media, and thought doesn?t put any of its problems in  global or historical perspective???but when they are seen that way,  America?s problems are revealed to be not just the everyday nuisances of  a declining nation, but something more like a body suddenly attacked by  unimagined diseases.

Seen  accurately. American collapse is a catastrophe of human possibility  without modern parallel . And because the mess that America has made of  itself, then, is so especially unique, so singular, so perversely  special???the treatment will have to be novel, too. The uniqueness of  these social pathologies tell us that American collapse is not like a  reversion to any mean, or the downswing of a trend. It is something  outside the norm. Something beyond the data. Past the statistics. It is  like the meteor that hit the dinosaurs: an outlier beyond outliers, an  event at the extreme of the extremes. That is why our narratives,  frames, and theories cannot really capture it???much less explain it. We need a whole new language???and a new way of seeing???to even begin to make sense of it.

But  that is America?s task, not the world?s. The world?s task is this.  Should the world follow the American model???extreme capitalism, no  public investment, cruelty as a way of life, the perversion of everyday  virtue???then these new social pathologies will follow, too. They are  new diseases of the body social that have emerged from the diet of junk  food???junk media, junk science, junk culture, junk punditry, junk  economics, people treating one another and their society like  junk???that America has fed upon for too long.

January 2018

Source: Another School Shooting. Why is This Happening?
The House Just Passed a Bill That's Great for Discriminatory Businesses, Horrible For People with Disabilities

Republicans?and a few Democrats?decided to roll back key protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act.


The ADA Education and Reform Act passed the House Thursday, and activists are furious. 

Under the legislation, businesses that don't comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, a landmark effort to secure civil rights, will be given much more leeway to avoid the law. The bill shifts the burden of ensuring compliance onto people with disabilities, rather than on the businesses that can make their lives harder. 

If it becomes law, people who find businesses in violation of the ADA will still be able to sue. But first, they have to file a complaint with the business, which will have 60 days to respond in writing to the complaint. After that, the business will have 120 days to begin making "substantive improvements."

"If they don?t comply within the time period, then file the lawsuit," said Republican Rep. Ted Poe of Texas. "Go after them. But businesses should be able to have the notice of what the problem is so that they can fix it, which is the goal of the ADA.?

The problem? Businesses already know they should be following the ADA, and when they don't, it can significantly limit the freedom of people with disabilities to live their lives. Imagine being invited out with a group of friends to dinner, and then finding out you can't enter the restaurant because your wheelchair doesn't fit in the door.

Now, the House is telling people with disabilities that if they're discriminated against, they have to wait at least six months before the problem even starts to get addressed.

The bill requires that someone filing a complaint specify exactly which sections of the ADA have been violated. That's right: Under this bill, you have to be an expert in the law in order to have your rights respected.

"Navigating such a process would be both complicated and time-consuming, which of course, is the point of the bill," said the ACLU.

?This bill affects us tremendously,? Marilee Adamski-Smith, the national media chair for ADAPT, told Disability Scoop. ?We are worried it?s going to push back disability rights 27 years, to before ADA protections were in place.?


Related Stories

Source: The House Just Passed a Bill That's Great for Discriminatory Businesses, Horrible For People with Disabilities
AlterNet / America's Voting Machinery Is Hackable, Falling Apart and Privatized?and the GOP Doesn't Care
« Last post by AlterNet on February 16, 2018, 06:02:21 AM »
America's Voting Machinery Is Hackable, Falling Apart and Privatized?and the GOP Doesn't Care


Democrats issue a startling report on voting vulnerabilities and propose legislation to protect upcoming elections.


Democrats in Congress have issued what may be their most alarming report ever about the vulnerability of America?s voting machinery to sophisticated adversaries and the limited abilities of government at every level to stop Election Day chaos.

The ?Congressional Task Force on Election Security Report,? from the party?s foremost experts on cyber threats in the House, gives new details on Russian hacking of the 2016 election and how the response across many layers of government was often poorly coordinated and marginally ineffective.

For example, as the 2016 presidential election came to a close, the Department of Homeland Security wanted to help states and counties by probing their computer systems to identify hacking vulnerabilities. But it noted that states and localities that sought help had to wait for weeks in October?a timeline out of sync with early November's Election Day. (The report said DHS is now trying to do better.)    

The report also restated how and why the nation?s electronic voting infrastructure is aging, cannot universally be trusted to accurately count votes, is not accompanied by thorough post-election audits to verify vote counts, and is made and maintained by a monopoly of private firms and contractors with little regulation or marketplace pressure to do better.

Its authors are sponsoring legislation to spend hundreds of millions to patch a national system beset by hacking pathways and other vulnerabilities. Not a single Republican in Congress took part in the hearings that produced the report. Nor have Republicans shown interest in acknowledging the cyber threats to voting or the millions needed to fortify the machinery for more trustable elections.

?The president and House Republicans have done nothing,? House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said at a press conference releasing the report and the legislation, where she recounted how every top intelligence official appointed by President Trump has recently said that Russia is already meddling in the upcoming 2018 election. ?They have refused to take inventory of what our resources are and what they need to be. They have refused to assess what the danger is to our electoral system, while the intelligence community, clearly by consensus, has told them.?

Layers of Vulnerability

The report covers a lot of ground, starting with what Russia did in 2016 that was different from its past efforts to seed and spread political propaganda in the U.S.

It began by citing the outlines of what most people already know; that Russian agents posted ?more than 1,000 YouTube videos, 130,000 tweets, and 80,000 Facebook posts. The latter were viewed by approximately 126 million people on Facebook platforms alone.? But the report quickly narrowed its focus to cyber probing of voting systems, starting with state voter registration databases.

?The 2016 election has shown us that these systems are vulnerable to attack,? the report said. ?The Department of Homeland Security found that Russian hackers targeted these [registration] systems in 21 states. In Illinois, Russian hackers successfully breached the databases and attempted, but failed, to alter and delete voting records. In Arizona, hackers were able to successfully install malware on a county election official?s computer. That gave the hackers access to the official?s credentials which could have then been used to get into the county?s voter registration database. In addition, hackers targeted at least one election vendor with the hope of ultimately obtaining access into voter registration databases.?

The report described the kind of havoc that could have ensued had the Russians?or anyone else?scrambled voter data in those systems.

?The most significant threat posed by vulnerable voter registration databases is that an attacker could alter, delete, or add voter registration records which would then cause profound chaos on Election Day and potentially change the results of the election,? it said. ?There is no federal law that governs what steps election vendors must take to safeguard their systems from attack. Instead, any obligations that vendors are subject to stem from the terms of their contracts with states and localities.?

The report also noted successful hacks by North Korea, China and Iran of U.S. companies, including defense contractors, banks and major media. However, it noted that none of those foreign governments were known to have meddled in U.S. elections. In comments at the press conference, report co-author Rep. Val Demings, D-FL, emphasized that America?s system of privatized contractors programming voting machines must be pushed to follow higher security standards.

?The [proposed] Election Security Act proactively strengthens our elections system by requiring election technology vendors to adopt specific cyber security standards that share threats with elections and security officials, intelligence officials, as well as running pre-election threat assessments to uncover vulnerabilities, with enough time to solve them,? Demings said. ?Nowhere is that more evident than in my home state of Florida, where a voter registration vendor [VR Systems] for 57 of 58 counties was targeted in August of 2016. By October, at least 12 county elections officials had received information about it, but it was not until November first that all counties were notified of the attempted hack. To my knowledge there were no successful breaches, but Russia and others will be back with a vengeance. We must be ready.?

DHS and Critical Infrastructure

Demings alluded to some of the report?s most eyebrow-raising content, which discussed, in great detail, how difficult it was for DHS to work with state and county officials to try to detect and prevent attacks on the different computer systems overseeing voting. (Voter registration databases are one system; another system tabulates the votes.) That cooperation was also hampered by Republicans in Congress and states that didn?t trust the Obama administration?even though DHS is not a regulatory agency. 

?DHS was slow to gain the trust and buy-in of its state partners,? the report said. ?On September 28, 2016, with the election nearing and fewer than half the states requesting assistance from DHS, bipartisan congressional leadership wrote to state election officials to urge them to take advantage of resources to secure their network infrastructure, including those offered by DHS. At the same time Congressional leadership promised to ?oppose any effort by the federal government to exercise any degree of control over the states? administration of elections by designating these systems as critical infrastructure.??

The report notes that DHS was unable to expeditiously help states as 2016?s election came to a close, even where its assistance?such as running tests to see if voting networks could be hacked?was wanted.

?On October 10, DHS once again warned election officials that: ?[T]ime is a factor... There are only 29 days until Election Day,?? the report said. ?Although cyber hygiene scans can be performed quickly and remotely, ?it can take up to two run the scans and identify vulnerabilities. It can then take at least an additional week for state and local election officials to mitigate any vulnerabilities on systems that we may find.??

The report?s authors have drafted legislation in which DHS can play a significant role. As a result, the report alternates between critical passages like the above paragraph, and supportive passages about what DHS achieved, such as: ?With consistent prodding, DHS provided cyber hygiene scans to election officials in 33 states and 36 local jurisdictions and shared over 800 cyber threat indicators officials could use to identify attempted intrusions, as well as other tactics, techniques and best practices, with officials in thousands of jurisdictions across the country.?

But the problems of DHS coordinating with states that want its help has persisted since the 2016 election, the report noted. In one example, states had to wait nine months to have the federal agency assess their cyber vulnerabilities. That track record, apart from promises of help by top DHS officials, was troubling, election officials told the report?s authors.

?Election officials also had difficulty squaring DHS? offer of ?priority access? to services with the nine month waiting list for certain services like Risk and Vulnerability Assessments,? the report said. ?These delays render the benefit useless in light of the compressed time frame of an election cycle.?

While these revelations don?t mean DHS officials aren?t trying to help states, they underscore how difficult it is to make systemic changes that are needed to safeguard elections. Another example given was that DHS kept telling governor?s offices what was needed, but the messages were never given to senior state election officials?because election offices use different computer systems for their data and communications. 

?Although DHS officials testified in June 2017 that Russia targeted voting systems in 21 states, for example, it did not notify state election officials whether their election systems were targeted until late September, almost a year after the election,? the report said. ?In part, DHS attributed these information sharing challenges to the nature of its existing information sharing channels and reporting structures within each state. As a general rule, DHS shares threat information at the state level through state Homeland Security Advisors, Fusion Centers, CIOs and other agents of the state governor. Each state government is organized differently, but for the most part, Secretaries of State and other chief election officials are independently elected officials who do not report to the governor and exist outside the executive branch chain-of-command. As a result, information shared by DHS did not automatically flow to them under existing information-sharing relationships.?

Little Political Will to Fix Voting Systems

These kinds of delays and communication snafus show a system that operates at a snail?s pace relative to the speed of cyber probes and attacks. To make matters worse, in many states?and in Congress, as seen in the just-passed federal budget?there?s no willingness to spend the funds needed to modernize voting in the United States.

?State and local election officials are acutely aware of the threats they are facing, but they lack the necessary funds to safeguard their voting infrastructure,? the report said. ?In most states, legislatures are not increasing their election security budgets. In some cases, Governors [Florida, Ohio, Wisconsin] are actively undermining election security efforts. Moreover, state and local officials have expressed a desire for Congress to step in.?

The report recites the known vulnerabilities of electronic voting systems?problems that so-called election integrity activists have repeatedly raised for more than a dozen years. They note paperless systems, which are still used in 13 states for about one-fifth of the country?s voters, can mistakenly record votes and cannot be audited. The report recommends replacing all of the remaining paperless systems with paper ballot-based machines. It said ink-marked paper ballots are the best way to have a verifiable vote, one that could be audited for accuracy even if those ballots were electronically scanned. It cited one academic estimate that it would cost between $130 million to $400 million to make that transition in all remaining states with paperless systems, and noted that ?over $300 million? remains in federal funds from a past law to buy voting machines.

It also said states should institute much more rigorous post-election audits to see if their machinery is properly counting votes. And Congress should empower and fully fund a little-known federal agency, the Election Assistance Commission, to help with developing and implementing the technical standards needed to meet cyber threats. 

But mostly, the report said states have to spend more money ?to replace outdated technology and hire IT support. It is important to note that cyber threats evolve at a rapid pace, and a one-time lump sum investment is not enough. States also need resources for maintenance and periodic upgrades, and cybersecurity training for poll workers and other election officials.?

Looking at 2018 and 2020

The report by House Democrats may be one of the most detailed and honest assessments of the vulnerabilities of America?s voting systems to be issued by a congressional panel in years. Its findings are truly frightening, from the cyber threats and the best responses, to the lack of political will to spend money to address the problems, and the sorry state of the privatized voting machinery industry.

The report gives no indication that elected officials with the power of the purse?mainly Republicans these days?have much inclination to make voting and elections more trustworthy. Perhaps because they are in power, they feel no need to patch the vulnerabilities in the system that helped elect them. But the political tides shift, and Americans across the political spectrum deserve to know that their voters are accurately cast and counted.     

Sadly, the report notes that the tech sector has shown no inclination to step in. Consider these passages in the report describing the current monopoly held by voting machinery manufactures and contractors maintaining them:

?According to a recent study put out by the Penn Wharton Public Policy Initiative, the election technology industry is dominated by three firms whose products cover approximately 92% of the total eligible voter population. These firms are neither publicly nor independently held which limits the amount of publicly available information available about their operations. Smaller companies routinely get bought out and merged with one of the three larger companies, and biggest tech companies, including Apple, Dell, IBM, HP, and Microsoft have chosen to stay out of the election technology business. This may in part be because the sector generates approximately $300 million in annual revenue, a relatively modest amount when compared to the revenue of the largest technology companies. For example, Apple generates about $300 million in revenue every 12 hours.

?Currently, election technology vendors present serious security risks. The consolidation in the election technology industry means that ?there is no meaningful competitive pressure from the suppliers to the vendors.? In other words, there is no incentive for election technology vendors to prioritize security. This problem is compounded by the lack of regulation in this area. These vendors are not required to make financial disclosures to the Securities and Exchange Commission. The executives are not required to disclose political contributions to the Federal Elections Commission. State and local contracts do not necessarily require vendors to notify election officials in the event of a cyberattack. Under current law, there is no way to ensure that vendors are doing everything possible to keep their systems secure.?

This is the sorry state of voting infrastructure in America. The report by House Democrats is filled with best-practices that could be implemented, and even some lines of defense that might seem a bit far-fetched, such as training poll workers to look for cyber-security threats. But taken as a whole, it reveals that the voting system that will record and count the ballots in upcoming elections is marked with a range of vulnerabilities. And sadly, there?s little political will in America?s current ruling party, the Republicans, to improve things.  


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Source: America's Voting Machinery Is Hackable, Falling Apart and Privatized?and the GOP Doesn't Care
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