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Balance of Power

Global watchdog blames Trump for declining U.S. democracy

American democratic norms are facing an attack unprecedented in modern times as a result of President Trump's actions, the global democracy watchdog Freedom House says in its annual assessment of freedom around the world.

The group's president, Michael Abramowitz, uses the report to accuse Trump of undermining such pillars of American democracy as the separation of powers, a free press, an independent judiciary and the legitimacy of elections.

While American democratic values were undermined by President Obama's prosecution of media leaks and President George W. Bush's warrantless collections of telephone records, "there remains little question that President Trump exerts an influence on American politics that is straining our core values and testing the stability of our constitutional system," he wrote. "No president in living memory has shown less respect for its tenets, norms and principles."

Freedom House gets most of its budget from the federal government and since 1973 has been issuing its widely respected ratings of countries as "free," "partly free" or "not free" – based on scores in two dozen categories ranging from press freedoms to fair elections, political pluralism to civil liberties. The new report, out Monday, ranks the United Sates No. 52 on the roster of 87 countries categorized as free. (At the end of the last decade it was No. 31.) The 2019 report says recent "decline in the rule of law" put American democracy "on a level with Greece, Croatia, and Mongolia," and well below such democracies as Germany and Britain.

Last month another watchdog group, Transparency International, said that threats to the American system of checks and balances had dropped the United States out of the top 20 "cleanest" countries on its annual Corruption Perceptions Index.

"The reality is that other countries pay close attention to the conduct of the world's oldest functioning democracy. The continuing deterioration of U.S. norms will hasten the ongoing decline in global democracy. Indeed, it has already done so," Abramowitz wrote in a rare signed essay, included in the report, about the particular challenges to American democracy.

"We cannot take for granted that institutional bulwarks against abuse of power will retain their strength, or that our democracy will endure perpetually," he concluded. "Rarely has the need to defend its rules and norms been more urgent. Congress must perform more scrupulous oversight of the administration than it has to date. The courts must continue to resist pressures on their independence. The media must maintain their vigorous reporting even as they defend their constitutional prerogatives. And citizens, including Americans who are typically reluctant to engage in the public square, must be alert to new infringements on their rights and the rule of law."

We’re all about the issues that have broken American democracy — and efforts to make governments work again for you, your family and your friends.
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The House on Friday passed legislation to restore a provision of the Voting Rights Act struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013. The bill would require advance approval of voting changes in states with a history of discrimination. Here President Lyndon Johnson shares one of the pens he used to sign the Voting Rights Act of 1965 with civil rights leader the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Passage of historic voting rights law takes a partisan turn

In a partisan vote on an issue that once was bipartisan, House Democrats pushed through legislation Friday that would restore a key portion of the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The Voting Rights Advancement Act passed the House 228-187, with all Democrats voting for the bill and all but one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, voting against it.

The bill faces virtually no chance of being considered in the Republican-controlled Senate.

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Big Picture

TV stations fight FCC over political ad disclosure

Broadcasters are pushing back against the Federal Communications Commission after the agency made clear it wants broader public disclosure regarding TV political ads.

With the 2020 election less than a year away and political TV ads running more frequently, the FCC issued a lengthy order to clear up any ambiguities licensees of TV stations had regarding their responsibility to record information about ad content and sponsorship. In response, a dozen broadcasting stations sent a petition to the agency, asking it to consider a more narrow interpretation of the law.

This dispute over disclosure rules for TV ads comes at a time when digital ads are subject to little regulation. Efforts to apply the same rules for TV, radio and print advertising across the internet have been stymied by Congress's partisanship and the Federal Election Commission being effectively out of commission.

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1952 Eisenhower Answers America

On TV, political ads are regulated – but online, anything goes

Lightman is a professor of digital media and marketing at Carnegie Mellon University.

With the 2020 election less than a year away, Facebook is under fire from presidential candidates, lawmakers, civil rights groups and even its own employees to provide more transparency on political ads and potentially stop running them altogether.

Meanwhile, Twitter has announced that it will not allow any political ads on its platform.

Modern-day online ads use sophisticated tools to promote political agendas with a high degree of specificity.

I have closely studied how information propagates through social channels and its impact on political messaging and advertising.

Looking back at the history of mass media and political ads in the national narrative, I think it's important to focus on how TV advertising, which is monitored by the Federal Communications Commission, differs fundamentally with the world of social media.

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