On paper, Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has produced an elegant solution to the voting rights problem that addresses both Democratic concerns about protecting fair elections and Republican concerns about voter fraud. For months now, Democrats have been touting twin bills — the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act — offering a broad array of democracy reforms, from reducing the impact of money in politics to standardizing ballot access across the country. Republicans, however, have opposed these bills at every turn, pretending to be fearful of "voter fraud," which is so rare as to not be anything even approaching a real problem in the U.S. But Manchin has sworn up and down that bills must be "bipartisan" to get his support, refusing to reform the Senate filibuster, even though Republicans use it to block every big bill Democrats want to bring to a vote. So this week Manchin offered what he touted as a compromise bill, a long list of items for legislation he would support.
Manchin's proposal is not half-bad! It has concessions to Republican concerns, such as as having a national voter ID, but sets standards for how it can be done in a uniform and fair fashion. It would ban partisan gerrymandering, which would level the playing field for both parties. It does a great deal to protect and advance voting rights, while also addressing the main objections that Republicans have to the both of the other bills that Democrats have offered.
So Republicans responded by publicly thanking Manchin for listening to their concerns, treating them with respect, and giving them a bill that they are happy to vote for, right?
Ha ha ha, no!
Only someone born yesterday — or a 73-year-old Democratic senator from West Virginia — could be so naive as to think that would happen. Instead, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., got to work demonizing Manchin's proposal. First, McConnell seized on the fact that voting rights activist and former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams publicly came out in favor of Manchin's proposal, saying, "the plan endorsed by Stacey Abrams is no compromise."
As Joan Walsh of The Nation wrote, "he had his caucus at 'Stacey Abrams,'" because invoking her name "branded a proposal by a Democrat from a very white (and red) state as 'Black.'" But just in case folks didn't get McConnell's (unsubtle) implication, he also tossed around terms certain to raise racist fears in conservative white people, like "cancel culture" and "name-and-shame." (GOP focus group testing apparently shows that white people are absolutely terrified that the world will find out about that time they used a racial slur in college.) Pandering to racist whites is the core strategy of the modern GOP and Senate Republicans no doubt heard McConnell loud and clear on this front.
McConnell also denied that the absolute flood of voter suppression and vote nullification laws being passed by Republican state legislatures "are designed to suppress the vote." Since that's all that such laws exist to do, McConnell is letting Manchin know that he is not bound by even the pretense of honesty or good faith when it comes to opposing any and all efforts at protecting free and fair elections in the U.S.
The reason is straightforward: The Republican Party has become radicalized against democracy. That's why they refused to convict Donald Trump when he was impeached for trying to cheat in an election and then refused to convict him when he was impeached for inciting an insurrection. It's why the party is passing state laws faster than they can write them to make it harder to vote and to make it easier to nullify election results. For many Republican leaders, it's because they are deeply racist and just loathe the idea of people of color having equal ballot access. But even those who aren't personally bigoted know Republicans cannot win majorities with free and fair elections, so they are instead trying to kneecap democracy itself.
As Zack Beauchamp wrote at Vox, "The GOP has become an authoritarian party pushing an authoritarian policy agenda," and their main goal is "rigging elections enough to maintain power indefinitely." Asking such people to back a federal voting rights bill, however watered down, is a joke. Why on earth would they do anything that would slow down or even prevent the number one GOP goal: permanent minority rule?
The strategy that Republicans are using to hoodwink Manchin is the same they have used for decades to hoodwink Democrats: Pretend to be interested in a "compromise," mire the Democrats in endless negotiations, and run out the clock until elections. Then Republicans will run on a platform of accusing Democrats of getting nothing done, while ignoring the fact that Republican bad faith is why Democrats got nothing done. They're currently running this same playbook on Manchin when it comes to the infrastructure bill, wasting his time with negotiations on a bill they will never, ever actually vote for. Manchin has been told, over and over and over and over and over, that this is how Republicans operate, and yet, like a chicken who can't help banging his head against the wall all day, he just keeps acting like the barrier is about to crumble.
Democratic leaders are hopeful that Manchin will wake up to reality after watching McConnell take this carefully crafted compromise, crumple it into tissue paper and blow his nose in it. That assumes, unfortunately, that Manchin is capable of learning from experience.
The tea leaf reading on this front is, well, mixed.
On one hand, as Igor Derysh reports, Manchin got interestingly timed donations from corporate funders who have an economic interest in this GOP plan to wind down democracy. So this may be a classic case of someone protecting his own self-interest, even if at the expense of not just his party but his nation. On the flip side, Manchin told another group of donors that he's open to filibuster reform. Even if he is not motivated by serving the voters or his party, Manchin is torn between two sets of donors, which is something.
Time will tell, but right now, things aren't looking good. Manchin appears to have an endless appetite for letting Republicans run out the clock with fake negotiations, either because he's an idiot or because he himself would rather not ever have to vote on actual bills. Unfortunately, the very fate of our democracy really does hang in the balance and Manchin is too busy pretending Republicans could be heroes to see them for the villains they actually are.
An Iowa judge has ordered employees at a dairy farm owned by the father and brother of Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) to provide proof of their immigration status for the family's defamation suit against Esquire Magazine and journalist Ryan Lizza, regarding a 2018 article titled "Devin Nunes's Family Farm Is Hiding a Politically Explosive Secret," which claims the Nunes family's dairy farm knowingly employed undocumented workers, Law&Crime reports.
"The eight-page order from U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Roberts of the Northern District of Iowa came in response to a motion filed by attorneys representing Hearst Magazine Media, Inc. (Hearst owns and publishes Esquire) concerning their first attempt to depose one of the dairy farm employees, who is referred to as F.S.D. in court documents," Law&Crime's Jerry Lambe writes. "Esquire's filing complained that during the deposition of F.S.D., Biss 'asserted argumentative objections that were disruptive and intended to intimidate or coach the witness' when counsel tried to question F.S.D. about legal documents that bore his signature. Biss denied the accusation, saying he only 'intended to call out the Defendants' overt harassment of the NuStar employee.' But Judge Roberts called Biss's explanation 'puzzling and troubling.'"
According to U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Roberts, Biss's claims of harassment are a non-starter, since asking questions about the central issue behind a lawsuit does not amount to harassment.
"In the context of this case, it is not conducive to obtaining truthful answers from an employee such as F.S.D. to have his employer's lawyer making lengthy, animated objections to those questions," Roberts said, adding that "the most puzzling and troubling aspect" of Biss's "behavior" was his decision to seek a sidebar with F.S.D.'s attorney to determine "whether the witness wanted to take the Fifth Amendment."
Read the full report over at Law&Crime.
Americans are being denied unemployment benefits during the coronavirus pandemic because of states relying upon a facial recognition company.
"People around the country are furious after being denied their unemployment benefits due to apparent problems with facial recognition technology that claims to prevent fraud," Vice News reported Friday. "Unemployment recipients have been complaining for months about the identity verification service ID.me, which uses a combination of biometric information and official documents to confirm that applicants are who they claim to be. The complaints reached another crescendo this week after Axios published a 'deep dive' article about the threat of unemployment fraud based on statistics provided to the outlet by ID.me."
"Some unemployment applicants have said that ID.me's facial recognition models fail to properly identify them (generally speaking, facial recognition technology is notoriously less accurate for women and people of color). And after their applications were put on hold because their identity couldn't be verified, many should-be beneficiaries have had to wait days or weeks to reach an ID.me 'trusted referee' who could confirm what the technology couldn't," Vice reported. "On Twitter, there are dozens of complaints about ID.me per day, and local news articles all over the country have detailed the problem over the course of months. In California, 1.4 million unemployment beneficiary accounts were abruptly suspended on New Year's Eve and the beneficiaries were required to re-verify their identity using ID.me, a process which many found difficult and resulted in them waiting for weeks to reactivate their accounts while they struggled to make ends meet."
It's not just California using the software.
"In Colorado, benefit recipients who had no problem establishing their identity before ID.me took over were suddenly rejected and went months without receiving the payments they were eligible for," Vice reported. "The story is similar in Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Arizona, and many other states."
The company keeps increasing their claims of unemployment fraud.
"A quick search for tweets directed at ID.me shows reams of people locked out of their unemployment accounts by the company. At least 21 states use ID.me to detect fraudulent benefit claims. The spread of the technology has coincided with an aggressive media blitz from Hall in which he has stoked fears about the crisis of unemployment fraud using some fluid statistics," Vice reported. "In February, he told an Oregon TV station that unemployment fraud had cost the country $100 billion. Several weeks later, he told a Montana TV station that unemployment fraud had cost the country nearly $200 billion. The next month, he was telling a San Diego station that unemployment fraud would cost $300 billion. By the time ID.me reached Axios, it was $400 billion."
Vice News suggests skepticism is necessary when evaluating the numbers cited by the company.
"It's possible that the rate of successful unemployment fraud is growing rapidly—hence Hall's rising cost estimates—but ID.me also has a vested interest in depicting fraud as a major problem, which Hall has repeatedly done. It makes sense for a company that makes anti-fraud technology to study fraud; it's also fair for the general public to be skeptical of fraud statistics published by companies that would benefit from showing that fraud is a major problem," Vice noted. "The Axios article has been widely criticized for using ID.me—a company with a financial incentive to inflate the rate of unemployment fraud—as its main source. And while many local news outlets have provided great coverage of the pain caused by delays due to ID.me's system, others have run with stories similar to Axios's, citing the company's numbers. The Axios article was also immediately cited by Republicans in the House of Representatives as evidence of widespread defrauding of the U.S. government."
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