Sunday, November 28, 2021

Last Call For The Manchin On The Hill, Con't

Democrats across the party are raising alarms about sinking support among some of their most loyal voters, warning the White House and congressional leadership that they are falling short on campaign promises and leaving their base unsatisfied and unmotivated ahead of next year’s midterm elections.

President Biden has achieved some major victories, signing a bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill and moving a nearly $2 trillion social policy and climate change bill through the House. But some Democrats are warning that many of the voters who put them in control of the federal government last year may see little incentive to return to the polls in the midterms — reigniting a debate over electoral strategy that has been raging within the party since 2016.

As the administration focuses on those two bills, a long list of other party priorities — expanding voting rights, enacting criminal justice reform, enshrining abortion rights, raising the federal minimum wage to $15, fixing a broken immigration system — have languished or died in Congress. Negotiations in the Senate are likely to further dilute the economic and climate proposals that animated Mr. Biden’s campaign — if the bill passes at all. And the president’s central promise of healing divisions and lowering the political temperature has failed to be fruitful, as violent language flourishes and threats to lawmakers flood into Congress.

Interviews with Democratic lawmakers, activists and officials in Washington and in key battleground states show a party deeply concerned about retaining its own supporters. Even as strategists and vulnerable incumbents from battleground districts worry about swing voters, others argue that the erosion of crucial segments of the party’s coalition could pose more of a threat in midterm elections that are widely believed to be stacked against it.

Already, Mr. Biden’s approval ratings have taken a sharp fall among some of his core constituencies, showing double-digit declines among Black, Latino, female and young voters. Those drops have led to increased tension between the White House and progressives at a time of heightened political anxiety, after Democrats were caught off-guard by the intensity of the backlash against them in elections earlier this month. Mr. Biden’s plummeting national approval ratings have also raised concerns about whether he would — or should — run for re-election in 2024.

Not all of the blame is being placed squarely on the shoulders of Mr. Biden; a large percentage of frustration is with the Democratic Party itself.

“It’s frustrating to see the Democrats spend all of this time fighting against themselves and to give a perception to the country, which the Republicans are seizing on, that the Democrats can’t govern,” said Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, who leads the A.M.E. churches across Georgia. “And some of us are tired of them getting pushed around, because when they get pushed around, African Americans get shoved.”

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, a leading House progressive, warned that the party is at risk of “breaking trust” with vital constituencies, including young people and people of color.

“There’s all this focus on ‘Democrats deliver, Democrats deliver,’ but are they delivering on the things that people are asking for the most right now?” she said in an interview. “In communities like mine, the issues that people are loudest and feel most passionately about are the ones that the party is speaking to the least.”

Ms. Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats acknowledge that a significant part of the challenge facing their party is structural: With slim congressional majorities, the party cannot pass anything unless the entire caucus agrees. That empowers moderate Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin III of West Virginia to block some of the biggest promises to their supporters, including a broad voting rights bill.

A more aggressive approach may not lead to eventual passage of an immigration or voting rights law, but it would signal to Democrats that Mr. Biden is fighting for them, said Faiz Shakir, a close adviser to Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Mr. Shakir and others worry that the focus on the two significant pieces of legislation — infrastructure and the spending bill — won’t be enough to energize supporters skeptical of the federal government’s ability to improve their lives.

“I’m a supporter of Biden, a supporter of the agenda, and I’m frustrated and upset with him to allow this to go in the direction it has,” said Mr. Shakir, who managed Mr. Sanders’s presidential run in 2020. “It looks like we have President Manchin instead of President Biden in this debate.”

He added: “It’s made the president look weak.
At the very least, without voting rights, there will be no free and fair elections in the future. Republican state legislatures will simply overturn Democratic candidate wins as fraud.  And it's Black folk who are, as always, suffering the most from Manchin's bullshit.

The problem is, there's not a lot we can do. Push Manchin hard enough and he jumps ship, and we get nothing instead of a slim chance. It's hard, but Manchin continues to go on the Sunday shows week after week and proclaim him agenda while Biden just twiddles his thumbs.

At this point, there's no reason to believe the Build Back Better plan will get a Senate vote at all, and it's Manchin's doing, not Biden's.

I hate this "Dems in Disarray" crap as much as you all do, but that still means Manchin is calling the shots, and that remains a terrible reality.

Israeli A Problem Here, Con't

Why yes, as I said six months ago, Israel deliberately targeted a Gaza City high-rise that they knew housed Associated Press and Al Jazeera journalists in order to take out Hamas agents they suspected were in the building. Six months and a pack of lies later, including the ouster of Benjamin Netanyahu, we finally learn the truth.

The intelligence file Israel gave the United States concerning the airstrike on a Gaza high-rise building that housed foreign news agencies was retroactively edited, according to Israeli sources.

This was done in order to justify Israel’s claim that the bombing of the Al-Jalaa tower during the last Gaza conflict was necessary, after it became clear that the intelligence in the hands of the Israel Defense Forces was less than solid, say the sources.

The report was given to senior U.S. officials after President Joe Biden demanded an explanation for the May 15 attack from then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israeli officials expressed concern that submitting the altered report could adversely affect the trust between the two countries, especially on defense issues of strategic importance to Israel.

The Al-Jalaa tower in Gaza City housed the offices of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera news agencies. During Operation Guardian of the Walls Israel destroyed the tower, claiming that Hamas had been operating from the building in a way that justified the strike. Immediately after the attack, the United States demanded to see evidence supporting that claim. The IDF submitted intelligence on the tower to the U.S. the following day, but Secretary of State Antony Blinken said afterward that the information he was given did not prove that the attack was necessary. That same day, Biden conducted an uncomfortable phone conversation with Netanyahu in which the president demanded additional information explaining what led to the order to bomb the tower. Blinken has confirmed that additional information was delivered, but said that he could not discuss it.

As reported recently in Haaretz, IDF investigations found that Military Intelligence only discovered that The Associated Press and Al Jazeera had offices in Al-Jalaa during the “knock on the roof” protocol, a small missile strike meant to warn occupants to evacuate before an imminent airstrike. The military said previously, however, that it learned of the media organizations’ presence a few days before the attack. Since the beginning of the war with Hamas in May, international news organizations had given the IDF information about the location of their offices in the Gaza Strip, yet these offices were not designated as sensitive targets. Due to poor coordination, the information was not delivered to Military Intelligence or the Israel Air Force, and it was not in the building’s target file when the decision to destroy it was made.

When it became clear that foreign media organizations were housed in the tower, IDF Chief-of-Staff Aviv Kochavi convened an urgent meeting with several high-ranking officers. Sources with detailed knowledge of the discussion say Kochavi was determined to carry out the strike anyway, and the decision became final when Maj. Gen. Sharon Afek, the military advocate general at the time, ruled that it did not violate international law. A few senior defense officials warned, however, of the PR damage the strike would cause.

Military officials, as well as Hidai Zilberman, who was the IDF spokesperson at the time of Operation Guardian of the Walls, claim that the defense establishment failed to comprehend the consequences of the attack, even after it was completed. “They posted videos of the strike, before-and-after pictures,” says one knowledgeable source. “For an hour the whole world watched the building crumble in live coverage, and even that didn’t get the most senior figures to understand what Israel had got itself into.” The source said the attack had undermined the legitimacy of Israel in the operation. “Until it knocked down that tower the IDF enjoyed broad legitimacy to operate against Hamas, even from the Arab world. The collapse of the building ended that, and even if the establishment won’t admit it publicly, that was the moment that Israel understood the fighting would have to end soon," the source said.
They knew.
They bombed the building anyway.
That's fascism.

Sunday Long Read: In A Maze, Mint

Our Sunday Long Read this week comes to us from Nicola Twilley at the New Yorker, with the story of one of the premier designers of our age: Adrian Fisher, a man who makes...mazes.

Yes, those mazes. 

Dude's famous.
On the afternoon of March 25, 1980, Robert Runcie was enthroned as the hundred-and-second Archbishop of Canterbury, senior prelate of the Anglican Communion. For his first sermon following his ascension to the Chair of St. Augustine, Runcie told the assembled ranks of bishops, bewigged members of the judiciary, and assorted royalty about a recent dream. “You know how sometimes in an English garden you find a maze,” Runcie said. “The trouble is to get to the center of all those hedges. It is easy to get lost.” The Christian church, in Runcie’s slightly strained analogy, was in such a maze, and could progress toward its goal only by turning back, toward the periphery, in order to engage with those still outside the church’s embrace.

“He said, ‘I had a dream of a maze, and in this maze blah, blah, blah,’ ” the maze designer Adrian Fisher recalled, when I visited him late this summer, at his home in Dorset, in southwest England. In 1980, Fisher was twenty-eight years old and working for I.T.T., a multinational manufacturing company, where he was responsible for productivity enhancement. He was increasingly drawn to the idea of designing mazes; he’d even formed a company, Minotaur Designs, with a wealthy labyrinthologist and former diplomat, Randoll Coate. But public commissions proved elusive. “At first, I thought it was impossible,” Fisher said. “How do you start? How do you do it?”

Runcie’s dream gave him an idea: Fisher wrote to the letters page of the London Times, briefly outlining the maze’s long history as a Christian symbol and noting that, as in the Archbishop’s dream, a maze’s goal is typically reached not by “pressing toward the center” but, rather, by “returning almost to the edge,” in order to find the proper path. In his signature, Fisher styled himself a “Maze Consultant,” and, before long, this stealth marketing had reeled in a customer, and Minotaur’s first public commission. Lady Elizabeth Brunner, a former actress who was married to a chemical magnate, invited Fisher to tea. Over scones and jam, she wondered aloud whether he might create an Archbishop’s Maze, inspired by Runcie’s words, in her garden at Greys Court, a Tudor manor house in Oxfordshire.

Fisher didn’t yet have official stationery, or even a typewriter, so he submitted his proposal as a handwritten letter. His design was circular: a brick path, set in a lawn, that formed seven concentric rings winding toward a sundial in the center. At first glance, it seemed to replicate the traditional Christian pavement labyrinth, the most famous example of which is found in the nave of Chartres Cathedral. Medieval labyrinths of this kind aren’t puzzles; there is only a single path, arranged in a snaking pattern of concentric folds, and to process along it to the center is to participate in a physical allegory of the soul’s progress through life and toward salvation. But at Greys Court a maze walker—or aspirant, to use the technical term—encounters a junction within seconds and has to make a choice. Fisher cunningly combined the appearance of the old Christian labyrinth with the function of the puzzle maze, whose solution, taking its cue from Runcie’s metaphor, involves turning away from the center initially, to journey around the entire periphery.

The new Archbishop dedicated the Greys Court maze in October, 1981, and the resulting publicity generated more maze commissions. With new customers lining up, Fisher took out a business loan, bought a computer, a printer, and a secondhand car, and reinvented himself as a full-time maze designer. The course of his career, built on equal parts passion and self-promotion, was set. “See, you create events out of nothing,” he told me. Fisher realized that if he wanted to make mazes he first had to make people want mazes. From his Runcie letter to his (successful) campaign to have Britain declare 1991 the Year of the Maze, he has devoted the past four decades to creating both the market and the product. Today, at the age of seventy, he seems to have no intention of retiring. By his own count, he has created more than seven hundred mazes, in forty-two countries. He is the world’s leading maze-maker by a margin so large that he has no real competition.

“He’s the only one who’s managed to make mazes a business rather than a hobby,” Jeff Saward, a historian of mazes and labyrinths, told me. Saward, who edits the research journal Caerdroia—the Welsh name for a turf labyrinth—estimates that, when Fisher started out, there were no more than fifty public mazes and labyrinths in the U.K. There was just one text on the subject: “Mazes and Labyrinths: A General Account of Their History and Development,” by W. H. Matthews, from 1922. Matthews, a civil servant who had fought in the First World War, wrote the book in the Reading Room of the British Museum on his return from the trenches. Despite his fondness for mazes, Matthews was convinced that they were no more than a historical curiosity. “Let us admit at once that, as a favorite of fashion, the maze has long since had its day,” he wrote. The book, proving his point, sank almost without trace, and its poor sales became a family joke.

Yet today maze observers agree that there are more mazes than ever before, and more being built each year. Mazes, under Fisher’s watch, have become part of the British heritage business, de rigueur at stately homes, where, along with tearooms and gift shops, they can raise money to pay for otherwise crippling repair and tax bills. They have also diversified: Fisher helped invent the corn mazes that pop up alongside pumpkin patches on farms across America each fall, and reintroduced mirror mazes to piers, theme parks, and malls worldwide. He will happily design a labyrinth inscribed with religious quotations for a megachurch in North Carolina; a maze adventure with an artificial volcano, lake, and safe room for a Middle Eastern princess; a thumb-size maze tattoo for an anonymous female client; and a vertical maze for a fifty-five-story skyscraper in Dubai, with meanders that double as balconies. He does eighty per cent of his business overseas, and he told me that he has won nine Guinness World Records for superlative mazes of various sorts. “Of course, I wrote the rules about how a maze qualifies for the Guinness Book of Records,” he added.
You know what they say, it's the journey, not the destination.
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