Taste For Freedom in China Directly Challenges Autocrat Xi Jinping

There comes a time when autocrats and their tired regimes become a focal point of disgust and derision by the people being controlled. A time when the masses of people say there must be something better, or at least conditions not as oppressive and numbing to the soul.  Everyone desires freedom, even if their entire life has existed under a footprint on their brow, as the human spirit knows what it needs.

This morning the first news story I heard from NPR was the reports of protesters who have staged significant marches by gathering in at least eight major cities in China to bring loud and burly attention to the strict anti-Covid measures that have been enacted for months. The protests this weekend erupted after a fire broke out Thursday and killed at least 10 people in an apartment building in the city of Urumqi with the concern being registered by the populace about whether firefighters or people trying to escape were blocked by locked doors or other restrictions.

That aspect of the protests was not what stunned me as they have been brewing and simmering within China for some time. Rather what took me aback was the protestors calling out China’s leader and telling him to resign and even calling for an end to one-party rule. In a video of the protest in Shanghai, verified by the Associated Press, chants against Xi, the most powerful leader since at least the 1980s, can be heard without equivocation. “Xi Jinping! Step down! CCP! Step down!” While I know the Iranian women who are bravely protesting their own backward and male-dominated government are absolutely profiles in courage, I must place the courageous ones calling for a direct challenge to the ruling Chinese Communist Party on the same par.

History long shows that there comes a time when people just strike out at the nut that has long been in place and when the shell seems more brittle than once assumed there is an attempt by the eager people to make for a larger crack and then more and more until the shell is removed. I was one of those hopeful for a sea change with the Arab Spring in 2011 when a series of countries made an uplifting challenge to the ruling governments by calling for democracy as they envisioned it, human rights, and religious tolerance.  The fight is always uphill in such cases and the failure of Egypt’s short-lived experiment in democracy, for example, is a classic example.

Every nation has its own dynamics at play and there are no playbooks that guarantee any degree of success for such movements. Given China has a bloodthirsty desire for not only power but also revenge for those who cross it means that no one can pretend the current protests and tongue-lashing of Xi Jinping will have much short-term impact.

But that does not take away the feeling of some hope at the fringes with the simmering discontent in China at not only repressive state policy but an economy that is stagnating.  What is now happening does plant new seeds for continued rebellion in the near future.  That is the main worry for autocrats.  That is why they bluster so and turn to tanks and guns.  That is all they have and while that power is often overwhelming and the factor that prevails for the time being, there is one very important thing a bullet can not stop.

Once the yearning for freedom is tapped into and vented if only slightly, it does not then slink backward and stay dormant.  It continues in new ways and grows among more people.  It was reported today that protesters spoke out about the ‘must never talk about topic’ of the 1989 bloody and violent government crackdown on the Tiananmen Square pro-democracy protests. Those protests decades ago are surely part of the energy and forerunners of what erupted today in cities across China. What follows is likely to be harsher crackdowns and repression for protestors as the Covid restrictions ease. But what concerns an autocrat late at night is the protestors who want a taste for more freedom of expression and concrete changes. And are willing to make their case even under a repressive regime. Tick, tock, tick……

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wishing my readers a Happy Thanksgiving! Caffeinated Politics returns following the holiday weekend.

Respect for Marriage Act Moving Towards Passage, Harsh Vitriol From Right-Wing Continues

Last week, when I heard on the radio leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had added their support for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill enshrining protections for marriage equality, I said to myself ‘wwhhhaatt?’  I recall the strident opposition the Mormon Church had employed for years as gay Americans sought their civil rights in relation to marriage equality issues. I lamented on this blog how large donations from the church to anti-gay rights groups in various states were aiding in the placement of marriage amendments designed to further solidify the notion of ‘one, one woman’. But at the end of 2022 that once-hefty roadblock in Utah to social progress has relented and shortly after Thanksgiving Congress will codify marriage rights for gay couples.

I do not take such political moments lightly, or in any way assume that the blowback will not be vigorous or the outrageous comments less than numerous.  At age 60, I can vouch for the reason we work hard for our rights and know full well why hope is ever important in politics. I have praised forward-thinking pols who stood for the expansion of rights in the nation and have strongly rejected the harsh and vile rhetoric unleashed by those who wish to demonize gay people. Once again, I am heartened by champions who know the need to codify gay marriage rights, and also sad, given that this is 2022 that some in the right wing have not moved the needle whatsoever in their thinking.

It should be noted that this bill, which now heads to the Senate floor has been fashioned akin to the ones Congress could engineer with regularity before it became so constantly dysfunctional.  The bill contains plenty of exemptions for religious groups, making it the type of moderate compromise that allowed 12 Republican senators to move the measure forward with a procedural vote.  

Even with the buy-in from many senators within the GOP caucus I read the following comment about the bill and knew that for some in the nation accepting social progress has been slow and all uphill. “HR 8404 will force every state to honor and obey the insane marriage laws of any other state—even if that state allows pedophilic marriages.”

This type of outlandish bombast is not new. We can recall that in 2010 then-Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch made the stunning statement that extending domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples could lead to allowing people to marry tables and dogs.  That those words were a wildly inaccurate interpretation of the facts goes without saying.  She knew better than to say what she did.  She knew full well they were not grounded in reality.  I also know that in some parts of the country, and even in some areas of Wisconsin, rancid anti-gay slurs and outright bigotry are easily spewed. They continue to do so, in part, because of the reckless rhetoric that is used by some conservative politicians such as Senator Mike Lee of Utah, along with political activists.

Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center warned that the legislation “disrespects the religious liberties of millions of Americans who may face judicial assault if they refuse to oblige the left’s tyrannical narratives.” The Freedom Center’s Ryan Helfenbein retweeted its claim,adding, his own warning that “We are opening the door for massive religious persecution on a scale never seen before in America.”

Concerned Women for America called it an “attack” on people “who affirm Biblical morality when it comes to marriage and sexuality.”

Pundit Todd Starnes denounced the Republican senators who “just declared war on the church” by voting to allow the bill to move forward, and he claimed that the bill would “put a target on every Christian church in America.”

Even though we have been down this road many times it is concerning that the same worn-thin lingo and unreasonable fears and relentless attempts to undermine and demean gay Americans still have enough of a well of support to allow bandwidth for those who champion hate. I know the bill will pass and President Biden will sign it into law.  It will be a meaningful and needed move given the stated inclinations from the Supreme Court which were made known in the Dobbs decision and put into clear wording by Justice Clarence Thomas.

It is most clear that a continuous pressing forward by gay Americans will be required to further close the gap between the vast majority of the nation supporting gay rights, and that segment that seems determined to reject modernity.

Where Did President Lincoln Stand For Gettysburg Address?

Several years ago, during a 10-day trip to Washington, D.C., James and I took a bus tour to Gettysburg, the most iconic Civil War battlefield. I recall as a teenager reading about the high numbers of battlefield casualties in some of the fighting during the Civil War.  I recall my sensations upon learning for the first time about the piles of bodies at Gettysburg, reading journal entries from the townspeople about the stench and the burial trenches. Trying to process the enormity of the number of deaths is something that we all came to terms with during our history classes.

Over 50,000 Americans were killed in those massive battles that spanned for days on a plot of land in Pennsylvania. Over the decades the war, and the cause for it, have become better understood with many books and lectures.  When I had the opportunity to walk the battlefield and listen to a Civil War military expert speak of the efforts to secure a victory for the North the weight of the war from those days in 1863 when the heat of the sun and the smell of cannons along with the sound of muskets firing as men groaned in death came very much back to life.  It is impossible to stand on that ground and not feel it all.

James Wilson at Gettysburg

I had read long ago of the moldering bodies that still were present from the July battle when President Lincoln gave his address in November 19, 1863. (I write this post on the anniversary.) We passed the hotel where he stayed and saw the second-story window of the room where he finished his short speech. But to see the bluffs and hear the stories of battle and grasp how the winds blew that day and carried the smoke of cannon and musket, as bodies lay strewn about was most powerful.

While I have always loved history, my least favorite part of the past is the military engagements that occurred on the battlefield. How the people of the small town felt and reacted, or how the news of the battles was sent to Washington, and of course, the simple short, and exceedingly powerful message from President Lincoln afterward are the aspects of the story that most interested me. But to see the bluffs and hear the stories of battle and grasp how the winds blew that day and carried the smoke of cannon and musket, as bodies lay strewn about was most powerful.

Like everyone else that day as our tour bus moved about and made for stops the question most asked was exactly where did President Lincoln stand when he delivered the Gettysburg Address? The speech, which ran a mere 272 words, took about two minutes. It went so fast that the three photographers in attendance, “with their clunky wet-plate cameras, missed the moment entirely”.

The most famous of the photographs is attributed to David Bachrach, who was positioned in front of the speaker’s platform. Discovered in the 1950s by Josephine Cobb, an archivist at the National Archives, it remains the only undisputed image of Lincoln at Gettysburg — seemingly taking his seat on the platform hatless, his head bowed.

The photographers may have missed Lincoln’s speech, but sometimes they inadvertently captured one another, providing clues to their exact position. During a preview of his research, Oakley pulled up one of Gardner’s shots, zooming in on a window in the Evergreen gatehouse to point out a blurred figure and a box: the photographer Peter Weaver with his camera, he said.

Since the 19th century, scholars and armchair obsessives alike have pored over every aspect of the Gettysburg Address, from the meaning of its soaring rhetoric to the kind of paper Lincoln drafted it on.

Now, a researcher claims to have settled a question that can be seen, quite literally, as foundational: Where exactly did Lincoln stand?

Since the 1990s, visitors to Gettysburg National Cemetery have been told the hallowed spot actually lies just over an iron fence, in Evergreen Cemetery, the town’s burial ground. But Christopher Oakley, a former Disney animator turned Civil War sleuth, has combined intense analysis of 19th-century photographs with 21st-century 3-D modeling software to argue that Lincoln was standing inside the national cemetery after all.

To build his 3-D model, he entered a 3-D map made from geographic information system, or G.I.S., data and a Google satellite map into Maya, and then layered in the historical photographs. After years of trial and error, he said, when he toggled between each photograph and the corresponding camera positions in his model, everything finally lined up.

His research was unveiled on Friday at the Lincoln Forum, a gathering of some 300 scholars and enthusiasts who meet in Gettysburg each year, during the run-up to the official commemoration of Lincoln’s address on Nov. 19. As he clicked through his presentation, there were whispered “Wows,” capped with a standing ovation.

A diagram by Oakley, showing where the photographers who took four of the six known photographs of the cemetery dedication were standing. The indicate the positions for Peter Weaver (1 and 2), Alexander Gardner (3) and David Bachrach (4). Oakley’s placement of the platform is visible in the center.

The skillset and determination that Oakley has employed allow for countless history buffs to take another large step forward in better understanding a question that has long been the center of debate in academic circles. There have been more books written about Abe Lincoln than any other president, and something tells me this research and its conclusions will make for yet one more. As it should!

Gregory Humphrey and his favorite president.

An Uplifting American Story: Gay Immigrant Congressman

Rep.-elect Robert Garcia (D-Calif.), center, arrives at an orientation meeting Nov. 14, 2022, at the U.S. Capitol in Washington. | Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Our political leaders should reflect the diversity of the nation. Our legislatures should be a mirror of the diversity of our people, and our growing ethnicity.  It is repugnant when there is open disdain for the inclusion of all within our elected class, or when rancor is churned up within the populace for the partisan aim of excluding the largest possible makeup within our legislative bodies.

This year with all the bombast and willfully created chaos in the midterm elections so as to ram through several seriously flawed Republican candidates, comes uplifting news from the other side of the political divide. Robert Garcia, the 44-year-old former Democratic mayor of Long Beach, California won his election to the House of Representatives.  That, in and of itself, would not be remarkable enough to garner a post on this site.  What makes him a real American story is that he is gay and came to these shores as an immigrant.

He came to this country at the age of 5 from Peru and will now sit in Congress.  This week I heard him speak in an interview and was most taken with this portion of the broadcast.

“Too many people think that patriotism is about individualism or about taking care of your family or this whole ‘America First’ mentality. What being a true American patriot is, is making your country a welcoming place.”

“There’s a lot of things I am: Yes, I’m gay. And, yes, I’ve been a mayor. But there’s nothing that makes me more me than being an immigrant. I’m very proud to be an immigrant, and that has defined me more than anything else in my life.”

It is most apparent that I love politics and the percolating issues of the day.  But I admit this election cycle to feeling very dismayed about the messaging from too many candidates who spoke against democracy and threatened to undermine future elections by enacting new laws and holding key offices in states that could undermine Electoral College procedures. I come from an understanding, using a rather extreme and perhaps odd example, where South Carolina’s Senator John Calhoun was terribly wrong about his theories of Black people in the 19th century, but he was a well-written and learned man about the formation of the nation and the ideas surrounding our national purpose. Contrast that with what passed for acceptable candidates within the GOP primary process this year, ones who were not only wholly wrong on the issues but dreadfully lacking in any fundamental education about the office they wished to be elected to or the basic constructs and ideals of our nation. So, yes, the election left me feeling rather uneasy about where we find ourselves in 2022.

And then, I learned of the election of Robert Garcia.

Against the grievance mindset which now makes up the GOP is this fresh and strong personality from Gracia with his sure-footed understanding of our nation, our purpose, and our ideals. I like the theme of optimism in our politics and gravitate towards that uplift. Give my sails a lift in the wind about inclusion and the greater good and the many months of anger and resentment from baffling candidates floats off and away. Our nation has always done better, much better with an array of Americans who know the real purpose and value of our nation. Travel bans and border walls are flawed concepts that are poison to the root story of our nation. This story of one man underscores why our nation needs to secure the future of young minds who arrive in our country, allowing them to become a legal part of our national fabric, and end the shameful antics of those who harbor bigotry.

The midterms did have a hopeful ending.

Thanks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi!

By the time I was a high school freshman Speaker Carl Albert was the first House leader I was aware of, but it would be Speaker Tip O’Neill who I simply adored. When it comes to where policy and political acumen hit the road at just the right speed and location, however, none was better in my lifetime than Speaker Nancy Pelosi. I reveled in her being a strong woman at a time when too many mostly white men thought it was still their time to always be in power. What rankled them even more, when it came to Pelosi, was that she was successful over and over and over again.

On Thursday, Nancy Pelosi told her colleagues she would be stepping down from the leadership of the House come January.

With Pelosi in a leadership role, Democrats challenged President George Bush over the invasion of Iraq and thwarted his plan to privatize Social Security. For me, the most powerful moment that will have a historical memory always associated with it was her skills and relentless attitude to win the approval of President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act. It will always be her supremely greatest legislative achievement. She helped steer the nation through a grave economic crisis in 2008 and this session racked up the much-needed climate change legislation. Pelosi proves what an educated purpose-driven life can achieve, and we are all the better for it.

Pelosi well-knew a key rule of politics is to never enter a battle without knowing the next possible hands to play. During Donald Trump’s one term in office, we soon realized that he was unaware of how to play the long game. He was a transactional personality, often referred to contemptuously as a ‘day-trader’, and not known to think strategically.  In January 2019, the federal government shutdown continued, the economy was suffering as a result, and the polls proved Trump along with the Republicans in congress were paying the price.

But Trump wished to head to Congress anyway and give his State of the Union Address.  Speaker Pelosi, citing the government shutdown, told Trump in so many words to either reschedule his upcoming address or to deliver it in writing to Congress.  Left unsaid was that he was not going to be allowed to stand before the nation from the House to spout lies about the shutdown. That was not happening on her watch.

In a pithy and perfect comment, Pelosi said, “He can make it from the Oval Office if he wants.” 

I will miss her strength and common sense. And what we know is most vital in politics.  Perfect timing.

Thanks, Speaker Pelosi.

Judy Woodruff To Depart PBS’ NewsHour, Diversity And Generational Change in 2023

Judy Woodruff is soon to depart from the PBS NewsHour and another chapter in this decade’s long news show mainstay on public television will unfold.  It has been my pleasure to tune in Woodruff over the many years, first on CNN’s Inside Politics with cohost Bernie Shaw, a reporter I simply could never say enough good things about in his career. Woodruff proved repeatedly with interviews and her professional grinding down of a story to the essential ingredients why she was ideally suited for the NewsHour. I so respect her work and will miss her being a part of the ones we invited into our home via television.

Bernie Shaw

What the public knows now as the best one hour in broadcast news on television started when I was just a year away from entering my freshman year in high school.  In 1975, The Robert MacNeil Report, a week-night half-hour news program provided in-depth coverage of a different single issue each evening.  When I was a teenager dinner would be over in our Hancock home and the evening network news and the local news would have come to an end.   It would be 6:30 P.M. and time to change the channel (by walking to the set and manually turning the dial!) to Wisconsin Public Television for the half-hour program which devoted itself to one news story each night.  It might be the reason for a major jet crash or diving into the religious turmoil in the Middle East.  The show was informative and so well done with insight and professionalism.  And I learned so much.  It piqued my interest to want to know even more.  I suspect some of my wonkiness about details and policy was formed by this show and its reporters.

Now that iconic nightly news program has alerted us that Judy Woodruff will sign off from the anchor desk on Friday, December 30. And with equal interest, we want to know what follows. 

Taking Woodruff’s place at the anchor desk will be Amna Nawaz and Geoff Bennett. It goes without saying that this change is more than a new anchor and managing editor taking charge, but also a true generational shift and more diversity for a large tumultuous nation that is growing more multicultural. Bennett, 42, is Black and Nawaz, 43, is the first-generation American daughter of Pakistani parents.

Geoff Bennett and Amna Nawaz

The solid center of viewers to this program really demands continuity with a deep dive into hard news and serious analysis. The background of new anchors will add a fresh layer of understanding and questions about the topics of the day, and that is to be applauded.  We gain much by listening to others and having fresh perspectives.  It is reported that one change to the show which will begin at the top of the new year will be avenues opened to allow younger viewers to access the news in ways that mesh with their daily use of social media.  For decades-long viewers such as myself, we are promised to have the same journalistic professionalism that was the reason we started our journey with the program back when President Carter was in the White House.   

High Capacity Wells And Farming In Hancock, Wisconsin

I rarely think about The Agriculturalist, a publication aimed at the farming community.  Other than a relative recently talking about how Grandpa Schwarz read it, which brought back memories of seeing it in their rural farmhouse, I had not thought about it for decades.  But this week someone who knows about my interest in groundwater issues in the Hancock area, the place I grew up, made me aware of a story about farming and irrigation in that long-forgotten source for farming information.  

The story centered on Jim Bacon who farms 6,050 owned and rented acres with his family near Hancock in central Wisconsin.  There is no need to remind readers why farmers are an essential sector of our economy. I have long championed farmers for the part they serve with international relations as their products are very much a part of diplomatic underpinnings with other nations through, as an example, massive grain and beef sales. But farmers also have a deep responsibility for the land and the groundwater which allows them success and profits.

Farmers in the Central Sands rely heavily on irrigation to grow crops on very sandy soils. One hundred percent of the land the Bacons farm is irrigated with 60 center pivots.

Bacon is grateful for irrigation, adding, “We need the water to farm, and we need to manage it properly for future generations.”

I was truly pleased that Bacon added that managing water for future generations is important. Because it is!  I would have liked to know more about his thinking and what practices he undertakes to meet his desires for the future. That would have seemed a logical progression of the news story. But the reporter/writer for The Agriculturalist did not seem to inquire of Bacon what that type of managing entails or write one line about the negative impact of high-capacity wells. 

There is another side to this story from Fran O’Leary, of course, and it deals with the overuse of irrigation for the profits of large farming businesses.

In the area where I grew up the conversation about high-capacity irrigation wells has taken on a louder and more robust tone over the past decade.  It is pitting farmers against those who wish for more considerate and wise use of natural resources.  The numbers speak for themselves when looking at the menacing side of these wells.  In the early 1950s, there were fewer than 100 high-capacity wells in the Central Sands, while today there are more than 3,000.  That is 40% of the state’s total — in just a six-county area!

In 2021, I was very pleased with the truly tremendous victory from the Wisconsin State Supreme Court for science, the environment, and the authority of experts in state agencies to craft rules (that was not a small victory, mind you) that work for all residents when they strongly affirmed the Department of Natural Resources has the authority to place permit restrictions on high-capacity wells in order to protect the state’s water.  The Court had also ruled that same day about having the power to regulate through rulemaking huge livestock enterprises which pollute groundwater. 

The majority Court decision, written by Justice Jill Karofsky, found the DNR “had the explicit authority” to impose both permit conditions in order to “assure compliance” with limitations on discharged waste and groundwater protection standards. Justice Rebecca Dallet wrote in the court’s majority opinion that the state Legislature “has granted the DNR the broad but explicit authority to consider the environmental effects of a proposed high capacity well.”

My concern about water issues has been a decades-long journey.  I still recall the woman, in the 1990s, holding the jar of cloudy and unappealing-looking water taken from her kitchen tap in Kewaunee County prior to driving to the Madison office of her state assemblyman. What she made clear to Representative Lary Swoboda was the harmful impact the water would have on her children.  She offered to leave it on my desk so I would not forget her plight.

I fondly recall biking again and again to a local lake in Hancock as a teenager, and though not knowing how to swim, loving to wade about and cool off. As an adult, it became clear that the groundwater concerns from locals were not just irrational fears but were coming from first-hand accounts of new homeowners needing to go deeper and deeper when digging a well. My dad, Royce Humphrey, had a second well, located near our garden plot near County KK, go dry when I was a young adult.

While the past two years have allowed for Hancock lakes to be very full, that does not diminish the long-term data about the groundwater and the impact of high-capacity wells in the area. The need to better regulate the permits is a necessity, given that such wells can withdraw more than 100,000 gallons of water a day from the ground.

Dad and Lary had passed away by the time the Court ruled, but I knew how pleased they would be with the rulings. Dad served 40 years as a Hancock Town Supervisor, trying to press in his low-key style the need to be mindful of natural resources. Lary, who served for 24 years in the Assembly, had wished for a more forceful ability to constrain farm runoffs into local streams. What they both understood and knew very well to be true was that wise and judicious use of the groundwater is something that requires continued vigilance.

I am glad that Bacon alluded to that idea in his statement to The Agriculturalist and only wish the reporter would have written an article that was aimed to allow for a better understanding of the issues surrounding irrigation.