Defending Reporters In Hong Kong

The right of reporters to do their job and the fundamental importance of the work they do are guiding principles of Caffeinated Politics. It is not enough for anyone to pick up the newspaper off the front steps of their home and think they are doing enough to promote the work of journalists. We all need to be mindful that the trend of intimidation against journalists is gaining steam.

Today that fact is reported from Hong Kong.

Citizen News, a small online news site in Hong Kong known for its in-depth coverage of courts and local politics, said it would stop publishing on Monday night, deepening concerns about the collapse of the city’s once-robust media.

Just days earlier, another independent online media outlet, Stand News, closed after hundreds of police raided its offices and arrested seven people. Two former senior editors at Stand News and the publication itself were charged with conspiracy to publish seditious materials.

The latest closures are the final chapters in the demise of independent media in Hong Kong, a city that once had some of the freest and most aggressive news media in Asia. Now, as Beijing continues a sweeping crackdown on the city, the journalists who once covered the city’s protests and politics are increasingly either under arrest or out of work, without anywhere to publish.

“What’s happening is not just another closure of a media outlet,” said Lokman Tsui, a former journalism professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “This is part of a larger project by the government of dismantling all critical media, of all independent media in Hong Kong.”

Let us be clear about what is at stake. The reporters and press in Hong Kong are able to help maintain the city’s endowed civil liberties, including rule of law and free speech. That is in very sharp contrast to China’s tightly controlled press and lack of open and accessible reporting and distribution of information to the citizenry. 

That fight has been a losing one over the past year, but that does not mean the international resolve should cease at pressing China on their totalitarian actions and dismal record on press freedom.

And so it goes.

Biden On The World Stage Makes America Proud As He Pushes Democracy

The autocratic moves and tendencies of the previous White House administration, along with the kindred moves in nations from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. Illiberal democracy has long been a theme on this blog.

Thy most important message that President Joe Biden pushed as a candidate was his desire to return to normalcy with our domestic politics, and a turn towards the proper role our nation has long played on the world stage. International alliances and working friendships among nations are at the heart of our diplomatic efforts. As he urged in the race for election we must address a very serious worldwide battle of democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism, and human rights versus oppression.

There was no way not to be pleased and reassured over the past days as Biden has proved to be a truly powerful and passionate champion of democracy. While China tries to put forth a message that democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper, and Russia looks backward with wistful memories of an empire that fell, the economic powerhouses of the world understand that they are at a better place now with Biden being a strong advocate for democracy.

Russian President Putin well understands his grasp at the past is futile when not having the economic means to affect change. With both the United States and Europe, combined, having $40 trillion of GDP as opposed to Russia eking out just over $1 trillion in GDP underscores the power of working democracies.

As a teenager I was very taken by the human rights component of President Jimmy Carter’s international policy. With the same focus, Biden understands the role that human rights and human dignity plays as a part of what constitutes a democracy. I cringed and was embarrassed for our nation when Trump proved to be nothing more than an enabler or apologist for thugs. How the entire brutal murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi was handled was a very dark period for our country as the world watched.

It offended me to high heaven to have Trump and his administration have no more than a flippant attitude with foreign policy. It was continuously conducted in a transactional manner. Great for the tyrants and autocrats who have favors to trade, and deals to strike for their own ends. But woe are the ones sitting in jails in Saudi Arabia and China and Turkey. Human rights never were going to fare well in that administration, one dominated by a transactional view of foreign policy.

While watching and reading the news coverage of the Biden trip, and the conversations with world leaders, I see the larger mission that is taking place. By adding to the vaccine shots that our nation will make available to a world needing them, and giving the embrace to alliances and underscoring renewed collaboration in working on pressing problems, Biden is demonstrating what a healthy democracy looks like. And acts like!

We can all thrill to the success of the mission to press forward as to why democracy is alive and vital to the world. Once again all are seeing, friend and foe alike, that the United States is again taking its role in the world seriously. Once again, the world is taking note that America wants to do good for others.

And so it goes.

Senator Ron Johnson Wants Honest Answers, And So Do We!

While we all should applaud the desire to have honest answers to questions asked it does make for snickers when that sentiment is expressed by Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson.

In a desire to learn of the origins of the COVID outbreak, a scientific undertaking that has been ongoing so to allow for medical experts to better learn about the pandemic, Johnson is hoping for honest answers. The degree to which China was aware, or not, of the virus outbreak prior to their original announcement of cases is important to those tracking where this outbreak first started.

While we all agree with Johnson about the need for honest answers it does sound rather hollow given his lack of candor along with his continuous obfuscation about a raft of issues. When it comes to COVID Johnson has undermined science and medical advice so as to further conspiracy-driven ideas. He has promoted vaccine skeptics and those who are critical of masking and social distancing.

So when it comes to the Senator’s stated desire now for honest answers pardon the rest of us for snickering.

The reason for our response to Johnson is his lack of self-awareness about not wishing to find out or reveal what the citizenry, and his constituents, have a right to know.

First up, an issue that strikes to the heart of our national government, and our American ideals. Plainly put, the nation must have honest and complete answers about the deadly insurrection and riot on January 6th. We need a bipartisan commission and a commitment from Johnson that honest and complete answers will be provided.

While Johnson is in the mood for honesty, he might provide some information about his stock sales made after an intelligence meeting in the Senate. It was too cozy that senators sold significant amounts of stock before the coronavirus decimated the financial markets. The rest of the nation just rode out the calamity in the markets without inside knowledge.

It is troubling that there needs to be such a point made about the desire for honesty and the complicated relationship an elected official from our state has with this virtuous trait. For too long Johnson has deceived and manipulated the truth, and purposely misled and distorted facts for his odd and strange designs. So no one can believe that his desire for truth now is based on, well, truth.

Urban Milwaukee Published My Article Regarding Senator Bill Proxmire And Genocide

The headlines about China and genocide are more than troubling and disgusting. They also demand a response from our nation. Given the national role former Wisconsin Senate Willian Proxmire played in the passage of the Geneva Convention means we should ponder what he might argue for a response to our current situation.

I offer some thoughts,

What Would Wisconsin’s Senator William Proxmire Do About Recent Chinese Genocide?

There are times when taking a look in the rearview mirror allows for progress moving forward.

There are divided opinions about how to deal with China on a wide array of cumbersome issues ranging from trade to military maneuvers in the South China Sea. But the weighty concern of how to deal with the charge of that nation’s recent genocide on the Uyghur minority in the Xinjiang province is the one the Biden Administration will first need to engage itself. Putting it more bluntly, how can our nation work with China on any other issue when the term genocide has been leveled against them?

Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made the declaration of genocide on the last day of his time in office. Many watchers of international events asked only, “What took so long?” But in the same breath, we acknowledged the lack of commitment from the Trump administration for a clear policy on human rights throughout that term.

The Biden White House has not altered the directness of that charge, namely because the facts point to China’s role in genocide. The current Secretary Anthony Blinken has expressed the same use of the term. “My judgment remains that genocide was committed against – against the Uighurs and that – that hasn’t changed,” Blinken said.

But now how does the United States follow through with this matter concerning China?

When I was in high school there was no missing where my history teacher landed when it came to genocide, or how she viewed Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire who served from 1957 to 1989. She had left Holland as a result of WWII and told her students not only about the rough seas that brought her to the United States but also about the brutal nature of war and tyranny that had ravaged Europe. She spoke very highly of our senator who championed the international genocide convention.

She made sure we were aware that Proxmire delivered speeches starting in 1967 in support of the treaty every day that the Senate was in session. As noted in the photo at the top of this article he even spoke on this topic during “pro-forma” meetings. By the time he had made more than 3,000 speeches (!) for its passage 19 years had elapsed. The turtle pacing in the chamber was due to concerns that American sovereignty might be undermined if passed. In the late 1980’s, however, the senate finally saw at least some diluted light and passed what was largely a symbolic measure, severely limiting the application of the treaty. Senator Proxmire spoke sincere and passionate words that day of passage. (I was not able to find a way to place the video itself on this site independent of the link.)

Since the first time in January 1967 that Proxmire took to the Senate floor and correctly urged passage of the treaty, there has been a long and brutal list of tyrants and dictators who have cared not about the human rights of their fellow citizens or wished to pay heed to the genocide convention. Below is a current listing from a 2021 edition of The Economist.

We have all been dismayed with the lack of power and determination to hold tyrants accountable in too many cases where mass crimes were committed. Too often we have read the news accounts where powerful countries such as China and Russia have actually undermined the process of justice. So then how does the rest of the world proceed?

One way to ensure justice is served is with universal jurisdiction. Universal jurisdiction is the ability of the domestic judicial systems of a state to investigate and prosecute certain crimes, even if they were not committed on its territory, by one of its nationals, or against one of its nationals

A prime example of what this looks like in application is with the murderous former president of Chile Augusto Pinochet. He was arrested in Britain at the request of a Spanish judge.  He died in 2006 without having been convicted.  But the entire world was given a powerful lesson in how the legal community could deal with gross violations of human rights. This process serves a role when the territorial state is unable or unwilling to conduct an effective investigation and trial.

While I never had the chance to meet Proxmire, or more importantly converse with him, I believe he can be best known for his continued push for passage of the treaty. That steely determination speaks to his core values that can then lead us to align his thinking to current events. Thus, there is no doubt Proxmire would concur with this process of universal jurisdiction as a complementary step to his decades-long mission.

When it comes to the Chinese policy of genocide against the Uyghurs there must be no wiggle room as it is essential to hold China accountable for its human rights abuses. Tying our trade policy to the human rights component of international affairs is a must. One reason is the ample proof from studies and data to show that, as an example, the majority of Xinjiang’s cotton revolves around this ethnic minority group being severely misused for state gain.

Proxmire would surely argue that our entire interaction with China should be overlaid with concerns about their acts of genocide. Whether our nation engages China on climate control or man-made islands it must be clear that stopping genocide and holding those accountable are always hanging over the table of those assembled to talk. Putting this into a concrete example John Kerry, the special envoy for climate change, was spot-on when making it clear that the United States would not trade other US interests to make progress on climate policy with China.

The issues that confront the world have morphed and become more complex since the days when Proxmire made those daily speeches about genocide. But the moral call concerning our duty to stop such behavior and hold accountable those who unleash such horror has not changed one iota.

The Joe Biden Presidency Begins, International Relations Must Be Healed

Many people in the nation were looking forward to the inauguration of a new president since the last such occasion in 2017. I have been looking forward to a Joe Biden presidency since giving money for his first run for the Oval Office in 1987. Finally, after a marvelous ceremony at the United States Capitol on Wednesday, with perfect Washington weather, we can all say Welcome to the White House President Joe Biden! With a truly historic cheer, we also welcome Vice-President Kamala Harris to the seat of power in this new administration.

Now the nation needs to get to work on a bevy of issues that not only impact us domestically but also have an international import that requires all-out diligence. While there were multiple occasions during Biden’s inaugural address to feel the grandeur of the moment and gravity of history I was also much lifted by the calls to our attention of duty beyond our shores.

Over the weeks of the transition, I have been heartened by the selection of wise, pragmatic, experienced, and grounded people to fill out the cabinet and other high profile positions. None more so than the ones to be in charge of international relations and national security. International understanding is sorely needed at this time in the White House so Antony Blinken as the secretary of state, Jake Sullivan as national security advisor, and Avril Haines as director of national intelligence bring the skillset required for this time. Those who share my internationalist views are aware these selections and the views they hold are in direct opposition to the failed policies of the past four years.

The only top nominee in this area I have a concern about is that of Lloyd Austin at the defense department, as it is imperative a civilian hold the reins of power. The last couple of weeks has demonstrated the fragility of our democracy, and with some threats reported from members of the military (retired or otherwise), it is vital that we have civilian control over this department. Austin is surely a fine man, and a proven leader. But there was a logical reason why the National Security Act of 1947 demands that the head of the Defense Department must be a civilian. It simply reflects the balance of powers outlined in the Constitution.

The past four years have left many around the globe questioning the resolve of the US and what role we can still play on the world stage. But let us not forget some truths.

The United States is the undisputed indispensable nation. Alliances do matter. Allies are friends where policy coordination and collaboration are shared responsibilities. As such, I felt the weight of the words President Biden sent to the world-wide audience.

So here’s my message to those beyond our borders. America has been tested and we’ve come out stronger for it. We will repair our alliances and engage with the world once again. Not to meet yesterday’s challenges, but today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we’ll lead, not merely by the example of our power, but by the power of our example. We’ll be a strong and trusted partner for peace, progress and security.

From re-engaging with other countries to foster united solutions to climate change, seeking a healthy dialogue with Iran, and making it clear that territorial disputes in the South China Sea will be met with resolve are only the top tier items awaiting action. Throughout the coming years, it will be essential that we strengthen international institutions. Undoing the damage will take a very long time–more time than just during the Biden years. But we must, and can again demonstrate a resolve to be the leader the world needs. To think our national power and diplomatic might are not staples the world requires is to allow the rot of the past four years to linger.

That must not be allowed.

Our nation has been mocked, scorned, and laughed at for four years. But when it was announced that Joe Biden had won the election in November the sighs of relief and sincere messages of international hope made it perfectly clear what role the world wished our nation to again provide. Biden will make sure that the image of the United States as an unreliable partner is as removed as the former president is from power. At a time when illiberal democracy threatens nations globally makes it even more crucial we hold to the foundations of what makes America special…and then work again to promote it.

The past four years on the international stage can be summed up best when the U.N. general assembly burst into raucous laughter while Donald Trump was speaking. We can reverse the laugh lines. For instance, I am trusting that the Biden administration will demand that to gain preferential trading agreements means certain anti-corruption measures are first undertaken. This is a most vital point to press as justified anger over corruption in places around the world account for protests and unease which leads to instability in governments.

Much hope is in the air but much work needs to be achieved before anyone, anywhere can take a deep breath. We can meet the challenges with leadership and intellect. With our new leaders inaugurated today, I am confident we have secured both qualities in this White House.

And so it goes.

Jimmy Lai Must Be Supported

This blog has been critical of the Trump administration for not being far more vocal and proactive concerning a required denunciation of China’s repressive handling of Hong Kong following pro-democracy efforts in that city. Now there is another high-profile reason for the international community to be engaged as a well-regarded advocate for change is being threatened.

While most of the world was welcoming the New Year Hong Kong’s highest court revoked media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s bail after prosecutors succeeded in asking the judges to send him back to detention. That was not only dreadful, but also telling in how far mainland China will go to further its reach and power.

Lai had been granted bail on December 23 after three weeks in custody on charges of fraud and endangering national security. The court said last week that it was “reasonably arguable” that the previous judge’s decision was erroneous and that the order of granting bail was invalid.

Here is the rub, however. Lai is among a string of pro-democracy activists and supporters arrested by Hong Kong police in recent months as authorities step up their crackdown on dissent in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The Chinese state-owned newspaper People’s Daily posted a strongly worded commentary criticizing the court for granting bail to Lai, stating that it “severely hurt Hong Kong’s rule of law.”

The legal system in Hong Kong was always seen as a buttress in support of the fragile components of that city’s cling to democratic ideals. Should China erode and damage that system, as it is making every effort to do, it would be a most dreadful outcome for the ones who have fought so hard for a better future there.

The charge of collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security carries a maximum sentence of life in prison. Should Lai be taken to the mainland for prison his life might very well be over.

The world community should step up and make sure the abuses being fostered by China are not only called out, but demands must be made for them to be reversed.

QAnon Movement Needs To Be Flushed

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Crackpots and conspiracy theorists are nothing new in our nation. For example, I enjoy reading history about the mid-20th century and the ginned-up idea that homegrown traitors “lost” Eastern Europe and China to communism is laughable, and easily proven to be wrong.   Such ridiculous claims about all sorts of events and people percolate throughout our history.

Now, though, due to Donald Trump disdaining facts and pushing such behavior forward daily, it has given license to a new batch of dangerous ideas to be unleashed.  But thankfully there is now blow-back, and I am pleased as that is a healthy sign for democracy.

Our nation has been attacked, and that is an appropriate word to use, from Donald Trump.  Consider Trump and his ‘birther’ creepiness, “Obamagate” if you can even get the word to cross your lips due to its lack of seriousness, Morning Joe anchor Joe Scarborough being maligned, and the smear to Chinese people over a virus.   The depth and the stench from the maliciously created conspiracies from Trump have posed a true danger to the nation.  In part, because there is a segment of his base who are so under-educated they actually believe them, and as such, some of these theories have stuck more than others.

I applaud efforts to undermine conspiracies.  Consider why I hold that view.  It is one thing to claim something about UFOs in New Mexico which has no consequence to anyone.  But when a vile and vicious creation is aimed at a nationality, as Trump does with Chinese people, it has real harmful effects.

Tonight CNN’s Reliable Sources has a segment of their evening newsletter which deals with one such lunatic group, those who are known as the QAnon movement.   And the efforts from Twitter to say “Enough”.

In a sweeping crackdown, Twitter announced Tuesday evening that it will take action on accounts and activity associated with the QAnon movement. It marks the first time the company has taken widespread action against QAnon affiliated content. “We’ve been clear that we will take strong enforcement action on behavior that has the potential to lead to offline harm,” Twitter said in a statement. “In line with this approach, this week we are taking further action on so-called ‘QAnon’ activity across the service.”

Twitter outlined a series of steps it will take. The company said it will ban accounts tweeting “about these topics that we know are engaged in violations of our multi-account policy, coordinating abuse around individual victims, or are attempting to evade a previous suspension.” NBC’s Ben Collins and Brandy Zadrozny, who were first to report the story, said that so far approximately 7,000 such accounts have been taken down.

Twitter also said that it will take three more steps: “1. No longer serve content and accounts associated with QAnon in Trends and recommendations. 2. Work to ensure we’re not highlighting this activity in search and conversations. 3. Block URLs associated with QAnon from being shared on Twitter.” Those actions, Twitter said, will be “rolled out comprehensively this week.”

It’s hard to understate the importance of these actions. Joan Donovan, who studies disinformation as the director of technology and social change research at Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center, explained that “the Q keyword has brought together a networked faction, aided by automation, that continuously spreads misinformation and inspires dangerous behaviors.” This will help curb access to this poisonous information…

Light and truth always prevail. Just like the ones who scorned Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and the State Department over China have been tossed on the ash-heap of history, so too will Trump and his ilk find that to be their eventual home.

Until then we need to hold steady and give support to those who turn up the temperature on the unstable ones who harbor conspiracy theories that undermine the nation.

And so it goes.