Vote In Italy Underscores Why U.S. Must Heed Fascist Moves

The dangerous push for illiberal democracy with its continuing threats upon the most effective path following WWII to create vibrant economies and form relationships to foster international understanding gets much attention on this little slice of the internet highway. I have penned my utter disdain for Marie La Pen in France and complete contempt for Donald Trump in America. I have thumped my fist against Russian aggression and Hungary’s oppression. The slippery downhill slide to autocratic goals via menacing political maneuvers from governments worldwide is a concern that more people simply must take stock of and push back against.

The latest such dreadful headline followed the election results from balloting in Italy. A far right-wing coalition won a convincing majority with the ultra-conservative Brothers of Italy Party prevailing which means their leader, Giorgia Meloni, will become the new prime minister.  Those who know their history realize the enormity of the election headline, it means Meloni will be that nation’s first far-right prime minister since Benito Mussolini.  She pays lip service to not being associated with fascism, BUT OH PLEASE, her party is ripe with the trappings, symbols, and values of that wretched period that much of the world wishes to never see again. It is because some in the world do read history that so much uproar resulted from her victory.  

What we are witnessing, again, is the idea advanced through the party rhetoric that politics can take precedence over the law.  It is not a new concept, obviously, for the far-right fascist elements. But what happened in Italy underscores the growing threats elsewhere if such behavior is not checked and choked. Cultural nationalism has been the root cause of so much misery throughout the pages of history and the Brothers of Italy Party has stoked that fire both overtly and covertly.  Airbrushing history, which they love to do, along with what must be admitted was an effective political campaign strategy of uniting Italian protest votes resulted in a body slam to the high ideals the world embraced—and Italy mostly understood–following the last world war.

Transforming a democracy, even one as chaotic politically as Italy has clearly demonstrated for decades, is not something we can simply dismiss or view as happening ‘over there’.  We must ponder why such moves are taking place in Europe, South America, and even in the United States. There has been a most disturbing trend among the conservative Republican base to saddle up to misinformation and wrap their arms around conspiracy theories that are linked to those pushing illiberal democracy. For a functioning democracy to thrive there must be a fact-based citizenry. We have all watched the absurd, baseless, and groundless election chaos and followed the reasons many offer for why passions have been unleashed in the way they have over the past months. 

There are over 240 extreme conservatives running as Republican nominees in the mid-terms who rejected the outcome of the 2020 presidential elections.  Think about that for a moment.  We know from studies and polling that the link from such preposterousness stems back to some in the nation feeling their religion is under attack, (it is not) or that laws and social adjustments are occurring for a wider segment of the populace who are not white, and that the ‘browning; of the nation is happening ‘too soon’.    None of that should be the cause to throw rational thinking aside for fascist whims. But that anger in our nation over social advances for historically marginalized groups, or at times economic transitions not easily understood, is used by some politicians to foster partisan turmoil. Even advance autocratic and illiberal outcomes.

I will leave this column about Italy and fascism with a quote from a most famous American.  As the story goes Franklin was walking out of Independence Hall after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, when someone shouted out, “What have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”

To which Franklin supposedly responded, “A republic, if you can keep it.”

With illiberal democracy knocking, and in places winning at the polls, we need to very much heed what Ben said centuries ago.

Bernie Shaw Dead At 82, Remarkable Newsman And Perfect Rolemodel For Journalists

When it comes to television news reporters there is a special mantle on which I place Bernie Shaw.  The famed newsman died today at the age of 82.

If you are my age and enjoy politics the memory of Bernie Shaw and his remarkable work on CNN will easily come to mind.  One of the shows he worked on, and in time would be joined by the equally professional Judy Woodruff, was Inside Politics.  With deep analysis and pointed interviews, the show was designed to not only report on the current events with politicians but look ahead and try to better determine what might next be occurring in the world of politics.  I absolutely loved the show and recorded it each day so I could watch it later in the evening.

I have always felt the question asked by Shaw in a 1988 presidential debate of Democratic nominee Mike Dukakis was not only perfectly aimed but one that allowed the nation insight into the candidate. The death penalty was an issue, and while it might be termed startling to have it asked of a candidate in the way Shaw did, the deer in the headlight’s response from the nominee did aid the nation in making an electoral decision. The question was whether Dukakis would support the death penalty should his wife, Kitty, be raped and murdered. Dukakis responded with “No, I don’t, Bernard, and I think you know that I’ve opposed the death penalty during all of my life. I don’t see any evidence that it’s a deterrent and I think there are better and more effective ways to deal with violent crime.”   While I supported Dukakis and opposed the death penalty it was very clear from his response the election was over.  

Over the years I commented on Shaw and in 1988 noted as the race for Wisconsin’s First Assembly seat grew more intense, and the GOP made it historic for that time by throwing over $50,000 into the Republican’s campaign, I started to stress out. I had started to work in Representative Lary Swoboda’s office the year prior as his Administrative Assistant, By the morning before the election, I was ill to my stomach and spent the day at my home in Madison.  While drinking tea and eating soft foods I watched Bernie Shaw on CNN and knew the polls would be dreadful for the Dukakis campaign.  But on Election Night I was back in the First Assembly District where we secured a comfortable victory.

In 2006, I noted how I felt when Bernie Shaw had left CNN years prior as if  I had lost a friend.  The well-respected reporter, along with his co-anchor Judy Woodruff, made politics and campaigns pop and sizzle with insight and energy on the first all-news cable network.  Their program “Inside Politics” was truly must-see TV.  CNN has changed over the years because of downsizing and altering its news focus, and as a result, the caliber of its political reporting has suffered.

I am hoping that in newsrooms tonight in America there is the memory of the work Bernie Shaw provided our nation, and then use those recollections as a template on how news should be gathered and reported.

Here Is Why Anthony Hamilton Is Worthy Of Your Vote For Dane County Sheriff

When it comes to public safety, I have continually opted for the course that best meets the needs of keeping society secure and follows the process of law and order. Even before the past 24 hours, or so, I was already a voter who was planning to cast a November vote for Anthony Hamilton as our next Dane County Sheriff. That decision was based on the clear need for more officers to be hired in the department, and what I consider a stodgy hiring strategy at a time when a public desire for safety increases.

Following news reports this week of a search warrant process that was not carried out in a fashion that we must demand from law enforcement, was just additional evidence as to why a change at the top of the Dane County Sheriff’s Department must take place at the ballot box.

Going into this election I have heard and talked with officers who have spoken about the feeling of being stretched thin with overtime and fewer fellow deputies to meet, at times, the needs of the county. That to me is the central and core issue of this race, and the topic that meets the voters at their home or their place of business.  The citizenry has a rightful expectation to know that law enforcement is staffed to meet the current array of problems that might require their involvement.

We know this summer that Dane County Sheriff Kalvin Barrett stated the staffing situation is such that the department is short 40 deputies.  Though safety reasons were the leading cause for the closing of part of the outdated jail there was also a shortage of staff that aided in making that decision. While arguments can be made about the ways to recruit and hire new deputies, the fact there is such a shortage in the first place is enough concern to drive a voter to make a change in the leadership of the sheriff’s office.

Then the news from yesterday landed with a most embarrassing thud for the county.

Republican Dane County sheriff’s candidate and detective Anthony Hamilton has sued the Sheriff’s Office in federal court alleging that officials conspired to remove him from the SWAT team for raising concerns about a search at a hotel in March 2021 he considered illegal.

Hamilton’s removal from the SWAT team stemmed from an armed standoff at the Magnuson Grand Hotel in Madison where Hamilton and other law enforcement agents searched a hotel room, the lawsuit said. During the search, Hamilton voiced concerns that the search was probably illegal, the lawsuit said.

Sheriff’s officials later lied in their reports about the incident, with Sgt. Mark Schroeder, who participated in the search, saying that he had ordered Hamilton to obtain a warrant, according to the lawsuit.

Law enforcement at the scene first said they had received permission from the hotel’s manager to search the room because no one had been living there. In an interview on Tuesday, Hamilton said he later learned that the hotel had been renting the room off the books, which technically made the search illegal.

The reason this finds me exercised today is that over and over on this blog I have pressed how the process of governing needs to be transparent, and made clear for those who follow the proceedings, so that win or lose, all can state honestly that the rules were known and applied.  The process must not be tainted or altered to get the desired end. From the antics of my local neighborhood association to the pure lunacy of the Donald Trump White House, there is no escaping that process matters. As it was required to do so with the law enforcement matter in which Hamilton was engaged.  What we are again witnessing is a fact. When an established process is tossed aside for expediency it makes for harsh consequences.

For the record, I have not met or talked with either of the contenders for the sheriff’s office this fall.  But I am aware of the distrust that falls upon the shoulders of the men and women who wear the law enforcement uniform, and how that translates into our politics and social tensions.  Dane County simply must have a rational hiring process so a full department can be ready to serve the public, and once hired officers must go about their business of not only serving and protecting, but also burnishing a better image for the public.  I believe our sheriff’s department must do better but can only achieve what is desired with new leadership. 

A new sheriff. 

Anthony Hamilton.

GOP Mid-Term Hopes: “Tsunami To A Puddle”

Following the 2020 elections, too many Republicans wanted to keep their arms around Donald Trump, further undermine democracy, and thwart the will of women to make their own health care choices. Well, the nation has been watching and is about to send a message this fall. I contend the majority of the nation simply does not want Trump 24/7 in their living rooms or being the non-stop topic of discussion going forward. That will need to be tempered, of course, with the law and order process which must continue as Trump and others are held responsible for their actions. Democracy absolutely demands a response to what he and his followers did in the weeks following the last presidential election.

Rational voters do not want the crazy and utterly absurd candidates Trump is pushing from Arizona to Georgia, those nominees his cult followers voted for in primaries. The steam is building for a strong blowback in state after state concerning the Trump-fueled antics this year, just as the results proved in 2020. Ron Brownstein writes where the nation is heading and what the GOP must reckon with come November.

It was a referendum. Now it’s a choice.

For political professionals in both parties, that’s the capsule explanation for why the Democratic position in the midterm elections appears to have improved so much since summer began.

When the election looked to be primarily a referendum on the performance of the Democrats who control the White House and Congress, Republicans were optimistic that a towering ‘red wave’ would carry them to sweeping gains in November.

But with evidence suggesting more voters are treating the election as a comparative choice between the two parties, operatives on both sides are bracing for a closely contested outcome that could include an unusual divergence in results for the House and those in Senate and governor races.

The political evidence of what faces Republicans can be best viewed in how some are now changing their tune and tone about abortion. But if conservative men who were doing everything in an effort to undermine the ability of women to decide their own health care decisions think they can now whistle a different tune at the mid-term elections—well, voters will have something to say about that waffling.

Republican candidates are shifting their message on abortion after several recent elections have shown the issue energizing Democrats.

Some candidates for House, Senate and governor have either reworked sections on their websites or released ads that have sought to downplay, reverse or clarify some of their anti-abortion stances.

The shift started over the summer following the Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, but the change has become increasingly noticeable as more and more signs have emerged showing abortion can be a galvanizing issue for Democratic voters in key states.

“I think the concept that for decades, you know, a Supreme Court fight energized the conservative base because they wanted to overturn Roe, right?” Republican strategist Barrett Marson, who previously worked on Arizona Republican Senate nominee Blake Masters’s campaign, said.

“I think you’re gonna see a flip on that, that the liberal base will get more energized about this issue because they got it taken away from them,” he added.

Voters in the red state of Kansas earlier this month resoundingly rejected a ballot measure that would have given the legislature more authority to restrict the procedure. And last week, Democrat Pat Ryan won a New York special election seen as a bellwether after focusing his campaign on abortion rights.

In three other special elections since the Supreme Court struck down federal abortion protections, Democrats outpaced expectations even though they ultimately lost. And states such as Pennsylvania, Idaho and Wisconsin are seeing larger gaps open up between new female and male voter registrations since the Supreme Court decision, according to TargetSmart, the Democratic data services firm.

Taken together, the developments have seemingly pushed Republicans to reassess how they approach an issue that has already shown it can help swing elections and for some to step back from support for outright abortion bans.

Between Trump carping and storming about how unfair it is to need to abide by laws and due process in the nation while the harshest elements in the GOP strike out at abortion rights means that politicos can now start to gauge the efficacy of the strategy being employed by the Republican Party in the mid-term elections. With about nine weeks to go the cake is getting baked.

Kansas Looks Like Modern America, Problem For Conservatives In Mid-Term Elections

It was not so long ago that the nation was reading and talking about Thomas Frank’s book, What’s The Matter With Kansas?  The author went back to his home state to dive into the reason for the right-wing fascination with culture wars.  More to the point, he pondered why do so many Americans vote against their economic and social interests.

Tuesday night, like so many others across the nation, I was following the counting of the ballots in Kansas as it related to a constitutional question regarding abortion rights for their citizens. I was certainly heartened by the outcome, but also stunned that it happened, and by such a wide margin of victory.

The question for the voters in the conservative state could not have been any clearer and to the point. Do you favor removing state constitutional protections for abortion access?

Given the ideological ruling by the conservatives on the Supreme Court in the Dobbs case, state after state will become election battlegrounds where the citizenry will be asked to stomp down the overzealous nature of those who feel a need or a ‘right’ to interfere with a woman’s reproductive health care decisions. The question going forward will be how strident the GOP acts given the reality of the mood among the voters regarding this issue.

To be fair with the facts—and I try to be on this blog–Republicans could feel confident going into the balloting about the political landscape, given the voting record of Kansas.  I noted last night that only one Democratic presidential nominee won Kansas since 1940! That was Lyndon Baines Johnson in 1964.  Today, conservative Republican supermajorities control the legislature.  Add in the politics of a midterm primary with GOP candidates up and down the ballot and the suspected low-voter turnout for such balloting could lead the GOP to believe the amendment was a slam-dunk.

If the conservatives watched the polls, they would have had more reason to feel confident, as every pre-election poll suggested passage was most certain.  They could feel the power in their hands, as it was likely that voters would say yes, thus striking the abortion language in the state constitution, and come January a total ban on abortion would be passed in the legislature.  

So, what happened?

The problem of course, for the conservative Republicans, is that they have lost insight into the importance that women, and supportive men, too, place on the right to abortion services along with the ability of women to make their own decisions about their body. They misjudged suburban voters…Lord, how they misjudged them. The giddiness that followed the stripping of a fifty-year-old precedent in the nation was not lost on the people in Kansas.   A conservative state, I must add, once again.

Kansas voters favored abortion rights by over 20 points.  Now, I am not a consultant or even engaged directly in any race come the fall elections. But if I were advising a candidate, it would be to make hay with the backlash that is building in the states about a woman’s right to choose.  I would urge candidates to take this battle directly into the heart of conservative country.

This morning the data from Kansas shows that turnout was near a record level for a midterm primary election.  Looking at the map today of the outcome the success in balloting occurred not only in progressive areas, but far direr for the GOP across the nation come the midterms, success Tuesday took place in Middle America and more moderate Republican areas like the Kansas City suburbs.  There were also red areas of the state that said to Alito and Company “get your hands off my body”. That message needs to resonate within the Republican Party from top to bottom.

When this election cycle is over another assessment will need to be made of the political culture wars perpetrated by conservatives.  A new book might be required, and the title I propose is It Started In Kansas.

Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos Should Remove Janel Brandtjen As Chair Of Elections Committee

Parents know how often small children will do just about anything to get attention. The whole nation was reminded of those types of antics when the Stuart skit on Saturday Night Live would make us laugh with “look what I can do’. Now that same type of behavior is being exhibited by a member of the Republican Assembly caucus.

Representative Janel Brandtjen, the chair of the Wisconsin Assembly’s elections committee, has called for invalidating President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory in the state.

While the display is laughable, it is not charming like the performances of the little rascals at home aiming for the limelight with their parents. In fact, it is just sad, dangerous to the nation, and another reminder of how removed from reason and logic a portion of the unhinged element of the Republican Party strives to remain.

Readers do not require my writing this sentence to know that constitutional scholars from across the state and nation, along with even the conservative Republican legislative leaders in Madison have called such outbursts legally impossible. Most Wisconsinites would label Brandtjen’s desire as patently absurd.

I realize that Brandtjen was very busy ginning up this headline-making idea and so did not have the time to review the facts about a number of recounts, along with a slew of court rulings that upheld the victory Biden scored in the state.  Even a legislative audit from the very statehouse where she works showed there was no widespread fraud in the voting outcome.  On top of that, even the outcome by a very conservative group demonstrated there was no out-of-control fraud taking place in Wisconsin.

While I do not carry a stick so to poke at the bears at the zoo, I have to admit it would be more than amusing to allow Brandtjen sixty seconds of uninterrupted time on a newscast so she could explain why she thought decertification was possible.  Since Wisconsin is known as a state that loves alcohol, perhaps a drinking game could be arranged for every ahhh…and umm…as she seeks a way to round the square. Folks living above Highway 29 might even wish to play the video a second time.

I have faulted Assembly Speaker Robin Vos for his desire to play too close to the fire when it comes to the ludicrous base of his party as it relates to the Big Lie.  Prolonging the oxygen in the state for the conspiracy crowd and the danger that this creates for the foundation of our democracy is not something any rational leader should court.

If Vos was seeking what was best for the state and country he would remove, at once, Janel Brandtjen as the chair of the Elections Committee. She has proven to be at odds with facts, and logic, and as such should not remain in such a pivotal place. The seriousness and credibility that comes with being a committee chair are diminished when the actions of Brandtjen are allowed to stand. What she has done casts a shadow on the entire Republican caucus. And the state.

Such a move would show Vos had the leadership skills to speak and act for the higher interest of Wisconsin. Even though it would roil the waters for the conspiracy-prone, the mature members of the state GOP would be assured that a reasoned person was at the helm. Acting impotently, however, will only feed the ongoing narrative that the GOP is an out-of-control clown car.

It is no wonder why many deride the far-right wing of the Republican Party. It is no mystery why conservatives are the butt of jokes for late-night talk show monologues. What the GOP requires are elected officials who will step up and clearly demonstrate a willingness to align with sanity.

Cue Speaker Vos to look into the camera with the red light on and start speaking.

Now that would be a headline in the Milwaukee Journal the state would applaud.

Just Plain Dumb, Herschel Walker Talks About Climate Change, Makes Sarah Plain Look Like Rhodes Scholar

I have never been a fan of stupid jocks. I never found them of interest in high school, and even less so as an adult. I do not much care if they find their way to some sports channel to talk about this team or that play on the field. After all, capitalism allows for even the most base to make money, too.

But when the seriously inept and cerebrally challenged wish to trade their name and fame for a powerful political office we need to stop them.

Georgia Republican senate nominee Herschel Walker is such an example of being just plain stupid, and also wanting to secure a senate seat in this year’s midterm election. The troubling candidate who seems more suited for an election as a hall monitor in grade school wanted to talk about climate change on the hustings.

In Columbus: “China’s bad air floats over into our good air. And now we’re trying to clean their bad air and of course it just floats over here and now we gotta clean it, so all we’re doing is throwing money at it.”

In St. Simons: “The trillions of dollars that you’re paying for is cleaning up their bad air but now it’s gonna float back over to China because of the Earth’s rotation and until we can get China and all of these other places to invest in it, it isn’t gonna be any good.”

In south Georgia: “We’re gonna clean it up a little better than it’s already cleaned. But our good air, since we don’t control it, is gonna float over to China where they got bad air. Now China’s bad air floats over to us, where we have the good air.”

I have never been a fan of Sarah Palin, and this blog reflects that fact. But she does not fall as far down the hole of absurdity as Walker has willingly taken. I place her name in this post, however, as she was used by the Republicans for political purposes, even though she has a limited IQ. Just like Walker is now being used. Her acceptance by much of the party has allowed for more of her kind to be elevated and praised as candidates in the GOP.

I know from having done public speaking there were times when my thoughts and words took somewhat separate directions. But I can claim I never made the same mistake or blunder twice. A person who speaks publically learns the lesson.

Walker did not. Will not.

After clearly receiving brain damage from football allows some wiggle room for Walker’s bizarre ideas about how air pollution spreads. But the fact he is not now able to read and learn that reducing or increasing pollution in either China or the U.S. affects the entire globe, or that “our” air does not just say…’hey, some travel time would be fun’ and heads to China points to why this baffoon needs to be stopped by the voters.

If anyone thinks our atmosphere operates like geopolitical masses they need to be scorned, not elected.

Reasonable Conservatives Not In Fashion With Today’s Republican Party

If you want to know what the base of the modern Republican Party looks like, sounds like, and acts like requires no more than looking at political events over just the past few days as we ramp up to the mid-term elections. While it is one thing to differ from the GOP on policy matters, be it climate change or tax cuts, or curtailing guns it is the deranged base of the party which underscores how unmoored they have become with the rest of society.

This past weekend Texas Republicans held their state convention, and if there had been a public relations team on hand there is no doubt they quickly left to drown themselves in Lone Star beer. What transpired from the loony delegates not only shows how extreme and far-rightward they are lurching, but how reckless they are with democracy itself.

The party adopted a resolution that rejected President Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election. In so doing they threw their arms ever more firmly around Donald Trump. Texan Republicans fully embraced the unfounded claims about election fraud.

Having displayed their zeal to hold onto the mantle of absurdity they then moved on to also proving to be purely preposterous. That was achieved by voting on a platform that criticized homosexuality as “an abnormal lifestyle choice.” No need to talk any longer about the ‘big tent’ when it comes to the GOP, and chalk this up as just the latest reason why younger and more diverse voters are dismissive of conservatives. There is also no need to ask why conservatives get tagged as stupid and bigoted.

Meanwhile, in Georgia conservatives have applauded their senate nominee, Herschel Walker, who fathered three previously undisclosed children by multiple women.

This walking disaster of a candidate had the audacity in 2019 to state that Black men needed to go into neighborhoods and become “fathers of those fatherless” children. I guess conservatives have given their old talking point about personal responsibility and family values the heave-ho for this election cycle.

In Missouri, Republican Senate candidate Eric Greitens, the disgraced governor, has an ad running in which he brandishes a shotgun and declares he is on the hunt for so-called RINOS, or Republicans in name only.

Meanwhile, Trump supporters and the vilest of their tribe shouted obscenities and threats at the home of Arizona House Speaker Rusty Bowers as his daughter, Kacey, was dying inside it. As Bowers stated this week at the Jan 6 House committee hearing, he refused to undermine the election results from his state, and would not budge from his application of law and order.

In the weeks that followed, Bowers’s neighborhood in Mesa, a suburb east of Phoenix, was practically occupied at times by caravans of Trump supporters.

They screamed at Bowers through bullhorns, filmed his home and led parades to ridicule him that featured a civilian military-style truck. At one point, a man showed up with a gun and was threatening Bowers’s neighbor.

“When I saw the gun, I knew I had to get close,” he testified.

Enraged pro-Trump voters unsuccessfully sought to recall Bowers, and Bowers said they distributed fliers accusing him of corruption and pedophilia.

It is truly concerning for the politics of our time, and for the very nature of democracy itself, that a rather staggering number of Trump’s most vociferous, foul, and unbalanced followers are proving to be violent and hostile. Republicans, like Bowers, were at one time the mainstay of the party. That was a time when it could be honestly stated that there were perfectly reasonable conservatives.

They traded away their credibility, first by supporting the Tea Party and airheads like Sarah Palin, and then allowed the party to be hijacked by Trump. Today, no actual conservative party policy idea can surface as the saturation of crazy has dominated every aspect of the GOP. There is no oxygen in the room to talk about ideas as there is a past election outcome to excoriate. And gay people to verbally berate.

As if the delegates at the Texas convention understood what berate even meant.