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.

President Biden Correct About Flag Issue In East Jerusalem

The Middle East trip by President Biden has included a conversation about a wide range of hot-button issues from the threat posed by Iran, global economic pressures from oil production quotas, and the need for movement among the different parties in the quest for Palestinian rights and security safeguards in a volatile area of the world.

It is a good week for the United States when our president can present the issues as the topic of the day, rather than being the topic of the day. It is good to have gravitas not only in the Oval Office and also when presented on the world stage.

Not only do the weighty conversations matter on such trips, or the policy moves and offers of assistance but so do the smaller messages and actions a president takes. The leader of the free world is not a trite phrase that no longer has meaning. The American president matters. That is why a serious person needs to always hold the office.

It was most appropriate, therefore, for the presidential motorcade, when entering East Jerusalem, to no longer bear the Israeli flags. Israeli sovereignty in the entirety of the city will need to be addressed if any meaningful and long-lasting peace accord is ever to be finalized between the two sides. While Israel has long enjoyed the land it seizes, does not mean the military conquests and occupations are geopolitically the best outcome for all the people in the region.

That Israel is not a fair player in the region has long been noted on this blog. The Biden administration has sought from the first days of the administration a reopening of the US consulate to the Palestinians. That office was previously located in western Jerusalem, but as is so typical of Isreal they have utterly refused to authorize the reopening. Diplomatic moves and creating structures for dialogue would further demand accountability from Israel, and that would be so much harder than just shooting and killing a journalist and continually undermining the dignity of the Palestinian people.

Israel, with its military might, has forgotten a truism about global affairs. Without a legitimate political process, there will be no peace. The simple, but meaningful act by President Biden of removing the Israeli flag when entering East Jerusalem underscores that fact.

Next British Prime Minister Should Reflect Modern Society, Tories Should Embrace Rishi Sunak

Boris Johnson and the term disgraced seems to be the way most British newspapers are reporting the final pages of a chaotic and troubling chapter of a prime minister. He was simply unfit for such a role in their nation or the responsibilities that come with the job.  While politics can be tempestuous and frothy and filled with truly unique personalities it would be hard for most Brits to equate Johnson with anyone else; they have never witnessed such an embarrassing spectacle at 10 Downing like this before in their lifetimes.

Tories, of course, want to salvage their political prospects for the future while walking away from the mess that never got better with Johnson, but only higher and ever more odiferous. Last week many Conservatives said enough and placed their devotion to their nation above the clown show at the prime minister’s residence.  

While no one should forget that the Tories allowed this con man and blowhard to reach such a prestigious position in Britain, it is telling how now they are seeking a stable leader moving forward.  British public opinion tells the Tories that culture war tactics were not acceptable in the past several years, and program cuts exacerbated by tax cuts going forward will not be warmly received either. Making a play for conservatives now with talk of such cuts will meet the sunlight of a new day. But that is how politics is conducted.

The Tories do, however, have one ace in the game with a contender for prime minister.  A person who would speak to the future, has excellent communication skills, and is politically savvy. Oh, yes, let us not forget after the never-well-presented Boris Johnson I am writing about a very attractive candidate who will catch the attention of the press around the globe.  All these factors are very important for a modern prime minister.

Add into the mix this person does not wish to fall into the consequences of a cheap theatrical tax cut pledge knowing such action will further harm the British economy. He should know, being a former Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Meet Rishi Sunak. 

He is a conservative grounded in reality which means he speaks candidly to the fire-eaters in his party. He stated his path would be as a frank prime minister—a gentle (or not) reminder that what preceded was a continuous liar—and that he would not be one who offered “comforting fairy tales”.

Sunak has the very life story that Tories require if they are to make inroads into the diverse British society.  Born to Indian parents who had left East Africa, attended excellent schools, and rose to a high position in the government showcases the fact all are welcome in the nation.  And can lead the country.

Conservative leadership need not be grounded in the harsh racism and stale models of the past.  The Tories made a colossal error in supporting Johnson and now must step high and higher to get past the detritus that resulted from his failure at a job he never had the intellect to even seek.

The Tories can do no better at this time than embrace Rishi Sunak.

British Newspapers Largely Mock Boris Johnson As He Resigns From 10 Downing Street

I recall when Boris Johnson, just about three years ago, won an overwhelmingly strong election for Prime Minister. An analyst was reported, in The Economist, as viewing the political landscape being one where the former London mayor might have 10 Downing Street for a decade or more. Conservatives might have a strong hand to play for a long time it was reasoned. That column is one I have not forgotten.

But something else was also brewing in the world that was hard to predict at the point when Johnson secured his personal victory. The excesses of the far-right were about to be checked. Donald Trump would be soundly defeated in 2020, and in France, Marine Le Pen this year was to be terribly scorned by the voters, yet again. After being told that autocratic actions from certain leaders and harsh conservatism were to be our fate on the world stage the winds altered direction to give renewed hope to those who still value democratic ideals.

The xenophobia, wild nationalism, and dangerous populism that is central to the manipulation of certain electoral demographics by the far-right have proven in three powerful cases not to be enough to either get a candidate elected or retain power.

Meanwhile, the work for democracy, as in this case by conservative MPs who placed country over party when ousting Johnson, show those toiling in the vineyard of liberty can create strange alliances. With many divergent groups looking with pleasure at what has transpired comes the British newspapers reporting the resignation of the uncouth and unbalanced pusher of Brexit, Boris Johnson.

This right-winger has been sidelined, something I have waited for since that issue of The Economist made a mental notecard.

World Must Not Cede Russia ‘Sphere Of Interest’

I have long self-described as an internationalist when it comes to my views about the role the United States needs to undertake around the globe in conjunction with other nations. I strongly view the footprint of the United States as a needed tool to further not only our interests but equally important the needs and desires of other people.

One of the deeper reasons for my rejection of Donald Trump was the result of his not being aware of, or showing any interest in our legitimate and needed role on the world stage. Not having been in any way engaged with international affairs as it relates to governing left him prattling nationalistic rhetoric and doing substantial damage to our national image and policy aims.

That came to mind, again, when reading the latest from Robert Kagan, someone I try to follow when new columns are published. He is an American neoconservative scholar and a leading advocate of liberal interventionism. His The Price of Hegemony in Foreign Affairs was illuminating and thought-provoking. These lines below summed up my views from 2017-until Jan 20th, 2021, relating as it did to what Trump did not know, or care to learn.

For the 70-plus years since World War II, the United States has actively worked to keep revisionists at bay. But many Americans hoped that with the end of the Cold War, this task would be finished and that their country could become a “normal” nation with normal—which was to say, limited—global interests. But the global hegemon cannot tiptoe off the stage, as much as it might wish to. It especially cannot retreat when there are still major powers that, because of their history and sense of self, cannot give up old geopolitical ambitions—unless Americans are prepared to live in a world shaped and defined by those ambitions, as it was in the 1930s.

One of the complaints I have with those who shy away from grasping the role the U.S. must continue to play around the world, is the way they lament how ‘rough’ the West was on the defeated remnant of the old U.S.S.R. The facts prove, of course, that the West did not bluster or threaten, provoke or prod Russia. Instead, the various peoples of the former Soviet Union, when given a chance to make their own way in the world, looked West.

Kagan demolishes the idea that Russia should be allowed to think they have been granted a sphere of interest, based on history. A flawed notion President Putin tries to stand upon.

The problem for Putin—and for those in the West who want to cede to both China and Russia their traditional spheres of interest—is that such spheres are not granted to one great power by other great powers; they are not inherited, nor are they created by geography or history or “tradition.” They are acquired by economic, political, and military power. They come and go as the distribution of power in the international system fluctuates. The United Kingdom’s sphere of interest once covered much of the globe, and France once enjoyed spheres of interest in Southeast Asia and much of Africa and the Middle East. Both lost them, partly due to an unfavorable shift of power at the beginning of the twentieth century, partly because their imperial subjects rebelled, and partly because they willingly traded in their spheres of interest for a stable and prosperous U.S.-dominated peace. Germany’s sphere of interest once extended far to the east. Before World War I, some Germans envisioned a vast economic Mitteleuropa, where the people of central and eastern Europe would provide the labor, resources, and markets for German industry. But this German sphere of interest overlapped with Russia’s sphere of interest in southeastern Europe, where Slavic populations looked to Moscow for protection against Teutonic expansion. These contested spheres helped produce both world wars, just as the contested spheres in East Asia had helped bring Japan and Russia to blows in 1904. 

Russians may believe they have a natural, geographic, and historical claim to a sphere of interest in eastern Europe because they had it throughout much of the past four centuries. And many Chinese feel the same way about East Asia, which they once dominated. But even the Americans learned that claiming a sphere of interest is different from having one. For the first century of the United States’ existence, the Monroe Doctrine was a mere assertion—as hollow as it was brazen. It was only toward the end of the nineteenth century, when the country was able to enforce its claim, that the other great powers were grudgingly forced to accept it. After the Cold War, Putin and other Russians may have wanted the West to grant Moscow a sphere of interest in Europe, but such a sphere simply did not reflect the true balance of power after the Soviet Union fell. China may claim the “nine-dash line”—enclosing most of the South China Sea—as marking its sphere of interest, but until Beijing can enforce it, other powers are unlikely to acquiesce. 

A most worthy article that deserves to be read in full.

Letter From Home: “Boy From Iceland Brings Needed Smile” 5/25/22

James and I had just pulled into our drive. Returning from an unexpected visit to a local hospital so to visit for the final time with a friend of 20 years was emotionally heavy. The lilacs near our home seemed to feel the mood of the day as the rain made them droop and sag. They are loaded this year with blooms, and being so densely packed makes them hang even lower today.

With the weight of headlines waking us this morning with photos of the 19 boys and girls shot to death in a Texas school my mood was already somber. Then a call alerting us to the placement of our friend on hospice forced our day into higher gear for what we knew needed to be done this afternoon. A visit to a hospital.

The lady we visited loved Elvis’ singing. I joked with her that if the music was not soon located and turned on in the room I could sing, but someone would need to move the chairs back as it takes room to swivel the hips. She smiled weakly, and I considered that a victory.

So as we arrived back home I felt sluggish, having only operated on one cup of coffee all day. As I turned up the sidewalk to our front door, I saw a blond-haired boy on a scooter, that seems to be the latest rage for boys about age 10.

A woman was with him and they were looking up into the tree and so I asked “What are you looking at?”

“Just wondering what bird is making those sounds,” the woman said.

“Cardinals”, I replied. “Hear the call and response?”, I added.

She remarked on the many birds to be sighted, and I told her of the catbirds and orioles that are also nesting in the area. But it was not until I spoke of eagles that fly low near the shore of Lake Monona that the boy looked more intently in my direction and then pushing one foot on his scooter made his way across the street, his mom at his side.

“They have huge wings,” he said and smiled at the idea. He had been reading lately about those birds of prey. We talked back and forth about their nests being up to the size of a mattress. It was agreed that sharing such a mattress was not a great idea.

His mom said they were visiting from Iceland, and the lad was homeschooled. His attentive eyes and kind smile made for an odd juxtaposition with the faces on the news from Texas I had looked at hours prior. In a convoluted fashion, so to address the issue without using any language that would be alarming for the boy, I asked her about how news coverage there would deal with the headlines of our country.

“Matter of factly, not sensationalized, but also with the question as to how this is allowed to continue,” she said.

She had grown up in Wisconsin but said very plainly that she would not allow her child to attend an American school at this time. “Just look at the statistics from the past 20 years”, she stated.

Had that kid not been looking up into the tree I would not have lobbed an inquiry across the street. Had he not found an interest in eagles from his reading he might not have pushed himself over to say hello on his scooter.

His mom said such conversations with strangers are not common on streets in Iceland, first often due to the weather, but the stoic nature of the residents makes for such interactions to be few and far between. I told her on snowy days with bitter winds while shoveling I still chat it up with anyone who comes along our way.

“I offer to let them shovel, but they all seem to have read Tom Sawyer”, I quipped.

She smiled, but Mark Twain had not yet left an impression on the boy.

As the rain picked up and we started to head in opposite directions I wished them well and pointed at the boy and said, “Thanks for being you.”

His youthful glee over the birds of the area, his smile, and his willingness to engage with the world was the mood lifter this day needed.

This type of interaction, off-the-cuff, so effortless, and free, is one of the themes of my latest book which is scheduled to be published by August. The tonic for the soul is often these very types of human connections. The book has been my focus since November, with the editing phase now underway.

Madeleine Albright Respected And Loved Worldwide

It was sad news. But not shocking. We knew over the past months we were losing Madeleine Albright. Her public moments were still filled with resolve about why democracy matters and insight into world affairs, but her frail health was obvious, too.

Today the end came for a woman who was loved and treasured worldwide. The first woman to serve as secretary of state died at the age of 84.

It is never tiring to hear about someone born in a place and time of tribulations, leaving for America, and when reaching our shores embracing democratic values and then over a lifetime working to firm up those values worldwide. I think of Henry Kissinger when writing such a statement.

And, without doubt, I know it to be true for Madeleine Albright, too.

In her case that trek to our shores was harrowing as it took 10 years. In the midst of war and cruel policies in Europe, she had been denied knowing as a child that her family was Jewish. Her parents had protectively converted to Roman Catholicism during World War II, raising their children as Catholics without telling them of their Jewish heritage. She also discovered as a woman decades later that 26 family members, including three grandparents, had been murdered in the Holocaust.

When I reflect on Albright two things stand out.

First, the ease of conversation she used to express as to the course of foreign policy. Her immediate predecessor, Warren Christopher, was seasoned and a deep reader, but at times the ponderous nature of being able to inform the nation on policy was a problem. Add in a sense of humor that she added, effortlessly, and her acceptance on the world stage was made far easier.

Second, there was always a brooch. It might seem sexist to some readers for me to add this aspect to this post, but in our home for decades when she was on the news or being interviewed James and I commented on what brooch she was wearing. She was classy and there is nothing wrong with making that point most clear.

She will be missed because her voice on the most pressing international topic grows ever direr. Over recent years Albright pointed out that fascism now presents a more virulent threat to peace and justice than at any time since the end of World War II. Illiberal democracy is a concern here at CP, and she was one of the strident proponents for not forgetting history, and not taking our freedoms for granted.

We can honor her best by each of us picking up that banner and not letting it fall.

And so it goes.

Coping With Weight Of World Headlines

I found myself smiling over a fond recollection of a now long forgotten newsman on Friday afternoon. With staggering headlines hourly over the past weeks of carnage depicted through news photographs and video from war-torn Ukraine, I found a smile had come over my face as I recalled an interest in the voice of a CBS broadcaster when I was about age 12.

There is no time these days, or so it seems, to talk about the impact that the Russian invasion has had on the mental health of people worldwide. While in ‘normal times’ there is a raft of bad news from regions across the globe nothing can compare to the ruthless and obscene attacks on civilians that are playing out on the news from when we first get up from sleep to the last updates we seek out before retiring from another day. The compiling of today’s horrific news upon ghastly news from the previous day and appalling news from last week does take a toll on the human soul.

This is why I actually stopped reading a book in which reporter George Herman was mentioned and my eyes lifted up from the pages and landed on the furniture and mementos assembled in the room. My grandmother’s treadle sewing machine and her handmade afghan placed over an old rocker held my attention as I just let the ‘yesterdays’ take hold.

For the purpose of this post, I will be brief about why Herman hit a chord within. Our home did not have a television until I was in the 6th grade, but one of the first faces I came to know each weekend was a rather serious sounding and low-key newsman who had the most important people in the nation stop by for a conversation. Face The Nation started off as a weekly stop mainly due to the sound of his voice.

Then on Friday, the recollections passed and the real world took hold again.

The enormity of the international crisis–and yes it is both international in scope and very much a crisis–can not be escaped. There are even experts in children’s mental health who are advising parents on how to talk about the images that kids doubtless see, and hear about from social media.

While it seems like there are always new stress stories to contend with such as a new variety of spiders expected in the East and the next variant of COVID to spread, the Ukraine war poses a real need for coping mechanisms. While I am certainly no expert on how to find that center place to calm the roiling seas, I can attest to the need for such a place and the solace it provides when found.

For just a few minutes a newsman many have forgotten and even more never knew was the comfort zone for me. Perhaps for my readers, it might be the scent from the oven that carries them back to a place and time of joy, perhaps an article of clothing found in the closet this spring that transports them to a place of lighter thoughts and smiles.

The weight of the word is real. And it is too heavy to carry about without the needed mental escapes so to wake up tomorrow and start again.

I wish my readers to find those moments and embrace them as this chapter of history will be long and harsh.

And so it goes.