Peace Of Westphalia Still Echoes From Tri-County Classroom As Russia’s Threat To Ukraine Mounts

Mrs. Marge Glad, the most wonderful of history teachers, and the indispensable instructor of my youth, might now say, “Well, I said the Peace of Westphalia was mighty important.”

She should know better than most as her family fled Europe for America during WWII.

What she had to say about that treaty filled lectures with the truism of what was designed after the Thirty Years War. It should be recalled now as the threat of Russia overtaking Ukraine increases. As the crisis now mounts the essential foundations of what was once viewed as a major demarcation in European history deserves a shout-out.

As does the teacher who allowed me to deepen my awareness and love for history.

The treaty is much noted for what seems stunningly simple ideas and concepts we take for granted today. At the top of the list was the concept of a state or nation being sovereign. Each state was allowed to set its own governing process be it kings or parliaments, and pray to its own religious beliefs. Placing officials within other states for ongoing diplomatic talks were seen as a way to bridge differences. What was designed created a system of balance so that power of a new type–accords with one another–could be used to counter military threats.

Much has changed since the 1600s and as we know wars consumed Europe and caused massive reactions worldwide. But there is no denying that the foundation of Westphalia still rings true.

Russian President Putin has designs on reviving a chapter of history that can not be remade. The old Soviet Union and the forced subjugation of peoples and cultures that had no reason, other than brute force, to be joined together will not be allowed again by the international community.

While Ukraine is a central part of the historical narrative for Russia the military moves by Putin to strangle the republic can not be accepted. There are those who will bend to the autocrat and claim the West is to blame for pushing the NATO umbrella.

But, I would argue it is Putin’s vision of grandeur about a region captured from the Ottomans during the reign of Catherin the Great that should not now be relitigated through the use of tanks and missiles. One can assert the West should have been more inclusive of Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union. Or we could just say, as is proper with any madman, that it would be cheaper for Putin to just talk with a psychiatrist.

Putin prides himself on being a student of history. Until, that is, the collapse of the USSR. Then he seems to have stopped reading. It was very evident that all of the ethnic and culturally diverse people clamped down by Moscow for decades wanted their own state, their own government, their own say in their own affairs. When given the chance they bolted with the fall of the USSR.

Almost a modern Peace of Westphalia.

My favorite teacher, Mrs. Glad died many years ago. While she was still teaching I visited her late one afternoon in her classroom. I had worked in radio and then moved on to my time in the statehouse. She sat behind her desk and I was back in one of the desks that are a trademark in such rooms. I thanked her for making a difference in my life. She truly did make a difference.

Tonight, I wish Vladamir could have had her in his formative days as a student, too.

And so it goes.

Nearly 5 Million Worldwide Dead From COVID, Many Americans Still Fight Vaccines

I believe we are our brother’s keeper. It is how I frame my lookout on life, my religious path, and that perspective deeply shapes my perspective also how government should work.

So when I read about the disparity in vaccine availability around the world it not only concerns me from a health point of view, but also from a moral one. Though the football stadiums are crammed full and college students are packed in line to enter their favorite drinking establishments in the United States, the larger world community is facing tough going in certain areas at combatting the virus and obtaining needed vaccine shots.

“With almost 50,000 deaths a week, the pandemic is far from over — and that’s just the reported deaths,” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at the World Health Summit in Berlin on Oct. 24.

Many have urged that a more concerted effort be made to distribute vaccines to health partners worldwide so to stem the spread of the virus. Recently the UN Secretary General-General Antonio Guterres pointed out a glaring discrepancy with statistics underscoring the problem. Rich nations have spent 28% of annual economic output on pandemic recovery efforts, while the figure is 2% for the poorest nations.

The Economist this week reported a more stark assessment.

Today, in low-income countries, less than 2% of adults are fully vaccinated, compared with 50% in high-income ones. A new analysis from Airfinity, a life-sciences data firm, spells out the startling implications: if rich countries do not redistribute surplus vaccine this year, between 1m and 2.8m lives could be lost as a result.

What is even more troubling to ponder into our thinking is that with the complete availability of the vaccines in the US there is still a most numbing fact.

The United States continues to have the highest cumulative number of confirmed cases and deaths globally. In early October, the U.S. death toll from covid-19, the disease caused by the virus, surpassed 700,000, despite the widespread availability of vaccines in the country.

We have had too many news reports of obstinate people blocking our forward movement in the nation due to selflessness and neanderthal thinking.

More than 26,000 New York City government employees, including firefighters, police officers, and sanitation workers, flouted the deadline for Mayor Bill de Blasio’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate,” Gothamist reported this weekend.

Labor unions continue to balk at the mandate, notably fire unions that have staged numerous rallies opposing the mandate over the past week. Figures show that while 84% of FDNY employees have abided by the mandate, more than 4,000 of them might not be able to come in next Monday. About 8,300 NYPD employees also remain unvaccinated. The police department held a retirement drive Friday and Saturday for employees who didn’t want to take the vaccines.

I do not understand at any level the delusional thinking of those who spit at science and place others in the community, and the health of the economy itself, into harm’s way. More than 200 million Americans are living examples of the remarkably effective and safe nature of vaccines. Those shots have severely stunted severe illness, kept folks out of hospitals, and SAVED LIVES.

What has been proved in the US to be so effective should be far more available to people in other nations, regardless of their income or station in life. We must lean into the issue of producing more shots, shipping them to targeted locations, ensuring their use, and not allowing anything to block the path towards a better outcome for all.

Rocket science is not required to achieve this mission. This is just old-fashioned willpower that needs to be employed. And the understanding that we are our brother’s keeper.

And so it goes.

Reason # (Countless) Why Newspapers Matter To Nation

Sunday morning it was most obvious, again.

Often the Sunday newspapers are the edition when powerful stories are reported on page one, or a series starts that examines a topic that is not possible to thoroughly address in only one day.

The Washington Post blasted its way to the must-read category with the start of their international investigation series of powerful people on the world stage using secretive offshore system financing to hide billions of dollars from tax authorities, creditors, and criminal investigators.

The story is simply devastating to the likes of King Abdullah II of Jordan. It is reported that he secretly spent more than $106 million on lavish homes in the U.S. and Britain. Nearly $70 million was paid for three adjacent properties overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California, forming one of the largest bluff-top complexes in the celebrity enclave of Malibu.

What is the undercurrent to this particular case is that Jordan, a close U.S. ally, has been roiled in recent years by public discontent over alleged government corruption.

I would urge my readers to spend some time with the news story as it is well researched and written.

But the reason for this post comes with a question. Where would a story like this fit into the world of television news? 

With time limits and the way consultants micro-manage content the series would never find its way on the news, with sufficient substance, so to allow viewers any idea of the scope of the financial manipulation involved.

While the facts of the story about international intrigue matter, so does the fact that newspapers, themselves, matter. And we all need to be mindful of what is happening to the newspaper profession.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

We are in fact going to suffer tremendously for the loss of accountability that the papers provide to insure our government has journalistic oversight, a loss of a daily record of events that makes for historical documentation, and a sense of commonality that allows us to have some overall reference point as a nation.

I say this because the morning newspapers that ferret out corruption and investigates issues untouchable to the average citizen is an essential component for how we are made aware of the world. 

As the Post made most clear this morning.

But let us consider this from a local perspective.

What would happen if local newspaper reporters were not at their jobs to hold our state leaders accountable. I can only assume that the Speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly would snicker if a blogger showed up to investigate a legislative scandal.  On the other hand with pen and notepad in hand, a reporter from the Wisconsin State Journal sends a message when entering a room with a question and a barrel of ink. (OK, the ink part is dated, but your blogger came from the nostalgic era when reading a newspaper left a darkness to one’s fingers.)

The point of this post is that there is always a real level of concern about the need to monitor government and policies. That can not be done on the cheap, or by amateurs.  After all, while many like to grouse about the press, let us not forget they are professionals, and do much to keep us free and safe.

Today a national newspaper made that point most clearly.

And so it goes.

Shortages On Madison Store Shelves, Worldwide Economic Concerns

Perhaps it is a coping mechanism, but during the pandemic, I latched onto certain topics and followed them rather closely. (Anything that was not about people on ventilators!) Then again, I might just be a nerd and that explains why I follow up on certain topics. But really, how can anyone not find some desire to better understand the effects of swamping the shipping industry with cargo, as happened in 2020?

Regardless of the reason, I have found interest in the costs of homes, reading today that the median price of one in Californian is $800,000. The stock of available homes for sale, the construction of new ones, along with the housing bubble is a topic I enjoy hearing about from our realtor friends.

I also find my curiosity heightened by the worldwide problems with supply chains concerning a wide swath of products. When masks, disinfectant wipes, and meat products had shortages and distribution problems during the pandemic there was a desire to better understand why. In the middle of 2021, as the shortages continue, and the world is impacted, as with the lack of computer chips for new auto construction, there are many others now trying to understand the reasons, too.

WISC reported on this issue Tuesday.

Tim Metcalfe, owner of Metcalfe’s Market, has seen it too. Paper towels, toilet paper, cleaning supplies, and bottles of water are once again in short supply at his Madison-based stores.

“We might not have Dasani,” Metcalfe said. “But we do have ‘Everyday Essential.’ There’s always product available. It might just be a different brand.”

Part of the problem is increased demand: Grocery sales are up about 14% nationally from this time two years ago. But it’s also the result of a supply chain issue.

With the supply shortages, comes naturally an uptick in prices.

Kurt Bauer, president of business lobbying group Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce said that the supply chain is also causing issues because production hasn’t rebounded from the downturn caused by COVID-19.

“It takes a while for production to fill that demand, and so there’s more demand than there’s supply,” said Bauer.

Bauer said those issues are feeding into inflationary pressures, which are trickling down to consumers.

“Right now, what we’re seeing is something akin to an accident on a busy highway,” said Bauer. “There’s a bottleneck, and it takes time for traffic to resume normal flow after the accident is cleared.”

Bauer said as shortages ease, some prices could be driven down, but he said inflationary pressures “are here to stay, at least for the time being.”

The New York Times approached this topic from a worldwide perspective this week.

In the face of an enduring shortage of computer chips, Toyota announced this month that it would slash its global production of cars by 40 percent. Factories around the world are limiting operations — despite powerful demand for their wares — because they cannot buy metal parts, plastics and raw materials. Construction companies are paying more for paint, lumber and hardware, while waiting weeks and sometimes months to receive what they need.

In Britain, the National Health Service recently advised that it must delay some blood tests because of a shortage of needed gear. A recent survey by the Confederation of British Industry found the worst shortages of parts in the history of the index, which started in 1977.

The Great Supply Chain Disruption is a central element of the extraordinary uncertainty that continues to frame economic prospects worldwide. If the shortages persist well into next year, that could advance rising prices on a range of commodities. As central banks from the United States to Australia debate the appropriate level of concern about inflation, they must consider a question none can answer with full confidence: Are the shortages and delays merely temporary mishaps accompanying the resumption of business, or something more insidious that could last well into next year?

The economic levers and interworking parts of a global supply network may seem dry and academic. Until the item we wish to buy at the local store or purchase overnight through Amazon is just not available.

And so it goes.

No Black And White About Exit Strategy In Afghanistan

If you listen to the angry politicians who take to the airwaves and pontificate over Afghanistan a listener might be falsely led to believe that there are absolutes at play in the end to the nation’s 20-year war in that nation. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.

Over the past weeks, I have very much limited my intake of the reactionary Republicans on Capitol Hill who consider a dialogue on par with a fourth grader to be the extent needed when conversing on this topic. Making only inflammatory remarks when an international crisis flares are not my definition of leadership.

In addition, it is not possible to have the sureness the Republicans are pushing without the context of how we arrived at this point in time. That of course does not stop them from talking, nor those who listen from gobbling up the pablum.

I have found the best path to facts and analysis about Afghanistan are the same sources I use continuously. The Economist, Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, NPR, and BBC.

And of course, The New York Times.

I want a broad-based and intelligent perspective on what is taking place.

Sunday the NYT ran a superb news analysis article written by Peter Baker. If Baker writes it there is no way one should miss it. He is one of our essential reporters in America today.

Baker certainty questions the approach taken by President Biden, but also places the exit from Afghanistan in the larger arena of events.

Under the four-page deal signed in February 2020, Mr. Trump agreed to withdraw all American troops by May 1, 2021, lift sanctions and compel the release of 5,000 prisoners held by the Afghan government, which was cut out of the negotiations. The Taliban committed to not attacking American troops on the way out or letting terrorist groups use Afghanistan as a base to attack the United States.

While the Taliban agreed to talk with the Afghan government, nothing in the publicly released part of the deal prevented it from taking over the country by force as it ultimately did and reimposing its repressive regime of torture, murder and subjugation of women. It was such a one-sided bargain that even Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser H.R. McMaster called it a “surrender agreement.”

Following the deal, Mr. Trump reduced American forces in Afghanistan to 4,500 from 13,000. Eager to be the president to end the warhe signed a memo to the Pentagon instructing it to pull out all remaining forces by Jan. 15 before leaving office, but was talked out of it by advisers. Instead, he ordered the force drawn down to 2,500 troops in his final days, although about 3,500 actually remained.

For Mr. Biden, inheriting such a small force in Afghanistan meant that commanders were already left with too few troops to respond to a renewed Taliban offensive against American forces, which he deemed certain to come if he jettisoned Mr. Trump’s agreement, requiring him to send thousands more troops back in, officials said.

The Biden team considered other options, including keeping a small presence of troops for counterterrorism operations or to support Afghan security forces, but reasoned that was just “magical thinking” and would take more troops than was sustainable. They discussed whether to renegotiate the Trump agreement to extract more concessions but the Taliban made clear it would not return to the bargaining table and considered the Trump deal binding.

Mr. Biden’s advisers also considered extending the withdrawal deadline until the winter, after the traditional fighting season was over, to make the transition less dangerous for the Afghan government. The Afghanistan Study Group, a bipartisan congressionally chartered panel that was led by Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., a retired Joint Chiefs chairman and that included Ms. O’Sullivan, in February recommended extending the May 1 deadline and seeking better conditions before pulling out.

But Mr. Biden was warned by security specialists that the longer it took to withdraw after a decision was announced, the more dangerous it would become, aides said, so he extended it only until Aug. 31.

Particularly influential on Mr. Biden, aides said, were a series of intelligence assessments he requested about Afghanistan’s neighbors and near neighbors, which found that Russia and China wanted the United States to remain bogged down in Afghanistan.

“Biden basically faced the same issue that Trump faced,” said Vali Nasr, who was a senior adviser to Richard C. Holbrooke, Mr. Obama’s special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, “and his answer was the same — we’re not going to go back in, we have to get out.”

Republican criticism now, he added, was brazenly hypocritical. “They’re the ones who released all these Taliban commanders, they’re the ones who signed this deal,” he said.

Mark T. Esper, a defense secretary under Mr. Trump, agreed that the deal was flawed and in fact argued against drawing down further in the final months of the last administration before being fired in November. In recent days, he said, “there were more options available to President Biden” than simply continuing Mr. Trump’s withdrawal.

“He could have tried to go back to the table with the Taliban and renegotiate,” Mr. Esper said on CNN. “He could have demanded, as I argued, that they agree to the conditions they established or they agreed to in the agreement and that we use military power to compel them to do that.”

How we arrived at this stage of the Afghanistan war must be viewed from the start of the mission. Republicans will not tell their constituents that , but Foreign Affairs presses the point continuously.

‘’In the aftermath of 9/11, intervention in Afghanistan took on enormous importance for the Bush administration, which was determined to prevent another catastrophic attack on American soil. But the administration had no desire to garrison Afghanistan indefinitely, so it chose to help build a successor regime to the Taliban that could presumably govern the country on its own one day—and ensure that it didn’t again become a safe haven for terrorists. The invasion of Afghanistan and the ousting of the Taliban went surprisingly smoothly, producing a quick, low-cost victory. In the flush of this initial success, the Bush administration was led to believe that the follow-up nation-building mission could be similarly easy.

The Bush administration’s first mistake was a failure to fully appreciate the geographic obstacles in the way of an Afghan reconstruction effort. Afghanistan is on the other side of the world from the United States, and in addition to being landlocked and inaccessible, it is surrounded by several powerful and predatory neighbors, including Iran, Pakistan, and nearby Russia. The only way the United States could get most of its forces and their supplies into or out of Afghanistan was through or over Pakistan—a country that did not share American objectives there and actively sought to subvert them.

Moreover, the population of Afghanistan was considerably larger than that of any other country involved in a post–World War II U.S. intervention: in 2001, Afghanistan had almost twice as many people as wartime South Vietnam. Typically, the troop-to-population ratio is an important determinant of the success of a stabilization operation. Two years before the invasion of Afghanistan, in 1999, the United States and its NATO allies had deployed 50,000 troops to stabilize Kosovo, a country of 1.9 million. Afghanistan’s population in 2001 was 21.6 million—yet by the end of 2002, there were only around 8,000 U.S. troops in a country that was more than ten times Kosovo’s size and had no army or police force of its own. There simply weren’t enough U.S. boots on the ground to secure the country the United States had captured.

One reason for the relatively small deployment was that the Bush administration did not intend for U.S. forces to assume peacekeeping or public security responsibilities—rather, they focused exclusively on tracking down residual al Qaeda elements, at the expense of the foundational security required to build a functioning state. The Bush administration also neglected to commit the necessary financial resources to the Afghan stabilization effort. In Bosnia, the United States and other donors had provided economic assistance amounting to $1,600 per inhabitant per year for the first several years after that war. The comparable figure in Afghanistan amounted to $50 per person—a paltry sum.’’

All Can Relate Going Home Again, Even To Kabul

Without doubt the best story to come from the Sunday newspapers was written by Mujib Mashal, who was but a child when Kabul was freed from the Taliban in 2001. He now works at the New Delhi bureau of the New York Times. Hours before Kabul fell to the dreaded Taliban he again took to the streets that he called home.

It is a story that resonates with all who know the feeling of walking again the streets from whence we came. It is simly a remarkable read.

I found a window seat in the back of a bus headed downtown, passengers in front of me and the uncertainty of the city around us. Some held documents, others scrolled on their phones. An eighth grader clung to his geography book — it was the last of his summer exams.

In the second to last row of seats, a middle-aged man fidgeted with his old Nokia phone and constantly made calls. Refugees from other provinces, fleeing the last stretch of intense fighting, were still streaming into Kabul, and he was calling friends and relatives offering to host them.

“The two rooms upstairs are still empty,” he told one person, insisting the family stay with him, as two other friends already had. “Of course, of course — for you a thousand times, anything you need.”

Everyone on the bus seemed tense, and it didn’t take much for things to boil over: It was one young man in the back row, briefly lowering his surgical mask (lest we forget that Covid was still stalking us) to put a pinch of tobacco into his cheek.

The man on the phone looked at him and couldn’t help himself. “Is that even good for your health?” he said, gesturing at the tobacco.

The young man stared at him, said nothing, and lifted his mask. But the man next to him, a lawyer named Zabihullah, stepped in.

“The Taliban haven’t even come to Kabul and you are policing people’s behavior?” he told the middle-aged man.

Then it was all argument, wild and loud, about everything: corruption, democracy, failure, change.The older man said the Taliban could at least end the kleptocracy and what he called the “vulgarity” of society and bring order. The young lawyer lost it.

“You think the only thing that came of the past 20 years was vulgarity?” he said. “I am also made in the past 20 years. You think I am vulgar?”

The older passenger tried to correct his statement, bring nuance, but the lawyer wouldn’t hold back.

“If you think the Taliban will practice true Islam, you are wrong. I can argue with you all night with proof to show you that what they practice is Talibanism and not true Islam,” he said.

The man with the phone turned back in his seat and muttered under his breath: “There is no point in arguing with you.”

When we hit traffic, the lawyer and I got off the bus and walked. He was trying to process documents for his final exam to become a judge. He was completing a two-year equivalent of a highly competitive master’s degree — something like 13,000 applicants had sought the 300 slots, he said. On the side, he was a masterful calligrapher, continuing a dying tradition of reed and ink calligraphy. He showed me samples of his work on his phone.

“Twenty years of effort, and all for nothing,” he said as we said goodbye.”

Flags In Dane County Underscore Weight Of National Pain

On my way outside of Middleton this afternoon I spotted an image that matched the mood of the nation. Three large American flags audibly flapped in the brisk breeze. Heavy, sad, and a most weighted feel matched the somber atmosphere across our nation.

There is no way to escape the enormity of the moment we are living in as the nation withdraws from Afghanistan after 20 years of war. The national angst was underscored with live coverage Sunday morning as 13 dead American soldiers returned in caskets to Dover Air Force Base.

The Taliban threatened us as we entered the war in 2001 and are seen now as victors upon our defeat. No matter how it is assessed the bulk of the war was a colossal failure.

Yes, we did gain an advantage over the ones who fueled the hatred and perpetrated the heinous crimes on 9/11. We sent the remains of Osama bin Laden to the bottom of the ocean.

We did open up the ability of a younger generation of Afghans to dream and see the world outside of a burqa and a tortured reading of the Koran. Therefore, we feel deep sadness about ‘turning off the lights’ on their education as the Taliban will again reject modernity when governing.

But the nation-building and processes for building a government, and have it in any way to be self-sustaining did not succeed. There was not enough time, or the willpower on the larger part of the Afghan populace. The urban areas grew, but the tribal foundations of the countryside did not have time to turn towards the 21st century.

Meanwhile, many people in America who by their own admission find history to be boring, have no real touchstones with the past so to weigh and balance what is now happening with the chaos and death in Afghanistan. One of my childhood heroes, astronaut John Glenn, after becoming an Ohio Senator spoke in 2009 about dead soldiers, also returning to Dover from Afghanistan.

As John Glenn said: “It’s easy to see the flags flying and the people go off to war, and the bands play and the flags fly. And it’s not quite so easy when the flag is draped over a coffin coming back through Dover, Delaware.

The gung-ho mentality that too often leads a nation to war is not able to define goals, strategy, or any exit policy. As Glenn said flags fly, and bands play.

And then soldiers die.

As a nation, we will most certainly be arguing how the Afghanistan evacuation policy was created and executed during the past months. There will be those expressing that our nation only needed to maintain a few thousand military personnel in Afghanistan for the foreseeable future. A land, I need not remind my readers, which is termed the Graveyard of Empires.

Such arguments can be rebuffed with those pesky things called facts. After 19 years of our footprint all over Afghanistan, their government had seen its control seriously erode to 30% of the country’s 407 districts. Meanwhile, the depraved Taliban controlled 20% of the country, and it should be noted that was more than at any time since the U.S. started the war. As I said, 19 years previous!

We all are unpleased how this larger episode defines our nation on the international stage. After the past four years, we needed to start the restoration of our country’s image and undertake that mission by doing masterful deeds. While no defeat at the hands of the Taliban was ever going to look good the exceptional chaos and blunders (and worse) by the Defense Department, State Department, and White House–and there is plenty of blame to share–is beyond mind-boggling.

Just more reason to stand under a flag at half-staff and sadly ponder it all.

And so it goes.

Nation’s Newspapers: Front-Page Coverage Of Deadly Kabul Airport Depravity

The front pages of newspapers from around the nation showcase the anger and loss of life from yesterday’s bomb blasts at the Kabul Airport in Afghanistan.