Taste For Freedom in China Directly Challenges Autocrat Xi Jinping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congressman Mark Pocan Signs Letter Giving Russian President Putin Voice In Progressive House Caucus

Congressman Mark Pocan

It was not what I expected as the first news story to read when I turned on my computer today. In fact, I looked to see if the story was the daily offering from Andy Borowitz. The news article, however, was from NBC News, and then I noted in my listings every major news operation was reporting on the undermining of Ukraine and its people by Progressive House Democrats. A letter from the caucus was sent to the White House on Monday (yesterday) but retracted only hours later. The damage, however, was done. Without one iota of foresight, the caucus had already allowed Russian President Putin a victory off the battlefield.

Progressive House Democrats sent that letter to President Biden asking that he pair the military and financial support the United States has provided to Ukraine with a “proactive diplomatic push” that involves direct talks with Russia.  To say that letter with its weak-kneed overture to Putin was a stab in the back to worldwide efforts, that have proven to be forceful and meaningful, would be a vast understatement.  Of course, Russia would much enjoy seeing a split in the majority party of the world superpower at a critical juncture in both the military moves in Ukraine and the political timing approaching the midterm elections.  Having gained a voice in the Progressive Caucus Putin must be pleased that the united message against Russia’s war of aggression has a crack that can now be used to further his aims against a sovereign nation.

If I could talk with Mark over a cup of coffee I would encourage him to realize that stopping Putin is in America’s best interests for security reasons, and standing with our NATO alliance is essential. Putin invaded Ukraine not because he felt threatened by NATO expansion or by Western so-called pressures. He ordered his military to move because he believes that it is Russia’s divine right to rule Ukraine, to wipe out the country’s national identity, and to integrate its people into a ‘Greater Russia’. We all have had some Russian history and can recall that since the mid-1920s there was a running argument that ‘Russia was robbed’ of core territory when the Bolsheviks created the Soviet Union and established a Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic. What these Progressive Democrats, who signed the letter, are just not grasping is that Putin is trying to change the historical narrative of the last hundred years, not just the years following the end of the Cold War. He wants to make Ukraine, Europe, and indeed the whole world conform to his own twisted version of history. There can not be an inch of wiggle room when it comes to what Putin gains from this act of aggression. To consider any talks with Putin at this time would be a sign of weakness and damaging to the long-term interests of the NATO alliance.

It was most disconcerting that over a week ago House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said a GOP majority would not give a “blank check” to Ukraine, indicating it would instead focus on relieving economic pain at home.  Standing on the foundations the Republican Party had firmly owned during the Ronald Reagan years, such as being tough on Russia, and aligning with core values about democracy has become ancient history for some in the GOP. But McCarthy now has a number of progressive allies in his plans for future congressional action–or not–regarding Ukraine.

Let me weigh in as a liberal Democrat. I am not pleased to see so many of those in Congress who are often right on a whole array of economic and social issues flounder so completely when it comes to an absolute need to stand firm against Putin. Sadly, and not for the first time when it comes to foreign policy issues, Pocan comes from a partisan position.

He lacked the will to offer his backing in Congress for a needed military strike against Syria in 2013 after that rouge regime used chemical weapons on its people. Now with this Russian aggression, he believes that his district, which includes liberal Dane County, must be catered to with squishy words about our continued needed resolve and support for heightened military measures, so to push Russian forces out of a sovereign nation it invaded. Too often that sentiment seems the default position of progressive Democrats. I understand politically why Pocan wishes to keep his bona fides with the Progressive Caucus but it should be of higher importance that he not turn off common sense and the moral calling that history demands of him.

We do not have the luxury simply due to our living in the 2nd Congressional District to throw our hands up to the horrible crap that happens to so many around the globe.  When Putin invaded Ukraine there was only one response the world community could give; a complete and absolute rejection of such brazen hostility. I am truly concerned that Congressman Pocan and his fellow Progressives have divorced themselves from reality about Putin and his agenda. Timid and reticent politicians are only remembered for being wrong.

First Person Of Color, First Hindu To Be Next British Prime Minister, And A Lesson For U.S. About Real Leadership

Rishi Sunak and his wife Akshata Murty

Former British Chancellor Rishi Sunak won the race to become the Conservative Party leader on Monday. He is now set to become the UK’s next prime minister, the first person of color, and the first Hindu to serve in that high government role. I have supported Sunak since Boris Johnson resigned from 10 Downing Street. I can support a strong conservative when they are intelligent and reasoned. Above and beyond policy is something much more important that has shown itself as being required in Britain; the larger mission is one about credibility in government, and when governing. Sunak meets and exceeds that level of competency.

The lesson about credible leadership is something the Republican Party should note and seriously consider.

What connected for me on this side of the pond was that fact Sunak refused to lower himself and make absurd promises about tax cuts, just so to be elected by the Conservative Party. He had warned in language anyone might understand that economic policies should not be reduced to political chits. He stayed out of the fray over the past weeks as the economy went south, at what can only be best described as careening out of control at a maddening speed.

Long-time readers of this blog know my utter disdain for Brexit, and the outcome that was warned about has materialized.

Even before the 2016 vote, the country had a chronic productivity problem, excessive reliance on the financial sector and a major deficit in training and skills. But as the Covid pandemic effect fades, we can see the Brexit effect more clearly. On many indicators, such as business investment and trade recovery after Covid, the UK economy has done worse than any other in the G7. The number of small companies with cross-channel relationships has fallen by about a third. On official projections, the country will lose about 4% of its GDP as a result of Brexit. The rating agencies Moody’s and S&P have both reduced the UK’s economic outlook from stable to negative. Yes, it’s the Brexit, stupid.

But now we come to the lesson that should be studied.

Why there is hope for sound governing from Sunak is his ability to learn from mistakes (he was once in favor of Brexit) but this year refused to play to the lowest common denominator for the biggest prize in British politics. It was that act of being fact-based and honest with what a leader must contend with that earned him praise aplenty on this page. Instead of playing to the base, he intends to lead them.

As he demonstrated in his Conservative Party leadership contest with Liz Truss this summer, he is a realist, putting solid public finances and market credibility first – as did Margaret Thatcher. And realism demands that, in extraordinarily challenging economic circumstances, you have to lower barriers to doing business with your largest single market (the EU), not further increase them.

Rishi 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.

While I always follow international news I found my interest in the British political mess was much elevated this year due to the character of Sunak. In today’s political climate in the United States where a candidate will make the most vile and absurd statements just to prove fealty to Donald Trump, the next prime minister proved what an honest and forthright conversation with a nation can produce.

Once again, the U.S. can learn a lesson from Europe. If it wishes to learn……

Standing Up To Russia Too Big A Task For Modern Republican Party

The United States must continue to lead as a superpower.

History shows that weakness and cowardly behavior are not as wise a path in international affairs as resolve and firmness.  It is a lesson that should not need to be pondered long or tested periodically.  But, alas, here we go again, thanks to some of the ‘leaders’ in the Republican Party.

Playing to the foolish inward-looking elements of his party, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy sent a loud and dangerous signal to the nation that should the GOP win the majority status, he and his fellow party colleagues will likely oppose more aid to stop Russian aggression against the sovereign nation of Ukraine.  This move would be a dreadful stain on our country and a damaging blow to international alliances such as NATO. It would also run counter to the moral high ground and bipartisan regard Congress proved with their unity in authorizing billions of dollars in both U.S. military and humanitarian assistance to help Ukraine and stop Russian President Putin.

It was simply bewildering to witness some of the comments made by very conservative members of the Republican Party regarding the fate of Ukraine as the tensions mounted in Eastern Europe.  The flippant and woefully short-sighted comments from the likes of Tucker Carlson on FOX News show what the Trump base was watching and listening to well before Russian troops amassed in huge numbers to charge into Ukraine.  

“I think we should probably take the side of Russia, if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine.”

It was downright pathetic when those comments continued after Russia invaded its neighbor. We sadly need to recall the type of comments that found their way to headlines from the likes of former Republican Congressman Madison Hawthorn.

“Remember that Zelenskyy is a thug. Remember that the Ukrainian government is incredibly corrupt and it is incredibly evil and has been pushing woke ideologies.”

Perhaps most shocking of all, as it underscores how unprepared and uninformed one of the GOP senate nominees is about international policy comes this stunning statement from J. D. Vance.

“I gotta be honest with you, I don’t really care what happens to Ukraine one way or the other.”

Siding with Putin and against Ukraine was always disgusting and will find scorn from those who write history and analyze what character lapses led to such outrageous positions to be held and articulated. It is not uncommon, sadly, for some of the modern elements of the GOP, and especially within the Trump base, to lean into and at times openly embrace authoritarianism while kicking at democracy.   

From a purely political aspect, it is most telling how removed the current GOP is from that place it once called a home base.  Ronald Reagan and those in his administration who knew the power of democracy along with the stench of communism would hurl upon those in the Republican Party who now are weak-kneed at stopping Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.

Reagan knew that power plays among nations do not come cheaply.  His massive arms buildup and military stands did cause, in part, the demise of the Soviet Union as their economy could not truly respond in kind.  I am certain as an American, and not a politico as I write this post, that Reagan would have championed and strongly advocated the authorization, thus far, of upward of $60 billion in aid to Ukraine from our nation.

The international consequences of Russia prevailing in this war of aggression must not be in any way marginalized.  The barbaric actions of Russian troops clearly demonstrate that there is no international agreement that Putin can be counted on to respect. That conduct must not be allowed to stand, be accepted, or be normalized.  China is watching.  Putin has made clear that destroying Ukraine is, for him, as has been widely reported for months an existential, goal.  Again, China is watching.

History proves unless force is met with equal determination a soulless tyrant will not cease pushing forward.  We need only note that Putin’s war and success in Crimea did not quell the appetite within the Kremlin.

I cannot understand how some people in the nation might see inflation and high energy prices in the offing as a reason to withdraw from our obligations as a superpower.  If left up to Fox News viewers much of the federal government would wither on the vine.  But we know from reading history that when lethargy is allowed to take hold, and isolationist policies are pursued there is never an ending that brings anyone pleasure.  Other than for the aggressor.

Prime Minister Liz Truss Getting Just Desserts, Conservative Tax Cuts Prove Loony

I very much disagreed with the scraping and clawing with absurd tax schemes employed by Liz Truss so to have the small array of eligible Conservative Party voters elect her to 10 Downing Street. She cheapened herself and undermined the integrity of the office she sought. The financial markets have already registered their strong disapproval of her antics. Her radical economic agenda has met the resounding rebuke of both the markets and mature pols as the Labor Party is planning its future success. Truss is now not only the laughingstock of Britain but surely even more troubling is even being scorned by the new King.

Her own party members commenting on this week’s meeting, where she attempted to assuage them concerning her lack of political skills and economic reasoning, stated her performance was “painful,’ while other words used to describe the session included ‘awful’, ‘funereal’ and ‘brutal’.

Earlier this year I stood with Rishi Sunak in his bid to become the next prime minister of Britain.  In my post about his credentials for the job, I wrote “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.

Then came the news of King Charles greeting Truss and how many viewed that interchange across the nation.

Meetings between the monarch and the prime minister remain a closely-guarded secret. This means that anything that is caught on camera when King Charles and Liz Truss meet is watched closely – and the King’s choice of greeting to the PM when he hosted her at Buckingham Palace last night was, err, particularly interesting.

King Charles muttered ‘Dear oh dear’ as he met the PM late last night. In a video clip released by the Palace, taken at the beginning of their weekly audience, the PM is heard to say: ‘Your Majesty, great to see you again.’

Charles, smiling, replies: ‘Back again? Dear oh dear.’

It was so bad that I believe Sheldon would say, “Can I get you a hot beverage?”

Iranian Women Inspire Fight For American Democracy

No matter where we live in the world there is a fastening of heartbeats as we hear about, and hope for, the women in Iran who are marshaling their power and purpose for a greater cause. They are protesting not only for the role of women in their society, but for the very foundation of the nation itself.  It is stirring to witness and inspiring to feel. For the past four weeks, the justified anger has grown and spread following the horrific death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in the custody of the morality police after they arrested her under the country’s rule requiring women to dress modestly and cover their hair in public. This week the protests have spread to the point that workers from the country’s vital oil sector have started to strike.  And as we have read and learned over the past weeks these protests are only ramping up and moving steadily forward. 

These women need to be championed, as do their fellow Iranian citizens who have stood alongside the protesters and added voices to the growing call for change in this most repressive nation.  Younger generations with access to social media and the world community with handheld devices are not going to sit still when doddering old fools tell them to cover their hair or dress in accordance with some long-ago outdated and purposeless restrictions.

As we follow this news from America it is easy to side with freedom and again agree as to the reason we worked to create a wall of separation between religion and government.  At times, efforts are made by Christian fundamentalists to blur those lines, but overall, the ideals of our nation have held steady in this regard. But when it comes to the larger issues here of making sure our democracy is not undermined and thwarted by those who harbor seditious motives through denying election rights, challenging voter outcomes, or decrying the reporters who alert citizens of the insurrectionists the women of Iran can prove to be most inspirational.

The rights that are enjoyed by people are always being sought to be brought under control by others, and so the determination of the protesters in Iran should provide us more vigor and backbone to fight for our rights, too.  Iran once had democratic values exhibited, though not perfectly constructed, in their government.  The harsh religious minority took power in 1979, and the result for decades has been chaos and fear.  In that history lesson comes the need to always fight earnestly for freedom and never relent.  In these times in which the United States confronts attacks on our political institutions and democratic values, we must be as tenacious and hardy as the brave women in Iran.

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.