U.S. Correct To Supply Abrams Tanks To Ukraine, Putin Needs Reality Check

The United States’ policy to supply Abrams tanks to Ukraine is the proper course of action to take.  The fact we are months late in taking such a course of action is the concerning part.  We can be proud of the commitment our country and other Western democracies have shown in the face of Russian aggression against a sovereign nation.  At the same time, we must be mindful of the mushy ground that those like Congressman Mark Pocan planted their feet when dealing with this war, a move in 2022 that still deeply offends.

In 2022 Progressive House Democrats sent a 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. It remains one of the most serious mistakes that the group made by playing into the efforts of Russian President Putin to lure some members from the Western alliance to make concessions. Since no one should make concessions to a nation that has committed war crimes goes without saying. But what was equally damaging was promoting a course of action that only would result in prolonging the war.

It was most troubling that Progressive Democrats signed the letter, with seemingly no awareness, that Putin has every intention 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. The letter was a sign of weakness and damaging to the long-term interests of the NATO alliance. But, hey, there was probably a quick and fleeting political upside that more concerned the signators.

I like peace, compromise, and diplomacy, but first, the aggressors that blasted homes, schools, and hospitals must be removed from Ukraine. No one starts negotiating the wishes of the madman when he still holds a dagger to the throat of the victim.  Therefore, the news that we will supply 31 M1 Abrams tanks, the equivalent of one Ukrainian tank battalion, is a solid move and worthy of praise.  But the reluctance for months to make the move is concerning and warrants attention.  While it seems Germany may have been the force to push the Biden White House to make the shift in policy, it must not be seen as the last move our nation will be required to take with heavy armaments as this war progresses. The process of consideration and study within the White House requires some modification so as to meet the real-time needs of the Ukrainian soldiers who are doing the work on the battlefield.

Not only are the tanks a solid and lethal way to address Putin’s military, but it sends a clear and unmistakable statement the West will not relent or bend the way of Congressman Pocan. Talking can only occur with a real reduction in attacks by Russia and a removal of their troops from the soil of Ukraine.  

Putin has been delusional in his views about a reconstructed Soviet type-era of countries for a long time.  He has often talked of Russia having been “robbed” of territory going back to the 1920s when the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was established.  In his mind, one that is consumed with paranoia and visions of grandeur, Ukraine can only be sovereign in partnership with the homeland, Russia. To that fallacy, the West says, NO. The M1 Abrams tanks will go far in alerting the autocrat to the limits of his delusions.

National Praise For Senator Tammy Baldwin

When a determined effort for a just cause bears fruit there is a need to praise the ones who led the way forward.

US President Joe Biden signs the Respect for Marriage Act on the South Lawn of the White House, Senator Tammy Baldwin above the president’s head. (Photo by BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

That is the mood from the White House and across the country as Wisconsin Senator Tammy Baldwin received sincere thanks and kind words as President Joe Biden signed the Respect for Marriage Act.  Also meritorious of thanks were House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Maine Senator Susan Collins. The majorities in each legislative chamber who gave their vote for passage were also part of the reason for the national uplift as the president added his name that concluded this law-making process.

It is not every bill signing in D.C. where those assembled get musical performances to highlight the significance of what was achieved by members of Congress.  Tuesday those on the South Lawn were treated to musical performances by Cyndi Lauper and Sam Smith.  For those in the land who yearn for how Washington once worked when crafting legislation came the knowledge that the Marriage Act was passed with bipartisan support.  No matter from what perspective one looked at the ceremony there was something to cheer about with sincerity.

While watching the event, it struck me again how much progress has been made in this nation for gay rights.  While having been a Biden supporter since his short-lived and, yes, embarrassing presidential run in 1987, I readily admit to great displeasure with his vote for the Defense of Marriage Act in the 90s.  That political mistake from Biden made his signature of the Marriage Act even more meaningful, as it demonstrated how our society and the political culture have adapted to the requirement of including gay Americans fully into the laws of the land.

But as we know there are always reasons never to relent in that work of democracy.

Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated this summer in a concurring opinion in the Dobbs case that the same rationale the Court used to declare there was no right to abortion should also be used to overturn cases establishing rights to contraception, same-sex consensual relations, and same-sex marriage. Thomas wrote that the court “should reconsider” all three decisions, saying it had a duty to “correct the error” established in those precedents. Then, he said, after “overruling these demonstrably erroneous decisions, the question would remain whether other constitutional provisions” protected the rights they established.

Senator Baldwin has been a continuous advocate and skilled tactician within the senate so to achieve desired results with legislation. That was noted at the White House when Biden praised Baldwin by name, saying the bipartisan vote “simply would not have happened without the leadership and persistence of a real hero.” Wisconsinites could not agree more.

Those who voted against the bill and tried to thwart progress in this nation concerning civil rights will face the judgment of historians.  But first, they will undoubtedly, hear from gay relatives and members of their community.

Baldwin has always earned my admiration.  To be openly authentic in living her life and proving that a gay person can achieve continuous statewide election victories means more to me, perhaps, after having grown up as a gay teenager in a rural part of the state. I know many legal steps have been taken over the years to better secure gay rights.  But I never forget how it felt, when younger, to know there was no protection for two adults of the same sex who loved each other and only desired the same rights as others who were able to wed.  Baldwin never relented from doing her job with empathy along with an understanding of where our nation must head.

There is deep gratitude for Senator Baldwin and the many others in Congress who know the work of democracy continues.

Respect for Marriage Act Moving Towards Passage, Harsh Vitriol From Right-Wing Continues

Last week, when I heard on the radio leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, had added their support for the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill enshrining protections for marriage equality, I said to myself ‘wwhhhaatt?’  I recall the strident opposition the Mormon Church had employed for years as gay Americans sought their civil rights in relation to marriage equality issues. I lamented on this blog how large donations from the church to anti-gay rights groups in various states were aiding in the placement of marriage amendments designed to further solidify the notion of ‘one, one woman’. But at the end of 2022 that once-hefty roadblock in Utah to social progress has relented and shortly after Thanksgiving Congress will codify marriage rights for gay couples.

I do not take such political moments lightly, or in any way assume that the blowback will not be vigorous or the outrageous comments less than numerous.  At age 60, I can vouch for the reason we work hard for our rights and know full well why hope is ever important in politics. I have praised forward-thinking pols who stood for the expansion of rights in the nation and have strongly rejected the harsh and vile rhetoric unleashed by those who wish to demonize gay people. Once again, I am heartened by champions who know the need to codify gay marriage rights, and also sad, given that this is 2022 that some in the right wing have not moved the needle whatsoever in their thinking.

It should be noted that this bill, which now heads to the Senate floor has been fashioned akin to the ones Congress could engineer with regularity before it became so constantly dysfunctional.  The bill contains plenty of exemptions for religious groups, making it the type of moderate compromise that allowed 12 Republican senators to move the measure forward with a procedural vote.  

Even with the buy-in from many senators within the GOP caucus I read the following comment about the bill and knew that for some in the nation accepting social progress has been slow and all uphill. “HR 8404 will force every state to honor and obey the insane marriage laws of any other state—even if that state allows pedophilic marriages.”

This type of outlandish bombast is not new. We can recall that in 2010 then-Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch made the stunning statement that extending domestic partner benefits to same-sex couples could lead to allowing people to marry tables and dogs.  That those words were a wildly inaccurate interpretation of the facts goes without saying.  She knew better than to say what she did.  She knew full well they were not grounded in reality.  I also know that in some parts of the country, and even in some areas of Wisconsin, rancid anti-gay slurs and outright bigotry are easily spewed. They continue to do so, in part, because of the reckless rhetoric that is used by some conservative politicians such as Senator Mike Lee of Utah, along with political activists.

Liberty University’s Standing for Freedom Center warned that the legislation “disrespects the religious liberties of millions of Americans who may face judicial assault if they refuse to oblige the left’s tyrannical narratives.” The Freedom Center’s Ryan Helfenbein retweeted its claim,adding, his own warning that “We are opening the door for massive religious persecution on a scale never seen before in America.”

Concerned Women for America called it an “attack” on people “who affirm Biblical morality when it comes to marriage and sexuality.”

Pundit Todd Starnes denounced the Republican senators who “just declared war on the church” by voting to allow the bill to move forward, and he claimed that the bill would “put a target on every Christian church in America.”

Even though we have been down this road many times it is concerning that the same worn-thin lingo and unreasonable fears and relentless attempts to undermine and demean gay Americans still have enough of a well of support to allow bandwidth for those who champion hate. I know the bill will pass and President Biden will sign it into law.  It will be a meaningful and needed move given the stated inclinations from the Supreme Court which were made known in the Dobbs decision and put into clear wording by Justice Clarence Thomas.

It is most clear that a continuous pressing forward by gay Americans will be required to further close the gap between the vast majority of the nation supporting gay rights, and that segment that seems determined to reject modernity.

Perpetually Litigious WILL Takes Loss At Supreme Court Over Biden’s Student Relief Program

It goes without saying that there are many smiles around Wisconsin following the news that the Supreme Court rejected a request from a conservative advocacy operation in the Badger State aimed at thwarting President Biden’s student loan debt relief program.  Since the request was flawed in its conception it comes as little surprise that conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett denied the emergency application to block the program. The challenge to the plan came from the Brown County Taxpayers Association. 

The loan relief plan, which has strong merits for being set in motion, and is set to begin taking effect this weekend, could cancel up to $20,000 in student debt for millions of borrowers.  The plan cancels $10,000 in debt for those earning less than $125,000 per year, or $250,000 per household, and $20,000 for those who received Pell grants for low-income families.  The taxpayer group was ginned up and aided by the continually discontented Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, a group that has never met an idea of social value it did not oppose. They had already suffered a defeat when a U.S. District Court judge dismissed the suit, saying the group lacked legal standing to stall Biden’s effort.

Legal minds and policy analysts have stood by the research contained in the now rather famous memo from the Department of Education, which was partly written by Toby Merrill.  He was helpful in creating the Predatory Student Lending program, aimed at cracking down on ruthless lending practices on low-income borrowers. It was his draft of a key legal analysis arguing that President Biden has the authority to cancel student loan debt through executive action that has so riled and energized the ones who now aim to stop the needed program.

“Congress has granted the Secretary a more specific and unrestricted authority to create and to cancel or modify debt owed under federal student loan programs in the Higher Education Act (HEA) itself.” The legal analysis in the memo pointed to a key provision that gives the President, via the Secretary of Education, broad authority to “compromise, waive, or release” a borrower’s obligation on federal student loan debt. It should be noted that many student loan borrower advocacy organizations and members of Congress have cited this analysis to support their argument that Biden should cancel student loan debt using executive action.

Tonight, we can be glad that WILL was bounced by a conservative justice, but knowing the zeal that the perpetually litigious-minded thrive on we know more such battles are in the offing.  I am, however, confident that the law is on the side of Biden and the former students in this land.

President Biden Bringing Families Together That Were Ripped Apart In Trump Term

Let us recall the shame we were witnessing in this nation only a few short years ago. In 2018 this was what our country was doing.

A few hours after Putin took his fourth oath of office, in Moscow, Attorney General Jeff Sessions addressed a law-enforcement conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. He pledged to separate families that are detained crossing the Mexico-U.S. border. “If you are smuggling a child, then we will prosecute you and that child will be separated from you,” Sessions said.

It was one of those gut-wrenching and excruciatingly awful episodes that we confronted as a nation during the one-term of Donald Trump in the White House. The separation of children, actually losing children in the process, was in no way rational or humane. It was barbaric.

There was no law that required families to be separated at the border. There was a law against “improper entry” at the border, as well as a consent decree known as the Flores settlement that limited to 20 days the amount of time that migrant children could be held in immigration detention, which a federal judge ruled in 2016 also applied to families. A 2008 anti-trafficking statute, which was signed into law by President George W. Bush, also required that certain unaccompanied minors, like those at the border, be transferred out of immigration detention in 72 hours. None of those laws or precedents meant that children must be taken away from their parents. What the Trump administration did regarding these children was simply reprehensible.

It was the absurd decision by the Trump administration to prosecute all unlawful immigrants as criminals that created the damaging and cruel breakup of families; the children being removed when the parents were taken into federal custody. While previous administrations had made exceptions to such prosecutions for adults traveling with their minor children, the Trump administration placed hatred and bigotry in front of any sense of morality.

This week the Biden Administration announced their work continues in the process of bringing those children and their parents together, again. Can any reader at this site even begin to imagine how a child feels at being separated from a parent, or how a parent’s heart is rendered with such a cruel man-made separation? That is why we can strongly applaud the news regarding 500 children who have now been reunited with their parents. The work continues, as much more will be required due to the large number of children ripped from their parents during Trump’s term. Biden had stated there were an estimated 1,000 or more such cases that needed to be resolved at the start of 2021.

I suspect many of my readers are people of faith.  Most have strong values.  So it is time then to again ask, in light of the recent news about these children, where do those firm moral foundations place a nation that allowed immigrant children to be taken from their parents at the southern border? It is a long way between places like Hancock, Wisconsin (where I grew up) and the southern border.  But the miles melt away when the human component is brought front and center.  Parents in our state know the panic that comes to mind when a child is lost in a large department store.   Compare that dread to a national policy that aimed to use fear and separation when it came to the most vulnerable.

So much chaos and bombast make for headlines, but let us slow down long enough to register how it feels to have a president who can take a moral stand about these kids and work to reunite them with their moms and dads.  A position that we know in the quiet of our hearts, away from the political heat, is a most valid one to hold.

Sincere thanks to President Joe Biden.

Queen Elizabeth II Dies At 96: Met U.S. Presidents Since Harry Truman

It still came as shock, even though it was often talked about over the past years. Queen Elizabeth II died at the age of 96 and there is now a new monarch in Britain. Only earlier this week the Queen had continued her constitutional duty and invited Liz Truss to form a new government. Even with health problems and aging concerns, there was always Queen Elizabeth who kept the long line of history very much intact on the British throne, acting with quiet resolve for decades.

I have thought about how to best reflect her life as seen through the eyes of this American home, and have settled on a series of photos of her interactions with our top leaders. (The Queen never met President Lyndon Johnson.) President Harry Truman was her first president to meet even though Elizabeth was not yet queen when, at the age of 25, she filled in for her very ailing father.  

President Harry S. Truman and Britain’s Princess Elizabeth are shown as their motorcade got underway following the reception ceremony at Washington National Airport on October 31, 1951.
 Bettmann Archive/Getty Images
20th October 1957: Queen Elizabeth II, US president Dwight D Eisenhower (1890 – 1969) with his wife Mamie (1896 – 1979) and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at a White House State banquet.
 Keystone/Getty Images
Buckingham Palace during a banquet held in his honor, American President John F. Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy, pose with Queen Elizabeth II London, United Kingdom, June 15, 1961.
 PhotoQuest/Getty Images
From BBC
President Gerald Ford dances with Britain’s Queen Elizabeth during a White House State Dinner honoring the Queen US Bicentennial visit, Washington DC, July 7, 1976. (Photo by Dirck Halstead/Getty Images)
6/8/1982 President Reagan riding horses with Queen Elizabeth II during visit to Windsor Castle, Daily Mail
Express UK
People magazine
Prince Phillip, Queen Elizabeth II, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama. Photo: Jack Hill – WPA Pool/Getty Images
(Wow….just wow.)

President Biden Addresses “Battle For The Soul Of Nation”

It was a national address from a President of the United States that the citizenry needed not only to hear but to heed.  While the three main networks did not air the speech the gravitas of the message from Philadelphia was one that echoed from the Founding Fathers about political passions that are not tempered with reason and dangerous autocratic behavior not bridled by citizens.

President Biden spoke from Independence Hall Thursday evening to give a stern warning to the nation about our national democratic values being flagrantly assaulted and undermined by forces of extremism who kneel to Donald Trump. Biden did not mix words when he stated the issue that we face.  This is, he told us, a “battle for the soul of this nation.”

The message is one that the majority of this nation has been aware of since the years when Trump sat in the Oval Office and especially since the end of Election Day in November 2020.  We watched with dread and revulsion as the seditious actions played out at our nation’s Capital on January 6th and since then as Trump deliberately and aggressively has poked and stoked his followers who are easily led to the point they will even aid in the undermining of our nation.   Those followers are willing to add their voices as election deniers and some even have lowered themselves to the point they now call for violence to be unleashed in this country.

So it is readily understood with the facts we have seen play out that Biden was correct when stating Thursday that “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans represent an extremism that threatens the very foundations of our Republic.”

The others in the nation who have embraced reading and understanding our national story could connect and agree with the historical truth when Biden talked about the “extraordinary experiment of self-government” represented by the American Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, saying that “history tells us a blind loyalty to a single leader and a willingness to engage in political violence is fatal to democracy.” The Federalist Papers which were taught in high school, and more deeply studied in college alerted many Americans to the dangers the Founders urged us to avoid.

I have advocated for years our nation required a president to undertake the role, though some might think it old-fashioned, of a leader who will stand on the stage and preach the values of democracy.  The efforts of reducing and outright removing liberal democracy around the world have been underway for decades. Autocrats prattle about how democracy is not the way for nations to grow and prosper. Actions from Hungary to Brazil have left many worldwide rightly concerned about the condition of democracy. China has challenged democratic tendencies in places like Hong Kong, while we know all too well that Russia will do anything for wistful memories of an empire.  That battle for democracy is also taking place in the United States.  Right in front of eyes.  The seriousness of the matter makes headlines daily as democracy versus dictatorship, freedom versus authoritarianism plays and we must be engaged as citizens to defend the core ideals handed to us by the Founders.

Our Founding Fathers envisioned several examples of possible dangerous behavior to democracy and placed solutions to them within the Constitution. But they simply could not have fathomed the degree of partisanship and even outright sedition and treason currently running through some parts of the Republican Party. Partisanship is so deep and corrosive that it would harm the nation itself.

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. Conservatives have willingly traded away their credibility by allowing the Republican 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.

So, it was most appropriate, in fact necessary, that Biden called out last evening the vilest of the Trump base who have seized hold of one of America’s two great political parties.  That element celebrates the violent mob that stormed the Capitol in hopes of overturning an election.  That is what the weak-minded in the nation have opted to do with the ideals and hopes of our Founding Fathers.   As I watched the 24-minute speech it dawned on me how remarkable this moment in our history is, as first, a president has never needed to call out the opposing party for their desire to strangle democracy. But secondly, there has never been a time in the 45 years (since age 15) of my reading American history where that was required. Biden stated it precisely as our nation needed to hear it. “You can’t love your country only when you win”.

President Biden Keeps Promise About Student Loan Forgiveness

Finally, after years and years of pressing the issue in election after election, action has now been taken on student loan forgiveness. College and university loans now account for more than 40% of outstanding consumer debt in the U.S., outpacing the amounts owed on motor vehicle loans, for example, by more than $477 billion. Ponder that fact for a moment.

I have argued since (what year is this?) that our economy is hampered by the millions of people redirecting income towards student loan payments rather than doing what works best in a consumer-driven economy. The fact is if someone is struggling to pay off their student loans, they are not buying things that workers are making in factories or assembly lines. The tax revenue from such transactions is lost.

We know education is a great investment for the future of the nation, and it should be viewed as a most valued commodity. I very much disagreed with shackling the ones who have the ability to learn and then turn their knowledge into ideas for the betterment of society, with lifetime financial burdens.

So I very much applaud President Biden for directing the Education Department to forgive $10,000 in federal student loan debt for nearly all U.S. borrowers, an unprecedented decision that will affect millions of borrowers with immediate financial relief. This action will now forgive $10,000 for every federal student loan borrower who earns less than $125,000 annually. The administration is also canceling up to $20,000 for those student borrowers who received Pell Grants, applying the same income cap.

Here’s what the plan includes.

$10,000 in debt forgiveness for all federal borrowers…Federal borrowers who earn less than $125,000 and did not receive a Pell Grant will be eligible to have $10,000 of their student loan balances forgiven. This will likely eliminate the balances of at least 15 million borrowers.

$20,000 debt reduction for Pell Grant recipients…Millions of borrowers who received Pell Grants during college and meet the administration’s income requirements will see 20,000 removed from their balances. Data shows around 7 million students receive Pell Grants each year.

Extends pandemic-related pause on student loan payments…The administration is also extending the federal moratorium on student loan payments for a sixth and final time. Payments will resume in January 2023, concluding the pause which has spanned more than two years and two administrations.

While I advocated for the move taken by the Biden White House for a portion of loans to be canceled, I still hold very much to the realization that incentivizing education by having students pay a share of the burden makes sense. When personal effort is required to gain an education a more strict adherence to the books results.

When some voters feel a resume is to be snickered at and expertise is not something to be valued we need to be reminded of what took Americans to the moon. It was not just rocket thrust, but the science and technology that allowed our flag to be placed on the moon. That effort was made possible by students first sitting in a classroom and learning.

In late 2021 a shocking amount of money was spent on our national defense. The House passed an authorization bill costing $768 billion. Certainly then, a person in middle America should feel the federal government can lessen the student loan burden by $10,000. It can be correctly argued that a keen mind and skills learned are as valuable to a democracy as a missile.

Thanks go to President Biden and his administration for this outcome today.