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.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky Time Person Of Year, Democracy Wins Again

I am so very pleased to learn this news tonight. TIME magazine released the Person of the Year edition, and it was not only the best decision that could be made for the cover but without argument the only decision for the person of the year.

In February 2022, I predicted that this would be the ultimate outcome this year. Every year since I was, much younger, I have made a prediction for the cover of this magazine as the year closes out. The world may not be united on many things given the array of conflicts and issues which divide and splinter nations and peoples. Still, the newsworthy and importance of this man, and the shaping of world events he impacted, means there is worldwide agreement tonight. Zelensky is the man parents everywhere wish their child to emulate for values, resolve, and character.

I wrote last winter the following, and it still very much applies tonight.

Democracy matters. It must be fought for. It can never be taken for granted.

When so many from Madison’s legislature to Moscow, from Trump Tower to Beijing either dismiss democracy or work feverishly to undermine it comes a refreshing– and, oh, so needed reminder–as to why we must never be lackadaisical about its continuance.

With steadfast resolve, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is leading not only his nation but being a teacher to the world.

And the world is watching.

There is no way not to feel his commitment to justice and sincere regard for democracy. There is no way not to fully grasp his correct desire for a heightened international repudiation of Russian thuggery.

When this year ends it will be near impossible to consider anyone more elevated and deserving to be Person of the Year than Volodymyr Zelenskyy. May God keep him and his family safe.

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.

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.

Joseph Lindsley Is Modern-Day Edward R. Murrow, Listen To Ukraine Reporting From”Edge Of The Free World”

“Not even for a second could I imagine abandoning the country in that moment, especially as a journalist,” Joe Lindsley said.

If you know of my deep respect for the wartime reporting of Edward R. Murrow on the radio it will be clear that I do not place the headline on this post lightly. Having first listened to the recordings as a teenager of Murrow painting epic-sized images over the airwaves of the carnage and fear from WWII, and then over the past decades as I studied various aspects of history allows me to properly conclude that Joseph Lindsley now walks in Murrow’s shoes.  If you know of and listen to the Ukraine-based reporter you already likely agree with my assessment.  If you are not aware of Lindsley’s work, please continue reading.

The reason I write today is due to Lindsley’s latest on-air coverage provided this morning on WGN radio’s Bob Sirott morning show. Listen to it here. The obvious nerves and stress and fast pacing of his words and details are a stark reminder of the work that today placed him in the heart of the battle.  The bombed and shelled buildings which are rubble around him and the warnings that are given about when to stay indoors are underscored by his descriptions from “the edge of the free world”.  Safety in Ukraine is termed by this reporter as “Russian roulette, if it hits your building it hits your building”.

Like most people who were born after WWII, it is hard to truly understand the fear and uncertainty that was engendered from that international calamity, or the way radio news announcers like Charles Collingwood, Bill Shirer, and of course, Edward Murrow reported the grit and hardness of scenes in Europe as Germany destroyed the social fabric. Many of us likely recall the scenes from the television show The Waltons, sitting around the living room radio hearing about Hitler’s military might and the rise of Nazism. Their dread and powerlessness were best registered on the face of Grandma. But that same sense of over-powering emotions has come through the radio over the past six months as Lindsley gives his accounts of Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Listening to Edward Murrow’s recordings at least 25 years after they were reported from Europe while enjoying my larger bedroom back home after my brother left home, further confirmed why radio enthralled me. Now many a weekday morning as I listen to Lindsley from Ukraine on WGN I find that same intimacy with the medium to be again as strong as I know it was for the listeners around the world who heard Murrow from London.

Journalists and reporters are the reason our democracy thrives.  That has long been a point made on this blog. But their professional role in providing a world with news and facts on a daily basis, as Lindsley does, requires we honor and salute their intrepid efforts.

No Glee To Be Had In Booing Of Speaker Robin Vos

No one can take any glee over the booing that Wisconsin Speaker Robin Vos received this weekend during the Republican State Party Convention. While it can be easily framed into a partisan moment where the extreme excesses of Donald Trump’s base were on full display, it is the larger concern about our precarious democracy that matters far more.

It was a most unusual scene to have occurred at a gathering of a political party. The State Assembly leader was booed by convention-goers which made for a gripping moment on newscasts statewide.

What was most troubling, however, was that Vos did not wander off the page of Republican orthodoxy so to receive such a reaction. He did not suggest raising any tax or offering more regulatory control. He did not backtrack from school vouchers or hint at gun control measures.

No, Vos instead simply and plainly told the crowd there’s no pathway to decertifying the 2020 presidential election.

“We have no ability to decertify the election and go back, We need to focus on moving forward.”

And cue the loud boos that filled the convention floor.

It was so raucous that State Party Chairman Paul Farrow had to then inform the delegates to “let him talk” and “be respectful.”

After that display from the conservative crowd, it calls into question exactly who should be surveyed in our state about the need for freedom of speech and freedom of expression. Maybe the UW System should not be first in line as a whipping boy about First Amendment rights.

While Vos did not deserve to be booed for stating a fact, he does need to own his share of the blame for stirring the pot of unreasoned anger in our state about the 2020 election. His use of former Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman to investigate that election has prolonged and needlessly exacerbated the Trump base of the party into continuing to think something nefarious occurred. In fact, as every examination of our state’s balloting proved, nothing illegal or sinister took place.

As evidenced from this weekend’s GOP convention no good comes when partisan attempts are used to strike at our political and electoral institutions. But over and over, across the nation, as The New York Times reported above the fold in their Sunday edition the partisan attacks on truth are far too often the new norm in state legislative races.

At least 357 sitting Republican legislators in closely contested battleground states have used the power of their office to discredit or try to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The tally accounts for 44 percent of the Republican legislators in the nine states where the presidential race was most narrowly decided. In each of those states, the election was conducted without any evidence of widespread fraud, leaving election officials from both parties in agreement on the victory of Joseph Biden Jr.

Election and democracy experts say they see the rise of anti-democratic impulses in statehouses as a clear, new threat to the health of American democracy. State legislatures hold a unique position in the country’s democratic apparatus, wielding a constitutionally mandated power to set the “times, places and manner of holding elections.” Cheered on by Mr. Trump as he eyes another run for the White House in 2024, many state legislators have shown they see that power as license to exert greater control over the outcome of elections.

It undermines our democracy by playing to the ones who will use factless arguments to then spearhead spurious and dangerous reactions that strike at the heart of our political institutions.

After all that grim reality it would seem, then, for there to be no way this post could stay on theme but still somehow look upwards. And more oddly still, by using Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell as the winds to lift our sails. But the following shows not only why we can have faith in reclaiming our democracy, but a lesson that McConnell can impart to Vos.

This weekend the Wall Street Journal reported McConnell’s pleasure over the fact the isolationist wing of the Republican Party was able to be reined in when the Ukraine aid package was put together and passed into law. He said that it was a personal victory for him.

Said McConnell: “I am interested in diminishing the number of my members who believe that America somehow can exist alone in the world.”

He added: “I think the fact that only 11, in the end, ended up voting against the package was an indication of success in convincing a larger number of our members that no matter what was being said by some on the outside that those views were simply incorrect.”

McConnell is most correct about international aid, and on the substance about the Wisconsin election not having been ‘stolen’ Vos is equally correct. What then is required from Vos going forward to combat the most unreasoned in his party, is what McConnell expertly administered in Congress to pass an aid package.

Leadership.

And so it goes.

Religious Dialogue Needed During Political Bombast, International Bloodshed

This weekend the world’s major faiths observed sacred and meaningful holidays. Passover, Easter, and Ramadan are all underway and there are many faithful people worldwide who undertake certain rites and services to meet their spiritual needs. That is all to be much applauded.

At the same time as the world seemingly slows a bit and many people are more contemplative and inner-seeking the chaos and carnage continues, either in violent outbursts or verbal bombast.

Israeli forces carried out a widespread campaign of raids into towns and cities across the West Bank, in a response to a wave of recent Palestinian attacks inside Israel that have killed 14 people. The Israeli authorities then also imposed temporary economic sanctions.

A mass shooting Saturday at a busy shopping mall in South Carolina’s capital on Saturday left 14 people injured. The mall was filled with kids and others on this holiday weekend.

In Ukraine, bombs fell, families continue to flee, and bodies are buried wherever the ground space can be found nearby to lower a loved one down into the earth.

In Ohio, Republican senate candidate Josh Mandel continued his primary campaign with an agenda of division against those who aren’t white, patriarchal, and Christian.

I bring this all to the fore as it is Easter Sunday in our home, a day of hope. For many years Sunday was also the day when Tim Russert would hold forth on Meet The Press. Many an Easter weekend I recall Russert having a special look at faith in the nation and how it intersected with all the headlines of the day.

I looked up one of those transcripts online and wish to take you back to Sunday, March 27, 2005.

(Videotape, January 20, 1961, inaugural address):

PRES. JOHN F. KENNEDY:  Let us go forth to lead the land that we love, asking his blessing and his help, but knowing that here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own.

(End videotape)

MR. RUSSERT:  “Here on Earth, God’s work must truly be our own,” Father. That’s politics and religion together in a very clearly stated way.

REV. DRINAN:  And I think that it–we all agree with that.  The problem is when some religions say that you have to impose in the law our particular beliefs.  Certain fundamentalists think that gays should be discriminated against, and that’s not in the common tradition.  There’s a common core of moral and religious beliefs, and frankly, we are in total violation of that. We are supposed to be good to the poor; we have more poor children in America than in any other industrialized nation.  We’re supposed to love prisoners and help them; we have 2.1 million people in prison, the largest of any country of the Earth.  We also allow eleven children to be killed by guns every day.  All of the religions are opposed to that.  That’s violence.  Why don’t we organize on that?

MR. RUSSERT:  What’s the answer?

REV. DRINAN:  The answer is that there is a core, as President Kennedy said, and that we had that core when we finally abolished abolition and segregation. We had that core when finally we entered the war in Vietnam.  We had that core when we passed the Americans With Disabilities Act, the best law for the disabled in the whole world.  That core is there, and you have to look back and say that President Roosevelt orchestrated it and LBJ was fantastic getting through the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act.  That’s the type of religious unity that exists if we can pull it together.

Many people will observe the surface traditions and customs around the world for the holidays of which they are a part, but the larger conversations, of the type Russert engaged in and we need to hear, are far less a part of our dialogue. That lack of connection around the world between what we profess to be, and what we do, or what governments do in our name, remains a great gulf.

And so it goes.

NATO Proves Why Intelligent Leadership In White House Matters

One of the driving reasons for my support of Joe Biden for president in 2020 was the requirement of our nation to again lead the world community. I was alarmed at the willful undermining of international alliances during the Donald Trump administration. Decades of work and cooperation that buttressed America’s needs and created working relationships for international order were at stake.

It has almost been a whiplash period between the narcissistic threat from Trump in 2018 about the United States withdrawing from NATO to the recent barbaric atrocities being committed by Russian President Putin in Ukraine. From Trump telling his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, to the news this past week that Finland, which shares an 830-mile border with Russia, is “highly likely” to join NATO.

Clearly, even Trump can now see the value and purpose of the military alliance. Even if it is being used with a high degree of success against the one person he can never say a cross word about.

It is hard not to smile about Russia’s disdain for having NATO members on its borders. If they thought they were being hemmed in prior to the genocide in Ukraine, they will really feel the squeeze should Finland and Sweden pursue the option of membership in the alliance.

Given the rash actions from Russia, and utter disregard for international law and norms there is every reason to consider that Sweden’s famous political neutrality could end up being, well, not so neutral. Today, neither Finland nor Sweden is considered to be in immediate military danger. But one does not make alliances for the present conditions, but rather bonds together and looks ahead to the potential dangers of the future.

Russia has a history of addiction to conquest and savagery. The Ukraine invasion, however, has proved thus far, the limits concerning the whims of an autocrat. Putin has made a colossal mistake. Instead of weakening NATO, Putin has actually strengthened his foe.

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.

Meanwhile, many others in the world are finding a new resolve to adhere to alliances and the values of freedom. Those matters are not relics. The fact that only a few years ago some were even willing to let NATO drift and flounder is proof why having a delusional and populist-nationalist in the White House is not only bad for America, but also the world.

And so it goes.