“The Greatest American Battle of the War”

The cold had taken its toil – on American and German alike.

The remnants of the U.S. Third Army, the majority of which had, under the leadership of Gen. George S. Patton, moved to relieve the surrounded men of the 101st Airborne Division in Bastogne, Belgium, were now exhausted.  Furious German counterattacks from Unternehmen Nordwind (Operation North Wind) had bloodied both sides.  On January 25th, 1945, more than a month after launching the largest offensive of the Western Front through the Ardennes, the Wehrmacht had not only stopped punching, but were back on the front they started from.

The “Battle of the Bulge” – the largest single battle of the war in the West was over – at the staggering cost of perhaps as many as 108,000 American casualties.

The German Advance: few expected the Germans to attack, and even fewer thought it would come from the Ardennes

By the winter of 1944, distance, not determination, was the only factor keeping the Allies from delivering the final blow to the Nazi regime. Continue reading

(Bombed) Houses of the Holy

 

“In all previous forms of war, both by land and sea, the losing side was speedily unable to raid its antagonist’s territory and the communications. One fought on a “front,” and behind that front the winner’s supplies and resources, his towns and factories and capital, the peace of his country, were secure… In aerial war the stronger side, even supposing it destroyed the main battle fleet of the weaker, had then either to patrol and watch or destroy every possible point at which he might produce another and perhaps a novel and more deadly form of flyer. It meant darkening his air with airships. It meant building them by the thousand and making aeronauts by the hundred thousand…

And in the air are no streets, no channels, no point where one can say of an antagonist, “If he wants to reach my capital he must come by here.” In the air all directions lead everywhere.”

–HG Wells ’The War in the Air’, 1907

On the night of January 19th, 1915 Great Yarmouth, England seemed a world way from the bloody carnage of the trenches in Flanders where hundreds of thousands of young Englishmen were fighting and dying.  The fishing village 20 miles to the east of Norwich was hardly a military target, housing neither significant industries nor a population worth striking.  And really, how could the town be struck, anyhow?  The German Navy remained bottled up in port.  The U-boat campaign, which would soon dominate British concerns, had barely begun.

The soft droning noise in the night air told a different story.  Emerging from the darkness, two massive German Zeppelins dropped their payloads on Great Yarmouth, and several nearby towns.  The cost in lives was minimal – 4 dead and 16 wounded.  But the cost to public morale was astronomical.  Wells’ fictional aerial apocalypse was now all too real – the Great War had come to the skies.

A British Army recruiting poster from 1915. Not exactly a winning argument – die in the trenches to avoid dying at home. Around 1,400 people were killed in almost 90 air raids in Britain during World War I

The process had been replayed many times already – initial hopes that the War would not escalate; would not consume some new front or turn some new technology into a means to kill or destroy, were constantly dashed, only to see the War expand further still.  Why should the air be any different?

The attack on Great Yarmouth was hardly the first aerial assault in the Great War.  From the war’s very beginning, Germany had assembled the “Ostend Carrier Pigeon Detachment” – a code-named unit for conducting Zeppelin raids on Entente targets.  A few bombings had occurred at the start of the Belgian campaign.   Liège and Antwerp were both hit in August and early September, causing very little damage and few civilian casualties.  A more consistent bombing campaign by German byplanes had hit Paris in the opening weeks of the war, but the destruction was minimal and the German demands (dropped in leaflet form by the planes) of immediate surrender struck Parisians as more comical than threatening.  An accidental bombing near the Notre Dame Cathedral, and the start of trench warfare, combined to seemingly end the German fascination with aerial bombardment before it even really began.

The remains of a British home in Suffolk of April 1915

If air bombardment was seeking an advocate in the German leadership, it wasn’t Kaiser Wilhelm II.  While German Naval Commander Alfred von Tirpitz lobbied vigorously for attacking Britain through the air (perhaps in part because his fleet was being kept out of combat and any air campaign would be under the Naval office), Wilhelm was concerned that attacking Britain would mean attacking his English relatives – most of the houses of Europe were literally related.  But as the hopes of a quick resolution to the war were dashed and 1914 became 1915, Wilhelm relented to his Admiral’s advice: ”The measure of the success will lie not only in the injury which will be caused to the enemy, but also in the significant effect it will have in diminishing the enemy’s determination to prosecute the war,” Tirpitz claimed.

Britain would now experience it’s first “blitz.”  “Nowadays there is no such animal as a non-combatant,” justified German Zeppelin corps commander Peter Strasser, “modern warfare is total warfare.”

Peter Strasser – head of Germany’s Zeppelin Corps. Strasser advocated the Zeppelin as a tool of “total war” against civilian populations

While today, the Zeppelin looks as an ungangily and vulnerable weapon of war, Zeppelins could travel up to 85 miles an hour and drop two tons of explosives on their targets below.  With such destructive capabilities, Germany hoped that by bombing Britain, it would spark such fear that it would force the country out of the war.  The military ramped up Zeppelin production to the point that Germany ceased production of sausage because the intestinal linings of cows that were used as sausage skins were required to fashion the skins of the Zeppelins’ leak-proof hydrogen chambers (A quarter-million cows were needed to build one Zeppelin).
A combination of government fear and technological limitations gave Britons few protections from the early Zeppelin raids.  The persistent bombing campaigns against British targets may have led to the creation of the RAF (then, the Royal Flying Corps or RFC), but few planes could fly high enough to challenge them.  Nor did the planes’ machine-gun fire have much effect, between the armored-plating of the Zeppelin and the difficultly of directing fire.  Given such limited options for defense, London thought it best not to warn their citizens until the Zeppelins were directly above.  Such moves minimized panic but probably maximized casualties as few civilians had time to seek cover once alerted to the Zeppelin threat.

Know Thy Enemy – and thy Friend, apparently.

This wasn’t to suggest Germany’s Zeppelin crews were either effective or having an easy time striking Britain.  Zeppelins were frequently lost to bad weather, and few Zeppelins ever reached their intended targets.  Indiscriminate bombing of civilians targets may have caused initial fear in the civilian populace, but fear quickly turned to rage.  The Zeppelins were deemed “baby-killers,” and a tactic only worthy of the barbaric “Hun.”  Instead of driving British public opinion to pull out of the War, the Zeppelin only deepened the English commitment to the fight.
The German response was to double-down on the bombing campaign and start targeting London; Wilhelm had long since gotten over his fear that an errant bomb might kill a distant relative.  On September 8, 1915, the shadow of a Zeppelin passed over the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral and unloaded a three-ton bomb, the largest ever dropped at the time, on the city’s financial hub. The attack caused massive damage and killed 22 civilians, including six children. The Zeppelin raid would be the worst of the war on London.  Britain immediately instituted blackouts and installed searchlights.  Anti-aircraft defenses were diverted from the front lines in France and positioned around the capital.  Authorities drained the lake in St. James’s Park to prevent its nighttime glitter from directing Zeppelins to nearby Buckingham Palace.  And to build morale, Charlie Chaplin filmed a propaganda short in which he brought down a Zeppelin.  Like Churchill would say a generation later, the British “could take it.”

A Zeppelin bomb crater in Paris

Technology was catching up to the Zeppelin crews.  By 1916, the British had developed higher flying planes shooting explosive bullets designed to light the Zeppelin’s hydrogen interior on fire.  Anti-aircraft gun targeting had improved and Zeppelin losses were increasing.  77 of the 115 Zeppelins used by the Germans were destroyed in action by the end of the war.  Strasser ordered his fleet to fly at higher altitudes, but crews began to suffer from the frigid temperatures and became incapacitated from oxygen deprivation.  Zeppelin effectiveness was further reduced.
By 1917, the Zeppelin had been made obsolete.  But Germany’s belief that a sustained bombing campaign could force Britain to its knees hadn’t wavered.  Operation Türkenkreuz saw the renewal of the German aerial assault, only this time with fixed-wing Gotha G.IV planes.  With a crew of three, room for up to 4 machine-guns and capable of carrying a payload of a half-ton in explosives, the Gotha was the first German heavy bomber, and more than able to defend itself against Entente fighters.

The German Gotha G.IV. – the first “heavy bomber” of the Great War. Only around 230 were built (as were several hundred of similar Gotha models). Initially, the Gothas were the Great War’s equivalent of a B-29 Superfortress – capable of carrying both a massive payload and multiple machine guns

The Gothas attacked during the day, a far cry from the usual nighttime Zeppelin raids.  A June 13, 1917 daytime raid on London killed 162 and wounded another 432 without the loss of a single Gotha.  As frightening as the initial Zeppelin raids had been, they were nothing compared to the German Gothas.  The Royal Flying Corps commander Lionel Charlton understood the long-term consequences of the raid, calling it “the beginning of a new epoch in the history of warfare.”
The British defense against the Gothas was even worse than their efforts against the Zeppelins.  A July 1917 Gotha raid against London killed another 57 civilians and wounded 193.  Over 100 sorties were launched against the Gotha formation, succeeding in shooting down one to the loss of two RFC planes.  It wasn’t until August of 1917 that British air defenses could coordinate their counterattacks.  The loss of three Gothas during an August raid convinced the Germans they had to switch to nighttime attacks as only 30 Gothas had originally been produced.

The Royal Flying Corps – the RFC would eventually become the RAF in 1918, but not before surviving horrendous casualty rates, including over 700 killed in 1917 alone (a large percentage of the RFC’s active pilots). Most of these pilots served in France, not in Britain

Worse for the Germans, the Royal Flying Corps finally decided to be proactive and target the Gothas on the ground.  Sorties at St. Denis-Westrem and Gontrode in Belgium, the home of the Gotha airfields, forced the Germans to further push back their bases of operation.  With even greater distances to travel, many Gotha formations missed their targets, dropping bombs on rural locations or even in the ocean.
By 1918, the Germans were desperate enough to press the Zeppelin and Gotha attacks regardless of the losses.  Gothas were dropping like flies – a May 1918 squadron of over 40 planes lost 7 in an attack against London.  The high rate of losses prompted Peter Strasser to personally direct an assault against London aboard one of his beloved Zeppelins.  Leading a raiding party of four Zeppelins in early August 1918, British air defenses managed to shoot down Strasser’s Zeppelin, killing him and his entire crew.  The remaining Zeppelins, leaderless, crashed either in England or at sea.  It was the last Zeppelin raid of the Great War.

The remains of a Zeppelin. By the end of the war, the Zeppelin were little more than ineffective death traps for their German crews

By any definition, the German aerial campaign against Britain was a failure.  Despite killing nearly 1,400 civilians and wounding another 3,300, the material damage to the British cause was only around 3 million pounds (47 million in 2014 pounds).  The prime objective – knocking Britain out of the war – never came close to materializing.  Throughout the Great War, Germany would adopt tactics that successfully struck at Britain’s ability to continue the fight.  The unrestricted submarine warfare nearly starved Britain and the “Spring Offensive” of 1918, targeting the British Fifth Army, were both terrible blows to British morale.  But Germany rarely committed to these campaigns except in fits and starts, and Germany never attempted to try them all at once.  One can only imagine a Britain pressed by U-boats, bombed heavily by Zeppelins or byplanes and suffering major losses in France all at the same time.  The German strategy of separating Britain from its French ally might have succeeded.
Nevertheless, the campaign had forever changed the nature of war.  As Wells had predicted, the concept of a “front” at which all the fighting was done was now a 19th Century concept.  Civilians were as much a target as soldiers in the field, if not more so as those civilians provided the material and political support necessary to maintain the war effort.  Strasser was sadly correct – modern warfare was now total warfare.  Strasser prided himself on his air ships being called “baby-killers.”  In his mind, it only proved how effective his tactics had become.

British propaganda on the Zeppelin raids – dubbed “baby-killers,” the raids only deepened the British commitment to fight

British Prime Minister David Lloyd George promised to repay Germany for its air raids “with compound interest,” leading to the development of the four-engined Handley Page V/1500 bomber, designed to drop 7,500 lbs on Berlin.  The Handley never saw action, and relatively few British bombs hit German territory.  The few that did prompted German retribution – against French cities.  Thus the French demanded that their British allies stop.
Berlin saw only one air raid during the War.  In 1916 a French plane flew over Berlin and dropped not bombs but leaflets.  For in the words of the translated leaflet, “Paris did not make war on women and children.”

The Sick Man Strikes

In tattered clothes, on frostbit feet, what remained of the Ottoman 3rd Army lumbered down from the mountains around Sarikamish in the Russian Caucuses.  150,000 men had launched the Ottoman Empire’s first offensive of the Great War.  An estimated 42,000 had returned, defeated by a combination of Russians, Armenains, frigid temperatures, disease, and overwhelming hubris by their commander.  The final death throes of the 3rd Amry on January 17, 1915 would linger for months – even the commanding General of the Ottoman forces in the Caucuses would die, having contracted typhus while touring the battle’s front line.

The “sick man of Europe,” as Tsar Nicholas I had referred to the Ottoman Empire 62 years earlier, had coughed.

The Central Powers – Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany; Kaiser and King Franz Joseph of Austria-Hungary; Sultan Mehmed V of the Ottoman Empire; Tsar Ferdinand of Bulgaria.

Sultan Mehmed V hadn’t wanted to join the Central Powers.  In fact, he didn’t want to the join Europe’s war at all.

But the supposed supreme leader of the Ottoman Empire had little say in the matter.  The Sultan’s role had significantly shrunk as near centuries of malaise prompted the “Young Turk” revolution of 1908, restoring the Turkish Constitution and Parliament.  And the Empire’s repeated defeats in the Balkan Wars just years prior to the Great War, which cost the Ottomans most of their remaining European territory, had prompted yet another coup in 1913 which brought to power a triumvirate of civilian leaders known as “the three Pashas.”  Mehmed V was now an afterthought, and after 30 years of semi-solitary confinement in Topkapı Palace, Mehmed hadn’t exactly been groomed to be a political leader.  He preferred writing poetry to drafting legislation.

An Ottoman machine-gun unit in the Allahüekber Mountains

Enver Pasha was more than happy to fill the void.  One-third of the “three Pashas,” Enver saw the burgeoning conflict in Europe as a chance to regain lost territories and glories for the Ottoman Empire.  Like Germany’s Chancellor Theobald von Bethmann-Hollweg, Enver hid behind the thin pretext of only being the Empire’s Minister of War while orchestrating an Ottoman entry on the side of the Central Powers.  Diplomats elsewhere knew better, half-jokingly referring to the Empire as “Enverland.”

There had been little doubt which side the Ottomans would chose if a war broke out.  An Ottoman alliance with the Entente was all but impossible.  Russia had been the Ottoman’s implacable enemy for over 340 years – the two empires had already fought 11 wars, one as recently as 1878.  Britain had eyed the Ottoman possessions in the Middle East greedily, hoping to expand upon their Egyptian protectorate or at least counter Russian ambitions in Persia.  Meanwhile Germany had provided economic and military support to the Ottomans and assisted with the expansion of the famed Orient Express, which connected southern Germany to markets in the Middle East and India.

A victorious Entente would, by Ottoman calculations, eventually divide up the Empire whether Turkey fought with or against them.  A victorious Germany, however, might help preserve the Empire from foreign pressures long often for needed reforms to be enacted.  The Ottomans signed a secret treaty with Germany (without the Sultan’s signature, prompting some speculation that the treaty was invalid) to declare war on Russia in early August.  By October of 1914, the Ottoman navy was shelling Russian ports.

Enver Pasha – the Minister of War, and de facto Commander-in-Chief of the Empire.  Enver was part of a triumvirate that came to be called “the three Pashas”

The problem for the Sarikamish Offensive was not the target itself. The province, centered on the chief city and capital of the same name, had been part of the Ottoman Empire for 344 years before Russia annexed it in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877.  The problems were more fundamental – starting with Enver’s expectations for what an offensive would unlease.  Enver envisioned leading a rebellion of Turkic peoples against the Russians.  It wasn’t the first time Enver thought in such grandiose terms; he had the Sultan issue a jihad against the Entente at the start of the war, which was largely ignored.

But the Turks faced even more formidable obstacles, beginning with the terrain itself.  The Ottoman 3rd Army would have to attack the Russian Caucasus Army across the Allahüekber Mountains, towering over 9,000 feet, which meant traversing high-altitude valleys cut by steep gorges over primitive roads in winter conditions. To make matters worse, Enver was planning a complex battle of encirclement, with three Turkish army corps approaching the Russians simultaneously from different directions, calling for carefully coordinated movements despite almost nonexistent communications.

Enver claimed his plan was drawn from the best inspirations of Napoleonic and German military thinking.  That Germany’s chief military adviser Otto Liman von Sanders insisted the operation was fruitless didn’t matter.  Even the Ottoman commander in charge of the Caucuses, Hasan İzzet, opposed the plan, knowing the difficultly of getting through mountainous passes in winter with troops ill-equipped for such conditions.  For his frankness, Izzet was removed just a week before the offensive would commence.  Enver would be leading the operation at Sarikamish.

Russian troops in their trenches at Sarikamish

Despite the hurdles, the Ottoman attack made good initial progress. On December 22, 1914 the Ottoman 3rd Army’s 150,000 men hit the Russian Caucasian Army’s 65,000 troops, still bloodied from their November fiasco.  The Ottoman XI Corps pinned down the Russian front line as the IX Corps and the X Corps made their way around the Russian Army’s flanks.  Within the first three days of the Sarikamish Offensive, the Turks had progressed 50 miles into Russian territory – remarkable considering how few Ottoman troops were dressed for the conditions – and were now turning the Russian flanks.  The Russian Caucasian Army looked to soon be surrounded.

Enver’s wildly ambitious plan had met early success – a tremendous credit to his troops.  But the cost of marching in the frigid mountains sapped his men’s strength quickly.  Recognizing the limits of the XI Corps’ endurance, Ottoman commanders halted the offensive to give their men time to rest.  No longer pressed on the front lines, the Russians immediately retreated to Sarikamish itself, joined by reinforcements who had just arrived by rail.  The encirclement had failed and now the Russians were at near parity with the Ottomans in terms of the number of troops engaged.

Kurdish Cavalry recruited by the Ottomans

By the start of 1915, the Russians struck at the individual Ottoman wings as the XI Corps, at the center of the front line, struggled to keep up, leaving the IX and X Corps exposed.  Harassed by local Armenian guerrillas recruited by the Russians, Ottoman troops found themselves unable to get reinforcements or even communicate between the three Corps of the 3rd Army.  Col. Hafiz Hakki, Enver’s brother-in-law and one of the Corps commanders, knew by January 2nd that the offensive had failed and that the entire 3rd Army was now in danger.  But Enver refused to acknowledge his error, wiring Hakki that ”the offensive is to go on at full strength.”

By January 6th, the 3rd Army’s headquarters was under attack.  Three entire Ottoman divisions had surrendered.  The reinforcements that the 3rd Army had been counting on did arrive from Constantinople on the Black Sea, but the troop transports were promptly sunk by Russian warships.  Hakki, finding himself one of the few high level officers still alive or not captured, ordered a general retreat.  In reality, the retreat had already occurred, with the surviving troops crossing the border to find Enver and his German advisers awaiting them.  If Enver was upset by these losses, he concealed it well; Lewis Einstein, an American diplomat in Constantinople, later recalled, “Even when he returned from the Caucasus, where an entire army had been lost by his fault, he seemed perfectly happy, and went the same evening to a concert.”

Russian Armenian volunteers

The scale of the defeat horrified the rest of the Central Powers.  Ottoman casualties were difficult to pin down, with estimates as high as 90,000 killed and 50,000 taken prisoner – many of the survivors were 3rd Army reinforcements and not part of the original invasion force.  Col. Hafiz Hakki was promoted to General and given the command of the entire Ottoman Caucuses – and died just weeks later from typhus, which had already claimed the lives of thousands of Ottoman soldiers.

The Russians, reeling just weeks earlier, lost perhaps as few as 16,000 men (one estimate had the number as high as 30,000).  Nevertheless, as one German officer attached to the army wrote later, the Ottoman 3rd Army had “suffered a disaster which for rapidity and completeness is without parallel in military history.”

Still, if defeat concerned the Central Powers, victory hadn’t allayed the fears of the Entente.  The Allies had assumed the Ottomans weren’t capable of offensive action.  Coupled with a failed Ottoman attack against the Suez Canal just weeks after Sarikamish, the Entente now believed the Ottomans needed to be driven out of the war.  Defeating the Turks would lessen the pressure on the Russians, open up the Straits and allow the Tsar’s troops to be easily supplied, plus possibly bring in Bulgaria and Greece on the side of the Entente (both were former Ottoman territories) and open up a southern front against Germany and Austria.  The ashes of Sarikamish proved fertile soil for the seeds of Gallipoli.

The forgotten genocide: the exact scale of the Armenian genocide is unknown, with estimates from 1-1.5 million. Pasha blamed Russian success in recruiting Armenians to fight for the Tsar for the defeat at Sarikamish, resulting in part of the Ottoman policy that led to so many deaths

Sarikamish would have another lasting impact on the Great War.  Enver blamed the defeat on the Armenian volunteer troops that fought for the Russians; increasing Ottoman fears that the Empire’s own Armenian population might rise up in revolt.  The Armenians had been simmering for decades following several massacres during the 1890s, and a proposed peace summit in July of 1914 had only served to push the Armenians towards a policy of alliance with Russia in hopes of annexation.  Defeat at Sarikamish provoked an immediate Ottoman crackdown.

Within months, the Armenian genocide would begin.

The Bloody Return

For weeks, minesweepers had combed the vast expanse of the ocean to the south of Luzon, the major island in the Philippine archipelago.  Filipino guerrillas had begun operating in the open in the south of the massive island, and the Japanese had even heard reports of paratroopers and gliders operating in the nearby countryside.  U.S. warplanes constantly bombed Japanese positions in southern Luzon.  The location of the Allied invasion of Luzon seemed obvious.

It was all an elaborate ruse.  The “paratroopers” were dummies.  The guerrillas, minesweepers and bombers – diversions.  The real target for the start of the liberation of the Philippines was further north, at Lingayen, far to the north of Manila.  And unfortunately for American landing troops on January 9th, 1945, the Japanese had not been fooled in the slightest.

He Returned: MacArthur wades ashore Leyte in Oct of 1944. Luzon, the main Philippine island, was viewed publicly as the “real” start of the liberation of the country – a liberation most of the U.S. command fought against conducting

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Garbo

It was a solemn march to the Hôtel Meurice in Paris for German General Dietrich von Choltitz on August 25, 1944.  The German Army in Normandy had been smashed.  The encircled Falasie pocket, containing 50,000 German troops – the last of the men who had defended Normandy – had given up.  American General George S. Patton’s Third Army was running wild through the disoriented German lines.

As for Paris, the Meurice had become, just hours before, the advance headquarters of Free French General Philippe François Marie Leclerc de Hauteclocque, better known simply as Leclerc – de Gaulle’s de facto right-hand man.  Despite explicit orders from the Führer himself to destroy Paris, von Choltitz chose instead to surrender the city without a fight (whether this was out of a desire of self-preservation or the preservation of Paris became the subject of great debate after the war).

The City of Lights was back in the hands of Allied forces.  While history credited so many famous names with Paris’ eventual liberation, perhaps the greatest credit is due to a man few would ever know - Juan Pujol Garcia, better known as the double-agent “Garbo.”

Juan Pujol Garcia – his intelligence work as the double-agent “Garbo” convinced the Axis that the Normandy invasion would come at the Pas de Calais – so much so that the Germans never truly left their positions

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Battle of the Silver Helmets

As a site, it was hard to miss the marching of the 4th German Cavalry Division on August 12, 1914.  Wearing the spiked Pickelhaube helmet, with steel lances and breastplates, and freshly-polished swords, the 4th Cavalry could have easily looked as if on parade.  Only instead of parade grounds, the men and horses of the unit marched through enemy Belgian territory.

Ordered to charge against the southern flank of the small town of Haelen, the 4th Cavalry squared off against a fellow cavalry unit, equally resplendent in their dress uniforms.  The 4th Cavalry led, quite literally, with the tips of lances.  The Belgians, dismounted from their horses, led with their guns.  The gentlemanly charm of the 19th Century military was about to collide with the vicious precision of the 20th.

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Speed had been the essence of German military planning for a war in Europe.

The somewhat romanticized view of the Battle of Haelen – dashing German cavalry units charging headlong into the Belgian line

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Scrambled

The British flag hung over the customs building in Lomé, Togoland, hoisted after 14 English troops, and a few conscripted police officers, had occupied the location.  A telegraph operator was sent for via bicycle to try and repair the recently cut line.  The small contingent waited for a larger British force, marching overland 50 miles in grueling August heat, to arrive and relief them.

Only days into their war with the German Empire, the British had their first new colonial possession – a small town in Western Africa that had been defended by 460 German colonists and Schutztruppe (Black African “protection forces”) the day before.  The “Scramble for Africa” among the European powers was over.  The scramble to claim as much German colonial territory as possible was on.

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White Man’s Burden; Colonial Empire’s Opportunity – the patronizing view of Africa from the early 20th Century European perspective. The Allies claimed they were liberating Africans from brutal German rule (which was true, in some cases). But the war in Europe was nothing more than a causa belli to acquire more territory

The war didn’t have to come to Africa.  In fact, many in Africa had assumed it would bypass them completely.

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Scraps of Paper

The telegram had been sent in haste, but time was of the essence at 4:23pm on August 1st, 1914.  From London, German ambassador Karl Max, the Prince of Lichnowsky, had sent to Berlin word that Britain would take steps to guarantee French neutrality in a conflict that had developed a momentum of it’s own.  The French, eager to diffuse the situation, had informed the Russians that they viewed their treaty as merely defensive, trying to halt the planned Russian mobilization that had spooked Germany into a mobilization of her own.  French Premier René Viviani went so far as to move French troops 60 miles away from the French/German border as a sign of goodwill.

Kaiser Wilhelm II gleefully accepted Britain’s terms.  Perhaps the war could be avoided – or at least the conflict would be a short one against Russia until either Austria was in Belgrade, the Serbs surrendered, or Russia realized the need to demobilize.  Wilhelm II quickly told his General Staff, led by Helmuth von Moltke to cancel the execution of the Schlieffen Plan and an attack on France.  Von Moltke was taken aback.  German troops had already started invading Luxembourg – the first steps towards invading Belgium and then France.  It was simply too late to stop.

The Great War had begun.

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Kaiser Roll (over): Wilhelm vacillated between supporting his Austrian ally and reining them in over Serbia. His mixed signals and general indecision gave his ally a “blank cheque” while suggesting Germany had no stomach for a fight to their opponents. It was a deadly combination

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Slouching Towards St. Paul

The Invisible Primary heads for it’s exciting dramatic interesting necessary conclusion.

There have been no polling updates.  No shocking endorsements.  No conflicts.  A candidate ended up in the hospital…due to an ulcer.

The slouch towards the Minnesota GOP choosing a candidate to go up against Gov. Mark Dayton will end in the next two weeks, and perhaps finally usher in some interest in what has proven to be a deadly dull campaign cycle thus far.  So how can the four major contenders to be the GOP nominee win on August 12th?

Businessman Scott Honour

Why He’ll Win: In the words of Jimmy Buffett, Honour has spending money – money to burn.  Having raised more money than any other candidate running for governor, including Mark Dayton, Honour has the highest cash on hand of the GOP field in the primary’s closing weeks.  While those figures are highly inflated by his self-contributions totaling over $900,000, Honour has demonstrated the ability and willingness to spend freely – a desirable quality when third party interest groups have raised $11 million (most of it for Democrats) for the cycle…

Why He’ll Lose: …but have you seen how he’s spending it?

 

Zzz…huh?  Oh, it’s over?

Honour may be playing on his “outsider” credentials, but he’s running the most “insider” looking campaign of the four major Republicans in the race.  His advertising hasn’t been unique, either in terms of style or substance, nor particularly plentiful for a man whose raised $1.7 million.  Even a sympathetic profile of his candidacy suggest he “hasn’t run a highly visible campaign.”  That’s not surprising given Honour’s massive payments to consultants.  Long-time GOP consultants Pat Shortridge and Shanna Woodbury have combined to cost Honour’s campaign almost $270,000.  Considering the last polls on the race showed him in 4th place, Honour may wonder what exactly he paid them for.

Former Speaker Kurt Zellers

Why He’ll Win: Give the former Minnesota House Speaker credit – he’s taken what should be a huge vulnerability (his uneven performance as Speaker) and leveraged it about as well as he could into a narrative of his opposition to Mark Dayton.  Granted, Zellers’ narrative ends in 2011, when the legislature forced Dayton to end the government shutdown on their terms, and leaves out the messy details such as the controversial constitutional amendments or the Vikings’ stadium debate debacle.

 

Much like his TV ad, Zellers is doing nothing wrong, even if he’s not excelling at doing anything right.  His branding isn’t unique, but it’s on message.  His no new tax pledge may be an albatross in the general election, but he’s running to win the primary.  He doesn’t have the greatest amount of cash on hand or legislative endorsements, but he’s second in both those categories.  Plus, he’s been either in the lead or tied for it in most polling (what little has been done).

Why He’ll Lose: A low turnout election, which this race is shaping up to be, isn’t great news for a man whose reasonably high name ID comes from a poor performance as Speaker.  Zellers has never been adored by the GOP rank and file, and his advertising isn’t abundant enough to necessarily undo memories of 2012 and a lost House majority.  The real question may be if Zellers has invested his limited resources into a get-out-the-vote (GOTV) organization or not – a likely better use of money than TV or radio advertising.  Zellers may win in a divided field where just enough Republicans vaguely remember his name without his political baggage, but that’s not a great winning strategy.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson

Why He’ll Win: The nearly 20 Minnesota GOP Victory Centers.  Neither Johnson nor the State GOP may have bountiful resources to contribute to the primary, but the endorsement process still has some value in the form of thousands of dutiful volunteers making GOTV phone calls.  And while that sort of internal support hasn’t been as consistent as it once would have been for an endorsed candidate (see the 8th Congressional District’s pushback, for example), it’s been more the exception than the rule thus far.

 

Despite being the endorsed candidate, Johnson’s advertising (what little there is of it) has leaned more on quirk than his endorsement (Scott Honour could have learned something here).  Given the state’s penchant for electing candidates with memorable advertising (Paul Wellstone/Jesse Ventura), the tactic is likely a wise one.  And with an independent expenditure group also running TV ads on his behalf, Johnson looks less likely to get buried in a last minute blizzard of ad revenue.

Why He’ll Lose: Johnson’s week off the campaign trail to deal with surgery for an ulcer is the least of his concerns; especially as his campaign took kudos for their handling of the situation.  The problem is that Johnson’s health was the most campaign coverage he’s received since the endorsement battle.

Nor has Johnson exactly leveraged his endorsement well.  Only 44 current and former legislators have endorsed his candidacy.  Rep. Erik Paulsen throw his support behind Johnson, but there’s little sense that the GOP powers-that-be are overly willing to spend political capital to ensure Johnson wins in August.  Even Johnson himself acknowledged a “wait and see” approach from at least the donor class.  If that attitude exists with the average activist, Johnson could certainly lose.

Former Rep. Marty Seifert

Why He’ll Win: He’s a “maverick.”  He’s courting voters in the rural regions of the State.  He’s completely unapologetic about his parliamentary maneuver at the State GOP Convention…wait, I’m writing about why he’ll win.

The former House Minority Leader certainly has some name ID with GOP activists, having won both the 2010 and 2014 caucus straw polls.  And despite all the attention being paid to the endorsement tiff, relatively few primary voters will have really heard about it, and even fewer will understand what the angst is about.  What voters in outstate Minnesota will hear is a consistent message targeted to rural issues, as Seifert has furiously toured the non-metro sections of the state.  The result should likely be Seifert dominating in districts like the 1st, 7th and 8th Congressional…

Why He’ll Lose: …but those districts don’t comprise nearly enough voters to win, especially if Seifert under-performs in the Metro.  Despite being the first GOP candidate to air a TV ad, the buy was small and not really focused on the Metro.

 

Nor does he have the resources to likely compete.  Seifert has raised the least amount of money of the four major candidates and has the smallest amount of cash still on hand – $71,000.  His totals aren’t massively different than Jeff Johnson’s, but Johnson has the party apparatus and an independent expenditure group to provide support.  Seifert’s ground game is totally up to him to fund.

While the resentment from Seifert’s endorsement exit may be hard for non-politicos to fully understand (or care about), it doesn’t help that in a race that’s been defined by the lack of conflict, Seifert’s candidacy is the only one having any significant anger directed towards it.  Under the old, “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” rule, some primary voters – even those who may not understand the anger – may simply steer clear of Seifert based on the reaction his candidacy causes among others.  If Seifert had a well-funded ad campaign, it’s highly doubtful such anger among a small, but vocal, minority would impact the race.  In the absence of a strong counter-message (in particular in the media-heavy metro), Seifert’s candidacy looks like an outlier with segments of the base.

Unsportsmanlike Conduct

Are you sure you’ve thought through this lawsuit, Chris?

Chris Kluwe potentially kicks open a Pandora’s Box.

Given Chris Kluwe’s love of role-playing board games, it shouldn’t surprise that his latest actions have more angles than 23-sided dice.

On Tuesday, former Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe was demanding that the team, through the law firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P, release the six-month independent investigation into Kluwe’s allegations that he was let go due to his gay marriage activism.  By Friday night, Kluwe (or at least his attorneys) might have wished the Vikings had kept the findings to themselves.

The 29-page summary of the investigation (pdf warning on the link) was notable for two things: 1) proving Kluwe’s story that current Special Teams coach Mike Priefer did indeed make his “nuke the gays” comment; 2) proving little else.  Instead, the investigation brought to light an incident of Kluwe mocking the Jerry Sandusky trial and generally negatively commented on Kluwe’s final years as a Viking:

The record does not support the claim that the Vikings released Kluwe because of his activism on behalf of marriage equality, but instead because of his declining punting performance in 2012 and potentially because of the distraction caused by Kluwe’s activism, as opposed to the substance of such.

Throughout the independent investigation, interviewees characterized Kluwe in similar
ways: someone who is highly intelligent, reads a lot, a prankster or jokester, comfortable with the media and seems to enjoy attention. [Vikings kicker Blair] Walsh stated that Kluwe spent much of his free time in the locker room doing interviews. Walsh also said that Kluwe “loves the attention,” “was focused on everything but football,” and wanted to be in the spotlight.

The fallout was sadly predictable.

The perpetually indignant community – Kluwe’s political base – expressed outrage (outrage!) that the Patron Saint of Punting was a “hypocrite” for engaging in the same sort of outrageously inappropriate locker room behavior that Kluwe supposedly was fighting against by his threatened lawsuit.  While many former media supporters were throwing Kluwe under the bus, the man at the center of the report took to twitter to vent, sparing even with gay marriage supporters and potentially getting the Vikings (and maybe himself) deeper into the dark waters of legal action:

Color me unimpressed with the outrage over Kluwe’s Sandusky jokes.  In the pantheon of vulgar Kluwe behavior/comments, his exposed butt cheeks aren’t even as crass as most of his Deadspin articles.  But Kluwe’s accusation that he (and presumably, the Vikings) knew about statutory rape and did nothing is a world away from Kluwe’s STD shots at Mankato or calling NFL lockout opponents “assh*le f**kwits.”  Kluwe is potentially an accomplice in this (alleged) crime at worst.  At best, he kept silent about actions against minors, but the words of a hot-headed, idiotic Special Teams coach were somehow his personal Rubicon…after he was fired.

Kluwe’s defenders, like ProFootballTalk.com’s Mike Florio, are trying to poke holes in the investigation’s conclusions over the Vikings’ assessment on Kluwe’s punting abilities, setting the stage for Kluwe’s threatened lawsuit that he was dismissed for his beliefs, not his on-field actions.  Despite all the vitriol, the merits of any potential Kluwe lawsuit are few and far between, and minus a heretofore undiscovered “smoking gun” document or testimony, a legal Trojan Horse for the entire NFL should Kluwe prevail.

NFL history, and Minnesota Vikings’ history, is replete with older veterans being replaced for players deemed to have a larger upside who can be signed for less money.  In the last several seasons, the Vikings alone have cut ties with still capable players like kicker Ryan Longwell or defensive end Jared Allen.  These moves aren’t always right or popular (SITD argued against the Allen move months ago) or consistent across franchises.  Denver’s punter, Britton Colquitt, is the highest paid punter in the NFL, earning $3.9 million a year for a 46.1 yards per punt average.  Chris Kluwe was making $1.5 million, due to increase to over $2 million, for a career average of 44.4 yards per punt.  Jeff Locke kicked an average of 44.2 yards for roughly $400,000 for the Vikings in 2013.  Is any of that logical?  By NFL standards, for better or worse, yes.

If Chris Kluwe can convince a jury that a $1.5 million punter with the league’s 22nd best average cannot be cut for a younger, cheaper option because said player is outspoken, then the NFL’s entire collective bargaining agreement will be up for grabs.  In a league with an openly gay 7th round draft pick who isn’t assured of making the team, what will stop current and future NFL players from adopting controversial political/social causes if they believe doing so will complicate their release?  Will the next Tim Tebow decide that his Christianity, not his throwing motion, was the motivating factor in his cutting, and sue his former employer?

A Kluwe victory (again, barring new evidence) means a more political NFL – an outcome that can only hurt the most popular sporting brand in the country.

Footloose

Photoshop out the football and you’ve pretty much recreated Chris Kluwe’s latest press conference

The most famous (or is it infamous?) punter in modern history tries to pin the Minnesota Vikings against their end zone.

Well, in his defense, he no longer has a job to be so focused on.

Chris Kluwe may possess a number of less-than-desirable qualities, but the former punter’s media savvy remains arguably his strongest suit.  Since leveling accusations against the Minnesota Vikings, in particular special teams coach Mike Priefer, of fostering an atmosphere of homosexual hatred which led to his firing by “two cowards and a bigot,” Kluwe has remained relatively quiet.  Perhaps partially motivated by a press corps seemingly less willing to believe him, or realizing that his legal strategy depended upon him dragging many of his former teammates into the mix, Kluwe and his representation had said little about the Vikings’ independent investigation in the past seven months.

That changed Tuesday as Kluwe charged that the Vikings’ investigation has concluded and that the lack of public disclosure over the findings proved Kluwe’s allegations of bigotry:

The onetime punter said Tuesday the team is “reneging on a promise” to release a copy of its completed investigation of alleged anti-gay sentiments expressed by special teams coach Mike Priefer during the 2012 season.

Kluwe and his attorney, Clayton Halunen, announced at a morning news conference that they will file suit against the Vikings alleging discrimination on the grounds of religion, human rights, defamation and “torturous interference for contractual relations.”

The move is self-aggrandizing and potentially premature (the Vikings said the independent investigatory group would provide a report this week).  Had the press conference included accusations of the team of being “lustful c**kmonsters,” it would have been vintage Kluwe.

It was also a somewhat smart public relations ploy.  Now, whenever Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi L.L.P release their findings, Kluwe can claim his pressure forced the team to do so.  And Kluwe’s willingness to forgo a lawsuit for a monetary settlement that goes towards an LGBT cause also assists both the Vikings, in helping the issue go away faster, and Kluwe himself as even old media allies questioned the punter’s motivations (the KFAN Morning Show, who often gave Kluwe free-rein to voice his opinions on all matter of subjects, openly wondered if he was making a money grab this morning).

But “somewhat smart” isn’t the same as “smart.”  Kluwe’s strategy only truly works if the independent investigation proves some or all of Kluwe’s anecdotes, in particular his claim that Mike Priefer suggested moving gay people to an island and hitting it with a nuclear bomb.  Not unlike the current Jesse Ventura defamation suit, Kluwe’s case ultimately comes down to a “he said/he said” legal battle.  Even if Kluwe is 100% accurate in quoting Vikings’ staff, he would still have to prove a correlation between comments like Priefer’s and his cutting in 2013.  The Vikings can respond about Kluwe’s declining skills and (for the position) high salary – reasons that even Kluwe cited…when cut last summer by the Oakland Raiders.

The outcome of the investigation – or any following legal action – may be pointless.  Kluwe’s defenders will continue to insist the end of his career was due to his gay rights activism, and not his next-to-last finish for punts inside the 20-yard line while making $1.45 million.  Kluwe’s detractors will continue to be maligned as being bothered by his politics rather than his penchant for vulgar name-calling to anyone who doesn’t share his views (on gay rights or other subjects).

Other than attorneys or an LGBT charity, it’s hard pressed to see who benefits from this continued fight.

The Invisible Primary

The electorate hits the snooze button on the Minnesota Republican gubernatorial primary.

It’s been 20 years since the Minnesota GOP had a competitive primary for, well, anything.  And with just over a month to go before voters chose Gov. Mark Dayton’s general election opponent, that rust is showing.

Whether it’s the airwaves, newspapers, or even political blogs, interest/coverage in the GOP primary has been as invigorating as an Ambien with a warm milk chaser.  What little polling on the race has been done bares out that fact, with 22% having no opinion of the four main candidates running, and 33% either undecided or choosing none of the above.

The result isn’t surprising.  Of the four major candidates, only businessman Scott Honour is running any sort of campaign advertising – a modest radio ad buy hitting Dayton on his handling of MnSure.  But having blown through the better part of $1 million on infrastructure and staff, Honour has been reduced to recycling his material.  The nearly exact same ad ran in May.

The rest of the field isn’t exactly making news, either.  Kurt Zellers’ campaign seems to exist solely by press release, with few direct campaign actions.  Marty Seifert’s endorsement by former Governor Al Quie is the campaign’s biggest story to date, as Seifert seems intent on winning the primary by eschewing the state’s major media markets to focus on outstate voters.  Jeff Johnson’s endorsement by Rep. Erik Paulsen carries some weight, but largely seems to reinforce that most of the state’s Republican endorsers are staying out of the fight.

If you can call this primary a ‘fight.’  Despite the ill-will following the Republican Convention in May, the interactions between the campaigns have been downright Marquess of Queensbury:

Last Friday, TPT’s Almanac hosted the first debate between the Republican candidates for governor since the Republican Party of Minnesota’s state convention in Rochester…I watched it three times this week, looking for some spark of energy, some sign of life in the Republican race for governor. I found none, as it was a non-event.

I reviewed Twitter, expecting to see a flury of public jockeying by the campaigns or their supporters. Nothing.

No press releases were sent out by the campaigns after the debate, boasting about the performance of their candidate. Nobody claimed victory, nobody really said anything. There were no debate parties, where supporters of a candidate gather to watch the event.It is almost like the debate didn’t happen.

Avoiding the traditional circular firing squad may be the prudent choice, but against the backdrop of such a vanilla campaign, one has to wonder how any of the four candidates expect to even reach November.

Most assuredly, August 2014 will not resemble the August of 2010 as Mark Dayton and Matt Entenza spent wildly, with Margaret Anderson Kelliher doing her best to keep up via her organization.  Indeed, the question of 2014 may be what candidate (if any) can create the organization necessary to match the GOP’s GOTV efforts on behalf of Jeff Johnson.  The endorsement may no longer carry the same monetary value, but the organizational value of numerous BPOUs making phone calls definitely has a price-tag for those seeking to replicate the effort.  In a low-intensity, likely low-turnout field, the GOP’s GOTV efforts will likely prevail.

The GOP’s greater challenge may be to have a nominee that’s prepared to contend after August.  A GOP candidate having won by a minimal amount, and armed with a poor campaign account – as would likely be the case for three out of the four candidates – isn’t in the best position to challenge Mark Dayton.

ADDENDUM:  Marty Seifert may slightly regret getting former Gov. Al Quie’s backing, given Quie’s decision to now also support US Senate long-shot Jim Abeler.  Nor does it likely help that the Star Tribune is reminding readers that Quie also backed Tom Horner four years ago.

The Peace to End All Peace

Muhamed Mehmedbašić might have hardly believed his luck.  Slowly motoring in front of him, armed with only the lightest of security (60 police officers total between the motorcade and destinations), sat the heir to the hated Austo-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand.  Mehmedbašić, armed with a bomb and accompanied by one of several accomplices, Vaso Čubrilović, had his chance to strike a blow for Bosnian nationalism, even if it was in service to Serbian nationalists.  This was the mission he and three others had been trained for.

Ferdinand’s motorcade sped closer to Mehmedbašić’s position at the garden of the Mostar Cafe.  And…he hesitated.  Mehmedbašić couldn’t do it.  His partner, Vaso Čubrilović, despite being armed with a pistol, couldn’t do it either.  However, the group’s third conspirator, Nedeljko Čabrinović, could.  Čabrinović threw his hand grenade at Ferdinand…and it promptly bounced off his car, rolling under the next vehicle and exploding.  16-20 people were wounded.  The Archduke was not among them.

By 10:30am on the morning of July 28th, 1914, it seemed that Europe had come perilously close to an act of war only to be pulled back again from the brink.

Eve of Regicide: (left-right standing) King Haakon VII (Norway), Tsar Ferdinand (Bulgaria), King Manuel II (Portugal), Kaiser Wilhelm II (Germany), King George I (Greece), King Albert I (Belgium); seated: King Alfonso XIII (Spain), King George V (Britain) and King Frederick VIII (Denmark)

Given the decades of carnage that followed, a certain mythology arose about the era before 1914.  An image of a world at peace, held together by seasoned diplomats and threatened by aristocratic dilettantes, grew as royalty was replaced by revolutionaries, eager to re-write the history of the preceding nearly 100 years. Europe, after the Napoleonic wars, was supposedly an Elysium peace undone between the monarchies and the anarchists that followed them.

But to believe such a narrative ignores decades of bloody history written between Napoleon’s final exile in Saint Helena and the declarations of war that started on August 1st, 1914.  The revolutions of 1848, wars of Italian and German unification in the 1860s and 1870s, the Crimean War, or even the Balkan Wars of 1912/13 showed Europe’s royalist peace was, at best, a facade.  Rather, Europe on the eve of June 28th, 1914 was a centuries-long Cold War that was looking for an excuse to steam to a boil.

A False Peace: Europe had seen years of war before 1914. The Balkan Wars of 1912-13, pictured here, set the stage of redrawing the map of Europe.

Continental European affairs had long been a struggle for a balance of power. France had been balanced against a collection of German states on the continent, and checked by Britain abroad.  The Italian states were a buffer against Austrian ambitions while Austria played the same role against Ottoman incursions into Europe.  Russia was simultaneously a European power and not – an ally for the burgeoning Balkan states, but also an enemy the rest of Europe looked at warily for it’s ambitions in Central Asia – against the Ottomans and also Britain.

This uneasy balance had been permanently altered by the Napoleonic age.  Not only had the concept of overthrowing monarchies become en vogue, but it saw that one powerful state could rule all of Europe – and thus potentially the world.  France in 1815 was little different than Germany in 1914 – a continental superpower who threatened political and economic stability by seeking dominance.  From the end of the Napoleonic wars to 1870, France was viewed as a state-level contagion; unable to be completely isolated and thus needing to be carefully watched and contained by her neighbors.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand being welcomed by Sarajevo’s Mayor. One attempt on the Archduke’s life had already been made that day

The unification of Germany flipped this script.  Britain, and the rest of Europe, suddenly realized a unified Germany represented a far greater threat to Europe’s balance of power than a clearly weakened France.  Germany, unable to comprehend that Britain’s prior alliances were born of political necessity, quickly grew to view their former ally as a future opponent and sought to challenge Britain in terms of naval force and colonial gains.  The speedy ascension of Germany’s battleships, including the mega battleship Dreadnought, and the Kaiser’s colonial possessions in Africa and Asia deeply worried European diplomats and monarchs.  Germany’s alliance with Austra-Hungary, the Duel Alliance, further inflamed fears that Germany was priming to dominate Europe.

In order to try and maintain the “cold war” atmosphere of dynastic détente, a series of new alliances arose.  Mortal enemies Britain and France now had a common fear – Imperial Germany.  While Britain still didn’t trust Tsar Nicholas II’s Russia, as the two nations competed in Central Asia in what would be known as “the Great Game”, France wanted to surround Germany, and thus an alliance was born.  Russia, fearful of having an allied Germany and Austria-Hungary on its borders, supported it’s fellow Slavic Serbs, who had just recently acquired independence.  The political calculations of the previous century, the roots of some of which stretched back further centuries, had shifted.  But the motivations that had compelled those prior alliances had not.

Fly the Bloody Flag: the blood-soaked remains of Ferdinand’s uniform

The balance of power brought about by these series of interlocking alliances worked as long as nothing tested them.  But the potential flashpoints were few and far between. Foreign political conflicts, like the Moroccan Crisis of 1906, saw war between the European powers threatened but come of nothing.  Only in the Balkans, where borders and boundaries were constantly shifting, and nationalists on all sides were attempting to seize control, did it seem likely that conflict among the major powers might occur.

Entering into this dangerous mixture was the former Ottoman Vilayet of Bosnia (Bosnia-Herzegovina today) and Archduke Franz Ferdinand.

Austria-Hungay had been given control of the region from the Ottomans in 1878 in return for the recognition of Serbia as an independent state.  Relations between the two monarchies were healthy, despite Serbian nationalist influences.  But the bloody overthrow of the pro-Austrian Serbian monarchy in 1903 completely changed that dynamic.  A pro-Russian monarchy took its place, leading a nervous Austria-Hungary to annex Bosnia in 1909, over Serbian protests. Serbian nationals responded with a series of assassination attempts, some successful, against Austrian officials in Bosnia.  Thus, the visit from the heir to the Austrian throne seemed especially unwise.

Gavrilo Princip: the face that launched 16 million deaths. Princip was no Lee Harvey Oswald. He received aid from Serb’s Chief of Military Intelligence.

But if Slavic nationalism had any friends in the Austro-Hungarian monarchy, it would have been Ferdinand.  The Archduke was a major proponent of creating yet a third crown for the Empire – a sort of Austro-Slavic-Hungarian Empire.  But instead of regarding Ferdinand’s desire for increased Slavic authority in the monarchy as a boon, Serbian nationals saw it as a threat and an attempt, which it was, to keep Serbian-Austrian nationals loyal to the crown.  Ferdinand’s ethnic diplomacy would be his undoing.

Serbian nationalist terrorists had unified, somewhat, under the organization known as The Black Hand.  At nearly 3,500 members in 1914, including major Serbian army officials, the Black Hand was the Serbian al-Qaeda or Taliban of its day – a terrorist organization, but one fully supported by a sovereign government.  The members of the Black Hand chosen to kill Ferdinand had received training and support from the highest officials in the Serbian military and intelligence community.  The Serbian Prime Minister was informed of their smuggling into Bosnia.  A half-hearted recall of these sleeper agents was attempted two weeks before the assassination as Serbian officials began to doubt how much Russia would come to their aid if it was discovered that the Serbian government had planned to kill another monarch.  The recall either never reached the Black Hand or was ignored.  There was no turning back.

One of the Serbian conspirators being dragged into jail as crowds attempt to grab him

Ferdinand and his wife Sophie arrived at Sarajevo’s Town Hall quite shaken.  The bomb had failed to harm them, but many of their entourage had been severely hurt.  ”Mr. Mayor, I came here on a visit and I get bombs thrown at me. It is outrageous,” Ferdinand supposedly complained to his mayoral host.  But calmed by his wife, Ferdinand delivered his short speech and left, choosing to visit his wounded compatriots at the hospital.  Now more security conscience than before, the driver choose to avoid the heavily-trafficked city center for a side street.  At 10:45am, they turned right onto Franz Josef Street, a mistaken turn.  Ferdinand ordered the car to back up.

Watching all this, perhaps with slight amazement, was Gavrilo Princip.  He had been a part of the Black Hand’s assassination planning, but he was not a Serbian nationalist. Calling himself a “Yugoslav nationalist,” Princip’s only political goal was to see Bosnians, Croats, and Serbs unified…just under any government but Austria’s.  Princip had been told the first attempt on Ferdinand’s life had failed, and while trying to get to the city center, where he assumed Ferdinand would go, luck had delivered the Archduke right in front of him.  Thus a Serb who wanted unity with other Slavs, on orders from a Serbian nationalist group whose ideology preached Serbian superiority, leveled his gun at a Royal who wanted to provide the same sort of unification to Slavs, only as equals.  With two gunshots, the dreams of Gavrilo Princip and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, so similar yet so far apart, died.

Ferdinand was hit in the jugular while his wife, Sophie, was shot in the stomach.  Sophie died first, despite Ferdinand’s impassioned pleas that she hold on, and the Archduke’s seemingly more serous wound.  Ten minutes after arriving at the Governor’s residence to be treated by trustworthy doctors, both the Archduke and his wife were dead.  Princip had been arrested on the spot.  His only stated regret was shooting the Archduke’s wife.  He claimed he had been aiming for the seated Bosnian Governor, accompanying the couple throughout the day.

The immediate impact showed that the Black Hand did not speak for Bosnia.  The next day, riots engulfed Austria and Bosnia – 1,000 Serbian homes and shops were burned and looted.  The local police forces did nothing to protect Serbian civilians, whose only crime had been their ethnicity.  It was a sign of things to come.

Descent into Madness: even newspaper opinion cartoons of the time understood what was about to happen. What would become the “July Crisis” would end in a global war.

A show trial of Gavrilo Princip would not start until October – by then the world was at war and few cared about the man who started it.  While many members of the conspiracy were hung, and Austria-Hungary had gone to war with Serbia over the assassination of it’s heir, Princip’s life was spared, sort of.  Too young by Austrian legal standards to face execution, Princip was given 20 years – that’s it.  He wouldn’t live to see the end of the war.  Imprisonment was brutal for Princip, who suffered from malnurishment and skeletal tuberculosis so bad that it ate away his bones until his right arm had to be amputated.  He died weighing merely 88-pounds.  Perhaps an execution would have been kinder.

If Princip suffered indignities in captivity, Franz Ferdinand suffered indignities in death – and his slights perhaps caused millions more to perish.

Ferdinand’s rival, Alfred, 2nd Prince of Montenuovo and head of the Royal Court, worked to turn Ferdinand’s funeral into a royal snub.  While foreign dignitaries were originally invited, in addition to the entire Austro-Hungarian monarchy, Alfred purposefully chose to keep the funeral to immediate family.  He ordered soldiers not to salute Ferdinand’s coffin as it was transported and even tried to make his children foot the bill for the funeral!  Alfred’s actions were deemed so cruel, the new Archduke led a minor internal revolt to force Alfred to allow Ferdinand the burial honors according to his rank.

But the real cost of snubbing Ferdinand was unknown to Alfred, or others in the Austrian monarchy.  Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, soon to become history’s villain for the forthcoming Great War, had communicated his willingness to use the funeral as a summit to prevent a conflict.  After all, most of the royal families that were about to declare war would be attending.  What better place to calm tempers, as he happened in previous dilemmas?

With Alfred’s snub, perhaps the last best chance to avoid war was missed.  There would be peace in the summer of 1914, for now.  But it was a peace to end all peace.

Sportucopia

…or things I don’t understand about Minnesota sports media coverage.

Mullet Over.  Let’s try a thought experiment to better understand NFL salary logic.  We’ll take two defensive ends for the same franchise.  One is 31 years-old, has 4 Pro Bowl appearances, 128.5 quarterback sacks, and has been named one of your franchise’s 50 best players.  The other is 30 years-old, has 39 sacks to his name, and might be most famous for kicking a Green Bay Packer in the crotch.  Now guess which one of them is considered to be at the end of his career while the other has just been resigned to a 4-year contract extension and is considered in his prime.

We’re often told that the NFL is simply a business – a rationale often employed when popular, successful veterans like the soon-to-be-former Minnesota Viking Jared Allen finds himself without a home.  And considering that Allen is looking for a salary around $10 million a year, in theory it becomes easier to understand why the Vikings decided to pass on renewing his contract – a team filled with holes could use that salary space to address other needs.   Continue reading

The Setting Sun

For nearly two years, the Axis had been mostly in retreat – fleeing from distant battlefields as the reach of the Axis’ leaders exceeded their grasp.  But on the morning of March 6th, 1944, the largest Axis offensive since Kursk began, and with it, an attempt to settle one of the many fronts on which the war was being fought.  On what had long been the relatively quiet frontier between Burma and India, the Japanese Army launched what their commander believed would be the decisive battle not just for India, but the entire Pacific War.

It would end with the costliest defeat in Japanese history.

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At the nexus of colonial ambition and military weakness during World War II, sat India.  Guarded jealously, and nervously, by the British, and desired desperately by the Japanese, the fate of India seemed permanently in flux – forever just out of reach of either being conquered or protected by two colonial empires whose focus lay elsewhere.

The 7th Rajput Regiment: over 2.5 million Indians volunteered to serve in the Indian Army in World War II, making it the largest all-volunteer fighting force in history (to that point).

Continue reading

The Stranded Whale

By the thousands they tumbled off their landing crafts.  Men, trucks, guns – 36,000 battle-hardened Allied troops supported by 3,200 vehicles and all delivered with nary a response from the Wehrmacht.  On the beaches of the fishing town of Anzio on January 22nd, it seemed that the Allied advance in Italy had finally achieved with Operation Shingle the breakthrough they had been searching for.

Instead, Anzio would become emblematic of the entire Italian campaign – poor planning, poor leadership, harsh terrain and heavy casualties over the course of a grueling near 6-month battle.

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By the beginning of 1944, Italy had been knocked out of the war - but the war hadn’t been knocked out of Italy.

S**t on a Shingle: despite what the pillowing smoke might suggest, the initial landings for Operation Shingle were essentially unopposed. 36,000 Allied soldiers landed at Anzio in one day, for the loss of only a little more than 100 men.  It would get much worse starting the next day.

Despite Italy’s formal switch to the Allied side in September of 1943, most the country’s territory remained in German hands.  Allied leadership, in particular U.S. 5th Army Gen. Mark Clark, had assumed that Germany would retreat to northern Italy, relinquishing most of the southern and central regions of the country.  Doing so would shorten German supply lines and allow for a greater concentration of forces.  But for Field Marshal Albert Kesselring, commander of German forces in Italy, doing so would also surrender mountainous, and easily defended, terrain.  A series of defensive fortifications, known collectively as the Gustav or Winter Line, stretching from Naples to Rome, were hastily erected.  The Allied occupation of Italy suddenly became a daunting affair.

Available Allied troops were few and far between.  As men and material were being sent to England in preparation for what would become the Normandy landings, U.S. and British commanders were being asked to attack rugged German positions with numerically equal (or sometimes inferior) forces.  Battles like Monte Cassino swallowed troops by the hundreds of thousands (250,000 on the Allied side alone from January to May of 1944) for little, if any, territorial gain.  The Allies had to find someway behind the German front.

American troops take cover against incoming German artillery. The Allied advance at Anzio, designed to be rapid, proved as slow and costly as the rest of the Italian campaign.

For Winston Churchill, the path behind Gustav and to Rome was via the town of Anzio.  It was not an entirely original concept.  The commander of the Allied armies in Italy, British General Harold Alexander, had proposed sending 5 divisions behind enemy lines, but he could not afford to take men away from Monte Cassino.  Nevertheless, Churchill badgered his generals, going so far as to accuse them of only “drawing pay and eating rations.”  Alexander’s concept was reintroduced and reduced to one division with the hopes that at least the move would draw away German resources.  The British believed success at Anzio could capture Rome and by-pass the entire Gustav Line.  The Americans believed it was a distraction at best; a suicide mission at worst.

If the Allies were confused as to the objective of Operation Shingle, their choice of landing ground didn’t make the mission any easier.  The Pontine Fields were flat, open ground flanked by mountains – easy pickings if the Germans held the high ground.  Worse, up until the 1930s, the Pontine Fields had been the Pontine Marshes.  Mussolini, desperate to show the achievements of fascism, had the marshes drained with a series of pumps in order to farm the land.  The Allies were landing in territory that could be flooded by water and enemy artillery with too few men for the job.  American Gen. John P. Lucas, the man assigned to Anzio, summed up his task grimly: ”They will end up putting me ashore with inadequate forces and get me in a serious jam… Then, who will get the blame?”

Gen. John P. Lucas: the general in charge of Operation Shingle. Lucas never believed in Shingle, knowing he was asked to do with half a force what a full force had not accomplished. Nevertheless, he took all the blame.

Despite the long odds against Shingle working, at first it seemed as though the Allied plan might succeed.

Lucas’ men made it 5 miles in-land on the first day, with little German opposition.   In fact, the timing seemingly couldn’t have been worse for the Germans.  Kesselring wasn’t surprised, he had assumed the Allies would attempt an amphibious invasion to get around his defenses, but he had already dispatched his reserves to the Gustav Line.  For a moment, just a moment, Kesselring prepared to abandon his positions and get north of Rome – a massive retreat.  He couldn’t afford the Allies getting behind his communications and supply lines.  The Allies had gambled and looked like they would win big.

Victory at Cisterna: one of the hardest battles of the Anzio campaign was initially a major defeat. The US 1st & 3rd Ranger Battalions squared off against the Hermann Göring division. Both Battalions were effectively destroyed.

Lucas knew none of this.  Fearful of being overrun, he bottled up his forces on the beachhead and awaited the German counterattack.  By January 29th, with the arrival of two more divisions (so much for the one division plan), Lucas now had 69,000 men ready to start an advance.  Churchill was despondent.  ”I had hoped we were hurling a wildcat into the shore,” he said, “but all we got was a stranded whale.”

The lost time had been fatal to the Allies’ efforts.  Now facing them were 71,500 German troops in defensive positions.  The U.S. 3rd Division’s advance out of Anzio at Cisterna was a debacle and showed what any further advance would cost in Allied lives.  The 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions found themselves cut off from the 3rd Division and against the vaulted Hermann Göring Division.  Not content to force the American Rangers to surrender, the German troops marched American POWs directly at the Allied line, shooting or bayoneting prisoners for every shot taken at their German captors.  This terror tactic was devastating effective.  Of the 767 men of the 1st and 3rd Ranger Battalions, 6 survived being killed or captured.

Only 4,500 Axis soldiers, Germans & Italians, were captured during the Battle of Anzio. Most escaped to fight another day.

By start of February, German forces outnumbered Allied troops at Anzio.  While the Anzio front had expanded, Krupp K5 railway guns, known as “Anzio Annie,” lobbed 560 pound artillery shells at the beachhead and German torpedo boats harassed landing craft.  Inch by inch, mile by mile, the Germans were turning the Allies back.  Anzio was increasingly looking like it might become the Gallipoli of the Second World War – itself another Churchill-inspired invasion that failed in the Great War.  By the middle of February, the last Allied defensive line at Anzio was under attack and Gen John P. Lucas, as he had predicted, had been blamed and removed from command.

Like he had so many times before, Adolf Hitler appeared to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  Kesselring had been given a largely free hand to make tactical decisions about the Italian front and that trust had paid dividends at Anzio.  But his troops were exhausted.  An offensive on Feb 16th, designed to break the final Allied line, had failed by the thinnest of margins.  20,000 Germans had been killed or wounded thus far, and Kesslering wisely knew he had at least achieved his goal of bottling up the Allies.  Hitler ordered another attack, producing only more casualties for Kesslering’s weakening 14th Army and ruling out future offensive operations.  The result underscored what Anzio had become – a stalemate.

A Italian woman looking for food: the scale of civilian death at Anzio is unknown, but an estimated 153,000 Italian civilians died during the fighting on their soil.

What had started as a one division operation eventually mutated into a 10-division, 150,000 man operation by May of 1944.  Men needed for other fronts, including elsewhere in Italy, found themselves trapped on the tiny Anzio beachhead.  Only after bleeding the German Army on multiple fronts did the Allies finally achieve their breakthrough, capturing Rome on June 4th, 1944.  Even that accomplishment found a way to become tainted, as not only was it overshadowed by the events of June 6th, but the decision to hold, in essence, a victory parade in the Italian capitol instead of pursuing the German 10th Army, would have bloody consequences.  Of the over 300,000 Allied casualties in the Italian campaign, more than half would come after the fall of Rome.

Bad Lieutenant

Can you fog a mirror? Then you too can be a lieutenant governor!

As Yvonne Prettner Solon bids farewell to the office of Lieutenant Governor, should Minnesota do so as well?

When it comes to political shockwaves, the announcement that Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon would not seek a second-term as Mark Dayton’s running-mate barely constitutes a ripple in the political waters.  And why not?  Over the past four years, Prettner Solon joined a long and undistinguished list of Minnesota lieutenant governors who served their time largely under the radar of the media and electorate.  Even Prettner Solon’s own webpage touts her “actions” as a small collection of out-of-state/out-of-country travels, with a dash of in-state touring on behalf of federal initiatives (helpfully spelling as a typo as well).

Prettner Solon’s (in)actions say less about her tenure than about the limitations of the office of lieutenant governor itself.

John Nance Garner’s infamous quote about the Vice-Presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm piss” (often sanitized as “warm spit”) might as well apply to Minnesota’s lieutenant governors.  With perhaps the exception of Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, who served as the commission of Transportation in the Pawlenty administration, Minnesota’s lieutenant governors have served almost no active role in policy direction or political leadership.

Indeed, the trend-lines for the state’s lieutenant governors have seemingly further minimized an insignificant position.  Whereas past lieutenant governors had gone on to serve in higher office, such as Rudy Perpich, Sandy Keith, Karl Rolvaag, C. Elmer Anderson and Edward Thye, the past several decades haven’t even seen lieutenant governors make a post-office political impact.  Joanne Benson, Joanell Dyrstad, and Marlene Johnson all made bids for higher office in the 1990s (Governor, U.S. Senate and St. Paul Mayor, respectfully) and lost – badly.  None of them even made to the general election.

All of this begs the question – does Minnesota require a Lieutenant Governor?

Seven states forgo the position, with two of those states, Tennessee and West Virginia, having the office of lieutenant governor be only an honorary title on the Speaker or President of the State Senate.  The line of succession, often the only value to the office, goes either to the Senate President or the Secretary of State.  In Minnesota, about the only other value to the office is as a gender counterweight to the top of the ticket.  Lou Wangberg was the last male lieutenant governor of the state – a fact useful only as trivia for political nerds.  Otherwise, every winning ticket (and most of the losing tickets) have had a female running-mate since 1982.

Closing the office of lieutenant governor won’t save Minnesota much.  The combined office budgets of the Governor and his lieutenant are only $3.3 million.  But if Minnesota could willingly end a constitutional office like State Treasurer, which had at least some active management in state affairs, then why not do the same for a office that has strayed far from any meaningful policy or political moorings?  Every candidate for governor claims they will reinvent the office of lieutenant governor with their selection.  Dayton himself promised that Prettner Solon would become a “strong partner” if elected.  If travelling to Canada and opening a Duluth office were parts of Dayton’s idea of partnership, he didn’t say in 2010.

Outside of the endorsement process for both parties, the role of lieutenant governor serves absolutely no purpose.  And in an era where it appears both parties are drifting away from placing much value on being the endorsed candidate for governor, whatever justifications remain for the office are quickly disappearing.

ADDENDUM: Even Prettner Solon seems to have expected more out of her office, if her comments at her press conference were accurate:

She has said she and the governor have a distant relationship. She said she anticipated being more involved in more policy initiatives as lieutenant governor, but she carved out a niche of her own working on initiatives for seniors and Minnesotans with disabilities.

Deleted Extras

Minnesota’s Film & Television Board faces a legislative re-write.

Like Hollywood, Minnesota’s relationship with the entertainment industry has seen a tumultuous career trajectory.  From being the ingenue of Midwestern locations in the 1990s, resulting in a bevy of films such as Fargo, Grumpy Old Men, The Mighty Ducks, to a discarded destination left in favor of Canada, Minnesota’s greatest entertainment legacy seemed to come more from the state’s exports (the Coen brothers; Diablo Cody) than production imports.

Left in Hollywood’s wake, two institutions survived – a small, but dedicated core of film and television technical professionals and the bureaucratic Minnesota Film and Television Board.  One group has created jobs; the other has lobbyists and now $10 million in tax incentives:

Six months after receiving a record $10 million to lure films to the state, the Minnesota Film & TV Board is under fire, with some legislators and industry insiders questioning whether it should exist at all.

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles’ concerns about the board have escalated to a point where he plans to seek a formal examination of it next month, when the legislative session begins. If the evaluation is unfavorable, funding for the program known as “Snowbate,” and even the board’s future, could be in jeopardy….

“In addition to an audit, an evaluation is really needed to address broad policy questions,” Nobles said. “Should the state be involved in supporting the film industry? If yes, what would be the most effective approach, and who should be in charge of that effort?”

The fate of the “Snowbate” and the Film Board itself seems to be a movie stuck on an infinite loop.  In the mid 2000s, and as recently as 2010, the necessity and/or effectiveness of the Film Board was constantly being called into question, as few films chose Minnesota as their location – even those scripted as taking place in the state.  Leatherheads, New in Town, Juno, Jennifer’s Body, Contagion and Young Adult all take place in Minnesota and with the modest exception of a few scenes of Young Adult, none shot a second of footage in the state.  Other films, like Homefront or Gran Torino were rewritten to reflect moving the location to outside Minnesota.

The Film Board has countered that they do create jobs, suggesting numbers as high as 338 full-time positions in return for $3.3 million in subsidies.  But film and television work, by its nature, is not “full-time” but merely temporary.  And considering the increasingly broad definitions of the Snowbate guidelines to include advertising campaigns and web-based content, it would appear that all the Snowbate is accomplishing is subsidizing temporary Minnesota-based work, not bringing in funds or employment from out of state.

Minnesota isn’t the only state that’s reexamining whether or not film tax credits actually bring in revenue.  Indeed, the trend-line seems to be going the other direction:

…It’s hard to get a good handle on the exact impact of an in-state movie production. In most places, the only reports on movie-production revenue and jobs come from the state film office–or the movie industry itself. Objective studies are relatively hard to come by. And even where independent studies of film incentives do exist, the data can easily be interpreted in myriad ways.

Take Massachusetts, which has offered a 25 percent film incentive since 2006 and already has attracted numerous big-name projects and stars, including Tom Cruise, Cameron Diaz, Leonardo DiCaprio and Mel Gibson. The Bay State is one of only a couple that require an annual, independent report on how the incentives are performing. When the most recent report was released by the Department of Revenue in July 2009, tax-incentive opponents said it unequivocally showed the credits weren’t working. According to the report, the state paid out $113 million in movie tax credits in 2008, while filming in the state generated $17.5 million in new tax revenue and created about 1,100 full-time-equivalent jobs for state residents.

Lost in the discussion is why so many films were attracted to Minnesota in the first place – the filmmakers were from here.  Mighty Ducks‘ director Mark Steven Johnson is a Hastings native.  Joe Somebody‘s writer John Scott Shepherd worked in the Twin Cities.  Thin Ice‘s director Jill Sprecher is a Wisconsin/Minnesota native.  And the list of below-the-line production people from Minnesota in Hollywood – the casting directors, the location scouts – is extensive.  Relatively few economic incentives were required (or even existed) in the 1990s to encourage filmmakers.  The same appears true today.  The limits of the Snowbate didn’t seem to stop the Coen brothers from shooting 2009′s A Serious Man in their hometown of St. Louis Park.

Minnesota isn’t going to win a contest of who can subsidize more Hollywood fare for little (or no) economic return.  And if even a navy-blue political state like Massachusetts can realize that film tax credits only result in a state being taken advantage of like a young actress on a casting couch, Minnesota might be able to come to a similar conclusion.

Start the Revolution Without Me

New York is anything but blasé as de Blasio takes office.

If Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was correct that States are the “laboratories of democracy,” then perhaps America’s cities are the petri dishes – developing political cultures at a micro level.

For 20 years, the Big Apple had largely quarantined the most aggressive tendencies of New York liberalism through a succession of centrist Mayors.  Even for all his nanny-state inclinations, Michael Bloomberg was (as we once noted) all that stood between the average Gothamite and an “army of liberal partisans who saw City Hall as Grand Central Station for a variety of socioeconomic engineering ideas.”

It should be of little surprise then that newly ensconced New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s campaign certainly looked like something engineered in a political science lab.  De Blasio’s “tale of two cities” rhetoric, his promises to end “income inequity” and repeal “stop and frisk” defined his candidacy as being in stark contrast to Bloombergian Era.  Despite Bloomberg polling at a 51% approval as he left office and his supposedly controversial police chief Ray Kelly at 64%, de Blasio won running directly against the accomplishments (and their architects) of prior two decades.  Voters who cared about crime and candidate experience – once centerpieces to any New York campaign – barely broke for Republican Joe Lhota, and constituted a paltry 15% of the vote.

De Blasio’s supporters haven’t minced words about the expectations his overwhelming election has created in liberal circles, calling his mayoralty a “progressive revolution.”  Such rhetoric, amplified by a litany of speakers at de Blasio’s inauguration that trashed Michael Bloomberg (with apparently with de Blasio’s consent, as he stated he was “very comfortable with all that was done”), glosses over what exactly entails a “progressive revolution”?

From the early previews, de Blasio’s “revolution” may resemble Michael Bloomberg’s in one key, and often criticized, factor – policy tinkering instead of major reforms.  Candidate de Blaiso talked on the campaign trail about affordable-housing projects, stopping hospital closures, and a tax on upper-income earners to fund, in part, universal pre-kindergarten.  The first act of Mayor de Blasio was to end the handsome cab, horse-draw carriages – a move that drew criticism left and right, and even speculation that the position was based on a campaign pay-off.

Even when de Blasio talks about broader political themes, such his obsession with reducing “income inequality,” it’s rarely followed by policy prescriptions that will address the issue.  Some of de Blasio’s proposals will require support from Albany to enact, including aspects of his desired pre-K and after-school programs, while others reek of desperation to find an agenda, regardless of impact or practicality.  De Blasio declared he would expand the Paid Sick Leave law…which was just passed months ago and hasn’t even been enforced yet.  De Blasio campaigned on a goal of “zero deaths” in New York –  a policy that sounds like it was crafted by King Canute the Great.

If de Blasio truly wanted to address “income inequality,” he could look at New York’s punitive tax structure.  A married couple with $60,000 in taxable income pays nearly $2,000 in taxes to the city alone.  That doesn’t include the 25% federal tax rate for a couple in that income bracket, or the State of New York’s $3,200 in taxes as well.  Without including property taxes, school board levies, and a host of other taxes (how about the city’s 8.875% sales tax?), a couple with $60,000 in earned income would be paying out over $20,000 in taxes in one of the most expensive cities in the world.  Is that “equality”?

Kim Impossible

Bring me the Baha Men and the dogs they helped escape!

Are the Kims just crazy or crazy as a fox?

If there’s any regime on the planet that’s been only a Turkish Angoran cat and a monocle away from being a James Bond villain, it’s been the Kim dynasty of North Korea.  From the regime’s nuclear weapons program, to attacking the South Korean navy, shelling a South Korean island, and even declaring a “state of war” with their southern neighbors last March, North Korea has created a reputation as a teetering, despotic dynasty constantly on the verge of either collapse or thermonuclear genocide.  Or perhaps both.

Such an image has been cultivated, in large part, by the cult of personalty surrounding the Kims – and nourished by the reputation of them engaging in downright theatrically outlandish acts of evil.  So it is any wonder that news reports have surfaced that Kim Jong Un didn’t merely executed his purged uncle Jang Song Thaek, the number 2 North Korean official, but fed him alive to 120 dogs? (skip ahead if you’re squeamish):

“Then 120 hounds, starved for three days, were allowed to prey on them until they were completely eaten up. This is called ‘quan jue’, or execution by dogs,” according to the Straits Times of Singapore. The daily relied on a description of the execution in a Hong Kong newspaper that serves as the official mouthpiece of China’s government.

“The entire process lasted for an hour, with Mr. Kim Jong Un, the supreme leader in North Korea, supervising it along with 300 senior officials,” the Straits Times said in a piece published Dec. 24, 2013, but only now getting traction in the United States.

There’s no report yet if when Jang Song Thaek asked Dear Leader if he expected him to talk, Kim Jong Un replied “no, Mr. Thaek, I expect you to die.”

All terrible Bond jokes aside, if the accusations sounds far fetched, it’s because they likely are:

The source is questionable, too. If the Chinese knew about how Kim’s uncle died, why didn’t they talk about it sooner and why did the story only leak out through a Hong Kong news outlet? The incident was first reported by the Wen Wei Po newspaper on December 12, yet it’s only now that The Straits Times has commented upon it – and only now that the Western media has started to take notice. The Straits Times is a respectable and widely read publication, but it’s often been accused of being the mouthpiece of Singapore’s ruling party and is staunchly anti-communist – so political bias is possible. Finally, we can’t dismiss the possibility that China itself has fabricated or at least encouraged the story to send a message to Pyongyang. Kim’s uncle was the architect of closer economic ties between the China and North Korea and there is thought to be a lot of anger about his death.

The story exists because it serves the purposes of all parties involved.  Kim Jong Un needs to maintain the aura of “crazy” that his grandfather and father created, for both foreign and domestic opponents.  Kim was reportedly the target of an assassination attempt last March by rival factions, perhaps being the impetus for Kim’s declaration of “war” later that month as an effort to put the country on a heightened security footing without exposing the weakness of his grip on power.

China loves the story because it gives them a further excuse to distant themselves from the hermit state after having lost their greatest internal political champion in Jang Song Thaek.  The South Koreans love the story because Pres. Park Geun-hye has taken a much harder line against the North, abandoning the “Sunshine Policy” of the 2000s in favor of a more Reaganesquse “trust but verify” approach (billed astrustpolitik by some foreign policy pundits).

The “Kims-as-crazy” story angle ensures no sizable shift in policy on the Korean peninsula, even though there has been a massive shift away from the reconciliation that the Sunshine Policy (1998-2008/9) attempted.  In an effort to extort South Korea and drive a wedge between them and the U.S., the Kims’ reckless behavior accomplished the exact opposite.

So perhaps the Kims are simply crazy after all.

Pol Position Deux – Frankensense

We return to look at the nascent Minnesota GOP race for U.S. Senate.  We broke down the GOP governor’s battle royale here.

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While the Minnesota GOP governor’s race has attracted most of the attention from the state’s punditry and conservative activists, the race for U.S. Senate has been at best a political red-headed stepchild – an electoral Clint Howard.  A bevy of unheralded candidates and little money raised hasn’t fundamentally altered the state of the race since July.  This despite the increasingly polling weakness of Sen. Al Franken.

Much like the man who he’ll likely be sharing the top of the DFL ticket with, Gov. Mark Dayton, Sen. Al Franken has seen his approval rating collapse, with the last six months essentially undo six years of polling gains following his contested 312-vote margin of victory.  Franken’s approval rating has dipped to 39%, with a bare majority of 51% disapproving.  Ideologically sympathetic pollsters have pegged Franken’s percentages much higher, but his 10-12% early head-to-head numbers against a mostly unknown GOP field suggests Minnesota’s junior senator hasn’t found the political elixir that Sen. Amy Klobuchar rode to victory just a scant 12+ months ago.  The question remains whether Republicans can take advantage. Continue reading

Pol Position Deux – The Race to Summit (Ave)

We breakdown the state of the GOP race for governor.  We offer a similar analysis of the GOP Senate contest here.

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The seasons have changed significantly since our last detailed analysis of the GOP governor’s race – and so has the political climate.

Last July, Minnesota’s political commentariat had all but official declared Gov. Mark Dayton the winner in his 2014 re-election effort.  Sporting a 57% approval rating, despite a legislative session that saw no shortage of controversial bills (including a warehouse tax even the Star Tribune editorial board begged Dayton to reconsider), Dayton looked in good position to cruise through the fall and winter political doldrums.

Fast-forward six months and Mark Dayton’s numbers are dropping as quickly as the temperature.  Dragging a 52% disapproval rating into the 2014 session, Dayton has been eager to recast his imagine as a traditional tax-and-spend liberal, suggesting he’d return the bulk of Minnesota’s projected $1.1 billion surplus (minus erasing the shift in education dollars) as tax cuts.  The reception to the concept has only been slightly warmer than absolute zero in the DFL caucus, framing a potential conflict between Dayton’s yearning for re-election aid and the legislative desires for more spending.

Tax cuts or not, Dayton’s greatest potential saving grace may simply be his opposition. Continue reading

Bob and Carol & Jane & Alice

Two’s company; three’s potentially legal

A narrow national majority favors same-sex marriage.  Will that majority favor a plurality?

When it comes to debating social issues, the  ”slippery slope” argument often holds the least amount of traction.  As Minnesota was racked by contentious debate surrounding last year’s marriage amendment, one of the litany of debate volleys was that opening the door to same-sex marriage could inevitability lead to polygamy.  Same-sex marriage supporters dismissed the notion, suggesting the argument was tangential at best, and a “scare tactic” at worst.

Boo:

Advocates for so-called plural marriages are applauding a ruling by a U.S. District Court judge that struck down key segments of Utah’s anti-polygamy law, saying they violated constitutional rights to privacy and religious freedom.

In a 91-page decision issued Friday, Judge Clark Waddoups effectively decriminalized polygamy in Utah, ruling that a central phrase in the state’s law forbidding cohabitation with another person violated the 1st and 14th amendments.

In all fairness, the lawsuit, brought about by the stars of the TLC reality show “Sister Wives”, depicting a Utah Mormon family with one legal wife and three “wives” who live with them, was more over striking down language that prevented religious cohabitation than actually allowing polygamy.  Kody Brown, the “star” of “Sister Wives” remains only legally married to one woman.  But proponents and opponents of polygamy alike agree that the ruling has opened the door to potentially allowing multiple partners in a marriage.

The debate reached the pages of the New York Times, and in true Gray Lady fashion, presented four arguments in favor of what is now being called “plural marriage” with only two dissenting points of view.  To ape T.S. Eliot, this is how social convention dies, not with a bang, but with a series of op-eds.

If the contours of the New York Times‘ debate on polygamy looked familiar, they should – because they neatly conform to the same lines of argument that have defined the same-sex marriage debate.  Laws against polygamy are discrimination.  Plural marriage advocates deserve respect and dignity.  Plural marriage makes us freer as a society.  Heck, even the arguments against “scare tactics” make a triumphant return.  Opponents can sight studies showing the negative effects of polygamy on women and children, but essentially are reduced to arguing that the move represents a further tumble down that ill-defined “slippery slope.” Continue reading

Occupy Vatican

Lighten up, Francis.

Most observers, Catholic or not, recognized the sea-change brought about by Pope Francis I.  An Argentinian Cardinal, Francis supposed a move left for the Catholic Church from the days of Pope Benedict XVI and John Paul II.  While Francis hasn’t shocked many with his bending on social issues, his most boisterous attacks have been on economic issues – a move leftward he restated by declaring “unfettered capitalism” a “new tyranny.”

The move isn’t exactly unprecedented.  Pope Benedict XVI voiced deep reservations about modern capitalism. In his encyclical Caritas in Veritate, Benedict reiterated “progressive” stances in areas of public unions and economic redistribution; areas often overshadowed within the media by Benedict’s undoubted commitment to baroque liturgies and traditional moral norms.  The election of Pope Francis caused everyone from full-time Vaticanologists to the average Catholic in the pew to recognize a shift, a change of emphasis and style, and a laser-like focus on poverty from the new pope.  Continue reading

Blight of Day

Is Detroit’s new-found cause célèbre ignoring the past to cloud the future?

George Clooney had the Sudan.  Bono has Africa.  Anthony Bourdain – and much of the American media - apparently has Detroit.

Michigan’s So Not Grand Central Station: built in 1912 and on the national registry of historic places. It was closed in 1988 and is one of Detroit’s estimated 78,000 abandoned buildings.

In recent months, the city of Detroit has witnessed two narratives arise in Phoenix-like fashion from the economic ashes of the city, often in conjecture with themselves.  One is the purported economic revitalization of the city that gave birth to Motown and the American automotive industry.  It is a narrative fostered by Quicken Loans founder (and Cleveland Cavs owners) Dan Gilbert who, among others, has put millions into Detroit to try and restore its grandeur.  The other narrative, the so-called “ruin porn” seen in picture form below, depicts Detroit as a third-world ghetto.  A Somalia on the St. Clair River.

The former delights the denizens of Detroit with hopes of a better future.  The latter rankles them.  Gilbert himself expressed outrage when 60 Minutes balance their report on the Motor City between Gilbert’s altruism and the destruction of the out-lying portions of the city, comparing it to Dresden after the Allied bombing of World War II.  Gilbert tweeted a defiant message, stating “a city’s soul that will not die was the story & they missed it.”  But even a sympathetic, blue-collar soul as Bourdain, whose CNN show Parts Unknown highlighted the city last night, saw the need to balance Detroit’s attempts to pick itself up off the ground with the stark realities of a city undone.

The Fisher Body Plant: once part of the GM empire

Both narratives ignore the Chrysler in the room – how Detroit got to where it is today.

If the “ruin porn” industry renders pity without judgement, the acts of Dan Gilbert and others, as well-intended as they obviously are, seek a future for Detroit without acknowledging its past or present.  Not once in 60 Minutes‘ coverage did the story’s telejournalism deal with the political causes for Detroit’s decay - a corrupt, one-party institution burrowed like a tick into City Hall.  Equally, if differently, ignorant are the views of Gilbert et al who believe that once their plans to remove all of Detroit’s blight (78,000 buildings), capital will come easily rushing back into the city:

Gilbert is no fan of urban farming, though. When he envisions land cleared of  blight, he sees developers rushing in to build anew…

“When that blight is gone, maybe we don’t have to be talking about shrinking cities because it will be such a rush of people who want to get into low-value housing — when all the utilities are there and the land is pretty much close to free— not exactly free, but close to it — and all the utilities are there, it becomes very cheap for a builder/developer to develop a residential unit, and they are going to develop them and develop them in mass as soon as we get the structures down and maybe we don’t have to worry about raising peas or corn or whatever it is you do in the farm.”

The Highland Park Police Station: even Detroit’s police stations no longer want anything to do with the city

And what will cause developers (yet alone individuals or businesses) to return to a city with the highest property tax rate in the country?  What will encourage retail industries when Michigan’s sales tax is 6% on top of that?  Detroit’s backers can honestly claim that the city ranks no where near the top of the tax chain (Detroit ranks 92nd nationally; Minneapolis is 52nd by comparison).  But the tax climate is far from ideal, especially the dubbed ”most dangerous city in America” with a murder rate 10-times the national average.  Throw in a 58-minute response time for police, to attract businesses back, Detroit may literally need the fictional hero RoboCop (to whom a statue is being built - seriously).

There isn’t much evidence that Detroit is about to change its ways.

The Merrill Fountain at Palmer Park: has sat empty for 50 years since being moved from the Opera House.  Vandals have stolen much of it.

The Merrill Fountain at Palmer Park: has sat empty for 50 years since being moved from the Opera House. Vandals have stolen much of it.

Since Governor Rick Snyder’s decision to appoint emergency manager Kevyn Orr last spring, Detroit’s journey to bankruptcy has been managed with minimal (some would say no) input from City Hall.  As the case has headed to court, where Orr has testified about Detroit’s long-term debts of $18 billion, city officials have fought the measure almost every step of the way.  The election of Mike Duggan as mayor, the former head of the Detroit Medical Center, has been advertised as the promotion of a turnaround artist.  But while Duggan had success revitalizing the city’s Medical Center, Duggan also ran on opposing Orr’s decisions and comes as a political protégé of former Wayne County Executive Edward McNamara – an official who backed the cartoonishly corrupt Kwame Kilpatrick and had FBI agents and state police raid his own office in November 2002, over alleged corruption in airport contracts and campaign fundraising.  Meet the new boss.

The American Hotel: built in 1926, the hotel is 11 stories high with over 300 rooms. It has remained vacant since the early 90′s.

Oh, there have been the requisite platitudes.  Duggan and Orr have broken bread in what was described as a “very good first meeting.”  And Duggan has said all the right things that a reformer would state, such as being “a huge believer in lean processing. If you are not excellent at making systems work, you cannot survive…”

But the inertia of the status quo has been apparent even after only one week from the election.  The Michigan House Appropriations Committee ranking Democrat Rep. Fred Durhal, Jr. is angry that Duggan hasn’t called him yet.  Metro Detroit AFL-CIO President Chris Michalakis essentially threw down a polite ultimatum that Duggan must “honor” his commitment to working families, while suggesting the labor doesn’t trust the new mayor.  Duggan claims he just wants a seat at the table as Detroit’s debts are solved, and if Synder and Orr are smart, they’ll allow it.

Wilbur Wright High School: closed in 2005, this building actually is among the few on this list that has been demolished. 10,000 buildings have been torn down in Detroit since 2010.

The decision to abrogate Detroit’s city government in the bankruptcy process may have been politically necessary (Detroit certainly hasn’t come to grips with its position despite many, many, many opportunities), but doing so has allowed Snyder and Orr to play the villain while the usual suspects who caused this economic disaster play the victim.  However, it’s also allowed Snyder to take all the credit too.  67% of Michigan voters approved the move back in March (including 41% of Detroit), and the decision has given Snyder a welcome bump in his approval rating.  That’s a short term political fix to a long-term structural problem.

Mike Duggan may be a product of the system that failed Detroit, but he’s viewed warily by both it.  Orr’s contract expires in the fall of 2014; Duggan and the City Council can vote whether or not to renew it – almost literally the only voice they have in the process.  If that’s the first time Duggan has to impact the process, he’ll have likely caved by then to labor, vote to end Orr’s tenure and – more importantly – work to undo reforms set in place.  Should Rick Snyder not return in 2015, an opportunity to address Detroit’s deeper fundamental problems will have passed and a new administration will slap a band-aid bailout on the city, and hope more journalists write about Dan Gilbert than urban hunters who live off of raccoon to supplement their meals.