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.

Rudymentary

Christie’s Real Weight Problem – the punditry’s baggage of Rudy Giuliani’s 2008 bid

Does Chris Christie have a Rudy Giuliani-sized lump on his body politic?

While the fat jokes about New Jersey Governor Chris Christie started long before he was elected (recall Jon Corzine’s much-maligned ad from 2009), Christie’s political weight has been the only thing in the governor’s mansion packing on the pounds in recent months.  Thanks in multiple parts to a weak Democrat challenger, a compliant press corps, and a Democrat-leaning special election held weeks earlier, Chris Christie’s 22% margin of victory in ultramarine blue New Jersey has vaunted him to the top of the incredibly-too-early-to-reasonably-speculate GOP sweepstakes.

Christie’s critics suggest his numerous derivations from conservative orthodoxy and penchant for picking fights with his own party spell his early primary doom – presumably because they’ve never met Mitt Romney or John McCain.  But the early line of attack that does seem to be gaining some traction with the only segment of the electorate who cares this early – the punditry – is that Christie is too east coast, too combative.  Too Rudy Giulianiesque: Continue reading

Fits and Starts

Jerry by the Numbers: 12 wins, 4 seizures (and 16 losses)

The debate over the future of Jerry Kill’s tenure at the U of M gets seized by political correctness.

The scene last Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium was tragically familiar – the Minnesota Golden Gophers head coach lying down, surrounded by medical staff, the victim yet again of his epileptic condition.  It was the fourth such game-day incident since Jerry Kill inherited the mess of a program left by booster-in-chief Tim Brewster.  And as reports trickled in throughout the weekend, conflicting stories surfaced about how many off-field seizures Kill has had since joining the Gophers, with numbers as high as nearly a dozen seizures in one week being casually thrown about by sports radio talking heads.

Ever-present in the wake of Kill’s latest health scare was the maddening silence from Athletic Director Norwood Teague, or any official from the University of Minnesota.  Teague would eventually issue the standard press release of support backing his head coach, but not before Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan did what most journalists and sports commentators have apparently found verboten to discuss - is Jerry Kill’s health a determinant to the football program?

Even those who admire him most can’t believe that he should keep coaching major college football after his latest episode. Either the stress of the job is further damaging his health, or his health was in such disrepair that he shouldn’t have been hired to coach in the Big Ten in the first place.

The face of your program can’t belong to someone who may be rushed to the hospital at any moment of any game, or practice, or news conference. No one who buys a ticket to TCF Bank Stadium should be rewarded with the sight of a middle-aged man writhing on the ground. This is not how you compete for sought-after players and entertainment dollars.

The reaction to Souhan’s comments showed precisely why few, if any, major media figures have dared to broach the subject.

Souhan’s column was deemed “ill-informed, dishonorable, and just plain nasty.”  Callers into Dan Barreiro’s KFAN radio show denounced the topic even being discussed, with one caller even comparing the questioning of Kill’s fitness to coach as a form of bigotry.  Multiple voices demanded Jim Souhan be fired.  And all this just for questioning the health of a coach whose had four seizures in 28 games.

Souhan’s harshest criticism was directed not at Jerry Kill, who has little control over the frequency and severity of his seizures, but at Teague’s combination of silence and dismissive attitude on the matter.  The lack of information from Teague allows speculation to run rampant (how many seizures has Kill really had since coming to Minnesota?) and fosters the concern that Kill’s health is a bigger hurdle to the program than assumed.  Such silence doesn’t help when there are legitimately poorly-informed commentaries on the issue, such as CBS Sports‘ Gregg Doyel who believes Kill is taking his life in his hand by continuing to coach.  But credit Jim Souhan for starting a conversation that needs to be taking place, if not in public, than at least in private within the University.

Removing Jerry Kill based solely on his health is almost certainly impossible, as the University would quickly run into Americans with Disabilities Act provisions.  But a negotiated buyout of Kill’s contract, right now at $1.2 million a year for the next five years, might be possible – if extraordinarily expensive.

The better question is should Kill step down?

Let’s dispense, if we can, with the obvious.  Jerry Kill is admirable for coming as far as he has with his condition and seems like an honorable man and a competent coach.  Stepping down from his job would be a major career reversal and disappointment for both Kill and fellow epileptic individuals from whom he rightly ought to be a role model.   But if stress is a major factor in Kill’s epilepsy, how exactly will that stress lessen as the coach of a Big 10 team on gameday?  What if Kill suffers another seizure while leading against a top-ranked team?  Or in a major bowl game?  Will fans be as accommodating with his condition if they believe, rightly or wrongly, that his health cost them a game?  Forget the opinion of fans, how will recruits react to Kill’s health?

If Kill’s condition worsens, even with the program reducing his day-to-day activities, at what point has the University reduced Jerry Kill to more of a figurehead than an administrator?  Given the trajectory of Kill’s health, with seemingly an increasing number of seizures, that point may be coming sooner than anyone wishes.

ADDENDUM: The Star Tribune editorial board, rarely a fount of wisdom, offers the definitive assessment of the impact Jerry Kill’s health has on the team – and it comes from the coach himself:

[Kill] confessed that a seizure he suffered during halftime of last November’s Michigan State game had been a low point for him because he realized “you can’t be the head football coach and miss half of the game.” If that were happening all the time, “the university wouldn’t have to fire me,” Kill said. “I’d walk away if I didn’t think I could do it.”

#Still So Focused

“Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation – foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees. Pro-lockout players are “douchebags” who stand for “pretty much the definition of greed.” His opponents are “a**hole f**kwits”, which also suggests he’s a plagiarist since I’m sure he stole that from Oscar Wilde.” – SITD, May 6th

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“plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” — “the more it changes, the more it’s the same thing” – novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

Stay classy, Mr. Kluwe.

The Axis Breaks

By the standards of his twenty-one years of rule, Benito Mussolini’s meeting at the Italian Royal Palace of Caserta was an unusual one.  The head of the Italian government and self-styled Il Duce (The Leader) of Fascism, Mussolini was unaccustomed to being given orders.  But in addition to his other titles, Mussolini was also the Prime Minister and, in theory, although not in practice, subservient to the Italian Monarch Victor Emmanuel III.

With Sicily invaded on July 10th and Rome bombed for the first time on the 19th, Mussolini believed he was to modestly report to the diminutive (both in size and stature) Monarch.  Barely a few sentences into their meeting, Emmanuel III shocked his guest by declaring he was enacting his right to remove Il Duce from power.  A stunned Mussolini emerged from Caserta only to be arrested by the Carabinieri or military police.  The father of Fascism, the man whose ideology inspired countless imitators around the world and indirectly launched the most destructive war in human history was deposed.

Benito the Beneficent: Mussolini in 1923 at the height of his popularity among the democracies

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Doubting Thomas

“I censored myself for 50 years when I was a reporter. Now I wake up and ask myself, ‘Who do I hate today?’” – Helen Thomas

The Grand Dame of the Washington Press Corps files her last report.  Will they regret giving her so much deference?

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The memoriams to Helen Thomas have thus far ventured no where near hagiography-status, due largely to the anti-Semitic statements and acrimonious questions that defined her later years.  But to follow Thomas’ career trajectory is to follow the style and influence of the mainstream media.  Thomas admirably fought her way into the newsroom, asked probing questions with at least a veneer of respect (hence, her concluding remarks of “thank you, Mr. President” after every presidential press conference), and then devolved into a caricature of an angry, biased reporter holding some extremely ugly and racist views.

Indeed, it would appear that most of Helen Thomas’ biography resides in her later years as she viewed American foreign policy through a Star of David lens, leading even prominent liberals to ostracize her.  Much of the coverage of her passing, from news reports to her Wikipedia page, focus largely on her 2010 comments on Israel, declaring that Israelis should “go home” to Europe and the United States.

Thomas’ start in the media was anything but controversial.

The daughter of Lebanese immigrants, Thomas worked as a reporter for the United Press in 1943 on “women’s topics” – essentially fluff articles on baking and clothing.  It wasn’t until the mid-1950s, after having written the equivalent of Washington gossip columns, that Thomas was able to cover major federal agencies and far more noteworthy news items.  From her post as the head of the Women’s National Press Club and later a White House correspondent during the Kennedy administration, Thomas was able to get women a greater role in journalism – having previously been denied access to organizations like the National Press Club and events like the White House Correspondents Dinner.

Worthwhile accomplishments, to be sure.  But having spent most of her professional life fighting for acceptance, even once Thomas was in the door, she couldn’t stop her role as an endless antagonist to those she personally disagreed with.  Thomas was most certainly not an “example for journalists,” although her behavior of biased reporting and lack of decorum has definitely been followed by many current reporters.

Thomas’ defenders often claim she was a bitter pill to politicians of all stripes.  Of course, Thomas’ White House harangues for Democrats typically involved criticizing them for not moving further left, as she once famously declared that Barack Obama was not liberal.  Bill Clinton “personified the human spirit” while George W. Bush was the “worst president in history.”  When Thomas joined the Hearst Syndicate in 2000, whatever restraint she had held before vanished, hence her above quote about being able to “hate” whomever she pleased.

From trail-blazer, to provocateur, to angry activist with a byline – does that not also describe the evolving role of the mainstream media in the past 60 years?  Thomas was unfortunately another trendsetter in the end – a forerunner of the mixture between opinion and reporting; of a style of journalistic coverage that smears ideological opponents and debases politics regardless of facts.  Stephen Colbert might recoil at the thought, but Helen Thomas was one of the originators of the “truthiness” that Comedy Central’s mock conservative loves to sling at others.

I’m a liberal, I was born a liberal, and I will be a liberal till the day I die. – Helen Thomas

Cracks in the Armor

Amid the carnage of the massive Kursk offensive, on the morning of July 10th, the 1st SS Panzergrenadier Division Leibstandarte Adolf Hitler set out to create a small bridgehead as part of a larger advance on the settlement of Prokhorovka.  The Leibstandarte, once Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguards, were an elite SS unit, often spearheading attacks in the East.  Despite two days of tough fighting, the Leibstandarte made no progress against the Soviet 52nd Guards Rifle Division.

With such elite units gaining no ground, both German and Soviet local commanders believed the solution to breaking the stalemate at Prokhorovka was more armor.  Little could they have known they were setting the stage for one of the largest (if not the largest) tank battle in history.

Armor All: 300/400 German tanks squared off against maybe as many as 870 Soviet tanks in the largest mobile armored battle in history

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Pol Position – The Race to Summit (Ave)

We broke down the GOP race for US Senate here.  We now take a similar look at the Governor’s contest.

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To listen to the polling establishment that gave us Govs. Mike Hatch, Skip Humphrey and the ’02 version of Sen. Walter Mondale, Republicans should just give up any notion that Mark Dayton could be defeated in 2014.  Dayton posts a 57% approval rating, up from 43% just this past February.  Of course, Tim Pawlenty was sporting a 54% approval rating around this time in his first-term, in what turned out to a nail-bitter of an election decided by Mike Hatch’s failure to attend his anger management class.  And Dayton’s polling numbers, like most politicians, seem to go up when the legislature is out of session and thus his name is off the front pages.

Unlike with the Senate race, GOP interest in the gubernatorial nomination is high and has attracted among the best Republican office-holders still standing after 2012.  The highest profile Republicans may have passed on running (Pawlenty, Coleman, Kline, Paulsen), but if the current crop of candidates represents the GOP “B Team,” they’re certainly stronger than the 2010 field.  And unlike 2010, they probably are more aware of what advertising deluge awaits the winner from the Alliance for a Better More Expensive Minnesota.

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Pol Position – Frankensense

Back in March, we broke down the various Republican contenders and pretenders looking to make a statewide bid in 2014.  Since then, there’s been a bevy of candidates and plenty of armchair analysis that’s been backlogged.

We start by breaking down the emerging GOP race for US Senate.  We take a similar look at the Governor’s race here.

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On the surface, Minnesota Republicans should have 312 reasons to want a strong challenger to Sen. Al Franken.

But with a party mired in debt and warring factions, and following a nearly one million vote margin of defeat against Sen. Amy Klobuchar, there have been ample reasons why Franken has been off the GOP radar as a potential target.  Running for Senate is an extremely expensive proposition, with a price-tag likely around $10-15 million minimum (Franken raised $22.5 million in 2008) – a tall order for anyone, especially candidates with limited name ID.

Still, Franken remains the candidate who won in a bitterly contested race and whom even Democrats had doubts about, hence the last-minute primary candidacy of Priscilla Lord Faris in 2008.  Franken leads potential rivals right now by margins around 15-16%, a testament in part to the incumbent’s name ID.  Keep in mind, Norm Coleman lead Franken by 15% as late as July of 2008 (an admitted outlier of a poll, to be sure), reminding activists of all stripes of the “tempest in a tea pot” nature of all polling data.

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Without a Kluwe

The foot of the Minnesota Vikings’ punter will no longer be in his mouth.

Chris Kluwe: so focused on his job

There is a truism in all professional life that your cost, real or perceived, cannot outweigh your value.  Once that threshold is crossed, there is often little incentive for an employer to maintain such an employee.

Of course, that truism seems to take an extraordinary beating when it comes to being applied in the world of professional sports.  Athletes are excused all manner of crimes and statements while staying employed.  Kobe Bryant hardly suffered despite allegations of rape.  Michael Vick emerged from jail for the cruel practice of dog fighting and resumed his NFL career.  Mike Tyson’s been in and out of jail three times.  If he goes back a forth time, apparently it’s free.

Chris Kluwe: so totally focused on his job

In that light, the Minnesota Vikings’ expected release of outspoken punter/gay-marriage advocate/musician/video-game enthusiast/Deadspin contributor/gameboard store owner/all-around stunted adolescent Chris Kluwe hardly seems fair.  Kluwe has maintained a decent-to-high punting yards average since joining the NFL (notwithstanding his drop to 22nd in the NFL in 2012). And in a league that doesn’t even have a punter in their Hall of Fame (another source of Kluwe-influenced controversy), Kluwe may be the most relatively famous punter in history.

The problem?  None of that notoriety comes from his actions on the field.  The Star Tribune’s Chip Scoggins danced around the elephant in the stadium when he wrote Kluwe’s Vikings career post-mortem in advance:

Kluwe’s departure will make the Vikings locker room a lot more dull because he is incredibly intelligent, articulate and passionate about societal issues. He’s a fascinating individual in a sport that breeds conformity. The NFL has become so big and so powerful that players often cling to political correctness for fear that a ripple might swell into a tidal wave. Kluwe is that surfer dude on top of the wave, hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion.

“No single thing that I do defines me as a person,” he said. “Just because I play football, that doesn’t define me as a person.”

Chris Kluwe: like so very focused on his job

The message is unmistakable – Chris Kluwe’s gay marriage advocacy cost him his job.  And Scoggins et al are correct…sort of.

Kluwe’s value to the Minnesota Vikings was as a $1.4 million a year player at a reasonably expendable position.  Simply put – you don’t get to be a distraction if you’re easily replaceable.  And by every definition, Chris Kluwe is a distraction.  Kluwe has run his mouth on issues beyond gay marriage.  He’s been fined for “campaigning” for Ray Guy to get into the Hall of Fame.  He’s appeared on the website Deadspin several times over the 2011 NFL Lockout where he attacked numerous players over their views.

Chris Kluwe: so super duper focused on his job

Worse, Kluwe’s tactics are the epitome of his generation – foul-mouthed personal attacks against anyone who disagrees.  Pro-lockout players are “douchebags” who stand for “pretty much the definition of greed.”  His opponents are “a**hole f**kwits”, which also suggests he’s a plagiarist since I’m sure he stole that from Oscar Wilde.

In truth, the media needs Chris Kluwe’s release to be about his vocal and abusive activism.  Because admitting to solidarity with Kluwe’s political views, and his ability to deliver good copy to sportswriters and sports radio networks, is harder than portraying the SoCal punter as a victim of a 1st Amendment NFL crackdown.  Does anyone seriously believe that if Kluwe had come out passionately against gay marriage (ala Matt Birk), and saw his production dive, that those arguing against Kluwe’s release today would be defending his penchant to “hanging 10 on any issue that stirs his emotion”?

Chris Kluwe: so focused…on finding his next job

Kluwe mocked even his own Special Teams coach for suggesting the punter needed to focus on his job with the hashtag “so focused.”  Here’s hoping that Chris Kluwe finds the time to focus on realizing that being a public relations bully to those who don’t share his worldview isn’t the best way to advance what’s left of his career.