Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Event At Sarajevo

What started as a simple post on the events of this day a century ago ends up extending to a discussion of the Munich Agreement, America's experience in Iraq and flickering lamps  . . .

On July 28, 1914 the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the throne of the Empire of Austria-Hungary was assassinated, along with his wife Sophie, in the streets of Sarajevo, a town within the empire's province of Bosnia Herzegovina.  It was only happenstance, a wrong turn by the driver of the Archduke's open top car shortly after several abortive attempts by pistol and bomb to kill him, that placed the occupants of the vehicle in the direct path of fire for a 19 year old Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip.  The wrong turn occurred in the wake of the Archduke's impromptu decision to go to the hospital to visit those wounded in the earlier bombing; as Ari Shapiro noted in a report on NPR:

"Today, if something like that happened, the vehicles would race away from the scene as fast as they could . . . But not in 1914: This was European nobility at the turn of the century."

The killings precipitated a chain of events, unforeseen by most in the immediate aftermath, leading to Austria-Hungary's declaration of war on Serbia on July 28 and a week later the entry of Russia, Germany, France and the United Kingdom into what was to become known as World War I ending the long 19th century that began in 1789 with the inauguration in April of George Washington as President of the new American republic and the start of the first phase of the French Revolution that summer.
(Man in funny hat & moustache shot; millions die)
The path to war prompts one to think about the larger issues of how best to react to provocation and the unpredictability of events following both the provocation and the reaction which has continuing relevance for all of us.  The plot to kill Ferdinand was directed and assisted at fairly high levels with the government of Serbia with the gang of assassins launched from that country into Austria-Hungary with the assistance of a covert organization associated with the Serbian intelligence services.  Ideologically, Serbia was committed to the "liberation" of the South Slavs of Bosnia, Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia and their incorporation into a large Slavic state but the existing state was an unstable and violence wracked place.

Austria-Hungary was an increasingly ramshackle remnant of medieval Europe,  Under Hapsburg rule for centuries the weakened dynasty was forced in the 1860s to creating an elevated role for the Magyar nobility of Hungary in a joint enterprise (thus the dual name and its becoming known as the Dual Monarchy though the monarch, Franz Josef, uncle of Franz Ferdinand, was the same for both parts) and resting upon a rising tide of unsettled and dissatisfied minorities - Croatians, Bosnians, Slovenians, Bohemians, Moravians, Slovakians, Ruthenians and other scattered ethnic minorities.  The existence of Serbia (which had regained meaningful independence from the Ottomans only in 1878) was seen as an existential threat to the Empire by both Hungarians and the Germans of Austria because it served as a beacon of liberation for its fellow Slavs and was supported by Russia, the archenemy of the Empire.  There were many, including the leaders of the Army, looking for an excuse to launch a war to eliminate Serbia fearing that if that did not happen the Empire would eventually collapse.
The Latin Bridge in Sarajevo ends at the street corner where Serbian nationalist Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, on June 28, 1914.(The assassination site is at the beginning of the small street at the end of the bridge, just to the left of the building labeled Museum.  The Archduke's car was headed on the road along the river from right to left and instead of continuing straight, mistakenly turned right.  When the driver realized his error he stopped the car and prepared to back up.  It was at that moment that Princip stepped up to the car and fired.  Photo from NPR.

The Archduke Ferdinand was unpopular with the Hungarians, the army and his uncle because, among other perceived shortcomings, he was an advocate of raising the South Slavs to an equal partner with the Germans and Hungarians within the Empire, which he saw as essential to maintaining its stability, and opposed war with Serbia.

The assassination was immediately seen by many in the Empire as the chance to eliminate the Serbian menace.  On July 5, 1914 the German government issued the famous "blank check" to its Austrian allies, pledging its support for whatever its actions against Serbia would be.  The demands formulated by the Austrians were designed to be unacceptable to the Serb, though in the end they accepted almost all of them.  The United Kingdom made several proposals for international mediation of the dispute but all were rejected by the Austrians.

Because the Serbs failed to accept all of Austria's demands war was declared on July 28.  The result was cataclysmic.  Serbia itself ceased to exist from 1915 to 1918, approximately 10 million were killed during the four years of war and by its end the monarch of Austria-Hungary, the Ottoman Sultans, and the Emperors of Russia and Germany had lost their thrones (and, in the first two instances, the empires themselves broken up) and the scourges of Communism, Fascism and Nazism had been, or were shortly to be, unleashed on the world.

Certainly in retrospect it would have been better for Austria-Hungary to accept the Serbs' agreement to most of its demands which would have effectively crippled the state at least in the short-term and would have bought some time for the Empire or to agree to the suggestions for international mediation which would probably have had the same effect.   Instead the course chosen by its advocates resulted in the destruction of what they sought to preserve.

How far to go in responding to provocations, particularly provocations that are likely to continue is an unsettling topic and certainly THC has no idea what the right answer is except that he is confident that there is no one right answer to serve for all circumstances.  Our past experiences tied with fears of the future often combine to mislead us but it remains difficult to distinguish between when we are being misled and when our experiences and fears are the basis for accurate forecasts.

In 1938 the scars of the World War and of those weeks between Ferdinand's death and the beginning of the war was one of the impetus for Neville Chamberlain's proposal to Adolf Hitler for what ultimately became the Munich Conference which led to the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia and proved to be a stepping stone to World War II.  Though rightfully seen today as a disaster, it is also understandable how the horror of the First World War and of statesmanship in July 1914, prompted Chamberlain to try everything to attain peace.  As Winston Churchill noted in his November 1940 eulogy for the former Prime Minister:

"It fell to Neville Chamberlain in one of the supreme crises of the world to be contradicted by events, to be disappointed in his hopes, and to be deceived and cheated by a wicked man. But what were these hopes in which he was disappointed? What were these wishes in which he was frustrated? What was that faith that was abused? They were surely among the most noble and benevolent instincts of the human heart--the love of peace, the toil for peace, the strife for peace, the pursuit of peace, even at great peril, and certainly to the utter disdain of popularity or clamour."
Of course, in 1938 Churchill had said of the Munich agreement "Britain and France had to choose between war and dishonour. They chose dishonour. They will have war". Then again, Churchill was grievously wrong in his forecasts on many other issues, though if you are right on the biggest issue of your lifetime a lot can be forgiven.

We can also see this difficulty with the mix of past experience and future fears in America's experience with Iraq.  After the First Gulf War in 1991, U.S. intelligence analysts were shocked to find that their pre-war assessments had massively underestimated the chemical and biological warfare capabilities of Saddam Hussein.  Even in the aftermath of the war, our intelligence services failed to realize the Saddam had an ongoing advanced nuclear program which was not discovered until his two son-in-laws defected to Jordan in 1994.  It's now clear that the U.S. intelligence community response to these underestimations led to a massive overestimation of Iraq's biological and chemical warfare capabilities in the years leading up to the 2003 invasion and that this past experience made it easier for policymakers and the public to accept those assessments.

The diplomatic mistakes of July 1914 seem obvious to us now but we know from our own experience that it often looks different when the events are happening around you compared to when you can reflect upon them after the events and their consequences have played out.

As is often appropriate, let's have Mr Churchill give the final benediction on this subject (also from his eulogy for Chamberlain; you can read the whole thing at A Lesson In Rhetoric):

"It is not given to human beings, happily for them, for otherwise life would be intolerable, to foresee or to predict to any large extent the unfolding course of events. In one phase men seem to have been right, in another they seem to have been wrong. Then again, a few years later, when the perspective of time has lengthened, all stands in a different setting. There is a new proportion. There is another scale of values. History with its flickering lamp stumbles along the trail of the past, trying to reconstruct its scenes, to revive its echoes, and kindle with pale gleams the passion of former days. What is the worth of all this? The only guide to a man is his conscience; the only shield to his memory is the rectitude and sincerity of his actions. It is very imprudent to walk through life without this shield, because we are so often mocked by the failure of our hopes and the upsetting of our calculations"

Friday, June 27, 2014

Good Guy IRS Commissioner Dies

No, not that guy.

This guy; former IRS Commissioner Johnnie Walters, 94 years old who died on Tuesday.  Walter, a South Carolina Republican was appointed to head the IRS by Richard Nixon in March 1971.  Nixon had fired the previous IRS Commissioner, Randolph Thrower, also a Republican (and who died earlier this year at the age of 100), when he resisted Nixon's plans to use the IRS to investigate his enemies.
According to the New York Times in one of the White House tapes, Nixon said of the new commissioner

“I want to be sure he is a ruthless son of a bitch, that he will do what he’s told, that every income-tax return I want to see I see, that he will go after our enemies and not go after our friends."

On September 11, 1972 the White House Counsel, John Dean, summoned Walters to his office and gave him a list of 200 "enemies" they wanted investigated.  Walters, with the concurrence of his boss, Treasury Secretary George Schultz, refused to do anything regarding the list.  When told of Walters' resistance, Nixon instructed Dean:

"You’ve got to kick Walters’s ass out first and get a man in there."
 Walters left office in April 1973.

USA Today reported that in an interview shortly before he died Walters said:

"I'm distressed at what's happening and particularly with IRS . . .  IRS must be run nonpolitical. Our tax system otherwise will fail and we can't afford that".

On a side note, THC is reliably informed that it is John Dean who, at the President's request, has been running the super-secret White House investigation that allowed the President to proclaim that "there is not a smidgen of corruption" at the IRS.  THC anxiously awaits the release of the detailed findings from the  investigation.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Carousel Bar

Rock on with the song Carousel Bar from a brand new album, Songs For A Voodoo Wedding by the two-man band 7Horse.  Within the first five seconds you will be thinking "hey, that guitar sure sounds a lot like Keith Richards" and in a few seconds more "hey, that singer sure sounds a lot like Warren Zevon".  Unfortunately, Warren is no longer available as he's hangin' out with Roland The Headless Thompson Gunner.  (via Al Kooper's New Music For Old People)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"When You Have To Shoot, Shoot, Don't Talk"

Eli Wallach passed away yesterday at the age of 98.  His first TV appearance was in 1949 and his last movie (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) was released in 2010.  In between he was a constant presence on film and TV.  During his peak he appeared in 40 movies in 17 years (1962-78) and in 1990 was Al Pacino's nemesis in The Godfather Part III.  Even if you didn't know his name you knew his face was familiar and you always enjoyed his performance. His wife, the actress Anne Jackson, to whom he was married for 66 years, survives him.  For a very entertaining look at his career, with some great clips and photos read the obituary by The Telegraph (UK).
(Anne Jackson)
He was well known for many of his roles but there are two in particular that remain in constant rotation on cable TV.  Wallach played Tuco in Sergio Leone's classic The Good, The Bad and The Ugly in which he co-starred with Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef (Eli said he didn't know until the film was released that he was The Ugly).  Here is Wallach as Tuco in some clips from the film from which the title of this post is taken. He also played the Mexican bandit, Calverra, in The Magnificent Seven.

And at you can watch Wallach dance with Marilyn Monroe in The Misfits (1961) or, if you prefer, you can concentrate on Marilyn.  The clip starts off with this guy Clark Gable but Eli shows up soon after. Marilyn apparently felt Eli was upstaging her in this scene and remarked "The audience is going to find my ass more interesting than Eli’s face".

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Petersburg: Opportunity Missed

On June 12, 1864 General Ulysses S Grant began a daring series of maneuvers with the Army of the Potomac designed to end its 40-day slugging match with Robert E Lee's Army of Northern Virginia (see The Overland Campaign Begins and The Bloody Angle).  He planned to quickly move his army south across the James River and then southwest to capture the city of Petersburg and, more importantly, cut the three railroad lines connecting the city with the rest of the Confederacy.  Upon reaching Petersburg those lines merged into a single line headed to Richmond, the Rebel capital only twenty miles further north.  Grant believed severing the rail link and its supply capabilities would force Lee into either attacking the Union army on unfavorable grounds or abandoning Richmond and retreating to the west or south towards North Carolina where he would be vulnerable to an attack by the pursuing Army of the Potomac.

On the map below (from, Richmond is near the top center and Petersburg at bottom center with the James River in the center running east and southeast from left to right.  The Union Army was located to the northeast and east of Richmond on June 12. 

On June 12, both armies were very different from what they had been on May 4 at the start of the campaign.   Those who had survived the prior forty days were exhausted, stressed and in many cases, lacking the fighting spirit of just six weeks before.  For the entire year of 1863 a typical soldier in each army might have been exposed to 5 to 7 days of combat; infantry assault/defense or direct exposure to artillery or sharpshooters.  By June 12, 1864 many soldiers had already seen 20 or more days of such combat.

The huge casualties added to the plight of the survivors.  More than 50,000 dead, wounded and captured Northern soldiers and 30,000 dead, wounded or captured Confederates plus thousands of other out of action due to illness.

The impact was larger on the Army of the Potomac which was mostly on the offensive, constantly attacking while the Southern soldiers were behind increasingly sophisticated entrenchments.  Northern troops were increasingly reluctant to engage in frontal assaults, something the rebel soldiers picked up on.  In his memoir, A Mississippi Rebel in the Army of Northern Virginia, David Holt of the 16th Mississippi wrote of this time:

"We soon notice a change in the tactics of the Yanks.  They were not so eager to try and rush the skirmish line . . .  Grant's plan of hammering Lee was known . . . They said that Lee could not replace the men killed and wounded, while Grant had the world to recruit from. . . . But the Yanks we came up against did not relish being butchered for the sake of wearing out Lee's Army."

This culminated in the fatalism shown by Union soldiers before the June 3 assaults across open ground at Cold Harbor where they pinned notes containing their names to the backs of each others uniforms so they could be identified when killed.
(Collecting the dead at Cold Harbor, a year later)
Because of the staggering casualties the actual make up of each army was different by mid-June.  On the Union side along with the casualties, thousands of other soldiers were leaving the ranks in June, July and August as their three-year enlistments in response to President Lincoln's 1861 request for volunteers meant that they would be going home in the midst of the campaign.  Grant had bodies to replace them, but not experienced soldiers.  There were newly drafted men along with about 30,000 from heavy artillery units that had been stationed in the fortifications around Washington DC for the past two years.  These soldiers were converted to infantrymen and sent to the front.  When the first of these units to enter combat encountered rebel forces near Spotsylvania Court House on May 19 they stood their ground but took heavy casualties because of its lack of experience.

This left the Union Army with a remnant of experienced soldiers who were no longer anxious to participate in headlong attacks, thousands of inexperienced new recruits and garrison soldiers and an officer corps which had suffered heavy losses, with many new replacements and lacking aggressiveness in key positions.

For the Confederates, while their losses had been significantly less, as a percentage of its smaller army they were almost as high as the Union.  Moreover, the Army of Northern Virginia was done as an offensive threat.  Longstreet's counterattack on May 6 in The Wilderness was the last large-scale assault the army would ever undertake.  While the North's superior logistics ensured the Army of the Potomac had adequate food and ammunition, the memoirs of Southern soldiers speak of constantly having very little to eat.  And unlike the North, the South had limited ability to replace its losses.  The only bright spots were that it was easier to fight on the defensive, protected by the every growing entrenchments and supported by the soldiers' eternal faith that Lee would find a way out of the mess.  

The initial part of Grant's plan went well.  Union units began moving south on the 12th and the longest pontoon bridge of the war (2200 feet) was constructed across the James River.  For several days, Lee was unaware of the large-scale movement and(Pontoon bridge from Wikipedia)  failed to realize that Grant's objective was Petersburg.  By June 15, Union Army was approaching the outskirts of Petersburg.  The defense of Petersburg was in the hands of General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard, who had presided over the attack on Fort Sumter that started the war and then commanded the Confederate Army at the First Battle of Bull Run, both in 1861.
 Pgt beauregard.jpg(Gen. Beauregard)
On that first day, General Beauregard only had 2,200 men to defend against the 16,000 Union soldiers commanded by General "Baldy" Smith.  General Smith, remembering the slaughter at Cold Harbor, first undertook extensive reconnaissance of the Confederate position and then continued to hesitate to launch an attack until that evening though as Beauregard latter admitted, Petersburg was "there for the taking".  Smith did not press the assault and after hitting initial resistance decided to wait until the next morning to take the city.  Meanwhile, Beauregard, while still greatly outnumbered was able to bring up additional troops.  The next two days followed the same pattern.  Northern forces launched uncoordinated attacks which were not pressed.  Finally, on June 18, General Meade ordered a general assault by the Army of the Potomac.  Though still outnumbered the Confederates had been able to strengthen their earthworks and repulsed the Union forces with great losses.  It was in this action that Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, a hero of Gettysburg, was shot through the hips and thought to be mortally wounded (see In Great Deeds Something Abides).

It was also in the June 18 attack that the 1st Maine Heavy Artillery Regiment, one of the units formerly defending Washington but now deployed as infantry, suffered the heaviest losses of any Union regiment during the war with 632 of its 900 men being killed, wounded or missing.  Many of the soldiers were from Mount Desert Island in Maine, where the THC Family has vacationed for many years, and the June 12, 2014 edition of the Mount Desert Islander featured an article by Tim Garrity commemorating the 150th anniversary of its assault..

The attack was launched across 500 yards of open ground against a fortified Confederate line.  Garrity quotes a survivor:

"The enemy's firing along their whole line was now centered into this field.  The earth was literally torn up with iron and lead.  The field became a burning, seething, crashing, hissing hell . . . So in ten minutes those who were not slaughtered had returned to the road or were lying prostrate upon that awful field of carnage."

Garrity quotes another survivor, Samuel Savage of Mount Desert who wrote to his sister-in-law that he was:

"lonesome for all the island boys are gone . . . What did it amount to?  I doubt if a man on the Union side saw a Confederate during the charge.  They were completely sheltered by a strong earthwork."

The attack highlighted the deficiencies in the battered Army of the Potomac.  The Mainers, inexperienced but ready to prove their bravery, proudly marched into the furnace.  The more experienced veteran regiments expected to follow the 1st Maine, the 16th Massachusetts and the 7th New Jersey, held back.  Garrity writes:

"But the 1st Maine went into the assault alone.  Most of the nearby regiments were composed of disillusioned and exhausted veterans who cried 'Played out!  Let the 1st Maine go!'"

As a soldier from another regiment wrote:

"The old campaigners were in front and knew better than to charge through a slaughterpen."

(Monument to 1st Maine at Petersburg)
After the failure of June 18, the Union army stopped the attacks and settled down into a siege of the city which was to continue until April 2, 1865.  The failure to aggressively move forward on June 15 and 16 when Petersburg could have, and should have been seized, was to cost thousands of additional lives from combat and sickness during the long months of the siege and ended any chance of bringing the Civil War to a conclusion in 1864.


Monday, June 23, 2014

Ever Been In A Meeting Like This?

THC has.  Only difference is the meetings he has been in like this one have lasted for several hours.  Have a nice work week!

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Wild Pitch Of The Year

That's a title THC didn't think he would be using.  It happened last night when the Milwaukee Brewers had the bases loaded in a game with the Colorado Rockies and all three runners scored on a wild pitch.  You can see it at  The final run is particularly entertaining. (Found via Althouse)

Throw Of The Year

. . . at least so far.  June 10; The Athletics playing the Angels with the score tied 1-1 in the 8th inning.  Howie Kendrick is on first base with Mike Trout at the plate.  Trout laces a liner to left field.  The left fielder is Yoenis Cespedes who threw out two Angels on the basepaths the night before.  The ball initially looks like it will fall in for a single with the fast Kendrick getting to third but it glances off the glove of Cespedes and heads towards the left field corner.  Kendrick decides to go home.  Cespedes grabs the ball and makes a high arcing 310 foot throw which nails Howie at the plate.
Go to the link and watch the entire play and the replays from different angles and also notice that the Athletics catcher Derek Norris barely has to move to catch the ball and make the tag.

The next night, Cespedes had another ball glance off his glove and threw out Albert Pujols at third base. 

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Mokita is THC's favorite new word.  According to Wikipedia, Mokita is from the Kivila language of Papua New Guinea and means:

"truth we all know but agree not to talk about"

Of course, since Wikipedia is the source this could all be urban legend but as always, when in doubt, we fall back on the Official Blog Policy.

The concept of "truth we all know but agree not to talk about" has both positive and negative aspects.  On a personal and larger societal basis it can help keep the peace.  It's hard enough holding relationships, communities and nations together - relentlessly picking at Truth can make it harder to coexist.  It can also, when deployed on a large scale, make needed communication impossible, prevent the resolution of important issues and destroy the trust upon which relationships and societies rely.  The trick is distinguishing between the two.

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Times Is At It Again

In I Thought Rose Mary Woods Had Retired and It's Special Prosecutor Time, I mentioned the role of the New York Times in suppressing stories potentially damaging to the progressive narrative.  As the house organ of the Democratic Party the Times also plays a pivotal role in creating and promoting stories that it believes will harm the enemies of progressives.

Yesterday's New York Times contains a front page article entitled Wisconsin Governor at Center of a Vast Fund Raising Case (at least they didn't call it A Vast Right Wing Conspiracy!) with this lead paragraph:

Prosecutors in Wisconsin assert that Gov. Scott Walker was part of an elaborate effort to illegally coordinate fund-raising and spending between his campaign and conservative groups during efforts to recall him and several state senators two years ago, according to court filings unsealed Thursday.

  (Target of Vast Left Wing Conspiracy)

You may recall that Governor Walker is #1 on the progressive hit list for his successful push to enact legislation allowing Wisconsin school districts to buy health insurance for their teachers and administrators from a source other than the insurer run by the state's teachers union.  The creation of competition to the union's insurer resulted in lower insurance premiums for school districts (and employees) and in some instances, the districts used those savings to hire additional teachers.  However, it meant that for union leaders a lucrative revenue source was diminished and, among other things, posing a potential threat to their ability to recycle premiums into campaign donations for Democratic politicians, triggering continued attempts to unseat the governor.

If you read the beginning of the Times story you will think that this is an active investigation since it reads that "Prosecutors . . . assert".  This is simply false and an alert reader, reading between the lines of the rest of the story will become aware something is wrong though the Times reporters seem to be desperately trying to make it difficult to discern this.

What actually happened is this.  After failed Democratic recalls and attempts to take over the Wisconsin Supreme Court, in 2012 a group of Democratic district attorneys in Wisconsin decided to undertake a "fishing expedition" and initiated a "John Doe" investigation to try to find evidence that conservative groups illegally coordinated activities during the recall election, figuring that even if they couldn't build a case they could at least intimidate these groups in the future. They issued 100 subpoenas to obtain records, including personal confidential information and conducted secret raids.  And, under state law, those targeted or witnesses to the action were forbidden to publicly speak of them.  [For a description of one of the raids and the gag order placed on targets and witnesses see the NOTE at the bottom of this post].

However, earlier this year a state court judge quashed the subpoenas finding:

“the subpoenas do not show probable cause that the moving parties committed any violations of the campaign finance laws.”
Then, in February some of the groups targeted for persecution by the prosecutors filed a civil rights lawsuit in Federal Court and the court quickly concluded that the plaintiffs:

"are likely to succeed on their claim that the defendants‘ investigation violates their rights under the First Amendment, such that the investigation was commenced and conducted ―without a reasonable expectation of obtaining a valid conviction"

The Court ordered the John Doe investigation to stop and all seized property to be returned.  It is as part of the prosecutor's appeal of this judgement that the documents cited in the Times were released.  For full order of Judge Randa of May 6, 2014 go here:

So what has really happened is that the documents that are the subject of the Times article have been found to NOT support any legal action against the conservative groups and a Federal District Court has concluded that these groups "are likely to succeed on their claim that the defendants' investigation violations their rights under the First Amendment".  If the situation were reversed and this involved Republican prosecutors we all know the Times would be running a story (fully justified, I should add) about how conservatives were politicizing the justice system.

This story is actually part of a larger story about how progressives are "weaponizing" campaign finance laws, whether via the IRS or federal and state prosecutors, to shut down and intimidate any opposition to their political agenda.   

NOTE:  From Judge Randa's May 6 Order:

Early in the morning of October 3, 2013, armed officers raided the homes of R.J. Johnson, WCFG advisor Deborah Jordahl, and several other targets across the state. ECF No. 5-15, O‘Keefe Declaration, ¶ 46. Sheriff deputy vehicles used bright floodlights to illuminate the targets‘ homes. Deputies executed the search warrants, seizing business papers, computer equipment, phones, and other devices, while their targets were restrained under police supervision and denied the ability to contact their attorneys. Among the materials seized were many of the Club‘s records that were in the possession of Ms. Jordahl and Mr. Johnson. The warrants indicate that they were executed at the request of GAB investigator Dean Nickel.

On the same day, the Club‘s accountants and directors, including O‘Keefe, received subpoenas demanding that they turn over more or less all of the Club‘s records from March 1, 2009 to the present. The subpoenas indicated that their recipients were subject to a Secrecy Order, and that their contents and existence could not be disclosed other than to counsel, under penalty of perjury. The subpoenas’ list of advocacy groups indicates that all or nearly all right-of-center groups and individuals in Wisconsin who engaged in issue advocacy from 2010 to the present are targets of the investigation.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Civilian Control

A brilliant insight from Bill James at Bill James Online which is not surprising since Bill is the brilliant godfather of SABRmetrics and advisor to the Boston Red Sox.  In response to a question from a reader he writes:

I think public skepticism is fundamentally a positive and is always a positive. It seems to me that you're assuming that experts have no agenda. In most cases, in most areas, experts DO have an agenda, and what the experts tell the public is almost always filtered through their agenda. Among the great successes of America has been the universal acceptance of the concept of civilian control of the military, because the generals--while they are indeed the experts on war--always have an agenda, whether that agenda is creating a war or avoiding one. Among our greatest failings is that we have not generalized the concept so that we realize that, for the same reasons, we need civilian control of the education system, civilian control of the police, and civilian control of the legal system. If you let educators run the education system, you wind up with a system that works well for teachers and college professors. If you let lawyers run the legal system, you wind up with a system that works very well for lawyers.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tony Gwynn

Tony Gwynn, a Hall of Fame baseball player known as one of the game's all-time best hitters, died Monday, June 16, after a multiyear battle with salivary gland cancer. He was 54.He was the friend Ted Williams asked to help him make the last throw of his life.

He faced Greg Maddux 107 times, hitting .415 and never striking out.  Maddux once explained to Tom Boswell how he used changing speeds to get batters out which worked on everyone "Except that [expletive] Tony Gwynn".

He was an artist with the bat, winning eight batting titles, hitting .338 (second highest in the last 70 years) and elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

He will forever be one of the great "what-if's" of baseball.  On August 11, 1994 he was hitting .394 when the season ended with the players' strike.  Could he have been the first man to hit .400 since his friend Ted Williams in 1941?  Tony had no doubt; here he is reflecting on that season:

He was one of three players featured in George Will's classic work, Men At Work: The Craft of Baseball.

He sounded like a California surfer dude (he grew up in Long Beach) and was one of the most respected and well liked people in baseball.  You can read one appreciation from USA Today sportswriter Bob Nightengale.  Here's an excerpt:

I loved Tony Gwynn. Who didn't?
Once you met him, you couldn't help but fall in love with him.
That infectious laugh. That perpetual smile. That warm embrace.
He was the greatest pure hitter I ever had the privilege of covering as a baseball beat writer.
He was also the greatest person I ever had the privilege of covering.
And let's hope Joe Posnanski does a piece on Tony.  Well, just went and checked again before putting this post up and found that Mr Posnanski has published his thoughts which you can read here.  It starts:

When I was very young, we went to the Cleveland Museum of Art. There, I saw a woman standing in front of a painting, and she was actually crying. I don’t recall it being a sad painting. My mother leaned down to me and whispered, “See, the painting is so beautiful, it breaks her heart and makes her cry.”
This made absolutely no sense to me whatsoever.
But then, I had not yet seen Tony Gwynn hit a baseball.

He played his entire 20 year career with San Diego becoming Mr Padre and, in the process, wearing some of the ugliest uniforms in the history of baseball during the 1980s.
Gwynn, seen here in 1989, played his entire 20-year career with the San Diego Padres.
Gone way too early at 54 from salivary gland cancer which he blamed on chewing tobacco for so many of those years.

Monday, June 16, 2014


No, THC did not go there nor does he have the syndrome.  It's the title of Chrissie Hynde's just released first solo album and where she recorded the album with Bjorn Yttling, the Swedish musician and producer with whom she co-wrote the songs.  Yttling was four years old when Chrissie founded the Pretenders.

While Stockholm does not have anything to match the early Pretenders classics Middle Of The Road, Talk Of The Town, Brass In Pocket and Night In My Veins, it finds Hynde in fine voice and contains a lot of strong songs.

THC's favorites are Like In The Movies, Down The Wrong Way (featuring the up and coming guitarist Neil Young playing a (TM) Neil Young Guitar Solo), A Plan Too Far and In A Miracle.   Here's a sampler of the songs from the album.  Just click on the titles to hear each.  Unfortunately, Down The Wrong Way clip does not contain the Young guitar solo.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

It's Special Prosecutor Time

At least that's what Ron Fournier of National Journal thinks and I agree.  Fournier is a journalist who's made no secret that he is favorably disposed toward the Democrats and has written articles critical of the Republican take on this matter but at this point he writes:

If the IRS can't find the emails, maybe a special prosecutor can . . .
The announcement came late Friday, a too-cute-by-half cliche of a PR strategy to mitigate backlash

The White House is stonewalling the IRS investigation. The most benign explanation is that Obama's team is politically expedient and arrogant, which makes them desperate to change the subject, and convinced of their institutional innocence. That's bad enough. But without a fiercely independent investigation, we shouldn't assume the explanation is benign.

It is difficult to believe that these emails were lost in a crash on Lois Lerner's computer, which is the government claim, since government agencies have multiple server backups and, in fact, are required to do so by government regulation. 

My only disagreement is that I think the special prosecutor needs to also investigate what, by all appearances, appears to be a phony investigation by Eric Holder's Justice Department which should be no surprise since, as Fournier notes, the President himself has said that there is "Not even a smidgen of corruption" (he must have come to this conclusion as a result of the findings of his parallel, independent investigation of the IRS).

And further to my comment in Friday's post about the media, the New York Times carried NO mention of the missing emails in either Saturday or Sunday's editions.  The paper's stenographers are, no doubt, awaiting word from the Administration on the proper Party Line to take before they publish anything.  This is standard operating procedure for the Times.  A great example is Fast and Furious, the Holder Justice Department scandal in which ATF agents facilitated the legal purchase of semi-automatic weapons from dealers in the American southwest and then arranged their transfer, in an untraceable manner, to Mexican drug cartels.  The result is that weapons purchased under this program were used to kill at least two American border agents and several hundred people in Mexico (perhaps the Administration's unofficial immigration policy was "kill 'em before they cross the border").  Fast and Furious caused a great outcry in Mexico but readers of the New York Times would not have known since the paper ignored the controversy completely for several years until the paper's Justice Department stenographer was summoned by Eric Holder who informed him that those raising the allegations were racists which the Times dutifully reported in a front page article.

Also in line with my prior comments, Powerline, a blog run by two Washington lawyers, which in my experience has good and pretty reliable sources within DOJ, printed an email from a lawyer in the department:

I’m a DOJ lawyer, so you obviously cannot use my name or any identifying information. But the idea that a “hard drive crash” somehow destroyed all of Ms. Lerner’s intra-government email correspondence during the period in question [2009-2011] is laughable. Government email servers are backed up every night. So if she actually had a hard drive fail, her emails would be recoverable from the backup. If the backup was somehow also compromised, then we are talking about a conspiracy.

He reiterates in a postscript:
I’m serious about your keeping any identifying information out of the media. Things are very, very bad.

Friday, June 13, 2014

I Thought Rose Mary Woods Had Retired

Rose Mary Woods.jpgLate this afternoon as part of the Friday afternoon news dump, the IRS informed the House Ways and Means Committee that there is a mysterious "two-year gap" in the emails of Lois Lerner, the Democratic political appointee at the heart of the IRS scandal.  To be precise, for the period January 2009 to April 2011, the IRS can produce Lerner emails to and from other IRS employees but cannot find any to or from outside agencies or groups, such as the White House, Treasury, Department of Justice, the Federal Election Commission or offices of Democrat congressmen - in other words, the most critical emails are missing.

For those who may not remember, Rose Mary Woods was Richard Nixon's secretary who, after the 1974 revelation of an 18 1/2 minute gap on an audio tape of an Oval Office conversation on June 20, 1972, right after the Watergate break-in, took partial responsibility for a mistake leading to an erasure during the transcription process.  Miss Woods' explanation was difficult to accept (the picture above illustrates the "Rose Mary Stretch") though very few thought she did it intentionally.  For an interesting and informed recent article speculating on how, why and by whom the tape was erased read this article.

The Lerner email disclosure comes only a week after the IRS acknowledged to the House that it had illegally turned over to the FBI up to 1.1 million pages of confidential taxpayer information as part of its seek and destroy mission against Tea Party groups.

The Lerner emails as well as the information illegally disclosed by the IRS was requested by Congress more than a year ago.  It is inconceivable that the Department of Justice did not know what happened well prior to June of 2014.  There are a hundred questions that come to mind that must be answered about the missing emails.  It deserves a full investigation and DOJ is incapable of conducting it.

Of all the Obama Administration controversies, the IRS one is by far the most troubling because it goes to the heart of the public trust in government.  If the agency that for the average citizen is that most powerful in the federal government cannot be trusted with the sensitive information it has and, in fact, will harass its political enemies then the very foundation of our system is shaken.

The Justice Department's behavior has been disgraceful from appointing an Obama campaign donor to oversee the criminal investigation to the failure of the FBI to contact any of the groups or their attorneys who have complained of the IRS behavior.  The President, after first saying he was disturbed by the scandal, now dismisses it as a nothing.  He does that because he knows he can get away with it which illustrates a bigger problem for our country.

The bigger problem is that both the media and the permanent federal bureaucracy (non-political appointees) lean heavily liberal creating a curious dynamic making Democratic abuses of power more threatening than Republican ones.

When there is a Republican administration and it takes executive actions that offend the permanent bureaucracy it reacts by leaking copiously to sympathetic sources in the media.  And when those leaks reach media outlets like the New York Times and Washington Post they get amplified and picked up by other media and get elevated to issues that are in the press day after day.  It's hard to keep anything truly secret.  While THC may think it is often unfair in how a particular issue is played by the media, overall he sees that as a good thing for our governance structure.

But when a Democratic administration is in place there is a different dynamic.  Because the bureaucracy is more supportive of the goals of the administration there is less leaking and to the extent there are leaks it is often because the administration is not seen as sufficiently liberal.  These leaks can be picked up by large media outlets because they will occasionally criticize the Party from the left.  If it is the much rarer leak from a dissident conservative bureaucrat leaks it is less likely to be picked up by the general media because of its disinterest (or perhaps, disbelief would be the better word) or distrust, because the perceived source is seen as conservative.  Although it did not involve bureaucratic links think of the general media's shock since October as the impacts of Obamacare became more visible; the cancellation of policies, increased deductibles and other costs and narrowed doctor access.  None of those issues were a surprise to THC because conservative health policy wonks have been pointing these issues out since 2010.  So why was the media so surprised?  They live in an intellectually closed world where many, most prominently the New York Times, serve merely as stenographers for the progressive movement.

That's why a slew of issues that would be headline scandals day after day in the Times and Post in a Republican administration disappear in a Democratic one.

The IRS scandal poses an excellent example of this phenomenon.  Significant evidence arises of politically targeted agency review of Tea Party groups seeking exemptions arises and of leaks of confidential applicant information to liberal partisan; senior IRS political appointees take the Fifth when questioned by Congress;  the Attorney General announces that DOJ finds no evidence of criminal activity after an investigation headed by a government lawyer who made the maximum individual contributions allowed by law to the President's campaigns and in which the government investigators never attempted to contact any of the complaining entities or their attorneys; more data and emails keep flowing indicating problems at the agency; for details see the voluminous coverage at the Tax Prof Blog. Yet most of the media seemed relieved to hear the official explanations and have no continuing interest.

Further to THC's point about the makeup of the bureaucracy, when the IRS scandal first broke some of the Administration's defenders pointed out the President Nixon, a Republican, tried to use the IRS to audit his political enemies. The difference is that Nixon ran into an IRS chief who shut down the President's attempt to politically manipulate the bureaucracy.

So if you are interested in transparency in government vote Republican.  They may be bozos but at least you will know what they are doing!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Burning Bush

papir_foto(Jan Palach)
Some of my posts are planned well in advance.  When visiting the Museum of Communism I knew I'd be writing a post on it.  Some posts are more spontaneous.  It was only when writing the Museum of Communism post and finding myself mentioning Vaclav Havel and Frank Zappa that I decided to write about Plastic People.  Other times themes become apparent to me only over time and this post is an example, tying together the Museum of Communism with last week's post on the lonely Tank Man who courageously confronted a tank column outside Tiananamen Square in 1989.

The link is the death of Jan Palach, a 20 year old student who, without letting anyone know in advance, set himself afire in Prague's Wenceslas Square on January 16, 1969 to protest the demoralization of the Czech people in the wake of the Soviet invasion of August 1968 which crushed the Prague Spring government of Alexander Dubcek.  Palach died three days later.  The act received world-wide publicity (I remember watching coverage at the time) symbolizing the plight of all peoples under communist domination and inspiring dissidents in Czechoslovakia and elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Palach's grave became a pilgrimage for those who resisted the regime until 1973 when the State removed his body cremating it to stop the visits.

Palach's self-sacrifice and its aftermath is the subject of a recent three-part HBO Europe documentary shown on Czech TV.  Directed by the Polish director, Agnieszka Holland, who also made the shocking, disturbing and moving drama of WWII and the Holocaust, Europa Europa (1990), Burning Bush brings to light the surprising story of a defamation suit brought against Communist Party officials in the wake of Palach's death.  Though doomed to failure it was one of the first actions by Czech dissidents to resist the regime and the lawyer representing the Palach family, Dagmar Buresova, eventually became the first Minister of Justice in post-Communist Czechoslovakia. 
The series has been edited for a limited film release and is being shown at the Film Forum in NYC.  It was reviewed by AO Scott of the NY Times who wrote:

"the film does a remarkably persuasive job of capturing the nightmarish and sometimes grimly comical quality of life under totalitarianism"

Palach was not the only self-immolation in protest of the Soviet invasion.  A month after his death Jan Zajic also burned himself in Wenceslas Square and six weeks later Evzen Plocek did the same in the main square of another Czech town.  Only after the fall of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe was it realized that the first self-immolation protesting the Soviet action took place in Poland in September 1968.  Ryszard Siwiec, a 59 year old veteran of the WWII Polish Home Army burned himself in front of 10,000 people at an event in Warsaw.  The story was suppressed in the Polish press and to the extent there was any public mention, people were told it was an accident caused by spilling vodka and smoking but Siwiec left a written note explaining his motives and after the fall of the Polish regime in 1989 his story was told in a documentary and today he is honored in his country.Ryszard Siwiec's self-immolation(Siwiec's self immolation, from Wikipedia).

Palach's memory served as a rallying point for dissidents for the next twenty years.  On the 20th anniversary of his death a coalition of opposition groups planned Jan Palach Week in Prague.  The most prominent group, Charter 77 issued a statement on the meaning of Palach's act:

“He died because he wanted to shout as loud as possible. He wanted us to realize what was happening to us, to see what we were really doing, and to hear what we were saying in those times of reputedly inevitable concessions, “reasonable” compromises, and hopefully clever tactical ploys. We started forgetting that something has to resist even the greatest pressure, something fundamental that cannot be bought or sold, but that is absolutely essential for maintaining our human dignity.”  
In conjunction with the week, Vaclav Havel, spokesman for Charter 77, issued an appeal against any further acts of self-immolation.

The State banned the planned memorial service in Wenceslas Square and arrested opposition leaders, including Havel, who was imprisoned for four months.  Nonetheless crowds gathered in the square for several days until dispersed by water cannon and security forces.  Ten months later the communist regime was overthrown in the Velvet Revolution.

You can learn more about Jan Palach at the memorial website established by Charles University which he attended.

Today there is a memorial in Wenceslas Square to honor Jan Palach and Jan Zajic.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Plastic People

Frank Zappa and the President of Czechoslovakia, Vaclav Havel, Prague 1990

THC's last post mentioned the Czech psychedelic anti-communist band, Plastic People of the Universe and their leading supporter, Vaclav Havel.  Both were fans of Frank Zappa.

And here is Plastic People from the 1967 album Absolutely Free by Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Museum of Communism

While THC and Ms THC were on their recent visit to Prague (a beautiful city - go see it), their host and dedicated blog fan, JS, took THC to see the Museum of Communism, conveniently located across a passageway from a McDonalds and right next to a casino.  The Museum bills itself as featuring "Communism: The Dream, The Reality and The Nightmare", accomplishing that goal admirably in a small space with fascinating exhibits that can be seen in a one hour visit.
                                          (All other photos in post from Museum of Communism)
Czechoslovakia, the Bohemian and Moravian provinces of which have constituted the Czech Republic since 1993, was born when the four century rule of the Austrian Hapsburgs collapsed in 1918.  From 1918 to 1938 the country was a vibrant and prosperous democracy.  That abruptly ended in September 1938 when Britain and France acceded to Hitler's demands to transfer the Sudetenland area of Czechoslovakia to Germany thus denuding the Czechs of their defensive perimeter, in return for which Hitler promised that Germany had no further territorial ambitions in Europe, a promise that lasted for a mere six months.  In March 1939, Slovakia declared its independence from the rest of Czechoslovakia, a declaration immediately recognized by Germany, which had encouraged the Slovak action.  The Nazis then ended the existence of the defenseless rump state converting it into the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia ruled by Reinhardt Heydrich of the SS.

Czechoslovakia remained under the brutal Nazi rule until 1945 when it was occupied by advancing Soviet troops who were initially welcomed as liberators.  Like the rest of Eastern Europe the country came increasingly under the domination of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union in the immediate years after the war until in February 1948 it officially became a communist state, plunging back into a darkness that was to last for four decades.  One of the benefits of being a communist state was that you were able to put up giant statues of Josef Stalin, like this one that loomed over Prague in the 1950s.

The commies ran their usual gameplan on the country which the museum takes you through with its exhibits, including contemporary propaganda posters.
(The State and the The People work together to ensure no American spies will enter the country; oh, and by the way, we'll kill The People if they attempt to leave our Socialist Paradise)
           (Supporting the freedom loving people of North Korea against the American aggressors!)

(Control of the educational system was key to creating The Socialist Man.  The poster notes that "Pupils were raised or encouraged . . . towards class hatred against more wealthy classes, hostility towards democratic states as well as towards religion")
(The State Source Shops provide abundance to The People!  The Museum shows the reality - very few goods available for purchase though the privileged leadership cadre did have access to plentiful basic goods as well as luxuries.)
               (Timely arrival to work deals the decisive strike against the American aggressors!)

(This poster at the Museum explains how the Communist focus on materialism created a spiritual vacuum leading to environmental devastation and reductions of life span.)

In the spring of 1968, a new government came into power under Alexander Dubcek, promising "socialism with a human face" which proved to be too much for the Soviet Union which invaded in August 1968, installing a repressive puppet government which imposed "normalization", a synonym for alignment with Soviet policies.

During the early 1970s a Prague rock n roll band called Plastic People of the Universe (in tribute to Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention) began to subtlety protest against the status quo, receiving the support of some intellectuals, Vaclav Havel, a writer, a man of outstanding moral clarity and courage, an astute observer of the psychology of the totalitarian state and one of the great figures of the 20th century.
                                                                 (Vaclav Havel)

The regime itself staggered on until November 1989 when it collapsed in the face of the relatively non-violent "Velvet Revolution".  The Museum features an inspiring video of the events of those November days.  The first President of the newly free Czechoslovakia was Vaclav Havel.

For the ash heap of history