Saturday, April 26, 2014

American troop deployment in Latvia brings to mind U.S. military operation on Russian soil nearly a century ago

A “company size” deployment of U.S. Army paratroopers recently arrived in Latvia, following a similar deployment in Poland. This is clearly in response to the concerns of these countries in regard to Russia’s bald-faced annexation of the Crimea and attempts to undermine Ukrainian sovereignty in the eastern portion of its own country. Being members of NATO, an attack on Latvia and Poland by Russia will trigger Article 5 of the NATO treaty:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Unfortunately for the Ukraine, Russia worked immediately to forestall the possibility that its neighbor might also seek NATO alliance, following the overthrow of the pro-Russian puppet government. The Kremlin’s propaganda arm in the U.S., the cable “news” channel RT, recently allowed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to all but confirm future Russian military “intervention” in eastern  Ukraine, when everyone outside of Russia knows that Russian agents and military have already infiltrated the region to undermine Ukrainian authority. 

Yet Lavrov (like Vladimir Putin) continues to insult our intelligence by claiming that the U.S. is “running the show” in the Ukraine, as if that country has no right to protect its own sovereignty without being told, just as Russia alleges it is doing itself. The reality, of course, is that Russia would not be escalating matters unless it had a better reason than they are giving. In the Crimea, it was to regain control over the Sevastopol naval complex; in eastern Ukraine, it is to take control of its industrial areas. The cynicism of the Russians is quite remarkable.

At any rate, it has been a long time since U.S. forces have deployed in an adversarial posture so close to Russia itself in Latvia (Belarus—often regarded as Russia’s puppet—forms a “buffer” state between Poland and Russia). And longer still since the U.S. actually engaged Russian forces in direct combat. That occurred soon after the overthrow of the Czarist government in 1917, and lasted from the summer of 1918 to late winter 1920 in what would be called the “North Russian Intervention.” 

Very few  Americans even know about this, which is not surprising considering the fact that it was never mentioned in any American history book I’ve ever had to read. It went something like this: The provisional anti-Bolshevik Russian government that gained power after the overthrow of the Romanov dynasty agreed to continue the war against Germany, contingent upon receiving money and military aid from the Allies. To that purpose, the Americans and British landed significant stockpiles of military equipment at the ports of Archangel and Murmansk in northern Russia, and in the east in Vladivostok. 

But despite the aid, a subsequent Russian offensive against the Germans was crushed. With the armies in mutiny, and rioting in the streets, the Bolsheviks were able to overthrow the provisional government, and Lenin signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany, for all practical purposes ending the eastern phase of World War I. More problems developed between the Bolsheviks and the Allies when the former broke a free passage agreement with the Czechoslovak Legion—originally fighting in the employ of the Russians against the Germans, in the hopes of gaining favor with the Allies and then independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire—and leaving them stranded in eastern Russia. 

The Allies, sensing the likelihood that their stockpiles of military hardware would fall into the hands of either the Germans (who had landed a small force in Finland) or the apparently hostile Bolsheviks with the war still raging in the West, decided to launch a military expedition to regain control of these stockpiles, revive White Russian resistance against the Bolsheviks, and together with the counter-revolutionaries and the Legion “strangle” the  Bolshevik revolution “at birth”—or so said Winston Churchill—and restore an active front in the east.

The northern intervention in the regions around Murmansk and Archangel included approximately 14,000 U.S., British and other Allied troops. The campaign was plagued from the start by the unwillingness of troops to fight in near Arctic conditions, for a cause few understood the necessity for when the main conflict was still in the West. Mini-mutinies among American and British troops was rampant. Greater Russian resourcefulness on their own ground also stymied Allied operational success. The Allies did manage a brief success along the Northern Dvina river, and a small U.S, contingent reached as far as Shenkursk (still far from anywhere, particularly in the vast expanses of Russia). The Bolsheviks under Leon Trotsky decided to make a “surprise” counterattack on the American-British forces hold-up in a village called Tulgas but were repulsed. But the U.S. force of less than fifty men in Shenkursk was attacked by 1,000 Red Army troops, and all but seven were eventually killed.

For the most part, both Allied and Bolshevik forces tended to remain on the defensive, but with White Russian forces deserting in droves and the Red Army holding its reserves in the ready, and Allied (particularly the British) soldiers angry and confused about why they were fighting in Russia even after the war in the West was over, there was no chance of “success” of overthrowing the Bolshevik regime; despite the fact that the new Russian regime was seen as a rogue and dangerous force that was increasingly anti-West in its rhetoric and actions, the West remained uncertain and divided on how to deal with them. 

Meanwhile, the American Expeditionary Force Siberia arrived in Vladivostok with 8,000 men around the same time, mainly to protect American property, and did little or no fighting despite pressure from other Allies. Most of the nearly 200 U.S. soldiers died during that “campaign did so from being unprepared for the Arctic conditions, and the rest would eventually leave by April, 1920.

In the end, as many as 120,000 foreign troops were in Russia—13,000 from the U.S.—supporting the supposedly democratic White Russian (or at least anti-Bolshevik) cause. They accomplished almost nothing, largely because there was no consensus on the practicality of military intervention, the narrow objectives of some intervening countries, the low morale of troops and the disintegration of White forces in the face of a more dedicated-to-their cause enemy. All that remains in the memory today from that “war” are “souvenir” photographs of American soldiers posing with dead Bolshevik soldiers as if from the Old West, while the Russians have their “trophies” of left behind British Mark V tanks.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Anti-affirmative action laws do one thing well: Affirm discrimination by whites

One of the most hypocritical statements ever made into law is the following:

The state shall not discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

This is the anti-affirmative action Initiative 200, passed by 58 percent of the voters in the state of Washington in 1998. Maybe a few dim-witted people not paying attention actually thought it “meant” what it said. Some people were even fooled when they saw black people out on the sidewalks with the signature boards, who were not “volunteers” but paid signature gatherers who did not even know that the initiative’s aim was to harm them. And that “aim” was to appease those whites who blamed under-represented minorities for not being admitted to the school of their choice. 

The problem, of course, was that very few whites would have “benefited” from denying a handful of black (or Latino) students college admission. The greater problem was the grotesque over-representation of international students—which schools like the University of Washington was “forced” to invite because of the state’s bottom-dwelling support for education in general. I’m sure it makes this so-called “progressive” state feel “good” about itself by shitting on the most vulnerable demographics, just for a few additional college admission seats for the fry of white “privilege.”

But the real hypocrisy is that this state—and all other states—violate the anti-discrimination mantra every day, and have done so every day for ever since there were states. Initiative 200 didn’t stop discrimination in the state of Washington; it only made it more pernicious and widespread. It basically said that it was OK for whites (both male and female), in the backrooms where all the decisions were made, to give preferential treatment to other whites. Affirmative action programs were a nuisance because they forced these people to consider hiring or admitting under-representative minorities. Now, they can give whatever excuse they want to—or give no reason at all—and no one will call it discrimination.  
And now comes the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court—continuing to erode equal opportunity for minorities in this country—upholding Michigan’s voter-approved ban on anti-affirmative action, Proposition 2, passed in 2006. The “progressive” Seattle Times, of course, didn’t find this particularly troubling or even newsworthy, since it only affected under-represented racial minorities, not white women or the gay community. In many ways, Michigan is even more discriminatory than Washington, which is why the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled the proposition unconstitutional, violating the equal protection clause. The court also noted the hypocrisy of white students being allowed to take advantage of “legacy” rules, whether they were personally qualified or not.

According to the 2010 Census, blacks make up 14.2 percent of Michigan’s population, yet the University of Michigan has only a 5.8 percent black undergraduate enrollment. On the other hand, Asian students—again, many who are foreign students—make up 12 percent of the undergraduate enrollment, despite constituting just 2.3 percent of the state’s population. It is very much the same story at Michigan State University. But once more those cowardly whites who are mired in their sense of “privilege” and personal cupidity are seeking redress by victimizing  the most vulnerable and discriminated against groups.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

King County voters reject bus funding, but who will "pay" in the end?

On today’s front page it is announced that a King County referendum to raise money to meet public transit budget shortfalls was apparently rather easily defeated. It wasn’t so much the sales tax, which would have been raised one penny per $10; it was raising the annual car tab fee to $60 that seemed to inspire the ire of voters. Tim Eyman, the anti-tax fanatic who authored an initiative that overturned a rise in the car tab voted on by the legislature, called the car tab issue “radioactive.” A few weeks earlier I recalled being seated on a bus opposite a woman who stated that although she was a regular bus rider, she intended to vote against the referendum because it wasn’t “fair” to car drivers.
It is curious how a fee increase that is little more than the cost of a modestly-priced restaurant outing or a trip to the movie theater—or a half tank of gas—discombobulates many people so.  On one hand, I can understand the frustration of lower income people with junk cars not wanting to be saddled with an additional tax, no matter how small. On the other, I understand less that of people of the higher income brackets and right-leaning, who oppose it on “principle”—that they oppose any tax increases (however it hardly affects their pocketbook) regardless of the rationalization for it. That may include, of course, keeping fewer cars off the road that may “annoy” them during rush hour as they travel from their right-wing suburban outposts, to their cushy jobs in downtown Seattle. According to the INRIX Traffic Scorecard, Seattle is already tied for seventh for the worst traffic congestion in the country.
And that is how it often is in this allegedly “blue” state. If people are not perceived to share equally in the “pain”—such as the implementation of a state income tax on the wealthiest residents—it is likely to be opposed not only by those made paranoid by the big money ad campaigns in opposition, but by newspaper editorials (the Seattle Times) that spread the fear that once the water is tested, all will be affected “in time.” It doesn’t matter at all that the poorest residents in this state pay the highest percentage of their income in taxes, while wealthiest get off extremely lightly.
So what now of public transit service? Metro says that service cuts are now inevitable, which means fewer and even more crowded buses. The well-off right-wingers in their gas-guzzling SUVs will say that those who use bus service will have to foot the bill from higher bus fares. You think the Seattle Times is a “liberal” newspaper just because of its gender and gay rights politics? Raising bus fares for those on low-incomes is their editorial board’s solution to the funding problem, in opposing the referendum. I recall a time when one zone bus fare was only 25 cents; fares have risen far more than inflation since then, with income for many people who ride buses remaining stagnate; Metro fares are already the highest in the country, tied with the New York and Philadelphia systems.
Metro does indeed also have some of the highest operating costs per rider in the country, but this is because Metro decided to “accommodate” a certain variety of rider living in far-flung suburban and rural areas who don’t like crowded buses with people they generally don’t like to associate with, by running highly expensive “commuter” routes that run one way during peak hours; these bus routes constitute nearly half of all Metro bus routes. These people should be included among those paying the price for the rejection of the initiative.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Pryor acquisition must be an excuse for Seahawks to dump Jackson, rather than improve back-up QB position

Last season, the Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks were second from the bottom in pass attempts, just three more than (who else) the San Francisco 49ers. They were also 26th and 30th respectively in passing yards gained. Although both teams were highly ranked in rushing offense, in total they were only 17th and 24th respectively in total offense. Both teams’ success was predicated on defense—ranked 1st and 3rd respectively, as well as among the league leaders in forced turnovers. 

That both teams managed to score points at all was indicative of the premium placed on limiting turnovers, which explains the emphasis on the ground game rather than passing. This also “explains” what for some is the Seahawks’ head-scratching acquisition of Oakland’s former starter, Terrelle Pryor, regardless of what its amusing press release on the subject says. The Seahawks traded for him in exchange for a 7th round pick, although they could have gotten him for nothing, since sources reported that Pryor was going to be cut on Monday anyways. Perhaps management wanted to show fans that he was “worth” something. 

Last season, Pryor was ranked 36th out of 37 quarterbacks (ahead of Geno Smith) in quarterback rating (69.1) for those who had the requisite number of pass attempts. Outside of two games in which he had 100+ ratings (against the 27th and 29th ranked passing defenses), Pryor had a 56.7 rating. Matt Flynn—who he “beat out” for the Oakland starting job—with 200 pass attempts had an 85.7 passer rating (I don’t put any stock in ESPN’s “total QBR” since unlike the traditional rating system, it relies too much not just on quantity but on subjective measures, and thus prone to the prejudices of the statistician). 

Although Flynn was the “presumed” starter heading into Oakland’s training camp last year—just as he was the previous year in Seattle—he somehow lost out to a quarterback who despite his 6-6 frame had just as “weak” an arm and even less accuracy. Pryor could, of course, run; my theory is that until NFL defenses can effectively “solve” the question of how to game plan against athletic quarterbacks with “happy feet,” some teams will continue to try to compensate for the lack of a "franchise" pocket passer with one that “confuses” defenses. But like a novice chess player whose “game” might confuse a competent player for awhile, the latter usually figures him out soon enough. 

Pryor will, of course, “compete,” but the question is with whom. Certainly not Russell Wilson; Pete Carroll risks losing the locker room with a move like that. No, this time it is poor Tarvaris Jackson. Jackson had by far his best season with Seattle in 2011, but he threw even fewer passes in 2012 (none) than Flynn (nine). Last season, Jackson played well in junk time against the worst team in the league (Jacksonville), while Flynn only arrived back in Green Bay in time to win enough games (including a 37-36 win over Dallas after trailing 26-3) to help the team somehow win the NFC North. 

Flynn made the smart move by re-signing with Green Bay, where he is regarded as a “hero” for saving at least the regular season; for Jackson, it is likely back on the road again, courtesy of a mediocre (but “athletic”) talent.