16 March 1968- Senator Robert Francis Kennedy Announces His Candidacy for the Democratic Presidential Nomination

Background to the 1968 Presidential Race

1968 began as a tumultuous year. On 21 January North Vietnam launched an assault on the key Marine base at Khe Sanh. On  23 January USS Pueblo, an electronic surveillance ship, was seized by the North Koreans and towed into Wonson Harbor. The North Koreans declared that the crew were spying and brutally tortured the men. One week later North Vietnam and the Viet Cong staged a massive offensive on American and South Vietnamese forces and cities during the Tet holiday. The American embassy was nearly overrun, and Hue City was conquered by the Viet Cong, requiring a brutal all-out counter assault to retake the city. President Johnson and his top military advisors had some inkling of the Tet Offensive, but Johnson, who had come to realize how much that “bitch of war” was destroying his presidency and his dreams of a Great Society, decided to let General William Westmoreland’s soothing words of “there’s light at the end of the tunnel” be the official policy from Washington. A few weeks after the Tet Offensive was launched, a political cartoonist showed Uncle Sam seeing light at the end of a tunnel, but it was a train tunnel, and the light was attached to a train hurtling towards a bemused Uncle Sam. The war in Vietnam, the urban riots that had torn Detroit and Newark asunder in 1967, the seething unrest on college campuses, and the incessant chant of “LBJ, LBJ, how many kids did you kill today”, gave many voters the sense that the United States was no longer a functional country.

Enter Senator EuGene McCarthy

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Senator McCarthy came from Minnesota, and was largely unknown until he decided to challenge President Johnson for the Democratic nomination in 1968. Most party leaders found this idea laughable, since Johnson had won the 1964 election with the largest popular vote margin in history, but McCarthy, despite having voted for the Tonkin Gulf resolution, which authorized President Johnson to use force in Vietnam, now felt that the war was immoral. McCarthy spoke to the high school and college students who were bearing the brunt of the draft for the war, and he also organized these students into a remarkably effective machine. These students “scrubbed clean for Gene”, cut their long hair and beards, and went to New Hampshire in droves to door knock and convince voters that Senator McCarthy would be a better nominee for the Democratic party. On 12 March the Democratic voters in New Hampshire sent the party leadership a stunning message by nearly defeating Johnson, a sitting president. McCarthy won 40% of the primary vote, taking 20 of New Hampshire’s 24 delegates for the upcoming Democratic convention in Chicago.

Senator Robert Kennedy Enters the Race

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Robert Kennedy, brother of the murdered President John F. Kennedy, had been elected to the U.S. Senate from New York in 1964. Since then, those who had loved his brother and his policies had been urging him to run for the presidency, but Kennedy, ever the party loyalist, felt that it would be wrong to challenge the president and leader of his own party for the nomination. As the Vietnam War grew in ferocity, Kennedy saw Johnson’s War on Poverty become consumed by the war in Vietnam. Kennedy also saw his brother’s dreams of America being a shining beacon of democracy and hope destroyed by napalm dropped on Vietnamese women and children. But Kennedy, unlike McCarthy, didn’t enter the race for the nomination…until after McCarthy’s amazing performance in the New Hampshire primary. On 16 March Kennedy stood at the same spot in the Senate where his brother had stood eight years ago and announced his candidacy for the presidency, stating “the disastrous, divisive policies in Vietnam and at home could only be changed by changing the men who are making them.” The entry of the Kennedy into the race infuriated McCarthy and his followers, many of whom felt that that Kennedy had watched and waited as McCarthy did the hard work to prove that Johnson was beatable, and now Kennedy was swooping in to reap the rewards that he hadn’t earned. For the next 88 days Senator Kennedy’s candidacy would energize the nation and serve as a bit of hope in a year that seemed all too hopeless for many.

15 March 1917-The Romanov Dynasty Comes To An End

 

How did it come to this?

By the beginning of 1917 the Russian Empire had been a participant of World War I for three years. While the same could be said of the British Empire and of France, those countries hadn’t suffered the brutality of war like Russia. One of Tsar Nicholas II’s ministers warned him when war began in August of 1914: “We’re an 18th century country fighting a 20th century war”. This ominous truth became bitterly prescient on 2 May, 1915, when Germany launched a devastating offensive against the Russian front. By the end of that year Germany had driven the Russians completely out of Poland, which had been occupied by Russia since 1815. When the Russians launched a counteroffensive in the spring of 1916, the Germans easily checked it. By the end of 1916 the Russians had lost over 4 million men due to death, capture, wounds or disease.

In addition to the horrific losses sustained in combat, the Russians were also dealing with horrendous privation on the home front. Germany easily blockaded the Baltic Sea ports when the war began. In the fall of 1914 the Ottoman Empire entered the war on the side of Germany and Austria-Hungary. Since the Ottoman Empire controlled access to the Bosporus and Dardanelles, this meant that access to Russia via the Med and the Black seas was cut off. Prior to the war Russia’s meager industrial plant had been sustained by importing cheap British coal via the Baltic or Med. With those routes closed off, neither the British or the French could supply Russia with fuel or more importantly food. By fielding an 8 million man army, Russia’s Ukraine breadbasket had to feed the army first. A lack of fuel and food steadily grew worse for the civilians, especially those in the cities, like the capital Petrograd.

What started the end of the dynasty?

In Petrograd on 8 March, 1917, women who had been standing in subzero temperatures waiting for their ration of bread suddenly erupted in a riot. Smashing glass and stealing what few loaves of bread were available, the women sparked riots all over the capital city. As the civil unrest spread, Cossacks and other army units were summoned by the Ministry of the Interior to respond, but unlike previous riots and revolts that had marked the reign of Tsar Nicholas II, this time the Cossacks and army units refused to fire on the crowds. Three years of war and suffering had made even the most hardened veterans realize that firing on women who were seeking bread was simply immoral. The army units began to fraternize with the rioters, reassuring them over and over “don’t worry, we won’t shoot you.” By 12 March mutinies among most army units resulted in the murder of the commanding officers and units refusing the command of the military governor of Petrograd to quell the riots.

Where was the Tsar?

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Tsar Nicholas II

Tsar Nicholas II was at Russian Army headquarters, hundreds of miles west of Petrograd. After the overwhelming German offensive of 1915, Nicholas had dismissed Grand Duke Nicholas as commander of the army. The Tsar then took personal command, leaving the running of the country’s day to day domestic affairs to his wife, Tsarina Alexandra. Tsar Nicholas II ignored all the warnings from his ministers about the shortages of food and fuel throughout 1916. He even dismissed a warning from the mystic Rasputin, who had absolute control over the Tsarina, due to Rasputin’s amazing ability to stem the bleeding episodes of the Tsarevich Alexei, a hemophiliac. As the riots broke out and Nicholas received reports that his beloved Cossacks and other army units were refusing to fire on the crowds, he ordered units to be dispatched from other parts of his empire. Unfortunately for the Tsar, the army had deduced that he was no longer in control of the country. This deduction was confirmed on 12 March, when the Duma, Russia’s parliament, which had been created after the rebellion of 1905, declared that the Tsar was no longer head of state. The Duma further ordered all army units to swear allegiance to the the legislative body, not the Tsar.

How did the Romanov Dynasty End?

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Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarevich Alexei

On 11 March the Tsar ordered Duma dissolved, but the mutinies by the army on 12 March made his order moot. By 14 March nearly every general and admiral in Russia either telegraphed or phoned the Tsar, urging him to abdicate to avoid a civil war. On the morning of 15 March, Nicholas, who truly loved the army and its generals more than anything outside of his family, decided that it would be best if he abdicated the throne. His abdication would have made his 13 year old son Alexei, the Tsarevich, the new Tsar. But Nicholas knew that with his abdication, his son, who was a hemophiliac, would be left in Russia while he and his wife would have to leave the country. Fearing for his son’s health, Nicholas amended the abdication document to also include his son. This left the throne to his brother Michael. Although Michael had served bravely in combat during the war, he correctly realized that no member of the Romanov dynasty would be a welcome ruler of Russia in this time of dramatic upheaval, so he wisely declined to take the throne. His decision ended the Romanov dynasty, which had ruled Russia since 1913.

As Expected, the Nats and Ramos Part Ways

As any fortune teller could have predicted, the Nationals did not extend a qualifying offer to catcher Wilson Ramos, thus making him a free agent for the 2017 season. The Nats had until 5pm yesterday to make the offer, and that deadline passed without the phone ringing in the Ramos household.

I’m very sad to see Wilson leave the team. He’s been a fantastic player for us, both behind the plate and, with his laser vision surgery this year, an amazing bat. Wilson has also suffered the slings and arrows of life’s misfortunes more than the average player. He was kidnapped in his native Venezuela during the 2011 offseason, and even though he was safely rescued, that had to have been a traumatic experience. In 2012 he tore his ACL, and he tore the same ACL as the 2016 season came to a close, removing him from postseason play.

Nats’ GM Mike Rizzo said earlier that the organization wanted to have a “full medical survey” on Ramos before making a decision, and I’m guessing that the front office had all the information they needed before pulling the trigger. Even had the Nats extended a qualifying offer to Ramos, he wouldn’t have been ready to play until May or June of 2017, and his presence behind the plate as a catcher would have been limited at best. It’s highly unlikely that a man with surgery on the same torn ACL would be able to squat for 3+ hours on a regular basis. Unfortunately the National League doesn’t have a designated hitter spot. Hopefully Wilson can find a spot on an AL team that needs a bat. I’ll truly miss yelling “Wilson!” as he comes up to bat. What a classy guy.ramos

The Curse is Over!

The Cubs ended their 108 year World Series victory drought, and their 71 year World Series appearance drought with a stunning win over the Cleveland Indians in Game 7 of the 2016 World Series. The Cubs had a 5-1 lead in the 5th inning, but the Indians refused to roll over and play dead. Against 105mph throwing Aroldis Chapman the Indians stormed back in the 8th to tie it up 6-6. A rain delay ensued before the game resumed for the 9th inning, and it was Ben Zobrist in the 10th inning who gave the Cubs the lead with his RBI single.

Given how sucky the NFL has been this year, it’s truly amazing as a baseball fan to see this level of excitement and drama in a playoff game. The Cubs truly earned this victory, and I hope that fans revel in it for days to come. Now if this could only happen with the Nats….

The 2016 Nats Season-October Elegy

For the third time in five years the Nats were a bridesmaid, but not the bride. This time we were done in by the Dodgers in Game 5. This was my first game 5 appearance at Nats Park, and I was hoping to banish the ghosts of my appearance at Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS. Sadly, it was not to be. Granted the Nats of 2016 played better than the Nats of 2014 in the NLDS, as the score on Thursday night was 4-3 Dodgers, but it’s still a loss. This is the third time the team has failed to advance beyond the NLDS to the NLCS. Is there a curse on the team? Maybe. After all, we lost Strasburg due to a mass in his elbow in August, reducing our effective starting line up by 20%. Joe Ross went down with a shoulder problem just before Stras went on the DL, reducing our starting line up by another 20%.  The hardest blow came during the last week of the regular season, when catcher Wilson Ramos tried to catch a high throw from first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. Ramos came down hard the wrong way, tearing his ACL, the same ACL he tore and had repaired in 2012. That, with the loss of Strasburg and Ross, made it highly unlikely we would beat the Cubs in the NLCS, even if we got past the NLDS. Still, if we could get past the NLDS, it would mean we had exorcised 2012 and 2014 from our system. Maybe.

It was Max Scherzer on the mound in the definitive game 5 on Thursday, 13 October, and he went into the 7th before giving up two runs that made the score 4-1. Our hearts were lifted when Stephen Drew hit a two run shot to make the score 4-3, but when we had bases loaded in the  bottom of the 8th, Anthony Rendon simply couldn’t connect to end the game in our favor. When I saw that Clayton Kershaw was warming up to close for the 9th, I knew that the Nats were in trouble. Sure enough, with Clinton Robinson on first, Daniel Murphy, our most powerful hitter, got jammed and popped up. With two outs, manager Dusty Baker, who had done numerous double switches and pitching changes in the 7th and 8th innings, had one batter left: rookie Wilmer Difo. In movies the rookie comes on and saves the day. In real life the rookie strikes out, the opposing team rushes the field to celebrate their NLDS victory, and the home crowd exits the stadium in stunned silence.

Yeah, it hurts like hell to watch the Dodgers take on the Cubs in the NLCS, but as I said earlier, we would have entered the NLCS at half strength. In a best of 7 series, we would have started Roark tonight, followed by Gio, Ross, and a starter to be named later. The Cubs probably would have swept us in 4 games.

I still love the Nats, and I’m still proud of this team. Unlike other teams, we don’t have to tear the organization to achieve greatness in 2017. We just need to tweak some positions. My suggestions:

Catcher-We stick with Lobaton and Severino, unless we can land a good free agent, like Jonathan Lucroy. If we can get Lucroy without breaking the bank

Shortstop-Danny Espinosa is amazing on the field, but he was less than stellar when batting during the latter part of the regular season. If we can trade him, let’s do so, and move Trea Turner into that slot.

Starting Pitching-Yes, I know. Conventional wisdom says you have to have at least one left handed starter, but Gio Gonzalez was, to put it mildly, a hot mess this year. Ironically he was the only Nats pitcher to beat the Dodgers this year, and he was on the winning side of the ledger in game 3 of this year’s NLDS, but overall, he was less than stellar. We shouldn’t go out and spend a lot of money on a free agent lefty this winter, but we should look at our farm system and see who can step up. 2017 is the last year of Gio’s current contract, and if I were the manager, he would be in the bullpen for long relief.

Bats-We need more pop in the middle and bottom of the lineup. With the loss of Ramos and the questionable bat of Espinosa, we let other teams feast on us when batters 7, 8 and 9 come to the plate. This is where a better hitting catcher, like Lucroy, or please God, Buster Posey, would be a huge addition.

I console myself with this little nugget: This team has been in the Washington area since 2005. In 11 years it has won the National League East Division three times. There are a lot of teams that would kill to be in our position. Yes, it hurts not to advance. I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t. But it feels great to have a team in this area that I can finally and truly call my own. I love baseball, I love the Nats, and I’m hopeful that one day my boys will win it all.

 

 

 

The Battle of the Teutoborg Forest

Date of battle-9-11 September, 9 CE

Location of battle-Lower Saxony, Germany

Participants-Publius Varus, leader of the XVIII, XIX and XX Legions of the Roman Empire and Arminius, leader of the Germanic tribes

Outcome-The complete destruction of the three Roman legions, resulting in the greatest defeat of Roman Imperial power

Background-Under the rule of Augustus Caesar, the first true Roman Emperor, the Roman Empire had been pushing steadily south and east into Europe. As they pushed further east, they began to encounter the Germanic tribes. As the Romans tried to bring these tribes under their rule, resistance became the norm. The more the tribes resisted, the more the Romans punished, particularly by using heavy taxation and crucifixion for the worst offenders. Varus, the leader of the three legions which ended up being destroyed by Arminius, was a particularly harsh ruler, known for mass crucifixions.

Arminius was the son of one of the German chiefs, and he and his brother had been taken to Rome as hostages to ensure the good behavior of their father. While in Rome Arminius was trained as a soldier and equestrian, given Roman citizenship, and ultimately given command of a legion that was engaged in subduing the Balkans. When Arminius returned home to Germany around 8 CE, he realized that if the Roman forces continued to press eastward from the Rhine, his tribes would be brought completely under the heel of Roman rule. Arminius decided that now was the time to prevent that from happening.

The Battle-Varus was lured into battle by false reports of an uprising of Germanic tribes. The source of the false reports was none other than Arminius, the “trusted” advisor to Varus. Acting on false intelligence from Arminius, Varus led his legions into the Teutoborg Forest, not realizing that he was entering into an ambush set by Arminius. From 9 to 11 September in 9 CE, the Germanic tribes executed a classic encirclement and destruction of Varus’ legions. When Varus realized that defeat was upon him, he committed suicide by falling on his sword.

The Effect of the Battle-Many historians rank this as one of the greatest, if not the greatest disaster of the Roman Empire. Roman conquest of Germania was halted once and for all, and the eastern boundary of the Roman Empire was fixed at the Rhine River. A Germanic barbarian sanctuary was now firmly established in the heart of Europe, with tribes completely cut off from the growing civilization of the Roman Empire. Ultimately this barbarian sanctuary would lead to the destruction of the  Roman Empire, and it would have profound effects on the formation of the German Empires under Bismarck and Hitler. The celebration of Arminius’ victory over Rome was celebrated by German nationalists in the 19th century as Germanic states and independent cities were brought under the rule of Prussia, but once Nazi Germany was destroyed in 1945, the victory of Arminius was no longer celebrated. The German government did not celebrate the 2000th anniversary of the battle at all, despite the fact that this battle is one of the most consequential in the history of Europe and the larger world.

Let the Battle of September Begin

The Nats enter the month of September sitting atop the NL East with a 9.5 game lead over the Mets. This is a role reversal from 2015, when the Mets came to Washington with a 6.5 game lead over the Nats. That series ended in a sweep of the Nats and the elimination of any and all hopes the Nats had for post season. This season is totally different. For one thing Dusty Baker is in charge of the team now, and his leadership style is a far cry from the tightly wound “it’s our plan” Matt Williams. Another change is the the bullpen. When Mike Rizzo, the Nats’ general manager, realized that Papelbon’s fastball wasn’t what it used to be, he went out and made a trade to get Mark Melancon from the Pirates. Melancon has been lights out since we acquired him, and with Koda Glover as a set up man, the Nats have achieved the same combination of winning talent that the British General Staff achieved when it put General Alexander and General Montgomery in charge of the British 8th Army after the fall of Tobruk in June of 1942. By October the British were able to mount a major offensive at El Alamein, and by November a combined Anglo-American offensive was launched in Morocco. The rest, as they say, is history.

My hope is that the Nats don’t get overconfident and cocky. Granted we are dominating the NL East right now, and the playoffs are in sight. That being said, sloppy play can destroy a commanding lead. We have three games against the Mets in New York beginning tonight. Let’s play well, win the series (sweeps are Fascist, although there’s nothing wrong with Fascism, but we’ll discuss that later), and get past the NLDS this year.