Friday, April 20, 2018

Gun Violence in America

It is extraordinary sometimes to consider how easily ideology gets in the way of the collective future of our children. Whether it's global warming, educational funding, excessive corporate power, insane governmental debt or, of course, gun control, the ideological firmaments that many refuse to pass blind them to the effects their actions not only have on children in general but even their own.

Exhibit A in this myopic worldview is current debates around gun control and those inured to their position on the premise that no legislation, as benign as it might be, should pass to address the alarming increase in mass shootings over the past two decades. To wit, is the latest numbers from the Washington Post showing that over 200,000 students have been touched by gun violence since the Columbine shooting in 1999. Here is a visual representation of that reality (each dot is 10 students, click on image to enlarge).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Democracy in Retreat

Trump and the Republican Congress continue to abrogate their responsibility to actually represent the people who elected them by passing, or trying to pass, extremely unpopular legislation. This was true of the Obamacare overhaul that fell only one vote short, the tax cut for the wealthy that passed last month and now the attempt to dismantle the Dream Act, that has caused the government shutdown we are currently mired in ...

To be fair, the majority of Americans are not supportive of either Trump or the Republican-led Congress, but that is little salve for the majority of Americans suffering through the first year of this dysfunctional, Russian-sponsored, administration. 

Thursday, November 02, 2017

The Rampant Cynicism at the Heart of the GOP

As we near a potential constitutional crisis over the alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian operatives, the Republicans are trying to shove through a tax bill that hurts the vast majority of Americans to help a chosen few. Together with earlier failed attempts at healthcare “reform,” their complicity in Trump’s attack on our environment and democracy and the shoving through of cabinet members clearly unqualified to run the agencies they now do, this latest bill lays bare the cynicism at the heart of the Republican party today, not only on the fringes but straight through to the mainstream and even more moderate members.

The bill cuts Medicaid, which provides healthcare to poor children and adults, by over $1 trillion over the next 10 years (costing 15 million Americans their insurance). It cuts Medicare, which provides healthcare to the elderly, by $473 billion. And it includes huge cuts to education, nutrition programs, affordable housing and transportation (of approximately $200 billion). And why? To give tax cut to our wealthiest citizens and corporations still hording their record profits, rather than passing them on to their employees. Eighty percent of the cuts go to the top 1 percent of wage earners and a full 40 percent of that to the top 0.1 percent. This includes ending the alternative minimum tax, which will hand $400 billion in tax cuts to that group, and repealing the estate tax yet again (handing $240 billion to the the richest .02%). And it gives another huge handout to corporations (cutting the corporate rate from 35 to 20 percent, which translates to $2 trillion in lost revenue they then have to make up), many that pay little to no taxes to begin with. The middle class? They might actually see a tax rise.

Remember that healthcare bill that would have taken health insurance away from about 32 million Americans and only failed by a single vote? This bill is much worse. It is symptomatic of a party that has ceased to cultivate any new ideas or substantive policies beside lowering taxes on the rich, cutting services to the poor and serving the interests of corporate America, no matter at what cost to the environment, workers, our children or our collective future.

With each of the bills introduced by the Republicans since taking control of all levers of the federal government, there has been an attempt to release the bill’s details in relative secret, avoid the criticism of the media and their constituents by any means necessary and then slip it through, though those efforts have largely failed to date. As with the healthcare bill, which was even less popular, they appear to care little that only 25 percent of Americans support it or that they continue to push an agenda that is detrimental to the average (and majority) of Americans.

One could argue that the Republican party today, with an assist to politicians like the Clintons and other DLCers from the 90s, first cultivated the rampant cynicism that has spread across the country like a plague and are now attempting to capitalize on it to further hurt average Americans, in the process only further propagating that cynicism. This is accomplished through a number of avenues, but the most important might be the uber-partisanship that now reigns in Washington. When they are out of power, they simply block as much of the agenda as possible, and then speak to the fact that nothing is getting done. At the same time, they attack government in general, based on this “policy blockade,” further perpetuating the idea that government can’t solve any of our problems. And they simultaneously attack all of the other social institutional that could hold them accountable for their cynical actions, from the media and universities to our schools and unions.

As a final piece to the puzzle, they play on the fears and anxieties of average Americans, distracting them with fake news (aka propaganda) and conspiracy theories and then stoking the flame of their racism, sexist, homophobia and xenophobia, to avert attention from the real source of so many of the problems in this country – too much economic power in the hands of too few, the continued growth in power and size of our biggest multinational corporations and the dramatic and growing inequality in the country.

“Make America Great Again,” feel more and more like “corporate fascism rocks!”everytime a new policy agenda item comes to light.   

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Fake News Hits the Holocaust

Fake News, as I argued in an article here last year, is not a new phenomenon, as many in the media (and Trump) seem to imply. And yet the acceleration of “counternarratives” (aka lies) accelerate and proliferate across our fiber optic and airwaves, the truth has become more tenuous than at any time since science came along to challenge the hegemony of religion, mythology and old world traditions. The latest parry in this ongoing war on knowledge, beyond the daily barrage by the Trump administration, comes thanks to one its former members, Anthony Scaramucci.

In an online poll on his twitter account, the Scar (my nickname), asked the following question:

How many Jews were killed in the Holocaust?
o Less than 1 million
o Between 1-2 million
o Between 2-3 million
o More than 5 million

Holocaust deniers are not new, either, of course, but is this really a question we have to continue to debate in the mainstream of American politics – or at least the new “mainstream?” Beyond the absurd response that they were simply “testing people’s knowledge” of the tragedy is the fact that it was 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, which is substantially more than “more than 5 million.”

If you’re wondering, the results as of the time of the Washington Post story was 69 percent for the theoretically “correct” answer, 7 percent who thought it was 2-3 million, 4 percent who believed 1 to 2 million and an astounding 20 percent who claimed “less than a million.”

With global warming, past presidential phone calls, Iranian nuclear weapon activities, the real beneficiaries of tax cuts and Russian interference in our election all up for debate just the past week, is it any wonder we return to perpetuating one of the ugliest lies repeated over the past 60 years? Not with our current Commander and Thief in charge of the public dialogue …

Friday, September 15, 2017

Arsenal Win Second on the Bounce (3-1 Over Cologne)

After the humiliating losses to Liverpool and Stoke and the two-week international break, Arsenal have righted the ship with two straight wins on the bounce, though the real test comes Sunday at Stamford Bridge. First, they dominated Bournemouth in a 3-0 victory Saturday then followed that up with a come-from-behind 3-1 win over a game Cologne tonight. Both matches saw them dominate possession (to the tune of 72 percent possession and 16(7) shots to 10(4) against Cologne) and both included three goals from very different sides. However, they have played well at the Emirates since last March and it is their patchy road form that must improve if they are to improve on last season’s fifth place finish in the league.

Three thoughts on the Cologne game and a By the Numbers Summary of the Bournemouth game last weekend:

1.    Sanchez Looks Set to Play Key Role
At times, Sanchez continues to look like a player that would rather be elsewhere. And yet, his brilliant goal in the 67th minute gave Arsenal a 2-1 lead and it appeared to wake him up, as he ran all over the pitch for the remainder of the game, providing several opportunities for his teammates to build on the lead while almost sneaking in a cheeky chip at the far post from an acute angle late on. His commitment and productivity will be key to any chance Arsenal will have in the league, the Cups or Europe and it is clear he can link up well with one of the best bargains of the summer, in Kolasinac, who scored the equalizer and appears to be a player that can contribute on both ends of the pitch.

It seems all but inevitable that Sanchez will leave at the end of the season, if not during the Winter transfer window, and that Ozil might well follow him out the door. Sanchez will be all but impossible to replace, but if Arsenal plan well, they can find a decent replacement, blood their younger talent, continue to eradicate the dead weight and move forward. With his help, it could be back in the Champions League next season. Or he can start to dream of his preferred destination to the Northwest and Arsenal’s season could collapse, leaving the team in tatters for what is likely to be Wenger’s last season. Let’s hope it’s the former …

2.    Defense Still Looks Shaky
Rob Holding showed real promise last season in limited participation, but he seems to have developed some bad habits including poor passing from the back, pushing too far forward and getting caught out, reckless challenges around the box and getting beaten to balls in the box. His performance in the first half was largely forgettable and while Cologne didn’t capitalize with its chances after the opener, he too often left the other defenders exposed. It is particularly important that he show defensive discipline with the sluggish Mertesacker by his side. And Monreal, while an asset for the Gunners for several years, is just not good enough to play in the back three. One issue appears to be his height, but another is his tendency to get beaten down the right channel a little too often for comfort.

If Arsenal is to truly rebound in the league and challenge for a Top Four place in the new Top 6 (or 7), they will have to solidify their defensive deficiencies, and much will depend on the consistency of Koscielny, improvements from Mustafi and slotting in a reliable third centreback when they play the back three that worked so well at the tail end of last season. It is unclear who the best option is for that third slot, with each of the alternatives having clear deficiencies. Mertesacker’s lack of pace can be covered by Kos and Mustafi in most cases, but is still an important liability. Holding still has work to do to stake a place and Monreal just doesn't seem as reliable as he has been in the past. If they move back to a back four, Kolasinac provides their best offensive threat, allowing Sanchez to move further forward, as was the case in the second half against Cologne, and Bellerin’s pace provides strength on both sides of the pitch. But Wenger will have to show flexibility and be willing to leave Monreal on the bench if it helps shore up the back.

3.  Europa League Might Provide Perfect Platform to Create Competition
Theo Walcott continues to confound, missing several chances to score and finding himself offsides a bit too often in the Europa League tie Thursday, though at least one of those calls was wrong. Jack Wilshere played for the side for the first time in over a year and it showed, with the midfielder heavy with his touches and average with his passing. Ospina’s poor clearance and positioning gave Cologne their 9th minute opener. And youngster  Maitin-Niles showed his age (20) starting out at left back.

On the other hand, it was good to see Mertesacker back in the side, in what will be his final season. Holding clearly needs time to develop his skills and discipline and this might be the perfect platform to cultivate his talent. Iwobi, as well, took a step backwards last season and needs game time to try to find the form that was close to scintillating a couple of years back. Elneny also needs game time as an important substitute and spot starter this season and the Europa League should give Giroud the starts he is unlikely to experience much in the league.

Overall, it was a good first game in the competition for the Gunners, continuing what was a largely positive week for England in Europe, with City, Chelsea, Tottenham and United all winning, Liverpool drawing 2-2 and only Everton losing in a rather humiliating 3-0 loss to Atalanta. After the Chelsea match Sunday, Arsenal have a nice run of winnable fixtures across competitions, with Doncaster in the League Cup, BATE in Europe, Brighton and Watford in the League and then Red Star Belgrave on the road, before a visit to a struggling Everton. If they can get a positive result at Stamford Bridge, or in the matches that follow if they do fall short, they could well build momentum heading into a tough early November schedule.

4. Arsenal-Bournemouth by the Numbers

0 - Goals for the ageless Bournemouth striker Jermain Defoe at the Emirates. He almost got off the snide Saturday, though his header early in the second half hit off the post. In his career with Sunderland, Tottenham, West Ham and Bournemouth, he has played against Arsenal 24 times in the league, winning 4, losing 12 and drawing 8, though he has only scored three times in those 24 games (1 each for West Ham, Tottenham and Sunderland). He is also scoreless in four league cup matchups. 

2 in 2 - Lacazette's goal return for Arsenal, after scoring 37 in all comps last season in France. Makes you wonder why he didn't start against Liverpool ... while we’re at it - Kolasinac provided the assist for the opener (his second to Welbeck in three games), but he too started on the bench two weeks ago. Wenger madness? We’re used to it.         

5-0 - on the back of a convincing 4-0 thrashing of Arsenal, Liverpool decided to return the favor to City, though giving up a full quintet of goals. Four of those five came after Sadio Mane got confused and thought he was in a UFC contest with new City keeper Ederson, giving him a cleated kick to the face. Klopp complained about the red, but come on!

6 in 6 - heading to the Championship, Nottingham Forrest has conceded 6 set piece goals in 6 matches, which might make Liverpool feel a little better. Many might think of Arsenal, but they actually led the league in fewest set piece goals conceded last season with 6.

43% - Welbeck, after two forgettable games on the bounce where he missed 4-5 chance in the 1-0 loss to Stoke and was largely invisible in the Liverpool thrashing, came through with a goal and assist in the first half Saturday, then the third for Arsenal in the 51st minute with a inch-perfect finish across Begovic to the far corner. That's 3 in 4 for the English international in the league, while also scoring for England during the international break. It was his first brace since December 13, 2013 (for United at Aston Villa). His three goals for Arsenal are 43% of their 7 total, only behind the 50% for James Vardy at Leicester (3 in 6)

59% - Possession for Arsenal in the game Saturday, alongside outshooting Bournemouth 17(9) to 7(2).

89 - Granit Xhaka is leading the league in total passes completed after four games, at a clip of 89 a game, with an 82 percent completion rate. He hasn’t scored yet this season, but has chipped in with two assists in four. Not bad for a player criticized ceaselessly last season after his move from the “other” Borussia.

91st - Bournemouth's position in English football when Eddie Howe took over. After two good seasons in the Premier league in the wake of the march upward, he is experiencing early trouble with his side, who have one goal and no points from four games. 

99 - Super sub Olivier Giroud has been stuck on 99 goals for four games now. 

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Arsenal Shamed by Liverpool at Anfield (4-0)

Liverpool bulldozed Arsenal today at Anfield, cruising to a 4-0 win that could have been even worse, but for a couple of decent Cech saves and a few missed opportunities to score. It was a truly disgraceful performance by the Gunners that was universally condemned, even by their own “stars.” The opener came in the 17th minute, when Arsenal killer Firmino (four goals in five games against the North London outfit) snuck between the Gunner’s three centre backs and headed the ball in off the turf from an Emre Can cross, after one of at least 30 needless turnovers by the Gunners. The second, which all but sealed the victory given the lack of offensive thrust from the Gunners, came on 40 minutes, with a deadly Liverpool counter, aided by undisciplined play by Ramsey for the second time, was finished by the impressive Mane. Arsenal started the second half a little brighter and looked poised to make a game of it before Salah robbed Hector Bellerin halfway inside his own half and charged forward to score. The humiliation was made complete in the 77th minute, when Daniel Sturridge scored his first of the season with an open header from a Salah cross.

Three thoughts on the game:

1. Last Week Finishing, This Week …. Everything
It is rare that you witness a game where one side can have no complaints, with everyone chipping in to their strengths, and the other can take absolutely no positives. Liverpool, of course, are the former and Arsenal the latter. This was about as abject as I have ever seen Arsenal play, even worse than the two 5-1 losses to Bayern last season or the 8-2 thrashing at the hands of United in 2011. It was not just the errant passes, the defensive mistakes and the lapses of reason, but the general lack of passion, conviction or effort that defined this capitulation by the Gunners.

In the end, this loss comes down to a lack of effort and will to win by the players, but that is the job of the manager. Sanchez wants to leave. Ozil might want to leave, if there were any worthwhile takers. Ox has an impressive offer on the table, but seems like he would rather move on to Chelsea or another EPL side. And in a surprising story this morning, it appears Mustafi might want to leave a mere year after arriving. That is not healthy for any team and speaks to the sense that the team is just not good enough. On top of that, was the tactics employed by Wenger in this game, and in most of the games against the rest of the top 6 over that past almost decade. He refuses to play defensively, hoping he can outscore his opponents, even on the road, and seems to have no Plan B as things fall apart.

Some questions for Wenger: 1. Why are there still no leaders on this side since the departure of Viera et al? 2. Why not play Mustafi or Kolasinac through the middle, instead of continuing to use Monreal there, even as it is not a natural fit for him? Or what of Mertesacker (though maybe his pace would be an issue against this Liverpool side)? And why did you sell Gabriel? 3. Why wouldn’t you play the prolific striker you signed for a record fee against a Liverpool side that has shown defensive liabilities over the past few seasons? And why play the wasteful Welbeck through the middle instead? On top of that is playing Bellerin on the opposite side of his strength, just to accommodate a player who appears ready to leave no matter what (Ox, for those who are wondering), 4. Might it have made sense to start Coquelin beside Xhaka, to give your side more solidity through the middle? 5. Why has your side been so bad against the Top 6 (and the best teams in Europe) for a full decade now – except a couple of seasons ago when you actually played a more defensive/counterattacking style that actually reaped some positive results? 6. When are you going to leave?  

2.  Want-aways Showed It Today
Ox showed up with a couple of early runs, but was nowhere to be seen in covering the defense on counters or providing anything meaningful on the offensive side. Ozil was downright awful; so bad, in fact, that he collapsed to the pitch at the end of the game looking baffled and lost by how poor he had played. He apologized to the fans via social media this evening, but does that really make up for his continued tendency to disappear in big games. And Sanchez, though just returning from a long layoff, did not display the usual passion or drive we are used to finding from the Chilean. In fact, him grinning on the sideline after being substituted essentially sums up all that is wrong with the side at the moment.

All three seemed like they would rather be elsewhere, and every indication is that their play might just match their desire moving forward if they are not allowed to leave a club they feel will not improve dramatically enough to challenge for the title or in Europe. Who can blame them at this point, though it is worth noting that, beyond Sanchez (and even him on occasion), these players have been on the pitch for at least the past four years and have failed to deliver when the stakes rose.

There are also rumors swirling that Mustafi might move on to Inter. Having watched the game today from up close, let’s hope Wenger realizes he needs Mustafi more than ever, as Holding is starting to look a little out of his depths against speedy wingers and Monreal just shouldn’t play through the middle any longer – the step he’s lost in the last season or so together with his height making him a consistent liability. Koscielny cannot do it alone, and the rest of the side seems more intent on attacking as a unit than ensuring they keep their discipline and, as counterintuitive as it appears to Arsenal, the odd clean sheet.

3. Liverpool Irresistible as Dominance of Top 6 Continues
Liverpool were the best team in the division against the rest of the Top 6 last season and have continued that with one of their most impressive victories since their near miss in 2013. Without two of their best players, in Coutinho and Lallana, they absolutely dominated Arsenal across the pitch, using their pace on the counter to dust the visitors. More impressive was the defensive display, with their three midfielders dominated Xhaka and Ramsey (and later Coquelin).

Klopp might finally have a team close to one of his own making, and that is starting to show. He is among the finest managers in football not only for his tactical nous, though we will again have to see if the players tire around Christmas, as they have the past two seasons, but for his ability to get the best out of his players. Without the budget or stars of the sides around him, he has found a way to compete at the top level, even as trophies have eluded him in recent years (a rather poor record in finals that goes back to his last few years at Dortmund).

The team has plenty of attacking power and pace, with Salah looking like an excellent signing, Mane among the best wingers in the league, Firmino growing in stature, and Sturridge able to score at a stellar rate, even if the rest of his game does not suit his German leader. The back line has improved since the first game of the season and Can and Henderson were everywhere across the pitch, potentially forming a partnership shield that can address the leaky defense that has cost them far too many points, particularly against lesser sides, over the past few seasons. And as a reminder, this is a side that was lacking their most talented player, in Coutinho, and another attacking threat in Lallana.

United seem like the early form team in the league, City are finding ways to garner points without being terribly impressive and Chelsea have bounced back nicely from their shock opening defeat, though three games doesn’t tell us as much as the pundits would like to pretend. But Liverpool should certainly be in the conversation for a title contender, particularly as Tottenham continue to struggle in their temporary home at Wembley, blowing two points in extra time to put a wry smile on the face of Gooners, like me, who are considering simply forgetting about football and following professional bocce tournaments as neutral supporters instead.