Thursday, September 29, 2011

Arsenal Wins!

It wasn't pretty. It didn't end anxiety about our defense and will to win. It doesn't automatically qualify us for the knock-out stage of the Champions League. But it was an important win -- our third in a row -- and accomplished with all the injuries I discussed yesterday. The 2-1 win saw goals from two summer signings -- 18 year old wunderkind Oxlade-Chamberlain (who looked very impressive in spells) and defender Santos (who looks much better moving forward than playing defense). The defense still looked porous for parts of the game, too many opportunities to put the game out of reach were blown and the result was still in question down to the final moments. Yet unlike Man U and Chelsea, the team didn't wilt in this tie and held off their opponent for an important three points. 

A few thoughts from the game ... Chamberlain looks like he could challenge Walcott for the starting winger spot. That could actually open the door to put Walcott and Van Persie up front together, as many including the former believe is a more natural spot for him. Mertesacker continues to look slow, but was more stable in the back and may just work out as a good leader for the defense (but like most Gooners, I can't wait for Vermaelen to return). Arshavin and Rosicky are past their primes and this should probably be their last season with the squad. Arshavin still shows moments of great creativity, but has a tendency to try to get around defenders by kicking the ball forward and being blocked off. If I can see it, I'm sure most defenders are aware of the tired move by now. Rosicky doesn't have the shot he used to, nor from what I can tell the will to shoot. He had a clear shot on goal in the 2nd half and instead passed the ball. Chamakh appears to have woken up from the stupor he had on the pitch for most of the past 10 months or so, but has to be more forceful in finishing. Yes he finally scored recently, but should have had one or two in this game and could have helped us at least salvage a point at Blackburn a couple of weeks back.

The good news is we have won three straight and go into Tottenham with a chance to get our League season back on track. One hopes we can display the mettle we have shown in the Champions League so far this year in a critical league battle ...

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

How Good are the Manchesters? And More Injury Woes for Arsenal

It has not been the best of weeks for Manchester United (which is good news for me). First they could only muster a draw with Stoke 1-1 (though on the road) and then a shock 3-3 draw with Basil in the Champions League. This begs the question how good Man U are? I think the answer is very good. They won the league and got to the final of the Champions League last year and are a better squad this year. Even after falling 3-2 behind and looking in real trouble they did the usual Man U shuffle and stole a point at full time. Yet there is clearly a problem at the back and the young team will probably give up a fair number of goals this year. The thing is, they will probably score a lot more. And one can't ignore the fact that Rooney has been out for those two games, and in stellar form at the beginning of this long campaign. So while I hate to admit it, I still think they are the team to beat -- though obviously Man City and Chelsea will probably compete for the crown. While I'm at it, what about that Man City team? One fear was that a team so stacked with talent would lead to player discontent. And it showed up in spades today in the loss to Bayern Munich, that puts their Champions League future in doubt. Carlos Tevez apparently refused to come on in the second half, thus probably ending his career with the club (right after he moved his family there and at least pretended at content). Then Dzeko had a temper tantrum after being taken off for De Jong early in the second half as well (which is a truly bizarre move for a team with such impressive attacking form). So while the Mans will probably vie all year for the title, there is certainly the possibility of some slip ups along the way -- as was the case with Chelsea last year after brilliant early form. 

Can Arsenal take advantage? Well I am a fount of hope when it comes to my favorite club, but I think the year depends on putting together a winning streak starting this weekend against Tottenham and making some moves in the Winter Transfer window. The blown game against Blackburn really burns if you look at the table and realize where they would have been if they had gotten the three points they really should have. But past is not always prologue and we certainly can't change that past. The problems with a needed return to form are threefold:
1. More and more injuries decimating the team. Wilshire is now out until at least January after his ankle injury ultimately called for surgery. Vermaelen is still out as is Diaby and also Djourou (thank god) and Squillaci (maybe even more of a blessing in disguise). But we have just learned that Gervinho, Koscielny and Walcott cannot play either. And Benayoun is unavailable. So count them eight players are already down so early in the campaign. What does this mean for the home Champions League tie tomorrow? Well, Alex Song appears poised to actually play as a center back, meaning Frimpong will start as the holding midfielder. One assumes Sagna on the left and either Gibbs or Santos on the right. Moving forward, I hope Chamberlain gets the start with Van Persie and one assumes Arteta, Ramsey and Rosicky  (or maybe Arshavin). Anyway, hopefully the youngsters can come through and grab us the needed 3 points. 

2. A defense that has been ridiculously porous this year now has to count on Mertesacker as its linchpin, and I'm not really sure he's up for the role. His infamous slowness appears to be a problem and his outlet passes have been average at best. One hopes Song can fill in at the back, or maybe Miquel, but there is certainly cause for concern. Us fans can't count the days fast enough until Vermaelen's return, but it has clearly cost us not getting another centre back for the club this summer. 

3. Taking advantage of opportunities. The last two matches have certainly given Gooners hope, but one can't help but feel we should have scored six against Blackburn and that has been a problem for us since the Carling Cup final last year. Hopefully, Van Persie stays in form and some others start to answer the call when in front of the net with clear opportunities to finish. Santos and Park came with the promise of improving our offensive output. One hopes they answer that call (and in the latter case, are given the chance).

Sunday, September 25, 2011

No to NCLB, Kind Of

In the first sign that some semblance of sanity might be returning to the debate on educational policy in America, President Obama today used executive authority to give states more flexibility in meeting the dictates of No Child Left Behind: Crooks & Liars. This is good news for those of us that believe relentless testing and punishment are not the solution to our educational problems. Instead we need systemic reform in funding, teacher training and curriculum and instruction to address the diverse needs of our diverse student population. We need to increase the number of real world examples, critical thinking skills, outlets for creativity, make learning both challenging and engaging for all youth, use technology effectively to heighten interest and engagement and find ways to reward teachers who do a good job without resorting to undermining unions or tying wages to test performance and stop blaming all of our educational problems on said teachers. We need to find ways to expand programs that help educate adults and help them help their children with homework and value education in general. We need to stop listening to those who argue vouchers and charter schools are the solution to our problems. Really we need higher standards and the tools for teachers and students to struggle toward those goals. The one truism that is too often ignored in education is that children tend to perform to the level of expectations. And too often those expectations are too low. Let's give kudos to Obama for finally making a good decision.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Arsenal Wins!!!

Well, it has gotten to the point where a 3-0 win over Bolton at home is big news. And really it is. But for two freak goals and too many missed opportunities last week, this would be our third league win in a row. We can build on the clean sheet and the control of the game. What we still need to do is be more ruthless in front of the goal. Van Persie has become one of the best finishers in football today, but we need others to score. At the top of the list is Walcott, who played an up and down game but should have scored at least one goal. His decision-making and finishing touch continue to trouble me, as a couple results this year could have gone the other way but for his inability to put it in the net.

Now onto the abbreviated report card (I'm going to play myself in a few minutes):

Alex Song: really played well today and is growing into a great holding midfielder. Also has an important third goal as we try to get on the right side of the goal differential again.

Van Persie: we need to do enough this year to keep this top striker who finds ways to score in almost every game.

Arshavin: really looked good and creative in his short time on the pitch. Really think the little Russian might have something to contribute this year.

Gervinho: I'm still a little troubled by his tendency to give the ball away and his finishing touch, but after the goal last week, am just waiting for him to begin to gel completely with the rest of the team.

Ramsey: really growing into the midfield role and not much to complain about.

Arteta: good, strong game. No goals but certainly had some great outlet passes and didn't give the ball away at all.

Mertesacker: starting to look more comfortable, but still has some work to do to be a top defender in the premiership.

Koscielny: looked much better today, though there were some possibilities for Bolton (not necessarily his fault).

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Post-Black World?

One of the most promising and troubling proclivities of postmodern identity exploration is the argument that long-held identity markers have become more porous or completely disentangled. Among the more absurd maneuvers along this trajectory is the "post-Blackness" discourse that emerged in the 90s and came to full fruition with the election of Barack Obama. A new book by MSNBC correspondent, contributing editor to Rolling Stone, and author of three previous books Toure takes on this daunting task.

While I haven't yet read the book, there is an interesting review in the New York Times Sunday book review section: NYT. I do not want to critique the arguments laid out in a book I haven't read, nor to cast my white gaze too acutely on a subject that will always be alien to me. Instead I want to look at the ramifications of the discourse. It is certainly positive to consider the Black artist and scholar freed from the dark shadow of the collective past, pigeon-holed into writing about their experiences and thoughts from a "Black" perspective." It is certainly also true that identity has become more fluid and that the next generation (at least in urban centers) appears to have cast aside many of the prejudices that once dominated the cultural landscape.

What troubles me is the ramifications of eliminating important points of connection that can be used in the struggle for social justice and democracy. Postmodernism too often ends up atomizing the public into minute groups that would find it hard to have the political will or clout to enact any meaningful change. This is made more troubling when we consider that one of the two parties in American politics finds it difficult even to move to the center-left. What happens to the statistical and very real differences that continue to persist along color lines in this new narrative? Do we ignore bell hook's valid point that essentialism can be a powerful political weapon, even if it is ill-conceived? What is really interesting in these debates is what is more important in identity formation -- the beliefs of those forming the identity or the external stereotypes that define the body externally? I think it is important to recognize that the new generation is not saddled by the overt racism that once reigned in America, but the invisible racism that seeps out of every corner still has the power to play a huge role in defining "Blackness" and youth still determining their position in the social pyramid. I hope for the day when race no longer matters; but seriously doubt whether than day is anon ...

Rick Perry: A Real American!

This campaign for the Republican nomination is starting to feel like the limbo (aka, how low can you go)? Ricky Perry is certainly challenging for the title at the moment. See his latest ad: Talking Points Memo. The slick ad includes a series of quick jump cuts from one scene to the next -- first we get the Obama scare tactic together with a record of his failure (with no mention of the Republican Congress that has blocked him at every turn) and then a series of exciting images of New York City and the "real America" reminding us that Perry is a "Real American" who can boldly lead us into the new world. Just as a reminder of how he is going to do this (which isn't included in the ad at all): end social security, elect Senators by fiat, reduce government spending on healthcare, cut corporate and individual taxes, maybe increase federal executions (since he is so fond of them in Texas) and make America a Christian nation again ...

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Arsenal Scare

Twenty minutes into a 3rd round Carling Cup tie, Arsenal again found themselves behind due to their defensive porousness (and another Djourou error). Panic must have been rumbling across the Emirates as the thought of a defeat to League Two Shrewsbury became a reality. But defender Gibbs equalized before the half and upstart Oxlade-Chamberlain apparently had a great second half including a 25-yeard cracker at the hour mark before Benayoun sealed the deal with a tap in. Good news for a squad that is short of it at present, and promise for youngsters Chamberlain and Coquelin. While the present is a disaster, the future could be much brighter. Rumours from yesterday also have Hazard making the move to Arsenal next summer in return for offloading the disappointing Arshavin. This could make for a much stronger squad next year, if we pick up another centre-half and defender to add depth. The Carling Cup might again be our best chance at silverware this year, and one hopes we keep up the good form to build on. I really do think it's time to move Djourou down the pecking order though, and get ready to offload him next summer. He did look good early on last year, but has completely lost his confidence and is just costing us too often ... On to Bolton!

Monday, September 19, 2011

Freedom and Empathy

So I have already discussed the Tea Party and their lack of empathy. I just happened to see the clip of the crowd cheering on Ron Paul as he says a sick 30 year old who doesn't have health insurance should die: You Tube and there was also the loud cheering for Perry's record number of execution. Are we a country that has lost its compassion and empathy? The Tea Party spokepeople claim that they are not interested in social issues, but economics alone: Crooks & Liars. This claim is so absurd as to not warrant a response, but there is the deeper issue of whether we can actually separate social issues like healthcare and poverty from economics. This is the assumption of conservatives, but it is again an absurd claim.

The role of the state in contemporary societies has been to mitigate the power of corporations and the power elite to exploit the public at large. They have done this in a number of ways since the beginning of the Great Depression by supporting unions, regulating banks and investment firms, offering healthcare to some or all citizens, breaking up monopolies and oligopolies, helping the poor, elderly and handicapped, protecting workers rights, regulating irresponsible and dangerous corporate behavior and redistributing income. They have also worked to soften the ebbs of the business cycle by providing stimulus to the economy. Since the conservative revolution, all of these roles have been attacked and seriously circumscribed. This is well-trodden territory. What is less acknowledged in the mainstream is the simultaneous effort to mark poverty and lack of economic success as moral failures.

There is a long tradition of this in the U.S. and other countries, but the New Deal and Great Society had seriously challenged those ideas. Starting in the 80s, the "blame the victim" discourse gained ascendancy and has been gaining popularity ever since. Together with a "culture of cruelty" on television and in many movies, and the ways that technology and consumer culture alienate people from each other, it can be argued that we are becoming a society that lacks empathy. There are certainly plenty that continue to fight for the poor and downtrodden, but it is possible that there are many more that either don't care or actively believe that those who fail deserve it. Certain strands of evangelical Christianity have further solidified these ideas by arguing that those who succeed do so because of God's will; which lends itself to the obvious concomitant conclusion that those who fail also do so at God's will.

A society without compassion or empathy is a society that will amost inevitably slide toward Fascism. Without a belief that we have some responsibility to each other, society collapses into the neoliberal dreamscape, where each person simply looks out for themselves (and maybe their immediate family). Over time, factions will grow that will seek to punish those who don't follow the dictates of that society. Polanyi makes this very point in a different context in arguing that the rise of Fascism and Communism were preordained by the pre-WWII global economic reality. Assuming we are again approaching a similar economic crisis of corporate and state interest conflicting dramatically with those of the public at large, we may again face this choice, without many supporting the precepts of communism or even socialism any longer. It is a troubling time, but one hopes that empathy can be restored as people looked around them and see the real costs of the choices we have made. I do every night, as the number of homeless on the Venice boardwalk continues to rise ...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Taxing the Rich vs. Class Warfare

Interesting blog post on the Washington Post website today: Blog. The post explores a variety of proposals to gradate tax rates for those making over $500,000. The various proposals could earn the government anywhere from several billion to one trillion dollars over the next decade. The pain to individuals would not be too great, as most of the proposals increase their rates by 1 to 10%. The plans are sensible and should be instituted to help solve two problems at once: 1. The unfair distribution of income and wealth in the country at present and 2. The growing deficit and debt. It is time to start acting responsibly as a country, before it is too late. How long will the public allow elected officials to protect the wealthy and corporations at the expense of the poor and working class? I suppose we will find out more on Monday ... but it really is time to put the "class warfare" argument to rest forever (Fox News).

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Arsenal Blues Redux

Well, a typical Arsenal game since the Birmingham debacle last year. Two leads wasted. Terrible at the back. Terrible on set pieces. Djourou reaffirming his position as one of the worst defenders I've ever seen in the Premiership. Plenty of chances squandered. A missed offsides on one of the Blackburn goals. And another poor away result after being the best away team in the league last year. There is little to say, though I will anyway.

Arsenal could easily see themselves relegated this year if their defense doesn't improve, and one has to place much of the blame with Arsene. He is the one that selected Djourou (always terrible), Squillaci (awful) and Koscielny (very uneven). He is the one who took Mertesacker over Cahill. He is the one who doesn't seem to be able to coach or motivate his team to play well on set pieces or on defense for 90 minutes (or in general at key moments).  

The worst thing about this loss is how strong we looked on the offensive side. We moved the ball wonderfully, Song distributed well, Gervinho scored his first competitive goal, Arteta scored again, Ramsey looked good, Chamakh finally scores (for the first time since last November) and the team easily could have had 5 or 6. And yet it wasn't enough because of two own goals and a lot of missed opportunities. Even at the end, we could have stolen a point if Mertesacker puts an open header in the net, Chamakh puts another in from the left side or Walcott finishes one on one. I think it is almost time to write off the league, put a strong focus on the Carling and/or FA Cup and seriously consider a major signing or three in the winter transfer window. If things don't change, I assume this will be Wenger's last year. This is a team with a losing attitude and I'm not sure how, or if, it will change ... 

Friday, September 16, 2011

Media Misinformation

The media just keeps getting it wrong, spreading disinformation which tends to feed the fear and lies that so often support conservative policy in America. The latest comes from MSNBS, with Chuck Todd speaking with Richard Stengel, the managing editor of Time: 

I think [Rick Perry's] on to something. Do Americans really realize that there is no such thing as a social security trust fund? That it's a pay as you go program and when there are fewer paying in than what you get out? Are they're any people under 35 in America who believe that Social Security is going to be there as it is and was for their parents? So I think he's hearing something that maybe the other candidates aren't hearing. 

There actually is a social security trust fund and it can meet it's obligations for the next 30+ years. And it can meet them for the foreseeable future if we do one of two things: 1. Simply tax those making over 100k at the same rate and/or 2. Invest the fund collectively in slightly better returning investments (than the t-bills that currently serve that role).

Thursday, September 15, 2011

One Song Sally

It's extraordinary when one considers that one party in a two-party system has had absolutely no new ideas in about 30 years. Since the Reagan revolution it is tax cuts, deregulation and more tax cuts. Nothing else. Ever. And just in case we thought something might change after the economy has been mired in economic crisis for three years, the clear answer is NO!

In a speech to the Economic Club of Washington, House Speaker John Boehner again reiterated his dedication to no new taxes, including a clear signal that he will consider letting the Bush tax cuts expire as an "increase" in taxes (Slate). In essence, the message to the American public is fuck you. The GOP is the party of business, the party of the wealthy and the party of no. No new ideas. No tax increases. No cuts to military spending. No regulation of a Wall Street gone wild. And no to pretty much anything Obama proposes; even when it was originally proposed by them.

I feel like a broken record sometimes, but it is beyond absurd that the GOP is considered a serious party in America when poverty rates have hit 15%, real unemployment rates 16%, our education system is in tatters and the future of the country and globe seem in the balance. When a government has run out of ideas in the midst of a crisis, we know we are in trouble. And yet few good ideas are coming from the private sector either. What we need now is creativity, but unfortunately the instrumental rationality that has reigned supreme for over 30 years appears to be coming home to roost ... or really roast the majority of us.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Arsenal Report Card

Well, if one hadn't watched the game today, they might say this was a positive result. We got a point against the champions of the German Bundesliga last year in their house. Van Persie scored yet again and one could argue the team continues to move in the right direction, particularly as they were still missing several of their best players including Wilshire, Vermaelen and Djourou (just kidding on that last one). But there also continue to be points of concern:

- After finishing the half brightly, the second half saw the squad unable to maintain possession for more than a pass or two at a time. They looked rather disheveled throughout and often cleared when a good pass might have led to a nice counterattack. 
- I think it has become even clearer with time that we need a better holding midfielder than Song. While he was strong on defense, he often makes terrible decisions going forward and makes poor choices.
- Something has to be done to improve Walcott's decision making -- while he had a great assist in the first half, he is just not a great winger, too often giving the ball away, taking ill-advised shots or failing to finish when the opportunity emerges. Don't get me wrong, there are moments of brilliance, but they are sometimes overshadowed by poor play on a relatively regular basis.
- I like Gervinho and think he will grow into an integral role with the team, but he dribbled into players throughout the game. He needs to pass the ball more often. This is a problem with too many players on Arsenal at present. The beautiful one touch passing that I once loved to watch is largely gone. This was particularly true of Benayoun, who I remember from his impressive days with Liverpool, but seems to have lost it completely -- looking terrible throughout.
- The defense has certainly improved, and but for a great shot would have kept the home team scoreless, but needs to improve on their clearance and distribution out -- so they are not left defending against a relentless attack. It is also clear that Vermaelen is sorely missed in the middle. 
- Van Persie has shown over the past year plus that he is one of the best finishers around. We need better distribution to him with opportunities to score. Watching Goetze today reaffirmed my belief (along with the rest of the world) that we need a creative midfielder like him to replace Fabergas/Nasri. I think we should go full-throttle for someone to fill that role in the Winter transfer window. On a related note, Arteta looked very good in the first half but much less so in the second. It's his first Champions League appearance, so I'll make allowances, but I hope he can improve his quality in the next outing. 
- To stay positive, I do believe this was a good result, and maybe the first step toward qualifying for the elimination stage.

A final note -- what an incredible result for AC Milan! I have been a Barca fan since I lived in Barcelona in 1999, but they have become so good that I like to see quality matches against them and Milan has to be delighted with the two goals that parenthesized an important draw in Camp Nou. Good for them, even as I'm sure Barca will qualify; and probably win the group. But two disappointing results in less than a week might be a sign that the weakness in defense could cost them a repeat of the success of last year.

GOP Balks at Plan

Surprise, Surprise -- the GOP doesn't like the new Obama plan. Why? Well it is Obama, right? Or maybe its the slight tax increases on those making over $200,000 and their corporate benefactors in Oil and Gas. But really it's just that Obama is not being bi-partisan. Yes, you heard that right -- Republicans are complaining that Obama is not being bipartisan, after they have shown no inclination in this direction since the moment he was elected. Here is the quote: 

"We remain eager to work together on ways to support job growth, but this proposal doesn’t appear to have been offered in that bipartisan spirit," Michael Steel, the spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner told reporters on Monday. (Slate).

This would be laughable if it wasn't just the kind of comment that has traction with a population and media that seem to have the memories of a sieve.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Arsenal Off the Snide

Arsenal finally pulled off a victory on Saturday, 1-0 against the newly promoted Swansea. There were some positives from the performance and the newly acquired Arteta and Per Mertesacker acquitted themselves well. Walcott had some good moments, and almost scored, but I still think he needs to work on his decision-making and finishing skills. Arshavin saved the day with an acute angle goal after a big error from the Swansea goalee. And Van Persie looked good, almost scoring a lovely goal from his right foot. But there are still issues. The defense gave Swansea some real opportunities and only the bar saved us from a really disappointing draw. Chamakh looked a little better, but probably should have scored with a header from a nice cross. And there is still a relative lack of creativity that really needs to be addressed. Arteta certainly looked good, particularly in the first half and when Wilshire and Gervinho come back I think things will improve. Our schedule looks good for the next five outings, and I really think we need to collect 12-15 points to get back in the race. Next up is the Champions League, another opportunity for the old and new Gunners to shine!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Bush: Give Me Some Credit

In another sign that the GOP has completely lost their minds, George W. Bush is asking for partial credit for getting Osama bin Laden: Washington Monthly. Not that I ever considered Bush completely in touch with reality, but there is little evidence that our years in Afghanistan and Iraq under his control had much to do with the locating and killing of bin Laden in Pakistan. What our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq did assist with is the ballooning deficit. Of course, media coverage of the debt crisis rarely mentions this $10 trillion failure. 

This brings me to the related second topic today, which is the media's slanted coverage of Obama since his election. While I agree partially with Republicans that the media certainly took a liking to the candidate as he ascended to the nomination (forgoing for a moment the imbroglio over Wright), he has suffered a media scrutiny and almost Catch-22 coverage (bipartisanship calls contradicted by critique for trying to compromise with the party of no) ever since. This continued with his jobs bill speech on Thursday. The New York Times spoke with employers who claimed the bill will do little to spurn hiring: NYT Article, failing to acknowledge that even those corporations with record profits are laying off workers. Others have immediately embraced the GOP claims that we must first deal with the deficit. 

The tendency in the media to undermine Obama claims almost immediately and tacitly embrace conservative rhetoric, even when the facts contradict it, appears to have an effect on a public that wants change but can't seem to agree on what that change should be or where it should come from. The same media that is essentially "amusing us to death," appears also to be stupifying us to death with coverage that is both uncritical and essentially cynical. I suppose this is what we get for allowing five companies to rule our airwaves.

A final note for today: the GOP is again calling for the unemployed to be drug tested before they receive their benefits: Digbysblog. While I'm sure many will openly embrace this call, I think a similar requirement should be instituted for our elected officials -- together with a test on basic economic knowledge, ethics and any understanding of science or the surrounding world. Call me crazy, but maybe it's time to put the insane back in asylums and let sanity rule the day. 

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Fracking Earthquakes!

When I read that there was an earthquake in Virgina and DC recently, I wondered what the hell was going on. I remembered a similar occurrence in New York at one point and in a few other odd places like Arkansas. Here in Los Angeles, earthquakes are merely a way of life and though we haven't had a big one in years (knock on wood), we expect them and generally don't make a big deal of them hitting. 

Now news emerges that fracking, an apparently dangerous approach to extracting oil deep underground, may be causing them (go to the following website for specific information: Alternet). It seems like yet another example of corporations, and particularly oil companies, endangering the environment and public in their relentless quest to find and exhaust the remaining supply of black gold. Do we really need further evidence of the negative effects of oil on our political and ecological lives before we seriously invest in alternative fuel and energy sources?

On to another alternative fuel that many of us love: alcohol. Apparently a recent study from England (Food & Wine Blog) provides solid evidence of a correlation between intelligence and alcohol consumption. So drink up (if you're IQ meets the quota, of course)!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Obama's Job Speech

So Obama is to give a major speech on jobs and the economy to Congress tomorrow. The plan, which is expected to total over $300 billion, will include the following components:

1. Extension of Payroll Tax Cuts: this seems like a good idea, as we are such a heavily consumption based economy right now, the last thing we should do is take money out of the pockets of middle and working class Americans.

2. Infrastructure Spending: this too seems like a good idea, although unfortunately it takes time for these projects to get going and the money to be spent.

3. Aid to states to defer layoffs to teachers and first-responders. I assume Republicans will attempt to block this plan, as they have been arguing for years that we need less spending not more on education. This could certainly help.

4. Tax credits to corporations for hiring unemployed workers: I mentioned this a few days ago, and believe it is a good idea, even as it generally rewards those who were going to hire anyway. The key is hiring unemployed workers, as many companies have actually blocked even looking at anyone who doesn't currently have a job (as seen by the recent imbroglio).

5. Extending Unemployment Aid/Training: I think this is key. We need to keep funding unemployment, but we also need to provide training so these workers can transition to new jobs. Investment in education and training are essential if we are to emerge from this malaise as a stronger country. We need skilled workers that can help us continue to lead and move into new industries.

6. Help for Struggling Homeowners: This is also important to not only help those on the edge of losing their homes (which tends to hurt them and the banks, as well as other homeowners in the area), but to restore faith that gov't can serve the interests of the people -- and not only corporations. 

One hopes this will start a trend to re-envision the role of government in our lives and bring Obama back toward the candidate that inspired hope in so many. 

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Exciting New Ideas From Romney

Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney announced an exciting list of proposals to fix the economy, if he is elected next year: CNN Story. Among the truly innovative and unique ideas are cutting the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25% (see post from yesterday), cutting federal spending (except on the military and entitlements), reversing the healthcare reform bill (that is very similar to the one he implemented in Massachusetts), boosting domestic energy production (read risky drilling and opening up more public land to exploration) and sanctioning China for trade violations (because they have cheaper workers than us and actually make stuff, I assume). In case there is any fears that he would reiterate the failed policies of GW, he named two top officials from that very administration: L. Ron Hubbard and Gregory Mankiw. I wonder sometimes if Republicans actually have any new ideas at all.

On a related note, Obama's approval rating hit a new low of 44% (Yahoo News), while faith in the Republican Congress is even lower. So who do we turn to? Ghostbusters? No, it appears another gun-toting, evangelical right winger from Texas. Apparently, Rick Perry has forged ahead in the GOP nomination poll. Good news for the lunatic fringe -- bad news for sanity!

Monday, September 05, 2011

The State of Labor Today

Today seems like an apt day to discuss the state of labor. We are currently mired in an economy with zero job growth, a real unemployment rate of 16.2%, shrinking hours and wages and an increased onus on workers to pay for their own healthcare and retirement savings. And what are political pundits discussing? The deficit, more tax cuts and which Republican buffoon has the best chance of winning the nomination. What happened? I think one key thing to consider is the declining power of unions since the 70s as we moved from a Fordist to post-Fordist economy and neoliberalism replaced Keynesianism as the dominant ideology (arguing unions were actually one of the greatest impediments to economic prosperity).  Another is the fundamental changes that occurred in the 70s and 90s, and how they manifest the economic reality today.

As I have discussed previously, the 70s saw several fundamental changes to the economy. The first was two oil crises, which among other things cut profitability, increased inflation dramatically and led to stagflation for one of the first times in American history. The importance of these two oil crises was the change in orientation it created, away from unemployment to inflation. We still see this orientation today, even as unemployment rates move toward the late 70s levels. The second was the collapse of Bretton Woods brought on by Nixon, that then allowed currencies to freely float. This of course played a huge role in the explosion of globalization (together with major cuts in tariffs and the development and expansion of organizations that regulated global trade). The third, which is related to the second, is the move from a Fordist manufacturing based economy to a post-Fordist service economy. At the time, most economists and politicians agreed that America could survive without making much themselves, as long as they dominated in the worlds of finance, advertising, banking, computing and telecommunications. This has proven to be wrong, as one can compare the German economy to ours and see the fundamental problem.

Rather than focus on the Reagan years, where the real push for deregulation and the shrinking of government started, I'm now going to turn to Clinton and the many negative results of his two terms in office. Clinton was a better Reaganite than Reagan himself, actually cutting the federal budget, balancing it and leading the way to major deregulation that can be blamed as a proximate cause for the current financial crisis. I want to briefly mention four reform bills that have played a big part in the world we live in today. The first was the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which has essentially led to a lot of single mothers living in abject poverty today. The second was the 1997 Telecommunications Act, which helps explain why five corporations control over 90% of what we see, hear and read (and why they are so derelict in their duties as the fourth estate). The third is the 1998 banking reform act, which essentially ended Glass-Steigel (and led to the irrational exuberance of the big investment firms and banks that created absurd CDOs and other instruments that overvalued a series of investments including secondary market mortgages), allowed banks to charge exorbinant fees and interest rates (remember when credit cards had 10 to 20% rates, 20 day grace periods and $10 late fees -- blame Clinton for the $39 late fees, no grace periods and 39.9% interest rates when you max out your card) and other deregulations that allowed preditory lending. Finally was the failure to enact new regulation on the exploding derivatives market (recommended by a number of top economists), which played a direct role in the collapse.

Where does that leave us today? Instead of discussing the sorry state of the labor market , we are constantly discussing debt? Instead of debating cuts to military spending, we are talking about increased tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations? Instead of working to expand the healthcare reform act, we pretend we know what socialism means and stand on the precipice of a serious healthcare disaster. And instead of a much needed stimulus to the economy, we continue to pretend that markets left to their own wiles can actually solve this profound problem. When Obama entered office over 2 1/2 years ago, I had great hope that he would work to restore faith in government and its ability to regulate, reform and redistribute when necessary. After some early promise, the obstructionist Republican minority (and then House majority) have stifled him at every turn and he has seemed to give up on his project. The only answer today appears to be to return to unions as the last bastion of sanity in a system that cares more for the sordid lives of reality TV stars then the 10s of millions of Americans on the verge of starvation and homelessness, together with a shrinking middle class that sees their quality of life decrease from year to year. Workers unite! 

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Taxes, Interrupted

Who pays taxes in America and how much? It depends who you ask, of course. As I pointed out in a recent post, many Republicans have been arguing on and off for years that the rich pay too much and the poor and working class too little. Democrats tend to argue that the rich pay too little and the middle class too much. On percentage terms, it is true that the rich pay a larger proportion of overall tax receipts, but percentages of overall income are a different story entirely. This is well-trodden territory for me, but I'd like to talk about our corporate tax system a little more here.

Our corporate tax rates are among the highest in the world, but tax receipts from corporations are among the lowest in the industrialized world. This is the case even as corporate profits have skyrocketed in recent years. To put this in perspective, Salon has an interesting article today highlighting the problem: Salon War Room. Essentially, corporate CEOs give a lot of money to politicians who in turn tend to give them breaks on their taxes and those of their companies. Here are some highlights:

- The CEO of Coca-Cola made $19,000,000 last year, while Coke only paid $8,000,000 in taxes. He has contributed $63,000 in the past 3 years all to Republicans, not even counting all of the lobbying that the company does. Coca-Cola made $11.8 billion in profits (a 73% increase from 2009) on $35.1 billion in sales) Atlanta Business Journal. That is $8 million on $11.8 billion or .68%! 

- The CEO of Prudential was paid $16 million in 2010, while the company received a $722 million tax refund. In the past few years, he has contributed $108,200 all to Democrats (American democracy is equal opportunity corporate welfare). Prudential made $831 in profits just last quarter. 

- Motorola CEO Gregory Brown received $14 million in compensation last year, while the company paid just $7 million in taxes. Since 2008, he has given $67,000 in political donations, again all to Democrats. Motorola had $633 million in net profits on $19.28 billion in revenues. That is a tax rate of slightly over 1%.

I did a post a little while back about how many Fortune 500 companies get huge tax rebates even on record profits. For those few that do pay, including Coke and Motorola, that percentage hovers around 1%. But of course the problem is out of control spending by Congress and State Legislatures, unions and the poor and working class paying too little in taxes ...

Friday, September 02, 2011

Obama Disappoints Yet Again

I think it is fair to say that Obama has been a major disappointment to the left. That is not surprising as it is nearly impossible to be a leftist in DC these days, unless you are marching in the streets. But I also think it is fair to say that he has been a disappointment to progressives as well. From the continued wars overseas, to his failure to end the Bush tax cuts, to his acquiescence to Republicans on issue after issue (even as they refuse to compromise on any of his proposals) has made this presidency a failure for pushing the country away from the center-right. The latest decision, to scupper stronger air quality regulations (New York Times), is just the most recent in a relatively paltry record on the environment. 

Many have argued in recent years that it is impossible to be a progressive president in the contemporary environment. I think there is a lot of truth in that claim, though I would add that it is also true that no Democrat has seemed to have the backbone to do so either. One wonders why Clinton, who was essentially a better Republican than most Republicans, didn't take advantage of his second term to actually enact some of the more progressive social policies he endorsed? Instead media, banking and prison reform helped paved the way for the problems that followed. The great hope with Obama was that he would talk to the American public in a way that made more progressive ideas resonate. Instead, he has failed to capture the public imagination, or its hearts or minds, and thus fails to find supporters for his policies.

If he defies predictions (although not from all) and actually wins reelection, one hopes he will finally get tough and actually enact some progressive legislature to turn the economy around, stop the destructive practices of corporations and work to restore public faith in government -- and thus our democracy itself. There is no greater danger than cynicism, and that is what is reigning supreme in America today.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Arsenal Transfer Conclusion

Well, the transfer window has finally shut and a frenetic last day certainly went well -- though I must admit it could have gone better. To be honest, I'm happy it's finally over, as I was on the blogs, reading all the rumors and generally driving myself crazy trying to figure out who we were going to sign. I wanted to now look back on the summer and consider the positives and negatives. First let's consider who left:

Fabergas: it's hard to measure the loss of this great player, but watching his first couple of games with Barcelona certainly makes it clear. While he has been injury prone of late and did have lapses of form in key matches, it is a real pity we couldn't convince him to spend his career with us.

Nasri: I'm kind of glad he is gone, but I miss watching his magical dribbling quality. His first performance with Man City was sublime and I'm sure there is much more to come. But given his attitude and statements since leaving, good riddance.

Clichy: I was sad to hear he was leaving, but really don't think he's much of a loss, except when City comes to town.
Eboue: After watching his key mistakes last year, I am really happy he is no longer around and I can say the same for Traore after one game.
Denilson: Never really impressed and won't be missed as far as I can tell. We can sign a much better player to fill that slot as backup and have some youngsters on the way up.
Vela: This might be a bit more troubling. It seemed like the year to give him a shot and given Chamakh's form, I might have preferred him, but haven't seen enough of him to know.
Bentner: Unlike most Gooners, I don't hate this guy as much. Actually, I know his scoring record and remember him putting it in the back of the net late in a few games two years ago (generally for 1-0 wins). But he might be excess at the moment.
Campbell: There's nothing we could do about this (as he didn't get the exception for a work permit). I really wish we could have put him in the reserves this year, but maybe more playing time will help him develop. 

Now to the signings:

Chu Park Young might very well become a great striker for us, but I am troubled that us stealing him from Lille at the last second might have cost us the player I wanted the most this summer - Eden Hazard (who really could replace Fabergas as the center piece of our forward play). Hopefully, we can take a real shot at him in the Winter or next Summer, but there will be plenty of competition. I still wonder why no bid even went in? Young does have a decent scoring record (though for a team that was relegated in France) and leadership experience with South Korea. 

Mertesacker: I think this is a good signing, but would have preferred Cahill (or maybe both). I know he might be cheaper in the winter and could go on a free next summer, but why take the risk? But his experience and height should really help us in the back.

Joel Campbell: I haven't seen much of him, but do think he could have a great future with the club. But let's wait and see ...

Gervinho: probably our best signing of the summer and based on his early play, a real offensive threat that should only improve with time. I'm bitter to think how nice it would have been to see he and Hazard link up again as they had in helping Lilli to the French League title last year.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlin: odd that we spent more on him than any other player this summer, but given the competition for his service, I hope he has a bright future. 

Andre Santos: huh? May turn out to be a good left back, replacing Clichy, but I feel like there were probably better options, he's already 28, has a decent scoring record (I think 11 in 52 games for Turkey) and some international experience with Brazil, but still wonder why we didn't go stronger for Enrique or someone else right after Clichy left.

Yossi Benayoun: I remember better days for this 31 year old and we can certainly use him on the loan, but so many other players were available and this was just what was left. Could be useful as a backup to the first and second team. 

Arteta: well he is supposed to fill the gap, at least until the winter, and I have always liked his play with Everton, though there appeared to be a drop in form over the last year and a half or so. I think he will help us, if he stays injury free, but given all the younger players we were targeting, many of them already better, this is a bit of a disappointment, though salve as it looked like we may end up empty handed on our biggest target (creative midfielder).

One wonders with all the money in our war fund, why we didn't take a more serious shot at Hazard, Martin, Kaka, Valbueno, Elia or a host of others. Some of the rumors were ridiculous, but I really feel one great signing together with the others would make me feel a lot better. I do believe this is a squad that could compete for the FA or Carling Cup, though doubt they will be knocking on the door of the League title, or Champions League (obviously). We must wait and see and hope Wenger is now used to spending and does some more of it this winter. The obvious last questions are as follows:

1. Why did it take so long to get going on our biggest needs?
2. Even if Cahill cost too much, why didn't we just pay up under the circumstances? He really could have helped against Man U.
3. Will Young be worth it if it cost us Hazard? The answer is no fing way! We will have to wait and see if Hazard comes to us next year.
4. What happened to all the young French midfielders besides Hazard we were originally targeting?
5. Why not throw out a couple more million pounds to sign M'Villa? I believe he is better than Song and Frimpong and would really improve our overall performance.
6. Will the board or Wenger change the pay structure so we can actually sign the talent that would otherwise be willing to come to the Emirates? If not, we will perpetually rely on youngsters and lose our greatest players as they move on for the money offered by the other top clubs.

Can't wait for the first match with the new squad against Swansea a week from Saturday! And finally, go England!