Wednesday, January 29, 2014

One Percent Whining

Around the time Obama was running for reelection, a new American victimization emerged that seemed borderline absurd (New Yorker). The one percenters were apparently upset that Obama wasn’t respected them enough. It wasn’t enough that they had seen a rise in income of over 500 percent, while the rest of the country saw relatively flat wages over the past 30 years, that the dreaded federal inheritance (aka “death”) tax had been eliminated (ensuring they could ensure the prosperity of their children), that Wall Street was recording record income as millions lost their jobs and homes, that their interests were saved in the financial crisis many of them caused and that Citizens United essentially ended campaign finance reform. No, the rich wanted to be not only respected but loved.

And with one party in their pocket and another largely incumbent to their interests, the second term has seen little change in the growing Plutocracy. Poverty is near record levels so let’s cut food stamps. Healthcare costs are still skyrocketing, but let’s do everything we can to stop Obamacare, even as it is starting to do its work. Unemployment remains historically high, with many additions to the dreaded “long-term” category, so let’s cut their benefits and usher them into real poverty. And those previously mentioned flat wages have been particularly stinging to the working poor, so let’s block any rise to the minimum wage. At the same time, there is a continued push to ensure no new regulations of Wall Street or corporate malfeasance occur, that worker’s rights are not protected, that taxes continue to be cut and that media and maybe soon the Internet come under further elite control (the EU and U.S. are close to ending Net Neutrality, even after all the pushback).

Each of these positions is based on pure self-interest – not pure ideological commitments, as the elite media likes to claim. Ideological commitments are still present, particularly among many conservative politicians and pundits, but ultimately it is support for corporate and elite interests at the expense of everyone else. Cutting food stamps ultimately provides more money for corporate welfare and ultimately, a call for further tax cuts. The same can be said of unemployment benefit cessation, with the added benefit of forcing the unemployed to take any job, flooding the market with a larger labor pool and putting further downward pressure on wages. Reducing healthcare costs reduces healthcare profits, with many in the industry counting themselves among the one percent, or its supporting managerial class. And privatization and deregulation support the power of the market to undermine the will of the people and democracy.

The following chart shows one result of this agenda, the number of people who would benefit from a raise of the minimum wage. Yes, that’s 21 million who would see an improvement in quality of life, and would actually help the economy overall, as they are apt to spend that additional disposable income.

Click here to share the graphic on Facebook!

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Three Things: Arsenal Draw 2-2 at Southampton

Arsenal played one of the worst halves of their season so far, lucky to be only 1-0 down at halftime after Sam Gallagher missed a chance to make it two on an open shot off a reflection in front of goal. The scoring started in the 21st minute when a lovely Luke Shaw cross found Jose Fonte at the far corner. Fonte outmuscled Nacho Monreal, who really should have done better, heading past a bumbling Szczesny, who got caught peddling back and beaten at the near corner. But the EPL leaders started the second half brightly and soon had a 2-1 lead. The scoring started in the 48th when Sagna sent in a shot off a long cross from Monreal, with Giroud finishing with a lovely back heel (scoring his fourth in the last five games).  4 minutes later, Cazorla continued his torrid form (5 in 5) with a lovely finish off an Ozil cross to the far corner. Unfortunately, that lead only lasted two minutes before another defensive lapse on a ball over the top led to the leveler by captain Lallana. From there both teams had chances to take all three points, with Ozil storming from the middle through to see his deflected shot fall just over the bar and Monreal sent through but shooting high and wide. After several more chances for Arsenal and Southampton, an awful two-footed challenge by Flamini led to a straight red in the 80th minute and the Gunners had to hold on for dear life to grab the away point. It was a disappointing result in the end, with City having a chance to go top tomorrow, if they can get past Tottenham. Three things from the game …

1. The Fade? Arsenal fans have become accustomed to heartbreak over the past 9 years. It started in 2006, blowing a 1-0 lead against Barcelona in the Champions League final, the late fade in the title race a couple of years later, the blown game against soon-to-be-relegated Birmingham City in the Capital One final, the Fabergas error that started the Barcelona second leg comeback in the UCL the same year, the collapse against both Bradford and Blackburn last season in the Cups and a host of others. Arsenal next has a game against Crystal Palace and then two against Liverpool, Manchester United at home and then Bayern Munich. It will be imperative to perform well through this stretch, setting themselves up for a daunting fixture list in March. This result is not fatal to their title hopes, particularly as Chelsea and City square off next Monday, but they will need to up their game after a very average display today.

2. Double DM: playing Arteta and Flamini together should shore up the defense and allow the more creative players ahead to comfortably forge forward. But today, the pair were consistently beaten by long balls over the top and crosses from both full backs. It appears too much may be given up when they play together and it is better to have one with either Ramsey (who will be out longer, after suffering a setback in training) or Wilshere by their side, providing more poise and forward momentum. Too many attacks in the first half went down one of the wings and fizzled out because of sloppy play or lack of options. The short stretch in the second showed what the Gunners can do, but it wasn’t enough to take all three points.

3. Giroud/Cazorla Renaissance: Giroud and Cazorla both scored, giving Arsenal the short-lived lead and their form in the last five games, together with better play from Wilshere until tonight, will be critical to Arsenal as they face off against the rest of the top six. Giroud seems to have rediscovered his finishing touch and Cazorla has become more active and accurate around the box. When Ramsey returns to the fold, and if Ozil can more consistently play as he did for the first 20 minutes of the second half, the combined forward threats could see Arsenal snip the title. It still does seem Arsenal should dip into the transfer window and grab a backup striker, particularly given Bendtner’s awful display in his last FA Cup outing and Ramsey’s continued absence. But the future could still be bright if Arsenal eliminate the defensive errors that cost them dearly tonight.

Monday, January 27, 2014

The Persistent Nihilism of Martin Scorsese (Review: Wolf of Wall Street)

The Wolf of Wall Street is an entertaining, often hilarious film that seems to perfectly capture the amoral, heartless world of greed and classless hedonism that Wall Street embodies. There are prostitutes, orgies, drug binges galore, people rolling around in money, yachts, expensive cars and beautiful penthouses and mansions. It provides a telling window into how easily people can be taken in by a huckster and how often the old adage a fool and his money are soon parted really is. Leonardo DiCaprio again shows his acting chops, surrounded by an adequate, if not sterling, supporting cast (Jonah Hill is generally funny in a role that takes emoting to a whole new level). DiCaprio plays the real-life Jordan Belfort, who made an unimaginable fortune selling penny stocks to suckers across the income ladder, building a firm from scratch that took on the big boys before finally getting caught by the feds; though he only serves three years in a minimum security prison for the wealthy before heading out on the inspirational speech circuit.

The film is the latest in a growing list of what I call lifestyle porn: films and television that show us the lavish wealth and sex lives of the rich and famous. The genre took off in the 80s with Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Dallas and, of course, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, among many others. The rich were everywhere from sitcoms (even blacks became rich in the 80s, in The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show) to rom-coms to teen romances, where a poor girl invariably ended up with a richer and more popular boy (or vice versa, as in The Breakfast Club). More recently, we can think of The Kardashians, Real Housewives of …, The Apprentice and Entourage. Wolf follows in this tradition, taking the orgasmic bacchanalia to heretofore unrealized levels. There is midget tossing, crack smoking, a long rumination on the inherent benefits of Quaaludes, nudity, insane wealthy, copious cocaine use, brutal violence, money thrown about with abandon and plenty of sex. The film ends up feeling like a combination of one of those screwball comedies from the 80s with plenty of sex, nudity and partying with a more mature, though sardonic character study. Belfort is not only a hedonist but really a bastard without many redeeming qualities beyond his ability to rally the troops, his generosity with his fortune and his good-time-Charlie attitude.

And yet it is hard to watch the film without thinking that Scorsese is celebrating this character, who I believe embodies a more crass, exaggerated version of almost everyone who is successful on Wall Street. Greed is their call to arms, their raison d’etre and their only redeemable quality. Creating wealth is something to admire and Wall Street is tasked with managing risk and funding the future; both essential roles for our economy. But does Belfort play either role? Is he anything but a shyster who takes money from people too dumb to realize they are betting on almost sure losers? I couldn’t help but leave the film thinking we are supposed to respect Belfort as a self-made man that lives the life we all want. And yet, even if this is true, should Scorsese feel any accountability to how this portrayal might be read by the viewers watching the film? Is there any sense that maybe this wealth was built on the back of a lot of suffering – with all those people on the other side of the trades losing their savings, their homes or even worse? One could argue instead that Scorsese is simply doing a very entertaining infomercial for Wall Street and the continued decline of American culture.

The real question is whether Scorsese feels any accountability for his work at all. There has always been a rather troubling celebration of violence in his films that glorifies it as a sign of masculinity and eroticizes it for the viewing public through slow motions and other film tricks. There is the rather negative portrayal of women as sluts to be used for sex and monsters that simply want the money and power of the men they seduce. And there has been a tendency to celebrate money as the god on the altar to whom we all bow and pray. But beyond this is a tendency to celebrate the worst aspects of American capitalism as if crime really does pay in the end. Sure Henry Hill ends up ratting on his friends and living in the suburbs, but he looks back fondly on his days of killing, gambling and drug running. And this is a common trend in Scorsese films, where the protagonist often loses what he had, but rather than learn a lesson from the loss and find some ethical, moral or deeper personal value, they simply look back with nostalgia and regret for the loss. We see this at the end of Casino, Taxi Driver, Goodfellas, Gangs of New York, The Age of Innocence (in a more complicated way) and Raging Bull. Maybe we should read their ultimate failure as the moral of the story, but it often feels as if Scorsese is asking us to feel that nostalgia right along with these protagonists, to forgive their past sins and feel sorry for them having been punished for them in the first place.

Martin Scorsese is among our greatest directors and has made an impressively diverse array of quality, entertaining films or over 40 years. His filmmaking and editing is nonpareil and has moved the industry forward in countless ways. His mixture of cinema verite (in the past) with strong narrative structure and voiceovers has created some of the most compelling films of our time. And his films almost invariably contain a perfect mix of humor, drama and breathtaking action. But it is worth asking what audiences have been sold all these years. A mentally unstable taxi driver kills a bunch of really bad guys and gets away with it. A group of mobsters die, but our hero always makes it to the other side, with his memories intact but his past long gone. A Wall Street crook lives a life of lavish luxury, loses his wife and friends but is back selling at the end, as if little has changed. Underneath it all may be an inkling of ethical responsibility, but really it just feels like nihilism. It could be that the world is meaningless, that there is no justice, that the bad often win and the good suffer, that love is fleeting and unhappiness reigns supreme. But shouldn’t art aspire to something more? Shouldn’t art at least pretend that there is something deeper at the heart of our lives? That they mean something more than pleasure and pain? Scorsese will continue to entertain us with beautiful mis-en-scene, riveting action, compelling plots and characters, first-rate editing and plenty of laughs, gasps and maybe, on occasion, tears, but will he ever truly inspire us? I guess we’ll have to wait and see …

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Three Things: Arsenal 4 Coventry City 0

Arsenal coasted to an easy victory in the 4th round of the FA Cup Friday, beating Coventry City at the Emirates 4-0. The League One side were never really given a chance at the upset as a first-half double from Lukas Podolski put Arsenal in control of the tie, with Olivier Giroud adding a third late on after coming off the bench and fellow substitute Santi Cazorla crashing in his third goal in two appearances on 89 minutes. The gap in talent was clear from the onset, with Arsenal pressing up and occasionally playing in what appeared to be a 4-4-2 (particularly in stretch in the second half). Podolski reminded of his talent for finishing and Giroud came on for a 15 cameo that again got him on the score sheet, with his 13th of the campaign. Three thoughts on the game …

1. Podolski Conundrum: Since the Arsenal run began in the second half of last season, Podolski has been in and out of the lineup, more recently because of an injury suffered in the first game of the season way back in August. But since returning, Wenger has been reluctant to use the 28-year-old with any regularity. Podolski, however, has shown in his last few outings that he really adds an element down the left hand side when on the pitch. His cutting runs, pace and finishing touch all make him a quality player that can add goals to the team as they attempt to maintain their lead at the top and compete in the FA Cup and, at least theoretically, Champions League. What is he missing that Wenger often keep him out? One is his tendency to disappear for spells of games, his inability or unwillingness to drop back and help with defending, particularly as Gibbs likes to shoot forward and send in crosses (he had the assist for Giroud’s goal) and his drop in form when he plays through the middle. But performances like the cameo against Fulham, when he could easily have scored two within 5 minutes of entering, and the two goals against a clearly inferior side might make Wenger rethink his approach to Podolski as the season wears on. The real problem is who to leave out if he does play, with Cazorla, Ramsey and even Wilshere all having played in left midfield this season.

2. Wunderkind: 16-year-old German midfield prospect Gedion Zelalem made his senior debut in the 71st minute of the game and immediately impressed with his silky passing, movement and positional discipline. He is a clear prospect for the future and one of the most exciting kids to come out of the academy in some time. With the competition in midfield already at a premium, we should expect many more appearances this term, but this is a kid with a bright future – as long as his development continues along its current pace.

3. How do you solve a problem like Bendtner? After a few decent displays for the Gunners, Bendtner was largely invisible against Coventry, flailing two good opportunities to score and looking slow on the pace and uninterested or most of his time on the pitch. One wonders what the future holds for the Dutchman if Arsenal can secure a backup striker before Friday. If rumours are true, and we do sign Draxler from Schalke, I don’t think Bendtner goes, as the young German is out until March 1. But if we can find another striker among the slim pickings still available, maybe it is time to finally say goodbye to the “greatest striker (in his own mind) in the world.”

Arsenal head to Southampton on Tuesday in another must win, though the drop in the Saints form, together with the turmoil brought on by the departure of their Chief Executive Officer Nicola Cortese, should make it an easier trip than might have been the case back in November. COYG!

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Elite Pipeline: Internships

As we move further and further toward a Plutocracy of the 1%, systems are being erected to ensure that a new aristocracy is resurrected for the long term. There is, of course, the obvious examples of Citizens eliminating any hint of parity in campaign financing, the networking advantages that have always worked to confer unfair advantages, the elimination of the federal estate tax ensuring that most of a fortune can be passed on from generation to generation, the mini-dynasties in politics of the Bush’s and Clintons and the continued political clout of Wall Street fighting against tax reform and regulation of any kind and serving as the key money generator on both sides of the income equation. But there are less obvious institutional and cultural norms that foster this inequality. One is the end to affirmative action and reduction in financial aid (in lieu of loans) that has repopulated the Ivy League and best universities primarily with children in the top 10%. There is the takeover of the media by the elites, ensuring that their perspective dominates the debate (not least of which includes Jeff Bezos takeover of the once venerable Washington Post. And maybe least obvious of all is the unpaid internship programs in Washington DC, New York and other major cities that Salon.

Ironically, as debates rage on about upping the minimum wage for low skill, low paid workers, many White House interns would be delighted just to get the current one. That is because WH interns are paid nothing, together with few meals and no housing. Who can afford to take an unpaid internship in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.? Well, only those who are independently wealthy, which is a rarity for those who would be interested in internships, or the children of the wealthy. As the Salon article points out, even the upper middle class might not have enough extra money sitting around to pay for a three month jaunt in DC, particularly as they are most likely paying the exorbitant tuition costs that have doubled in the past 20 years. And these internships are a nice gateway into a DC job upon graduation.

When we add the revolving door between DC and corporate America, the huge networks elite university education’s provide, the social and cultural capital these children gain growing up and the advantages of good ole liquid assets, is it any wonder that someone as unimpressive as George Bush was able to not only “win” the presidency but a second term? Is this really the world we want to live in? A society that doesn’t provide competition for key leadership positions is one that will continue to decline over time. Just think of how few great children of great men or women you can think of and you have your answer (or simply look at the kids of Hollywood royalty and what they have done to that industry). 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Arsenal Stay Top Thanks to Cazorla Double

After Saturday’s 2-0 victory over Fulham at the Emirates, the Gunners have won five on the bounce, outscoring their opponents 5-0. And as has become a habit this season, it was not as easy as it might have been. In fact, after a bright start that included a goal line clearance from Fulham to keep out a soft Ozil shot, the momentum went back and forth for the rest of the first half and into the second. In stepped Santi Cazorla to double his goal tally for the season (to four) and put the game to bed, with a five minute flurry. The first goal started and ended with the Spaniard, as he passed off to Giroud who sent it through to Wilshere, with the English International laying the ball back across the seam for Cazorla to finish into the far corner. The second came after Ozil had sent Monreal through on the left. Monreal’s shot was deflected out to Cazorla who scored here with his left foot from a few yards outside the box. From here, Fulham pushed forward for a goal, but Arsenal held firm with some great defending before the introduction of Podolski, who must have reminded Wenger that he is back with two impressive shots, good link up play, two good runs and even a defensive stop. Given that everyone in the top six except Liverpool won this weekend, it was a vital three points and kept the precarious one point lead over Man City and two point lead over Chelsea, who beat Man United soundly 3-1. Some thoughts from the game and weekend …

1.  Wilshere and Cazorla: earlier in the campaign, it was hard for non-English pundits not to recognize that Wilshere was not playing to his potential. He was giving the ball up far too often, on the ground more often than he was creating scoring opportunities and looked rather ordinary. But with the turn of the year, it appears his form has turned as well, all for the good (as I mentioned in last week’s post). His renaissance is good news for the Gunners as the busier part of the second half kicks in in a couple of weeks. Equally important is the improvement of Cazorla in the final third. While he has still been impressive from the middle forward this season, his production in front of goal has been wanting. But the two goals Saturday should do him a world of confidence and hopefully help Arsenal continue to claim the best midfield in the EPL.
2.  Leadership: one of the things the Gunners have arguably missed ever since Viera left was a leader on the pitch that could ensure that players are keeping their positional discipline, not making needless mistakes and hear it when their effort level goes down. Now the Gunners have two, in the guise of Mertesacker and Flamini. And their presence has arguably been a key reason for the team’s position at the top of the table.
3.  Farming System: Chelsea announced this week that they are sending Bertrand out on loan to Aston Villa, meaning they have 23 players currently farmed out to other clubs. Man City has reached those heights, but isn’t far off. It is an absurd state of affairs and something that has to be looked at as it has three potential downsides – a. It allows mega rich teams to stay within the Financial Fair Play regulations when it is clearly skirting them, b. Midtable and Lower table teams are simply becoming the training grounds for the elites, who then take the players back and maintain their dominance and 3. It can curtail far too many careers, as players never get comfortable in a system and start to fade from their potential.
4.  The race: the race at the top is still red hot, with Chelsea, Man City and Tottenham all winning, and Everton with a strong chance to take all three points against West Brom tomorrow. Only Liverpool faltered this weekend, falling two goals behind before stealing a point with a questionable penalty call (which seem to be going exclusively to the top teams this term). Man City and Chelsea are generally just outscoring their opponents while they continue to ship goals and Everton seems to draw too many matches to be a real threat to the crown. But the best news for Arsenal is their impressive defensive and road records this term. If they can play to their strengths in the showdowns with the other top six teams, there is no reason they can’t finally end that drought.

Next up is the FA Cup fourth round tie against Coventry City at the Emirates Thursday, before an away match at the reeling Southampton and back home to face Crystal Palace. Arsenal should win these three before heading to Anfield for a showdown with Liverpool on February 8. COYG!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Arsenal Regain Lead

Arsenal dominated the first half on the road against Aston Villa, scoring two goals within 60 seconds to take a 2-0 lead (34’ and 35’) then held out against a surging second-half Villa that culminated in a 76’ header from Cristian Benteke after a Cazorla error allowed a pinpoint cross the Belgian pounded in (his first goal in the EPL since September). With the victory, Arsenal restored their position at the top of the league, though now only a mere point over title favorite City and two over Chelsea. It was a tale of two halves, with the Gunners dominating possession against a well-organized Villa side (71 percent in the first half), then ruthlessly taking their only two shots on goal to all but seal the victory. That they didn’t has become a second-hand story this season, and one that could come back to haunt them soon. They already conceded late against Everton, losing two invaluable points in the process. But the victory again displayed the resolve this team has shown since the Blackburn defeat in the FA Cup, finding ways to win even when they are not at their best. A few thoughts from the game …
1.  Wilshere Still on the Rise:  Jack Wilshere continued his dramatic upturn in form by playing a part in both Arsenal goals. The first was a smart finish to the far corner from a Monreal cross, the second a steal and well chipped ball to Giroud, who took two touches, getting past two Villa defenders before blasting the ball across goal from close range. Wilshere was better with his possession, made some important defensive tackles and only lost the ball on a couple of occasions, although one led to an inviting counter. The question Wenger will now face, with Ramsey back, is whether to consign Wilshere to the bench, or give Cazorla a rest. The Spaniard did score the all-important first goal last week, but while playing well most of the season, continues to fall short in both assists and finishes.
2.  The Dynamic Duo: Thinking back two seasons ago, one can remember Per Mertesacker constantly critiqued for his lack of pace and suffering through a rather poor start to his Arsenal career. Two and a half years later and some are now calling him the best centre back in the EPL. While I think that argument is slightly exaggerated, the formidable pairing with Koscielny has now produced an astounding undefeated streak of 60 games without a loss. In the process, they have made Arsenal the number one defensive team in the EPL, with the most clean sheets. It is such a dramatic turnaround from the years of defensive frailty, it is almost hard to believe. Yet this pair complement each other so well, with the German a boisterous leader on the pitch (as for example when he yelled at Cazorla after the error that led to the Villa goal) with an incredible football IQ while Kos plays the quieter role, supporting Mertesacker’s height and positioning with his impressive pace. If Arsenal do claim the title this year, these two are the real MVPs.
3.  Ozil Effort?: There is no question that Mesut Ozil has improved the Gunner’s prospects and confidence this season, and his output has been relatively impressive with 5 goals and 9 assists in 22 starts. Yet for all the glitz and glamour, one can’t help notice that his production has gone done in the past two months and that he seems to be a little short on confidence. While he did help produce the first goal with a beautiful through ball to Monreal from midfield, he also passed up shots, gave the ball away at least three times in the first half and did not create any other goal scoring opportunities of note. Ozil will be another key to the second half of the season and one hopes he quickly returns to form as the Gunners move into the heart of the second half schedule, starting with a trip to Anfield in a few weeks.
4. The Window: fears are starting to grow in my cynical Arsenal heart that Wenger is going to let this window pass without any signings. While we might be set on the defensive end and in midfield, it is clear we need to pick up a backup striker to give Giroud needed rest and provide an alternative when the matchup calls for it. The loss of Walcott for the season seems to have made the need clear to Wenger, but who will he go for? Rumours include the dynamic youngster Julian Draxler (though he is expensive, has underperformed this season and will be out until March) Diego Costa (highly unlikely given Atletico’s form and position at the top of the table) and Jackson Martinez of Porto (a good option, in my book), among a host of others. Any of these would be great, though it wouldn’t be surprising for the Gunners to pick up a cheaper option to stand in for Bendtner until his return. The good news for the Gunners is that Ox, Podolski and now Ramsey are all back, meaning we are a Danish superstar (in his own mind) away from being at full strength, ignoring the crushing blow of Walcott’s absence. Let’s hope Wenger makes the right move.

Next up is Fulham, which should provide three more points. Last weekend was the first in which all of the top seven won their matches. That is impossible this weekend, but Arsenal must continue to win if they hope to keep the pressure on Chelsea and City right below them. I might actually find myself rooting for United against Chelsea on Sunday, which would be a first. In any case, COYG!

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Media Bias: Bob Woodward

Bob Woodward is at it again (. The man who famously took down a Republican President has it appears been working for years to undo this leonine achievement by rewriting history to fit his rather skewed, conservative worldview. First were the many books bucking conventional wisdom to shine a largely positive light on the Bush administration. Then the many books doing the opposite to Obama that followed. Now he taken to the world of book criticism commenting on the soon to be released memoir of former Defense Secretary Robert Gates. Woodward seems to think that Gates, a holdover from the Bush administration, is as critical of Obama as Woodward is:

“Leveling one of the more serious charges that a defense secretary could make against a commander in chief sending forces into combat, Gates asserts that Obama had more than doubts about the course he had charted in Afghanistan. The president was “skeptical if not outright convinced it would fail,” Gates writes in ‘Duty: Memoirs of a Secretary at War.’”

This seems particularly odd, given that Thom Stanker of The New York Times's sees things in a very different light: “In a new memoir, Mr. Gates, a Republican holdover from the Bush administration who served for two years under Mr. Obama, praises the president as a rigorous thinker who frequently made decisions “opposed by his political advisers or that would be unpopular with his fellow Democrats.” But Mr. Gates says that by 2011, Mr. Obama began expressing his own criticism of the way his strategy in Afghanistan was playing out.
Gates himself seems to undermine Woodward’s argument: “As I sat there, I thought: The president doesn’t trust his commander, can’t stand Karzai, doesn’t believe in his own strategy and doesn’t consider the war to be his,” Mr. Gates writes. “For him, it’s all about getting out.” And Woodward then backs up this contention by arguing later in the same review, “Gates’s severe criticism is even more surprising — some might say contradictory — because toward the end of “Duty,” he says of Obama’s chief Afghanistan policies, “I believe Obama was right in each of these decisions.” And thus a minor retelling of the story alters the dynamics to reinforce the common GOP rhetoric that Obama is inept, ineffectual and to blame for all of the problems he inherited from one of the most inept and ineffectual administrations in history.

Woodward pulled off a similar coup a little over a year ago when he wrote a book about the failed budget deal in 2012 The Price of Politics. Woodward wraps up a book that provided little new information with this tidbit, “It is a fact that President Obama was handed a miserable, faltering economy and faced a recalcitrant Republican opposition. But presidents work their will – or should work their will – on important matters of national business … Obama has not.” While this might be to some extent true, it is more true that Republicans have been undermining democracy by blocking anything and everything Obama has tried to do to deal with our faltering economy and lack of regulation of Wall Street. But the wonderful sleight of hand makes it seem as if the problems reside solely in the White House – an opinion shared by the uncritical masses far too readily.  

Media Bias at 60 Minutes

60 Minutes is generally considered part of the fictitious liberal media. But if one has watched it critically in the past few years, several stories seem to fit the more realistic conservative slant that dominates mainstream media. Case in point is a recent story by Leslie Stahl regarding the Clean Energy Industry (Daily Kos). Stahl concluded her piece arguing that, "instead of breakthroughs, the [cleantech] sector suffered a string of expensive tax-funded flops." Yet what does she base this on? A few example of venture capital flops, which are common in venture capital as a market funder that takes risk the establishment banks are unlikely or unwilling to embrace. The story ignores the breakthroughs that have actually occurred and the fact that only 3 percent of the funded projects have failed so far.

This is a common strategy employed by the right and increasingly the media known as the Hasty Generalization Fallacy. It occurs when specific examples are used to reject the whole, even if those examples are atypical or uncommon. An example from a decade ago was when conservatives used the example of the small family business that would be destroyed by the estate tax. This was a limited part of the overall pool of those eligible for the tax and could have been resolved simply by raising its minimum level. Instead it was used to argue that the federal estate tax was flawed and should thus be eliminated, ballooning the federal deficit and undermining the notion that each generation should earn their wealth. It is the same here and an example of irresponsible journalism, a charge that can often be levied at Stahl, maybe the worst correspondent 60 minutes has ever employed. 

Monday, January 06, 2014

Arsenal in the New Year

Arsenal have continued their resurgence since the Man City mauling and dreary 0-0 Chelsea draw with four straight wins to reassert their title challenge. After the comeback victory over West Ham, the Gunners have secured three straight clean sheets, including a 1-0 victory over a red hot Newcastle, a late 2-0 victory over Cardiff (with the unlikeliest of heroes in Nicklas Bendtner) and then a comprehensive 2-0 victory over Tottenham in the FA Cup Saturday. With those victories, the question now emerges of whether Arsenal can sustain this title challenge until the end of the season. Let’s look at some issues that might decide their fate in ending that eight-year trophy drought …
1.  Wilshere on the Rise:  two weeks ago I was decrying the continued decline of Wilshere and the distance between the hype and the results on the field. While I still think he gives the ball away too often and makes poor choices in the final third, there is no question that his performances in the past two games have been much improved. He is not hitting the turf quite as often, seems more poised on the ball, passes back when necessary and penetrated the Tottenham defense at will. With the injuries mounting and the heavy fixture list in February and March, he will be essential to their prospects in the three remaining competitions. Let’s hope he’s on the up for good.
2.  Defense holds firm: The organization at the back, the help defense and the duo or interchange of Arteta and/or Flamini with a constantly improving Szczesny in the middle has become a formidable group that is hard for teams to break through. Tottenham have yet to score in two full games, Liverpool couldn’t find a way through, Manchester United scored on a poorly covered corner early in the game, Chelsea couldn’t break the deadlock, Newcastle was stuffed and the midtier teams have had a hard time as well. In fact, when Mertesacker and Koscielny play, Arsenal has been undefeated for almost a year. When taken in total, the City game appears to have been an aberration to a team that has the defensive nous to pull them through the tough tests to come
3.  How do you solve a problem like Theo: Wenger is famously stubborn when it comes to any transfer window, put particularly the short winter version he would like to see eliminated. But with the news that Theo Walcott is gone for the season (and the World Cup, alas, for England), and with Giroud needing backup and Bendtner out for a month, it appears that our French God can no longer ignore reality. Rumors surround an audacious bid for Athletico’s Costa (unlikely), a return for Benzema (unlikely), a bid for Bayern’s Mandzukic (more likely next summer) and a host of others are being floated, but few of these ever turn out to be true. Wenger has to do something now though, whether it be Pedro from Barca, Berbetov from Fulham, Kalou from Lille or one of the quality strikers in the lesser leagues. It is imperative if the Gunners are to continue to stay atop the league, hoping that Chelsea falters, City blows more games on the road and Liverpool continue to fade. Gnarby can add speed on the right flank in Theo’s absence and Chamberlain is back in full training, but it might make sense to also explore available wingers. Julian Draxler would fit the bill, but it appears more likely he will appear in the summer. Make the move, Arsene!
4.Ozil/Ramsey Axis: my last post discussed the fixture list and what lies ahead for the Gunners in the second half. With Ozil showing up for a cameo in the impressive victory over the Spurs Saturday, and Podolski back in the fold as well, the team looked to be back toward full strength, until their most consistent scorer over the past season and a half went down; while oddly playing right back, one might mention. Ozil and Ramsey had seemed to find a deep understanding in November that led the Gunners on a sustained run. Then there was a falloff in Ozil form, a slight decline in offensive output from Ramsey and then the injuries. Now the two are back (Ramsey maybe after Saturday’s game) and they must work together to continue creating opportunities and scoring goals (for all the criticism of Ozil, he has four goals and seven assists in the league already). With the loss of Walcott and a decline in scoring prowess from Giroud, these two might very well be the difference between renewed disappointment and Gooners celebrating more than a fourth-place finish.

Next up is Aston Villa, but just as important is what Wenger does in the transfer window. COYG!