Saturday, May 31, 2014

Too Big to Fail?

Fascinating graphics courtesy of Daily Kos  The four banks listed in the infographic below — CitiGroup, Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo – have received nearly $93 billion in taxpayer funds since the bailouts began in 2008. While they make up a small percentage of the 940 bailout recipients who have, to date, received $611 billion from American taxpayers, they represent a significant chunk of those funds. More importantly, their acquisition trajectories represent the consolidation of major banking institutions in America — leading them toward the distinction of “too big to fail.

And in the same article, they show that income inequality in the country has reached a level not seen since 1928. Comparing the two charts, a clear observation emerges - it is not that the government is inefficient and ineffective in dealing with the economy; it is that they have oriented themselves to serve corporate over individual interests. 

Friday, May 30, 2014

The One Percent Don’t Like Government … or the Poor Much

The Russell Sage Foundation finally got around to publishing the opinions of the one percent, and the data is stark in its contrast from the rest of the country. The top earners, making over $1 million a year at minimum, are generally to the right of the rest of the country – against government programs like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, supporting environmental protection to a lesser degree, pushing for smaller government in general and believing the unemployment benefits and a livable wage are beyond the scopes of our social responsibility. Rather than scour the number more, just take a look …

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Sandler Finally Getting His Due?

It appears Adam Sandler has finally got a long overdue comeuppance for the years of selling the American public his degraded, grade D form of juvenile humor (Salon). The man who has given us a violent golfer, a violent dad, a violent businessman (in his best turn in Punch Drunk Love), a man who has to go back to elementary school to gain a fortune, a mentally-challenged (and violent) waterboy, an airhead, an angry man and a violent hairdresser, has mellowed in recent years making the crass and really, really boring Grown Ups and Grown Ups 2. But audiences appear to have finally tired of his shtick, with his new film Blended having a terrible opening weekend (it’s $20 million in arrears at the moment), matching the failure of That’s My Boy (which lost $35 million) and Jack and Jill (made $5 million, though it did gross $74 million).

Is Sandler just suffering from the curse of growing old as a comedian? Cool can only last so long, and many huge stars move onto family comedy to stay relevant – and keep the money coming in – including Robin Williams, Eddie Murphy and Steve Martin, to name three. Sandler has partially made this move with films like Grown Ups seeking to keep his aging fan base watching. But like almost every box office draw before him, though he has lasted longer than most, he might have finally neared the end of the road for selling crap to the masses. But why? Is it that America has grown weary of stupid, unintelligent and unintelligible comedy? Or could it be that hearing Sandler admit that he made a film for $40 million to have a paid vacation in Hawaii turns off a country that continues to suffer through an economic malaise for the vast majority of the population? Has our taste improved? Well, I can’t help but think of H.L. Mencken here and his quote, “No one in this world, so far as I know - and I have searched the records for years, and employed agents to help me - has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.” Has Sandler finally disproved the point? Well, one can dream …

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

TV Review: Fargo (2014)

Is Fargo the best television show on the air today? Does it rank among the great first seasons of a TV show ever? After a mere 8 episodes, it is probably hard to judge. And as someone who never watches network TV and tends to avoid any fad shows like Game of Thrones, I might not be in the best position to make the assessment. But among the few shows I still do watch, and considering all those I have watched over the years, Fargo has to be considered among the best. It has the quirky charm and humor of Twin Peaks together with the gritty action and clever plot twists of a Neo-Noir film. In fact, it has to be considered one of the best ensemble dramas in television history, with excellent performances from a host of quality character actors including Billy Bob Thornton, Martin Freeman, Oliver Platt and Bob Odenkirk, together with a great supporting cast of lesser knowns. Colin Hanks has also returned to television after his excellent turn as the schizophrenic killer in season 6 of Dexter, his talent for playing good-hearted screw ups, accented by the acute detective skills of his love interest Molly (Allison Tolman).

The show, of course, bases itself loosely off of the Coen brother’s film of the same name, though the events here appear to take place after the film ends – as we find out one character found the money left by the kidnapper in the film (the show is co-written by the Coen brothers themselves, together with Noah Hawlyey). They also use the ploy of claiming it is based on a “true story,” though that is true in neither case. What is true is that surrounding the humor and violence is a rather profound existential journey through the lives of caricatured characters that are both relatable to and identifiable with. The directing, which was done in a rotation of 2 episodes each by five directors, is pitch perfect and seems to capture that same disarming, playful aesthetic that shows like Twin Peaks, Northern Exposure and Moonlighting did twenty years ago. While the violence does appear excessive at times, it is almost always off screen and the willingness to kill characters off (as The Wire did before them), adds to the suspense, as we wonder who might go next.

The story revolves around four main characters – Malvo, the strange, violent troublemaker who appears to adversely affect anyone he comes in contact with;  Molly, the clever, Hercule Poirotesque policewoman fighting against the incompetence that surrounds her; Gus Grimly, the aforementioned single father trying to raise his teenage daughter and overcome his innate weakness; and Lester Nygaard, the loser who upon meeting Malvo finds his life first unraveling and then taking a turn for the better. Intermingled is a wonderful cast of odd and funny characters that range from a widowed police wife who just had a baby, to a quintessential Midwestern hunter to a deaf hit man. From week to week, the story turns with violent force and momentum, but it is sometimes the quiet moments that provide the most fun – like a Jewish neighbor sharing a story with Gus about a man that sacrifices himself to leave his organs to strangers.

Many shows have trouble maintaining the momentum of their premier going into the tougher second or third season – with a long list of failed attempts peppering the annals of television history. One recent example is Scandal, which started out as a rather riveting political soap opera before devolving into WTF absurdity last season, but it is a common problem for even the best of shows (lest us forget that Moonlighting became almost unwatchable by season 4 (and 3 was tepid at best) and Twin Peaks was only great for 1 ½ of its 2 seasons on the air). Fargo has all the ingredients to continue to astound, but it will probably have to find a new story line as fans seem less than amused by the false cliff-hanging ending, as happened with the otherwise excellent The Killing two seasons back. Two episodes remain this season and I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

More Research Against NCLB

There is little evidence to support the argument that the accountability and choice movement works for most kids. In fact, evidence has been mounting for years that it is the worst approach to ensuring a quality education for all. Of course this has done little to influence pundits and policy makers love affair with charters and testing. The latest study pushing back against the ill-advised NCLB and it's many offshoots comes from researchers at the Uviersity of Washington and University of Maine finding that students perform better in active learning classrooms -- even for STEM classes. While the study focuses on higher education,  comparing lecture-only versus mixed pedagogical approaches, it does offer further evidence that the pressures of high stakes testing, teaching to the test, step-by-step instructions and other rote memorization strategies are ill-equipped to improve student performance -- or learning. But can the building momentum influence decision makers? One hopes so, though recent anecdotal evidence makes me less sanguine. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

Koch Brothers Seek to Block the Sun

In the ongoing competition for worst living human being, the Koch brothers are increasingly taking the lead over Dick Cheney, Kim Jong Un, the Wallmart family members and Justin Bieber. In their latest parry into proving that the one percent is out to get us all, the Koch's have decided to go after those trying to do their small part to combat global warming -- by using that warming sun as an energy source.  The Kochs, together with Grover Norquist and other conservatives, have pushed states to roll back green energy bills and, among other things, eliminate the ability of solar panel owners to sell excess energy back to the grid (Salon). 

Sunday, May 25, 2014

How Many Deaths Before Something is Done

Yet another mentally-disturbed young many has killed innocent victims: WP.  Will the government do anything about it, instituting gun control or at least making it harder for people who shouldn't have guns to get them? Or will the NRA win again? These are, of course, rhetorical questions we already know the answers to. Should be a boon to the bullet proof vest for home use industry, at least.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

GOPer Wants to Reinstate Property Requirement to Vote

This is actually an oldie but goodie from two years ago, which might as well be a generation with the new 24/7 news cycle, but given the continued attempts by the right to lower voter participation among minorities and the poor – by reducing early voting days, attempting to reinstitute a poll tax in Georgia, instituting voter-ID requirements and other backhanded tomfoolery like phone calls telling voters they can vote on the weekend or including too few polling sites or ballots in congested urban centers – it seemed worthy of revisiting. While on the campaign trail in 2012, Representative Ted Yoyo (maybe the greatest political name of the young century so far) of Florida suggested that only property owners should be able to vote – a sensible strategy given the 10s of millions who lost their homes during the last financial crisis that resulted from conservative deregulation and Bush policies. Here is a clip of the speech …

Given the changing demographics and lack of a plan to deal with the declining standard of living for the majority of Americans and the overall increased in inequality in the country, the only viable alternative for the GOP is to play the negative attack game for as long as possible and then try to limit voting among those their policies, or inactivity, hurt the most. Luckily, the court has largely been siding with democracy so far, but one wonders how long that will last ... particularly given the right-leaning predilections of Federal judges these days. 

Why Game Show Hosts Shouldn't Really Talk Without Cue Cards ...

Pat Sajak tweet that

Net Neutrality Under Threat

148587 600 Reboot the Internet cartoons

Monday, May 19, 2014

Arsenal End Drought – Come Back to Win FA Cup 3-2

Something funny happened on the road to what was supposed to be 90 or so minutes standing between Arsenal and their first trophy in nine years – the conceding of two goals in the first ten minutes. Arsenal were, in fact, lucky not to be down three a few minutes later, when Gibbs pushed away a goal bound header on the line (13’). Hull started the scoring in the 4th minute, with a clever redirect by CB James Chester, and a thundering rebound from in close by the other CB, Curtis Davies (8’), following a header off the bar, made it 2-0 before anyone had settled. Sitting at a pub surrounded predominantly by Gooners, drinking a pint at 9 in the morning, I wondered if Wenger had figured out a way to blow silverware yet again – first by failing to get his defenders up for a big game yet again and then by picking the departing Fabianski over Szczesny.

But the team would go on to bail out the Frenchman, starting with a stunning 30-yard freekick from Santi Cazorla in the 17th minute. Hull GK Allan McGregor jerked right for an instant before coming back across to get a finger on a ball just out of reach. That seemed to calm the Gunners and they largely dominated from here, though spurning several good chances and getting caught in the middle from a relentless Hull midfield. The equalizer didn’t come until the 71st minute, when a header from Sanogo (who came on for an ineffective Podolski in the 61st minute) of a Cazorla corner kick bounced off of Giroud’s head and into the path of Koscielny, who tucked the ball into goal right in front of McGregor. The second goal came after several penalty shouts went unheeded, including Huddlestone pulling Giroud down from behind in the box and a clear handball close in goal in the box, calling into question a rather terrible game for Lee Probert, who also contributed indirectly to Arsenal’s first two goals, first giving a loose foul that led to Cazorla’s FK and then possibly wrongly calling the corner that resulted in the equalizer (though even slow motion replay was unclear to me). But those two calls were balanced against at least four missed penalty claims and I don’t believe changed the game in the end.

Arsenal charged forward for the winner in the final 20 minutes, though Wenger was so excited by the second goal he apparently forgot that he still had two unused substitutes. They were eventually cashed in in the 2nd overtime period, as Wilshere and Rosicky came on for Ozil and Cazorla. Both brought a renewed energy to the attack that paid off three minutes later, as a clever back heel from Giroud in the box was coolly slotted into the near corner by Aaron Ramsey (109’). Now all the Gunners had to do was see out the last five minutes of the game, but they inexplicably seemed intent on scoring a fourth and were almost caught on a counter, when Fabianski came running out of the box and was rounded, only for the resultant shot to flash across the face of the goal and safely out.

And so the long wait was finally over, and I and my pub mates exploded in celebration, just as the fans did at Wembley, and across the red side of North London. A nine-year drought had finally come to an end and the relief on Wenger’s face, which was scrunched in stress before kickoff and throughout most of the game, finally relaxed with a broad smile, as his tie disappeared and he ran around hugging anyone in sight. It also probably provided the grand exit Sagna has dreamed of throughout his time at Arsenal, and a relief to Fabianski, who appears too prone to err for a top tier team. Ozil and Podolski celebrated along with the rest of the Gunners, allowing us to ignore their rather paltry contributions to the game, while Ramsey finished the season with the flair he showed from the start, seemingly on the cusp of entering the top tier of European midfielders.

So my final three things for the season will be quick and to the point …

1.  Ozil/Podolski: a disappointing display from 2/3rds of our starting German contingent might damper the celebration a little, though one hopes that Podolski’s finishing can be backed by more effort throughout games new year and that a new striker will allow Ozil’s clear skills to shine. There were only slight glimmers of the Ozil/Ramsey understanding used to such good effect earlier in the season, but that combination should only continue to flourish going forward.
2.  Arteta/Flamini: I assume Arteta was given the start because of his contributions over the past three years, even as his abilities appear to be in steady decline – and this mistake might well have contributed to the early deficit. One wonders if he will be back next year and, if so, in what role. We clearly need a DM that can police the space in front of our back four with more stature and strength and start the counter with precision. Lars Bender appears to be the best option and then maybe Flamini plays the backup and we let Arteta go.
3.  Wenger: Arsene cannot step onto the pitch and play the game, so one can’t really blame him for the early deficit, though I do feel Fabianski was less than adequate on both scores and that zonal marking showed its flaws in glaring fashion. I also think he needs to consider a more conservative approach to the beginning of big games, as he did in the first half of the season. In any case, Arteta claimed his stirring half-time speech helped catapult the Gunners to victory and his “bold” decision to switch to a 4-4-2 did arguably contribute to the equalizer (and should have elicited the winner but for the shared ineptitude of Giroud and Sanogo, who might ask for lessons on finishing from Koscielny). Now Wenger has his 12th piece of silverware and a team that can compete at the top, if he adds reinforcements this summer. Let’s hope he’s finally learned his lesson – as it appears his reign will be three years longer, if unsurprising rumours are to be believed.

And so Arsenal finish in fourth, win the FA Cup and finally emerge from the shadow of the move to the Emirates. They are more financially sound than the title winners, and most other top teams in the division, and have a young foundation to build around. What the team appears to need is two or three more world class players to move to the next level and challenge for the domestic and UCL titles. Whether Wenger will succeed in acquiring that talent is the question of the summer. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Rove “Genius” Continues its Steady Decline …

When a party is out of ideas and runs purely as opposition, they must be in a constant search for ways to degrade their opponents and their ideas. In recent years, the former (ad hominem attacks, in rhetorical nomenclature – character assassination in its more common linguistic usage) has become the strategy of choice. Stretching back in this country to at least as far as Thomas Jefferson, who ran a successful smear-campaign against one-termer John Adams (and arguably even earlier in the run-up to the revolution), it’s more recent and virulent form was perfected under the acute tutelage of Lee Atwater with the infamous Willie Horton ads that sealed Dukakis’ fate and led the surprise turnaround victory for Bush I. Atwater led the charge, later followed by Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich, to make politics about personality, wedge issues, fear and center on incendiary attacks that resonated with an aging population fearful of the dying American mythology of their youth.

Karl Rove, of course, has fallen on hard times since his failed predictive powers caused him to disagree with his own network and call Ohio for Romney. But that hasn’t stopped him from continuing to raise boatfuls of money for the GOP cause. And it apparently hasn’t allayed his love affair with attacks that have little, if anything, to do with that cumbersome conservative problem called reality. His latest installation in the “I can’t believe he said that” circus is to claim Hillary Clinton had undisclosed brain surgery while in the hospital for 30 days in late 2012. Only two problems with the argument – 1. She was only in the hospital for four days, but that’s only a difference of 26 days, so no big deal in comparison to say claims that Gore said he invented the Internet or that Iraqi WMDs were moments away from being used in another terrorist attack and 2. His only proof is the sunglasses she was wearing on exiting the facility; which she has worn for years (as the article above points out, with rather compelling visual proof).

But as is generally the case when the right speaks, it is better not to let the facts get in the way of a good argument. And so it was of little surprise that Fox News was selling the story. Why not keep another nonstory going? It’s not like anything important is happening at the moment … 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

GOP Gains in Doubt in Upcoming Midterm?

While the pundits and big number crowd have been warning of a GOP sweep in the November elections that would solidify their lead in the House and maybe claim the Senate, some interesting results are emerging in the South (Daily Kos). Incumbent Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is effectively tied with Alison Lundergan Grimes (D-KY) at 46% - 45%. Incumbent Democratic Senator Mark Pryor of Arkansas is beating Republican Congressman Tom Cotton 51% to 41%. And Georgia Democratic Senatorial Candidate Michelle Nunn is running within 4 points to even against any of her potential Republican opponents. Ironically, it is the South, where the Republican message of hate, victimhood and looming socialism has resonated the loudest. Is it possible the people have finally started to wake up and realize wedge issues, which are rarely resolved in their favor (or at all, for that matter), are not the best way to vote as their quality of life declines? That would obviously be too grand a statement to make. But it certainly hones in on a truth unspoken by all but the most progressive of mainstream outlets.

That truth is that the people tend to support a more statist approach to governance, but their wishes are almost always subjugated to those of the rich. Martin Gilens empirically demonstrated this unmistakable trend in his 2012 book Affluence and Influence: Economic Inequality & Political Power in America. In the book, “Gilens compiles a massive data set of public opinion surveys and subsequent policy outcomes, and reaches a shocking conclusion: Democracy has a strong tendency to simply supply the policies favored by the rich. When the poor, the middle class, and the rich disagree, American democracy largely ignores the poor and the middle class.”

Going further, he claims in the book, “The status quo bias is strongest for social welfare issues ... fewer than one-third of proposed social welfare policy changes that garnered 80 percent support from the public were adopted. Many of these popular but not adopted policies concern proposed expansion of programs or increases in regulation (e.g., increasing government support for preschool of college education or mandating various aspects of health insurance), but some involve cutting back on existing programs or benefits (e.g., imposing work requirements on welfare recipients).”

In other words, as the American Plutocracy continues to grow in wealth and power, the great mass of people, that Menken had so little faith in, could rise up and demand their voices be heard. Or they could simply tune in to the latest episode of The Voice and forget their troubles for an hour … I’m leaning toward B but hoping for a late charge to A. 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Paul Ryan Cares About the Poor … Kind Of

The fake “intellectual pragmatist” politician among a coterie of fake “intellectual” politicians, Paul Ryan has somehow stayed relevant even as his draconian budgets and reinvention as a non-Randian offer the same old ideas that might well have cost Romney and continue to plunge the U.S. into a renewed gilded age. Ryan wants us to believe that what he offers is the only viable solution to our problems, from his latest budget that included $137 billion in cuts to food stamps (as hunger rises), $732 billion from Medicaid (a cut of 24% as poverty rises), and $125 billion from Pell Grants (if there aren’t that many quality jobs, we might as well keep the poor and working class kids out of college, I suppose). In total, 69% of his cuts go to those at the bottom of the proverbial food chain while millionaires would get an average tax cut of $200,000 (good news for luxury car sellers, high end resorts and the jewelry businesses).

But in case you think Ryan doesn’t care about the poor, he decided to rewrite history on the War on Poverty, with his 204-page report The War on Poverty: 50 Years Later (a report that Krugman bashed back in March). The report essentially reiterates long debunked arguments from Bill Bennett, Charles Murray (of Bell Curve infamy) and Newt Gingrich, arguing that the problem is predominantly cultural: “We have got this tailspin of culture, in our inner cities in particular, of men not working and just generations of men not even thinking about working or learning the value and the culture of work, and so there is a real culture problem here that has to be dealt with.” There is no structural racism, as that nice undergrad from Princeton reminded us and really tough love is the only strategy to solve the problem.

The fact that the U.S. already spends less on its unfortunate than any other country in the world and that poverty only shrunk in this country following the bĂȘte noire of conservatives, LBJ’s Great Society is a moot point. The fact that income mobility and poverty are the lowest in the world in the Nordic countries, where taxes are high and the Welfare State still relatively healthy, is of little consequence. The fact that the United States doesn’t even score that high on barometers of happiness and contentment is besides the point. The poor are to blame for their own problems and the rich are the “engines of our economy,” that must be rewarded over and over again, even when they fail and almost destroy the global economy.

Ryan likes to sell himself as a pragmatist who cares about the future of the country, while belittling anyone who disagrees with him, including the new Pope. How much longer must we listen to him? I suppose as long as the mainstream media is bought, paid for and owned by the very corporations that benefit from his rhetoric and policies. Hypercapitalist sociopaths beware, there is a new cowboy in town – with a nice suit and a smile to cloak all of his malevolent intent. 

Monday, May 12, 2014

No Benghazi Fatigue for the Right

(to the rhythm of Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love)
When the Fox News anchor
Who has never said a kind word
Starts to sing Issa’s lies
When the little GOP dumbell
At the bottom of the well
Starts to ring Clinton scandalmongering
When the mainstream media’s applause
In the middle of his work
Starts a tune to the angry white men up above
It is nature that is all
Simply telling us Obama is a clown

And that's why Rush does it, Hannity and his crew do it
Even Bachman and Palin do it
Let's do it, let's talk Benghazi

Koch Bro Acolytes 'gainst their wish, do it
Even Teabag Hacks do it
Let's do it, let's talk Benghazi 

And so the GOP will not shut up about the best “non-story” scandal since, well, the last one they came up with – with Obama not being a citizen coming to mind, though it’s hard to forget the Starr report and the grand revelation that a President actually had sex with a woman who was not his wife. Powerful men actually sleep around? I would have never guessed. In any case, the Fox News echo-chamber captured the Sunday talk shows as we prepare for another special Congressional investigation that will tell us nothing new. In fact, in this helpful fact check from the Washington Post, we see that most of those Benghazi rocks have not only been looked under, scanned by X-Ray and checked for DNA but sliced into paper thin sheets for examination by any and all conservative pundits. But why waste our time with real news, like Justin Bieber’s secret rehab trip or the latest desperate attempt of Miley Cyrus to stay relevant, when we can continue talking about a non-story that might help win some more votes for the corporate party that likes to play at moral indignation?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

City Win Title … By the Numbers

City won 2-0 today at the Ethiad over West Ham to seal their second title in three seasons – completing a turnaround that looked highly unlikely a few short weeks ago, after a loss to Liverpool and late draw to Sunderland. Now they are Champions once again, with an assist to Chelsea. It was one of the most exciting title races ever, though there was no 94th minute winner necessary this time around. I thought I would finish the season with a look at some numbers that have defined the campaign:

  • 100: Million pounds that is … or the total, more or less, the Champions have lost in excess of the allowable total in winning the title. Unless they decide to appeal the FFP decision, they will have to play the UCL with a squad of 21 next year, cut their budget and spend substantially less than they are used to in the transfer market. It is thus possible this could be the last title for City for a few years, though I certainly wouldn’t count them out for a third in four next year. The fact that PSG is also in for FFP punishment and won the French League does call into question the influence of money in European football and the way it increasing mirrors the bulging inequalities capitalized on by the global plutocracy. The exciting story amidst the titles by rich, powerful European clubs is Atletico Madrid, who could win La Liga the Champions League, or both in the next few weeks.
  • 15: The number of days City have been in the lead of the EPL table this season. Of course they finished with the most important numbers of all (3 points today for a total of 86 – two better than Liverpool – and a goal difference of 65). They also scored 102 goals in the league, though failing to keep pace with their record-setting total in the first half.
  • 9: The age of Steven Gerrard when Liverpool last won the title. That his slip might have cost Liverpool the crown must be a cruel irony he will live with the rest of his life (even if the Reds go on to win it before he retires).
  • 12-14: A narrative that has emerged is that Liverpool blew the title this term, as they led with three games to play, but it is hard to fully embrace that argument when they won 12 of their final 14 games, only losing 2-0 to Chelsea and the 3-3 collapse to Crystal. But it was an impressive season.
  • 31: Luis Suarez tied the mark for goals in a 38 game season with 31, but could easily have killed the record but for a fall off in productivity toward the end of the season. His tepid game against Chelsea and missed opportunities against Crystal must smart, even with all the accolades and awards. As a Gooner, I can’t help but wonder what could have been had to actually made the move to North London.
  • 7/68/151: Arsenal finished 7 points off the total of City, after leading for 151 days of the 266 or so days that comprise a season. That they only scored 68 goals (against 41 conceded – with 20 coming in 4 games) must be considered the biggest disappointment of the season, particularly as everyone except Wenger seemed certain they needed another striker. But watching Ramsey score a sublime goal, on a lovely pass across the box from Giroud, after he had missed a gild-edged chance himself, sort of wrapped up the second half collapse – with Ramsey dearly missed and Giroud missing too many clear chances (particularly in big games).
  • 1: Carl Jenkinson scored his first goal for Arsenal – a nice end to a season where he spent most of his time on the bench following the end of the injury-woes of departing Sagna. He grew up an Arsenal fan and couldn't hide his pure joy in finally getting off the snide. On a related note, Sanogo saw 20 minutes more on the pitch and still failed to score, making his first injury-plagued season for Arsenal a clear disappointment – as he finished with the unwanted goose egg in all competitions.
  • 2005: Heading into the FA Cup Final against Hull City next weekend, Arsene Wenger and Arsenal can finally end their trophy drought … now standing at 9 years. It would be a wonderful finish to the season, and if rumours are to be believed, could end up being Wenger’s last game – as he is linked with the Monaco job. Hard to believe he would leave, but who knows with the mercurial Frenchman, who could leave on a high with a nice foundation for a title push again next season.
  • 0: The number of titles or silverware of any kind for Jose Mourinho in the past two years. It has been a period of many almosts for the Special One, and I, for one, am happy to see his negative tactics and circus-like behavior falling just short. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

White Privilege Denier Hailed by Fox News

One of the nice things about being young is that you can generally say and do really stupid things without having to suffer the horrible consequences that are more common as we age. Or that’s how it used to be before the Internet, 24-hour news cycle and smart phones made anything and everything anyone ever said into a potentially huge story in the hyperreal spectacle. And so yet another college student has found himself at the center of a story about racism and race thinking, in this case Princeton freshman Tal Fortgang. Fortgang made news for writing an essay where he denied the existence of structural racism or white supremacy and claimed he would never apologize for white privilege.

The reality is that this is a young, privileged kid who has little experience in the world and has yet to explore that privilege inside or outside the classroom. Maybe he’s a future jerk in the making, but maybe he’s just a young kid whose lived a sheltered life around other privileged kids and adults. Maybe his parents are hardcore conservatives. Or maybe he’s emblematic of the new Ivy League pedigree – kids who aren’t necessarily brilliant, but do get really good grades, follow the rules and test well. The point is this really shouldn’t be news, should it?

Well, not according to Time magazine, who decided to publish the essay. Time and all of its dying print news brethren have been tacking right for many years now in a lame attempt to save themselves from their slow march towards irrelevance and then death. This, of course, caused a huge uproar across the twittersphere and social media, before quickly moving onto the mainstream media’s radar. And this is where Fox News stepped in, to cheer on yet another racist for taking on liberals and showing them the truth: Fox News.

I suppose the real morales of the story are one we’ve known for a long time: 1. If you want to be famous or infamous, forget having talent just say or write something that will piss off a lot of people, 2. Stupidity and naivety are admirable attributes in America, particularly for white males, 3. Fox News loves racism and racists almost as much as it hates taxes, anyone named Clinton and Obamacare and 4. Generation M might be actually be the Worst. Generation. Ever. (Newsroom Rant

P.S. The median age of Fox News viewers is currently 68!

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Camfield’s Absurd Analogy and the Missing Link

Tennessee State Senator Stacey Camfield took the GOP rhetoric on Obamacare to heretofore unrealized levels of absurdity by comparing the requirement of being insured to the Nazi forced transportation of Jews to concentration camps. No, seriously, he did. In his “Thought of the Day” on Monday he wrote, “"Democrats bragging about the number of mandatory sign ups for Obamacare is like Germans bragging about the number of manditory sign ups for 'train rides' for Jews in the 40s.”
Rather than apologizing afterward, Camfield explained that he “"regret[s] that some people miss the point of my post. It was not to offend. It was to warn." He continued, "In no way was my post meant to diminish or detract from the pain, suffering and loss of human life that occurred during this dark time in human history," he said. "Instead the post was meant to draw attention to the loss of freedom that we are currently experiencing." Reasserting Godwin’s Law yet again, we find another ongoing debate that has reached that point where Nazis or Hitler become a point of contention (he constructed the law regarding usenet group discussions in 1990, arguing that the longer a discussion continues, the closer to 1 the probability becomes that the comparison will occur).

Of course, Republicans have been comparing Obama policies to Hitler and fascism since before he was elected … so not a big surprise here.  

Cartoon by Pat Bagley -

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

The GOP Machine

To slightly alter a famous old line from Benjamin Disraeli, “there are lies, damned lies, and the GOP.” It has become conventional political wisdom on the left these days to recognize that the GOP is built on a Trojan Horse of lies, hatred and misdirection. The lies are told with such aplomb in the echo chamber of radio, television and Internet sites that no one within it can see beyond the lies. The hatred is spilled in innuendo and jingoistic, anti-gay, anti-immigrant, anti-affirmative action missives spread out across the heartland of “real Americans.” And the misdirection keeps the white working class poor screaming in every direction except the right one – the corporate sponsors of the spectacle they feed at each day and night. It is a powerful machine, built on nothing but the social reproduction of the status quo. Yet that Trojan Horse continues to resonate with enough of a cynically exhausted public that it has the power to win elections at every level -- except the top office for two elections running (and only 2 of the last 6). Call it Bush fatigue with a short shadow, or maybe just the inability to find a viable candidate who can tack right to win the nomination and then back left to win in the mainstream. But whatever the case is, the GOP is already licking their lips not only for the possibility of retaking the Senate in November but for the bigger prize of controlling all three branches of government in 2017.

In that vein, the attacks on Hillary Clinton are heating up, even as the positioning for their nominee continues to shift with the wind. This was in glaring display on a Fox Panel this past Sunday that used the theoretical assassination of the ex-First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State to make a point about the Benghazi story that just won’t go away (Media Matters). The fact that their argument was based on a narrative that has long proven false is of little consequence, or that they feel no compunction to essentially call for violent insurrection against elected officials. It is all part of that same machine that feeds on hate and the misdirected victimhood of the fading middle class and American Dream. Blame the “liberal media,” blame the gays, blame non-existent affirmative action or the shrinking army of feminists, blame the “illegal” immigrants and always, always blame a corrupt government that is really the last buffer between the people and the complete corporate takeover of American.

The attacks on Clinton will only intensify as we approach the date two years from November when the dream of a Republican plutocracy can be fully realized. And it is incumbent on anyone against that dream, anyone who doesn’t want to see an America that looks a hell of a lot like Putin’s Russia, to stop decrying the lies and misdirection and find a way to push a message that can actually win votes and elections. For the smarter loser may feel better about themselves from the smug pantheon of their intellectual superiority, but in the end they are just that … the loser. And the current polls say that is exactly what more and more democrats will be in the coming years, unless they find a new message. 

Monday, May 05, 2014

The Demand Problem

In a post last week, Why Economics Failed, Paul Krugman again summarized the financial crisis in the simplest terms possible. What we have had since the crisis began is essentially a demand problem. Not a problem of deficits, or too much government intervention or any of the other absurd claims made by the right. We have a demand problem. And the answer to a demand problem is to, well, increase demand. But how can we do this?
The most obvious and effective way to do so is to spend government money that stimulates economic activity. This includes investment in growth industries, expansion of jobs programs and other ways to actually get money in the hands of people who will spend it. Too often we are told that the super rich are the architects of our economy and we must cow tow to their interests. But that is what got us in the problem in the first place. We need more people working, at better wages and with some confidence that the future will be better than the present. If those three conditions are met, the economy will start to grow.
Now the complaint against this essentially “Neo-Keynesian” approach is that it demands higher deficits and will lead to inflation. But there are two problems with that argument: 1. If more people are working and making more money, tax receipts actually go up and the deficit will decline in the medium to long term and 2. Inflation is only bad if it outpaces wage increases (thus the union tendency to push for COLA (cost of living) pegged wages).
The next obvious question is, who is hurt by this approach? The answer is the same as to the question of who will pay for the stimulus. And that is the 1 to 10 percent of income earners who are currently snatching far too many of the benefits of our economic activity with almost none of its concurrent risks. When they go too far, which is made easier by lack of government regulation, they are bailed out. When they go just far enough to make incredible profits, they are taxed at lower and lower rates. And they benefit from low inflation, high unemployment and lower real wages while the rest of the country suffers.
And so the obvious answer to our current economic malaise is essentially the answer that has been around for as long as advanced capitalism has existed – redistribution of wealth and income from the rich to everyone else. That was the arrangement settled upon in the wake of the Great Depression and World War II and it led to the Golden Era of economic growth. Why don’t we return to those policies that benefited everyone (including the top earners, though to a lesser degree than the post-80s conservative revolution has)? Because the one percent have too much power to let that happen again and there is no alternative out there that they fear.
Maybe it’s time for everyone else to demand change, eh?    

Sunday, May 04, 2014

Arsenal Win & the Week in the EPL

The title favorite shift from last weekend was solidified when Man City held on to beat their road nemesis Everton 3-2. It was a back and forth affair that included Everton opening the books with a stunning goal-of-the-season nominee from Ross Barkley, a strong penalty appeal for the Toffees that could have made it 2-0, an equalizing goal by Sergio Aguero right before he went off with an injury (on poor goalkeeping from Howard, who was beat at the near post), a strong-hand save by Joe Hart at the beginning of the second half that kept out the equalizer and two goals from Eden Dzeko, who has quietly played a huge role in City’s probable title run. Everton pushed for the late equalizer after another Lukaku goal, but came up just short. Now with two games left for both Liverpool and City, it appears likely the crown will remain with the current leaders – on goal difference alone!

In other action, both Fulham and Cardiff’s campaigns to stay up came to an end with 3-1 losses, combined with Sunderland’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford, to end yet another long losing streak (this one going back to the 60s) in the worst United season since the 80s. And Chelsea all but ended their remote title chase with a tepid 0-0 draw at home to Norwich, with Mourinho taking irony to new levels with his complaints about the visitors sitting back and not attacking enough. He might have had a point here, as Norwich will be all but officially relegated if Sunderland win or draw in their game Wednesday and thus really should have chased a win with more urgency. It was the conclusion of a weird week for Chelsea, who parked the bus to beat Liverpool at Anfield 2-0, then failed to keep a lead at the Bridge, losing 3-1 to Atletico in the second leg; giving Mourinho his 6th loss in 8 attempts in the semis of the UCL. Then this draw which all but ensures that the special one will go two years without any silverware.

That brings us to the second great Mourinho irony, in that Arsene Wenger could finish the English season off with a victory in the FA Cup final in fortnight, ending his 9-year wait for silverware and begging the question of whether Mourinho is becoming an “expert in losing” himself. Arsenal already knew they had secured fourth place after Everton’s loss on Saturday, but still won their final game of the season at the Emirates today, 1-0 over a rather uninspired West Brom team all but secure unless Norwich beat Arsenal next weekend and they lose both of their remaining games.  And so, after a long season that has seen over 20 changes at the top of the table and an endless number near the bottom, all is all but decided. The four teams for the Champions League are in, Norwich appears all but certain to follow Cardiff and Fulham down to the Championship and the title is City’s to lose. But we should not discount the possibility of a late surprise --  particularly looking over at Spain, where Atletico followed up their impressive victory away at Chelsea by losing to midtable Levante today – after Barcelona drew yesterday. On top of this, Real had to fight back for a 2-2 draw against Valencia at home; meaning they are now in the unenviable position of rooting for a Barcelona win over Atletico in the season finale (assuming they win their remaining 3 games).

Three Quick Thoughts for the Week
  1. Wenger Magic Escapes: Wenger’s career has been magical in three ways that come immediately to mind: a) His early years with the 11 trophies and the only undefeated season in English football history, b) The 17 straight years in the top four, which really is an achievement if you think of all the teams that haven’t and c) His ability to be the steward of so many near misses (catalogued in detail in one of my previous posts). Assuming Liverpool and City win their games in hand this weekend, that will put Arsenal a mere 7 points off the title chase. So where did those seven points go? Obviously we can think of the home draws against United, Chelsea and Everton (there’s 6 points), the 1-0 loss to Stoke (3 points), the own goal that blew a nice comeback against Southampton (2 points) and their road record against the top seven (a measly 3 points against Tottenham, out of a possible 18). This was Arsenal’s real chance to nab the title that has eluded them for so long and it appears that it was again Wenger’s stubbornness that cost us – mainly with his unwillingness to sign another striker and DM (though the former alone would have done). And so the magic of Wenger could very well reap a trophy after a near decade of futility, but will it still leave a bitter taste in many Gooners? It certainly does in this one’s.
  2. Giroud-fatigue: Endless print has been inked this year on the mercurial French striker, who was hailed as one of the best players in the league through mid-December, before being maligned as a key reason for the Gunner collapse in the second half. So which narrative is true? Giroud has clearly had a reasonably strong season for Arsenal, scoring 16 goals and adding 7 assists in 35 EPL games –with 22 and 8 overall. His goals in the FA Cup run have been crucial and he has been the fulcrum of the attack in many games. And yet his scoring record against the other top teams is paltry, with only 1 goal in those essential games. And it is this absence of production that has cost us so dearly this year. I can remember several spectacular goals by Olivier this year, but even more near misses that could have added the necessary points for a title. In the end, he is an integral part of the team, but needs a partner or to be replaced if we are to take the next step.
  3. Ozil Overcriticized?: Mesut Ozil has taken a lot of the criticism for Arsenal’s second half collapse, even as he was out injured for much of it. He has seven goals overall for the Gunners (and 11 if we count Germany and Real) and 14 assists (19 total) in 37 appearances. As I mentioned last week, he was overplayed early and has created more chances than anyone in the EPL – and unfortunately can’t finish for the often inept Giroud. What if’s abound, of course, particularly in the first leg of the UCL tie against Bayern, but as I’ve stated before – the Gunners were not going to win it this year. English press needs something to write about, and love to talk about “flops,” always privileging goals over assists and failure over success. For example, is the impressive season of Bale, that has been all but ignored in the English press. But I would say Ozil has been a success overall this season and that he will improve next year, as Arsenal attempt to improve on their best points total in 7 years, with one game to go!

One week to go in this long mixed season and then the FA Cup final we have been waiting for for so long. COYG! As I watch the final few games of the campaign, I can't help but root for a City slip-up, by the way, particularly with their failure to meet FFP requirements this year. Don't discount a final twist in an odd year indeed. 

Seriously? ... Another Bush Considers Run for President

Cartoon by Joel Pett -