Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Klopp for Wenger: A Dream Move for Gooners?

Anyone who has read my rantings on Arsenal over the past couple of seasons knows that I have grown rather tired of Arsene Wenger. I appreciate his success in the early years and will always be a fan of him as a person. I think he should also be respected and revered for keeping the Gunners in the Champions League as they moved from Highbury to the Emirates, ensuring the long-term financial stability of the team. In the last two summer windows, he has even broken his long-term allegiance to a Shylock-inspired approach to the transfer market. And yet I truly believe that Arsenal will not take the next step until he steps aside.

For those who haven’t read my commentary on Wenger’s weaknesses in the past, a quick primer on why it is time for him to go: 1. Never seems to complete his business in the transfer window, particularly given the high profile departures over the past five years. I think one example will suffice – he sold Alex Song to Barcelona two summer’s ago without really needing to (he had three years left on his contract) and then refused to replace him with another DM. That mistake is at the heart of the Gunners failing to win the EPL last term and the even leakier defense this term. 2. Tactical Stubbornness: the new brand of manager tends to switch tactics based on the opponent, the available players and the circumstance. Wenger rarely ever does this and it shows. 3. Failure to Win When it Counts the Most: this is the biggest issue with Wenger, who has only won one big game since losing the Champions League final in 2006 – the FA Cup to end last season. Great coaches win the big games and Wenger hasn’t done it enough since the end of his best period in 2005. 4. Injury Record: injuries often come down to bad luck, but Arsenal have led the league in time off for starters over the past four or five years, and that has to have something to do with the training regime (once his strength), the treatment staff (supposedly addressed in the offseason, but things are even worse) and overworking players (a consistent Wenger trait). 5. Mourinho: the team to beat in the league this year is Chelsea, partially because Arsenal failed to resign Fabergas (though I’m not sure they should have unless they sold Cazorla or Wilshere, and maybe not even then). Wenger has built a decent team that is maybe only two players short of being contenders. But Arsenal will never win the league unless they can beat Chelsea, and Wenger has never done it. He also has a terrible record against the top 5 over the past 5 seasons, and that just isn’t good enough.

Some argue that Wenger deserves to be manager indefinitely because of his early success or that it isn’t his fault that the team didn’t have the money to spend. But while the departure of David Dein certainly saw a marked decline in the quality of their transfer business, much of the blame resides with Wenger, who has final say on all personnel decisions. And the idea that someone should stay in a position because they used to be good at it is so absurd as to be laughable. Tom Cruise was in some successful romantic action films in the 80s, so he should be cast forever! Or the CEO of company XYZ should keep his job because the company was profitable 8 years earlier. In any case, I think the arguments to keep giving Wenger another chance to screw things up has lost any currency it once had – particularly as he has had the money to spend the past three windows but has come up short each time. The last argument I often get is that there is no one available to replace him.

But could it be that one of the best managers in the world will be available at the end of the season? Rumours have surface that J├╝rgen Klopp’s time at Borussia Dortmund might be nearing its conclusion. Why would the coach leave a place where he won two league titles back-to-back over the juggernaut Bayern Munich (in 2011 & 2012), the DFP-Pokal (2012) and the DFL-Supercup twice (2008 & 2013), as well as ending up a goal short of a Champions League crown? The argument goes that Financial Fair Play has essentially gifted the Bundesliga to Bayern for the foreseeable future, as the other clubs in the league become feeder clubs for the behemoth. This is certainly the case with Dortmund, who have lost their two best players over the past two seasons to their rivals – and might soon lose others, to Bayern or other European powers. Klopp might realize that his chances of success exist only at the level of domestic cups and wonder if he could do more somewhere else. And Arsenal is an ideal location – a place where his aggressive, technical football would be greatly appreciated and embraced by fans.

Not only does he have the pedigree and skills to take over for Wenger, but the two appear to have a mutual appreciation for one another that could smooth over the transition. Will Wenger leave though? That is a question that is not easy to answer. Apparently Monaco are interested in taking him back and PSG have been rumoured to be interested as well. I think it would be a great move for all parties and set the Gunners up with a proven manager who has many years to build a team and win major trophies.

Media Racism Continues Unabated

One would think that recent events would make the press more sensitive to the way they handle race and racism in their reporting. One would be wrong, at least among some more local reporters. One in particular, a columnist for Charleston’s the Daily Mail named Don Surber, decided to offer his perspective on the Mike Brown slaying: “This summer I had an epiphany as I watched packs of racists riot in Ferguson, Missouri, in support of a gigantic thug who was higher than a kite when he attacked Ferguson Police Department Officer Darren Wilson, who unfortunately had to put this animal down.”

Humans are, of course, animals, as Nietzsche reminded us, but connotation matters and the racist coding is quite clear here. After being criticized for his words, he offered the following update: “I made a factual error. Michael Brown is not an animal but a man. Big. Brutal. High. His death was justifiable homicide and not a putting down.” The problems with this statement? Well, let’s see – “Big. Brutal. High.” That describes almost every player in the NFL, black or white. So anyone who mistakenly or purposefully kills any of them should be exonerated for “justifiable homicide?”

In a more general sense, nobody besides the officer knows for sure what happened on that fateful day. What we do know with certainty is that a young man of color without a gun was shot by an officer with a gun, the latest in a long list of such occurrences over the past three decades. To make light of the historical context surrounding this case is to do a disservice to the public trying to make sense of its larger significance. Of course, taking an ahistorical perspective on an event while ignoring any deeper social critique is the norm for the media, so I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Is the American Dream Dying?

A good article in AlterNet a few days ago continued a dialogue I have been writing about for some time – the slow, painful death of the American Dream. As I’ve reported in the past, income mobility has slowed dramatically in recent years and left the U.S. only middle of the road among OECD countries. Real wages for most Americans have barely grown for most of the past four decades, while the rich get richer and the super rich toward Plutocratic status. The return on education is in decline and debt is killing stability and undermining investment, risk taking and long-term economic stability.

The article included seven facts that highlight the death of the key mythology (or Monomyth) that has sustained America for at least a century: 1. The middle class hasn’t seen its wages rise in 15 years (FiveThirtyEight), the percentage of middle class families is falling and wages have declined for the middle class since 2008, while they have risen for the wealthy. In fact, the wealth of the super rich has DOUBLED SINCE 2000 while corporate revenue is at record levels (in 2013 alone, corporate profits rose five times faster than wages (Business Week). 2. The idea of a stay-at-home parent is dead, as wages have declined so much that two-parent families arguably struggle more than one-earner families (with more children) in the past. 3. Rich are increasingly debt free while others are swamped with debt that undermines their ability to save. The argument is essentially that American households are now living on debt to maintain their lifestyle in the face of stagnant wages (New America Foundation). 4. In a similar vein, student loan debt is crushing an entire generation of non-rich Americans, saddled with payments that push their spending well below income levels and undermine the ability to save anything when you are young. Even public universities tuition is rising quickly as scholarships and grants fall, forcing most students to take on the burden of debt. This seems particularly ironic as Chile, once the incubator for American-led neoliberal globalization, pushes to make higher education free. 5. Vacations are on the decline in the country with the least hours of vacation and most hours worked in the entire OECD. In fact, we are the only advanced economy in the world that doesn’t require employers to offer vacation (CEPR). 6. Even with health insurance, healthcare is becoming increasingly unaffordable for most. Employer-funded portions of healthcare have risen 52 percent since 2007, but household costs have risen 73 percent during that same period (to $9,144 per household). 7. Finally, is the question of retirement. One can define a nation, to some extent, by how it treats its young and old and here the old are in trouble – with fewer and fewer able to retire at 65, or ever. One group actually placed the U.S. 19th among advanced countries in its retirement security (Durable Portfolios).

Looking across this list, what we see is individuals and families squeezed by stagnant wages, bulging debt, exorbitant healthcare costs, growing insecurity and little chance of retirement. Yet all this occurs as productivity and corporate revenues and profits continue to rise and the few reap the benefits of the work of the many. This is classic exploitation, with workers getting less and less of the fruits of their labor, while traditionally corporate-funded healthcare and retirement are transferred to those same workers and state-funded higher education pushed back on families and the young.

Many might ask why? There are three rather obvious, though complex, phenomena at the heart of the dying American dream: 1. The decline of unions, that gave us employee-funded retirement, employee-paid healthcare, vacations, overtime, child labor laws, COLA increases tied to inflation and the like. Without unions to push for fair wages and working conditions, almost everyone in the economy suffers (except the super rich). 2. The retrenchment of government since the conservative revolution of the 80s. Economic history shows us that active government intervention in the economy, which we are so often told is bad, is actually good for the average person who sees less economic instability, fewer recessions, higher economic growth and more income equality. This is even more true when we add regulation of financial markets and corporations, who tend to act increasingly irresponsibly when times are good and they feel comfortable they won’t be punished for their excess or mistakes. 3. The decline of democracy in general, and the Democratic Party in particular. Many in the country are cynical for good reason, as our representatives on both sides of the aisle increasingly support the interests of corporate America and a few wealthy donors. This undermines not only democracy as a concept but as a mechanism to enact the will of the people (popular sovereignty).

Not surprisingly, over 50 percent of the public in a recent poll argued that the American dream either doesn’t exist any longer or never did at all. While this may be true, it is essential to somehow find a way to inspire and then galvanize people to believe we can recuperate it again and save the country from the endemic greed and injustice that have killed the country’s spirit and “soul.” Rather than miring ourselves in continued cataloguing of this situation, however, it is time to stand up and act!

Arsenal Win Ugly Again

Arsenal again played a disjointed and ugly game, scored a late goal and grabbed three points. Like last Wednesday, the team seemed completely out of sorts, losing the ball over and over again, failing to create many chances and showing an almost endemic shakiness on the defensive end. Lucky for them, they faced one of the weakest teams in the EPL at present, a Sunderland squad that shipped 8 goals to Southampton in their last match (and then refunded the fans in attendance). Yet but for two mistakes, one by Wes Brown and the other by ex-Gunner goalkeeper Mannone, the game could easily have finished nil-nil.

Alexis Sanchez was the one standout for the Gunners, latching onto a terrible backpass by Sunderland defender Wes Brown and then charging toward the goal and easily beating Mannone with a nice chip in the 30th minute. One could argue that goal was against the run of play, as Sunderland actually seemed the better team up to that point. From here the Gunners settled, but again failed to put the game away – a problem all season but for the Aston Villa and Galatasaray games (where Ozil played in the #10, one might note). They spurned a few decent chances and otherwise continued to give the ball away, though they did press up with resolve and often won the ball back. The second half saw Sunderland get forward more often and with more resolve, though some important Mertesacker clearances, a couple of missed opportunities and decent team defending kept the meager one goal lead intact, even as the Gunners had several chances to counter that each failed before a shot was even hit.

With 74 minutes gone, Gibbs was subbed out, almost 15 minutes after he started complaining of yet another injury but was ignored. Bellerin came in to replace him, though he took Chambers spot at right back, Chambers moved to the centre and Monreal to the right. On 80 minutes, Welbeck had a good chance to seal the victory with a header, but it sailed over the corner of the goal. Aaron Ramsey came on for Arteta in the 88th minute and then Rosicky for Ox in the 90th. Arsenal were hanging on, with Sunderland missing a few chances and then, in the 92nd minute, Mannone miskicked a back pass in the box and Sanchez grabbed the ball from his foot and flicked it into the corner, causing further blushes to a team that can’t stop making defensive mistakes. And so the game finished 2-0, though it flattered to deceive the stuttering quality of the performance by Arsenal.

There is no question that injuries are hurting them, but their problems were apparent from the very beginning of the season. First, as I can’t help but repeat repeatedly, they need a DM that cuts off the counter and stands firmly in front of the defense. While Arteta’s return was welcome, and his pinpoint passing a glaring contrast to almost everyone else on the pitch, neither he nor Flamini (who started beside him in a surprise move by Wenger) get the job done on a consistent enough basis. Second, they needed to replace Vermaelen for defensive cover. As Koscielny continues to recover from what was hoped to be a minor Achilles problem, we see the effects, with an unconvincing Nacho Monreal playing beside lumbering Mertesacker. When Gibbs limped off toward the end, Wenger had no choice but to bring the young Bellerin on to play right back, moving Chambers to CB and Monreal back to his more natural LB. But if Gibbs is out yet again injured and any of those four go out, I’m not sure who is supposed to play in any of those positions (with Debuchy and Koscielny out and no one else on the squad). It’s an insane situation that could and should have been resolved, given the money in the bank. Finally, the continued injury plague that again must ultimately lead to questions about training and treatment.

One thing that I believe is becoming clear is the importance of Ozil. I have been defending him since last season, as I think his style just irks the British press, who then feed into a meme among fans that is not based on his very impressive impact. In any case, since the Gunners lost him to injury, they have looked completely discombobulated in attack, whether it is Wilshere or Cazorla pulling the strings. Today the midfield consisted of Flamini, Arteta and Cazorla with Sanchez and Ox interchanging on the wings. None of them played terribly well, beside Sanchez, who scored both goals and again showed a hunger and will to win that seems to be missing from the rest of an increasingly anemic team. Ox seemed unable to finish any of his usually impressive runs toward goal, Cazorla missed two good chances to score and seems to have lost the form that he showed for his first year and a half in the red and white and Flamini appears to be a player in rather rapid decline. Too often a counterattack that should have resulted in a goal was cut short by an errant pass, failed attempts to dribble past defenders or a slowing of forward thrust. The Gunners continue to win the possession battle, but watching them compared to the impressive win by Real over Barcelona today showed how far the team is from world class at the moment. They need Ozil back as soon as possible, need Ramsey to show the form that had fans so excited last year, need Cazorla to find his confidence and Wilshere to become more disciplined when he plays through the middle. Hopefully two wins from poor performances will restore some confidence, but it’s getting harder and harder to understand why the performances are so consistently flat with only glimmers of the clear talent these players possess.

The good news is that while the game continued to highlight the weaknesses of a team that many thought had an outside shot at a title run this year, Arsenal did pick up points on Liverpool (who drew 0-0 with Hull) and Man City (surprise 2-1 losers to an increasingly impressive West Ham) and will pick up points on Chelsea, Manchester United or both, if they draw tomorrow. Next up is Burnley, which should be a relatively easy game for the North Londoners, though few have turned out that way so far this season.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Arsenal Escape Blushes: Score Twice Late to Win at Anderlecht

Arsenal headed into the game today with the expectation that it would be a relatively easy win. Not only has Anderlecht been a beating bag for UCL opponents for several years now (finishing last in their group every time they qualify), but they have been in bad form in the Belgian league as well. But Arsenal has had a less than auspicious start to their season as well, already drawing five time in the league, with only two wins and a loss – and are suffering through what is becoming a perennial injury crisis. And though the Gunners were clearly the more talented team on the pitch, they were second best throughout most of the contest.

From front to back, Arsenal looked lethargic, uninterested and mediocre. Welbeck had a hard time finding an opening, and didn’t do much with the ball when he did get it. Wilshere lost the ball at least 13 times in the game, with lazy passes finding Anderlecht players as often as Gunners. Ramsey continues his attempt to find his form from last season with little success and the defending was again suspect. In the 71st minute, that suspect defending led to a goal by Andy Najar that gave the hosts a seemingly unlikely lead. The cross that Najar scored his header from should never have come, as Monreal failed to close on the winger before Mertesacker and Flamini allowed the shortest man on the field to score a lovely header between them.

During this young season, the one thing Arsenal has done is found a way to up the pressure after an opponent scores. That did not happen here, though, as the entire team continued to pass around the pitch without much purpose and then lose the ball. Joel Campbell came on for Welbeck and Ox for Flamini in the 75th minute, but neither contributed much at first. Then, the forgotten man this season, Lukas Podolski came on for Wilshere in the 84th minute and Arsenal began to slowly come to life. Sanchez grabbed the ball and sent Chambers through on the right before the youngster sent a pitch perfect cross to the far corner where Kieran Gibbs found the ball with a lovely left footed tap across goal. Arsenal were suddenly level and would go for the win, with only four minutes to play. They only need two of those minutes, as a ball in the box was snatched by Sanchez, who muscled his way around defenders before hitting a hard low cross that ended up at the feet of Podolski three yards out. The striker made no mistake and Arsenal had won an unlikely victory from the heels of defeat.

It happened to be Arsene Wenger’s birthday and the last four minutes gave him the three points he desired, but the gift was marred by the performance for the first 88 minutes and the sense that this team continues to flatter to deceive. There is a lack of fluidity and creativity in the attack, too many mistakes by talented players and a tendency to find themselves wide open on the break. While the Gunners did control possession, 64 to 36 percent, Anderlecht actually had more shots (14 to 13), only one less shot on target (3 to 4), more corners (6 to 3), only three more fouls (15 to 12) and as many saves (2). They easily could have put the game away, but for some poor finishing toward the end. And Arsenal continued to look like a shell of the team that came within a February/March collapse of winning the league.

Sure there are tons of injuries to sift through at the moment, but beyond Sanchez, there are real questions about the drive and consistency of the players. Cazorla played well at times, but was poor with his corners, most of his free kicks and gave the ball away a little too easily at times. Wilshere is just too careless with the ball, seemingly trying to do an impression of Ozil’s laconic style (without the requisite talent). Flamini always gives his all, but that all has declined substantially since the first half of last season, and he has become a liability that is at the heart of Arsenal shipping too many goals. Even the reliable Mertesacker has been guilty on too many goals this term, including the one tonight (though he headed out five of the six corners). Chambers did a good job, but the same could not be said of Monreal, who is clearly uncomfortable in the middle, and Gibbs, who is great going forward but really needs to work on his defending. And Welbeck was largely invisible for most of the match, failing to connect on his two best chances to score. Finally is Wenger, whose mistakes in the summer and in tactics are there for anyone to see every time they go on the pitch.

But three points is three points and assuming they beat Anderlecht and Galatasaray in the return fixtures, they are all but certain of another second place finish and a quick exit in the Round of 16! In the other games today, Olympiakos surprised Juve with an impressive 1-0 victory, Liverpool’s struggles continued as they lost 3-0 to Real at home, Dortmund crushed Galatasaray 4-0, and Atletico beat lowly Malmo 5-0. As it stands, Arsenal and Chelsea should advance with relative ease, Liverpool has a good chance (though they are tied with Basel and Ludogorets on 3 points after 3 matches) and Man City is all but out of the competition. But if Arsenal don’t wake up from their month and a half slumber soon, the season will be lost. COYG!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Harassment and Fear as Fundraising Strategies?

There is no question that fear is a strong motivator. Democrats use to galvanize elderly voters, claiming (it appears accurately in recent years) that conservatives want to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits. Republicans sound the alarms around a number of cultural, political and economic issues – from abortion and gun control to white panic and fears over government intervention in the economy. As this midterm election campaign draws to a close, democrats are again using fear, this time that Republicans could take over the Senate, and thus embark on a right-wing ideological project to further undermine the final two years of Obama’s presidency and turn the country even further to the right. Given the continued presence of the veto, together with the rather small majority that would emerge, some of these constructed fears are overwrought. On the other hand, it would essentially end Obama’s mandate two years early and some troubling legislation would probably make its way through.

So the fears are justified, if slightly exaggerated. And yet, as I get barraged with as many as 25 emails a day asking for money, I have to wonder what the definition of political harassment actually is? Does getting two or three emails a day from the same candidate or organization count? Does getting emails day after day from those same candidates and organizations register? How about continuing to get requests from the group I actually did contribute to? Or getting the same exact message of fear so often that I actually fear the emails more than the results of the election? Finally, what about unsubscribing from some groups and still getting emails? I am so fed up having to delete all these emails that I am thinking of unsubscribing from every progressive email I currently receive and giving money anonymously going forward (if at all).

In a broader sense, the more troubling issue is the nature of the discourse around this election from both sides. From the right, we have pleas to support a party with historically low approval ratings, based on the questionable assumption that the kings of obstructionism can somehow now become the voices of reason that actually “get something done.” Of course what they appear to want to “get done” is reduce the ability of government to accomplish anything going forward. Their successful fear-cultivating, hate-mongering attacks on Obama might just win them control of both houses of the legislature, but to what end? And with all the money they are pouring into this cause, and all of the half-truths and lies the advertisements contain, the only real surprise is that some key races are still up for grabs. On the opposite end, the main thing Democrats appear to be running on, with some notable progressive exceptions like the Senatorial race in South Dakota, is fear of what the GOP will do if elected. But isn’t this the very reason Republicans continue to win? Democrats have a message that surveys show could resonate with the general public, but they appear unwilling or unable to deliver it in a compelling way. One reason might be their continued fundraising on Wall Street and with other corporations who push them further and further away from their progressive roots each year. The other appears to be a spinelessness to actually take a chance and try to return to those roots and support the people over the elites. Finally is the media that appears unwilling to take a stand themselves, even to offer the accuracy test to most things politicians say.

The reality is that negative messaging can procure support and votes. What it can’t do is chart a path forward and give a cynical public renewed hope that the government can intervene to address some of our most pressing social and economic issues. That should be our real fear – not that the Senate might shift by a few seats …

Lewinsky Joins Twitter ...

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Why is there no Ebola cure?

Ebola was first discovered all the way back in 1976 and has been part of the public imaginary since the publication of The Hot Zone by Richard Preston in 1994. There have been 26 outbreaks so far, with the largest until now costing 224 deaths (of 425 infections) in Uganda in 2000-1. We are obviously currently experiencing the deadliest outbreak in the history of disease ravaging Western Africa as usual, but spreading to Spain and the U.S., already counting 9,286 incidents and 4,597 fatalities. Yet in those nearly four decades, no drug has been approved to treat the horrifyingly deadly hemorrhagic disease. Why?

The answer is both obvious and rather disturbing – profit margins. Pharmaceutical companies deciding where to spend their research and development funding generally look at the potential for future revenue streams. And curing or treating diseases in the Global South (developing and underdeveloped countries in Africa, Southeast Asia and parts of South America) is just not as profitable as palliatives for Western diseases and conditions or, at the extreme, making up things like “General Anxiety Disorder” and “Restless Leg Syndrome” so they can sell even more treatment. In fact, the pharmaceutical industry made a rather disturbing discovery in the late 70s – it is substantially more profitable to treat the symptoms of a condition (palliative) than to actually cure diseases. And thus the explosion of anti-depressants, EDD drugs a decade later, ADHD treatment (essentially speed) and the like.  New diseases? Just not as profitable, including new more potent antibiotics to treat the growing strains of drug-resistant microbes. And while the government has partially or wholly funded many of the most important patents in the industry for the past 50 years, they appear to have little power to actually influence what the companies do or how much they ultimately charge for the drugs they do create that actually save lives.

Diseases that strike the poorer countries thus receive almost no attention at all. Beyond Ebola, malaria and tuberculosis (which kill a combined 2 million people a year) receive less attention than high cholesterol, Chagas, dengue and other “neglected tropical diseases (which affect a billion people and kill as many as 500k) have 10 marketed drugs of the over 15,000 that came to market between 75 and today. And the same is the case in the West, with more drugs targeted toward the middle and upper class, male over female treatment, and white over minority conditions. One could argue that this is the natural way that the market works, but is it a just, or even intelligent, approach to healthcare?

Diseases like Ebola bring this issue into the public eye and arguably provide an opportunity for a broader debate about the pharmaceutical industry and its priorities and near monopoly over life on the planet. Unfortunately, in the contemporary media moment, we are more likely to hear the Obama administration somehow blamed for the minor outbreak (and, given sufficient time, maybe for the disease itself (as a young Muslim visiting Africa)).  But forgoing the bigger issue for a moment, what can be done to stem a disease that could kill millions? Do we simply accept that a pandemic could ravage human populations not only in the poorest countries but across the globe? Do we hope the CDC can control the growing dangers of rare diseases showing up inside our borders, given the continued expansion of globalization? Or can national government or international bodies find a way to push companies to find a cure? Two possibilities exist to address this troubling situation: 1. Subsidize research into potential cures or 2. Create a competition. It turns out, the later is the better option, as long as the competition is perceived as fair and the rewards are large enough to create sufficient incentive. (The New Yorker).

Let’s hope the U.S. government and global bodies start to create these incentive programs, not only for Ebola but for all of the biggest healtcare issues facing humanity today. Don’t hold your breath … or maybe, do!

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Arsenal Draw Again; Title Chase All But Over After 8 Games

Arsene Wenger warned his players before the game that this was not going to be a rollover win at home against Hull City. One only wishes the players had heeded that call a little more. The Gunners dominated possession throughout, but allowed Hull to score on their only two chances of the game, settling for a draw that should have been three points. Arsenal started brightly and controlled the game, creating several half chances, the most obvious falling to Jack Wilshere, who again failed to connect when in on goal (a troubling habit for a player who should put the ball in the net more often, including a chance to equalize against Chelsea a fortnight ago). But a bit of magic from Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring soon after, as he got past two defenders and then shot the ball hard across the crease and in on 13 minutes.

But as has become a rather destructive habit this term, the Gunners shut off at a key moment and allowed Diame to dribble past three defenders, push Flamini aside and score to equalize on 17 minutes. To be fair, it shouldn’t have been a goal, as Diame clearly fouled Flamini on his way to chipping over Szczesny, but he shouldn’t have had the chance, with three defenders there to block him or at least get a tackle in. With the score equalized, Arsenal looked a little shell shocked, and though they continued to dominate possession, were sloppy around the box and unable to capitalize any further on 68 possession and 14 shots (5 on target) in the first half.

As the second half began, most fans still presumed the Gunners would come to life and win the game. And then the unthinkable happened. Mertesacker fell asleep on a floating cross from Huddlestone and allowed striker Hernandez to slip in front of him and send a strong header past a diving Szczesny. The team found themselves down 2-1 on two chances around relative dominance of the game. Arsenal then went about chasing an equalizer, and came close on a few occasions, but the sloppiness around the box continued to plague them, with Ox the most culpable, losing the ball somewhere around 15 times in the game (or more; I lost count) through heavy touches, bad passes and some even worse shots. Hull began time wasting, angering supporters, and Ramsey was sent on for Flamini with 26 minutes to play (after missing several weeks with a hamstring injury) before Joel Campbell came on for Wilshere six minutes later (the Englishman had a relatively good game, though he failed to connect on his best chance to score and went off with a twisted knee that could see him added to the list of casualties that is giving Stalingrad a run for its money).

Arsenal appeared to wake up soon after and began attacking Hull with greater vigor and creativity, particularly in the last ten minutes of regulation. Nothing came of the attacks until the 91st minute, when a lovely pass from Sanchez let in Welbeck, who finished coolly across goal with his left foot. And so Arsenal saved a point again, as they did against Everton and * so far this term, though it again feels more like two points dropped. Some thoughts on the game …

1. Defensive Frailty is Back! It’s getting harder to remember those halcyon days of 2013 when Arsenal shipped the fewest goals and had the most points in the league (unfortunately, you get no title for a calendar year haul, only questions of why the two seasons that sandwiched that year started and then ended so meekly). The reality is this isn’t all the players fault – they are pushed too far up the pitch, don’t have the midfield cover they need and are backed by a goalkeeper that seems to let in far too many savable goals. If the Gunners don’t solve this problem soon, they will have a very hard time securing a top four spot.

2. The Power of Two: Since their clean sheet win over Man City in the Community Shield, they have had only three clean sheets in all competitions (two against Besiktas and one over Aston Villa). They have shipped two goals in 6 games and 1 goal in 3. Even in their dominating win over Galatasaray they still gave up a goal, on the rather silly red card-inducing penalty given up by Sz. The big problem for Arsenal appears to be giving away points this season. Sure they came back to beat Crystal in the opener after falling behind 1-0 (with an extra time strike from Ramsey), drew 2-2 with Everton after being behind 2-0, scored in the 74th to draw with Tottenham and came back for the draw with an extra time goal today. But they should have gotten maximum points out of many of those games and the list of blown leads is extremely troubling: they led today before giving up two goals, were beating City 2-1 late before giving up the equalizer (they came back from a goal down to take the lead there), led Southampton in the Capital One Cup before shipping two goals and exiting the competition, gave up an equalizer to Leicester two minutes after scoring in a disappointing away draw in August, and lost their two biggest games of the season so far 2-0 (to Dortmund and then Chelsea).

3. Sanchez a Great Signing: Alexis Sanchez is the sort of player who may annoy you at times, trying to be too cute, losing the ball and missing his passes. But his ability to get around defenders, spot out charging teammates and finish chances is quickly showing him to be a dominant force in the EPL. In 10 appearances for the Gunners, he has scored 5 goals and added 3 assists (3 and 2 in the league in 6 starts and 7 total appearances). While he has not put up the totals of Diego Costa, who plays through the middle obviously, or shown the consistent quality of Angel di Maria, he is emerging as one of the best signings of the summer and should help Arsenal as they struggle for the “trophy” of fourth place yet again.

4. Wenger Aging Pains: Wenger came out with a decent game plan, pressing Hull up and controlling the ball, but he again played two high a line with Mertesacker and Monreal (in for an injured Koscielny) and it aided Hull in scoring the first goal. Arsenal is so prone to being beaten on the break again, it is like the team from a few season back that had the most defensive mistakes leading to goals in the entire league. Wenger seems unable or unwilling to make any dramatic tactical changes any longer and really is hurting the team. While his errors are too numerous to list here, let’s look at the biggest three this term: 1. Not buying a DM to dominate the area in front of the back four and cover for the DBs, who go forward together far too often, or the CBs who were playing closer than 40 yards from the Hull goal on several occassions. 2. Not playing Ozil through the middle before he lost yet another player to injury. Ozil was dominant the two times he was allowed to play in his natural #10 role, but was shuttled out to the wing in each subsequent game. 3. Not buying more defensive cover to deal with the injuries that were sure to crop up this term (Koscielny might have stopped both Hull goals). Wenger is making it harder and harder to be a Gunner fan at present and I will be hosting a party the moment he announces his retirement, or move to Monaco (who apparently want him).

5. Casualties of War: Arsenal changed their physio this summer to try to quell the long list of injuries that seems to derail their season year after year. But instead of stemming the trend, it appears to have gotten worse. Out at present are Giroud (broken tibia), Debuchy (ankle), Gnarby (knee), Rosicky (calf), Sanogo (hamstring, though that is probably good news), Arteta (calf), Walcott (knee, though will be back very soon), Ozil (knee) and Koscielny (Achilles). Wilshere might soon be added to the list again and Ramsey just got off it. I’m also not sure what is happening with Diaby, though I assume he has 6 or 7 injuries and they just decided not to list him on the site anymore. Some of these injuries could not have been avoided, but rumour has it that Ozil felt pain in his knee in the first half against Chelsea, but was allowed to continue and with a record like this over so many years, training and treatment have to be seriously questioned.

Overall, this team is an enigma at present. One day Wilshere is terrible and Ox is great, the next the table is turned. They dominate possession in almost every game they play, but are often beaten on the counter (as they were today and against Chelsea two weeks ago). They are pressing up and winning the ball at times, but then miss the pass that could turn those strong defensive plays into goals. They tend to start and finish strong in most games, but sometimes fall asleep in the middle, fail to put teams away, or give up sloppy goals. And the result is, that they sit in sixth place, 11 points behind league leader Chelsea after a mere 8 games, with Swansea and Liverpool having the opportunity to push them down to eighth in the next two days. They are out of the Capital One Cup and need to beat Anderlecht twice to ensure they get out of their group in the UCL (though it looks as though it might be in second place yet again). And they might need to come up with a strategy to score three in every game if they are to turn the season around, given their penchant for shipping two goals a game. Not shaping up as a great season at all …

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Celebrating Inequality, Mayweather Style

Floyd Mayweather is the richest athlete in the world and due to get even richer next year finally giving the fans what they want -- a showdown with Manny Pacquiao. He also knows how to spend money with noveau riche flair, and likes to display his wealth whenever possible. Not for the first time, he has Tweeted pictures of himself with more money in front of him than most of us will earn in a lifetime (together with a rather silly music video: Daily Mail). While we should congratulate him on his success, and the fact he has the chance to retire undefeated, is this just a smidge over the top, as so many suffer through unemployment and poverty? Just asking ...

Wal*Mart Heirs Hate the Environment Too!

Last week I wrote about Wal*Mart’s often horrific labor relations policies, most recently undermining their part-time workers by taking away promised healthcare coverage. But one of the worst corporations in the world was back in the news a day later, this time for pushing to block solar energy expansion (ILSR). Despite claims they are sustainability champions, Wal*Mart actually contributes to pollution at the levels of Oil & Gas companies and rank 33rd on the Greenhouse Polluters Index (Daily Kos). And they apparently are not big fans of solar energy either – contributing $4.5 million to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Americans for Prosperity, two groups trying to weaken clean energy policies at the state level, and owning a solar company, First Solar, that ironically worked to undermine household rooftop solar by advocating (along with the utilities) for a tax on those homes; cutting residential installations by 40 percent. Shopping at Wal*Mart is becoming almost as bad as buying a Justin Bieber album. Well, almost …

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Could Dems Learn Something from South Dakota?

In the ongoing battle to turn the Senate, one state Republicans had registered in the “easy win” column was South Dakota, where they believed replacing the retiring Dem. Tim Johnson would be as smooth as a cool, pastoral breeze shuttling across the hilly plains. Instead former Senator Larry Pressler decided to run as an Independent, potentially splitting the conservative vote, and Rick Weiland has run a progressive campaign that has garnered considerable support across the state.

Weiland is the kind of candidate seen less and less frequently in the party these days, beyond the populist appeal of Elizabeth Warren. He is attacking monied interests, supports Medicare-for-all, is pro immigration reform, wants to expand Social Security and protect the right to organize for workers. Could it be that Democrats should move away from their support of Wall Street and corporate interests and actually engage in a populist appeal to voters? Surveys have shown broad support for this agenda across America for several years now, but with two corporate parties, it is not surprising that neither does more than pay lip service to the interests of the 99 percent. If Democrats want to start winning elections on a more regular basis, including taking back the House of Representatives, holding onto the Senate and winning more often at the state level, a push toward a more populist, progressive platform may very well be a winning strategy (as opposed to the current plan of harassing supporters with 17 emails a day asking for money to stave off a “crisis” of nothing getting done if the GOP takes back the Senate; as if anything is getting done right now). And a more progressive and populist platform would, of course, be good for the vast majority of the public as well!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Negative Press for Police Not Altering General Racist Attitudes ...

One would think police departments and officers would have renewed vigilance in working to alter the perception that they are racists that assault and kill black male youth and adults merely because they are BLACK MALE youth and adults. But reading the paper every day, it is clear that that is not the case. The latest story is a heartwarming one of a family that foster an 18-year-old African American boy named DeShawn Currie, in addition to the three children of their own. Ricky and Stacy Tyler knew they wouldn’t be home one day, so left the side door open for DeShawn. An upstanding neighbor noticing a black boy entering a house immediately called 911 and three police officers were on hand almost immediately.

When they officers arrived, they ordered the teen to put his hands on the door. He responded “For what? This is my house!” The cops then pointed to a photo of his foster parents with three white children and claimed he obviously didn’t belong there. DeShawn then objected to being treated like a criminal in his own house and was summarily pepper sprayed (Daily Kos).

One can understand the misunderstanding, I guess, but couldn’t the officers have called the parents to confirm the youth’s story, rather than immediately treating him like a criminal and then pepper spraying him? It seems discourses on a “post racist” America are just as absurd today as when theorists first suggested them.

Here, by the way, is a wonderful example of our “liberal media” at work, in a political cartoon in the Colubmia Tribune:

Midterm Election Blues

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

Wal*Mart At It Again

Wal*Mart may not be the worst corporation in America – as Disney, the big banks, Monsanto and a few others compete wholeheartedly with them for that coveted title – but they probably treat their employees worse than anywhere else. Ironically, the largest private employer in America, with approximately 1.3 workers in America and 2.2 worldwide (USA Today), is also one of its most brutal. They have been known in the past for paying immigrants below minimum wage, locking them in the store overnight, intimidating and firing workers who have tried to unionize, giving employees too few hours to live on and providing information on how to gain public assistance to supplement their meager wages. Most of their goods are imported from China, where they push their suppliers to lower prices dramatically, indirectly making the working conditions and wages of those workers even worse. They are also famous for destroying local businesses, as they come into a new area, undercut prices, close all the local retail stores and then force many into working at their low wages. And it is not like the company is hurting financially. In the fiscal period ending June 30, 2014, they secured $128.08 billion in gross profits and had total sales almost 50% larger than their next five competitors combined (WikiInvest).

The latest from the company “that clearly doesn’t care” is that they are eliminating healthcare for their part-time employees (Daily Kos). Their original estimates of the cost pegged it at about $333 million, but it has come in closer to $500 million and so they are leaving these workers to Medicare, Medicaid or the whims of the Obamacare market, which doesn’t even exist in the states that opted out. The reality is that Americans are paying for Wal*Marts policies, as our tax dollars go to public assistance for their workers (welfare, healthcare, etc.), keeping their profits high and their workers poor. Maybe it is time for the country to start spending a few more dollars shopping elsewhere and challenge this corporate behemoth that appears to make the lives of workers across the globe miserable?

GOP Still Trying to Ban Early Voting

Democracy is overrated anyway! Maybe we should just ban that instead. 

Monday, October 06, 2014

Wenger Loses to Mourinho, What Else is New?

Wenger might have won the shoving match with Mourinho on the touchline yesterday, after a heavy tackle from Ivanovich on Sanchez led him to charge the referee, but he again lost the war – still unable to beat Mourinho in 12 tries. In fact, Arsenal have now lost 17 of their last 21 away matches against the other top five sides over the past five years. This is where the Gunners and Wenger seem to fail over and over again and the reason many, including me, have grown weary of the 65-year-old and his growing tactical myopia. Arsenal did show renewed resiliency in hanging with a very physical Chelsea throughout much of the match yesterday, but two mistakes from Koscielny proved costly.

The first came in the 27th minute, when the Gunners again gave the ball away in midfield, before Eden Hazard slalomed past several defenders before being tripped in the box from Koscielny, who stuck his leg out rather than trying to cut off the angle for what looked like a sure goal. The penalty was called, the yellow card offered and then Hazard walked up and coolly finished as Szczesny went the wrong way. Arsenal responded well though, with some clever passing leading to some near chances, including a heavy touch that took away a good chance from Wilshere after a great through ball from Cazorla. Wilshere was pretty disappointing throughout and again showed a tendency to shrink under the brighter lights of big games.

Yet Arsenal went into halftime only a goal down and started the second half brightly, pressing up, controlling possession and getting off a few decent shots (though from distance and off target). The heavy tackling continued as well, and it was surprising that Martin Atkinson did not go to his pocket more often, particularly as Oscar committed one cynical tackle after another (he was finally booked late, but should have been off the pitch by then). Fabergas began to grow in stature as the second half continued though, dispossessing Ozil and others on several occasions before a perfect 50-yard pass to Diego Costa led to the game-killing second goal. Koscielny was out of position on the play again, but really should have been able to outpace Costa to the box. Instead he ran along him and watched helplessly as the Brazilian chipped over a charging Szczesny. And that was that. Arsenal had lost again, and have now failed to score in three straight games against their London rivals. Three thoughts on the game.

1. Ozil in the Middle: Malcolm in the Middle was a Fox comedy based on a dysfunctional family and their brilliant son. Is that to be the case with Ozil as well? Watching him play, I still think he outclasses all of the other players at Arsenal (bar maybe Sanchez and Ramsey at their best), but that he is just not as effective on the wings. Yes he played there quite effectively for Germany in the WC, but they have a different team, more talent in the attacking third and a more solid defense behind. Ozil was brilliant in both the 3-0 and 4-1 victories over Aston Villa and Galatasaray. Playing on the wings, he was a bit player in the 1-1 draw with Tottenham and the 2-0 loss yesterday. Why Wenger can’t see what the rest of the football world sees is hard to explain, but increasingly apoplectic-inducing to fans. Play him in the middle already!

2. Whimsical Wilshere Weariness: though Arsenal players interchange so often it is difficult to be sure who is playing where, it appears that Wilshere took Ozil’s spot in the middle. And while he made some good runs and some good tackles, he was less than impressive in a big game yet again. On form and barring injuries, I just see him as a player that should not be starting the big games. With Ramsey out, I understand him getting starts, but Ox looked great Wednesday and should have taken that spot in this fixture. Or put Cazorla in that slot. The reality is that if the rumours are true regarding Khedira, when Walcott returns, it is hard to see where Wilshere plays? Should he play ahead of Cazorla, Ozil or Ramsey? Even Ox?

3. Wenger Gets Physical: While I would have liked to see Ozil in the middle of the pitch, one thing that Wenger can’t be faulted for in this game was not preparing his players for the physical battle. The Gunners pressured the ball across the pitch and had real fight and determination until the second goal arrived. Yet they still lost a big game to a top-five rival on the road in a season where they have not been picking off lower tier opponents with quite the acumen of recent years. Wenger may very well pick up the DM he needs in the winter window, but the title race seems all but gone after only seven games and the Gunners have also exited the Capital One Cup. This squad is not good enough to win the Champions League and their success in the FA Cup will come down to the draw, some luck and the games surrounding those ties. In other words, Wenger might have improved parts of a team that led the league for longer than any other last term, but might go without a single trophy for the 9th time in 10 years. Is that a coach who should worry about his job? Anywhere but Arsenal that would be the case, but Wenger has the kind of job security that most dictators would envy – and it’s time to start shoving him toward the exit door if things don’t improve rapidly and markedly before the season ends.

We now head into the international break and then some winnable fixtures before a matchup with a clearly rejuvenated Manchester United. One hopes no new injuries crop up in those international games and that the Gunners start to put the pieces together to win a run of fixtures.