Sunday, November 30, 2014

Benghazi Scandal's Quiet Death

Remember that Benghazi Scandal  the GOP kept trying to wrap around Obama's neck like an albatross? Yeah, me neither ...

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Immigration Reform Specifics

Obama has, as expected, announced his plans to unilaterally alter the nature of immigration in the country, allowing approximately 5 million current “illegal” residents to stay. The GOP is, of course, apoplectic and many Democrats are unhappy as well, with some upset he didn’t do it before this disastrous election and others wondering why he is doing it at all. But what does the bill entail? You can read a pretty good summary here or here, or check out the charts below. What we can arguably say is that this is long overdue. This country was built by immigrants who often came with nothing and made something of themselves. Just because the latest round of immigrants look different than those original Europeans doesn’t mean they shouldn’t have that same right to succeed. On the other hand, the bill also appears to try to do more to stem the tide of new immigrants, which probably makes sense given our current relatively high unemployment and economic malaise.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Still More Evidence that the GOP is in Trouble in the Future

Further evidence that the GOP is in deep trouble going forward, unless they adjust their message to the changing demographics of the country. It is clear the increasing diversity will have long-term ramifications, but another less reported trend is that of interracial couples and marriages. Approximately 1 in 5 relationships today are interracial (USA Today) and I read somewhere recently that around 1 in 3 new relationships are interracial (can’t find the article). Looking at the statistics more specifically, we see the limits of the rallying around the Ferguson police force, Zimmerman and the not-so-cloaked anti-Obama racism …

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Arsenal Beat Dortmund 2-0: Through to Last 16

Arsenal largely dominated their game against Manchester United last weekend and lost 2-1. They did so again today and won 2-0. Sometimes the world of football is cruel – win ugly and you are “in good form,” lose a game because of some bad luck and you are “in crisis.” The victory today restored some faith that this team can compete and win, but should be kept in context; particularly as Dortmund already progressed to the knockout stage, have been in terrible form and seemed pretty jaded after blowing a two-goal lead last weekend. On the other hand, the Gunners showed some mettle today that has largely been missing from their game and in the process progressed to the Final 16 themselves, while gaining the chance to win the group.

Arsenal started the scoring after only 73 seconds, getting a goal from the most unlikely of sources. Yaya Sanogo, who had gone 18 months and 19 appearances without scoring a competitive goal, finally opened his account with a nice finish from close range after an excellent one-two with Santi Cazorla. Arsenal thus had the early lead they so craved and kept the pressure on Dortmund, while largely keeping disciplined at the back. Arteta put in another strong performance, after a quality start against United Saturday, and Monreal played his best game through the middle so far. Chambers was also above average, though it was Gibbs that was the real hero, getting back to stop the Dortmund attack on several occasions spread across the game.

With the result still in the balance, Cazorla sent a beautiful pass across the field toward a charging Sanchez, who skirted across from the right before sending a perfect angled shot into the far corner (57’). It was his 13th goal in 20 games for the team this year, reminding us that Wenger did do some good business this summer. Arsenal then settled into a more defensive formation (finally!) and held out until the end. It was an impressive victory that should serve the team well as they settle into a patch of very winnable games. Three thoughts on the game …

1. Wilshere Conundrum: early tests on the ankle injury Wilshere suffered on Saturday appear to indicate a three-month stay on the sideline. Many Arsenal fans will throw up their hands in horror, but I think it might be good news but for the timing (with Ozil still out and the busy holiday season coming up). The reason? While the British press is often impressed with the diminutive star, I find that the Gunners often play better when he is not on the pitch. He has the talent to succeed, but spurns too many chances, loses the ball in dangerous positions, loses his head at key moments and dives like Ronaldo early in his career. It was clear again today that the Gunners passing was smoother and more direct without Wilshere in the lineup.
2. Ox Rocks: the positive story of the year so far is clearly the finishing and work rate of Alexis Sanchez, who is the only starter who is scoring with any regularity. But the less reported story is the reemergence of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain as one of the most technically-gifted players in the entire league. While his best play of the day, a shot from just outside the box, clanged off the bar, his passing, movement and first touch were absolutely first-rate and provide further proof that he deserves a place in the starting lineup. When Walcott, Ozil, Wilshere are healthy again, he will obviously struggle for time on the pitch, but he shouldn’t, if the past few games are any indicator. Speaking of Cazorla, he still hasn’t scored in ages, but played a great game with two assists that reminded of the player he was when he first came to the team a little over two years ago (even playing defense). His form, along with Ramsey’s, will be key to the December.

3. Injury Woes Continue: after the results over the past several weeks, I hate to take away from the glow of a great win. But two more injury concerns have emerged, to go with the “bad” news on Wilshere. The first is Arteta, who was playing a great game before going off late with a thigh injury that Wenger says could be serious. The other was Sanogo, who put in a good shift after the early goal (though he flubbed a great chance to make it two a few minutes after the goal), before limping off late with a hamstring problem. The rather obvious question is why the Gunners are suffering through so many injuries from year to year? Is it a flawed training regime? Coming back from injuries too quickly? Overworking players? Or really bad luck continuing over a long period of time? As to the last possibility, Napoleon once said, “luck is the residue of design.” And there is clearly something wrong with the way the Gunners are designing their training and treatment – even after changing their head trainer.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Dying White: Demographic Shifts intensify

Change often emanates from generational shifts. But with arguably the most cynical generation in history, it might be the oft-cited demographic shifts that ultimately change the political landscape in America. These five charts show us how quickly those shifts are occurring and what the future of America will look like:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Interesting Exit Poll Findings

The Washington Post has some interesting results from the Midterm Election exit polls today. Let’s start with the base numbers though: voter turnout (77 million) for the 2014 midterm election was the lowest since World War II. Thus, while serious issues remain on the agenda and the Democrats tried vigilantly to get out their base, those efforts largely failed. Just 36.4 percent of eligible voters cast ballots three weeks ago, good news for the GOP but bad news for our democracy. Looking at the exit poll numbers themselves:

- Women Voters: In the vote for the House, Democrats beat Republicans by only 4 percentage points. This was a significant decline from the 11 and 13-point margins they garnered in the Obama wins of 2008 and 2012. Like a lot of the numbers I will report, it could come down to the reality that this election was dominated by older, white voters, and they obviously skew toward the GOP, but it could be a concern for Hillary Clinton, or the nominee in general.

- Religion: Democrats won 62 percent of the voters who “never” attend religious services but suffer an 18-point gap among those who do attend religious services on a weekly basis. This highlights the continued importance of religion in the U.S. to the electorate and the GOP base, helping to explain the tact to the right in recent elections.

- Cynicism: 54 percent of respondents claim that “government is doing too many things better left to businesses and individuals,” while only 41 percent believe “the government should do more to solve problems.” This is a huge problem for Democrats and progressives and one that must be addressed if we are to address some of our most pressing concerns around corporate malfeasance, banking regulation, growing inequality and the environment. The concern is only amplified when we move onto their general feelings about this government, with 60 percent saying you can only “sometimes” trust the government “to do what is right” and another 18 percent saying “never.” That is 78 percent in composite and a troubling lack of trust that makes you want to watch Mr. Smith Goes to Washington on repeat and pretend we are back in 1939.

- Same Sex Marriage: 48 percent supported and 48 percent opposed same sex marriage in their state. While this may seem surprising given the victories in the last election, the conservative slant of this electorate should be taken into consideration. However, this does seem to indicate that this will continue to be a wedge issue going forward (while the “war on women” might be less so, given the statistics above).

- White Voters: the overall percentage of white voters in this election was 75 percent, which seems like good news for the GOP. But that is not the case, as that number was 77 percent in 2010. The long-term demographic trends are against them – but for now Democrats only won 38 percent of the white vote nationwide. That is a troubling and almost insane number, showing (in my estimation) the power of fear and cloaked racism as a winning strategy for conservatives.

- Latino/a Voters: the GOP might be heartened to know, however, that they won 36 percent of the Latino vote, an increase from the 34 percent they won in 2010 and a huge jump from the 27 percent that Mitt Romney collected in 2012.

- Moderates: last but not least, Democrats might take some inspiration from the fact they won the moderate voter race 53 to 45 percent, though they lost the independent voter race by 12 points.

Overall, one can still argue, as I did yesterday, that the long-term trends favor democrats, though it appears they must do a few things to win in 2014: 1. Try to restore some faith in government as an institution that can solve our problems, 2. Reach out to female voters (Hillary as a candidate would obviously really help with that), 3. Solidify the Latino base (Obama’s work on immigration policy should help there), 4. Get out the vote: voter suppression appeared to work in this election but the bigger problem was galvanizing the base to vote in sufficient numbers. One expects that to change in a Presidential year, but the next candidate will have to follow the incredibly successful number crunching and get out the vote efforts of the Obama team, and 5. Transcend Wedge Issues: one of the worst effects of Citizens United appears to be a return to good ole wedge issue politics, that helped lead the Gingrich revolution in the 90s. Democrats have to take control of the framing of elections and make them about real issues and a real referendum on the GOP strategy of obstructionism and then promises of changing the very system they created.

Wave Election or Bad News for GOP?

I read an interesting article by a GOP strategist who actually finds the results from the midterm elections less sanguine than most of his peers (Houston Chronicle). He recognizes that the election was largely won as a result of low voter turnout for everyone except old white voters and some successful voter suppression, that demographic trends continue to favor Democrats in the long run and that national Electoral College math is not great for the GOP. Here are his major claims (with some additional thoughts from me, intermingled):

1. What he calls the “Blue Wall,” or the slate of states that no Republican Presidential nominee can hope to win, has expanded to include New Hampshire and maybe Virginia. Without Virginia, that means a Democratic nominee can expect to win 257 electoral votes out of the 270 needed, and with Virginia, the full 270! (on the flip side, the “Red Map” only contains 149 sealed up electoral votes)

2. This means the GOP needs to win all nine “tossup” states and one solidly Blue state. He then argues that the presidential race will now largely reside in the GOP picking a candidate that can attract enough democratic voters – at a time when most have to tact far to the right to even get the nomination.

3. Republican Senate candidates lost every single race in a Blue Wall state and the next election cycle looks a lot more competitive for Dems. This election they had to defend 13 Senate seats in Red or Purple states, in the next election, Republicans will be defending 24 seats with at least 18 of them very competitive. Thus the Senate could turn back in two years!

4. The GOP “mandate” largely comes from the former Confederate South with half of the Republican Congressional Delegation coming from these states.

5. Every major Democratic ballot initiative was successful, maybe indicating that better framing and messaging could elicit more voter support in the future.

6. A rather surprising point for a Republican pundit to make: because voter turnout was so bad, the GOP won 52 percent of 35 percent of the vote, meaning their “mandate” is based on 17 percent of the registered electorate (and 13 percent of those eligible to vote).

He concludes with a strong statement that seems to sum up the party among those who actually want the GOP to be about rationality and ideas: “It is almost too late for Republicans to participate in shaping the next wave of our economic and political transformation. The opportunities we inherited coming out of the Reagan Era are blinking out of existence one by one while we chase so-called “issues” so stupid, so blindingly disconnected from our emerging needs that our grandchildren will look back on our performance in much the same way that we see the failures of the generation that fought desegregation. Something, some force, some gathering of sane, rational, authentically concerned human beings generally at peace with reality must emerge in the next four to six years from the right, or our opportunity will be lost for a long generation. Needless to say, Greg Abbott and Jodi Ernst are not that force. ‘Winning’ this election did not help that force emerge.”

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Arsenal Lose to Manchester United Yet Again (2-1 at Home)

Arsenal came into the game at the Emirates today having won only 1 of their last 14 games against Manchester United in all competitions. Even last year, during the forgettable Moyes reign, the best the Gunners could do was 1 point in 2 games. And yet the team has not lost at home since the first game of last season, unbeaten in 23 straight league games. As many including me expected, trend one trumped trend two and the Gunners lost to United yet again.

Arsenal dominated large chunks of the game, but looked shaky at the back, failed to finish and saw a defensive mistake (actually two) lead to an own goal that changed the momentum and ultimately cost them all three points. That own goal came from Kieran Gibbs after he had inexplicably clanged into Szczesny on a cross that the Pole could have punched out or maybe even caught. Then, on the ground, he flung his foot at a shot that was going wide and turned as it flew into his own net. Two bad mistakes in seconds sum up this season, the worst start for Arsenal since 1982 and further evidence that it is time for Wenger to step aside.

On paper, ignoring the score, Arsenal did dominate the statistics with 23 to 12 shots, 9 to 2 on target, 61 percent possession and 11-5 corners. And yet the inability to put the ball in the back of the net hurt or defend convincingly again haunted a team that looks destined to fall out of the Top 4 unless something radically changes. So a few quick points for Peter to consider:

1. Finish a big problem for Arsenal: on seven minutes, Wilshere was free on goal one-on-one with De Gea. But a weak finish was well saved by the Spanish keeper. As with almost every shot on goal today, it was right at the keeper. Looking across the Gunners front line, Sanchez has 12 in 14, but no one else is reliable at the moment. Welbeck has been scoring for England and in the UCL, but now has only 2 goals in 13 appearances this season (essentially affirming the fear that he is not a natural finisher). Cazorla has gone an astounding 24 games without scoring in the league, Wilshere has one goal (and only one assist) this season, and Ramsey has failed to impress, or score, since returning to the starting lineup. Ox played wonderfully today, but he appears to be a pass-first player at the moment.

2. Arsenal lack a Plan B: the Gunners looked dangerous right until that own goal, except for a few periods of United pressure, but seemed lost as they struggled for an equalizer. For one, there was insufficient width in their attack, essentially meaning it was 6 against 8 – and even their good passes were unlikely to create clear chances. Gibbs’ cross has improved and Chambers has a good one, but they were rarely called on to provide them, as the attack consistently went through the middle. And on the other end, the defense was clearly open to a counter, which resulted in an easy finish for Rooney to make it 2-0

3. Rooney is a Gunner Killer: Rooney had few chances to contribute on the offensive line during the majority of the game, except a free kick he sent high. But on 85 minutes, DiMaria collected the ball and rushed forward with only Monreal to beat. His perfectly weighted pass led to the first shot on target of the day, a sumptuous finish for Rooney. It was his 11th goal in 25 appearances against Arsenal, the most by any player in history. He has his critics, but what a week!

4. Wenger Must Go: continuing on my theme for the season, it becomes increasingly clear with each passing week that the Frenchman can no longer inspire or organize this team to win. With the offensive talent they have, they really should score against a United team tattered with injuries. And yet it took a brilliant shot by Giroud on a nice over-the-top pass from Arteta in extra time to keep United from the shutout. Beyond the lack of scoring is the absurd way he sets this team up, playing a high line and attacking relentlessly even when they had leads against Swansea and Anderlecht. I think this has become the consensus and hopefully the rumours about Klopp or Guardiola are true, as the Gunners are in danger of commencing on a Liverpool-like downward spiral that could have ramifications for years.

5. Van Gaal Effect Emerging: United has not had a great start to the season and suffered their 40th injury of the young season when Luke Shaw went down early in the first half. And yet they sit in fourth place after an impressive away victory over the Gunners. It wasn’t pretty football, with seven across the 18 yard box at times, but it was effective in the end, waiting for Arsenal to give the ball away and allow the counters that they are so apt to put on offer this season. Van Gaal has been experimenting throughout the season and has used more players in the first 12 games than anyone in the league, but has a respectable 19 points in 12 games. Today he switched back to the back three that was unsuccessful early in the season, and though it bended, it didn’t break. He should get some credit for moving United back toward European football even with the rash of injuries.

To sum it up, the Gunners had a chance to build momentum heading into the holiday season but again lost to a key rival in a game they had chances to win -- partially because Wenger only knows one way to play. United, on the other hand, are somehow in fourth place after a very average start to the season and can build on this win, with a manager who may be too flexible. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Good Day for Progressives: No to Pipeline (and Rape)

It was a bad day for the oil industry, and probably the fading reelection hopes of Senator Mary Landrieu (D-LA), but a good day for environmentalists, and by extension, the environment, as the Keystone XL Pipeline was again rejected by the Senate – though this time by a single vote (NYT). While this is a victory for those who believe we should probably try to save our dying planet before it is too late, coming on the back of the historic agreement Obama signed with China last week to reduce carbon emissions, it might be short lived, as the handover of power to the GOP in January might be the final blow to the environmental groups who have spent millions fighting the bill for seven long years now (against a much better financed oil industry). On the other hand, a newly-resilient President Obama could well use his veto when the bill eventually ends up on his desk. But it is good news for progressive … a rarity of late.

The relation to the bigger narrative of America is hard to ignore. Republicans promised to come back to the issue right after the new year begins, allegedly because it will provide jobs, but clearly to serve their corporate patrons. Is this really what the American people just voted in? Let’s destroy the environment some more! That’s what they want? I think it shows how degraded our political process has become, particularly among the many democrats, and I’ve noticed political pundits on TV, who claim this is one of the issues Obama should be flexible on. The inability of the press to put the current political climate into a historical and contemporary context is maybe the most disturbing element of this latest election. Missing from their analysis, with a very few exceptions, are the two biggest stories: 1) Money playing a huge role in this election, together with a suppression of the poor and minority vote, facilitated by the two Bush appointees to the Supreme Court, and 2) The policy of obstructionism when not in power and “mandate-politics” whenever they have it that has ruled the party since the start of the Clinton Presidency over two decades ago. The GOP clearly does not have the interests of the public in mind with the policies they appear poised to pursue, but too many of the public continue to believe just the opposite no matter what the facts tell them, doggonit!

In a completely unrelated story, NBC has cancelled the new pilot that was to star Bill Cosby, after allegations about repeated rapes in the past began to percolate with increasing force in the press (NYT). Ironically, it was only a few weeks ago that The New Yorker ran a relative hagiography on the aging comic, who is beloved across racial and generational lines, though his popularity certainly took a hit among some after his rant at the 2004 NAACP Brown v. Board of Education anniversary dinner (Clip of the Infamous Pound Cake speech). It is possible that Cosby is the victim of a smear campaign, but that seems rather unlikely, particularly given the number of women involved. It is certainly a tragedy to many, including me, to think that this beloved comic genius who has graced the airwaves on and off for several decades – from the 80s forward with the avuncular charm that seems to channel our collective dreams of a better, more innocent and less racially divisive America – but appears to demonstrate the national dialogue on violence against women is not over, and that we might start to take on this ubiquitous and tragic problem more seriously in the future.

If School Were Like the Midterm Elections ...