Monday, March 27, 2017

Trump Budget a Big FU to His Supporters

Trump continues to prove the pundits right from one day to the next, failing to live up to even the low expectations most sane Americans had for him from the start. Suffice it say that this is shaping up as the worst start to a presidency in history, even surpassing the short William Henry Harrison stay in the highest office (WP). Another Muslim ban shot down before it was ever adopted (LA Times), a healthcare plan that appears to be little more than a tax cut for the wealthy (The Nation), with a dramatic reduction in benefits and subsidies for everyone else, also shot down (NYT)  and a budget that will hurt the working class and poor while enriching business and the wealthy (WP). Trump also continues to manipulate the truth and data with reckless abandon. The good news is people might be starting to pay attention, as Trump’s approval rating hit a new low, of 37%, in the latest Gallop Poll. Let’s briefly take a look at the latest lowlights, each in turn.

Trumpcare is dead for now, the victim of infighting among conservatives and a startling backlash from constituents (NYT), alongside a general inability to rule in the wake of their disingenuous opposition to everything Obama tried to do the past six years. The bill would have cut 24 million Americans from the health insurance rolls over a decade, partially to fund a $600 million tax cut for the wealthy. Of course, that pales in comparison to the next item on the agenda, a $6 trillion tax cut that is three times the amount of the Bush cut that helped push us toward the financial crisis (NYT). How will Trump pay for this massive gift to the rich and powerful? By destroying many benefits and services that make our families and communities safe and secure, of course. He'll try to voucherize Medicare to shift costs to retirees, and slash Medicaid, whose biggest costs are for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. He'll starve our schools and low-income kids who get their meals at school, and slash funding for research on medical breakthroughs and climate change.

As the Washington Post argues, if you are a poor person in America, the Trump budget is not for you. But you are not alone in being disappointed by a plan that appears to go against everything Trump purported to support on the campaign trail. Sure there is the nod to Reagan and a building up of our military while cutting funding to the social safety net for those most in need (USA Today). There is continued deregulation and further attacks on public broadcasting and the arts (WP). And there is the expected cuts to plenty of elements of the social safety net (Yet there is plenty of disappointment for a wide array of Americans. Those doing medical and scientific research, or those who think it might be a pretty good thing for the government to support, are among them (WP). There is also Mother Nature, who I increasingly envision as Iron Eyes Cody in full sob mode. And even those working class voters who thought Trump might bring back their jobs are starting to realize the mythology at the heart of that promise (The Guardian), while rewarding those he slammed in almost every stump speech (TNR). Even Republicans seem less than enamored with the plan, for a variety of reasons (WP).

Getting back to healthcare for a moment, Trump has refused, as is his penchant, to blame himself for the failure, instead blaming anyone and everyone else he can think of (The Guardian), including the Democrats, who might thank him come November ’18. The danger is that he could still essentially kill Obamacare through the backdoor, using a series of executive orders and other mechanisms to undermine key components of the plan. Trump appears to live in a world of his own rendering, where he never makes a mistake, knows more than just about anyone else on the planet (save his own family and Steve Bannon) and is as popular as Charlie Chaplin at the height of his fame.  

This leads us to the third big story of the past week or so, in case you haven’t been paying attention – which is understandable in attempting to keep your sanity intact – namely, that the Russia connections just won’t go away. FBI Director James Comey said the investigation is ongoing and pressure is building for an independent commission to oversee it.  Sean Spicer, in his usual feckless way, seemed to indicate that Trump’s campaign manager for several months last year, Paul Manafort, implicated as a key figure in a conspiracy that would put Watergate to shame, didn’t actually have much to do with the campaign. The fact he resigned because of the Russian links, of course, shouldn’t really bother us. Nothing to see here, back to the absurd Trump claims about Obama bugging Trump Towers, which he quadruple-downed on with a recent Time Magazine interview. The problem of the moment appears to be serious fears that the investigation is being undermined by its own House Intelligence Chair (The Guardian, Slate), disappearing from an Uber ride after running to the White House with potential “proof” of the absurd bugging claim. But the evidence is piling up and there is certainly more to hear on a story that could mean a foreign government not only manipulated an election but are now expecting payback (Daily Mail, 538, Vox). No one I know of is using the word “treason” yet, but aren’t we skating around it, particularly as policies within the administration so far seem to favor the Russian perspective and they are working so hard to undermine the investigation?

Putting it altogether, we have a president who has no compunction about lying, in fact, one who thinks lying is part of a healthy, balanced daily diet. He has tried and failed to ban Muslims from countries who have never engaged in terrorist activity here. He has tried and failed to abolish Obamacare, at least for now. He has hired a bunch of radicals to his cabinet, many firmly behind Steve Bannon’s dream to dismantle the American government full stop. He has ostracized our allies, drummed up violence against every oppressed group imaginable, shown an unwillingness to help those who voted for him and continues to take credit for things he hasn’t done. The level of cruelty in his budget and Trumpcare initiatives is almost nonpareil in recent American politics and there is growing evidence for the conspiracy theory that he is essentially a Russian agent doing the bidding of one of our greatest enemies for most of the past 70 years. It’s a hell of a record for a guy that might be lucky to even make it through his first term, much less win a second.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Trump Getting Around to Screwing the People

The Trump presidency is turning into the spectacle many predicted and, in many ways, surpassing even the most dire of warnings. The key argument made by Clinton and her surrogates, that he lacked the disposition for the office, is being displayed more and more with each passing week. On healthcare, the environment, foreign diplomacy, national security, the economy and immigration, he has shown a deafness and myopia that is astounding. On organizing an administration and plan of attack for his policies, he has displayed the deftness of a third world banana republic dictator. On exemplifying the dignity expected of the office, we might be better served by Adam Sandler or a reincarnated Andy Kauffman. And on improving the lives of working families, he has demonstrated the commitment and fidelity to the cause of Mickey Rooney (8 marriages, for those who missed the retrograde analogy).

Looking over his actions since my last post two weeks ago, there is too much to cover, but let’s hit the lowlights. At the top of the list is the fact he is doing everything in his power to immediately punish those who voted for him by taking away their healthcare, cutting their benefits and eliminating the already limited protection they get from corporate malfeasance and their nefarious debtors. Trumpism is a fraud (WP), but how long it will take for voters to fully realize the travesty they have perpetrated upon the country, the environment and our collective futures is anyone’s guess.  

Beyond the racism and xenophobia, some were sold by the notion Trump would take his business success and clean up the government. A little research might have dispelled that mythology, but that may be asking too much of people who feel an ideology once discovered should never be disrupted by silly things like facts or objective truth. Trump has already lost a senior member of his cabinet, had several others step down before they even came before a Senate that seems willing to confirm any Tom, Rex (WP) or Jeff (The Guardian) willing to support their agenda and might soon have to add the Attorney General to that list. Worse still, Trump has overseen the slowest moving transition in decades, with 18 members of the cabinet in place but 500 vital slots yet to even muster a nomination, alongside an even bigger list of second and third-tier positions (NYT).

Trump claims this is all part of his big plan to shrink the size of government, which entails eliminating plenty of well-paid, benefit-laden positions at a time he claims to care about putting Americans back to work (WP). Of course, Trump also claimed that no one would lose their insurance with his superior plan, even as that plan appears poised to cut 24 million people out of healthcare in the next decade, if enacted (WP). At least the rich will get much needed tax relief yet again (WP)! And he continues his absurd claim that he had the most attended inauguration in history (Daily Kos), that millions voted illegally (HuffPost) and that the millions protesting his policies across the country are being orchestrated and funded by democratic operatives, including Obama himself (The Guardian).

The most terrifying thing is that the very political insularity that keeps his faithful coming back with their hands held aloft (538), asking to be socked in the nose one more time, keeps them in a miasmic cloud of distrust and conspiracy theory fury. Of course, many of the most callous purveyors of these lies now line his administration from Bannon and Conway to Pruitt (New Republic), and down to the more secretive elements of government most are not paying attention to (Propublica). And while many of billionaires are lining the hallways of the White House now, there are still more behind the scenes, emboldened by his victory into pushing an even more radical agenda, including a rightwing computer scientist who is behind a multi-million-dollar conservative propaganda network
(The Guardian) that can reaffirm the lies of Fox, Breitbart and Infowars.

Even as serious questions persist about Trump’s complicity in the Russian hack of our election (Vox, NYT), he turns his attention to the absurd claim that Obama was bugging Trump Tower during the election (Salon), which holds even less water than the many attacks on Clinton during the election. Failing to ever admit he’s wrong actually appears to be a centerpiece of his rhetorical strategy, one that is, at least in the heartland, working to a large extent (Salon). And this is backed by his ability to subvert and attack the mainstream press at every turn, instead relying on his tweet rantings (TNY) and, in essence, trolling worldview (TNY).

In a similar vein, Trump continues to take credit for what he didn’t actually do (538), and far too many will probably believe him, just as they will believe the economic uptick is somehow his doing (538), even as he has done little since taking office beyond largely meaningless executive orders, the ostracizing of leaders and immigrants across the globe and setting up the coming windfall for corporations and the wealthy. They will ignore the fact his travel plans and time away from the White House is costing taxpayers billions (The Guardian), that his position on the environment will hasten the moribund fate of our planet (WP), that he plans to undermine our security to build his absurd wall (WP), or that Trump appears more interested in reelection than actually doing anything to help anyone beyond the one percent (TNR).

They will buy the vision of Ronald Reagan as a hero that saved America from an Empire that was in its death knell and thus support reallocating money that could be used to improve our education, economy and social security net invested instead in the biggest expansion of the military since the end of World War II (The Nation). Even the vacuous and venal fashion industry has gotten in on the protests of late (TNY), even as the cowardly GOP Congressman supporting his agenda run from the increasingly angry crowds that want to actually hold their representatives accountable for, god forbid, representing their interests (Vice). Of course, if you want to know what the seemingly unpredictable Trump will do next, the best idea is probably to simply follow the money.

Trump could face impeachment in the future, could wake up one morning and decide that honesty is, in truth, the best policy, could realize that he should reward those poor souls that put their faith in his power to help them, could find a truer representation of Jesus or … could precipitate the doom of the entire planet on a whim or as retribution for some perceived snub at a state dinner. Which do you think is more likely? Well, the only good news is that we are only have 1,408 days until the next inauguration, when, one hopes, enough Americans wake up so that this nightmare can end …

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Arsenal Cruise to 5-0 Victory Over Lincoln in FA Cup Quarters

For 45 minutes Arsenal again dominated possession and proceeds of a match without anything to show for it, a fingertip save by Cech away from a 1-0 deficit heading into halftime. They had come close on a few occasions, with Theo Walcott just missing out on the opener twice. Then, as they entered an extended stoppage time of 6 minutes, an incisive series of passes left Walcott free from 10 yards out. He side healed the ball toward the center of goal, where the Lincoln keeper was waiting to quash it, but unfortunately for the visitors, it careened off one of their defenders and buried itself in the far corner. Arsenal were ahead and would add four more as fourth tier Lincoln City tired, after becoming the first team in over a century to make it this far from so low. It was a gallant and inspired run, but would end in the same building where Arsenal suffered their worst loss just four days earlier. Three thoughts on a game that could ultimately be bad news for fans of the club:

1. Walcott Quietly Having a Quality Season
Theo Walcott will always split opinion, his penchant for goals offset by poor first touches, missed clear-cut chances and an inability or unwillingness to track back and help on the defensive side of the ball. And yet it is hard to argue with his offensive output this year, now standing at an impressive 17 goals in 29 appearances this season. However, playing predominantly on the wing, he has only chipped in 2 assists and his passing completion percentage of 75.6 is below par for a possession-based side like Arsenal. In addition, according to, he has only mustered 0.5 key passes a game, 1.5 successful dribbles, 1 foul and been dispossessed 1.4 times.

One thing that is certain when it comes to Walcott is that he has an eye for goals, often the openers that can start Arsenal on the road to victory in games when others are not pulling their weight – or at least papering over the cracks elsewhere on the pitch. Just this season, he had the opener against Man City, settled the nerves with the first against Sutton in the last round of the FA Cup, had a hat trick in the destruction of Southampton earlier in the competition and gave the home side the lead before their capitulation to Bayern on Tuesday. In the past, he scored an important goal in the 5-3 comeback win against Chelsea a few years ago, the opener in Wenger’s sixth FA cup win over Aston Villa and many others on the road to his century of goals for the club (the 18th player to do so in red and white).

Given the reduced production from Sanchez in recent weeks, though he scored a relatively meaningless fourth with a nice solo run and finish from just outside the box, and Ozil, as well as the continued misfiring of Ramsey and Giroud, Walcott might just be the man to at least save the Top 4 for the Gunners. Ramsey, in particular, seems a shell of the player who was just a few seasons ago being touted as one of the best midfielders in the world. After an impressive European Cup this summer for Wales, some thought he would get back to his best, but the most memorable moments of his season so far have been the wry smiles he exhibits after another wasted opportunity. After spurning three good chances, Ramsey finally got on the score card with Arsenal’s fifth today, after almost flubbing a chance from two feet out, rounding the keeper and taking two needless touches before launching the ball into the back of the net from the line.

Giroud also chipped in with a goal of his own today in the 53rd minute, ending a barren spell of one goal in his last six games as Arsenal’s season has collapsed, though he too benefitted from a deflection off a Lincoln defender. One must wonder, in assessing the many mistakes Wenger has made along the road to the disaster this season has become, why Alexis Sanchez has been displaced through the middle, where he was tearing up defenses for the first half of the campaign.  

2. Say it Ain’t So Wenger
Wenger claims he is ready to splash the cash this summer, if he is allowed to stay, and the feckless board and owner above seem increasingly willing to let him maligned us for yet another season of false hopes and withering dreams. It is hard to understand after over a decade of underperformance, but when you have an owner who seems more interested in profits than titles, is it any big surprise? Rumor has it that Ozil might even stay, for a bloated contract renewal that ignores the dramatic decline in his productivity in recent months, or his general penchant for disappearing in big games. A series of askew passes throughout the first half seemed to be a microcosm of his season, after increasing his goal output early on, the magic somehow lost in the haze of a team that seems as lost as it ever has under Wenger.

The truth is Arsenal need to shake things up and the only way to do so is to replace the man who is a veritable Emperor over the club, a position that exists nowhere else at the top level of the sport these days. Ever since David Dein left, Wenger has served as not only manager but head of scouting, signings and really of operations themselves. His inability to see beyond his myopic view suffers no real challenge as long as the power brokers of the team continue to say he will decide when he leaves, even as they tried to temper that stance by saying the decision will be made collectively once the season is over. Do we really believe them, or that they will finally display the nerve to take a chance on a new man to lead them forward?

Arsenal have 275 million pounds in the bank, turn a profit every year (except a few following the move to the Emirates) and can bank on that top 4 finish and an early exit from the knockout stage of the Champions League that generally starts a better run of results to secure that place for another year, even as that meager benchmark now seems in doubt this season. The most troubling aspect of another season of Wenger is that a fitting replacement could be waiting in the wings in Allegri, who has should be collecting his fourth Series A title come May, alongside a run to the finals of the Champions League two short seasons ago. Or a few other worthy candidates, which in my mind, should not include Benitez. We shall have to wait and see, but I won’t be surprised to be watching Wenger starring with a stupefied gaze on the touchline a year from now as another title charge ends in early despair.

3. Could Wenger Leave If He Adds a Seventh FA Cup
Unlike the last two runs to FA Cup glory, it looks like this one will have to pass through one of the top teams in the league, as Arsenal will most likely have to beat two of Man City, Tottenham, Chelsea and United if they are to add a seventh FA Cup to their hungry trophy case this year. If they do pull off that feat, might that be enough for the Frenchman to finally hang up his boots and leave the club in the able hands of a younger, hungrier manager? A Gooner can certainly dream. The reality, though, is that they seem unlikely to be able to beat any of those four, having already lost to Chelsea and Man City and drawn with both United and Tottenham this year. On the other hand, it is plausible that the first three might have bigger prizes in their minds as the semifinals approach. Chelsea should be on the cusp of celebrating a second title in three years, City possibly competing in the latter stages of the Champions League, United trying to move up to the Top 4 after suffering outside it since Ferguson left and Tottenham nervy with a chance to end their long run without any silverware.

Whatever the circumstance, Arsenal need to build on this victory, even against a clearly inferior side, though arguably one that has the kind of heart and verve the Gunners have lacked for over a decade now. Looking forward, Arsenal have five winnable games in their next six, starting with a trip to West Brom followed by games against West Ham (H), Crystal Palace (A), the goal-shy Boro (A) and Sunderland. Between the first two, Arsenal host City in a game that could have huge implications for their Top four ambitions, with a trip to White Hart Lane and a visit from United following the six-game stretch. Arsenal then head to Stoke for the penultimate game of the season before hosting a resurgent Everton at home to close their campaign. Given that tough run for their final four games, getting maximum points over the next six could be the difference between making it 21 straight seasons in the Top 4 for Wenger and having a tough time signing any top talent this summer. Of course, the end of that streak could mean the end of Wenger … tough choice, really.