My hometown paper has it right!

My hometown paper, The Berkshire Eagle, the New England & Press Association Newspaper of the Year, is an added attraction to any resident of Western Massachusetts, the kind of local news one likes to support: ambitious, enlightened, engaged.

Today, its editorial weighed in heavily and rightly on Trump and his racist remarks about the four female members of Congress, one from the city of Boston. Criticizing the Republicans, including Maine’s senator Susan Collins, for their failure to “locate its (the party’s) spine and criticize the president’s shameful words,” only Massachusetts Republican governor, Charlie Baker, who had called Trumps tweets “shameful and racist,” was spared in the editorial. His comments, it said, “speak well for the state.”

The country has many serious problems but finds itself led by a “bigoted bully with an affection for dictators.” But by uniting to deplore “the president’s indefensible statements and actions, it may be that the nation can address these problems,” the editorial concluded.

 

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One is gone, but we still need many fewer Democratic candidates

Democratic California congressman Eric Swalwell never had a chance, so his decision this week to end his presidential dreams was not a surprise. What was a surprise, and what should be lauded, was the fact that he did not drag this out, that he decided quickly and after only one debate that this was, indeed, a dream and that he should continue his political career by being re-elected to Congress next year, which he will certainly be.

So, one is gone, but the Democrats still need fewer not more presidential candidates, and California billionaire Tom Steyer should be strenuously discouraged as he enters the field. No, we don’t need another candidate and we don’t need another billionaire…

Instead, more in the present crowd of Democratic hopefuls, should follow Swalwell’s good example, particularly the two political novices, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang. For me, solid political experience is so important in someone running for President, and they both totally lack it. But also others, many with slim such experience and with campaigns seemingly going nowhere, should seriously consider leaving, and soon: John Delaney, Tim Ryan, Tulsi Gabbard, Bill de Blasio, Seth Moulton, and Steve Bullock. The two Coloradoans, John Hickenlooper and Michael Bennet, and Washington State Governor, Jay Inslee, could also be included in this group, even though Inslee’s emphasis on climate change and the environment should be lauded and should be a central part of the Democratic Party’s platform. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, whose campaign has generated weak support, could also be part of this group.

“The sooner the nonviable candidates leave, the sooner voters can size up the competitive contenders and the sooner the party can begin serious debate about what the candidates are actually proposing,” Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin wrote recently. I totally agree.

While I am at it, I also want make a pitch for party membership when running for President in the Democratic primaries. Bernie Sanders is not a member, so…But maybe this will sort out itself eventually, as Sanders’ star power from 2016 is fading, although he is presently in second place with a polling average of 18.6 percent during the first six months of this year, according to FiveThirtyEight.com. However, he is far behind Joe Biden at 31.6 percent and not much ahead of Kamala Harris at 14.6, Elizabeth Warren at 11.9, and Pete Buttigieg at 11.4 percent. The rest are in single digits and many have less than one percent support.

As I wrote after the first two Democratic debates, none of the candidates has my vote. Not yet. Undoubtedly, and eventually, one of them will, as I will never vote for Donald Trump. Defeating him is not only the main goal in next year’s elections but the only goal. So I am eagerly looking forward to the two debates in Detroit at the end of July, and that, by then, we are left with a handful of serious Democratic candidates to challenge Donald Trump.

The chasm between the women’s and men’s teams in U.S. soccer

The summer of soccer is over.

As a soccer fan, it’s been the best of times. There is nothing in sports that compares to the World Cup in soccer, men or women.

This time, the U.S. women repeated as Cup winners, beating the Netherlands in the final, 2-0, and leaving no doubt that they are the best team in the world, with four Cup victories since the start in 1991, and establishing their own hegemony in world soccer.

On the same day, last Sunday, the U.S. men failed to capture the Gold Cup, the top prize in the regional North- and Central American tournament, losing to the archrival, Mexico, 0-1.

The gap between the American women’s and men’s teams widened even further and is now a chasm.

While the American women won every match in the tournament in France, convincingly beating Sweden, Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands -– all strong, well-organized, athletic European power houses, which are closing in on the U.S. lead and threatening its long-term superiority — the American men barely made it to the final in spite of far inferior opponents: Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago, Panama, Curacao, and Jamaica. The Americans won every match, but hardly convincingly, and in the final, Mexico was the better team. The U.S. never really threatened except for a couple of times in the beginning of the match, when, particularly Jozy Altidore, should have scored. After that, they never really caused any serious problems for the Mexicans.

How come this gap? How come this chasm?

Maybe it is simply so that this women’s team consists of superior athletes with a lot of talent, in contrast to the men, with some outstanding exceptions, primarily Christian Pulisic and Weston McKennie. But it’s more than that, it’s determination and an incredible will to win. And the women are a team, as one of the team members described it for the New York Times: “The identity of this team is badass women, who fight to the death, who have each other’s back no matter what. The type of person this team attracts is resilient, gritty.”

This is, exactly, what the U.S. men’s team lack. It’s a team reeling after the debacle of losing to Trinidad and Tobago and, thus, not qualifying for the men’s World Cup last year, a team in generational transition, trying to find its way out of the darkness, and finding its own identity. I don’t know if they will succeed and if the new coach Gregg Berhalter is the man to guide them through these difficult times. He is trying and I hope he succeeds, but, so far, his cautious approach, his defensive formations, his unwillingness to throw everything he’s got at the opponent, do not bode well for the future.

Where the women showed speed and creativity and the importance of taking advantage of the opportunities that presented themselves during the match, the men plodded, slowed down, not, apparently, daring, not taking care of the opportunities. And, so, they lost in another lackluster performance and their days of glory are still far off.

Will those days ever come for the U.S. men? They should, with all the soccer now played all over the United States and with the stadiums full of fans. But it might take many more years. In the meantime, let’s rejoice with the U.S. women — the best women’s soccer team in the world – ever.

After two debates, none of them has my vote

Twenty Democratic hopefuls, on two nights, recently tried to show the record large television audience that they were presidential material, that they could lead the United States of America.

They all failed. None of them secured my future vote. Who, of them, can beat Trump? That’s the goal. That’s the only goal. No other matters. But, at this point, I am not sure.

Instead, I asked, why they were even there on the stage? And why this spectacle a year and a half before next year’s November elections? The length of this campaign is ridiculous and so are many of the candidates, these Presidential “wannabes,” as the veteran Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King recently wrote, who are wasting our time. This election “is no time for start-ups.” Indeed!

Two women won the first and then the second debate. Elizabeth Warren must be admired for her energy and intellectual power and for the fact that she has presented proposal after proposal to solve America’s problem. I agree with her. But can she beat Trump? Kamala Harris won the second debate, based on her attack on Joe Biden, but did she go too far and will it come back and haunt her? Joe Biden bombed. Bernie Sanders’s message was old and tiresome. Pete Buttigieg was eloquent, but a mayor of South Bend, Indiana just won’t do.

Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar and the two Texans, Beto O’Rourke and Julian Castro, all have some political experience. But why are they running? And who are the rest, Williamson, Yang, Gabbard, Stalwell, Ryan, etc? Why do they think they think can run the largest and most important country in the world with little or no political experience? Should there be no limit to a person’s ego? Why don’t they run for governor, or the senate, or the House, or for some local office.

This is ridiculous. I have said it before, but it bears repeating: amateurs – stay away from politics. Look at Donald Trump – enough said!

Still, more debates will take place, possibly with some even more unknown and unproven presidential hopefuls. This can’t be the way to choose the Democratic Party’s nominee for President of the United States. The primary system is broken, and Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen blames the Democratic Party, which has “opted for increased chaos,” as he wrote in a recent column and concluded:

“For too many candidates, running for the nomination is a no-cost exercise in brand enhancement. It’s ridiculous that almost anyone can be a celebrity . . . or run for president. There ought to be a difference.”

The only hopeful result of the two debates was the record breaking television audience, fifteen and eighteen million viewers, respectively. That points to, hopefully, a large, maybe record breaking, voter turnout next year, which is needed to beat Trump.

 

 

More on soccer: Maybe this is how good, or bad, we are?

Tomorrow, Tuesday, June 11, my two “home” teams, the United States and Sweden, will enter the battle for the championship in the women’s soccer World Cup in France. My hope is that not only will they both advance out of Group F but that they will later meet in the finals, for the American women’s fourth World Cup title, or for Sweden’s first, after two third place finishes.

But, meanwhile, let me, with your indulgence, of course, add some thoughts to my previous blog post, where I expressed the view that the future of U.S. men’s soccer, after a dreadful loss by the U.S. men’s team against Jamaica, 0-1, was to be found among the young Americans playing in the U-20 World Cup in Poland.

I stand by that statement, although the U.S. U-20 team then lost to Ecuador in the quarterfinals, 1-2, and is out of the tournament. The young Americans lost to a stronger team, but they could have won – it was close – and they continued to show courage and imagination, and continued to battle, until the end.

None of this was seen in the second dreadful performance by the U.S. men’s team as it was preparing for the Gold Cup, starting on June 18, losing to Venezuela, 0-3, after another listless, but also mistake-filled, performance.  Coach Gregg Berhalter had slightly changed the team’s formation against Venezuela, but, still, with only one striker at the top, a lonely Gyasi Zardes in the first half and a somewhat more involved Jozy Altidore in the second half. The team’s offense was toothless, and the team, as a whole had no speed and no energy.

A team is always a reflection of its coach – just look at Jürgen Klopp running up and down on the sidelines during the matches, and his Liverpool with its relentless energy, enthusiasm, and readiness to battle. Berhalter’s team has none of this. He says he has a plan, but what? Up to now, it seems more of the same, a tinkering with formations and the strategy of cautious and defensive soccer, where the two center backs strangely have most of the ball, passing it back and forth, back and forth before, maybe, advancing — boring; slow; unimaginative –no one dared.

Is that American soccer? Is that what we have been waiting for since the calamity of the Klinsmann/Arena era? America’s soccer fans do not have much patience for this waiting game. So without success in the coming Gold Cup, a victory, or, at a minimum, a loss in the finals after a tournament of fun, energetic, courageous, and imaginative soccer, Berhalter’s job might not be safe, although he has only had it for half a year.

Or, maybe, we simply have to realize, and settle for, that this is the state of U.S. men’s soccer today. This is how good, or bad, it is, and we can only put our hopes in the next generation and enjoy the U.S. women in their quest for another world title.

Soccer: The young Americans in Poland are showing the way

I love soccer, and I have for years closely followed the U.S. men’s national team, hoping, hoping, for that final breakthrough that would to put them among the elite teams of the world, like the U.S. women have been for years.

This week was one of stark contrasts. I saw the future of U.S. soccer when the U-20 team impressively beat highly favored France at the U-20 World Cup in Poland. Then I saw a U.S. national team preparing for the Gold Cup by losing to Jamaica in an utterly listless and boring match, promising nothing but more of the same for a team in deep crisis ever since it failed to qualify for the World Cup in Russia last year.

Beating France 3 – 2 in the round of 16, the young Americans in Poland advanced to the quarterfinals where Ecuador, on Saturday, is the next opponent. The match was well-played and exciting, with the young Americans showing off skills and tactical savvy seldom seen even on the men’s national level. First leading, and then trailing 1-2, the U-20 team showed no sense of panic, or even nervousness, and roared back with a vengeance, scoring first the equalizer and then the go-ahead goal a few minutes before the end of the match.

The victory was well deserved. All the players, a mixture of U.S. and European based, can be proud of their performance. But some of them were more than good, they were excellent, in particular the center forward, Sebastian Soto, who scored two goals and has turned out to be a true poacher. Soto, who plays for Hannover in the German Bundesliga, made no mistakes when he twice, after excellent runs and equally excellent passes from Tim Weah of Paris Saint-Germain and Richard Ledezma of Dutch PSV Eindhoven, put the ball passed the French goalie.

The backline, in spite of a couple of mistakes, was also impressive, in particular center back Chris Richards, who plays with Bayern Munich, and the two fullbacks, Sergino Dest and Chris Gloster –- with Ajax in Holland and Hannover in Germany, respectively. And the midfield was solid, led by the captain, Paxton Pomykal, from FC Dallas.

There is depth and cohesion to this young American team and there is no reason it cannot go all the way, although competition will stiffen further as the tournament advances. They have been a joy to watch through the four matches so far. They attack, in a 4-3-3 formation; it’s a fun, exciting, with speed and creativity you wish the U.S. national team would copy, but, regretfully, lacked in its 0-1 defeat to Jamaica. The team’s defensive 3-4-2-1 formation, with one lone striker, generated little offense and just a couple of scoring chances. Jamaica’s win was never in jeopardy.

Yes, it was a friendly, and coach Gregg Berhalter was said to be experimenting, but a week before the start of the Gold Cup, time is running out. Much more is needed of what the young Americans in Poland are showing for the future success of U.S. soccer.

Moving on…to the blue Berkshires

I have moved. Again! My friends say.

Yes, I have moved many times during my years in America, mainly from coast to coast and back again, except for many months once in the Upper Midwest, more precisely in Minnesota, when I researched my book about the Scandinavian immigrants’ role and influence on Minnesota politics.

Now, after many years in Maryland just outside Washington, DC, and after a year and a half in Los Angeles, my new home is the little town of Great Barrington in the Berkshires in western Massachusetts, in New England, America’s northeast corner, up towards Canada.

Moving is part of being American. People move for many reasons; one is politics, maybe more so today than ever in this politically divided nation. Politics played a role when my wife and I decided to move to Massachusetts. It mattered that this is a blue state, just like Maryland, although both have Republican governors, and just like solidly Democratic Los Angeles. Our congressmen, whose names and political ideology have become more important since we became U.S. citizens with the right to vote, have come to reflect our politics — in Maryland’s Montgomery County through the leading progressive Jamie Raskin; in Los Angeles, through Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee after the sweeping democratic election victory in 2018; and here in the Berkshires, through Richard Neal, for whom the election thrust him into the chairmanship of the important Ways and Means Committee and a leading role in the fight to obtain Donald Trump’s tax returns.

The Berkshires is not an economically rich area with a median house hold in come of $39,000 per year. It’s rural, but unlike many other rural areas around America, its 131,000 residents are Democrats — Hillary Clinton captured over 67 percent of the vote here in the 2016. But, also here, Donald Trump is ever present, well covered in the excellent local paper, the Berkshire Eagle, and dinner conversations, just like elsewhere in this country, are often dominated by the man in the White House. The fact that Massachusetts has three presidential candidates, two Democrats – senator Elizabeth Warren and congressman Seth Moulton — and one Republican, former governor William Weld, has contributed to the heightened political debate in the Berkshires and in the state as a whole. No other state disapproves as much of Trump as Massachusetts, so it’s really no wonder that his only, at least so far, challenger for the Republican nomination has come from here.

In Great Barrington this time of the year, as in all the little towns among the rolling hills of the Berkshires, the residents have gathered to debate and vote on local issues in a sort of unique direct democracy. At my first Annual Town Meeting the residents filled the local high school’s auditorium in an impressive showing of political participation. Still, the 468 who came was only a small percentage of the town’s 4,746 registered voters of whom 1,235, or 26 percent, actually voted in the local office elections a week later. Not so impressive…

The local issues even required an extra evening of debate to resolve. They included the town’s budget, schools and libraries, roads and bridges, and many zoning issues. We gave the town’s middle school a new name, W.E.B. Du Bois, after the legendary African American scholar and civil rights leaders, who was born and raised here; we upheld a ban for the second time on small plastic bottles; and we debated, just like all the other Berkshire towns the issue of pot – marijuana – now legal in Massachusetts.

We already have a shop that sells recreational marijuana and most days, actually every day, there is a long line of buyers, many from neighboring New York and Connecticut, where pot is not, at least not yet, legal. Four more shops have been approved and are set to open. A possible new, big marijuana growing facility is being discussed up the road. Other surrounding towns have turned out to be more skeptical and have voted no to any pot businesses. Now, the residents of Great Barrington seem to be getting a bit nervous and, maybe, we should limit the number of marijuana establishments? Let’s look into that, the Town Meeting decided.

This is the first time I live in a small town. It’s exciting, in a low-key kind of way. Spring is finally here, with lush, green leaves on the trees in our back yard down to the quick little river that flows by. Winter, to which I should be used after growing up in Sweden, was a bit rougher than I had anticipated, especially after the previous so-called winter in Los Angeles.

And summer is rapidly approaching, with all of Berkshires cultural attractions waiting: the Boston Symphony at Tanglewood; art exhibits and concerts at MASS MoCA celebrating its 20th anniversary with Annie Lennox; August Renoir will be at the Clark Institute; the Norman Rockwell Museum turns 50; Herman Melville turns 200. There are exciting new plays at Shakespeare & Company and Barrington Stage; bluesman Buddy Guy is coming to town, and Arlo Guthrie is at his Guthrie Center at the Old Trinity Church, of Alice’s Restaurant fame, just across the street from our new home; and on and on…

It’s almost exhausting. And if the weather holds and you want to get away from it all, it’s easy to go hiking or swimming or canoeing or just sit by the river and listen to the water flowing by, quickly.