Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Howling Fantods

It happens every year, such is the bane of a teacher, one who chooses to take full advantage of his three months holiday by doing as little as possible. With Septembers entrance and the idea of October becoming increasingly real come the howling fantods, a David Foster Wallace coined term for what the urban dictionary defines as 'a stage 4 case of the heebie jeebies'. The intense feeling of both fear and repulsion isn't necessarily generated by the students or actual teaching, but everything that comes with it: going to meetings (and sitting through hours of pablum in order to pick up the two or three crucial facts), preparing syllabuses (and the never ending discussion over whether it should be syllabi or syllabuses), preparing and grading exams and essays (and suffering the inevitable erosion in optimism every teacher has for a new batch of students abilities) , maintaining attendance lists and records of grades (and navigating the minefield of absence excuses and exceptions to the rules), opening and responding to the tsunami-like onslaught of emails (and resisting the incessant temptation to type what I really feel). In short, the bureaucracy.

Parallel to this, however, September also brings the promise of a new NFL season and the accompanying hopes and aspirations for both real and fantasy teams. Yet, even here one must be careful not to dwell too deeply as football is sad if you think about it too long. Then again, thinking about near anything to do with the state of humanity too long these days is a sure-fire avenue to abhorrence of the state of anything from pop culture to humanity's future, health care to warfare, ecology to theology, and robotics to politics. Alas, with a hat tip to Hunter S., ain't that the most fear and loathing inducing of them all; November is just around the corner meaning either Hillary Clinton (Shillary Clintoon) or Donald Trump (Drumpf) will become the most powerful person on the planet.

"Chill", you say, "after all, at worst, things have always looked this bleak from certain angles, at best, humanity is continuing its unstoppable march of progress, and really, much of the fear is a consequence of this progress as it's thanks to the abundance of information our shiny technology makes available that things look so desperate." Ahhh, young grasshopper, knowledge is not wisdom, information is not even knowledge, and, worse, what passes for information today is not even that as it is far more often mindless drivel designed to drive eyeballs to screens or shameless propaganda. Driven by biology, we seek ever greater data highs, mindlessly scrolling in search of the next hit while in bed, in the car, on the tram or sitting amidst friends and family. Instead of expanding our world, the result has been to shrink or simply limit the endless spectrum of possibilities which exist thereby driving us to the two most extremes: yes or no, black or white, good or evil, Coke or Pepsi, Republican or Democrat, Cuntservative or Libtard.

By reducing our thought processes to such binary thinking, this deluge of data makes it impossible to support one side on some issues and agree with another on different issues as the media landscape has adapted to satisfy our natural instinct to confirm our biases. The Manichaen worldview that results allows us to feel intelligent without understanding, and once we feel intelligent, we feel superior. Reflection is impossible in this reductionist landscape and we begin to rely on words such as "always" and "never" while ignoring the infinite nuances which exist and instead slip back to the way we saw the world as children. Simplicity's a virtue in a pop song or when a head coach instructs his players, but a dangerous weapon when spilling from the mouth of a demagogue.

Anyhoo, before I get too far ahead of myself, let's get back to the upcoming NFL season. As is tradition around here, we'll go through the league making predictions about how every team will do while giving all you fantasy football freaks a few players to target in your upcoming drafts using their ADP (average draft position) from Fantasy Football Calculator best on 12-team PPR leagues. Parallel to this, each division will be accompanied by one of the world's eight biggest problems. Tall task you say? Hut, hut, hut!

NFC East - Cowboys, 'Skins, Eagles, Giants and greed

This once mighty division has fallen on hard times. Gone are the days of the Triplets, the Hogs, the Helmet Catch, and, um, whatever glory the Eagles have ever enjoyed. Jaworski? Cunningham? Anyway, the division that has won the most Super Bowls since the 1970 merger (12) is now probably the worst in the league. I'm not calling the Cowboys this year after Romo broke his back (ok, a bone in his back) after breaking his collar bone twice last year. If the Dak Prescott Cowboys win 8, I'll be happy. Instead, it'll be the loathsome 'skins playing a single playoff game this year. The Giants vie for first but fade down the stretch while the Eagles will save the Cowboys from finishing last as last week they decided to sell their present for the future.

Yet it's Dallas that has the most lucrative fantasy gem. Maybe. I feel RB Ekekiel, aka Zeke, aka Eze Elliot, aka Easy E (at least that's how all the cool kids podcasters are calling him) will be a top 3 back, book it. Whether you draft him fourth (which I will be doing) or if he should come later in the RB1 run is a coin flip, but I'm betting on a full work load behind the best line in football is #4 worthy despite Romo's injury. Tony's broken back does knock Dez way down to the late 2nd round though and makes TE Jay Witten waiver wire fodder for half a year. Dak's only draftable in 2QB leagues. Today. The 'skins running game will be led by Matt Jones who I'm not drafting in his early 7th round range. Watch his shoulder and fumble-itis, making UFA Robert Kelley an interesting last round flyer. TE Jordan Reed is too expensive at the end of the 3rd thanks to his injury risk but QB Kirk Cousin is worth snagging in the 10th. Rookie phenom WR Josh Doctson had buzz but can't get on the field, I'd only take DeSean Jackson from their receiver corp at #83, he's damn quick and consistent when healthy and looks good.

Eli is always a safe late QB if you play the waiting game on the position. I'm kinda dreading being 3rd in any draft as you've gotta take OBJ, Odell Beckham Jr. but don't think he's gonna be worth the price. WR Sterling Sharpe is an expensive rookie at the top of the bottom of the seventh, I'm saving for another freshman, but Victor Cruz could be worth a dart if he comes back at 80% of his two-years-ago-self. Rashad Jennings played lights out to finish '15 after a disastrous 4-headed monster experiment in NY, I'd take a shot on him at #77. It's PPR, so think about Vereen at the end but leave the rookie Paul Perkins alone along with any Giants TEs. It's rookie QB Carson Wentz time now that Sam Bradford has been sold for picks but not for your team. TE Zach Ertz is more intriguing at his end of the 8th price thanks to the rookie dump off tendency provided he's healed. Leave WR Jordan Matthews alone at 65, stone hands or attention lapses, but I like both Ryan Mathews as a workhouse at the beginning of the 6th and sparkplug Darren Sproles at his bargain basement price.

Doubtless, a sharp-eyed rabblerouser will have noticed my not using the full name of the Washington Football Club. Their media programmed knee-jerk reaction would likely be to call me a libtard. Instead of using the name controversy to, well, throw names at each other, the team should have just given in to the logical end of the game and sold the rights. No more upset Native Americans, no more apoplectic people screaming about political correctness. Simply replaced by the American way. Profit at the expense of progress. For the owners at least as I'm sure it would net Daniel Snyder a few hundred million minimum. Could it be worth a billion? Seriously.

Snyder joined Cowboy owner Jerry Jones at the top of the worst owner list a couple years back in large part due to greed which has played its hand in destroying their franchises as it has in corrupting the so-called free market capitalist system. Once upon a time owners had a greater stake in what their workers created as both made a long-term commitment to wealth generation, wealth that wasn't quarterly profits but progress. The incentive today is skewed towards get yours while you can, all too often at the expense of others, which has resulted in the largest transfer of monetary wealth from the have nots and have somes to the haves in history over the past 35 years. With this comes the power to perpetuate and calcify the current social order into the future. Income elasticity falls to zero as the American Dream falls victim to the greed that birthed it The most instructive illustration of how much more of society's creation the rich are skimming is in this chart:

Yeah, that's the percentage of total income taken home by the richest 0.01% (one out of 10000 people). Notice their earning over six times the proportion they did in the 1970s. Oh, and thanks to the supposed efforts to solve the financial crisis (caused at least in part by this inequality) such as quantitative easing, inequality has dramatically worsened in the past few years. Oh, and wait until the robots take over, things will get worse fast, cause then the owners of capital won't have to pay anybody anything. Riddle me this Batman. How does an economic system driven by consumption survive when the consumers aren't able to, well, consume? Answer. It can't or, better, it does for a while, and then one day it doesn't.

NFC West - Seahawks, Cardinals, Rams, 49ers and nationalism

Just a few years back the west sent a division winner to the playoffs with a losing record and now has two Super Bowl contenders along with a now struggling team just 3 years removed from the big dance and a franchise in LA! I do hate the Shithawks, I mean Jesus Christ that self-righteous '12' thing the fans have, and did Russell Wilson instagram himself losing his virginity to some B star no one out of the US has heard of? But they'll hold off the Cardinals for the crown; Wilson's also a football freak and better than old man Carson Palmer. The Rams have another #1 pick falling flat, but they don't need Jared Goff to keep the 49ers in the basement of the division. San Francisco could be historically bad offensively while at least LA has RB Todd Gurley.

Todd's the stud here but just by a hair as a case could be made to take Cardinal RB David Johnson ahead of him. Regardless of the order, it's Easy E, DJ and Gurley as the top 3 RBs ahead of All Day and Lamar in my mind. Both Thomas Rawls and Carlos Hyde carry high risk for 4th rounders, the former hasn't played in preseason following surgery after his gruesome season ending ankle injury last year and the latter suffered the dreaded concussion in the Niners second preseason game. At one point this preseason, the Cardinals WR trio of Michael Floyd, Larry Fitzgerald and John Brown were going back-to-back-to back in the 5th round, the former two still are and might be too pricey but take advantage of Brown's concussion (that's a bit off, no?) and grab him at his mid-7th round sale price. James Baldwin is too expensive thanks to all those TDs last year, expect regression, but 2nd year speedster Tyler Lockett is worth a 7th round prick if John Brown's gone, especially if you're league counts return yards and TDs. Don't touch any of the 49ers or Rams wide-outs, ok, a case could be made for Tavon Austin in the 10th, but don't buy the Torrey Smith hype as the QB situation in San Francisco is a clusterfuck. I'm not buying the other QBs here either as both Wilson and Palmer are overpriced for different reasons and you never take Case Keenum. Tight ends come to this division to die (Jimmy Graham please stand up).

Speaking of standing up, you might have heard 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick stood up by sitting down during the national anthem the other day. Seriously, in a jingoistic ritual that would mystify most foreign observers, the Star Spangled Banner is played before every game, with people doffing their hats and singing the lyrics while tears stream down their face. You might have seen it during a Super Bowl or something. Anyway, believing they are the freest people in the world, Americans are completely oblivious to the propagandistic and conformity inducing effects such ritualized behaviors have, um, I mean little kids pledge allegiance to a classroom flag every day. So, for the first time in awhile, a professional athlete has put his endorsement deals in danger (ok, granted, his flagging abilities has lowered his earning potential, we're not talking about Lew Alcindor/Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Casius Clay/Mohammed Ali level here) to lodge his protest that the country isn't living up to its bargain. In response, this is the vitriol that millions are exposed to in order to maintain the deflect, divide and maintain the status quo:

Of course this tactic isn't unique to America unfortunately as a decade of economic crisis, a 15-year-old-turning-perpetual or perhaps civilizational, Huntingtonian war and ensuing refugee crisis are stewing together to produce a nasty nationalistic edge in much of the world. The near year old government of Poland, where I've been living for almost a decade, has succeeded in transforming the country using the same crap. Here, we've got an unelected dictator (ok Jaroslaw Kaczynski does have a seat in the Sejm, the parliament), who blames the Russians for killing his twin brother, the Germans for spreading gender ideology (really, they think gender's a 'disease' akin to homosexuality here), and refugees for having parasites. Besides destroying the constitutional court, media independence and privacy, so far the biggest thing they've done is try to push the percentage of baby strollers used by parents to carry actual babies above that used to haul cans and bottles by bums. I think its hoped that giving families 500 zloty (about $150) per month for every child after the first will solve the demographic problem so they won't be forced to allow immigrants in as most other countries do to plug the looming pension gap. Strangely enough, the drumbeat to war against Russia isn't only being played in Poland where they're taunting Putin with a new missile shield courtesy of America, which makes Trump the safer choice over Hillary but he'll have to lose because supposedly he's a racist and she's not. Or something.

NFC North - Vikings, Packers, Bears, Lions and corporate welfare

The black and blue division features the most storied team in the league, a Saturday Night Live skit, AP also known as AD and a toothless Panthera leo. The first, the Green Bay Packers should regain the division crown provided RB Eddie Lacy keeps his weight under 250 lbs and WR Jordy Nelson is 90% of his pre-ACL tear self to help QB Aaron Rogers recapture his 2014 form. The gruesome, non-contact, season ending injury to Vikings QB Teddy Bridgewater during practice forced the team to mortgage the future to bring in Sam Bradford. Not sold on the move but he's an upgrade on Shaun Hill and should put them in the wildcard hunt. The Lions lost Megatron (WR Calvin Johnson) to retirement but picked up WR Marvin Jones to pick up the slack in offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter's (the best name in football) scheme. If anyone can topple the Packers, it'll be the Lions if they play like they did in the 2nd half of last season when they went 6-2. The Bears need too many things to go right to really challenge: QB Smokin' Jay Cutler needs to care, WR Alshon Jeffery needs to stay healthy, 2nd year WR Kevin White needs to learn to run routes and RB Jeremy Langford needs to channel his inner Matt Forte.

On the fantasy side, I believe Langford is undervalued in the 4th and Lacy will be worth his ADP in the 2nd while I'd take AP if he dropped to me at the tail end of the 1st but still don't trust Ameer Abdullah, though he could be a league changer if he breaks out as a bellcow 7th round pick. At WR, Alshon Jeffery is too much injury risk for my blood at 23rd. Don't draft Kevin White. Could be Marvin Jones or Golden Tate being the 1A or 1B, that's why they're near back to back at the front of the 6th and worth it. Or Jordy Nelson, or even Randall Cobb for that matter if the aforementioned ACL frees him up to be his #2 self. Jordy's a little high at 18 but I'm buying Cobb in the middle of the 3rd. All the Vikings receivers took too big a hit for me to buy. The breakout TE could very well be former Ram fan tormentor Jared Cook catching balls in Green Bay. From Aaron Rogers. Who is too rich for my blood; if I want a reasonably priced QB in this division it would be Stafford who you can nab in the 11th. It's a tempting strategy to wait on him, but watch who your opponents have drafted, you may have to reach to the 10th for him if say someone like Taylor goes before you pick.

The Vikings will host their first game in brand spanking new, aptly named US Bank Stadium. Perfect name for the welfare teat suckling pair, the NFL and banks. We'll never compute how much world wide public debt was taken on just for the last crisis on behalf of the banks. US citizens took on about $30 trillion for the bailouts alone. A crisis which was mostly caused by income inequality which has since gotten worse thank to the bank saving bailouts and quantitative easing. Meanwhile, the Vikings are the latest in a line of public coffer looters as the land of 10,000 lakes is at least an extra half billion deeper in debt thanks to owner Zygi Wilf doing what the system is designed to do. Take money from the bottom and funnel it up. Did you know that not only did the Rams leave St. Louis for Los Angeles but they also left the city over $100 million in debt to repay for the stadium they had to build the Rams the previous time he threatened to move the team to LA? Oh, the Vikings get the 2018 Super Bowl, which may earn the city money, but only those who own the means to make it, ie. the owner class. Bread and Circuses for the masses to distract them from noticing that their taxes subsidize Walmart's ability to pay workers less than survival wages, pay tens of billions of Wall Streets bonuses, pay Big Oil tens of billions in subsidies (almost $500 billion a year worldwide), pay hundreds of billions to Big Pharma so they can charge patients hundreds for a single pill, and pay the MIC trillions to wage wars in their name.

NFC South - Falcons, Saints, Bucs and Panthers and oil and plastic

Seven months removed from their near Cinderella run to the championship the Panthers should be the strongest team in their division once again as they return much the same team, minus CB Josh Norman but plus WR Kelvin Benjamin. It never pays to pick the Buccaneers, but I'll peg them at two here as Lovie Smith isn't anywhere near them this year. One should never underestimate a Drew Brees led team but the Saints Super Bowl window closes a little more this year while they languish in 3rd and the Falcons bring up the rear.

Real life and fantasy talent abound in this division starting at QB, except for Matt Ryan who seems to have completely lost the plot. Nevertheless, Cam Newton at 35, Drew Brees at 63, and Jameis Winston at 128 are all draftable, but I like them in reverse order for biggest bang for the buck. Julio Jones has to depend on Ryan to get him the ball but he's still worth a top three pick while Mohamed Sanu across from him over from the Bengals looks good and a bargain at the end of the 11th. Buc WR Mike Evans is the other stud here and should benefit from improved QB play and so-called 'positive TD regression' making me want him more than Dez, putting him in the top 10 WRs. Heads up, fellow Buc Vincent Jackson doesn't look finished, I like him at #126. The Panthers somehow got by with WR Ted Ginn last year but both Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess will be the guys; although, I couldn't pull the trigger on Kelvin at the beginning of the fourth, Devin's a deal in the ninth. The Saints WR suffer from diffusion as Brees spreads it out so much making Brandin Cooks and rookie Michael Thomas too pricey at #25 and #119, but Willie Snead's on my radar if he falls to the end of the eighth. At TE, Greg Olsen is always solid but too high at the start of the 5th, stay away the Bucs, don't get suckered into buying Austin Sefarian Jenkins potential, ditto the Falcons as I don't even know their TE, but watch Coby Fleener in the TE happy Saints offense; I'm buying at #76.

My wife had plastic at number one in terms of the scariest thing facing us these days. Can't blame her, people spend a buck on piece of junk that will be used once and then stick around about 1000 years. If you don't know what microbeads are, check it out, messed up. And oil? What woe can't be pinned on it? Climate change? War? Yet, governments such as the US subsidize its production far more than renewable energy. How messed up it that? Paying companies to use up crud that is killing us instead of promoting self-reliance. Never mind that July was the hottest month ever recorded, or that it was the 15th consecutive monthly record, enough people have been convinced that there's no way that human activity could have any hand in changing the climate by their tardification source of choice, be it religious based, media based or simply economics based. That last one is the cudgel many try to use to bash the otherwise rational into submission: why try to save ourselves from extinction by curbing and cutting reliance on fossil fuels when doing so will cause us all to go broke; which of course means we'll starve to death. I'm sure this one even works on the people of Baton Rough, latest victims of a once in a thousand year climate event that I'm sure had nothing to do with anthropogenic climate change. Don't worry, they've got nothing on the people of Alberta still living in denial about what happened in Fort McMurray where at least they got to make a few bucks before what they were doing caused the place to burn to the ground.

AFC East - Dolphins, Patriots, Bills, Jets and privilege and racism

Oh my god I hate this division. The Patriots have won it seven years in a row and 13 of the last 15, and not even sidelining QB Tom Brady for the first four games (yes, Deflategate is still a thing in a world stuck on repeat) will take the title away from them. I mean who's gonna beat them here? The Jets? You mean the team that missed the playoffs thanks to three consecutive drive killing interceptions in the last game of the year? The Dolphins? Really? You think Arian Foster is going to save a team that couldn't figure out how to use Lamar Miller? The Bills? Rex Ryan's Bills? You do know he brought in his brother Rob to run the defense, right? Bills fans seem to really hate tables. I prefer ignoring this division all together, screw you Patriots, go ahead and win a division that no one cares about.

You know what, maybe you should just ignore this division in fantasy too. Except maybe TE Rob Gronkowski. A lot's been made of the shrinking gap between Gronk and the rest of the TEs, but I'm not buying it. Take Gronk in the middle of the 2nd or ignore the position until much later. The Pats 2nd TE, Martellus Bennett is the only other draftable TE here. I hate Jordan Cameron and do the Jets even have one? Whether you pick QB Tom Brady depends on your draft and bench space; if you choose to take him in the 6th, you'll need to pick up someone like Tyrod Taylor at 119, or one of the Ryans, Fitzpatrick at 160 or Tannehill at 164 in the last couple rounds. Leave them all and target Derek Carr or Matthew Stafford thanks to their first four game opponents. LeSean McCoy is attractive as an RB1 in the late second as is Matt Forte in the mid-fourth but I can't stomach either Arian Foster or Jay Ajayi from the Dolphins or any of the Patriot running backs. The best WR in the division is 32 years old so I'd have trouble taking Brandon Marshall at the end of the 1st round. Jarvis Landry is a PPR machine and makes a great WR2 if he slides to you in the 3rd. If you're confident that Sammy Watkins has relearned how to run, he was a monster at the end of last year and would make a good consolation if someone scoops Laundry on you but I'm not taking 4-game-Bradyless-post broken foot Julian Edelman in the same round. Yes, Eric Decker is worth his fourth round slot, but I never take his boringness, I'm not down on DeVante Parker at 103 but might take a shot on teamate Kenny Stills with my last positional pick in the 13th. The other flyers are Pats WRs Chris Hogan and rookie Malcolm Mitchell, but they'll be available on waivers.

I admit that I hate the Pats for no other reason than the aura of entitlement that seems to surround them. This privilege inevitably results in them doing all kinds of crap they think they're allowed to do because of who they are and even if they get caught, the price they'll have to pay makes the penalty worth it, kind of like, say, the way banks behave. Cheat, win a title, pay a fine. Cheat, make billions, pay a few million. Same goes for the oil companies, ditto the insurance business, etc... It's gotten to the point where not only do the corporations and super wealthy feel entitled to special treatment but the public expects it as well. Yet, deep down, the majority doesn't accept it and are in need of someone to give a voice to their grievances, someone not afraid to speak their mind even if it upsets a few apple carts.

Here's what I love. This nouveau alt-right constantly claim to being held hostage by political correctness; the libtard thought police is limiting their rights. Yet, the mere mention that support for the Trumps, Brexits, La Pens or Kaczynskis of the world is at least in part a product of racism is somehow taboo despite it being indisputably true. First, look at some of the supporters, be they KKK members in the US or ONR supporters in Poland, regardless of whether or not they are the majority, they represent a significant slice and they are racists, not just the silent kind, but the truly evil kind. Second, listen to their words; gone are the halcyon days of subtle dog whistle calls to violence and replaced with the overtly racist Trump calling Mexican immigrants drug dealers, criminals and rapists or Kaczynski claiming refugees carry "parasites and protozoa" or other Polish politicians calling them "human trash". Thanks to dialogue's impossibility in today's polarized political reality, simply stating these things automatically gets you labelled as an enemy of the state, or citizens of "the worst sort". The inevitable outcome of such talk is the violence against minorities we see spiking around the world. It's a wonder the very people inciting the hatred by denouncing foreigners can even act surprised when emigrants from their own country are murdered abroad. Maybe this is how the world was caught off guard by Hitler.

AFC West - Broncos, Chiefs, Chargers, Raiders and war

Well, this is weird. You win the Super Bowl with the worst quarterback in the league who will be remembered by many as the greatest in history capping off a run of five straight division titles only to come into the next year without a QB. I'm picking the Broncos to tumble to third as both the Chiefs and Raiders leapfrog them leaving the Chargers to languish in the basement. The Chiefs finished last year with a ten game winning streak and will ride the return of RB Jamaal Charles and Justin Houston to the division crown. The Raiders are stacked with young talent and earn a wildcard birth while Denver adjusts downward to the most-Manning era and the Chargers give up the most points in the league. Fear not, Oakland will come out losers as that prick Mark Davis figures out a way to get Las Vegas to pay for a new stadium for the Raiders next year.

Oakland has the shiniest fantasy toys: RB Latavius Murray might be too high at the end of the 3rd with rookie DeAndre Washington (worth his #133) lurking, but Amari Cooper should dominate his second year justifying his #20 position, and fellow WR Michael Crabtree and QB Derek Carr are steals at #81 and #106. There might not be any draftable TEs in Oakland, but the Chargers have one of the greatest looking to break the TE TD record - Antonio Gates is worth every penny of the 102 spot. WR Keenan Allen was on his way to a record season before a freaky kidney laceration, he could be a bargain even at #14 as is 2nd year RB Melvin Gordon and PPR god Danny Woodhead; draft them happily at 51 and 56. With his team trailing all the time, QB Philip Rivers should be good value at the tail end of the 8th round. The Chiefs might win the division but their offense is boring, I mean their QB won't even be drafted. Sure Jeremy Maclin showed that KC WRs can actually score TDs but he's just a tad overpriced at the beginning of the 4th. There's too much risk in the backfield as Jamaal Charles comes back from his 2nd ACL and turns 30 just after Christmas at the 2/3 turn, but scoop up his backup Spencer Ware in the 8th or 9th. TE Travis Kelce should provide just enough return to justify a 6th round pick. In Denver, I always avoid running backs, will stay away from the QBs, would take WRs Demaryius Thomas in the late 3rd and Emmanuel Sanders in the 7th and am more than intrigued by their TE Virgil Green who you should be able to pick up for free off waivers.

Never mind the clusterfuck that is Syriqistan, the chicken hawks have their sites set on a bigger conflict: Russia. Bored with siphoning off wealth from the productive economy, arming opposing sides of conflicts, scattering arms around the world and fudging the books to the tune of $6.5 trillion in a single year, and eager to justify spending over $1.5 trillion dollars on a plane that doesn't work, it's clear that the military industrial complex is intent on pushing us into a conflict with armageddon-like consequences. Step one, foment a faux revolution in Ukraine. Step two, continue to flaunt promises to not expand into Eastern Europe by continuing to do so by building a missile shield in Poland, Romania and the Czech Republic (but say it's to protect the west from Iran!) while embarking on a trillion dollar nuclear arsenal upgrade, Step three, pound the public with a deluge of evil empire, Putin is bad, faux hacking stories. Step four, put a war hawk in the Oval Office. Sit back and wait for the fireworks:

AFC North - Steelers, Ravens, Browns, Bengals, and the failure of experts

Ah, the AFC North home to a franchise that honestly believes they can do no wrong despite being even more evil than most, another better known as the Bungles, one that should be the Colts, and, um, the Shit Stains. Seriously, the Stillers, er, Steelers are led by Rapey McGreyPenis and are rumored to have the best offense, like, totally ever, but since they can't get everyone on the field at the same time due to suspensions, we'll never know. Meanwhile, the Bengals proved last January that it is actually scientifically impossible for them to win a playoff game no matter how much better they are than their opponent. Despite winning two Super Bowl victories since Art Modell magically created the Ravens, they'll never be a real team. And Cleveland, well, what can you say? They'll always be the Browns. The Bengals will win the division again only to lose their first playoff game, the Stillers will field enough players to fight for a wildcard, the Ravens will win more games than last years dismal five but only manage third yet will hold off the resurgent, yes, resurgent Browns who nevertheless stay in the cellar.

Fantasy gold awaits the aggressive claim staker here particularly at WR from surefire #1 Antonio Brown and slightly overpriced #5 AJ Green to the ultimate risk/reward choices of Josh Gordon and Steve Smith Sr. An early 5th round pick seems to steep for Flash as he's suspended the first four games and all it takes is one more toke for him to find himself out of the league while for some reason I'll gamble the last pick of the 12th on a 37-year-old returning from a double ruptured achilles. In between, Kamar Aiken at 115, Mohamed Sanu (142), and rookies Corey Coleman (127) and Tyler Boyd (143) are all reasonably priced, Terrell Pryor at 174 and Mike Wallace in the previous slot are great for larger league players. At QB, Big Ben takes too much punishment to stay intact all year while RGIII knee will fold at some point but they could be paired with someone like undrafted Joe Flacco. The Red Rifle's (Andy Dalton) 137 seems like a bargain to me. Want a high-upside RB at a discount price? Well, here's La'Veon Bell who you can get at #12 because he's suspended the first three games, after which he could be the highest point getter in the league. Grab him, but you'll need an extra roster spot for his replacement DeAngelo Williams and you'll need to grab him before #68. I'll always take pass catching Giovanni Bernard at #60 over bulldozer Jeremy Hill at #50 but vice-versa in Cleveland as Isaiah Crowell's 112 is more appealing than Duke Johnson's 70. Skip the mess that is the Ravens backfield. Tremendous value in descending order at TE: Jesse James (undrafted, so free), Gary Barnidge (79), Tyler Eifert (116, cheap as dirt but will miss a few games meaning you'll need to draft another TE). Again, I'm passing on the Ravens carousel here.

Despite the best efforts of think tanks, media pundits and sages to convince us that the likes of Drumpf and Brexit are merely the by-product of stupid people voting against their self-interests, they are, in fact, in large part the product of years of poisoning the well of public dialogue, decades of a quid pro quo relationship among the so-called cognoscenti, the traditional media and the ruling class. Once upon a time much of research done was carried out in universities and laboratories that were for the most part publicly funded. However, as neoliberal policies were implemented, shrinking tax revenue, particularly from the rich and corporations, strangling funding to public institutions, such as NASA and universities, and deregulating everything from the financial industry to the labor market, the majority of research came to depend on private financing. Not only did this make once autonomous institutions dependent on corporate sponsorship but it also gave rise to the rapid expansion of influence wielded by so-called think tanks. You know, those benevolent sounding places that provide the majority of panelists on TV debates and commentary in newspaper articles such as the Heritage Foundation, the Brookings Institute, RAND, and the Center for American Progress.

The world's a complicated place so clearly we need experts in fields requiring years or decades of study to provide guidance. Yet, it doesn't take a genius to figure out the fatal flaw here, but at least one, Upton Sinclair, put it into words, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it!". In football, as in much of the capitalist model, this arrangement often works. Taking the example of the NFL draft, the owner, unless he's Jerry Jones, might have the final say in draft choices, but he relies on a myriad of scouts (experts) to give him advice as s/he is unable to keep track of all the variables that factor into each decision, much like the average voter in the voting booth. Those who give advice that results in positive outcomes, say, suggesting a seventh round draft choice who turns out to become a three-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, earn increased trust in the future while those who recommended taking JaMarcus Russell with the #1 pick overall lose the confidence of the owner or their job as there is a direct line of accountability  between the scout and owner.

Now, think of that aforementioned average citizen. (S)he has been assured by a leading economist/military adviser/university academic that the policies included in the platform of the Republicrat party benefit him/her. Now, 30+ years later, after faithfully marking an X next to that party's candidate every couple of years, s/he is no better, or even worse, off than s/he was 30+ years ago. S/he can't fire the experts who led her astray, and in fact many of those very experts are now in higher positions. Why? For the simple reason that the advice wasn't intended to benefit the voter but instead those who paid for the advice in the first place. What? An economist arguing in favor of NAFTA then and TTIP today? A four-star general advocating war in Iraq yesterday and somewhere else tomorrow? A geologist producing a report paid for by Haliburton which claims there's no earthquake risk of fracking in Oklahoma? No wonder we have lunatics running around claiming vaccines cause autism, 9/11 was an inside job and the world is run by the Bildebergs. It's surprising more people don't.

Examples abound, from the seemingly benign to the unequivocally asinine to the, um, well, those with the effects of strychnine. Obamacare, drones, and free trade all sound good to both those selling the idea and the ADD-suffering electorate. After all, who could be against increasing the number of people with access to health care, reducing the number of soldiers coming home in flag-draped coffins and expanding job-producing trade? Alas, the assurances of Grima Wormtongue couldn't do a better job of keeping the promises of such spells intact in the mind of the populace while doing the exact opposite. The scam of Obamacare was to sell the idea of moving toward healthcare coverage for everyone while disguising its primary purpose, to extend the healthcare market of the for-profit private insurance industry. Its inevitable failure is inscribed in its fundamental contradiction: providing affordable quality healthcare on the condition of satisfying the profit prerogative of capitalist corporations. Regardless of what the Atlantic tries to convince you, health care is a right, not a business. What better way to win the war on terror than blowing up bad guys by remote control? A doubly effective message combining the vision of technological progress while inoculating the TV news consuming public from the horrors of Vietnam-style numbers of returning body bags. So long as no one notices the terrorists don't hate us for our freedoms but for blowing up their hospitals and wedding parties. Finally, loosing trade from the constraints of bureaucracy is the image most think of thanks to the 'free' of free trade. Well, the experts forget to tell you about the non-free part where corporations use cheap labor to pad their executive compensation packages instead of paying middle-class wages to workers at home and gives those same corporation the power to overturn national laws if they interfere with profits through secret tribunals known as Investor State Dispute Settlements (ISDS).

AFC South - Colts, Texans, Titans, Jaguars, and terrorism

After years of having the division as a playground, the Colts stumbled to an 8-8 record as the Texans advanced to the playoffs. If Indy's offensive line finds away to stop QB Andrew Luck from being pummelled play after play they should find their way back to the top, but it's not a gimme. And I don't think it's the Texans who will challenge them but the Jaguars who after a decade of irrelevance finally, at least on paper, have what it take to take the division. Houston battles into December but fall short while the Titans, though slightly improved from last year, remain in the cellar.

I'm all in on former Dolphin, now Texan RB Lamar Miller as I picked him up both in my 10 team PPR snake draft and 20 team auction (yes, 20 teams!). Couldn't say no at the price, 12th pick and $45 respectively so I say he's worth his current #11 ADP. Teammate Nuk Hopkins is a bit overpriced at #6 as the rookie pairing of Will Fuller and Braxton Miller syphon away a few of his targets. Will's worth a shot at #128. I like the Jag players over the Colts, of the WR Allens, I'd buy Robinson at #10 but maybe not Hurns at #67. Both RBs are interesting too, taking either Chris Ivory at #87 or TJ Yeldon at #91 while TE Julius Thomas is intriguing at #98 and QB Blake Bortles could make the leap to elite so grab him at the end of the 7th. Did you notice Luck wasn't Luck even before getting shut down for the year suffering from a half dozen ailments that would each incapacitate us mortals? I'm not in on him at #59 nor WR TY Hilton at #29 but would take Donte Moncrief in the fourth and TE Dwayne Allen, without Coby Fleener around, in the 11th. Don't take Frank Gore regardless of how many yards the stats say he somehow wound up with last year. I can't help liking all the Titans but the RBs may be going too high. I know they paid a lot to bring him DeMarco Murray, but he was awful last year in Philadelphia and the rookie Derrick Henry will vulture some TDs making them both overbought at #41 and #72 respectively. They'll be a run first team, but QB Marcus Mariota (141), TE Delanie Walker (66) and new WRs Rishard Mathews (152) from the Dolphins and rookie Tajae Sharpe (113) are worth taking at their ADPs.

How else to segue into terrorism beyond saying it's simply unbelievable that we could take something so obviously complex that it would drive someone to kill themselves and others, and try to fit it into a neat narrative. No, it's messier than that, so I'll try:

The problem isn't that they hate us for our freedoms.
The problem is that we sell arms to Saudi Arabia so they can bomb the shit out of Yemeni hospitals and wedding parties.
The problem isn't that Obama is a secret Muslim.
The problem is that he sits atop a mostly-secret, lacking in any oversight extra-judicial program to kill military-aged Muslim males with drones which also happens to hit the occasional wedding party.
The problem isn't that Obama and Hillary founded ISIS.
The problem is the US produces and sells over half of the world's arms, loses over half of the of the guns they ship to war zones, metastasizing a U.S. imperium that’s often supporting both sides of the conflict, arming the world and widening the so-called "War on Terror".
The problem is not Muslims infiltrating the west and forcing us to wear burkinis.
The problem is blowback from western colonization from Algeria to Iraq and America’s War on Terror catalyzing an unprecedented global humanitarian nightmare while the media ignored the damning conclusions of the U.K.’s Chilcot Report and the troubling details of the long-anticipated "28 Pages" on Saudi involvement in 9/11.

And that's before I even get started on Palestine.

The Long and the Short of it

For the most part I've lost the taste for making predictions, but I always make an exception for football. The NFC should come down to the usual suspects, the Shithawks, Cardinals, Packers and Panthers so I'll stick my neck out and say the Cardinals advance to the dance. A lot needs to happen but most importantly Carson Palmer needs to stay healthy, the rest should take care of itself. In the AFC I'm looking for a new team to finally rise above the Pats and Broncos. The Kansas City Chiefs, yes, the red tomato, Andy Reid-led Chiefs make it to their first Super Bowl since IV in 1970 when they beat the Minnesota Vikings. That's as far as I'll go today.

Try to enjoy your football while you can as it may not be around much longer. Much as the present system's internal contradictions will bring about it's collapse or revolution, a game whose object is to hurl one's body with as much force as possible at another isn't long for this world. Concussions, the culture of violence along with the feeling of impunity it engenders in those who play all argue for its termination. Add to that the looting of public coffers, the deep rooted sexism, and even the horrible diet of those attending games and its hard to argue against pulling the plug. Ah, but the fact that it helps the rich get richer while the rest of us suffer thanks to both football and the major problems in the world tell me both will continue as long as we allow them to. This November, when faced with a choice between the two most hated candidates in history, one will still win as the majority are still convinced there's no other way. Funny how people gloss over the fact that when voting for the lesser of two evils you are still voting for evil.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

L - As in Super Bowl L

Yeah, it's L, I don't care what the NFL says. Super Bowl L and that's what I'm going to call it! Anyway, no time for a long post unfortunately, instead, you get a podcast. Yep, and for all of you you tl:dr types in the past who are instead tl:dl (too long didn't listen?), I'm looking to extend my unblemished Super Bowl blogging predictions record and taking the Panthers straight up and against the spread as they should beat the Broncos by about a touchdown, maybe 23-17. Enjoy!

Sunday, September 13, 2015

From Goodelland to Trumpistan

Fittingly, the NFL season kicked off on Thursday night in Foxborough, home of the New England Patriots. Not so much because it featured the defending Super Bowl champions but because a national audience watched Tom Brady celebrate his victory over NFL commissioner Roger Goodell as he first fist-pumped triumphantly onto the stage and then masterfully led his team to victory in front of fans celebrating his courtroom win every bit as much as his on-field exploits, waving signs demanding Goodell's dismissal and chanting "Where is Roger?".

Watching the scene an ocean and most of a continent away here in Poland it was hard to tell whether it was the sleep deprivation or the driving rain that made the whole scene seem so surreal. For the past decade plus, football has been my firmest link to the comings and goings back home in North America, but it seems as though even this tether is becoming frayed as the events that played out in a courtroom in a case that involved under-inflated balls were more important in determining the outcome of Thursday night's game than anything else. Even more amazingly, Deflategate has managed to distract a nation's interest from more serious issues that should make an NFL fan uncomfortable. Take your pick: CTE, violence against women and children, PEDs, wasting public money on private stadiums, being paid to promote war, or pretending to raise money for breast cancer by wearing pink gloves and shoes.

Adding to the hypnagogic effect was the fact the results on the field have become less important than those flashing across computer, tablet and phone screens around the world. Once a nerdy pastime for statistical fanatics, over the past decade fantasy football has transmogrified from a man cave event into a watercooler conversation, a sitcom, an obsession, and finally into a money-making bonanza. Every commercial break featured at least one ad luring the gullible into believing they can beat the system and win millions. Money for nothing but picking players, except it's not nothing, it's just gambling, and the house always wins.

The disconnect between perception and reality has never been so stark. I know it's time and distance blurring the edges, but could it really be that America might elect Donald Trump president? My time over here saw George Bush Junior named president by the Supreme Court while I was sampling tapas in Madrid, somehow re-elected during my palinka period in Hungary, while Barack Obama entered the White House and has remained there the whole time I've been living in Poland. Dopey was replaced by Hopey-Changey so why not Fuckface von Clownstick next? Much as Goodell has taken a league that seemingly couldn't be destroyed but is doing just that, America has given a country that was so far ahead of the rest to a bunch of charlatans intent on running it into the ditch.

Twin towers were toppled leading to a perpetual war on terror to fight ever mutating enemies being created to justify locking up and torturing potential terrorists abroad and trampling civil liberties at home. To aid the cause Americans were told to go shopping which seemed to work until their credit cards were rejected at Wal-Mart leading to a financial crisis caused by the yawning gap in wealth. Crackberries have risen and fallen making way for iPhones and Androids used to snap selfies to fill the gaps in everyone's TwitoogleBook feeds between news about Kardashians, Brangelina, Bennifer, TomKat and Kimye.

The response to each disaster is inevitably to make it worse by throwing gas on the fire. Now, you could spend all day walking the streets of Poznan asking people if they've heard of Roger Goodell and never get an affirmative answer yet you'll inevitably come across some joker wearing a Raiders jacket or Patriots cap as American culture still seeps abroad. The name Donald Trump will illicit equally blank stares but you'll pass a half a dozen pawn shops which are multiplying thanks to the brand of crony capitalism that the Trumps of the world have created.

So, even though it's getting steadily easier to predict the winners and losers of an economic system rigged in favor of the rich, when it comes to predicting an NFL season winners, football is the ultimate crapshoot, a 16 game schedule to determine the best of 32 teams never has a chance of being true. In any case, let's give it a shot.

NFC East: Cowboys - Eagles - Giants - Washington football team

Dallas manages to cobble together a backfield just capable enough to run through the mammoth holes created by their offensive line. Dez leads the team in TDs but little Cole Beasley leads the team in receptions and the defense once again somehow manages to avoid being the worst in the league. Chip's Eagles set an NFL record for plays run, the three-headed backfield of DeMarco Murray, Ryan Matthews and Darren Sproles combine for 2,500 yards rushing and 1,000 yards receiving but Sam Bradford can't stay healthy and the defense dies of exhaustion. Odell Beckham Jr. isn't able to carry the G-men past 7-9 while the league is forced to take over the Washington football team after the circus comes to town and switches places with the front office. Goodell unilaterally renames them the Griffins and names RGIII the starting quarterback for the rest of the year despite only having masking tape holding his knee together.

NFC North: Packers - Vikings - Lions - Bears (Oh my!)

Aaron Rogers is like, whatever, Jordy Nelson is out, RELAX, but Green Bay still comes back a bit to the, er, pack as they can't go 5-0 in one score games again. The resurgent Vikings have Adrian Peterson back to take some of the pressure off second year QB Teddy Bridgewater who becomes a top 12 signal caller thanks to targets such as Charles Johnson and Mike Wallace. The Lions make a late season surge thanks to the lethal WR Golden Megatron combo and the rookie Abdullah taking over as bell-cow back but the defense minus Suh isn't as dominate. Meanwhile the Bears are forced to bench Cutler midseason after a 1-7 start and go with Jimmy Clausen. Ugh!

NFC South: Panthers - Saints - Falcons - Bucs

The once mighty south has turned into a quagmire, each team has a glaring weakness that should preclude them from taking the division, yet someone has to so I'm making it the Panthers, last year's champs, by default. The defense carries the team who manage to put up 9 ugly wins despite Cam Newton failing to throw a TD to a wide receiver all year a la 2014 Alex Smith. Drew Brees throws for over 5,000 yards again but it's because the defense has too many new parts and question marks to effectively stop anyone, even the Panthers, forcing him to throw, throw, throw. Ditto for the Falcons as Julio Jones puts up an insane 2,000 yard year but new head coach Dan Quinn doesn't have the defensive talent to do what he was able to in Seattle. Despite across the board improvement and a shiny new #1 pick QB named Jameis Winston, I won't be suckered into picking the Bucs any higher than last again this year.

NFC West: Seahawks - Rams - Cardinals - 49ers

The headache the Seahawks wake up with from their Super Bowl hangover won't be bad enough to stop them from taking the west as Russell Wilson picked up a few new toys in the form of Jimmy Graham and Tyler Lockett, and the defense, even minus holdout Kam Chancellor will still be good enough. Both the Rams and Cardinals will have improved quarterback play, remember St. Louis ran out Shaun Hill and Austin Davis for half a season each while Arizona was forced into starting the likes of Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley for more than half a season and the playoffs, but there's no guarantee Nick Foles or Carson Palmer remain any healthier this season, and no, Nick Foles isn't great as it is. However, the Rams defense carries them to a .500 record while the Cardinals finally lose a few close games. Meanwhile in San Fran, er, Santa Clara, the 49ers languish in the basement for the first of a few seasons.

Wild Card Weekend - Vikings beat the Panthers, Packers beat the Eagles

Divisional Round - Seahawks over Vikings, Cowboys over Packers

Conference Championship - Cowboys beat the Seahawks

That's right, we're talking about a deluded fantasy world so I'm taking the Cowboys. Off the field, the league will be engaged in a public relations battle for its life as the movie 'Concussion' will have been released Christmas Day across the nation. Those willing to listen will once again learn how those in power suppress the truth and keep the masses ignorant. In this case though, star power in the form of Will Smith will tell the story of how the NFL used the playbook of the powerful to delegitimize the research of a Nigerian-born scientist who discovered how deadly multiple blows to the head can be as they lead to Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE). In our mixed up dystopian world whistleblowers and those who tell the truth are usually the ones who wind up demonized and destroyed instead of the truly wicked that they attempt to expose.

The off week between the conference championship and the Super Bowl in 2016 will feature the Iowa Caucus where we'll get the first real returns on who'll be running for president later in the year. Thanks to his lavish spending, Trump's campaign fund holding company will be forced to declare bankruptcy, making it the fifth such time a Trump company has done so. Thanks to the whole disconnect with reality thing, Greece will be forced to auction off its antiquity to avoid such a move but Trump's declaration will catapult him into the lead for the Republican nomination as he is able to cast himself as a victim of the system to the undecided voters. Because somehow it's a shrewd, calculated business move for a billionaire to screw his creditors but it's a moral hazard to free an entire nation from the thumbscrews of banksters.

Adding to the confusion for any non-American observer of the US presidential primaries will be the mass of people constantly surrounding a dowdy looking woman who isn't even running for office but whose name is constantly evoked by candidates looking to woo the religious fundamentalist vote, Kim Davis. Another name that no European recognizes, her face has been flashed on screens across America for months, often accompanied by 'Eye of the Tiger' as she's portrayed as a fighter for refusing to do the job she was elected to do because of her religious beliefs. Her supporters of course look upon Muslim immigrants with fear believing that they will bring and somehow impose Sharia law on the nation while championing a woman who refuses to follow a secular law because of what a 2,000 year old book supposedly tells her to believe. Yes, in their world religious beliefs should take precedence over national laws so long as it is their space fairy's beliefs that we are talking about.

Meanwhile, if the AFC...

AFC East: Patriots - Dolphins - Jets - Bills

Cheaters or not, Brady's Pats still rule the east, Gronk scores 15 TDs, no RB goes over 1,000 yards for the season but three different ones have 100-yard games while the defense bends but doesn't break. The Dolphins are improved again, QB Ryan Tannehill has targets galore and the defense should be stout enough to carry them to a wildcard bid. The New York football Jets won't score many points but they won't give up many either putting them on target for a .500 season. Look, the Bills defense almost can't be as good as last year, while the offense is reliant on an unknown quarterback to play better than Kyle Orton. While the rest of the league moves towards treating running backs as a replaceable part, the Bills gave away the store to pick up erstwhile injury prone LeSean McCoy after having done the same to pick up Sammy Watkins and EJ Manuel without doing anything to allow them to thrive.

AFC North: Ravens - Bengals - Steelers - Browns

Trestman was brought in to rev up a Raven offense that set a team record for points last year, but who will Joe throw to when Steve Smith Sr. is forced into a wheelchair by mid-season. So Forsett needs to have another amazing season to go with the usual stout Baltimore defense for the team to fulfill expectations. The Bengals have become the most boring slightly above average team in the league despite have superstars at wide out, AJ Green now locked up to long term contract, and in the backfield, 2nd year guy Jeremy Hill led the league in rushing over the final 9 games of the season. The defense looks great on paper too but Andy Dalton simply isn't an elite QB. The Steelers have become bizarro-world Pittsburgh with the most exciting offense in football led by perhaps the best RB and WR in the league, LeVeon Bell and Antonio Brown, but their defense is porous and one of the worst in the league. Shootouts galore. Sure, the Browns pass defense will be pretty good again but why would anyone need to get away from the run when the Cleveland offense can't put any points on the board. Johnny Manziel?

AFC South: Colts - Texans - Jaguars - Titans

The Colts want to win the Super Bowl. Now. They brought in golden oldies Frank Gore to lug the rock and Andre Johnson to catch it as well as drafting Phillip Dorsett to compete for targets. Luck's offense is loaded and keep in mind that in his first season, Indy reached the Wild-Card round; in his second, the Divisional Round; last year, his third season, the AFC Championship; following this pattern, Luck's a lock to reach the Super Bowl this year. The Texans may take a step back but smaller than the step forward the Jags take. Brian Hoyer leads an Adrian Foster-and-Andre Johnson-less team that will rely on a JJ Watt-led defense more than ever to win games. This season marks a high point in Jaguar optimism coming off a not-so-horrible rookie season from QB Blake Bortles. If rookie RB TJ Yeldon steps up along with emerging WR Allen Robinson and newly acquired TE Julius Thomas can get and remain healthy, their offense may be respectable next to a defense that seems set to be. Meanwhile, Tennessee should suffer the growing pains that accompany rookie QBs as Marcus Mariotta struggles to find his footing on a team bereft of superstars.

AFC West: Chiefs - Broncos - Chargers - Raiders

Seemingly the most interesting division in football sees the Chiefs overcome a fading Broncos team down the stretch in December. Alex Smith finally throws a touchdown to a wide receiver, most likely newcomer Jeremy Maclin, and Jamaal Charles stays healthy all year to lead the league in rushing. The Broncos offensive line isn't good enough to keep Peyton Manning healthy all year or CJ Anderson as the lead running back. Despite having a better defense than the Chiefs, the two teams swap identities from the end of last season and it is the Broncos who lose a few games they should have won. The Chargers may even pass Denver as they have upgraded the running game with shiny first round rookie Melvin Gordon and a healthy Danny Woodhead so long as the rest of the team can stay healthy; the Chargers trailed only the Giants in Adjusted Games Lost to injury last season. And the Raiders aren't the worst team in football, in fact, they may even be exciting to watch at times with ROY candidate Amari Cooper snagging passes from Derek Carr, Latavius Murray running wild and offensive and defensive lines that have been built big. But, they are still the Raiders.

Wild Card Weekend - Ravens beat the Broncos, Dolphins beat the Chiefs

Divisional Round - Colts over the Dolphins, Ravens over the Patriots

Conference Championship - Colts beat the Ravens

Super Bowl 50 - Dallas Cowboys vs. Indianapolis Colts

Yes, it's Super Bowl V repeating itself in Super Bowl 50. This time won't finish 16-13 either as points a plenty should be thrown on the board in Santa Clara, a seemingly apposite locale to celebrate the golden anniversary. See it's in Silicon Valley, and in fact just nine miles up the road from Apple's headquarters. Although Hollywood ran out of novel ways to distract the American public from the evil doings of her leaders, be they military, economic or judicial, the computer industry has more than filled the void. Thanks to our screen addictions, if Simon and Garfunkel were around today they wouldn't sing 'Look around you all you see are sympathetic eyes', but instead 'Look around you all you see are apathetic eyes', er, well, if eyes can be apathetic I guess, but you get the point. We get the leaders we deserve and a people who can be fooled into believing bombing innocent people is a more effective peacekeeping tactic than signing peace treaties deserves to live in Trumpistan, cut off from the rest of the world by a 20-foot wall. If only it will do a better job of keeping the stupid in than keeping the immigrants out.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Neoliberal Neocon Lovechild

There I was on Sunday skimming the latest from the New York Times when my eyes alighted upon the headline Poland Steels for Battle, Seeing Echoes of Cold War in Ukraine Crisis accompanied by, what else, a picture of camouflaged women crawling on what appeared to be a soccer field. Curiosity about what my hitherto believed to be apathetic hosts were up to naturally drew me in. Now, living in Poland has accustomed me to western exaggeration about my adopted country along with the natives inability to think rationally any time the word Russia is mentioned. History has scarred the land and imagination every bit as badly as religion and in fact created what the Times once called the Smolensk Religion which propagates the belief that the Russians assassinated Polish President Kaczyński along with 96 others on their way to mark the anniversary of the Katyń massacre. Anyway, the article had me chortling at its transparent cheerleading for war, just another Times propaganda piece pushing for armed conflict a la Iraq 2003, when my snickering was stifled by the sobering reality of this passage:
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz changed the law on who can be called up for service in case of “military maneuvers.” Previously, the armed forces could summon only current and former reservists, those with actual military training. Now, if necessary, they can call on almost any man in the country.
Wait. What? We've got a female prime minister? Ok, I knew that, but I didn't know she could call me up tomorrow to go running around the forest with a bunch of wannabe Rambos. Clearly the Anne Applebaums, Tom Friedmans and whoever the Polish version of a pro-war journalist is have pushed us too far, frogmarching us into another conflict. I've been reticent to comment on the situation in Ukraine for many reasons. First and foremost is how difficult it seems to get any reliable information, regardless of where you are. While back in Canada last summer I was treated to a constant Ukrainian-voter friendly barrage of tough talking politicians pandering to the public's bloodlust and the resultant steady stream of questions from friends and relatives concerned about my safety. Strangely, proximity to the happenings doesn't seem to help and in fact may hinder the truth from surfacing. While there's not a Russian or 'western' source I trust, the situation here in Poland is even worse. Despite Poles geographical contiguity to the festivities, there's nary a soul I've spoken to over the past year here with any idea of what's going on beyond the knee-jerk Putin is bad reaction. That's not to say that I've got it all sussed out, but let's just say I've reserved judgement on putting the good guy/bad guy labels anywhere.

Wait, check that, I do have a clue where to start at least, and as is so often the case, the clue comes from a headline from last week that's just a little bit off:

Ukraine to receive $17.5bn from IMF to save economy

Um, yeah, right. Here, let me try:

Ukraine to receive $17.5bn from IMF to enslave economy

There, fixed it. Just three letters short of the truth, a lot better than normal at least. It's amazing that even complex stories can be simplified if you just follow the money. If the press just spent a fraction of the time focusing on who stands to gain and lose financially as they do speculating about just how demonic/autistic/autocratic/narcissistic Vladimir Putin is, they'd begin to fulfil their role as a check on power. Of course if they did that they might also have to remind their flock why things kicked off in Kiev almost 16 months ago which might lead to uncomfortable questions taking shape in people's minds, so best to nip that in the bud.
"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting"
- Milan Kundera The Book of Laughter and Forgetting
November 21, 2013, then Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet announced they wouldn't be signing an EU association agreement the following week in Lithuania. That's about the last fact that we know; pretty much everything else, from the reasons for the decision to the repercussions of it, are subject to debate. That being the case, wouldn't it seem natural to want to know something about the agreement? Yet, little was said beyond that not signing represented a move away from Europe towards Russia; true to a point, but misleading in more ways than one. Most obviously, the agreement didn't mean EU ascension, but instead a vague future possibility and came with a number of strings attached ranging from the release of Julia Tymoshenko to a slew of austerity demands such as budget cuts and a 40% increase in natural gas bills. It also tied Ukraine to accepting, wait for it, an IMF loan worth $17 billion that didn't look quite as alluring to Yanukovych, probably both personally and for the nation, as a $15 billion gift from Russia that came with a 33% discount on natural gas. Yes, we in the west spend billions bailing out banks and then lending money to indebted countries to keep up their interest payments to those same banks, but can't lend a hand to start a real democracy. Just as debt peonage works to enslave students entering adulthood so it does for nations in that it manufactures consent by engendering conformity and enforcing compliance.

(Un)fortunately, one of the first moves of the newly installed government following the unconstitutional coup last February was the signing of the once rejected deal allowing us a closer look at what else was inside the loan agreement. Despite decades of debacles, and dozens of disasters, the IMF prescription for reform demanded in exchange for loans remains the dreaded structural adjustment program. A few highlights of the neoliberal nightmare visited upon Ukraine: raising excise and property taxes, reducing social income support expenditures for retirees and public employees, freezing minimum wage, and cutting public-sector wages; increasing natural gas and heating tariffs for consumers by 56 percent and 40 percent in 2014, respectively, and by 20 to 40 percent annually from 2015 to 2017 while cutting gas subsidies over two years. At the same time, as gas prices increase sharply, gas subsidies to end users will be completely ended over the next two year at a time when Russia was ceasing gas supplies as a result of a payment dispute; oh, and implementing a floating exchange rate for its national currency, the hryvnia, making it increasingly difficult to serve their dollar-denominated loans.

(Un)surprisingly, everything has gone according to script. A world of pain for the poor and elderly has paid for a bonanza for the oligarchs and western puppeteers. The currency has tanked (the hryvnia lost half its value in February alone), inflation has reached 272% while the economy has sharply contracted (down 15.2% year on year) at a time when war expenses are further draining the coffers. Less than a year on from the original loan, a new one was needed and approved last Wednesday but even IMF official admit it's not for Ukraine but the banks, as the bulk of the money is heading out the door to foreign lenders fast: $5 billion likely by the end of this week and another $5 billion in coming months. The Ukrainian oligarch-controlled banks will also syphon off about $4 billion so they can keep financing the war in the east. Even more contumelious, the IMF's own statutes prohibit lending to countries that don't have the ability to repay as that would be, you know, evil. One can only admire the audacity to pull of such a stunt, especially with Greece fresh in our minds, seems evil really is as evil does, again and again and again. Worse, they're also prohibited from giving money to nations at war. Makes sense, seems you wouldn't want to be remembered by history as having financed a government unleashing Nazi storm troopers on a European population, right? Nevertheless, once again the economic hitmen have done there job:

"The substitution of the unconscious action of crowds for the conscious activity of individuals is one of the principal characteristics of the present age."
- Gustave Le Bon The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind
While everyone was arguing about who was responsible for the sniper fire in Kiev that turned Maiden into a masacre, who shot down Flight MH17, whether or not Russia was justified in annexing Crimea and who killed Nemtsov, Ukraine gave up its sovereignty. We can debate how much of a role US Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria 'Fuck the EU' Nuland (neocon wife of neocon Robert Kagan) and her $5 billion played in fomenting the Maiden protests enabling her to put her man Yats (Arseniy Yatsenyuk) in the prime minister's office, or how much money George "give Ukraine $50 billion so I can have some" Soros and Pierre Omidyar pumped into USAID to help bring about regime change. Or, instead we could just notice how quickly the vice-president of the United States' son, Hunter Biden, was named to the board of Ukraine's largest private gas producer, Burisma Holdings, following the inauguration of the chocolate king, Petro Poroshenko, as Ukraine's president (weren't we supposed to disempower the oligarchs?). As long as there's shale gas to be fracked, you know the people's water table will be poisoned to profit American corporate interests.

We could spend our time arguing about how much of a role neo-nazis had in last year's coup, or better yet framing the openly white supremacist Ukrainian Azov battalion's use of the Wolfsangel symbol on their banner as "romantic" as the Washington Post does. That might explain away the Odessa massacre in which dozens of anti-Kiev protesters were burnt alive in a building set on fire by nationalists or clubbed to death when they jumped from windows. We could even wonder why former US presidential candidate and current senator John McCain met and stood alongside an openly pro-Nazi politician in December 2013. It's easier though to simply evaluate how well the new government has cleaned up the corruption that plagued the pro-Russian regime. President Poroshenko appointed former ING Bank Ukraine deputy head Valeriya Gontareva the National Bank (NBU) chief last June. As a respected member of the banking community, it was said she would inspire the confidence of the private sector and work closely with the IMF. Yet, according to charges brought against her in December, by August she was robbing the state by manipulating the currency. Ihor Bilous, another banker given the post of chief of the State Fiscal Service by the new government dove headlong into money laundering, bribery and corruption schemes from the get go. None if this makes for as good TV as corrupt presidential palaces though. Pity about all that Ukrainian gold.

Hypothesizing about why Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk would tell a German TV station that it was in fact the Soviet Union that invaded Germany in 1941 won't get us anywhere. Questioning Poland's deputy foreign minister, Grzegorz Schetyna's grasp on reality after crediting Ukrainians for liberating Auschwitz thus forgetting they only made up a part of the multinational Red Army history credits with the feat seems petty really. Poking the Russian bear is a spectator sport in these parts every bit as much as popular as ignoring the geopolitical reality that Frontline Ukraine author Richard Sakwa rightly calls a "fateful geographical paradox: that NATO exists to manage the risks created by its existence". Whether or not Bush the Elder promised Gorbachev that NATO wouldn't expand eastward following the dissolution of the USSR is irrelevant.

Actions speak louder than words and watching NATO swallow up 12 Eastern European countries in three rounds of enlargement would make any Russian leader nervous. Though portrayed as Putin's lapdog, Yanukovych extorted $45 billion from Russia to lease the Black Sea fleet bas in April 2010 causing Putin to exclaim "I would be willing to eat Yanukovych and his prime minister for that sort of money". Putin didn't even deign to meet him when he fled the Maiden protesters for Russia. It is in fact the Russian speaking public who voted for Yanukovych in 2010 in the contested east that Putin claims need protection, and many sources allege are the target of ethnic cleansing in order to guarantee a pro-western candidate wins the eventual next election in Ukraine. For those will to look beyond the tabloids and memes, much of the speculation surrounding Putin's 10-day public disappearing act concerned the powerful voices in the Kremlin who would like to see Russia take an active military role in Ukraine. Perhaps they're more sensitive to the sting of humiliation the west has heaped on the nation over the last 25 years, from the "shock therapy" pillaging of the economy to missile shields and NATO's promise of eventual membership to Ukraine in 2008. Yeah exactly what Russia fears about Ukraine's western pivot. Given the prospect of nuclear war, the old adage better the devil you know than the devil you don't seems more relevant than ever.

Stop me if you've heard this one, an American, a Lithuanian and a Georgian walk into a bar... No, it might sound like the set up for a joke, but it wouldn't be so funny if it were your country that had fast-tracked citizenship for the three in a bizarre ceremony making it legal to name them your Finance, Economy and Health ministers respectively just a few minutes later. The American, Natalie Jaresko, is a former US State Department official and investment banker with no experience with the convoluted Ukraine budget. Aivaras Abromavičius also unsurprisingly comes via the banking world with no previous experience while at least Aleksander Kvatashvili served in the same post in Tblisi, but unfortunately doesn't speak Ukrainian forcing meetings to be held in Russian, embarrassing given the first thing the new government did was to target the language by repealing the minority languages law. If this didn't give anyone pause, maybe when Abromavičius immediately named former Estonian Jaanika Merilo as his advisor on foreign investments did. No? Well, how about knowing the first thing she did in her new post was to tweet the pics you see above to the right?

At least Abromavičius was forthright about his country being bankrupt, declaring about the budget "[t]o expect that we are going to produce real as opposed to declarative incentive programs is unrealistic." Translation: the new Ukrainian budget is nothing but a piece of paper with the numbers wanted from the IMF in order to qualify for the loan. Again, Greece anyone? Seems to me that it's a bit counterproductive to incentivize corruption while claiming that the regime change was necessary to root it out. Oh, by law dual citizenship is not permitted for Ukrainian government officials, except when it is for, say the aforementioned trio or the oligarch governor of the Dnepropetrovsk region, Ihor Kolomoyskyi, who has three. Suppose that's what make him such a great banker, or more likely it's the fact that his bank, PrivatBank, that will be the biggest beneficiary of the IMF loan so he can continue to fund his private army fighting in eastern Ukraine. Throw in a few former warlords turned MPs such as Yuri Beryoza, Andrei Levus, assault rifle wielding Igor Mosiychuk (here he is shooting at Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov's picture) and Dmytro Yarosh, who admitted to fondling a real hand grenade in his pocket while inside the Rada, and you might question if pulling Ukraine out of the Russian orbit has sure brought sunshine to the land.

Still no? Well, tell you what. We can ignore everything else except one word in one subsection of a single article in that EU agreement. Here's Article 404 (c);
promoting modern and sustainable agricultural production, respectful of the environment and of animal welfare, including extension of the use of organic production methods and the use of biotechnologies, inter alia through the implementation of best practices in those fields;
Yeah, I made it easy for you. Oh, c'mon, you can't think this whole mess was concocted just to plunder an economy that's soon to be half the size of the state of Indiana. Sure, a long term, low level war in eastern Ukraine is a bonanza for the military contractors' bottom lines on sales not just to the combatants but also the rest of the west who need to prepare for the sure to be coming Russian invasion, but it sure is hell isn't worth risking a nuclear confrontation. The wealth of Ukraine is in that rich black soil ideal for growing grains which has made it the world's third-largest exporter of cotton and the fifth-largest exporter of wheat, and according to a 2013 USDA forecast it is forecast to jump to the second biggest exporter in the world after the US having shipped over 30 million tonnes of grain out of the country last year.

Still, you might ask what's so nefarious about the word 'biotechnologies', after all, Ukraine, as the rest of the Europe, prohibits genetically modified crops. Selling the lie that GMO is the only answer to food security to a Rada full of parliamentarians inclined to listen to corporate interests shouldn't prove any more difficult than it was to convince them to open up selling land to foreign agribusinesses. Yes, that's right, as part of previous structural adjustment programs agreed to in exchange for debt, since 2002 over 1.6 million hectares of land have been snatched up by multinational companies since 2002. This includes over 405,000 hectares to a company listed in Luxembourg, 444,800 hectares to Cyprus-registered investors, 120,000 hectares to a French corporation, and 250,000 hectares to a Russian company. A now disputed deal brokered between China and Yanukovych prior to the political crisis granted Beijing control over some three million hectares of prime farmland in the east, an area about the size of Belgium or about five percent of Ukraine’s arable land. Something tells me something will overturn the deal and they'll be a willing American buyer waiting in the wings. I wonder who would be interested?

Though Monsanto's $140 million Ukrainian investment in 2013 was ostensibly for conventional seeds only, later that year six large Ukrainian agriculture associations happened to be pushing draft amendments for "creating, testing, transportation and use of GMOs" and the president of the Ukrainian Grain Association, Volodymyr Klymenko stated that "[w]e...have signed two letters to change the law on biosecurity, in which we proposed the legalization of the use of GM seeds". Strangely, both amendments mirrored the wording in the EU Association Agreement. Still not convinced a change is coming? Well, take a gander at this recent investor report regarding our old friend Monsanto which includes "The IMF and World Bank included a clause in their loan package to Ukraine to force the country to use GMOs as part of its loan package" as part of its recommendation to be long in Monsanto stocks. Oh, and I suppose that it was just a coincidence that Ukraine's US ambassador Olexander Motysk met with Brett D. Beggemann, Monsanto's President and COO on March 4th.
"There are only two peoples now. Russia is still barbarous, but it is great. The other young nation is America. The future is there between these two great worlds. Someday they will collide, and then we will see struggles of which the past can give no idea."
- Alexis de Tocqueville
While the neocons' rockets, missiles and bombs get all the headlines, it's the tender ministrations of the neoliberals that deserve the regime change accolades and therefore blame for the deformed offspring of the confluence of the two in Ukraine. Warmongers from Australia to Canada have taken the opportunity to portray themselves as tough guys, witness Prime Ministers Abbott and Harper's shirtfronting and confronting antics at last November's APEC meeting. In another reality they'd be called Abbott and Costello, playing both the court jesters and jousters to divert the public's attention from the goings on behind the curtain. The weapon of choice in this war is economic as round after round of sanctions against Russia prove. Yet, even here the true intent is murky as they serve the dual purpose of strangling both the Russian and European economies. For these latter 28 states, faced with the cost of breaking ties with an important trading partner, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) suddenly looks more appealing despite its decidedly anti-democratic nature. Meanwhile, the Russians have redoubled their push to implement and expand the Eurasian Economic Union in places like Egypt and even India.

So while the western and Russian propaganda machines have been working overtime to produce visceral fear to shut down our critical thinking, ironically usually involving casting the other as modern day Nazis. Putin's Crimea gambit to protect ethnic Russians is compared to that of Hitler's justification for annexing the Sudentland while the New York Times hides the fact that a few Ukrainian battalions, er, actually are on a crusade against what they see as the Semite-led Untermenschen. Yeah, that's right, I did it, I compared apples to oranges, but unless enough people wake up to the reality of what's happening 1,500 km to my east, the neoliberals could accidentally lead the neocons into a war that I'll have to take part in. Hopefully cooler heads will prevail to save my tail, either by imagining a Cuban Missile Crisis in reverse or remembering how many times we've been hoodwinked into war, but what of the Ukrainians caught in a geoeconopolitical tug of war? Strangely, banging the war drum so fervently last week, this time for war on Iran, the neocons themselves may have offered a ray of hope for Ukraine as they reminded the world that no deal is ever etched in stone.