Monday, September 23, 2013

Abhorrent Anniversary Gifts

Chances are you forgot to buy a present again this year, after all, anniversaries are hard to remember. What with the aftermath of that whole another former Disney girl goes off the rails thing, the release of another copy of a phone that'll make your life better and the anticipation of another brown people massacre, you could be forgiven for forgetting given the buzz surrounding Miley's strange twerking, Apple's chain jerking and Obama's postponed berserking. As if that weren't enough, there's always America's monthly mass shooting, the release of a video game glorifying said killing while looting or some kind of sporting event featuring flag saluting or home team rooting. Yes, it seems the official narrative of the Great Recession has sanctified September 15th, 2008 as the day the GFC (Global Financial Crisis) began with the failure of Lehman Brothers. On cue, the distraction industry inundated those still paying attention with a slew of stories to perpetuate this myth, ranging in theme from the horror of the meltdown to how it couldn't have been predicted to hagiographies of those who saved us from even greater disaster and how the world of finance has changed since, thus ensuring it couldn't happen again. Nearly all miss the point and couldn't be more wrong as all we had to do was open up the newly released Fortune 400 list of richest Americans to see the cause, how nothing's changed and that the worst is yet to come.

Though many will be cheered and applaud the newest Fortune list, the inequality in wealth that it illustrates was not only the disease at the root of the crisis but a sure sign that like a malignant cancer it is metastasizing. Hooray! Bill Gates is still the richest man in America and passed Carlos Slim to reclaim the #1 slot in the world. Mark Zucherberg's wealth jumped almost $10 billion to get him back into the top 20 so you can rest easy, all those hours you've spent on Facebook weren't wasted. Warren Buffet, the Oracle of Omaha, had the biggest dollar gain while some schmoe named David Duffield, co-CEO of some outfit called Workday had the biggest percentage rise. All told, the wealth of the richest 400 in America climbed from $1.7 trillion to $2.02 trillion in a single year making them worth more than such economies as Canada, Mexico and Russia. Hooray that is until you realize where this mind-boggling wealth is coming from and for that all you had to do was notice what stock prices did this September 18th when the Fed announced it was going to continue its $85 billion monthly bond buying program, AKA quantitative easing 3, AKA printing money to buy assets from banks at book value instead of  market value, AKA providing a massive tax payer subsidy to the stock market.

Fortunately for the attention span challenged, the past couple of weeks have also seen a couple of other reports highlighting the financial situation of the rest of the country. The US census bureau's report on income and poverty was full of sobering stats, but the most telling were regarding poverty and median income leaving people angry, disgusted and frustrated. Now, I'll grant you the fact that these statistics are subject to manipulation and often don't compare well over time, but the raw numbers are shocking in themselves. The poverty rate remained above 15%, some 46.5 million people; meanwhile children are the poorest group, 21.8% (the highest in the industrial world) or 16.1 million children under 18, and the younger, the poorer as 25.1% of kids under 5, the years of greatest brain development, were poor. Meanwhile, the median household income was unchanged from the previous year, not so bad in itself until you notice this means the household that falls in the exact middle of the income range, with half the families in the country earning more and half less, earns less than they did in 1989, a quarter century of stagnation.

These details are important when one wants to discuss inequality as many free market believers will close their ears upon hearing the word as visions of Marxist hordes coming to take away their money flash before their eyes. Ironically, the previous two paragraphs illustrate Marx's theories to a tee as the former shows how well capital is doing while the latter paints a grim picture of labour's situation. As America's 2nd richest man, the aforementioned Oracle, said "[t]here's class warfare, all right, but it's my class, the rich class, that's making war, and we're winning." It's not my purpose today to get into the nitty-gritty of this war, you can check out how it was waged here, here, here, here, here or here, but to look at the conscious choice we made five years ago to continue the slaughter along with how and why things will continue to get worse if nothing is done to stem the tide.

Back to our anniversary. It's five years ago and we've been told the financial world is on the verge of collapse with the implication that there will be mass panic as bank machines refuse to spit out cash, credit lines seize up and pension plans crumble. Not only were bankers and brokers about to start jumping off window ledges, supermarkets soon to run out of food and grandma sure to freeze to death, but horror of horrors, we wouldn't be able to get the new iPhone 2.0! If anybody was to blame besides bankers it was Bush; Dubya had messed up the country and it was time for a change, brand America was due for an overhaul. Lo and behold, there was an election coming, contested between an old white guy who wanted to bomb Iran and a young, black, hip, handsome, debonair, peace loving constitutional law professor. Many (myself included) were blind to the fact that Obama was just another marketing stunt that changed the packaging but not the substance. At the same time he was surrounding himself with an economic team sure to carry on past policies favouring Wall Street and the rich, men such as Emanuel, Geithner, Bernanke and Summers, he had an all-star marketing team including a Facebook founder, a social secretary and David Axelrod who ensured the public wouldn't notice that Goldman Sachs was his campaign's biggest private contributor. Every tool in the marketing arsenal was used to create and sustain the Obama brand from the perfectly calibrated logo to viral marketing, product placement, infomercials and brand alliances.

Yes we can hope and change was nothing but cover for the great con job of the past five years. Sure, My administration," the president added, "is the only thing between you [bankers] and the pitchforks." Yes, the new president would be the greatest reformer since Franklin Roosevelt, the press sold it and the public bought it. Obama the socialist was coming to take away not only the wealth of the rich but everyone's, a fear so strong it spawned the Tea Party. The ultimate irony though is that despite all the noise, vile and bile directed against him by the rich, Obama left their great money making machine pretty much intact as he told the bankers behind closed doors "[y]ou guys have an acute public relations problem that’s turning into a political problem. And I want to help…I’m not here to go after you. I’m protecting you…. I’m going to shield you from congressional and public anger." Help and shield he did, enabling the greatest transfer of wealth, from the bottom up, in history.
Obama played the populist card when he had to with the help of the star-struck press. Stories of the president hauling in the heads of the 13 largest financial institutions to explain their actions and justify their sky-high salaries and bonuses were peppered with quotes to justify our faith: "

While millions were losing their homes and jobs, trillions were pledged to prop up the rich, the banks and corporations. TARP's $700 billion was quickly followed by trillions in loans and guarantees to the likes of McDonald's, Harley Davidson and UBS, $1.75 trillion in bond purchases in 2009 for QE1, $600 billion more the following year in QE2, another $400 billion of mortgage purchases in 2011 during 'Operation Twist' and of course the now-always-taper-threatened-in-order-to-allow-insiders-to-profit QE3, the monthly $85 billion in purchases. This back door bailout also includes six years of artificially low, near zero interest rates and the implicit guarantee that the government will step in and save them if necessary. Meanwhile, while the government plays back door man to the rich, we play the cuckold, getting screwed over, footing the bills and getting left out in the cold, some literally, thanks to the never-ending debt ceiling budget battles this profligacy along with Dubya's wars and 30 years of tax cuts for the rich have led to. The enormous shift in power away from labour has allowed capital to further squeeze jobs and wages from the lower and the middle classes. As late as 1980, economists believed labour's share of national income was pretty much fixed, but since that time it has slowly dwindled (not just in America). More money is flowing to corporate profits (and thus shareholders, ie. capital) than ever before while an ever larger slice of the smaller pie left to labour is being served to those at the top of the income scale. The result is obviously growing inequality.

Which brings us to another recently released study of note, Emmanual Saez's 2012 US inequality report, Striking it Richer: The Evolution of Top Incomes in the United States. Sadly, it brings no surprises, only confirmation of the suspicions of those paying attention; inequality is getting worse, itself no surprise as inequality feeds on itself in a vicious circle. After a brief drop immediately following the GFC, thanks in large part to policies that could have no other result, the top 1% of income earners have captured 95% of the income gains in the first three years of the so-called recovery, leaving America's income distribution more unequal than any time since records have been kept. The proportion of income going to the richest decile broke through the 50% mark for the first time ever while that going to that top 1% increased from 19.65% to 22.46% in just one year. In case you're wondering, the share going to the top 0.01% jumped from 4.32% to 5.47%, the largest percentage increase since 1927-1928. However, this inequality is dwarfed by that of wealth, perfectly encapsulated by this video. But wait, so what, right? Some people win, some lose, that's the way capitalism works.

Right. But wrong. Huh? Well, the thing is, capitalism and thus society works better when inequality isn't so severe as can be seen in many ways. The first and most obvious is to look at the history of income distribution, the chart above that practically forms, in the words of Robert Reich, a suspension bridge. Before a new standard was set last year, inequality had peaked in 1928 and then again in 2007. It's no coincidence the Great Depression followed the former in 1929 and the GFC followed the latter in 2008 as the majority of the population simply don't have enough purchasing power necessary to maintain a consumer economy. Worse, epidemiologists Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pinkett convincingly demonstrated the link between inequality and a wide range of social ills such as teenage births, homicides, obesity, lower educational achievement, drug use, mental illness and infant mortality rates in their book The Spirit Level. Not only do they show the link, they dispell the "correlation is not causation" complaint by showing the same effects between countries as well as within countries finding the same correlation among the 50 US states.

Perhaps most ironically of all, as America moves its way up the inequality charts, the most American story of all, the rags to riches, Horatio Alger, land of opportunity parable, slowly dies. As "The Great Gatsby Curve" illustrates, the more unequal the economy, as measured by the GINI index, the more closely children's income is tied to that of their parents. The US already has one of the lowest earning elasticities (how much a father's income affects their offspring's) in the developed world, and as it becomes more unequal this affect will only worsen. Social mobility has become a thing of the past in much of America, the chances of someone born into the lowest economic quintile in Atlanta has a 4% chance of reaching the top 20%. One study suggested that the loss of life from income inequality in the US in 1990 was the equivalent of the combined loss of life due to lung cancer, diabetes, motor vehicle accidents, HIV infection, suicide and homicide.

The reason for the negative economic and social effects of inequality is bundled up with why the phenomenon seems to feed on itself, getting worse and worse. Inequality increases economic insecurity for those at the bottom while transforming wealth into political power for those at the top. The proletariat, er, the 99%, er, well, the majority of us are forced to fight for fewer jobs, which pay less and offer less security, thus upping the stress. The official unemployment rate may be down but the labour-force participation rate is also down, at a 35 year low, as new jobs haven't kept up with population growth. The jobs created are paying less on average, with less hours than those lost in the GFC. Those who kept their job have most likely had their hours and benefits cut and are probably earning the same or less as five years ago but are happy now just to have a job. If you don't have a job you are shamed as being lazy, someone gaming the system, a taker (or skiver for you Brits) coasting on the beneficence of the rich. These makers (yeah, there's a British version too, strivers), ensure the only legislation that passes protects their power and/or expands GDP, like blowing brown people up, creating a crazy health care system centered on insurance or passing new free trade deals such the upcoming TPP which will lower wages for 90% of workers.

There were of course a couple other significant anniversaries that have passed in the past couple weeks that illustrate the corrosiveness of inequality on empathy and imagination: 9/11, both the 12th and the 40th and Occupy Wall Street's 2nd. Whether created or not, the only answer to the fear that was produced by the terrorist strikes in America a dozen years ago could ever be blowing stuff up as not only does it enrich those buying the election but also because those at the top are no longer able to understand the Other. Mirror neurons, which allow us to get into the heads of others, seem to reflect better for the powerless but much worse for the powerful. In simpler terms, the rich and powerful have less empathy helping explain the results of a study last year showing the rich are more likely to lie, cheat and even take candy from children. Amassing great wealth breeds an arrogance made even more harmful given the with us or against us atmosphere of the GFC and war on terror. Worse, those in power thanks to their wealth know they won't need to sacrifice anything as only poor people's children fight and die in wars. Thus the public ignores both the epidemic of returning GI suicides and the near doubling of suicide rates in the past 10 years for the general public aged between 50 and 59; used up by war and used up by the GFC.

The CIA helping Pinochet take out Allende in Chile in 1973 turned another possible socialist success story (I know there haven't been any yet) into a laboratory for the Chicago Boys to study free market economics. Ever wonder where economists got their field research to test and try to prove their wacky theories? Chile was the real ground zero. Allende's mistake was trying to give the wealth of the nation back to the people when everyone knows mulinational corporations are the only actors rational enough to control it properly. Er, wait, that's right, thanks to folks like Gary Becker, people are rational actors constantly making rational economic choices in a world of equal knowledge and power as we make our way through a world filled with attempts to alter our decision making process, ie. advertising. How is that supposed to work again? Wouldn't it be great if we all really did have equal information and power to make this fiction possible? Oops, that sounds like socialism, sorry guys. By the way, why didn't many people notice that John Kerry met with Henry Kissinger, a man intimitately involved with the events of September 11th, 1973, on September 11th this year to discuss Syria?

In What Money Can't Buy, Michael Sandel puts forward the argument that without realizing, debating or noticing it we have drifted from having a market economy to being a market society. What was once a tool for organizing productive activity has become a way of life allowing market values to usurp moral values. Particularly in America, but more and more around the world thanks to austerity, market values have penetrated every part of our world, from education to politics, health to war. Students are paid to get good grades, admissions to elite universities are auctioned and the whole idea of education has been transformed from gaining knowledge into job training. The arts, philosophy and non-financially lucrative scientific fields are shunned in favor of finance, public relations and programming. With student loan debt of almost $30,000, the average graduate can't afford to believe in anything that won't get them a well paid job. Seems like slavery to me but instead economic freedom is being able to bet on people dying by buying people's life insurance; the gamble lies in the higher payoff the sooner the insured die.

Obscene wealth and growing inequality have separated us from each other creating an ever growing empathy deficit. It's not only gated communities, private beaches and exclusive restaurants anymore as barriers are being thrown up all around us. Sports have traditionally been about competion but also about bringing people together, be they teams, cities or nations, societies large and small. As recently as 1980, we'd go to a ball game at a stadium named for a public figure where one would rub shoulders with Joe Six pack and Richie Rich as tickets prices ranged from a couple of bucks for bleacher seats to a few dollars for the best seats in the house and root for our home town heroes. Today we go to InsertCorporation Stadium, segregate ourselves according to wealth to the bleachers, box seats or luxury boxes, to cheer for a team threatening to change cities if their owners aren't granted more public concessions, made up of free agents who change teams for raises of tens of millions. While there, we're as likely to be discussing transfer fees and salary cap restructuring as we are ERAs or wins and losses. An institution that was a source of civic pride and social glue has been transformed removing a bond that held us together, in the words of Sandel -
In fact, for most of the twentieth century, ballparks were places where corporate executives sat side by side with blue-collar workers, where everyone waited in the same lines to buy hot dogs or beer, and where rich and poor alike got wet if it rained. In the last few deades, however, this has changed. The advent of the skybox suites high above the field of play has separated the affluent and the priviliged from the common folk in the stands below.
As for Occupy, another potential source of human contact and feeling of community, well thanks to the wilting of the collective imagination, how you view it solely depends on where you get your news. They might have just been a gang of smelly hedonists looking for a good time as evidenced by their lack of a coherent message or the nudge that awoke a glimmer of public consciousness to the problems of inequality. The reason for the ferocity of both the media propaganda machine and the coordinated nationwide military style attacks on the movement was the importance of convincing people, particularly those who would be activists, that there's no hope to change anything, thereby creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Rather than entering the humanities to expand their minds, today's youth, the imagination of tomorrow, are streaming into the indoctrination machine. In 2006, just before the GFC, 25% of graduating seniors at Harvard, 24% at Yale and a mind blowing 46% at Princeton were starting their careers in financial services. The creation and maintenance of a reality where everything is only about profit and there's nothing else to believe in.

No wonder wealth reduces compassion. The self interest needed to survive in a system of such extreme inequality not only drives financially measurable crimes from petty theft to hiding $32 trillion in tax havens forming a fraction of the tax evasion industry or pseudo-financially-measurable-for-bank crimes such as laundering terrorist money and world wide interest rate manipulation, it rips at the fabric holding societies together. Gun nuts are right, it's not just guns that kill people, it's a system that glorifies greed driving people over the edge. American exceptionalism in terms of inequality is becoming as dangerous to itself as their military version is to the world yet strangely much of the world seems to want to emulate their uniqueness. Chilean economist Manfred Max Neef has claimed that "[t]his economy can go on no longer…because it has become absolutely criminal…this economic model is killing more people in the world than all the armies put together" and has proposed an economic crimes tribunal to mete out justice. He's also part of the King of Bhutan's General Assembly working to develop a new economic paradigm based on well-being, happiness, ecological stability, adequate distribution of wealth and intelligent use of natural resources. Basically, the opposite of what we do now so it must be worth a shot. 

Chances are, however, nothing much will come of it as most people are trapped in a never ending cycle, forced to work to simply survive and are voiceless in a world where power only listens to money. We were given the opportunity five years ago to change the world for the better but were instead fed a pipedream of hope and change. It seems a type of madness to try sustain a broken system, our current suicidal economic model of infinite growth, in a manner that seems designed to fail, but that's just what's happening. Budgets need to be cut when it's spending that goes to the needy, yet the US government continues to subsidize the rich to the tune of over $1 trillion per year. Capital is winning the struggle with labour, whose spending drives the economy. Left with so little, labour can simply survive, not thrive. In 1947, labour's share of US nonfarm business income was 65%, in 2000, 63%; in 2013 it's 57%. This shifts about $750 billion annually from the workers to the rentiers. The age of austerity offers little hope for today's youths, burdensome tuition indebtedness, worklessness, homelessness and powerlessness, virtually guaranteeing mass shootings will become a daily occurrence, in fact America's almost there already. If only this infection was contained to the US it may not be so bad but in a study of 22 other advanced countries it was found labour's share of income fell from 73% in 1980 to 65% in 2011, a trend occurring in poorer countries as well.

Perhaps the decades of shared prosperity in America from WWII until the late 70's that created a thriving middle class was simply a historical fluke due to unique circumstances, after all, most of human history has featured but two classes, the aristocracy and the peasants. We've forgotten the battle that took place in order to create the institutions that enabled this historical anomaly known as the middle class and are passively allowing the system to be dismantled as we stare blankly into our propaganda screens, be they TV, tablet or telephone. The tension is all around us; politically, partisanship rules the day as the likes of Citizens United has made the voice of the few louder than the many; economically, finance rules the day as the rentiers extract rents from the rabble; socially, we've become zombified by those aforementioned screens, disillusioned by a dollarocracy masquerading as democracy and indebted by an economic system that forces you to borrow to eat, sleep, learn or even get sick. The World Economic Forum (you know, those rich guys who meet in Davos every year) listed severe economic disparity at the top of their Global Risks 2013 report. President Obama was forced to admit that "[t]he folks in the middle and at the bottom haven't seen wage or income growth, not just over the last three, four years, but over the last 15 years," only to have it suggested later in the same interview that "[m]aybe a president just can't stop this accelerating inequality?".

This is exactly what the elite want us to believe, that no one can do anything about inequality, that it is a natural occurrence that 'incentivizes' effort. What if we could show them that even their lives would be better in a more equitable society? Woah! Wait, if you could do that what would the cognitive dissonance of working against their own self interest do to their brains? The same thing that should happen to the rest of us when we realize the neoliberal fairy tale of supply side, trickle down economics is just that, a fable, and scream the emperor has no clothes. Bankers shouldn't earn more than teachers and nurses, four members of one family shouldn't have more wealth than the combined wealth of just under the 50 million poorest American families and resources need to be allocated to those who are forced to start behind others. Intuitively, absolute poverty causes negative health and social outcomes, but unfortunately it is slightly less so regarding inequality leading to the 'so what' attitude of so many. Yet, 'status anxiety' or insecurity seems real enough in a society that places people in a hierarchy which increases competition for status and causes stress, leading to poor health and other negative outcomes such as the falling life expectancy of poor white women in the southeast of America, surprise, where inequality is highest. Too bad we seem to have lost our empathy, otherwise we might try to do something about it. Well, at least tell your friends to go see this movie -

Thursday, September 5, 2013

That Time of Year

Since fleeing North America more than a decade ago I've lost touch with most everything back home, from friends and family to TV and celebrity culture to Kraft Dinner and maple syrup. Sure, there's Facebook and Skype, the odd movie and cartoon as well as the occasional Big Mac and peanut butter sandwich, but the most solid connection that's kept me plugged into the rhythm of American life is the NFL. Along with relaxed vacation days and weeks of August always comes the current of training camp preparations for fantasy drafts and opening day. This year's no different, though the NFL marketing gurus will once again mess with my internal clock by starting the season on Thursday night as the Baltimore Ravens open up their Super Bowl defense against the Denver Broncos September 5th. With May Day's illegitimate propaganda offspring Labor Day falling on the 2nd this year I suppose they had no choice but it still messes with my vacation. Don't they know it's hard to write a proper post from the beach? There's no time, but while I've been a most inconsistent blogger, I've managed to maintain a biannual NFL posting tradition with a preseason and pre-Super Bowl post for four years running and this year's no different, so let's get down to it.

AFC North

Every year brings something new, this one not only a new format (running through divisions starting with the Super Bowl champs' along with a hit or miss quick team take) but also a new defending champ. Yeah, the Ravens gutted out the silverware last year, outlasting the upstart 49ers in a good, if not epic, Superbowl. No better place to start really as the AFC North really exemplifies American smashmouth football and looks to be as competitive as any this year.

Cincinnati Bengals - 10-6
Hit - WR AJ Green and rookie TE combine for over 20 TDs while rookie RB Giovani Bernard subpoenas, er, supplants the Law Firm at RB and the defense continues the play that has carried the team to back-to-back playoff appearances.
Miss - QB Andy Dalton plays like the ginger he is and the team's long term contract negotiations with the league's best 4-3 defensive tackle, Geno Atkins, fall apart.
Baltimore Ravens - 9-7
Hit - Ed Dickson becomes Joe Flacco's new Dennis Pita, Jacoby Jones' proves his playoff heroics weren't a one-time wonder, Ray Rice morphs into a part-time slot receiver giving Bernard Pierce more reps while newcomers Elvis Dumervill, the Ravens' first four draft picks and Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb returning all the way from injury keep the Ravens D as scary as ever.
Miss - The loss of Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Anquan Boldin and Dennis Pita prove too much to overcome.
Pittsburgh Steelers - 8-8
Hit - Rookie RB Le'Veon Bell is the bruising hurdler he was at Wisconsin and Ben Roethlisberger stays rape and injury free while the defense finds a way to make it six years running being among the top five yards against teams without James Harrison.
Miss - Without WR Mike Wallace to stretch opposing defenses, the offense collapses on itself, Ben finds himself in another bathroom bar with another chick and Troy Polamalu can't suit up for half a dozen games.
Cleveland Browns - 6-10
Hit - Trent Richardson becomes Jim Brown and rookie defensive end Barkevious Mingo beats out teammate D'Qwell Jackson for world's dumbest name.
Miss - Soon-to-be 30-year old 2nd year QB Brandon Wheeden keeps throwing pitches into defensive linemen's arms and WR Josh Gordon keeps spending more time getting high than going high.

Yep, the past five years have seen five different Super Bowl winners and February 2, 2014 will bring a sixth. We've mentioned it before but it's worth harping about again as the reason for the competitive nature of the NFL is the ironic fact that America's favorite sport is its most socialist. Through salary caps and redistribution the NFL has achieved a Marxist sporting utopia. Joe Flacco led his team to a championship so the team had to pay to keep him, and by giving him what was the largest contract in league history (since surpassed by Aaron Rogers) they were forced to cut back elsewhere. Strangely enough, thanks to loopholes and crypic clauses, the Ravens weren't forced to make so many of the cuts to save money this year, but they'll pay the price in the future, a story that may seem familiar to folks from Detroit to Greece.

This is of course not to say the system doesn't have it's problems, after all it exists within the realm of America's broken crony capitalist system. In the classic Horatio Alger rags to riches, er, make that modern-day American Dream of winning the genetic lottery, Cleveland Brown's owner Jimmy Haslam was born the son of 'Big Jim' Haslam, founder of a single gas station that grew into Pilot Flying J, the largest truck-stop chain in North America. Jimmy's brother Bill grew up to be governor of Tennessee in 2011. Anyway, Jimmy's chain was running a rebate scam on their customers and the feds are moving up the management chain trying to pin the blame. Meanwhile, another trust fund baby, Minnesota Viking's owner Zygi Wilf, has just been found liable for breaking civil state racketeering laws and in the judges words had used "bad faith and evil motive" in keeping separate accounting books to fleece former business partners of shared revenue.

Now no one's claiming Jimmy's been screwing over Brown's fans (well, any more than they're used to at least) or that Zygi's been hatching nefarious plots in the land of 10,000 lakes (well, ok, maybe when it comes to funding the new stadium) but anything that may tarnish the NFL image is frowned upon by the commissioner and owners. Have no fear, however, at this point it appear neither case will have any effect on the day-to-day operations of the teams. After all, it's not like they killed anybody. Oops, getting ahead of myself...

AFC South

In the south the song remains the same, though more likely something with a Texan twang. Many will jump on the Colts bandwagon forgetting they've got a new coach and not realizing the huge role luck, along with Luck, played in their success winning so many close games last year. Meanwhile, the Titans seem destined for perpetual mediocrity while the Jaguars will remain declawed until they find a QB not named Blaine or Chad.

Houston Texans - 10-6
Hit - Rookie WR DeAndre Hopkins compliments the Andre Johnson and Brian Cushing comes back completely from his torn ACL.
Miss - Arian Foster's NFL leading 1,061 carries over the last three years catch up to him and JJ Watt is the only guy playing defense.
Indianapolis Colts - 9-7
Hit - Free agent RB Ahmad Bradshaw can find running room without interior blocking and Andrew Luck turns Darrius Heyward-Bey into a reliable receiver.
Miss - Age finally catches up with WR Reggie Wayne and the defense without Dwight Freeney plays even worse than last year.
Tennessee Titans - 8-8
Hit - The improved offensive line bring the return of CJ2K and the young and talented WRs turn Jake Locker into an NFL quarterback.
Miss - Plodding free agent pickup Shonn Greene outgains Chris Johnson and WR Kenny Britt winds up in jail.
Jacksonville Jaguars - 4-12
Hit - A fully healthy Maurice Jones Drew racks up 1,500 rushing yards, Justin Blackman, Cecil Shorts and rookie RB/WR hybrid Denard Robinson combine for 150 receptions and 2,500 yards.
Miss - The QB is Blaine Gabbert so the above can't happen.

The division favorite Texans find themselves tied with the Rams at the bottom of the league in one category where it's good to be last - arrests since 2000. As the chart on the right shows, the flip side top spot is shared by the Bengals and the Vikings (nice infographic here breaking down the incidents, teams and resolutions). The division that leads the league is the AFC West while the NFC West seems to be the best behaved, indicative of the fact that the AFC is ahead of the NFC in this category.

Unsurprisingly, the league has its statisticians and lackeys working overtime to show that though there may be some arrests, NFL players don't get arrested any more than the general population. Well, not really general population but Americans, the most arrested people in the world, men the most arrested gender and young men, the most, well you know. Face it, the best football this summer came out of Florida where it was announced that the naming rights to the Florida Atlantic University football stadium had been awarded to the GEO Group. No, not a bank profiting off the debt slavery of the students but a private prison company, the second biggest in America, reaping the rewards of the new Jim Crow while violating their inmates' human rights. Unfortunately, the news led to protest by those bothersome students and the deal was nixed. No worries, the bigger fish in the game, Correction Corporation of America, is sure to be on the lookout for an NFL stadium to sink its teeth into.

AFC East

What was traditionally an ultra competitive division is beginning to look more and more like the NFC West circa-2009 as any team sporting better than a .500 record will win this division. The Pats should manage that and more while the Dolphins and Bills both could battle for mediocrity and the Jets continue to spiral down toward a crash landing.

New England Patriots - 11-5
Hit - It turns out Tom Brady doesn't even need anyone to throw to as they open the season minus their top 5 receivers from last year.
Miss - Tim Tebow takes more than 10 snaps at QB thus nullifying the team's advantage of being in the same division as his former team, the J-E-T-S, Jets!
Miami Dolphins - 8-8
Hit - Free agent speedster Mike Wallace gives 2nd year QB Ryan Tannehill the boost he needs and Cameron Wake keeps the defense strong.
Miss - I could try to write something here but why bother, so .500, plus it was done better here.
Buffalo Bills - 7-9
Hit - CJ Spiller gains 2,500 all-purpose yards and EJ Manuel grabs the starting QB spot and shines with two rookies at wideout while the defense gels.
Miss - The Bills are the Bills, after all, they haven't made the playoffs since 1999, the longest current streak in the NFL.
New York Jets - 4-12
Hit - Um, maybe Geno Smith is an RGIII type athlete and Chris Ivory becomes an every down RB.
Miss - The defense outscores the offense.

Hatin' on the Jets is fun. Hating on Jet rookie Oday Aboushi this summer was pure racism. See, he forgot that he plays in a major sports league in America, where they love Israel and hate Palestine because the TeeVee tells them to. Or, in this case, a rag called FrontPage Magazine reported that "NY Jets Player Speaks at Extreme Anti-Israel Conference" which is far less true than saying "US President speaks at Extreme Palestinian Killing Conference" seeing as the conference Aboushi spoke at was organized to promote inspirational Palestinian-American success stories while Obomber spoke to a group of people raising money to buy bombs to kill people.

Making matters worse, the story was picked up and the lies repeated by Yahoo! Sports and amplified when Major League Baseball's media coordinator who tweeted "The @nyjets are a disgrace of an organization. The Patriots have Aaron Hernandez, the Jets have Oday Aboushi", both of which have since been deleted but live on thanks to the intertubes. You'd think journalists would've noticed that a US Congressman, Nick Rahall, spoke at the same event as Aboushi and that a sports media coordinator would avoid equating success stories with murderers but that's the America of today, the same as that of yesterday.

AFC West

There were many Peyton doubters, myself amongst them, but seldom does one man change the fortunes of a team so quickly. Manning's Broncos are being picked by many to go all the way, while the Chargers continue to sink, the Chiefs look likely to start turning things around while the Raiders are still the same, with or without Al Davis.

Denver Broncos - 12-4
Hit - With so many targets, Peyton Manning miraculously avoids becoming a real-life bobblehead for another year while the defense led by Von Miller can thrive despite Elvis (as in Dumervil) having left the building.
Miss - Neither of the young RBs (rookie Montee Ball and 2nd year back Ronnie Hillman) can find holes in a suddenly porous looking centre of the offensive line or anything happens to Peyton and somebody named Brock or Zac wind up taking snaps.
San Diego Chargers - 8-8
Hit - With Norv Turner finally gone there's always hope I suppose.
Miss - Ryan Mathews finds a way to break his collarbone on the first play of the season, AGAIN, leaving Danny Woodhead as the team's most talented player.
Kansas City Chiefs - 7-9
Hit - Some see a worst to first turnaround as new QB Alex Smith and head coach Andy Reid turn elite RB Jamaal Charles and WR Dwayne Bowe into household names and the defense gets out of the league basement in takeaways.
Miss - Andy Reid's problems in Philadelphia were no fluke leading to a rash of parking lot suicides.
Oakland Raiders - 4-12
Hit -Sebastian Janikowski kicks a 73-yard field goal in the dying seconds of week 16 thus ensuring a .500 season.
Miss - Darren McFadden misses every other game with a pulled something or another and Matt Flynn stinks worse than their home Colosseum.

How does a guy making millions playing a game end up behind bars, accused of pumping bullets into his fiancee's sister's boyfriend instead of iron in the gym? Aaron Hernandez's murder charge was the most publicized of what will be around 50 arrests of NFL players since the end of the last regular season. It coulda been the angel dust, mighta been losing his dad at 16 or maybe the fact his mom then married an abusive coke dealer. Most likely though it was the cash, both what he earned and what he earned for others. This Rolling Stone article paints a portrait of a young man who not only, in his own words, "fell off especially after making all that money", but also blames a cast of shady characters for helping to cover up Aaron's past misdeeds. After all, he couldn't help Urban Meyer's Tim Tebow led Gators win college championships or make Robert Kraft millions rotting away in a metal cage. Oops, too late for that I suppose.

NFC North - Oh Canada!

That's right, the CFL invasion has finally begun. Ok, maybe not a full scale invasion but the Dolphins' Cameron Wake must be the best CFL import since Warren Moon and there's a new coach in Chi-town as the Bears try to salvage the train wreck that turned a promising 7-1 start to last season into a 10-6 playoff missing breakdown by bringing in former Montreal Allouette coach Marc Trestman from the CFL where he won two of the last three Grey Cups. Of course he'll find that while the Packers colours are quite similar to the Edmonton Eskimos, the similarities end there as the Detroit Lions ain't the BC Lions and there's no teams called the Roughriders, Blue Bombers or Stampeders.

Green Bay Packers - 11-5
Hit - A healthy Nick Perry compliments Clay Matthews on defense while Randall Cobb, Jordy Nelson and James Jones each have 1,000 yards receiving and 10 TDs.
Miss -  Eddie Lacy continues the Packer drought at running back
Chicago Bears - 10-6
Hit - Trestman convinces Jay Cutler to finally have brain surgery and the defense dominates without the services of Urlacher and Idonije.
Miss - Brandon Marshall misses any time meaning they can't complete any passes. Seriously, the dude made every Bear reception last year.
Minnesota Vikings - 9-7
Hit - Three first round picks gives them a chance to continue the improvement they made a year ago going from a 3-13 disaster to a 10-6 wild card team especially if Cordarrelle Patterson can replace Percy Harvin.
Miss - Matt Cassels Christian Ponder
Detroit Lions - 7-9
Hit - Lion receivers stop falling down inside the 5-yard line (um, 23 times; Calvin Johnson was downed at the 1-yard line five times), their coach doesn't lose any more games throwing 'illegal' challenge flags and Reggie Bush is more Dolphin like than Saint like.
Miss - Ndamukong Suh keeps kicking QBs in the balls and Matthew Stafford's arm falls off on his 728th pass of the season.

Just a week ago it seemed the over/under (or in this case the before/after) bet on when the latest US bombing of a country run by some bad guy we don't like would have been an easy one had it been for the NFL's opening night though America usually prefers bombing countries closer to the Super Bowl. Obomber's sudden about-face decision to seek permission to blow stuff up from Congress not only achieves the goal of making him appear troubled by the decision but also provides more circus to distract the public. It's easy to confuse long bombs with exploding bombs when watching them on the TeeVee, cheering from the comfort of the couch.

Without permission, From Mexico courtesy of the comment thread at -
It’s quite amazing to witness this normally clandestine love affair between the Democrats and Republicans blossom into public view. This bursting into bloom only happens, though, when public opinion reveals the lovers’ hand, like what happened with TARP or the current advance on Syria. Both flowered into blitzkriegs on the American people, perpetrated by our newfound Romeo and Juliet.

Shakespeare’s inamoratos, in comparison to our stealth lovers, were harmless. The pairing of Democrats and Republicans looks a lot more like the will to power achieved in the marriage of Stukas and Panzers, Luftwaffe and storm troopers in Germany’s Wehrmacht than the tragic resolve of Shakespeare’s hapless duo.
NFC South

Not far behind, if not ahead, of the north in terms of competitiveness, the south boasts four great offenses so it'll be on the defensive side of the ball where the division is decided. I know, it's accepted wisdom that the Falcons coming off a 13-3 season and the Saints getting their head coach back will battle for top spot but I'm going out on a limb here and taking the Bucs. Something tells me Matty Ice used up his luck in beating the Seahawks in the divisional round last year and the 'aints 'll always be the 'aints in my book while the Panthers still don't have enough pieces around Cam Newton to push past to the top.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 11-5
Hit - Doug Martin ran like he did in his rookie season last year in which he picked up 1,454 yards and 11 TDs, only this time with two returning All-Pro offensive linemen in Carl Nicks and Davin Joseph who will also be protecting Josh Freeman giving him more time to find Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams.
Miss - Mike Glennon ends the year at QB and Revis Island sees more air traffic than Fantasy Island.
Atlanta Falcons - 11-5
Hit - They find a way to make me stop disliking them so much despite all their talent which is doubtful for a team that can managed to blow a 17 point lead in the NFC Championship.
Miss - Steven Jackson makes me stop disliking them and actively hating them.
New Orleans Saints - 10-6
Hit - The return of the bounty program overlord Sean Payton heralds the return of Breesus to the Super Bowl and the city residents are forced to attend mandatory speech therapy sessions; Who Dat, seriously?
Miss - Hiring Rob Ryan to fix the mess that is the Saints defense leads to them giving up more than the 15% more yards than the next worse defense they did last year.
Carolina Panthers - 7-9
Hit - First rounder Star Lotulelei becomes a defensive, well, star and 2013 DeAngelo Williams finds a way to become 2008 DeAngelo Williams.
Miss - Cam Newton takes another step backwards

The Atlanta Falcons were one of a group of teams who decided it was time to give their quarterback way more money than they deserve. Sure, it's become a quarterback's league but this summer saw some ridiculous pay days. One could argue that Aaron Rogers deserves his $130.75 million deal or maybe even Joe Flacco could be sold as meriting his $120.6 million after winning the Super Bowl (the Ravens have to be kicking themselves for not negotiating it earlier) but $119.5 million for Tony Romo, he of the 1-3 playoff record and 0-3 record when a playoff berth is on the line? $103.75 million for Matt Ryan of the 1-4 playoff record? $41.5 million in guaranteed money for the same Matthew Stafford who missed six games in 2009 and all but three games in 2010 due to injury?

Ah yes, that phrase, guaranteed money. In this age of salary caps NFL contracts have become as meaningless as the green pieces of paper they promise. They're backloaded in such a way as to guarantee they'll be renegotiated before getting close to the final year. Stafford's deal was made this summer well before his rookie deal was set to expire to free up salary cap space, thanks to signing bonuses, workout bonuses and other accounting tricks, Roger's salary-cap charge for this season in only $12 million, a figure that increases yearly before hitting $21.1 in 2019. What worries me isn't the whole kicking the can aspect of the contract game so much as the inequality it is creating. Sure, quarterbacks have always been the pretty boys, paid a bit better than the men paid to protect and make him look good but this trend is set to continue; imagine when the group of QBs now in their rookie deals come up for renewal. The more spent at this position, the less there is for elsewhere and we all know the problems inequality always seems to cause...

NFC East

Ah, the east, home to the bane of my football existence, my Dallas Cowboys. Saddled with them from childhood as my favorite team, I've enjoyed many highs but have of late suffered many more lows. Nevertheless, I'll be a homer and take them this year as Romo rises to silence his many detractors, all the more after his massive offseason deal, the Giants stumble and bumble there way to a 3rd consecutive 9-7 season, the Redskins ambitions pop with RGIII's knee and the Eagle's need a season under Chip to cleanse the stench left by Andy Reid.

Dallas Cowboys - 10-6
Hit - DeMarco Murray somehow stays healthy and DeMarcus Ware plays even better with his hand on the ground with the transition to the 4-3 defense.
Miss - The deafening offseason Buzz around Dez turns into screams from his mom, or mall security or some jeweler and Jerry Jones is, well, Jerry Jones.
NY Giants - 9-7
Hit - Eli gets hot and the friendly schedule maker's gift that sees them not need to get on a plane from October 11th to December 7th keeps nor even sleep in a hotel bed for 34 days keeps them fresh.
Miss - Jason Pierre-Paul's back and the absence of Osi Umenyiora tame the pass rush while David Wilson fumbles away the offensive ground game.
Washington Redskins - 8-8
Hit - Alfred Morris and RGIII avoid the sophomore slump
Miss - Off-season LCL and ACL surgery leaves RGIII running less than
Philadelphia Eagles - 7-9
Hit - Michael Vick takes a lick and continues to tick and the defense somehow manages not to really suck.
Miss - Chip Kelly's high tempo Duck offense doesn't translate to the NFL from Oregon.

NFC West

Seems like just yesterday that this division was a joke, Pop Warner quality and suddenly this year all the talk is Seahawks versus Niners being the new Steelers/Ravens rivalry. What happened to the old Sea Chickens? The Shithawks? Pity the poor Rams as they look better and even the Cardinals who might even compete in most other divisions as the NFC will be represented in the Superbowl by one of the west coast contingents.

San Francisco 49ers - 12-4
Hit - Colin Kaepernick's second time around the league is as successful as his first while Justin Smith returns healthy on defense making Justin Smith good again.
Miss - Jim Harbaugh spontaneously combusts following a missed call and the defense can't shake the nightmares of this happening.
Seadderall, er, Seattle Seahawks - 11-5
Hit - Russell Wilson really is the man, Marshawn Lynch is the beast (mode), Percy Harvin returns in late Nov/early Dec and the defensive secondary plays up to half its potential.
Miss - Refs start flagging the Seahawks at home for 12th man violations leading Pete Carroll to inexplicably announce all games will be played on the road.
St. Louis Rams - 8-8
Hit - Off their best season since 2006, 7-8-1, high expectations could be met if rookie Tavon Austin's can't-miss superstar label isn't a knockoff and new left tackle Jake Long turn QB Sam Bradford into something resembling the former #1 pick he should be.
Miss - Most of their wins come scoring 12 points (on four Greg Zuerlein field goals, one over 70-yards).
Arizona Cardinals - 7-9
Hit - New head coach Bruce Arians means Carson Palmer becomes Kurt Warner just like Andrew Luck became Peyton Manning, Patrick Peterson becomes a triple threat superstar and the Honey Badger sticks at safety.
Miss - When your running backs are Rashard Mendenhall and Ryan Williams you know you'll have injury issues and maybe that defense isn't as good as it seems on paper.

Seadderall, as in Adderall, the PED (performance enhancing drug) normally fed to kids by the bucketful to treat ADD (attention deficit disorder). Always on the lookout for an edge teams and players use anything, from Ray Lewis' deer antler spray to Alex Rodriguez's human growth hormone (HGH)  are always o one step ahead as they deploy an army of scientists to beat the testers. The Seahawks lead the league under Pete Carroll in suspensions for PED violations with six. By sheer coincidence, Carroll's college team, the USC Trojans, also seemed to have a little problem with PEDs. Feeding kids drugs, sounds about right in a country that glorifies torture, sanctifies killing and indemnifies those who do it. Guess it's no worse than feeding them the propaganda that passes for news and education.

Meanwhile, there's a substance that an unknown number (possibly a majority) of players are taking that makes them bigger, faster, stronger and helps them recover from injuries faster that isn't banned and another that may make them bigger bellied thanks to the munchies, and may help treat a variety of ailments which is. The players' union has been dragged kicking and screaming to the point where an NFL player “population study” to determine baselines for HGH is being done (a concept akin to using rock stars in a study to determine a baseline for recreational drug use) to make possible the testing for the use of HGH (human growth hormone), but penalizing is still a ways off while those caught smoking marijuana are seeing their careers thrown into jeopardy or destroyed. The smart GMs are beginning to see the opportunity such a ridiculous policy affords them as the Arizona Cardinals were able to nab Tyrann 'Honey Bear' Mathieu in the 3rd round of the draft thanks to his past 'problems' with weed.

Whatever it is they've been feeding the football team in the Pacific Northwest, it's not hurting their play on the field. As wildcard or division winner they're the team I'm picking to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl where they'll triumph over the Bengals, not the Broncos on February 2, 2014 in a snowstorm at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.