Sunday, April 4, 2021

Tariq Ali on the Saudi War on Yemen

I've been away from this page for some time. The first quarter of the year was spent moving the office that I manage from its home of more than a half century. A Herculean effort was required and a Herculean effort was delivered despite being physically diminished from the long-haul effects of a first-wave coronavirus infection.

We moved into our new office March 5. Since then I've been ironing out the wrinkles on a new phone system and attempting to reduce my hours back to a normal 40-hr. work week. I'm starting to read more of the newspaper again. 

I wish I could say it is with relish that I return to the news, but it is not. Something noxious has occurred in the short amount of time since Biden has assumed the throne. The prestige press which not too long ago was critical of policies because they had a Trump imprimatur has now lined up in support since the Biden administration has adopted them as their own.

Look no further than the Saudi war on Yemen. It was with great fanfare that Biden announced in early February the end of U.S. support for Saudi "offensive operations." It turns out that this was more public relations than a plan to bring peace to the Arabian Peninsula. As the great Tariq Ali makes clear in "Killer Prince":

Though Biden has signalled the US will end ‘offensive operations’, it will continue to provide Saudi Arabia with ‘defensive weapons’, which appear to serve much the same purpose. His Administration has said nothing about halting technical, logistical and intelligence operations. By all indications, its plan is still to extract an unconditional surrender from the Houthis while maintaining its disastrous ‘counterterrorism’ operations in the country. To date, Biden’s promised ‘recalibration’ of the US–Saudi relationship is nowhere to be seen.

Remember, Congress invoked the War Powers Act to force Trump to withdraw U.S. support for the war. Trump vetoed that resolution. Why doesn't the Democrat-controlled Congress invoke the War Powers Act again? What's at stake? Tariq Ali summarizes:

Cholera and hunger on a scale that has not been seen since the last century, with some 20 million experiencing food insecurity and 10 million at risk of famine. An estimated 110,000 have been killed in the fighting, with a death toll of 233,000 overall, mostly due to indirect causes such as lack of food and health services. Few of the country’s medical facilities are functional.

Remember this the next time a U.S. official pleads for a "humanitarian" military intervention to liberate an oppressed people.  

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Super Bowl LV Pick

Today dawns Super Bowl LV (CBS, 3:30 PM EST). It's a COVID Super Bowl. Last year at this time the United States was a still a month away from lockdown frenzy. 

Today's Super Bowl is an advertiser's dream. The sweet bird of youth phenom Patrick Mahomes against the 43-year-old GOAT Tom Brady. The dynasty-in-the-making Kansas City Chiefs versus the Jiffy Pop loaded with talent powerhouse Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

The Chiefs have injuries on the offensive line; that combined with Tampa's intimidating defensive line and linebackers, a front seven that dominated the game against Green Bay, give the Buccaneers a clearly lighted path to the Lombardi Trophy. Toss in a clock-chewing Tampa offense with Brady at the controls throwing short passes to Chris Godwin over the middle and Mike Evans outside the numbers, and then handing the ball off to Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones, and really, really, I don't see how the Buccaneers can lose.

Well, I guess, here's how. Kansas City's defense is better than people think. Led by coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs will pressure Tom Brady with Chris Jones, Frank Clark and a combination of corner and slot blitzes. Brady will turn the ball over. Then it's Mahomes turn. Can the Chiefs move the ball against that frightening Tampa defense? I think they can. I think Andy Reid will attack those big fast linebackers -- Devin White, Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David -- and when Tampa's depleted secondary drops down to help, Mahomes will takes his shots down the field.

In the end, I'm going with Andy Reid over Bruce Arians; Steve Spagnuolo over Todd Bowles; Patrick Mahomes over Tom Brady. Take the Kansas City Chiefs.

Friday, January 22, 2021

NFL Championship Round Picks

It comes with a feeling of great relief that the football season is almost over. There are only two Sundays left: the championship round two days away and the holiest American day, Super Bowl Sunday, February 7.

Each year at this time I feel the same way -- nauseated -- because for two straight weekends in January I do nothing but watch football on television. It's not healthy. And each year I draw the same conclusion: In the United States identity, public personhood, social intelligence -- call it, label it whatever way you want -- is indistinguishable from commercial consumerism.

The first game on Sunday, the NFC Championship game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers (3:05 PM EST, FOX), is an "instant classic" matchup between GOAT Tom Brady and MVP Aaron Rodgers. Tampa is a strong team with a loaded offense and young, dominating defense who shellacked Green Bay earlier in the season. I see this game coming down to whether the Buccaneers defense, led by coordinator Todd Bowles, will fluster Rodgers with blitzes and create turnovers. I'm betting that Rodgers, a fellow Berkeley man, who seems to be thinking more quickly and clearly now than at any time since the Packers won the Super Bowl ten years ago, will counter those blitzes with quick-release passes. Plus the game is being played at Lambeau Field. Take the Packers.

The AFC Championship game, Buffalo Bills vs. Kansas City Chiefs (6:40 PM EST, CBS), is a tough one because of the multiple injuries suffered by star Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes in the unexpected nail-biter last week against the Browns. Mahomes was knocked out of the game with a neck injury and it took a fourth-down completion by backup Chad Henne to seal the victory. (What an amazingly ballsy call by head coach Andy Reid!) 

Mahomes is expected to start, but his mobility will be severely limited, both because of the neck and the toe. Buffalo is peaking right now. A lot of people are climbing on the Bills bandwagon. Kansas City beat the Bills in Buffalo earlier this year by running the ball. The Bills were able to squash the Ravens run game last week. So one would think they could suffocate the Chiefs' Darrel Williams and Le'Veon Bell. But I am going to say that Andy Reid has schemed up something potent. Take the Chiefs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Trumpism Here to Stay

The oldest president ever at inauguration ascends to the throne today in the nation's capital guarded by 25,000 troops, a few of whom have been relieved of duty because of the possibility of insider attacks reminiscent of the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan.

Of the big questions tossed up after the January 6 mob riot on Capitol Hill the foremost is definitely where the Republican Party goes from here. Thomas Edsall's column this morning samples academic opinion and concludes mildly, no doubt so as not to piss in Biden's inaugural punch bowl, that nativism, bigotry and xenophobia (now called Trumpism) are here to stay in the Grand Old Party. The only smiley face Edsall manages is a fairy tale about Generation Z voters riding to the rescue in ten years, similar to the fairy tale of rising Hispanic voter hegemony with which mainstream Democrats have comforted themselves for the last 15 years. Now that black and brown people are disaffiliating from the Democratic Party, a new collective hallucination is required.

Of course Trumpism is here to stay because Trumpism has been in the works at least since Brown v. Board of Education. In other words, Trumpism is synonymous with the modern Republican Party. You can't have a Republican Party without Trumpism. There will be some sort of kabuki to satisfy Wall Street and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. But in the end the party that will fracture first is not the GOP but the Democrats.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday NFL Divisional Round Picks

Some takeaways from yesterday's games are 1) after losing three-out-four playoff games in the last three seasons, it's time to declare the Ravens offense led by phenom Lamar Jackson a dud in big single elimination contests; and 2) Green Bay is going to be tough to beat at home.

This afternoon we will have the opportunity to see how formidable the Cinderella Cleveland Browns are when they travel to Arrowhead Stadium to take on the Kansas City Chiefs (3:05 PM EST, CBS). The Chiefs over the course of the season have played at a higher level than any other football club. No defense has been able to shut down Pat Mahomes. I don't think the Browns will be the first. Take the Chiefs.

Today's Buccaneers vs. Saints matchup (6:40 PM EST, FOX) is being advertised as a battle of aged, future-hall-of-fame quarterbacks Tom Brady and Drew Brees. Despite beating Tampa twice this season and the game being played in the Superdome, New Orleans is only favored by a field goal, a testament to the hold that Tom Brady has over the mind of the tout.

I like the Saints at home. New Orleans has a strong defense and a multifaceted offense. Whenever I've seen the Bucs play this year it seems to me that Brady has struggled to establish a rhythm. In a contest of faculties between head coaches Sean Payton and Bruce Arians, I'll take the wily and vicious Sean Payton. Take the Saints.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Saturday NFL Divisional Round Picks

With the U.S. Capitol on lockdown in anticipation of more unrest what better way to spend the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday weekend than watching football on television? 

As I see it, two of the four divisional-round games this weekend are straightforward -- Los Angeles vs. Green Bay and Cleveland vs. Kansas City -- and two are tricky -- Baltimore vs. Buffalo and Tampa Bay vs. New Orleans.

The first game of the weekend is Rams vs. Packers (4:35 PM EST, FOX) in Wisconsin at Lambeau Field where it currently is 33 degrees with snow showers. The weather should tell us everything we need to know about this matchup. The Rams are banged up, and that includes quarterback Jared Goff, receiver Cooper Kupp and all-pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. While rookie running back Cam Akers isn't listed on the injury report, he hobbled off the field last week in the 4th quarter against the Seahawks.

Any hope the Rams have of winning in Green Bay is entirely dependent upon Akers putting together the kind of game he had when he ran for 131 yards against the Seahawks. This would keep Aaron Rodgers on the sidelines and Goff from having to throw the ball in the snow with his injured hand. 

Though Green Bay's defense ranks behind Seattle's against the run, leading one to believe that the Rams can repeat their formula for victory -- a ground-and-pound offense married to a smothering defense -- my mind's eye looks back to Tennessee vs. Green Bay game at the end of December when the Packers limited rushing king Derrick Henry to just under 100 yards. 

This game boils down to Aaron Rodgers against the Los Angeles pass rush in the snow. My feeling is that Rodgers is so mobile and accurate he is going to pick apart the Rams. The line is Green Bay by 6.5. Take the Packers.

The primetime Ravens vs. Bills matchup (8:15 PM EST, NBC) is trickier. Some are confident that Buffalo will win; others, Baltimore. Most agree that the Bills have trouble stopping the run. In the game against the Colts last week, the Bills gave up a combined 150-plus yards to Indianapolis running backs Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines. Good running backs? Yes, absolutely. But with the Ravens we're talking about possibly the greatest rushing team of all time.

The big unknown here is how Lamar Jackson performs in primetime. He has a history of bed-shitting in the playoff spotlight. He played brilliantly against the Titans in the wild-card round. I love the guy, the way he plays the game, his unparalleled athleticism at the quarterback position (Michael Vick doesn't come close), his demeanor. But my concern is that Baltimore falls behind early and Jackson freezes.

But really I think this game boils down to how the Ravens defense handles Josh Allen. Allen was able to put the Bills on his shoulders at key moments against Indianapolis and carry Buffalo to victory. By the numbers Baltimore has a good pass defense, though, as it seemed to me, Ryan Tannehill carved up the Ravens with play action. The difference here is that the Bills don't have a Derrick Henry in the backfield to make the safeties bite on play action.

The line is Buffalo by 2.5 points. Take the Ravens.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Sunday NFL Wild-Card Round Picks

Worship of violence does seem crucial to fascism. Violence purifies and redeems; it clarifies and enthrones. The National Football League celebrates violence, but there is more to it than that.

Take Sunday's first game, Ravens vs. Titans (1:05 PM EST, ABC), a contest between the league's two top rushing teams. Is the Tennessee Titans offense violent? Yes. With Derrick Henry throwing tacklers to the turf helmet first it is the epitome of violence. The Titans are the number two rushing team in the league. The number one team is Baltimore. The Ravens are what I consider a finesse team. Are they physical? Yes. But physicality and violence are not synonymous. Quarterback Lamar Jackson directs a potent read-option attack which has led the league in rushing two years in a row, and led the league by a significant margin. Jackson is the first quarterback to rush for multiple 1,000-yard seasons.

For the Ravens to have a hope of advancing in the playoffs Jackson needs to be able to complete passes. The Ravens were favorites in each of the last two post-seasons only to be humiliated at home, first by the Chargers, who brilliantly loaded the box with defensive backs, completely suffocating the shifty Ravens QB, and then by the Titans. But the good news for Baltimore is that Jackson has been completing passes. When I watched a Ravens game earlier this season they had zero pass attack. That has changed.

The Tennessee Titans, the games I have watched this season, have not impressed me, besides their win over Buffalo. Pick the Ravens.

The team most analysts are dismissing is Chicago. In the Bears vs. Saints matchup (4:40 PM EST, CBS/Prime) New Orleans is favored by 10, the largest point spread of the wild-card round. There is likely to be one upset in the wild-card round. I just haven't seen enough Chicago football this season to know if the team is capable of shocking Drew Brees. I watched enough of New Orleans to know the Saints are beatable on any given Sunday. All in all though their offense is too potent even with a diminished Brees under center. Take the Saints.

The final game of the weekend, Sunday Night Football's Browns vs. Steelers (8:15 PM EST, NBC), is predicted to be competitive. I don't see it. If Pittsburgh backup QB Mason Rudolph played Cleveland to a near draw on the road what is Ben Roethlisberger going to do to the Browns at Heinz Field? Even if Roethlisberger is not what he used to be, the Steelers at home are still a much better team than Cleveland. Pick the Steelers.