Friday, May 18, 2018

Power Ranking of World Leaders

Here's the new power rankings of world leaders. The last one was posted on May 4.

Rank Leader Country Previous Rank
1 Xi Jiangping China 1
2 Kim Jong-un North Korea 2
3 Ali Khamenei Iran Not Ranked
4 Benjamin Netanyahu Israel Not Ranked
5Moon Jae-in South Korea 3
6 Vladimir Putin Russia 10
7 Donald Trump United States 6
8 Mohammad bin Salman Saudi Arabia 8
9 Emmanuel Macron France 4
10Mahathir bin Muhammad Malaysia Not Ranked

1. Xi is inserting himself into the Korean peace process and making himself indespensible. After eliminating term limits earlier in the year, Xi is the most powerful man in China and he's a force on the international stage.

2. Kim engaged in another conciliatory act when he released three American prisoners earlier int he week. He has since suspended peace talks with South Korea and threatened to cancel the summit with Donald Trump over joint South Korean/U.S. military exercises and because of comments spewed by U.S. National Security Advisory John Bolton. Kim is in the driver's seat when it comes to peace/denuclearization on the Korean peninsula.

3. When Donald Trump backed out of the JCPOA aka the Iran Nuclear Deal, he neutered the moderates in Iran and emboldened the hardliners who have always accused America of being distrustful. Ayatollah Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guard were against the deal from the outset and may now be free to build a nuclear weapon.

4. Bibi Netanyahu's presentation on Iran's nuclear lies was widely panned. Not only did he fail to produce new information, but his intended audience- Donald Trump- famously hates powerpoint presentations. Trump did back out of the Iran deal, which was exactly what Netanyahu advocated for, even though it ran counter to America's (and Israel's) interests. Trump also moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, which stripped the U.S. of its role as mediator of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, and resulted in the deaths of dozens. It was another win for Netanyahu at America's expense.

5. Moon was on a path to winning the Nobel Peace Prize and going down in history as one of the primary people who created peace in Korea. But the recent joint military exercises with the U.S. has put a hold on Moon's seeming inevitable road to heroism.

6. Russia is a member of the JCPOA for now, but if it dissolves in the wake of Trump's inexplicable pulling out of the deal, Russia may come out ahead. The autocratic leader of Russia allies himself with Syria and Iran and a nuclear Iran would bolster the alliance's clout on the world stage.

7. Trump has the ability to create international crises all on his own: The looming trade war with China, potentially handing Iran the nuclear bomb, soiling good will with North Korea, and losing credibility among the Palestinians. He's aiming to destabilize America's enemies, but he often ends up emboldening them.

8. Trump's nixing of the Iran deal may not have done much for nuclear disarmament, but it made MBS happy. A weird America-Israel-Saudi Arabia axis appears to be forming for some reason. Autocrats are enjoying something of a moment on this list.

9. Macron put a lot of his political capital into convincing Trump to stay in the JCPOA and rejoin the Paris Climate Agreement. It didn't work. His next step may determine if he can vault back up the list or if he disappears into irrelevancy.

10. Mahathir became the oldest head of state at 92 when his electoral victory thwarted the increasingly autocratic regime of Najib Razak, who ransacked the nation's treasury like a Vladimir Putin wannabe. Mahathir plans to hand over power in a year or two to his former protege-turned-rival-turned-protege again in the feel-good move of the summer,

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

The Toronto Raptors Should Stand Pat

For the third straight year, the Toronto Raptors were booted out of the playoffs by LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. But the team is going in the right direction and should keep as many players as possible and retain Dwane Casey as coach.

After missing the playoffs five straight seasons, the Raptors have made it five straight. Their record continues to trend upwards. It's true that Toronto doesn't match up well with LeBron James. They need to add a defensive-minded small forward or two similar to those "Jordan stoppers" in the 80s and 90s (Gerald Wilkins anyone?), but the Raptors match up well with the other teams in the East.

Who knows if LeBron will stay in Cleveland. Who knows if he'll keep up his insanely proficient play if he does stay. And maybe some other team will bounce Cleveland out of the playoffs before Toronto has to meet them. Blowing up the team would be a giant overreaction.

Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan have been fantastic in the regular season, but inconsistent in the postseason. Lowry is 32, but he's really the only key player on the wrong side of 30. He still has a couple of high-level seasons left. DeRozan is in his prime. I'm still waiting for JV to breakout, but he's improving. Ibaka is a good fit. The Raptors have added some good young players: Anunoby, VanVleet, Wright, Poeltl and Siakam. C.J. Miles was a good pickup.

They're just missing that defensive small forward. Someone like (a younger version of) Thabo Sefolosha. A guy like Joe Ingles who would annoy the hell out of LeBron. Andre Roberson fits the bill. They had the right idea with DeMarre Carroll, but that didn't pan out. There are guys like that out there. Otherwise, the Raptors are in a good position to continue to go far in the playoffs for the next few years.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Power Ranking of World Leaders

Here's the new power rankings of world leaders. The last one was posted on April 17.

Rank Leader Country Previous Rank
1 Xi Jiangping China 1
2 Kim Jong-un North Korea 2
3 Moon Jae-in South Korea 8
4 Emmanuel Macron France 4
5Narenda Modi India Not Ranked
6 Donald Trump United States 9
7 Angela Merkel Germany Not Ranked
8 Mohammad bin Salman Saudi Arabia 5
9 Hassan Rouhani Iran Not Ranked
Vladimir Putin
Russia 3

1. China still seems to be replacing the United States on the global stage as the latter is becoming increasingly isolationist when it isn't bellicose. Xi's meeting with Modi was an important step in solidifying the two most populous countries' relationship. Xi was also an invisible player in last week's Korean Summit.

2. Kim has been a masterful diplomat recently. A poll showed that 80% of South Koreans now believe he is trustworthy. It's a remarkable increase in a country in which Kim used to be about as popular as cancer. He and President Moon agreed to end the decades-long war by the end of next year. He agreed to stop testing his nukes, which was hailed has a conciliatory move, but actually his test site collapsed. In the upcoming meeting with Trump, Kim seems like the voice of reason. Yep, you read that right!

3. Moon finished hosting a successful Winter Olympics and then took a big step towards creating peace with his northern neighbor. He came across as confident and statesmen-like during the inter-Korean Summit. Not a bad start to the year.

4. Emmanuel Macron sucked up to Trump in a recent visit to Washington while politely denouncing everything Trump stands for. He played the diplomatic game very shrewdly. But can he convince Trump to stay with the Iran Deal, aka the JCPOA, and get back into the Paris Climate Accord? Those answers will truly determine how effective his diplomatic efforts are.

5. Modi met with Xi recently and oversees a growing economy. He has impressively pushed girls education. But his history of anti-Muslim sentiment is troubling and dates back to his time as Governor of Gujarat and his role in the 2002 anti-Muslim riots.

6. Usually, the President of the United States is the leader of the free world. But Trump has managed to unnecessarily antagonize allies such as Japan, start an ill-advised trade war with China, and relinquish America's role as the primary global arbiter. But he is still significant as his upcoming summit with Kim Jong-un and forthcoming decision on the Iran deal show.

7. Merkel came to Washington a few days after Macron in an attempt to achieve the same goals as the French president. She has lost much of her political capital by advocating for the acceptance of migrants within the EU, which is the intellectual way to say that she showed humanity to people who have endured horrific experiences and people don't like her any more because they are racists.

8. MBS slides down the list after his war in Yemen was deemed the biggest human catastrophe in the world. Remember, the Syrian civil war continues to rage. He jumped into the war in hopes of combating Iran's influence in Saudi Arabia's southern neighbor ,but it has become an unmitigated disaster.

9. Rouhani's last gasp of relevance depends on Trump's decision to stay or nix the 2015 multi-lateral JCPOA, commonly referred to in the U.S. as the Iran Deal, by May 12. With Supreme Ayatollah Khamenei ailing, this is the time to empower the Iranian moderates such as Rouhani. If the U.S. pulls out of the deal, not only would it hurt the U.S.'s prestige and all but assure an Iranian nuclear bomb, but it would embolden the Iranian hardliners who were against the deal from the start.

10. Norway was ranked as the country with the freest media in the world and as the happiest place in the world. But you are probably like me in that you didn't know Erna Solberg is the prime minister of Norway without googling it, and there's also no evidence to suggest Erna is responsible for those two laudable rankings, which is why Putin grabs the final spot on the list despite his autocratic ways, his illegal invasions, and his bromance with the despicable head of Syria, Bashar al-Assad. At least you've heard of him.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Some Thoughts on the Knicks' New Coach

Since Red Holzman is not available for whatever reason, my first choice for the Knicks job will always be Jeff Van Gundy. However, that's not going to happen this time either, so here are my more realistic favorites.

Former Knicks Head Coach and current Clippers assist Mike Woodson would be a great choice. He did a terrific job in Atlanta and during his first go-round with the Knicks. His Hawks improved in each of his six years there. Woodson had far and away the most success of any Knicks coach since Van Gundy left. He was fired because Phil Jackson decided to ruin the franchise and firing Woodson was a good way to go to achieve that aim.

Former Cleveland Cavaliers Head Coach David Blatt is another excellent choice. He had a very talented team that didn't like him too much in Cleveland, but his success can't be questioned. He led the Cavs to the Finals and the team was even up 2-1 despite numerous injuries. When he was fired in the middle of the next season, he was in line to coach the East All Stars. His replacement, Ty Lue, did win a championship that year, but it was in spite of himself. He's proved to be incompetent, taking the success that Blatt built and turning into a middling playoff team in the East. Blatt's firing was extremely unfair. This is a guy who has success wherever he goes.

Former Atlanta Hawks Head Coach Mike Budenholzer would be another good choice. It makes you wonder why the Hawks keep firing good coaches. His Spurs-style offense turned Kyle Korver into an All-Star. He led the Hawks to 60 wins in his second season, but his teams have won fewer games in each of the past three seasons. However, the lack of success is due more to losing talent than bad coaching.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Power Ranking of World Leaders

Here's the new power rankings of world leaders. The last one was posted on March 26.

Rank Leader Country Previous Rank
1 Xi Jiangping China 1
2 Kim Jong-un North Korea 5
3 Vladimir Putin Russia 9
4 Emmanuel Macron France 3
5Mohammad bin Salman Saudi Arabia 4
6 Theresa May United Kingdom 2
7 Abdel Fattah el-Sisi Egypt Not Ranked
8 Moon Jae-in South Korea 6
9 Donald Trump United States 7
10 Paul Kagame Rwanda Not Ranked

1.Xi easily keeps his number one spot. In response to Donald Trump's tariffs on Chinese steel and aluminum, China has hit back hard. Xi also holds to key to solving the North Korea crisis and is increasingly taking over the US's role as the dominant power in the world as the Trump administration bungles its way through foreign policy crisis after crisis.

2. Kim has been a masterful diplomat lately. In addition to using the Olympics to show his conciliatory side, he made his first trip outside of North Korea back in March. His visit to China showed that he's not isolated, giving him strength in the proposed upcoming meeting between Kim and Trump.

3. Putin is a miracle worker. Despite a crumbling economy, Putin won the 2018 Russian president election with nearly 77% of the vote. He even had President Trump kissing the ring after the victory. It didn't hurt that he banned lead rival Alexei Navalny from running against him and stuffed the ballot boxes. Putin has managed to invade Ukraine and Georgia and influence elections in the West despite Russia's disintegrating economy. Recently, he has continued to pull NATO member Turkey towards his camp.

4. Macron is still the leader of the Western liberal order, which is good enough for fourth on this list. Along with the UK and the US, France took part in recent missile strikes against Syria after it was shown that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad used chemical weapons against his own people yet again. Macron took the lead in the endeavor, even making tense calls with Putin and Turkish president Recep Erdogan to inform them of the strikes.

5. MBS continues to reform his country and punch above its weight intentionally against Iran. In recent news, Black Panther is coming to Saudi Arabia!

6. The strikes against Syria were not popular in the UK. With Brexit negotiations not going so well, May falls several spots this time. The memory of leading a coordinated diplomatic response against Russia's assassination of a British double agent has faded.

7. Sisi won last month's election with an unfathomable 97% of the vote. Sisi's main rival even endorsed him! Since the hope of the Arab Spring in 2011 took down the three-decades long dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, Sisi has managed to create an even worse dictatorship. That's impressive oppressing!

8. After a successful Olympics, Moon is the adult in the North Korean crisis as Trump and Kim hurl insults at each other.

9. Trump was going to vault up the list after backing tough sanctions against Russia and standing up to the generals in Syria. Instead, he backed down in both instances and started a potentially disastrous trade war with China, so he falls on the list.

10. Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in power and a very low crime rate. Not too bad for a long time dictator who took power in the wake of a horrible genocide.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

2018 NBA Playoff Predictions

First round
1 Toronto over 8 Washington 4-3
7 Milwaukee over 2 Boston 4-2
3 Philadelphia 6 Miami 4-3
4 Cleveland 5 Indiana 4-1

East semis
Tor over Cle 4-3
Phi over Mil 4-2

Tor over Phi 4-0

First round
1 Houston over 8 Minnesota 4-0
2 Golden State over 7 San Antonio 4-0
6 New Orleans over 3 Portland 4-2
4 Oklahoma City over 5 Utah 4-2

West semis
Hou over OKC 4-1
GS over NO 4-0

Hou over GS 4-3

Hou over Tor 4-1

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Top Ten Pound-For-Pound

Here's my pound-for-pound list. I take into account ability and accomplishment. The previous list was posted on December 28, 2017.

1. Vasyl Lomachenko (10-1, 9 KOs) [1]
2. Terence Crawford (32-0, 23 KOs) [2]
3. Gennady Golovkin (37-0-1, 33 KOs) [3]
4. Sergey Kovalev (32-2-1, 28 KOs) [5]
5. Srisaket Sor Rungvisai (45-4-1, 40 KOs) [Not ranked]
6. Errol Spence (23-0, 20 KOs) [Not ranked]
7. Mikey Garcia (38-0, 30 KOs) [ Not ranked]
8. Adonis Stevenson (29-1, 24 KOs) [7]
9. Keith Thurman (28-0, 22 KOs) [8]
10. Guillermo Rigondeaux (17-1, 11 KOs) [9]

Exiting the list:
Saul Alvarez (49-1-2, 34 KOs) [4]
Erislandy Lara (25-3-2, 14 KOs) [6]
Leo Santa Cruz (34-1-1, 19 KOs( [10]

Alvarez is out for failing a drug test before his rematch with Golovkin. If he comes back clean, he'll be back on the list.

Lara lost a close decision to Jarrett Hurd last Saturday. Hurd's an improving fighter- top 5 in his division- but not near the pound-for-pound top ten at this point.

Santa Cruz fell off because of a numbers game. He faces a tough opponent- Abner Mares- in June, so he'll be back on with a win.

Entering the list:
SSRs win over Estrada in February gave legitimacy to his two victories over Roman Gonzalez last year, which explains his giant leap up the list. Those wins over Gonzalez weren't simply because Chocolatito matched up poorly with SSR or because he had faded. The Estrada win showed SSR is for real.

Spence's two best wins- over Kell Brook and Lamont Peterson- are comparable to Thurman's two best wins- over Danny Garcia and Shawn Porter. Spence stopped both of his opponents while Thurman eked out decision victories. Thurman has been injured and is looking for a tuneup fight while Spence is fighting an undefeated opponent next. I'd also favor Spence in a bout with Thurman.

Mikey Garcia doesn't have any "great" wins, but he has a litany of good ones. His victory over Sergey Lipinets in March was better than anything the fighters just below him have done recently.

What to Watch for:
Cruiserweight Olexandr Usyk faces Murat Gassiev in May. The winner could crack the top ten pound-for-pound.

Lomachenko moves up in weight to face the talented 135 pounder Jorge Linares, whose downfall is he cuts easily.

Adonis Stevenson faces his toughest opponent in a while: Badou Jack in May.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

50 Years Since the Death of King

Martin Luther King Jr. was killed fifty years ago today. He is remembered as an advocate for nonviolence, for envisioning a world in which race was not the determining factor in one's fate. Yet, behind the qualities most often attributed to Dr. King- peace, hope, and equality- there were other words with which he concerned himself.

An overriding theme of King's life was his struggle for justice. He challenged unjust laws by enduring jail time and beatings.

Another theme is fear- a fear common among black people even today; his house was bombed with his children inside. Another is frustration- witnessing so many so-called well-meaning people remain silent.

He devoted his career to fighting poverty, actively opposing violence, and inspiring and bringing  those who are down and out.

King's words shouldn't be reduced to simplicity. They should be studied in depth by all well-meaning people.

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

Men's College Basketball Final Top 25 for 2018

Here are the final rankings based on performance int he tournament:

1. Villanova
2. Michigan
3. Kansas
4. Loyola Chicago
5. Duke
6. Texas Tech
7. Florida State
8. Kansas State
9. Purdue
10. Gonzaga
11. West Virginia
12. Kentucky
13. Clemson
14. Nevada
15. Texas A&M
16. Syracuse
17. Xavier
18. Cincinnati
19. UNC
20. Michigan State
21. Tennessee
22. Auburn
23. Ohio State
24. Houston
25. Florida

Monday, March 26, 2018

Power Ranking of World Leaders

Similar to the new trend in pro sports of keeping a running power ranking list that is utterly meaningless but is fun to debate, I'll keep a running list of power rankings of world leaders. I'm not sure yet how regularly I'll update the list just yet: weekly, monthly, quarterly, irregularly- we'll see. And like those sports power rankings, the rankings will be determined by recent events and not overall power.

1. Xi Jiangping - China
2. Theresa May - United Kingdom
3. Emmanuel Macron - France
4. Mohammad bin Salman - Saudi Arabia
5. Kim Jong-un - North Korea
6. Moon Jae-in - South Korea
7. Donald Trump - USA
8. Angela Merkel - Germany
9. Vladimir Putin - Russia
10. Narendra Modi - India

1. Xi recently amended the laws to allow him to become president for life. As the US pulls back its clout around the world, China seems to be filling the void.

2. Prime Minister May's strong statement and actions against Russia's assassination in England of a double agent not only knocked Putin down, but forced U.S. President Trump to act and has elicited an increasingly strong alliance against Russia.

3. President Macron has taken up the role as leader of global liberalism usually reserved for the president of the United States. He has also been strong with Putin and Russia without needlessly being antagonistic.

4. Crown Prince MBS is attempting to pose himself as an anti-corruption reformer. He's been a player on the international front with a horrible war in Yemen and creating an multi-lateral blockade of Qatar. MBS influenced President Trump to come out against Qatar, contrary to his administration's position. Trump later waffled.

5. Kim seems to be very much in control. When he wants to ratchet up tension, he tests missiles and tensions rise. When he wants to quell the fire, he sends his sister to South Korea, negotiates a unified Olympic team, holds bilateral talks with South Korea, and backs President Trump into meeting face-to-face with him before back-tracking.

6. President Moon is coming off a successful Winter Olympics and is the mature adult in the crisis with Kim and Trump.

7. President Trump's recent expulsion of 60 Russian diplomats helps his cause. It shows a clear message that he is not Russian President Putin's pawn as the investigation into collusion between his campaign and Russia continues.

8. Angela Merkel had been a leading voice of NATO and the EU, but suffered an ambiguous election result. She won a fourth term six months after the election.

9. President Putin is poised to win another term by a landslide. Despite that fact that he would win easily in a free and fair election, he has resorted to disqualifying a leading contender and puffing up his numbers. The recent backlash to Russia's murder of a double agent in England has pushed Putin back on his heels.

10. Modi scored two wins internationally this year without even trying. In a game of "who wore it better" he trounced the heartthrob Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, who was accused of cultural appropriation when he wore "local" clothing during a visit to India. And Modi's other win came when President Trump publically called out India's rival Pakistan on Twitter back in January.