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.