With CHARLIE HARPER
IF YOU’RE Joe Biden you really need a tough skin and determination in the face of daunting adversity these days. The American President seems beset with intractable problems, insoluble divisions in his own party and economic and political trends that do not bode well for a rise anytime soon in his slumping popularity.
Headlines announce almost daily increases in the rate of inflation of the US dollar, with recent rises to over six percent the highest recorded since the early days of Ronald Reagan’s presidency 40 years ago. Most economists quoted in the mass media seem united in the belief that this economic measure of instability will abate in a few months, but the trend doesn’t make people feel better about their or the country’s intermediate economic prospects.
As the inflation rate climbs, Biden’s ratings in the public opinion polls are remaining in the low 40s, a range that was widely – and often incorrectly – cited as evidence of broad dissatisfaction with Biden’s predecessor. But looking at the current situation in the US, why would people feel particularly optimistic? Whether you agree with their policies and tactics or not, the major political parties can hardly agree on anything. The country seems to be stagnating in a political standoff that seems to presage little good news in the near future. It is easier than at almost any time in recent memory to be either pessimistic, or at least not optimistic, about what lies ahead.
Faith in Congress to lead the country out of the current wilderness is almost impossible to detect. Biden’s basic decency and bedrock optimism about achieving political solutions for present problems seem to most people to be outdated and profoundly misguided at best, and wilfully dismissive of contemporary reality at worst. The President is properly devoting a lot of his time and public attention to COVID-19 and its numerous variants, but it seems every time health officials make headway against one variant, another appears ominously to renew the dire threat of severe illness or death.
Disharmony and disunity in the major political parties magnify relatively insignificant issues at the expense of serious public policy debate. The Supreme Court is rapidly losing its status as the last line of defence for the rule of law and instead is slipping into a vaguely disreputable position as just another partisan branch of the government, along with the highly polarized executive and legislative branches.
One political analyst pointed to a simple lack of trust as the basic element of instability in the current US political environment. “Who or what can you really rely upon now?” she asked.
“There is almost unprecedently widespread cynical disbelief in the positive potential of government. There is no national purpose around which to rally support. It’s far too easy to slip into a somnolent state of unfocused unease about both the present and the future. Who or what we see now or on the horizon will lead us out of the present morass?”
Most people don’t believe Biden has the answers.
THE STORY SO FAR
IT HASN’T been easy, but the National Football league has reached the end of 2021 having played all 480 of its scheduled 544 games. Each of the league’s 32 teams has played 15 games despite several having been postponed recently due to COVID outbreaks among players. With only two games remaining for every team and last year’s playoff expansion to seven teams in each conference being carried over to this season, there are plenty of reasons for the league’s millions of fans to stay engaged.
After last year’s dismal empty and partially-filled stadiums, 2021 has seen a return to live action by fans throughout the league, and television ratings have remained strong. The NFL is still the most popular game in the US.
Our “local” team, the Miami Dolphins, has been generating excitement in recent weeks as it has done something never before accomplished in the 102 years since the NFL was founded. The Dolphins have experienced both seven-game losing and winning streaks in the same season. After edging New England in Patriots QB Mac Jones’ professional debut back in September, Miami lost seven games in a row.
Many sceptics were questioning the team’s black general manager, black head coach and black starting quarterback. Then, as suddenly as the losing streak began, it was replaced by seven straight wins – and counting – that has helped restore faith in the team’s management and QB Tua Tagovailova in particular. If this 8-7 team can beat Tennessee and win its season-ending rematch with the Patriots, it is assured of making the playoffs.
That’s only part of the excitement in the American Conference, where only defending conference champion Kansas City has clinched a playoff spot so far. Buffalo and New England could join the Chiefs this weekend, but for the rest, the wait may extend to the season’s final weekend.
Things are less suspenseful in the National Conference, where five of the seven playoff spots are already settled. Defending league champion Tampa Bay is well-positioned to go far in the playoffs, as are the division-leading Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams. Only three other teams have winning records at this point, so a team with a losing record might make the postseason for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, we may be witnessing a period of significant ascendancy for English soccer football. Three of the very best club teams in the world play in England, and the national team looks better than it has in years.
The English Premier League has reached the halfway point in its marathon 38-game season. While several games have required postponement due to high rates of COVID infection in several teams, the league seems determined to push ahead and adhere as closely as is possible to its demanding schedule, which is notoriously onerous at Christmas time when the other European leagues are on vacation.
So far, Manchester City is setting the pace and looks likely to repeat as league champions. Still artfully directed by manager Pep Guardiola, the Citizens haven’t been too badly hurt by injuries or COVID absences so far and are enjoying a six-point lead over Liverpool and Chelsea. City have few weaknesses and will be tough to catch.
Relentless Liverpool and balanced Chelsea are both coached by brilliant German managers who are skilful at navigating their teams’ too-busy schedules and should see out the season where they currently sit in second and third place in the EPL. Then things get more speculative, but may result in few changes by season’s end in May.
Resurgent Arsenal now are in fourth place in the standings, a situation few had anticipated when the Gunners lost their first three games by shutout. The team has settled down since, though, and has steadily risen in the standings behind the surprising performances of several talented young players whose future success should help return Arsenal to the top of the league after an absence of excellence for almost a decade.
Tottenham and Manchester United, the remaining two members of the EPL’s “Top Six,” won’t win the championship this season, but under new managers, both teams have stabilized after uneven starts and should be in line for the chance to chase European championships next season.
So despite the fact that “the more things change, the more they stay the same” at the top of English club football, interest is still running high in the birthplace of the world’s most popular sport.
English clubs are also prospering in the Champions League early rounds that will ultimately produce the 2022 European champion. All four English teams advanced to the tournament’s Round of 16, with Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea all favoured to advance to the quarterfinals and Man United at least an even bet to do so as well. Last year’s final was contested between two English clubs, and there is a reasonable chance that 2022 will see a similar result.
As an extra bit of good news, the England national team has easily progressed in qualification for the upcoming 2022 World Cup competition to be held in Qatar next summer. The Three Lions have reached the Round of 16 and should be favoured to advance further. The team has strength and depth at several key positions and is fun to watch.