Thursday, August 27, 2009

Big Ten preview

1) OHIO STATE: A full season of Terrell Pryor gives the Buckeyes enough firepower to win the conference

2) PENN STATE: Favorable scheduling - including getting Iowa in Happy Valley - lets JoePa's boys stay on Ohio State's heels

3) IOWA: Having to replace Shonn Green and go to Penn State make a Rose Bowl run unlikely.

4) NORTHWESTERN: Returning talent at the skill position will help the 'Cats to a surprise finish.

5) MICHIGAN STATE: A team on the rise, but lost too much firepower offensively to contend.

6) WISCONSIN: Is Bielema coaching for his job? With Bucky's underachievements under him, it's time to start thinking about it.

7) ILLINOIS: Proof positive that karma exists. Illinois didn't deserve a Rose Bowl berth two years ago, and the raised expectations are dogging Zook and Co. now.

8) MICHIGAN: If having two quarterbacks means you really have none, then having three means, what, you have negative one QB? RichRod struggles again in Ann Arbor.

9) MINNESOTA: The new stadium is wicked cool. Unfortunately, everyone graduated last year.

10) PURDUE: Joe Tiller is gone, and unfortunately, it appears he took the football program with him.

11) INDIANA: At least their uniforms are better than in the Antwan Randel-El era. That's about all you can say positive about the Hoosiers.

Friday, August 21, 2009

LTG 08/19/09 - Living wills and Logan's Run

From the Omaha CityWeekly, 08/19/09-08/25/09 issue

Did you hear? The new health care reform proposal has “death panels” that will decide whether people live or die based on their value to society. And those “death panels” will be made up of big Red Sox fans, so people from New York are way more likely to get put out to pasture. OMG!

All of the facts in the above paragraph are false. Some of them were made up by yours truly. Some of them were made up by Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor. I’ll leave it to you to figure out who is makin’ up what.

The whole kerfuffel revolves around a provision in some proposals encouraging the use of living wills. So let's get into some detail about what these scary things are.

In the United States, you do not have the right to have someone help you kill yourself. But there is a difference between actively killing yourself, such as taking poison or other means, and passively allowing yourself to die by withholding medical and physical care. That's where living wills come in.

When you execute (an unfortunate, but accurate, word in the current "death panel" climate) a living will, you tell your doctors under what circumstances you want medical care discontinued. For many people, their wish is to discontinue care if they are going to die in short period of time and there is no reasonable likelihood of recovery. That’s the basis for hospice care, a means to provide dignity and comfort at the end of a long struggle with a debilitating disease like cancer.

If you do not want "heroic" measures used to extend life, a living will is critical. Doctors, wanting to err on the side of life, will assume that you want every possible care used, up to and including putting your brain in a Futurama-style jar. If you don't want that, you'd better have a living will or a strong group of loved ones with a big budget for legal bills.

Another common use for a living will is to give direction in the event of a persistent vegitative state (PVS). That's the Terri Schiavo scenario, where the brain has died but the body is hanging on.

Remember Terri Schiavo? She was in a PVS and her husband believed she wouldn't want to linger on that way. Terri's parents fought her husband, and the Republican-led Congress tried to pass legislation to specifically stop Terri's husband from fulfilling what he thought were Terri's wishes.

Because, you know, Republicans believe in keeping government out of people's lives, right?

The whole reason Schiavo’s case became such a big fight was because Terri didn't have a living will, leaving it up to a judge to decide. As a judge, I can tell you that's a decision I want no part of.

But that's why having a living will is such a good idea. You, not your family or a judge, get to decide what to do in that most personal and private time.

To help people make these difficult decisions, someone had the crazy idea to let Medicaid pay for a doctor to talk with a family making those difficult decisions. One might think that having a medical professional offer advice to a struggling family trying to make the most difficult and painful of decisions would be universally supported.

One would be wrong about that. In a callous and transparent attempt to undermine any attempt at health care reform, conservatives like Palin have invented these “death panels” and social values tests to scare people away from making changes to a system that leaves 18 percent of the country without health insurance.

Palin has attempted to defend her “death panel” Facebook posting with another, longer post. This one has no text message abbreviation and uses footnotes, so either she’s taking it more seriously or had someone write it for her. Her basic premise in defending the “death panel” argument was that because the bill is intended to cut costs, there will be implicit pressure on the counselors to convince people to die sooner than they would otherwise.

Unfortunately, even with the footnotes, that’s a load of moose poop. Anyone giving counseling to people in end-of-life situations would have a financial incentive to provide more services, not less. That means, if we are implying selfish motivations upon the counselors, that people would be pushed to get more medical treatment, not less.

Palin’s attempt to defend her “social value” part of her Facebook posting was even less convincing. That may have something to do with the fact that there is nothing in any proposal that could even come close to putting into law any kind of determination of a person’s “social value” as criteria for medical care that Palin darkly warned her Facebook friends about.

Frankly, I was disappointed. I thought we’d get at least one footnote to the dystopian science fiction classic “Logan’s Run.”

Look, there’s plenty of room for reasonable debate. I’m not nuts about a number of things being proposed in the health care reform package, and I think more discussion about them would be healthy.

But it is despicable, indefensible, and evil to tell bald-faced lies to people who trust you in an attempt to scare them into actions that benefit you politically. Anyone who does so (I’m looking at you, Ms. Palin) should be simply ignored in any further policy discussions.

Or, perhaps more appropriately, un-friended.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

NU Pre-View: Big XII edition

1) Nebraska: The winner of the game in Lawrence takes the division crown. I think that's the boys in scarlet and cream.
2) Kansas: The Jayhawks have the edge in experience, but not in talent.
3) Missouri: That's a lot of talent to lose to the NFL. Plus, their coach is still Gary Pinkel.
4) Colorado: The only question is whether Hawkins makes it to the end of the season before he gets the sack.
5) Kansas State: It's not like the Purples played well at the end of Snyder's reign last time.
6) Iowa State: Austin Arnaud. Running a spread offense. Yeah, that should work well.

1) Oklahoma: If you don't think the Sooners are on a mission after the championship game last year, you're nuts.
2) Texas: Mack Brown is still Mack Brown. And Colt McCoy ain't Vince Young.
3) Oklahoma State: The 42-year-old coach has a team that will put up a lot of points. And give up a lot of points.
4) Baylor: Don't look now, but the Bears are getting better. Robert Griffin might be the most exciting QB in the conference.
5) Texas Tech: See State, Oklahoma.
6) Texas A&M: Boy, does College Station look a lot like Lincoln circa 2005 right now.

CHAMPIONSHIP GAME: Oklahoma over Nebraska.

Oklahoma - BCS National Championship
Nebraska - Cotton
Texas - Fiesta
Oklahoma State - Holiday
Kansas - Alamo
Missouri - Sun
Baylor - Insight
Texas Tech - Independence
Colorado - No bowl
Kansas State - No bowl
Texas A&M - No bowl
Iowa State - No bowl

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Premier League predictions

THE BIG FOUR (teams that can legitimately claim a shot at the title):

1) CHELSEA - The Blues continue their strong performance from the end of last year and wrest the title. They'd better, because if things go south, the ghost of Guus will haunt their new boss.

2) MANCHESTER UNITED - A struggle for offense without Cristiano will keep the Red Devils just shy of a repeat. And don't underestimate the need to play Foster in goal at the start of the season.

3) ARSENAL - Could be a title contender if everything went right, but that's too much to bank on.

4) LIVERPOOL - See Arsenal. The loss of Xavi Alonso will hurt the Reds deeply.

THE BIG FOUR CONTENDERS (teams that will push for UCL but will instead fight it out for UEL contention):

5) EVERTON - Still knocking on the door, but still not quite enough quality to run with the big dogs.

6) MANCHESTER CITY - Spending a lot of money on questionable value strikers (see Tevez, Carlos) doesn't buy you a Champions League spot. Or a defense.

7) TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR - 'Arry's boys will have more than two points in October, but won't have the firepower to move into Europe.

8) FULHAM - Thin squad worries and European demands will cost an otherwise solid Fulham points during the season.

9) ASTON VILLA - The loss of Gareth Barry and a lack of quality signings mean Villa's end-of-season performance last year should continue.

MID-TABLE SAFETY (no chance of Europe, no chance of relegation):

10) SUNDERLAND - Upgrade in manager, upgrade in strikers, but the Black Cats a year away from challenging for Europe.

11) WEST HAM UNITED - Zola's men have enough to hold serve, but not enough offensive punch to challenge for anything.

12) BOLTON WANDERERS - Another solid, if unspectactular, side that should be safely in the top flight for another year.

13) BLACKBURN ROVERS - Big Sam's anti-football keeps Blackburn comfortably mid-table.

14) STOKE CITY - The Potters figured out how to play tough and hard-nosed while still playing football towards the end of last season.

RELEGATION THREATENED (teams that will flirt with The Drop):

15) HULL CITY - The start of a new season and a flurry of late signings will be enough for J. Jonah Jamison's men to stay out of the drop zone.

16) WOLVERHAMPTON WANDERERS - Manager's Premier League experience (bad as it may be) should be enough to guide Wolves to safety.

17) BIRMINGHAM CITY - Just enough defensive prowess to scrape draws and steal points needed for safety.

THE DOOMED (teams that will join the 2010/11 Fizzy Pop league):

18) WIGAN ATHLETIC - Rookie manager + shedding quality players = the end of the run for the Latics.

19) BURNLEY - The Premier League ain't a cup run. The marathon of the season will wear the Clarets out.

20) PORTSMOUTH - This year's Newcastle.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Take the birthers seriously

Excellent post by Gary Younge of Comment is Free (, reminding us that just because something is crazy and not grounded in fact doesn't mean that it can't get a life of its' own. Younge's examples were Whitewater and the Swift Boaters, but I might include the Iraq war run-up in that chain. Regardless, the ending quote from the Bush-administration official deriding a "reality-based perception" was particularly chilling, and particularly insightful.


When Barack Obama delivered the speech to the Democratic party convention in 2004 that launched his national career, he began by telling his own compelling personal story: "Let's face it, my presence on this stage is pretty unlikely. My father was a foreign student, born and raised in a small village in Kenya … While studying here, my father met my mother. She was born in a town on the other side of the world, in Kansas."

He went on to tell his parents' story as a quintessentially American tale of love, hope and aspiration. "My parents shared not only an improbable love," Obama told the rapt Democrats, "they shared an abiding faith in the possibilities of this nation. They would give me an African name, Barack, or 'blessed', believing that in a tolerant America, your name is no barrier to success."

But as Obama prepares to celebrate his birthday on Tuesday there are others who would suggest that his appearance that night was not just probable but plotted -- part of a long-running conspiracy by foreign Muslim forces to take over the United States. In the alternative version, his white grandparents were so displeased at the race of his mother's fiance that his mother fled to Kenya. Once there, she was repulsed by the manner in which Muslim men treated their wives, but was now too pregnant to fly home and so remained in Mombasa, where the heat brought on early labor. A local imam was kind enough to lead the festivities and called the boy Obama.

The details change, but the basic storyline remains the same. Obama should not be president because his occupancy of the White House contravenes article two, section one of the U.S. constitution, which stipulates that only a "natural-born citizen" is eligible for the presidency. He is not just un-American but non-American; a faux candidate foisted on America by way of Mombasa rather than Manchuria. Such are the claims of the American "birther" movement.

The aim here is not prove these people wrong. That has been achieved several times over. For them to be right, Obama would have had to persuade the state of Hawaii to collude in forging a birth certificate that has been verified by its Republican governor and director of health as well as the nonpartisan Moreover, his mother would have had to have the foresight to place birth announcements claiming he was born in the U.S. in both the Honolulu Advertiser and the Hawaii Star Bulletin, 48 years ago, in anticipation of a future presidential run – otherwise, why bother? When you think of the time and effort that must have gone into this cover-up, Obama's election must go down as the most elaborate affirmative-action sting in U.S. history.

Facts won't budge them. The smart ones insist they are just doing him a favor. "What I don't understand is why he hasn't produced [his birth certificate] to get this noise out of the way." Cutting "legitimate doubt" from whole cloth, they create accusations to which the only defence would be to disprove a negative. (How do we know Obama was not enrolled into a school in Indonesia as Barry Soetoro?) Posing as reasonable people asking reasonable questions, many insist that their interest is not in stoking the controversy, but ending it. "I do believe the president is a citizen of the United States folks, don't you?" asks CNN's resident xenophobe, Lou Dobbs. "But I do have a couple of little questions, like you. Why not just provide a copy of the birth certificate?"

When proof is provided, the inconvenient evidence is denied, parsed, undermined or overlooked. Hawaii has produced a certificate of live birth which it both issues and accepts as proof of citizenship. So the birthers demand his full certificate and claim that the document provided is a fraud. Meanwhile, in the absence of tangible proof, birthers are sustained by claims that are variably random, unsubstantiable, insubstantial, untraceable or incredible – and often all five. In November the grandson of the Kenyan imam who allegedly delivered Obama in Mombasa was reported to be on his way to England to claim asylum because he feared the Kenyan authorities would silence him. Which brings us on to the final, crucial part of the birther identity: victimhood. The leftwing media are hounding them and the government is marginalising them. If you can't say what happened to the grandson of that Kenyan imam you'd never heard of, then how do you know the authorities didn't finish him off? And so they turn banality into controversy, truth into speculation, certainty in doubt and the world on its head. Having made up the news, they demand to know why no one is reporting it.

So why dignify these people with column inches when you could just laugh and move on? If they truly are brain-dead, then surely the oxygen of publicity only keeps their contributions in their present vegetative state. There is something to that. But while to engage them is clearly futile, to dismiss them would be reckless, for two main reasons.

First, the birthers are anything but a fringe group. They have found a sizeable audience for their fantasy. A poll last week showed that more than half of Republicans either believe Obama was not born in the US (28%) or are not sure (30%). Mainstream anchors on CNN and Fox routinely give them credibility. So far, 11 Republican congressmen have signed a "birther bill" that would demand a birth certificate from all future presidents. They may have no more credibility than the 9/11 truthers or those who denied the moon landings, but they certainly have more reach.

Second, however marginal they appear now, they were effectively running the country between 2000 and 2008. It was their birther logic (an oxymoron if ever there was one) that provided the mindset, legwork and frontline troops for the Bush era. Iraq was invaded because it could not prove that it did not have something it truly did not have. "We would say, 'Iraq should present any anthrax'," explained UN weapons inspector Hans Blix shortly after the invasion. "While the U.S. and UK were inclined to say, 'Iraq should present the anthrax.'" Guantánamo Bay is still full of people who were incarcerated because they were not able to prove they were not guilty and whose guilt was to some extent inferred by their incarceration.

The birthers' claims might be crazy. But so was Whitewater, which ended with Clinton's impeachment, and the Swift Boat saga helped torpedo John Kerry's presidential campaign.

A senior Bush aide once ridiculed a New York Times reporter over his adherence to "the reality-based community", which he described as people who "believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality". "That's not the way the world really works any more. We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you're studying that reality -- judiciously, as you will -- we'll act again, creating other, new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

This is what they do. Even a brief study would show it is no laughing matter.

LTG 07/23/09 - The NFL's blitz

From the July 23-30 issue of the Omaha CityWeekly (


The NFL's big game
By: Patrick Runge
Issue: July 22, 2009

The NFL has a glorious history of men in helmets succeeding on the field. But in many ways, the NFL is defined as much by the glorious history of the NFL’s men in suits succeeding in the courtroom.

In the upcoming term, the United States Supreme Court will be hearing American Needle v. National Football League. American Needle used to make NFL-licensed hats and caps. When the NFL granted an exclusive apparel license to Reebok, American Needle sued the NFL for violating Federal anti-trust statutes, claiming the NFL was conspiring to limit competition.

That lawsuit, in and of itself, wasn’t so unusual. Actions like that have been brought against sports leagues all the time. It was the response of the NFL, and the success they have had in the lower courts, that make the case more ominous.

The NFL raised the “single entity” defense, claiming that the courts should view the NFL as one entity rather than a conglomeration of different businesses. If the courts accept the NFL as a single entity, then much of the anti-trust laws would not apply. Anti-trust laws are intended to prevent conspiracies, groups working together in an attempt to prevent competition in the marketplace. If a sports league like the NFL is viewed to be a single entity, then there would be no one for them to conspire with, and the anti-trust rules would not apply.

Sports leagues, particularly the NFL, have made the “single entity” argument for many years. What’s new, though, is their success. The Seventh Circuit agreed with the NFL’s argument that it is a single entity, and threw out American Needle’s lawsuit.

That was big enough news. But American Needle appealed that decision to the Supreme Court. And the NFL agreed that the Supreme Court should accept the case.

The ramifications of the Supreme Court’s acceptance of the case are significant. The Supreme Court now has the ability to define nationwide whether the NFL is a single entity or not. If the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court and finds the NFL to be a single entity, then the NFL will have the ability to act like a single entity throughout the country.

That is a really, really big deal. Almost all of the restrictions on the power of the NFL have come from anti-trust proceedings. If the NFL can act as a single entity, there will be nothing to stop them from implementing a salary cap for players and coaches, from setting a uniform (and very high) price structure for game tickets and apparel, or from having absolute control over the broadcast distribution of their games.

In other words, if you like Thanksgiving Day games only on the NFL Network, you’ll love a pay-per-view Super Bowl.

The NFL has had success with big anti-trust suits in court before. Back in the early ‘80s, the USFL tried to form a competing football league. They filed an anti-trust lawsuit against the NFL, and won the case in 1986. Unfortunately, they were only awarded one dollar in damages. The USFL suspended operations the following summer.

Think about it. If the NFL can crush its competition out of existence by losing an anti-trust lawsuit, what do you think they’ll do if they win one?

If the NFL is successful in the American Needle case, other sports leagues will be just as emboldened. The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball will be able to make the same argument and will attempt to avoid anti-trust rules in the same way the NFL plans to. And the NCAA will claim itself a single entity and be able to kill any attempt at forcing a college football playoff, cementing permanently the control of the money and power of postseason college football in the hands of the elite.

So, the big question is, will the NFL win? On its’ face, it seems unlikely. All 30 NFL teams have different owners, and those owners have very different economic interests. Many times, those interests compete with each other. There’s a huge fight going on right now between NFL owners as to how to divide up the television money. Big market owners think they should get the lion’s share of the revenue because they generate the most revenue. Small market teams want a more even distribution to help keep the overall league healthier.

Seriously, does that sound like a single entity? Any company whose different divisions fought amongst each other the way NFL owners do wouldn’t survive long as a company.

But the NFL wants this case before this Supreme Court for a reason. Looking at the court’s makeup, it is likely they would have four votes on their side in the bag. Long-time conservative justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas would be very likely to side with the NFL in this case. And, in more proof that elections matter, Bush-appointees John Roberts and Samuel Alito would also be likely to side with the NFL.

That means American Needle would have to run the table of the remaining five justices. While Ruth Bader Ginsberg, John Paul Stevens, and (assuming she’s confirmed) Sonia Sotomayor are likely to side with American Needle, John Breyer and Anthony Kennedy have significant pro-business leanings. If American Needle loses either of those two, the NFL and every other sports league will be exempt from anti-trust laws nationwide.

Good for the profits of sports leagues. Bad for sports fans. Really bad.

Patrick Runge has practiced law in the Omaha area since earning his degree from Creighton University in 1994. He has also written for the Omaha Pulp, Millard Avenues and UNO’s Gateway. E-mail him at