Thursday, September 02, 2010

NU Pre-View:Happy-Sad, Western Kentucky

For fans of the Nebraska Cornhuskers looking ahead to the game against the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (September 04, 2010, Memorial Stadium, Lincoln, NE, 6:00 p.m. CDT, PPV) ...



YOU'LL BE HAPPY IF ...

NUMBER 5 IS NUMBER 1: Perhaps throwing a bone to the media he locked out of practice in August, Bo Pelini has refused to name a starting quarterback going into the first game of the season. This has certainly made for good copy, but it seems pretty clear that Pelini knows who he's handing the keys to at the start. For 'Husker fans, they should be rooting for Zac Lee, the senior and returning starter. If the starting nod goes to either sophomore Cody Green or redshirt freshman Taylor Martinez, it's hard to see that decision as anything other than an indictment of Lee's ability to win the job. It also makes it very hard to go back to Lee and have any confidence in his ability to lead the team.

IT'S A HALFTIME COVER: The sooner Nebraska gets the game under control, the sooner the contest can be treated less like an actual game and more like a pre-season NFL contest. It's incumbent, then, on the first-teamers to get the job done early and remove any doubt from the outcome. If they're able to get that done by the end of the first half, NU will not only get a confidence boost but be able to get some preparation work in for the rest of the season.

THE BENCH CLEARS: No, this isn't a reference to a baseball fight (or, more accurately, the slapfest that passes for a fight in baseball). If NU is able to get ahead early in the contest, Pelini should be able to get a number of second- and third-team players into the game in the second half, giving those players valuable experience and protecting the starters from injury.



YOU'LL BE SAD IF ...

THE BLACKSHIRTS STRUGGLE WITH THE SLIPPERY: The Hilltoppers' quarterback, Kawaun Jakes, is an effective runner as well as having a serviceable arm. Nebraska fans are all aware of the struggles Pelini's teams have had in the past with mobile quarterbacks. Factor in WKU's diminutive Bobby Rainey (5'8") at running back, and the Hilltoppers will present at least a little elusiveness. If the Blackshirts struggle with WKU's slipperiness, it could be a bad omen for things to come.

THE ROCK IS NOT POUNDED: More than likely, Nebraska is planning to shuttle all three quarterbacks into the mix, and wants to keep the offense vanilla to minimize the preparation time needed and to keep the meatier opponents on the schedule guessing. That means we should see a heavy dose of running backs Roy Helu, Jr., Rex Burkhead, Dontrayveous Robinson, and the rest of the crew. Anything less than a 60/40 run-pass ratio will unnecessarily lengthen the game and expose the squad to more injury risk.

NU FANS GET TOO EXCITED: Remember, 'Husker fans, this is Western Kentucky that is coming to town. WKU was 0-12 last year, and is in only their third season as an FBS school. It is likely that Nebraska will roll, and that just about everyone wearing scarlet and cream will look good. Don't read too much into that. Remember how dominant NU's offense looked against Florida Atlantic and Louisiana last year? Ultimately, we are not going to learn very much that's positive about the 2010 Cornhuskers in this game. It's possible we could learn some negatives if NU struggles, but the concrete positives will be tough to come by.



FEARLESS FORECAST

NU, as Barry Switzer would say, just has better players than WKU, and should be able to name their score. Given that NU will want to give all three quarterbacks a chance to shine, there's less likelihood that the 'Huskers will call the dogs off if the score gets out of hand, meaning a real lopsided number is entirely possible. Nebraska 66, Western Kentucky 10.

NU Pre-View:Pros and Cons of Nebraska's Big 10 Division

Ever since Nebraska's move to the Big Ten was finalized, NU fans have been anxiously awaiting news as to how the 12-team Big Ten will divide into divisions. On Wednesday, the waiting was ended as the conference formally announced "Division X" and "Division O" to the fans. Nebraska was placed in a division with Michigan, Michigan State, Iowa, Northwestern, and Minnesota. So what are the pros and cons of these new divisions for Nebraska?

PROS

BIRTH OF A RIVALRY: This was probably the biggest no-brainer, but having Nebraska and Iowa being in the same division means the 'Huskers and the Hawkeyes will be meeting every year. Ever since Nebraska's conference move, the two fan bases have been sharpening their swords waiting to go at each other on the field. Particularly with both teams on the rise, this series has the potential to be a significant and heated rivalry.

OUT WITH THE BUFFS, IN WITH THE HAWKS: Starting in 2011, Iowa will replace Colorado as Nebraska's traditional day-after-Thanksgiving rivalry game. If this budding rivalry needed any gasoline poured on it, having this game played in late November over a leftover turkey-and-stuffing sandwich should push it over the edge.

EARLY SUCCESS: It's important for Nebraska to start well in their new conference affiliation. It was clear that there were four "major" powers in the conference - Nebraska, Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State. Right now, it's pretty clear that Michigan is the weakest of the Big Four, so pairing NU with the Wolverines means the schedule on paper looks at least a little softer than it would if Nebraska had to face Ohio State and Penn State as divisional rivals.

TRAVELING BANDS: One of the things NU will lose in leaving the Big XII is the ability to have easy road trips to away games like Iowa State, Kansas, and Kansas State. Thankfully, the Big Ten brass have given NU divisional foes that are easier trips for the 'Husker faithful, such as Chicago, Minneapolis, and Iowa City. It might be a little more arduous, but the road trip still lives for NU fans.

CONS

ALVAREZ-LESS: Nebraska fans have a special place in their hearts for Barry Alvarez, Wisconsin's athletic director. Right from the announcement, Wisconsin made it clear that they wanted to play Nebraska regularly. Given that Penn State was announced as Nebraska's "protected" cross-division rival, that isn't going to happen, and both 'Husker and Badger fans should be disappointed about that development.

BASKETBALL DISPARITY: Sure, men's hoops isn't a consideration in these conference realignment discussions, but these divisions are incredibly disparate in basketball. Of the twelve conference members, there's an argument to be made that four of the top five basketball schools are in one division (hint - it's not the one that contains Nebraska). That's probably bad for the conference as a whole. But if the schedule is unbalanced and teams get more games against division rivals, Doc Sadler may end up finding this a pro.

RECYCLING: Networks and the public as a whole have pretty well decided that rematches are not good television. But with the decision to leave the Ohio State-Michigan game at the end of the season means that the conference has the potential to have a marquee rematch a week later in the conference championship game. Nebraska fans will remember very well getting Oklahoma in an Orange Bowl rematch, and will likely want little to do with such a game in the Big Ten championship game.

NU ISN'T IN KANSAS ANYMORE, TOTO: At Wisconsin. Home to Ohio State. At Penn State. At Michigan. Home to Iowa. That's what the meat of Nebraska's 2011 conference schedule looks like. There's a little more weight to that schedule than visits from Baylor, Iowa State, and Kansas State. While the new conference schedule is exciting, Nebraska's run to a divisional or conference title in 2011 just got a lot more arduous.

THE BIG PICTURE

Before today, Nebraska's move to the Big Ten was a little abstract. Now that we have divisions announced, and schedules for 2011 and 2012 set, the full reality of the change settles in. Teams like Michigan, Penn State, and Iowa will be coming to Memorial Stadium in October and November to play conference games, ones that really count. Having these concrete future plans in place, and the excitement those plans will generate, should help to ameliorate the melancholy of Nebraska's final trip through the Big XII.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

NU Pre-View: Overrated and Underrated 'Husker Storylines

September 04 isn't too far away, and 'Husker fans at this point pretty well know all of the storylines and questions that surround the 2010 NU squad. But, I've noticed that some of the popular storylines really aren't central to the end result of NU's 2010 campaign. Moreover, some of the storylines that aren't really being talked about are much more crucial to NU's goals. So, which storylines are overrated and underrated? Let's take a look.

OVERRATED: THE QUARTERBACK RACE.
Now, don't jump to conclusions. The lack of production from the quarterback last year was one of the primary reasons that Nebraska struggled and ultimately came up short when it counted. Improved quarterback play is the primary thing NU will need to take the next step 'Husker fans are craving, a return to national prominence.

But the 2010 QB situation is far different than the 2009 situation. Last year, Nebraska had to choose between an untested starter and a true freshman. Injuries and defections required NU to convert a linebacker to quarterback, which tells you all you need to know about the dearth of QB options NU had in 2009.

2010 is a very different story. Zac Lee is coming back after a year of adversity, and is in competition with Cody Green, who had a year in the system to mature, as well as wunderkind Taylor Martinez. Rather than having no options, Bo Pelini is almost spoiled for choice with his signal-caller decision this year.

Ultimately, I think Lee will take control of the job. Remember, after the season we learned that Lee was hurt early on in the campaign - not surprisingly, about the same time NU's offense went into a nosedive. A healthy and experienced Lee suggests that NU's offense will look more like the Holiday Bowl team that dominated Arizona and less like the turtles that couldn't score against Iowa State.

But even if Lee struggles, Pelini has other levers to pull at QB. Yes, getting good quarterback play is important, but the options NU has means that finding that good play is far more likely than not.

UNDERRATED: OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH.
Nebraska lost Mike Smith to season-ending surgery, meaning that NU will lose a critical and versatile player who provided depth to the offensive line rotation. The fact that Smith is a senior means that NU will also lose the maturity and experience Smith brought to the rotation.

It's not clear if Smith would have been a starter at the end of fall camp. And NU will still have plenty of senior leadership across the line. But NU's offensive success starts with the line, and the loss of a key component of that line is always an area of concern.

OVERRATED: NEBRASKA VS. TEXAS, OCTOBER 16
Blasphemy, I know. October 16 is the date for Armageddon, the battle of good versus evil on FieldTurf, the chance to settle on the field all of the ugliness from the conference realignment soap opera over the summer.

But if Nebraska wants to win the Big XII, the first goal is to win the Big XII North. If the unthinkable happens and Texas beats NU, but the 'Huskers run the table against their North foes, NU will still likely be in the Big XII title game in December with a chance to win the conference title and go to a BCS bowl.

Believe me, the game against Texas is a big deal for any number of reasons. But 'Husker fans should keep in mind the ultimate goals for the team - division title, conference title, BCS bowl - are all achievable regardless of the outcome on October 16.

UNDERRATED: KANSAS STATE VS. NEBRASKA, OCTOBER 07.
Just before Bevo comes rolling into Lincoln, NU has to head to the Little Apple for the final time. Kansas State, as much as any team, has a deep and primal loathing for Nebraska, and would love to hand NU a loss in what is almost certainly their final game against each other. Plus, the game against the Purples is a Thursday nighter on ESPN, at the miserable little bandbox that is Bill Snyder Family Stadium. All of this sets up what should be a snake pit environment for NU, with the crowd well-lubricated and loaded for bear.

Oh, and Daniel Thomas plays for the Purples. A solid argument can be made that Thomas is the best running back in the Big XII this year. Not in the North. In the conference. With Bill Snyder in his second year back at the helm, a weapon like Thomas at Snyder's disposal, a prime-time ESPN night game to send the Purple faithful into a lather, and NU in danger of looking ahead to October 16, K-State will have the table set for an upset. This has trap game written all over it, and if NU drops their conference opener to a North division rival, things get very dicey for Nebraska making a return trip to Dallas in December.

OVERRATED: 2009'S 10-4 RECORD
It's not just 'Husker fans that are looking at 2009's record and predicting a top-10 finish and a possible national title run for this year's squad. Nebraska's undressing of Arizona in the Holiday Bowl, on the heels of their near-miss against Texas in the Big XII Championship, have led most national college football pundits to anoint the 'Huskers as one of college football's elite programs again.

But, as the great Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend. Take a look at that record. Who, exactly, did NU beat? Their best win was over a tailspinning Oklahoma team that ended up outside of the top 25. For heaven's sake, the 2009 squad lost to Iowa State. At home.

Yes, NU almost beat Virginia Tech on the road. Yes, they almost beat Texas in the Big XII title game. But almost beating a team means you lost to that team. A closer inspection of NU's 2009 record reveals a lot of good wins, a lot of close games, but no real signature win that NU can hang their collective hat on and declare their return to the elite of college football.

UNDERRATED: THE LACK OF A SIGNATURE WIN
These two go hand in glove with each other. Since 2001, Nebraska has zero wins over a top-15 team. Zero, as in none. In the BCS era, only Nebraska and Duke boast such a record. Yes, that Duke.

Again, don't get me wrong. I think Nebraska has a legitimate potential this year to run the table and play for a national title. But the feeling in 'Husker Nation is, as Pelini put it after the Holiday Bowl, "Nebraska's back, and we're here to stay."

I love the confidence of the man, and I think an attitude like that is critical to create the culture of winning that was crushed out of Nebraska by the Buffaloes on Black Friday in 2001. But until you do something, you haven't done it, and as of yet Nebraska hasn't done it on the field with a signature win.

NU will have a phenomenal opportunity on October 16, against a Texas team with a rookie and relatively immobile quarterback, in front of a Nebraska crowd with a frenzy that hasn't been seen at Memorial Stadium - maybe ever. If Nebraska can avoid the trap in Manhattan, the table will be set for the signature win and for Nebraska to take that mythical "next step" into the upper echelon of college football.

But that step hasn't been taken yet, and it's still a very big step to take. 'Husker fans would be wise to remember that and not assume that the journey back to the promised land is complete.

GBR, baby.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Nebraska's new abortion bill is stillborn

Well, that didn’t take long.

On Wednesday, Federal District Court Judge Laurie Smith-Camp granted a temporary injunction preventing a Nebraska abortion bill from taking effect. In granting the injunction requested by Planned Parenthood, Judge Smith-Camp found that Planned Parenthood would likely be successful in declaring enforcement of the new law prohibited by the Constitution, and therefore granted a temporary injunction blocking Nebraska officials from putting the law into effect.

So, what is the law that got blocked? The fundamental basis of the law is that an abortion provider would be required by law to go through a number of detailed procedures which the state claimed were to ensure that the woman obtaining the abortion was doing so freely and voluntarily, without any threat or duress and with a full understanding of the potential negative impacts of the procedure.

Sounds pretty innocuous, right? The statute is merely requiring informed consent before a medical procedure, just like any other medical procedure, right?

Well, not exactly. LB 594, the bill in question, has twelve paragraphs of requirements and regulations which abortion providers would be mandated to review with women seeking abortions, including determining if the procedure was being done under duress, whether there were risk factors in the procedure, and a “material” discussion of any risk factors that might be present. The physician would also have to certify in writing that the risk of continuing the pregnancy is greater than the risk of the abortion procedure, if there was anything other than a “negligible” risk involved.

Whew. I don’t recall getting a grilling like that when I got my wisdom teeth out, or when my wife had her gall bladder removed. The requirements of LB 594 are informed consent on steroids.

Or, perhaps they’re not really about informed consent at all. Judge Smith-Camp described the requirements as “requiring medical providers to make risk assessments and disclosures that, if the bill is read literally, would be impossible or nearly impossible to perform.” Is it possible that the Legislature, rather than being concerned about informed consent, was trying to just stop abortions altogether through a back-door technique?

Judge Smith-Camp had to be suspicious of that when she observed that “[n]o such legislative concern for the health of women, or of men, has given rise to any remotely similar informed-consent statutes applicable to other medical procedures.” The Legislature didn’t do itself any favors in this regard when they outlined the purposes of LB 594, which included in part stating that the Legislature disagreed with the logic behind Roe v. Wade and would do everything possible to protect the life of an unborn child. Putting those two things together was a big reason why Judge Smith-Camp found that Planned Parenthood would be “likely to succeed” in declaring LB 594 unconstitutional and entering the temporary injunction.

This isn’t new ground for pro-life legislation. Roe has been law in the United States since 1973, and the basic premise for Roe is pretty well accepted by the majority of Americans. For some time, the pro-life strategy has been one of incremental reduction. They have been unsuccessful at the big goal – making abortions illegal – so they have been forced to work around the margins of abortion, trying to at least make some of them harder to get or limiting access to the procedure.

This incremental reduction strategy has achieved a number of successes for the pro-life movement. It appears that LB 594 was another salvo in the incremental reduction arsenal. Unfortunately for the pro-life community, it appears that they over-reached in their attempt and ran afoul of the constitution.

One final observation about LB 594 that I found interesting. One provision of the bill authorized lawsuits against physicians who did not provide women with the byzantine notices required by LB 594. Those lawsuits would expose physicians to significant financial liability – and the law would allow damages against the physicians to be presumed unless the notification requirements (the ones Judge Smith-Camp called “impossible or nearly impossible to perform”) were satisfied.

The lawsuit angle was one of the reasons Judge Smith-Camp granted the temporary injunction, and she used some pretty strong language to demonstrate her concern that LB 594 was a Trojan horse in an attempt to outlaw abortions. Here’s what she wrote about the lawsuit provision:

“LB 594 effectively cloaks such plaintiffs as private attorneys general … with the apparent object of turning them into quasiprosecutors, dedicated to eliminating the activity the Legislature has found to be objectionable.”

Ouch.

Using lawsuits to help enforce conservative-supported legislation isn’t new. Remember Arizona’s new immigration law, requiring police to stop and ask people about their immigration status? There is a provision in that law that allowed private citizens to sue police departments if they don’t think they were being vigorous enough in enforcing the law. Sound at all familiar to the lawsuit language in LB 594?

It appears that conservatives have learned a new trick when passing laws designed to enforce their particular brand of social policy – authorize private lawsuits against individuals who might not be fully and lustily complying with the policy. The intent of the lawsuit provisions can only be to intimidate service providers who have to carry the conservative policies out (police in Arizona, doctors in Nebraska) to err on the side of the conservative social policy or risk a big lawsuit.

But, wait, you say. Isn’t part of the conservative mantra tort reform? Isn’t part of the conservative ethos that slimy trial lawyers are dragging the economy down with frivolous lawsuits, so we need to change the tort system to loser-pays or put a damage cap to make sure that trial lawyers and rogue juries don’t devastate American businesses and ruin the economy?

So, here’s my understanding of the conservative position on the tort system. Using civil courts to compensate people injured by businesses is a terrible idea that needs to be severely limited. Using civil courts as “quasiprosecutors” to enforce conservative social policy is a great idea that needs to be expanded.

Sounds a little like their position on the Department of Education – abolish the Department of Education altogether, except for the part where we prevent schools from teaching sex ed or distributing condoms.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

NU Re-View: Realignment Watch

OK, my World Cup preparations are being disturbed by this noisy conference realignment story. I had intended to put my 'Husker coverage on the back burner until mid-July, but it doesn't seem like things are going to wait.

As it sits now, NU has been presented with an ultimatum by Texas - declare your commitment to the Big XII or we're leaving for the Pac-10 and taking the South Division with us. I understand the logic behind the move from Texas. The Big XII is very good to Texas, as they pretty well control the conference and still have the option to start their own television network. Losing Nebraska would significantly damage the viability of the conference, simply because the rest of the North teams don't carry enough football attraction nationally. If, as it appears, Nebraska does not yet have a Big Ten invite in the pocket of its' scarlet blazer, then it's smart for Texas to make a power play to force NU to make its' decision now.

At least, in the short term, it's smart. Whether this kind of hardball will ultimately spell the end of the awkward coupling that has been the Big XII remains to be seen. The question right now remains, what is Nebraska's best option? Here's my thoughts, in order of preference.

1) STAY IN A MODIFIED BIG XII
I know that's a surprise to a lot of people, as I have been excited about getting out of the Big Longhorn conference ever since the Big Ten first announced expansion plans. But the more I think about it, the more I think cutting a new deal with our "friends" to the south makes sense.

As insufferable as they may be, Texas is the single most powerful force in college athletics. While they've made a huge bluff (they don't call it TEXAS Hold 'em poker for nothing) about going to the Pac-10, Texas would much rather stay put where they are and put the finishing touches on a Longhorn Sports Network. For the first time since the inception of the league, Nebraska is in a position of power to dictate terms.

So what should Nebraska get to stay in the league? First of all, they would need an iron-clad guarantee that ALL members of the conference are staying put. Texas columnists are already pinning the black hat on Tom Osborne for NU's flirting with the Big Ten, but the truth is that Texas was doing just as much flirting with the hussy from up north. Texas has shown repeatedly that it will do what is in Texas' best interest, and if that means bolting for the Pac-10 in two years after the Big Ten expansion has completed, don't doubt for a second they'd go. If NU is going to give up going to the Big Ten, then the poison pill to keep NU in the Big XII needs to be big enough to keep Texas on the farm for the foreseeable future as well.

There's other things that should happen, including returning the football championship to a North Division site every other year, and modifications for the decision-making process to give northern teams more of an equal footing.

I'm also at least a little sympathetic to the plight of Kansas, Kansas State, and Iowa State. The death of the Big XII would spell big trouble for those schools. Kansas and Kansas State could end up in a geographically-unwieldy expansion into the Big East if they want to remain in a BCS conference, or in the up-and-coming Mountain West. Iowa State looks almost certain to end up in a non-BCS conference such as the MAC or Conference USA. While the marriage between Nebraska and Texas is far from healthy, there's a little argument to be made for staying together for the sake of the kids. I don't think 116 years of history is something to be thrown away lightly.

2) HEAD TO THE BIG TEN
IF Nebraska doesn't get what it wants from Texas, and IF the Big Ten makes an offer, Nebraska should go. The extra dollars Nebraska would receive from the Big Ten Network would make an immediate impact, and Nebraska would be a good fit geographically in the conference.

It's not a perfect match, though. Gone would be the day-trip road games to KU, KSU, and ISU, and it would be more of a strain on the smaller sports. And, 'Husker fans, if you think you're sick of Texas arrogance, wait until you get a load of Big Ten administration arrogance. Really, the main difference between the two is the size of their belt buckles.

Still, if the offer is on the table, Nebraska almost has to go. Given the ultimatum that's been laid down, if Nebraska knuckles under without getting anything in return, then Nebraska will officially cede all authority in the conference to Texas. Kiss the basketball tournament in KC goodbye after the current deal expires. Kiss goodbye any thought of moving the football championship game from Dallas. The only thing left would be to add longhorns to the side of the conference logo.

3) NOTHING.
No, it's not a Monty Python "there is no third thing" reference. IF Nebraska doesn't get the concessions from Texas, and IF there is no offer from the Big Ten, Nebraska should ignore the ultimatum and do nothing. If Texas follows through on its' threat to leave and take the division with them, the results will be catastrophic for the Big XII North schools.

Except for Nebraska. Of all those schools, Nebraska is the only one with the ability to generate viewers nationwide to make itself an attractive target for a big-time conference. I would ultimately be stunned if the Big Ten did not invite NU, although a "no other team" deal to get Notre Dame in could potentially block that move. NU could end up in the Big East. NU could also lead the North into a resurgent Mountain West conference. Currently the Mountain West is not a automatic BCS qualifier. But they're on the doorstep as things sit currently. If the BCS adds a national marquee team like Nebraska, plus the rest of the North, plus Boise State, all of a sudden the Mountain West Network (yes, Virginia, there is such a thing already) becomes a much more attractive prospect.

I really have no idea how this is all going to sort out. I suspect there's stuff going on behind the scenes we can't see and don't know about that will ultimately decide everyone's fate. If I had to guess, I would say that Nebraska will be in the Big Ten as of next week. But until we know, we don't know.

All I know is that just about my entire family on my wife's side are crazy Hawkeye fans. If NU goes to the Big Ten, and the Nebraska-Iowa game becomes the day after Thanksgiving traditional matchup, there's going to be some tense conversation over mashed potatoes and gravy over the next few years.

GBR, baby.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The LTG on ESPN.com

Thanks to Paul Lukas at uniwatchblog.com for letting me be a part of his critique of the World Cup uniforms. Links are below:

Groups A & B: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=lukas/100607_world_cup_uniforms

Groups C & D: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/page2/story?page=lukas/100608_world_cup_uniforms

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

And this is why you don't directly elect judges

Look, there's plenty of problems with appointing judges, don't get me wrong. But whatever problems they are, they pale in comparison to this. What an embarassment. From AlterNet (http://blogs.alternet.org/speakeasy/2010/06/01/conservative-attorneys-on-mission-from-god-to-impose-religious-agenda-on-courts/)

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New reports out of Afghanistan point to a province where Taliban followers hope to become judges, so they can apply their religious beliefs to court rulings, rather than the secular tenets of the law.

Wait, did I say the Taliban in Afghanistan? I meant Christian conservatives in California.

A group of conservative attorneys say they are on a mission from God to unseat four California judges in a rare challenge that is turning a traditionally snooze-button election into what both sides call a battle for the integrity of U.S. courts.

Vowing to be God’s ambassadors on the bench, the four San Diego Superior Court candidates are backed by pastors, gun enthusiasts, and opponents of abortion and same-sex marriages.

“We believe our country is under assault and needs Christian values,” said Craig Candelore, a family law attorney who is one of the group’s candidates. “Unfortunately, God has called upon us to do this only with the judiciary.”

I suppose the obvious observation here is that the direct election of judges — the law in 33 states — may not be the best idea.

But there’s far more to this particular problem, called the “Better Courts Now” initiative. Here we have a series of far-right attorneys who are running on a fairly specific platform — they promise to be biased, partial jurists, basing their decisions on a religious agenda. The difference between these kinds of judges and those found in Iran and Saudi Arabia is … well, there really isn’t a difference.

In other words, these judicial candidates want to turn their courtrooms into a position consistent with a theocracy. Indeed, the initiative was launched by two pastors.

“Any organization that wants judges to subscribe to a certain political party or certain value system or certain way of ruling to me threatens the independence of the judiciary,” San Diego County’s District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis told the AP.”Judges should be evaluated based on their qualifications and their duty to follow the law.”

Except that is apparently old-school thinking, which some elements of the right have no use for.

Why elect a judge who will provide a legitimate forum for a fair trial when you can elect a right-wing religious activist who believes he’s following instructions from above?

And given that voters don’t often turn out for down-ballot races like these, and that the candidates themselves are generally not well known to the public, organizers of this effort believe they have a reasonably good chance at pulling it off — and they may very well be right.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

The "opt in" Constitution?

If you want to remain silent, you’d better speak up.

That’s what the United States Supreme Court has told criminal defendants who want to invoke their Constitutional right to remain silent. In Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Court ruled on June 01 that police can continue to question an arrested suspect as long as the suspect doesn’t explicitly tell the police he doesn’t want to talk.

The Berghuis ruling limits the rule in Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which requires police to advise criminal suspects of a number of their Constitutional rights, including the right to remain silent. (Bonus Constitutional fact – the right to remain silent comes from the Fifth Amendment’s protection against being compelled to testify against yourself).

Berghuis doesn’t change the rule that police have to read Miranda rights to a criminal suspect. What it does is allow the police to continue to question a suspect until he “affirmatively invokes” his Constitutional right to remain silent. Before Berghuis, police would have to wait until the suspect waived his right to remain silent before they could interrogate him.

In Berghuis, the police were investigating a murder. They were questioning a suspect under arrest, Van Chester Thompkins. They had Mirandized Thompkins (although he refused to sign a form acknowledging he understood his rights) and continued to interrogate him. Thompkins never told the police to stop the interrogation, so the police continued. They asked Thompkins if he believed in God, if he prayed to God, and then (start the tape recorder) whether he prayed to God for forgiveness for “shooting that boy down.” Thompkins said yes, and that “yes” can and was used against him in a court of law.

Thompkins was convicted of murder, and appealed, saying that his “yes” was a violation of his right to remain silent and should not have been used against him. The lower court agreed with Thompkins. The Supreme Court did not.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a majority that (unsurprisingly) consisted of Kennedy and the Conservative Four, said that a suspect’s waiver of his Miranda rights can be presumed when the suspect has been advised of his rights and chooses not to exercise them. The Berghuis decision significantly limits language in Miranda that said “a valid waiver will not be presumed simply from the silence of the accused after warnings are given or simply from the fact that a confession was in fact eventually obtained.”

Not anymore. In Berghuis, the Court cut that portion of Miranda out, and fundamentally changed how a suspect’s Constitutional rights are understood. Before Berghuis, there was a presumption that a suspect will invoke his Constitutional rights (such as the right to remain silent), and the police would need the suspect to actually waive those rights before proceeding with an interrogation. Now, police can assume that a suspect is waiving his rights during an interrogation unless the suspect specifically says he is invoking those rights.

In other words, the Supreme Court changed the right to remain silent from an “opt out” to an “opt in.” It shifted the presumption from protecting the accused to assisting the government. It is, as Vice President Joe Biden would say, a big (SNIP) deal.

In the majority opinion, Kennedy said that Thompkins understood his rights when he chose not to invoke them. But how did Kennedy know that? After all, Thompkins didn’t sign the form saying he understood his right to remain silent. What if he didn’t?

Kennedy said that nothing has changed about the Miranda rule requiring a suspect to be advised of his rights in such a way that he understands them. But how can an officer tell if a suspect understands his rights if that suspect doesn’t say anything? In addition to allowing the police to assume a suspect is waiving his right to remain silent, Berghuis also allows the police to assume that the suspect understood his right in the first place and question a suspect who may not understand his Constitutionally-guaranteed right to remain silent – which was exactly the concern the Miranda court had when it made the advisement requirement back in 1966.

Strangely enough, we haven’t heard a peep from conservatives who get very upset about “activist judges” imposing their own policy views on the country. We haven’t seen a mis-spelled sign from the Tea Parties around the country who shout about their fears of the Constitution being destroyed by the socialist-communist-Marxist-Nazi-Klingon-liberal President Barack Hussein Obama. Berghuis seems to be a radical change in the law, and a significant limitation on Constitutional protections. And yet, a very strange silence from both parties.

Rookie Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion, pointing out how the Berghuis decision “flatly contradicts” previous decisions from the Court, sets up “an unworkable and conflicting set of presumptions,” and “at worst, it overrules sub silentio an essential aspect of the protections Miranda has long provided.”

I know that’s a lot of quotes, but it’s a pretty impressive dissenting opinion from a first-timer. Although I do think she’s showing off a little with the whole “sub silentio” (meaning, basically, I’m not saying, I’m just saying) reference.

Given that Miranda has been called into question even by current Attorney General Eric Holder, I suppose civil libertarians should be pleased that the Court didn’t just outright overrule the decision in its’ entirety. But the underlying rationale of Berghuis is definitely concerning. Will the Court make other Constitutional rights “opt in” for suspects? Will the right to a jury trial be presumed waived? How about the right to an attorney?

In other words, how much more will the scales tip towards the government and away from the accused as the years go on?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Is Holder ruining "Law and Order?"

But, what’s going to happen to the police dramas on television we all love?

Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder announced his support for a limitation on a suspect’s Miranda rights in a terrorism case. This comes on the heels of Republican criticism of Times Square bombing suspect Faisel Shahzad being read his Miranda rights during questioning.

Just so we’re clear, “Miranda rights” come from a Supreme Court case called Miranda v. Arizona, where the Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution required a criminal defendant be advised of his constitutional right to remain silent and have a lawyer present during questioning by law enforcement. The rationale behind the decision was to ensure that suspects were aware of their constitutional rights and prevent confessions from being made due to force or deception.

It also made dialogue for TV police dramas much easier to write. But I doubt that was the main intent of the decision.

During the Bush administration, the “war on terror” was used to ignore a whole swath of constitutional rights. We were introduced to the concept of unchecked Presidential power, indefinite detentions, warrantless wiretaps, trials without lawyers or juries, confessions obtained from torture, and a whole host of other “techniques” that sound a lot more Soviet Russia than Uncle Sam.

At first blush, the Obama administration seems to be reigning in some of these practices. They do seem to view attacks like Shahzad and the Christmas Day airplane bomb attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as crimes and treat them accordingly.

But not completely. The Supreme Court created a public safety exception to Miranda, and the Obama administration has been aggressively using that exception to question suspects like Shahzad and Abdulmutallab before they get a Miranda advisement.

Wait a minute, you say. Cops don’t always have to read a suspect’s Miranda rights immediately upon arrest?

Nope. In New York v. Quarles, the Supreme Court said that a suspect can be questioned without a lawyer and without a Miranda advisement when public safety concerns are “paramount.” The Obama administration has used Quarles as the camel’s nose under the Miranda tent. Now, Holder has announced he wants to expand law enforcement’s ability to suspend the Fourth and Fifth Amendments and question terrorism suspects without lawyers or Miranda advisements.

I’m of two minds about Holder’s proposal. On the positive, it is reassuring to see that there is at least an acknowledgment of the Bill of Rights and the necessity of ensuring that due process is provided even to terrorism suspects. I’ve written for years about how the difference between a free society and a dictatorship is the Bill of Rights and its’ limitations on the government’s ability to use its’ power against the government’s own people. The Obama administration, far more than the Bush administration, appears to understand the need for such limitations to maintain a free society.

And, it could be worse. Senator Joe Lieberman recently put forward a bill that would strip American citizenship for someone that was accused – accused, not convicted – of a crime of terrorism. Lieberman has taken the lead in police-state-like proposals cloaked in a “war on terror” sheath, but his citizenship-stripping idea has taken his contempt for the Bill of Rights to eleven. The fact that this guy was one Supreme Court justice’s vote away from being the vice president in 2000 is, in hindsight, terrifying. Who would have thought that Lieberman could have made Dick Cheney look like a civil-libertarian vice president?

But Obama has shown that he has a little authoritarian in him as well. The “public safety” exception to Miranda could end up being an exception that swallows up the rule if written too broadly. Obama has yet to close Guantanamo Bay and is still allowing a Guantanamo-style prison to be operated in Afghanistan where people are being detained indefinitely. He’s even staked out a position that a President has the authority to order the assassination of specific individuals if he feels it necessary.

He’s not Bush, but there’s a lot of Bush in Obama when it comes to national security and constitutional rights issues.

It’s really ironic. The Tea Party folks make hysterical “unconstitutional!” shrieks about things that are completely constitutional, such as health care reform and Obama’s eligibility to be President. They accuse him of violating the Second Amendment and “wanting to take guns away” when he has done nothing of the sort and has taken an extraordinarily expansive view of the Second Amendment. Yet they are completely silent about breaches of actual Constitutional freedoms, like the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments.

Apparently, amendments four through six don’t move the needle in BeckPalinStan.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Why does Arizona hate police officers?

Just because you’ve identified a problem, doesn’t mean your solution is a good idea. Arizona, in response to an issue of illegal immigration that pretty much everyone agrees has not been properly handled by the federal government, has passed a controversial new law. Whether that law makes things better or worse is up for debate.

First of all, let’s lock down exactly what the new law does. Under the new law, Arizona law enforcement officers are required (that word becomes important later) to check the immigration status of any person they have a “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country unlawfully. The law also gives citizens the right to sue a local government agent or agency if that citizen believes the new law is not being enforced to “less than the full extent.”

OK, buckle up, because there’s a lot of problems in this law to go over.

The first legal problem the bill faces is the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution. This is the one that is very rarely discussed amongst right-wing Constitutional lovers, because it holds that federal law is the “supreme Law of the Land; and the Judges in every State shall be bound thereby, any Thing in the Constitution or Laws of any State to the Contrary notwithstanding.”

You never see that one a sign in a “states’ rights” rally, do you?

Immigration is, by definition, federal law. States like Arizona don’t get to have their own rules about who can come in or out of the country. We tried that once, with the Articles of Confederation back in 1776, and it didn’t work out so well. And the “preemption doctrine” says that when an area of law is so inherently federal (like immigration), the Supremacy Clause prevents states from passing laws in that area.

So does Arizona’s law violate the Supremacy Clause? Maybe. The law isn’t adding new rules, just mandating that state officers attempt to enforce already-existing federal rules. It’s a grey area that will certainly have to be hashed out in federal courts.

Legal problem number two is vagueness. Any law has to clearly define what is or is not prohibited and how it is to be enforced. The “reasonable suspicion” part of the law is going to be troublesome. What exactly is “reasonable suspicion” that a person is in the country illegally? The answer to that question suggests one of the biggest practical problems with the bill, in that it invites racial profiling of Hispanics.

The bill does say that race cannot be the sole grounds for reasonable suspicion – meaning that it can be part of the grounds, just not the whole thing. But even if that’s the case, what non-racial basis can be used to justify a check of a person’s immigration status? So far, that’s a question that no one – including the proponents and authors of the bill – can adequately answer. And that makes it subject to a vagueness attack.

One reason to strike down vague laws is to prevent selective enforcement. The theory goes that if a law is so vague that it’s not clear how it should be enforced, then the authorities are given leeway to abuse that law selectively against a group of people. They could get away with that selective enforcement because the law is so vague that it isn’t clear what that official is and is not supposed to do. That’s exactly what Hispanics in Arizona and those around the country interested in civil rights are afraid of.

Those are the two legal problems with the law, which will almost assuredly be vigorously litigated. I’m all for making sure lawyers get more money, but the legal bill the state of Arizona’s taxpayers will be footing for defending this law should be a whopper.

But there’s some practical reasons why this law is a bad idea as well, most notably for law enforcement officers. I have to think this law makes being a cop in Arizona a heck of a lot more difficult. Keep in mind, there’s a lot of Hispanic people in Arizona. Some of those Hispanic folks are criminals. Some are victims. Most are just Arizonans trying to live their lives in peace.

Now, every time an Arizona law enforcement officer has a “lawful contact” with those persons (or anyone else), that officer is going to have to decide if there is “reasonable suspicion” that they are in the country illegally. Of course, they’ve been given no guidance as to what that reasonable suspicion might be, so they’ll have to make it up as they go. I can’t imagine what could possibly go wrong.

It gets worse. Lots of times, officers will be investigating serious crimes, and needing to gain the trust of the people they are having “lawful contact” with in order to help their investigation. That’s going to be a lot more difficult if the officer is required – required, not encouraged, remember – to check on the immigration status of the people that officer is dealing with in an investigation.

Proponents of the bill will point to an exception that the requirement is only “when practicable.” But what does that mean? And will that mean something different to a judge and jury when the officer is being sued for not enforcing the new law?

Because that’s the part of the bill that isn’t getting nearly enough attention. Any person can bring a lawsuit against any officer or agency if that person thinks the law isn’t being enforced “to less than the full extent permitted by federal law.” A person winning a lawsuit gets their attorney’s fees and costs paid for by the losing party. And there’s plenty of anti-immigration organizations out there looking to get some publicity and a little dough for their lawyers by suing insufficiently-zealous Arizona cops, believe you me. And, again, while I am firmly in the pro-lawyers-making-scads-of-money camp, this provision is ripe with the potential for mischief.

So, imagine you’re that law enforcement officer. You’re investigating a murder, and trying to convince a witness to talk to you about what she saw. She's reluctant, because she comes from a tough background and has learned not to trust the police. But you need her testimony for your investigation. As you talk to her, you discovery she’s Hispanic, and (for whatever reason) you think she might be here illegally.

Do you, as the law requires, check your witness’ immigration status? Do you check it even if it will derail your murder investigation and let the guilty party go free? Do you not check it and risk being sued by an anti-immigration zealot, putting your job and your family’s livelihood at risk?

What a horrible position to put a law enforcement officer in. I have long thought that police officers have the hardest and most dangerous jobs in the world. Why the state of Arizona wants to make their jobs harder just to make a political point is beyond me.

There’s another angle to this story as well, one of hypocrisy. Where is the Tea Party outrage about this bill? I thought the Tea Party people were all about small government and reducing the intrusion of “Big Brother” government into our lives. I thought they loved the Constitution and just were about people being left alone.

The sole purpose of this bill is to give law enforcement – that’s the government, Tea Party folks – more authority to detain and arrest people. I’ve seen lots of your signs (some of them comically misspelled, of course) telling everyone how the Constitution prohibits health care reform and how the Constitution says President Obama isn’t actually President because he was born in Kenya, or Indonesia, or Mars, or something like that.

Hey, folks, this is an actual intrusive-government problem here! Arizona just passed a law that mandates the police to stop people on the vaguest of reasons. That’s a huge government intrusion, right? You’re all about small government, right? You should be up in arms about this, right? You’d be very concerned about this even though it is likely not to affect your overwhelmingly-white membership because you believe in freedom for everybody and aren’t even the slightest teeny tiny bit racist, right?

Right?

The Republican party’s hypocrisy is worse. In Arizona, they’re the driving force behind the new law. Remember, this is the same Republican party who thinks the economic downturn can be fixed by putting limits on patients suing doctors who butcher them. Now they’ve passed a law giving the green light for anyone to sue a police officer or police department if that person thinks Arizona’s immigration enforcement isn’t tough enough.

So, to summarize the Republican position on lawsuits: Suing doctors, bad. Suing cops, good.

And the hits keep on coming. The Republican National Committee has just set up a new fund-raising website claiming Obama is “versus” the Constitution. Plenty of Republican attorneys general are spending taxpayer money to get the newly-passed health care reform bill declared unconstitutional.

Really? Were you guys around when the PATRIOT Act was passed? When President Bush’s warrantless wiretapping program was revealed? When Vice-President Cheney tried to argue that the vice president’s office wasn’t legislative or executive and therefore not subject to oversight? When Guantanamo Bay was created as a place to hold prisoners indefinitely at the whim of the president?

You know, things that were actually violations of the Constitution.

I’ve got plenty of problems with the Obama administration, many of them revolving around his failure to stop the Constitutional violations of his predecessor. But here’s the thing. Just because you don’t like a particular policy decision Obama or anyone else makes doesn’t mean it’s unconstitutional.

People are entitled to whatever opinion they like, I guess. But they aren’t entitled to wrap themselves in the Constitution and pretend it says whatever they want it to say. And if you’ve held your tongue after eight years of a presidential administration who exhibited naked contempt for the Constitution, you really don’t get to tell me about how much you love the Constitution.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

JTG 04/25/10 - Whoo, duck, quack?

“This is home. This is where I will finish my coaching career.”

That was Dana Altman in 2007, coming back after his 48 hours as head coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Surely you remember what has to be one of the strangest stories in the coaching carousel. Altman took the job, got to Fayetville, had his shockingly uncomfortable “Whoo Pig, Sooey” moment, and returned to Creighton.

When he got back, he told us Creighton was home. He told us that he would finish his career with the Bluejays. And Bruce Rasmussen, Creighton’s athletic director, took him back.

Both Altman and Rasmussen are decent, honorable men, and I have no doubt Rasmussen’s decision to take Altman back was due in part to the friendship between the two. But there were other reasons to take Altman back as well.

In 2007, Altman’s Bluejays had their ninth consecutive 20-win season. In that span, Creighton had been to the NCAA tournament seven of those years and had won two first round games. Ticket sales at the Qwest Center were through the roof, and it felt like Creighton was on the verge of something special.

And, maybe more importantly, Creighton fans felt like they couldn’t do any better than Altman. If Altman left, the fans felt, the program would almost assuredly collapse into mediocrity.

Since that fateful 48 hours, though, things have changed. Creighton hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since Altman’s “Whoo Pig” moment. Their 20-game winning season streak has been snapped. Their stranglehold on the Missouri Valley conference has disappeared. And the fans have noticed.

Even more disturbing is how the tenor of the team has changed. In an effort to upgrade the talent and go to the mythical “next level” that Creighton fans demanded, Altman changed his recruiting targets. Without question, the talent level increased. The question was whether Altman’s old-school style would work on his new players.

At this point, it’s impossible to avoid looking at P’Allen Stinnett as Altman’s post-Arkansas problems in microcosm. Stinnett came in shortly after Altman’s 48-hour dabble into the SEC. He wasn’t a Kyle Korver or a Nate Funk or an Anthony Tolliver. He was an athletic and talented scorer, to be certain, but one who never could be convinced to play within Altman’s system and under Altman’s tutelage.

So, there was much trepidation looking forward to next year’s Bluejay squad. Was 2009-10 just a blip? Or was it the canary in the coalmine signifying a true descent into mediocrity?

Thanks to Phil Knight and the neon yellow folks in Eugene, we’ll never know. Three years after Creighton fans felt their program was saved by Altman’s cold feet, many now feel the program has been rescued by his itchy ones.

It’s hard not to feel a little contempt and betrayal for a man who told us three years ago that he’d retire a Bluejay. But even before his trip to Arkansas, questions were asked about Altman’s ability to advance Creighton beyond where he had taken them. And it must be remembered that all of the heightened expectations were created by Altman’s teams and their remarkable run of success.

So, while Altman’s departure does feel a little slimy on his part (as duck tends to be), I think it’s ultimately good for the program. I wish him well at Oregon (and dealing with Knight looking over his shoulder), and now have some excitement for Creighton’s potential.

Remember, Creighton is still in the top fifteen nationally in attendance. For a conference like the Missouri Valley, that’s a huge advantage. Heck, for any team, that’s a huge advantage. National coverage of Altman’s departure has drawn dismissive descriptions of Creighton as a school and a fan base with ideas above their station in dreaming of being a national power.

Dismiss Creighton at your peril. Given their attendance, history, conference, and geography, the Bluejays have the potential to be a player on the national stage in men’s college basketball. But to do so, Rasmussen and the Creighton brass must think big.

At the time of writing this column, it looks like the new coach may be Greg McDermott. He is currently head coach at Iowa State, but has the dogs nipping at his heels for the Cyclones’ lack of performance. Prior to his work in Ames, McDermott was head coach at Northern Iowa, so he has a good knowledge of the conference. He would be accepted by the fan base, and could plod the Bluejays along.

But the Bluejays need to think big. I hope that, before the hire is made, that Creighton makes a run at the big time. Altman’s former employers, Kansas State, hired Bob Huggins for a year, and set the table for the Purples to be a #2 seed in last year’s tournament.

While Kansas State might be a unique situation (and one that brings some unwanted baggage that Creighton should avoid), it was important to show that Kansas State was not satisfied to settle for less in basketball. Creighton has the opportunity with this hire to plant a flag and demonstrate they are looking to be serious players on the national scene.

It’s a risk, to be certain. Oregon did the same thing and had to “settle” for Altman. But I’d rather see Creighton take that risk and demonstrate that ambition than to immediately settle for a recycled version of Altman.

After all, when Altman left the first time, Creighton fans thought they couldn’t do any better than him. Now is the time to prove that Creighton can.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Conservative judicial activism?

Sometimes, it’s what isn’t said that’s more important than what’s said.

Nebraska has recently passed the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Act,” which outlaws abortions in the second half of the second trimester of a pregnancy (after 20 weeks) because, according to the Unicameral, that is the point at which the fetus can feel pain.

Sounds relatively straightforward, right? Another attempt to ban later-term abortions from a conservative state in the ongoing pro-choice vs. pro-life battle, right? Nothing to see here, move along.

As college football analyst Lee Corso would say, not so fast, my friend. Nebraska’s new law is more than just your run-of-the-mill pro-life trial balloon tossed into the courts. This law is intended to challenge the fundamental basis of abortion laws in the United States.

Let’s take it from the top, though. In 1973, the Supreme Court decided in Roe v. Wade that abortion was a constitutionally-protected right that must be balanced against the state’s interest in the life of the unborn child. Roe defined viability as the threshold when the state’s interest outweighed the mother’s interest – in other words, once the fetus could survive outside the womb (was “viable”) then the state’s interest outweighed the mother’s interest and the state could restrict abortion access. In addition to keeping agitators on both side of the issue employed and well-funded for the last 37 years, that basic rule has been what has guided the courts in deciding the contours and boundaries of abortion law.

So what’s the big deal, you ask? It’s all about the premise. Nebraska’s law (like other “fetal pain” bills in states like Oklahoma and Texas) abandons the viability premise. Under Nebraska law, an abortion is illegal because the fetus can feel pain, regardless of whether it is viable or not.

That is nothing less than a frontal assault on the legal architecture of abortion law since Roe was decided in 1973. There’s no way that Nebraska’s new law could survive a legal challenge under current law. It could only survive if the Supreme Court uses a law like Nebraska’s to re-interpret the Constitution and change abortion law. Which is, of course, exactly what the pro-life community wants to see.

Now, this won’t happen overnight. There will be legal challenges to the constitutionality of Nebraska’s law filed, and they will take years to filter their way to the Supreme Court. Between taking the abortion bill to court and suing the Federal government over the health care reform bill passed earlier this year, the budget for Nebraska’s Attorney General office should be plenty stretched. Good thing the state is so flush with tax revenue.

(As an aside, I was discussing Nebraska’s new law with a very wise colleague of mine. She pointed out that the Tea Party faithful were quite upset about health care reform “stealing their freedom” by proposing a tax penalty for not buying insurance. They didn’t, however, seem nearly as upset about a bill that removed the actual freedom to receive an actual health care procedure. Good thing the Tea Party is a broad base of libertarian-minded independents and not just a collection of hard-core and somewhat cranky conservatives, right?)

So what’s going to happen once this gets to the Supreme Court? Tough to say, as we’re about to be treated to another episode of everyone’s favorite reality show, “Supreme Court Justice Confirmation.” But keep in mind, the Conservative Four (Scalia, Thomas, Roberts, and Alito) will be there regardless of who the rookie justice will be. And the Conservative Four have shown no hesitance to make dramatic changes in settled law – just go read about Citizens United and see how they turned decades of campaign finance reform on its’ collective head.

But, you might ask, shouldn’t the idea of judges making dramatic changes to settled law run counter to conservative ideals? Isn’t that – gasp – judicial activism that is so anathema to conservatives everywhere? Shouldn’t conservatives who believe in their principles just go to the ballot box and try to change law through the legislature instead of using the court to end run the will of the people, like they’ve loudly and consistently accused progressives of doing?

They should. I hope they do. I’m not holding my breath.

NU Re-View: Red 21, White 16

THE GOOD ...
- TAYLOR MARTINEZ: Yes, I know, he's the guy everyone is talking about. ESPN's coverage of NU's Spring Game was basically a Martinez PR piece. But there's good reason for the coverage. The kid looked the part, particularly in what appears to be what Shawn Watson's offense is going to look like going forward. His first play was basically a Wildcat run, which he looked comfortable running. But he ran decisively, was patient in the pocket when he dropped back to throw, and definitely did not look like a freshman directing the offense. Based on what we saw on Saturday, there's no question he's in the mix in the starting quarterback race.
- THE OTHER GUY: Martinez is the shiny new car, and Cody Green suffers from a bit of the "been there, done that" syndrome. And while it is true that he didn't sparkle in quite the way Martinez did, it's also true that he was asked to air it out a lot more than Martinez was. As we have seen before, Green struggled some in the short passing game. But he had two gorgeous deep throws - and the lack of a deep threat to stretch the field was sorely lacking last season. If I had to put money on one kid to get the starting QB position next season, my money would be on Green.
- RETURN OF THE PAJAMAS: I understand that I will be in a distinct minority on this one. But I loved the red-on-red look the team had. I loved the white-on-white they've experimented with in the past. I think a uniform re-design is not warranted (although a few more throwbacks would be nice), but adding in some mix-and-match would be more than a little cool. Oh, by the way, it's nice to see Gay Dancer Herbie (tight shirt and jeans) replaced by the familiar Bib Overall Herbie. Let's hope that's permanent.

THE BAD ...
- TAYLOR MARTINEZ'S HYPE: Yes, the kid was really exciting. Yes, I think he's got a place in the offense. But, please, 'Husker fans, do not engrave his name on the Heisman just yet. Assuming he's not the starting quarterback this fall, do not start calling for him at the first incompletion thrown by Green or Zac Lee. He's good, but I can almost guarantee you that he's not as good as you think he is after watching him on Saturday.
- PLAY TO THE WHISTLE: Look, I get that it's a scrimmage. But there were at least two incidents at the end of a play where a rugby scrum broke out. In just about any actual game, those plays would have been blown dead for halting forward progress. But they weren't, and the offense pushed the pile forward. Brandon Kinnie got a touchdown after being dogpiled at the five yard line, with the dogpile getting pushed into the end zone. Great motor for Kinnie and the offense, but I have to think a defense-first guy like Bo Pelini had to be popping a vein seeing his defensive crew giving those up.
- ROW 39 IN THE EAST STANDS: Unlike some years, it was a perfect spring day in Lincoln. The sky was blue, the temperature was warm but not hot, and the wind was just strong enough to put a charge into the air. What better way to spend that afternoon, then, but to be sitting under a 50-year-old concrete overhang navigating a two-foot-wide pole? The experience was eerily remniscent to watching a baseball game in the concrete monstrosity that was Cincinnati's old Riverfront Stadium.

... AND THE REMINDER THAT WE'RE TALKING 'BOUT PRACTICE.
There was a lot to like about NU's Spring Game 2010, not the least of which were the 77,000-plus people that showed up (although, really, could 'Husker Nation not find another three thousand bodies to sell Memorial Stadium out?) Everything we saw, though - from the offensive wizardry to the introduction of the Peso to the Bouncerooski - should be viewed through the "it's only practice" prism. For the first time in a while, Nebraska is going into a season with legitimate championship aspirations. The results of the Spring Game should not be over-analyzed to presume those championships are won already.

THE BIG PICTURE
More than anything, what struck me is that this group of 'Huskers looked more like a complete roster of players Pelini is looking for. In the previous two Spring Games, it felt like Pelini was piecing together a hodgepodge roster of leftover Callahan players and trying to see where the square pegs and round holes were located. This year, the direction and philosophy seem more settled and there seems to be legitimate competition for the positions to execute that direction. For the most part, the NU roster looks and feels deeper than it has for some years. Sure, there's holes to fill (you don't move your best tight end to wide receiver on a whim), but the signs are there that Pelini was right about Nebraska being back and here to stay.

THE NEXT GAME
Western Kentucky @ Nebraska, September 04, 2010.

Is it September 04, 2010, yet?

THE PHOTOS
http://picasaweb.google.com/patrickrunge/NUSpringGame10?authkey=Gv1sRgCNWdndif9eSliwE&feat=directlink

GBR, baby.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Oklahoma legislators channel their inner Somali warlord

There’s tone-deaf, and then there’s the Oklahoma state legislature.

As we approach the 15th anniversary of the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City – perpetrated by anti-government domestic terrorist Timothy McVeigh in which 168 people died – members of the Oklahoma legislature are discussing the formation of a “volunteer militia” to “defend” the state against what they view as “unwarranted” intrusions from the federal government.

Remember, McVeigh believed that the federal government was an enemy force responsible for killing Americans in Waco and Ruby Ridge. He believed that deadly force – including the bombing of a federal building – was necessary to resist the federal government’s “unwarranted” intrusions. So, really, what better way to commemorate McVeigh’s victims than to organize a group McVeigh would stand in line to join?

Think about it for just a moment. State senators think it would be a good idea to create a volunteer militia – a group of armed citizens who enforce the rules as they think they should be enforced. And, at least one thinks that it would be legal.

“The Second Amendment deals directly with the right of an individual to keep and bear arms to protect themselves from an overreaching federal government,” said Randy Brogden, a Republican state senator and (naturally) candidate for governor.

Um, actually, not so much. There are arguments to be made as to whether the Second Amendment’s intent was to protect the right to bear arms for hunting and recreation, or to repel foreign invasion. There is no argument, historically, that the purpose of the amendment was to keep the federal government in check.

Besides, Oklahoma (along with 49 other states) already has a state militia. It’s called the National Guard. At the time the Second Amendment was written, there was no such organization. Heck, there wasn’t even supposed to be a standing army. Times and laws have changed to make such a “minuteman” style of army both unnecessary and unwise.

Now, in fairness, recently the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment guarantees an individual right to bear arms, which as taken any meaning out of the whole “well-regulated Militia” part of the Second Amendment. But this isn’t an issue about whether individuals can possess firearms.

If the argument for an armed force protecting a state from an “overreaching federal government” sounds familiar, it should. In 1957, the governor of the state of Arkansas ordered the National Guard (the state militia, remember) to prevent black students from attending a previously-all-white high school. Arkansas’ governor at the time, Orval Faubus, believed the Supreme Court’s decision requiring schools to be desegregated was an “overreaching federal government” intruding upon the rights of the state of Arkansas. In 1962, then-governor George Wallace attempted to use the Alabama National Guard to prevent the integration of the University of Alabama. Wallace believed that the federal court’s decision that the state could not prevent blacks from attending the school was the act of an “overreaching federal government” intruding upon the rights of the state of Alabama.

And now, because in 2014 people will face a tax penalty if they don’t purchase health insurance, Oklahoma state legislators want to mobilize private armies with the blessing of the Oklahoma legislature. I thought private armies were what Somali warlords used to help maintain control of their territories, not what Americans used in political disagreements.

But let’s think this through. We’re talking about volunteer armies that would be somehow deputized by the state legislature based on a particular political belief. Would everyone get to do that?

On “The Daily Show,” comedian Wyatt Cenac played a supporter of health care reform and was asked his response to the violent and separatist language used by health care opponents. He said “bring it on, I mean, we’ve got guns too.”

Apparently no one told the Oklahoma legislature that he was kidding.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

LTG 03-31-10: NOW can we call them terrorists?

Earlier this week, several members of the Hutaree militia in Michigan were arrested for conspiring to kill police officers. According to prosecutors, the group planned to make a fake 911 call to lure police officers into an ambush and then use bombs to attack the funerals of the officers slain in the original ambush.

What’s even more chilling is the reasons attributed for these attacks. According to federal authorities, the militia hoped their attacks would spark others to rise up and violently oppose the government. The Hutaree militia (whose name is supposed to mean “Christian warrior”) believed that they were preparing for the Biblical end-times and the rise of the Antichrist in the form of the United States government. Therefore, they believed they were compelled by God to use violence against agents of the Antichrist and that any innocent persons harmed along the way were unfortunate collateral damage to their holy mission.

Sound at all familiar? Who needs a trip to Baghdad or Kabul when you can just head to rural Michigan?

Unfortunately, that’s not the only reason why the Hutaree story sounds familiar. It wasn’t that long ago that an anti-government believer flew a plane into a building in Texas. And it wasn’t that long before the plane attack that an anti-abortionist walked into a church and assassinated a doctor. And it wasn’t that long before the assassination that soldiers were shot by a man violently opposed to the war in Iraq. And it wasn’t that long before the shooting of the soldiers …

OK, you get my point. There’s plenty of reason for concern about the rising tide of politically-motivated violence in this country. This is particularly true if you remember back to the mid-1990s, when the militia movements first gained notoriety. A lot of what you heard back then – the government is evil, your freedoms are being taken away, the President is a traitor, good citizens should arm themselves and resist – is being echoed in the Tea Party rallies of today. Whether the current anti-government rhetoric will culminate as the rhetoric in the 1990s did – with the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City and the death of 168 people – remains to be seen.

But there’s a broader legal issue that has received little attention. After the September 11 attack on this country, we were told by then-President George Bush that the fight against terrorism was a new kind of war, requiring new kinds of tactics. Those tactics, as it turned out, involved indefinite detention of terrorism suspects, the use of torture, the elimination of habeas corpus, and ultimately the granting of the President with dictatorial powers in the name of “keeping us safe.”

That was a pretty easy sell to a scared nation being told about mushroom clouds hanging over its’ cities. And let’s be honest, it was also made easier when those on the wrong end of all that unchecked Presidential power were named Mohammed or Ali instead of David or Joe.

So, why haven’t we called the Hutaree militia a terrorist cell? The plan certainly fits every description of a terrorist plot I can think of. But there’s no mention of terrorism in the indictment filed against the militia members. There’s been no mention of terrorism in the President’s statements about the attack. Ironically enough, the Obama administration offered support to the people of Moscow who were victims of domestic terrorism in the subway bombings, but no references to the domestic terrorist plot broken up by law enforcement.

Why is this important? Because it exposes the lie told to us for years that constitutional rights have to be surrendered to fight terrorism. The Hutaree militia plot was foiled not by the PATRIOT act, but by good law enforcement. They’re being held in jail, not in a super-secret military prison outside of the country, and they haven’t broken out and wreaked havoc on the American countryside like we’ve been told Guantanamo detainees would if we put them in a SuperMax prison.

Apparently, that means the Republicans believe that foreign-born terrorists are way more dangerous than domestic terrorists. Isn’t that a touch unpatriotic?

I’ve said this before, and I will say it again. “Declaring war” against an abstract concept like terrorism, or crime, or littering, is fine as a metaphor but terrible as a legal rationale. If we’re serious about declaring actual war against terrorists, then we’d be renditioning the Hutaree militia members to Guantanamo and torturing them.

We’re not. Our refusal to accept actions like the Hutaree plot as terrorism is further evidence that, at some level, we understand that treating the “war on terror” as an actual war and suspending our constitutional freedoms for the duration puts us into the perpetual war that George Orwell warned us about in “1984.”

Sunday, March 21, 2010

LTG 03/21/10 - The Imperial President

Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman have introduced the Enemy Belligerent Interrogation, Detention, and Prosecution Act of 2010 before the United States Senate. The proposal is shocking in it’s sweep. If passed into law, the bill would literally give the President the authority to detain anyone he wishes, American citizen or not, for as long as he wants.

I’m not kidding. I’m not exaggerating. This isn’t the opening chapter of “It Can’t Happen Here” or any other dystopic fictional work. Here’s how it would work.

According to the bill, if someone who was taken into military custody and suspected of being an “unprivileged enemy belligerent,” the bill would give the President authority to detain that person in military custody without trial or criminal charges “for the duration of hostilities against the United States.”

And you thought the Bush-era euphemisms like “enhanced interrogation” for “torture” were gone. Silly you.

But what do all those euphemisms mean? Well, an “unprivileged enemy belligerent” is someone who the President determines to be a member of a group hostile to the United States. If that sounds similar to the Bush-era “enemy combatant” designation, that’s because it means the exact same thing.

How about the “duration of hostilities” thing? That means when the President declares the “war on terror” to be over. And if you think the answer to that question is “never,” just like a war on crime or poverty or bad taste in music, you’re exactly right. It’s the primary problem for treating a metaphorical war on a concept the same as a real, legal war on something tangible like a country. By telling a populace they are in a war, even a perpetual war, a government gets to enhance its’ power and repress its’ citizenry for the duration of the perpetual war. George Orwell told us that in “1984.”

Did you notice a common theme running through the description of the bill? It’s the President that gets to make all of these decisions. The bill is actually just putting into law the “Unitary Executive” theory made popular by the neoconservative movement that brought us the Iraq War and Guantanamo Bay. That theory states that the President has unfettered authority during times of war as commander in chief of the military. A perpetual war, of course, means a perpetual granting to the President of unfettered authority. And that is pretty hard to distinguish from a military dictatorship.

Surely, though, such a law would be unconstitutional, right? Well, on its’ face you would think so. But the Bush administration did a pretty good job of taking this country down a constitutional rabbit hole with its’ fearmongering of 9/11, getting at least six unconstitutional ideas into the mainstream of American thought before breakfast. And with the Conservative Four on the Supreme Court, there’s no reason to be optimistic about this bill being struck down if it became law.

For example, remember Jose Padilla? He was the guy accused of trying to set off a “dirty bomb” in 2002, and held indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” by President Bush. Eventually even the Bush administration was forced to try him in Federal court, where he was sentenced in 2007 (by the way, not for anything involving a “dirty bomb”) to 17 years in prison. He remains there to this day, which is amazing to know considering how we’ve heard from the Republicans how terrorists are all supervillains whose mighty powers couldn’t possibly be held by a SuperMax prison.

I guess I understand why McCain would sponsor such legislation. He’s in a huge primary fight against a conservative talk show host, and thinks he needs to look tough to get the hard-right conservative votes. Lieberman is more of a mystery to me, and I cannot fathom how a Jewish man who knows his history could ever give the kind of authority to anyone that his bill would grant the President.

What surprises me a little is why the Tea Party kooks haven’t picked up on this. Remember, these are the folks who think that President Obama is a socialist. And a communist. And a Marxist. And a dictator. And a Klingon, I think. Regardless, they think he’s a Bad Dude who is trying to “steal our freedoms” and “take our country away” and stuff like that.

Well, guess what? If this bill passes, Obama would have the legal authority to do just that. He could declare all the Tea Partiers as “unprivileged enemy belligerents” and have them arrested and held in military detention for as long as he wants. It wouldn’t matter that the Tea Partiers have no connection whatsoever to international terrorism. The President and the President alone could make that decision, with no access to the courts or any other independent tribunal for review. After all, Padilla didn’t have anything to do with what he was accused of, but he would have been held indefinitely anyway.

Perhaps if the Tea Partiers spent less time worrying about death panels and more time worrying about military tribunals, they’d be a more productive force in society. But I’m not holding my breath.

Monday, March 15, 2010

LTG 03/10/10 - Waterboarding litterbugs?

“Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” – Samuel Johnson

Liz Cheney, daughter of former vice president Dick Cheney and current conservative political agitator, has thrust herself into the spotlight again. Her political organization, Keep America Safe (not to be confused with Keep America Beautiful, although if she ran that organization she’d be advocating the waterboarding of litterbugs) has run an advertisement critical of Department of Justice attorneys who represented Guantanamo detainees in the past.

Although, to be fair, calling the ad “being critical” really doesn’t do it justice. In the ad, the lawyers who had the temerity to represent Guantanamo detainees were called “war criminals” and “terrorist huggers,” and the ad suggested that the attorneys might be terrorist sleepers and a threat to the country.

So, in the world according to Liz, making sure that people get a fair trial means you’re a threat to national security. If you represent a criminal, you love crime.

This isn’t reasoned debate. This is verbal thuggery. This is a naked and brazen attempt to use fear to damage the public’s confidence in the DOJ and the administration which, surprisingly enough, doesn’t include her father.

It’s not like Clan Cheney doesn’t have experience using fear. For years during the Bush administration, Papa Cheney orchestrated a campaign of darkly worded missives about supervillain terrorists who could break out of normal prisons to convince a nation that torture was acceptable and to create an extrajudicial gulag in Cuba that even George W. Bush realized was a bad idea.

And, to give the devil her due, it works. When Wolf Blitzer ran a story about the Keep America Safe ad, the chyron at the bottom of the screen read “Dept. of Jihad?” Mission accomplished for Liz and company, to be able to take this non-story about attorneys doing what attorneys are supposed to do and stoke the fires of the lunatic Tea Party conspiracy theories about President Obama being a “secret Muslim” out to “steal America” from “real Americans” and give it to “them.”

But, it’s Wolf Blitzer, the nation’s premier embarrassment to journalism. It shouldn’t be surprising that he was distracted by a shiny object like the Keep America Safe ad.

When you take even a moment to think through the ad, though, you realize how offensive it really is. If America really is a free country, one of the bedrock principles of that freedom is that everyone gets a fair trial. In the Soviet Union in its’ heyday, there were plenty of trials that went on. They just weren’t fair trials. People got railroaded in show trials and the enemies of the state got sent to a Siberian work camp or a shallow grave.

This, apparently, is the model Liz wants to adopt for our country. Again, it’s consistent with her father’s “torture and lock up forever whoever I tell you to” philosophy. But to attack an attorney for doing exactly what an attorney is supposed to do – zealously represent their client and let a neutral judge make a fair decision – is even starting to ring hollow in conservative circles.

So, is Liz just dumb? Hardly. Clan Cheney may be many things, but they are very smart. So why would she say something like this when she knows how silly she’ll look?

Well, keep in mind that just before this scary ad came out, the DOJ released a report describing how John Yoo and other Bush-era DOJ lawyers wrote memos justifying torture that they knew were not legally defensible. While the report said Yoo didn’t commit malpractice, the report also was scathingly critical of the legal lynchpins that supported Clan Cheney’s torture program.

That’s not something Papa Cheney would want making the national media cycle. That’s easy to fix. One scary commercial later and CNN has a “Dept. of Jihad?” chyron on the screen. And no one is talking Papa Cheney’s torture program being illegal.

Which is, of course, the ultimate irony. Liz’s commercial calls the DOJ lawyers war criminals for doing their jobs. Liz’s father, though, by spearheading and authorizing an illegal torture program, is the one in jeopardy of war crimes prosecution.

If Papa Cheney gets charged, wanna bet Liz won’t complain about the lawyers defending him?

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Leaving kids behind?

Very interesting article from NPR (http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=124209100&sc=fb&cc=fp) interviewing former Assistant Secretary of Eduacation Diane Ravitch, who once championed George W. Bush's "No Child Left Behind" program and now thinks maybe it was a bad idea. The money quote is at the end, talking about how schools operate best when they share the best ideas rather than competing and trying to put each other out of business.

Ya think?

I have no idea who Ravitch is, or whether she's having this deathbead conversion to protect her professional position after the election or not. And while the goal of accountability in NCLB is laudable, the mechanism used to achieve it is disastrous. Unfortunately, the Republican panacea to everything is "apply competition, give tax breaks" without any consideration as to whether or not it would actually, you know, work. It's the ultimate example of the cliche about when your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Sadly, the Obama approach to education hasn't been that much better. Race to the Top, part of the stimulus package, has asinine rules and outcomes as well.

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In 2005, former Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch wrote, "We should thank President George W. Bush and Congress for passing the No Child Left Behind Act ... All this attention and focus is paying off for younger students, who are reading and solving mathematics problems better than their parents' generation."

Four years later, Ravitch has changed her mind.

"I was known as a conservative advocate of many of these policies," Ravitch says. "But I've looked at the evidence and I've concluded they're wrong. They've put us on the wrong track. I feel passionately about the improvement of public education and I don't think any of this is going to improve public education."

Ravitch has written a book about what she sees as the failure of No Child Left Behind called The Death and Life of the Great American School System. She says one of her biggest concerns is the way the law requires school districts to use standardized testing.

Emphasis On Test Scores Led To Cheating, Dishonesty

"The basic strategy is measuring and punishing," Ravitch says of No Child Left Behind. "And it turns out as a result of putting so much emphasis on the test scores, there's a lot of cheating going on, there's a lot of gaming the system. Instead of raising standards it's actually lowered standards because many states have 'dumbed down' their tests or changed the scoring of their tests to say that more kids are passing than actually are."

Some states contend that 80 to 90 percent of their children are proficient readers and have math proficiency as well, Ravitch notes. But in the same states, only 25 to 30 of the children test at a proficient level on national tests such as the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

"Secretary (of Education Arne) Duncan often says we're lying to our kids," Ravitch says. "And we are lying to our kids."

'There Should Not Be An Education Marketplace'

Part of the reason schools were so intent on achieving high tests scores was because they were competing with other schools for resources, which were often doled out on that basis alone.

Ravitch is critical of the impact this had on schools.

"There should not be an education marketplace, there should not be competition," Ravitch says. "Schools operate fundamentally — or should operate — like families. The fundamental principle by which education proceeds is collaboration. Teachers are supposed to share what works; schools are supposed to get together and talk about what's [been successful] for them. They're not supposed to hide their trade secrets and have a survival of the fittest competition with the school down the block."

Monday, March 01, 2010

JTG 03/01/10 - It's about time

Well, I guess the last minute is better than not getting someting done at all. Creighton managed to sweep the final week of the regular season, ending at 16-14 (10-8 in Valley play) and a fourth-place finish in conference.

The week started out with a mid-week trip to Carbondale to face the hated Salukis. The game started out fast, but competitive, with neither team able to pull away from the other (or play any form of defense, apparently). Towards the end of the first half, Creighton went into one of their now-traditional swoons, allowing Southern Illinois to go on a 20-4 run. But the Bluejays came back to life a little, cutting SIU's halftime lead to 40-36.

Creighton then spent the entire second half chipping away, getting close, and hanging around against the Salukis. While Creighton was never able to get the lead, it was more than refreshing to see this Bluejay squad have the mental toughness to stay in the game and get it to overtime.

Of course, in yet another flashback, Creighton had the final possession of regulation and held for the final shot. At least this time the Bluejays' failure to score was the result of two blocked shots instead of an unforced turnover, but the result was the same.

In overtime, however, Creighton found its' collective mojo. The Bluejays scored the first six points and never looked back, pulling away for an 83-78 win. In a sign of the atrophy of this rivalry, the win was Creighton's fifth straight over SIU, including two straight in Carbondale.

So, the Bluejays got the road win they desperately needed against the Egyptian dogs. Given this season, it sets up perfectly for a letdown and an inexplicable home loss to Bradley, right?

Sure looked like it to start out. After building a ten-point lead in the first half, Creighton apparently thought they had the game in hand. Bradley came roaring back, including hitting a ridiculous shot from their own end of the court as the halftime buzzer sounded to cut Creighton's lead to one. Here's that deja vu again - how would this Bluejay squad respond?

Bradley opened the second half by hitting two shots to take the lead, much to the discomfort of the assembled Qwest crowd. But then Creighton did something we've seen precious little of all season. They put the clamps down, went on a 9-0 run, and ultimately pulled away for a relatively comfortable 82-71 victory.

You want streaks? Creighton salvaged their 10-conference-win streak, making it 14 in a row (second nationally to Kansas' 16). Their 20-game win streak, once dead and buried, now can at least be discussed. Two wins in the Valley tournament puts them at 18, and likely gets Creighton a bid to at least the CBI postseason tournament. Two wins in that, and the Bluejays pull off what to me would be an unthinkable salvage job.

So, now we look to St. Louis. On Friday, Creighton has to turn around and play Bradley again. The Bluejays have won both games against the Braves this season, but Bradley has an unfortunate history of spoiling Creighton's trips to Arch Madness. And, even if the Bluejays get by Bradley, they get the winner of the Northern Iowa-Southern Illinois/Drake play-in game. In other words, they get Northern Iowa.

That's not good news for Bluejay fans hoping for a run. Sure, the Panthers are ranked, but they're not going to be kidding themselves. UNI knows that an early exit in St. Louis could be deadly to their NCAA dreams, particularly given how weak the Valley is this year.

It does look like the Bluejays are really starting to come together, finally. How much the suspension of P'Allen Stinnett has to do with Creighton's end-of-season play is tough to tell, although it's telling that Creighton has found ways to replace his scoring. It's a big mountain left to climb, but the only time I've seen Arch Madness in person in when Creighton was a four-seed, and they won the whole thing. A little magic this weekend wouldn't be a bad way to kick off Championship Week.

Monday, February 22, 2010

JTG 02/22/10 - A new, and unwelcome, thought

I've followed Creighton basketball for a long time, and in that time there have been a number of thoughts that have run through my head. Some of them went like this:

"What a shot, [insert Taylor, Korver, or Woodfox here]!"

"How did [insert fifth or seventh school from major conference] get the last NCAA bid over us?"

"Shouldn't we be guarding that big kid for the Chippewas?"

But I can't tell you the last time I had this thought going into a game:

"Please, just don't embarass us."

Unfortunately, that's the state of the Bluejays this year going into Creighton's visit to Cedar Falls and their matchup with nationally-ranked Northern Iowa. And, even more unfortunately, the Panthers didn't oblige this fearful Bluejay backer. Creighton scored the first seven points of the game (yay!), but fell victim to a 28-5 Panther run (boo!) and never got themselves back in the game.

My wife, of course, is a UNI graduate, which makes matters worse. We were at dinner for the second half. I was facing a television with the game on, and she had her back to the TV. It didn't matter. She could read the progress of the game just by watching my face.

Sure, there were glimmers of good play from Creighton, but there's no covering up how completely outclassed the Bluejays were by Northern Iowa. Creighton has long since lost their collective mojo, and once UNI went on their big run in the middle of the first half there was no sign of life from Creighton.

So, pressure fell on the BracketBuster game on Saturday - the "JESUIT SHOWDOWN" - between Creighton and Loyola Chicago. For a half, things looked more than a little concerning. Creighton only led by a point, although that was from a seven-point run from Loyola to close the half. The magic of the Qwest Center and the 15,000+ that showed up for the JESUIT SHOWDOWN didn't disappoint, however. Creighton went on a 13-2 run to start the second half and cruised to a comfortable 78-58 win.

So, now Creighton is 14-14, with two games left to go before the Arch Madness tournament in St. Louis. We've discussed the .500 Mendoza line as a psychological tool throughout the season, but it's becoming a practical question now. Many of Creighton's streaks are already broken, but the postseason streak remains a possibility. However, to get to the postseason the Bluejays need to finish at least on the line to remain eligible.

The final two games of the regular season see them going to Carbondale to play Southern Illinois, then back to the Qwest for the home finale against Bradley. A split of those two games - and given Creighton's season, is there any way to pick anything else - leaves the Bluejays in a must-win situation for their first game in the conference tournament. Going into the tourney at 15-15 and pulling a one-and-done would leave Creighton under .500, and likely at home for the whole postseason.

This has been a brutal, humbling season for Dana Altman and his Bluejays. The team now is almost entirely remade from the squad we thought we would be seeing. The fact that Ethan Wragge and Josh Jones started against Loyola is not insignificant, showing the changing of the guard for the boys in Blue.

Much like bowl games in football, postseason tournaments are a great way for rebuilding teams to get extra work in and build chemistry. This year more than ever, Creighton needs a post season - ANY post season, be it NIT or CBA - to get some extra playing time and help figure out who they are going into next season.

Sure, a magical run through St. Louis to an NCAA bid would be fun. But a win over the stupid Salukis in Carbondale to spark an NIT bid is more likely, and a lot more important.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

LTG 02/20/10 - How can that not be terrorism?

I’m going to need some help with this. A man flies a plane into a building with the express intent of making a political statement, and it’s not terrorism?

Last week, an angry Joseph Stack posted a long anti-government diatribe on his blog, set fire to his house, and flew a small plane into an Austin, Texas, building containing the local office of the Internal Revenue Service. As of this column’s writing, two people (in addition to Stack) were killed in the attack, with a third person missing.

Of course, seeing the crawl on the bottom of a TV screen that says “plane crashes into building” brings back the inevitable, horrifying memories of 9/11. I know when I first heard the news of Stack’s attack, I had the same knot in my stomach I felt watching the Twin Towers fall.

So, I was more than a little confused when, later that day, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the incident didn’t “appear” to be a terrorist attack.

Excuse me?

Gibbs went on to say that there didn’t seem to be any link between al Qaeda or any similar group and the attack on the IRS building. As if that’s supposed to make anyone feel better.

I’m not sure why this is so complicated. Terrorism is the act of using violence to instill fear into a populace in an attempt to achieve a political end.

So, let’s see. Stack was very, very angry at the IRS in specific and the Federal tax code in general, and wanted to see it changed. Political end, check. Use of violence, check. Instilling fear into a populace, check.

Having “Mohammed” or “bin-something-or-other” in his name? No check there, so it must not be terrorism.

It’s hard not to come to the conclusion that we’ve all been very effectively programmed to think that terrorism = Muslim. Let’s face it, we had a presidential administration that pounded that into our heads starting about September 14, 2001, and continues to do so to this day. Obviously, that type of fear-mongering is effective.

Unfortunately, thanks to the legacy of the Bush administration, whether something is “terrorist” or not has significant consequences. If the government calls you a terrorist, then they can lock you away without any Constitutional rights, keep you locked away as long as they want, and torture you if they feel like it.

So, we couldn’t possibly call Stack a terrorist, because if we did then we’d have to treat him like we treat the people in Guantanamo. And, sadly enough, the American public might look very differently at a white American citizen being waterboarded.

It’s not like we haven’t had acts of domestic terrorism recently. Remember Scott Roeder? He walked into a Kansas church and assassinated Dr. George Tiller, a doctor who performed abortions. Roeder killed Tiller for the express purpose of making a political statement and to use fear to stop other doctors from performing abortions.

Was he treated like a terrorist, renditioned by the military to a secret prison and tortured? Nope. He was treated like what he was, a criminal, and has been convicted of murder and is facing the justice he deserves. Just the way Richard Reed, the “shoe bomber” and Jose Padilla, the “dirty bomber” was. Both of those guys were given all their Constitutional rights, were convicted, and now languish in a SuperMax prison. And, amazingly enough, they haven’t used the superpowers some in the GOP apparently believe they possess to break out and destroy Manhattan.

If you saw any of the town hall meetings about health care this summer, you’ve seen the face of irrational, terrified anger. We’ve seen that irrational, terrified anger explode into two acts of domestic terrorism in the last eight months. We’ve seen people making lots of money appearing on television stoking the fires of that irrational, terrified anger (looking right at you, Glenn Beck).

So, the next time you hear someone take to the airwaves or to the Senate floor decrying the concept of applying the rule of law to Gitmo prisoners, ask yourself this question. Do you think these people would be saying the same thing if the target of their venom was a fifty-something white guy instead of a Muslim? Do you think the people supporting them would be as rabid if they realized the people getting waterboarded looked and sounded like them?