Turmoil in the BCS

BCSBoise State’s Impact On The Big Time

The old comic Rodney Dangerfield’s signature line – “I can’t get no respect” – can no longer realistically be applied to the big time college football program at Boise State University.

When the New York Times is commenting, the world is watching.

In a lead article Wednesday headlined, “Boldly, Boise State Moves The Question,” the newspaper of record summed up the impact of the BSU victory over Texas Christian in the Fiesta Bowl with this sentence: “Perception in college football is driven by star power, and Boise State now has it.”

A USA Today blog picked up, as others did, the suggestion that when President Obama invites the eventual national championship team for the standard post-season White House visit, he should also include an invite to the Broncos.

Associated Press sports columnist Jim Litke’s take on how underdog Boise State gets real respect – it’s a political issue. So, cue the politicians and the issue ads aimed at reforming the Bowl Championship Series. Litke says: “Matt Sanderson, a Utah graduate and former campaign-finance attorney for GOP presidential contender John McCain, founded Playoff PAC with a half-dozen similarly politically savvy friends.

“We wanted to give a home to the tremendous grass-roots energy that’s formed around the BCS and channel it toward a proven method to get results — in this case, political pressure.”

Fixing college football’s dysfunctional national championship system may not rank in importance with health insurance reform or reducing the deficit, but it may actually be something Congress could do. It should.

The Poetry of Cities

sandburgCarl Sandburg and Downtowns

It is the birthday of the poet and Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg born January 6, 1878 in Galesburg, Illinois.

Twice winner of the Pulitzer – The War Years about Lincoln’s presidency won the award in 1940 and his Complete Poems won in 1951 – Sandburg is often dismissed today as too much the sentimentalist. Perhaps that is why I like him very much.

I thought of Sandburg’s poems about Chicago and Omaha and other cities this morning while absorbing the news that downtown economic mainstays – big Macy’s department stores – in Missoula and Boise are soon to close. As Idaho Statesman reporter Tim Woodward noted, the Boise store was a fixture in the heart of Idaho’s Capitol City for decades; a meeting place, a lunchtime destination. Such icons are hard – impossible perhaps – to replace.

Boise once had five downtown department stores. Now it will have none. Boise and Missoula are still among the most attractive downtowns in the west, but big, old time department stores are magnets for people and help support other small merchants and one hates to see them close and you wonder what can possibly fill the void.

But, back to Sandburg.

The editor of a recent collection of Sandburg’s poetry, Paul Berman, told NPR a while back that the writer was inspired by cities: “His genius, his inspiration in [the Chicago] poem and some others, was to look around the streets, at the billboards and the advertising slogans, and see in those things a language,” Berman says. “And he was able to figure out that this language itself contained poetry.”

There is poetry in great cities and, yes, a yearning for the variety and uniqueness of downtowns where people gather, things happen and the look and culture is much different – and vastly more interesting – than a strip mall or suburban shopping destination surrounded by acres of parking.

In one of my favorite Sandburg poems – Limited – the narrator is headed to a city, or at least a final destination.

I am riding on a limited express, one of the crack trains
of the nation.

Hurtling across the prairie into blue haze and dark air
go fifteen all-steel coaches holding a thousand people.

(All the coaches shall be scrap and rust and all the men
and women laughing in the diners and sleepers shall
pass to ashes.)

I ask a man in the smoker where he is going and he
answers: “Omaha.”

Read some Sandburg. This is a great site to sample some of his enduring work.

More on Pete

cenarrusaI Stand Corrected: Make That Two “R’s” and One “S”

I received a very gracious note yesterday from former Idaho Secretary of State Pete T. Cenarrusa thanking me for my post on his long career in Idaho politics and the publication of his new memoir. Pete also, ever so gently, pointed out that I have apparently been misspelling his last name for 35 years! And, of course, I did it again on Monday.

 

Pete said the misspelling is a common problem – even in the Basque Country – but I should have known better and extend my apology for the error. For a guy whose mother decided to spell his first name the way mine is spelled, I am particularly sensitive to such things.
By the way, Pete spelled my name correctly when he wrote his nice thank you!

 

My error does give me another chance to tout his fine new book – Bizkaia to Boise: The Memoirs of Pete T. [two "r's" and one "s"] Cenarrusa.

 

Congratulations to Pete on his recent 92nd birthday and the publication of a great addition to the Idaho political bookshelf.

From Bizkaia to Boise

cenarussaCenarrusa Writes It Down

His record of holding elected office continually for 52 years is not likely to be bested and the standard he established for running a non-partisan office as Secretary of State has, we can hope, been institutionalized in Idaho.

Pete T. Cenarrusa, the eight-term former Idaho Secretary of State, is 92 now and has been back in the public spotlight the last few weeks thanks to his welcome and worthwhile memoir.

The book – Bizkaia to Boise: The Memoirs of Pete T. Cenarrusa, written with long-time Associated Press reporter Quane Kenyon – is a fine addition to the relatively thin line of books about Idaho politicians and politics.

[Steve Crump had a nice Cenarrusa piece in the Twin Falls Times-News Sunday and the same paper correctly noted in a recent editorial that the Basque sheepherder from Carey is the most important politician the Magic Valley of southern Idaho has ever produced.]

Cenarrusa presided as Speaker of the Idaho House of Representatives during the landmark 1965 session when the state’s modern tax structure, including a sales tax, was put in place and the state’s Departments of Parks and Recreation and Water Resources were created. By common consensus that was the greatest legislative session in the state’s history. Governor Don Samuelson appointed Cenarrusa as Secretary of State in 1967 and no one laid an electoral glove on him afterward. He retired in 2003.

There is much worth saying about Pete Cenarrusa, but his real lasting legacy to Idaho may well be the fact that not once in my memory (which dates to the mid-1970′s) was the Secretary of State’s office seen as anything but a professional manager of the state’s elections and its lobbying and campaign finance disclosure process. With the help of a dedicated staff, including current Secretary of State Ben Ysursa [is another Basque in training for this job?] Cenarrusa dispensed good advice, conducted clean recounts and played by the book on Sunshine disclosures.

During a time when it seems that everything is partisan, everything is up for debate, Cenarrusa and his crew kept the playing field fair and tidy. Always the loyal Republican, Cenarrusa never played partisan games with the essential functions of his office. So should it always be.

Pete’s book, published by the Center for Basque Studies at the University of Nevada, is available there or in local bookstores. Proceeds help support the Cenarrusa Foundation for Basque Culture at Boise State University.

One quick personal Cenarrusa story: in 1992, while I served as Chief of Staff to Governor Cecil D. Andrus, I had the once in a lifetime opportunity to accompany the Governor on an official visit to the Basque region of northern Spain. The trip came about as a result of an invitation from the Lehendakari – the President of the Autonomous Basque government Jose Antonio Ardanza Garro – who had visited Idaho two years earlier.

It was a wonderful and wholly memorable trip climaxed with an Andrus speech to the Basque Parliament, the first time a non-Basque had officially addressed the Parliament. A day or so later, while touring with our Basque’s hosts, we stopped in a small, roadside tavern for some afternoon refreshment. The tavern was near the mountain town of Durango in Bizkaia, the Basque province from which Cenarrusa’s family emigrated to the United States. As we walked into the bar someone mentioned we were the group from Idaho. The bartender looked directly at Cece Andrus and said: “You must know Pete Cenarrusa…”

Now, that’s what you call name recognition – from Biskaia to Boise.

Dallek on Obama

dallekHealth Care Reform: A Lasting Legacy or Not

Robert Dallek, biographer of Kennedy and LBJ and skilled analyst of White House leadership, is, I believe, the best of the “presidential historians.” Dallek is evenhanded, accomplished and always engaging in making the historical connections between, say Barack Obama’s push this year for health care reform and Franklin Roosevelt’s advocacy of Social Security in the 1930′s.

Dallek’s op-ed piece this week in the Wall Street Journal is a fitting wrap-up of this year in presidential politics and a must read.

Here is a key section: “If the reform works as intended by expanding health insurance to an additional 30 million Americans and reducing the national debt, the Democrats will pillory the Republicans for the indefinite future. The GOP’s uniform opposition—only one congressman and no Republican senators supported the bill—will make it vulnerable to charges of wrong-minded thinking about the suffering of fellow citizens on a scale with Herbert Hoover’s failed response to the Great Depression. That cost his party five presidential elections.

“Should the bill fall short of promised gains, it will reinforce national prejudices against big government and facilitate another round of conservative Republican dominance of national politics.”

That pretty well sums it up.

Watch for Bob Dallek’s new book in the new year: The Lost Peace – Leadership in a Time of Horror and Hope. HarperCollins is the publisher.

Up In The Air

TSAThree Sensible Alternatives…Call Them TSA

I don’t fly, thank the Lord, as much as George Clooney’s character in the funny and engaging new film Up In The Air. Clooney’s road warrior – his name is Ryan Bingham in the movie – is on the quest to reach 10,000,000 miles in the air and earn even more special perks – the platinum ID card and visit with the Chief Pilot, for instance – that go with such numbers. The traveling Bingham brags that he spent only 42 days at home last year.

 

I’m no Ryan Bingham, but I traveled on average once every other week during 2009. In my world, that is good enough to get special treatment – well, early boarding – on Horizon Airlines. You gotta start somewhere.

 

Any frequent traveler will identify with the scene in Up In The Air where Clooney is explaining the travel ropes to a young novice. Don’t over pack. Never check luggage. Wear slip on shoes. Never get in the TSA line behind a couple with children or where the swarthy looking young men will be targets for “additional screening.”

 

All this movie truth seems particularly relevant in light of the latest breakdown in air security that allowed a would be bomber to board a Northwest Airlines flight in Europe and come close to causing havoc on a fully loaded airplane approaching Detroit. Now the all to familiar, post-terror incident cycle unrolls once again. Bring on the political outrage. Cue Dick Cheney. Order up an investigation. This just in: air security doesn’t work very well.

 

My only qualification for comment on any of this is travel experience. I observe. I wish TSA would, too. So, at the risk of getting placed on the dreaded list that causes my wife, Pat – she does look like a terrorist – to get “additional screening” whenever she travels, I offer up Three Sensible Alternatives. My own little TSA.
Screen for the most obvious threat. I know, I know, no racial profiling. I’m a card carrying member of the ACLU, but lets be clear: the terrorist threat against the United States of America is overwhelmingly centered in the Middle East, Africa and South Asia. Young men from these places tend to be the operatives. When a traveler matching this profile attempts to fly into the USA, maybe they should automatically get additional screening, including a very detailed personal interview. This is the Israeli model. It is not racial profiling. It is managing against the most obvious, demonstrated, repeated threat. A sensible alternative would be to concentrate more and more resources on the most obvious threats and spend less and less time at SeaTac Airport frisking the 89 year old woman in a wheel chair.

 

Observe behavior and ask questions. I have done my own little survey on this point. You can try it yourself. You know the drill. Present your photo ID and boarding pass at the TSA checkpoint and start observing how often the agent actually compares your ID to your face. I’d say it has happened to me about one time in 50 in the last year. The agents appear to be trained to make sure the name on the ID matches the name on the boarding pass. That’s good, as far as it goes. A sensible alternative would be to train them to actually look at the passengers and assess what they see. Same goes with the little clear plastic bags of toilet items that now must come out of your carry on luggage. Does anyone ever really look at what is in those bags? Not in my experience. My point is this: our security system will never get better until we train the screeners to be more aware of what and who may pose a threat. To do better, humans must be able to observe critically and ask probing questions. Well-trained police officers do this all the time. They question and observe. As a nation, we have long lacked “human intelligence” capabilities. In other words, our system assumes that observing and questioning is beyond the boundary of acceptable airport security. I think it is the key to a better system.

 

Finally, use the best technology. We know full body scanners work. Use them. Spend what is needed to get the TSA database to interact with the State Department’s list of foreign nationals holding American visas. Why haven’t we done this? Beats me. Must be politics. Or perhaps we could just outsource our security to the Israelis…or the Canadians. With a valid US passport in hand, clearing security in Ottawa for a return to the USA earlier this year was a professional and thorough process. Lots of questions. Lots of observing. Lots of technology. Gotta love the Canadians.

 

I wonder what the response will be to the latest terror threat? The shoe bomber caused us to remove our shoes. The next threat produced those little zip lock bags for toilet items. Considering the most recent would-be bomber was reportedly carrying explosives in his underwear, I can see where this is going. No more boxer shorts on international flights.

 

Now, I’m moving over to the line for additional screening. And, go see Up In The Air. Clooney is great.