Monday, December 10, 2018

No power in Charlotte - or for the Panthers; Also, big wins for my Marquette men and my AK ladies

Well behind our subdivision, separated by a thick wooded area, is a clearing with Duke Energy towers and power lines. 

A minute or two after we lost power at about 4:30 p.m. Sunday, there were a couple of loud booms. I was in my office and Roberta was in another room when she said: "Mike! There were just some explosions in those Duke towers!" 

I got up and went to the window just in time to hear a third explosion and to see what looked like something from a sci-fi movie: a colorful burst of blue and red and orange and green at the top of a tower. I assumed a few transformers had blown ... although I admit I wouldn't know a transformer from a transistor from a rock if somebody showed 'em to me.
I said, "Holy ----, this could be a long outage!"
During Hurricane Florence, we didn't lose power, but one of the neighboring subdivisions was without electricity for more than a week, so we were bracing for the worst.

A wintry mix of rain and snow was falling but it was still light outside, so we gathered all of our flashlights and candles and matches, made sure we knew where emergency supplies were, etc. We settled in for a long night, fully understanding that it could just be the start of a long week.

Snow in Charlotte (Getty Images photo)

As it started to get a little cool in the house, we turned on our gas fireplace and it nicely warmed our home to a pleasant temperature. We ate a dinner of turkey sandwiches and salad (quickly opening and closing the fridge to keep the inside cold), we played cards by candlelight, we read books by flashlight, and we used the occasion to chat about some of our financial goals for 2019.
Our friends Allie and Jeff live about 2 miles away and didn't lose power. They offered to bring over their generator, but we said we'd be OK and then reassess in the morning. Very kind of them.
At about 11:30, we turned off the fireplace and went to bed, hunkering down under our comforter and blanket.
Not sure why, but I woke up at about 12:45 a.m. and noticed light filtering into our bedroom. At first, I thought it was morning, but then realized it was from the lights we had left on throughout the house. I got up, turned them all off, and went back to bed, smiling before I drifted off because I was pleasantly surprised the power had returned so much quicker than I had expected.
All was fine Monday morning, and Roberta went to work.
While she was getting ready to go, she said out loud what I had been thinking: "I'm pretty impressed with Duke. That looked really bad."

I have not always been so thrilled with Duke, which has hurt our environment with its toxic coal-ash ponds. But I have to admit they responded swiftly to this situation, and for that they have my gratitude.


Unfortunately, our power did not go out early enough to prevent us from watching the Panthers choke away another game.

That's five straight losses -- including four in which they either held the lead or could have taken the lead in the fourth quarter.

Cam Newton and his Panthers are stopped in Cleveland (AP photo)

Just over a month ago, the Panthers were 6-2, and national observers were calling them one of the NFL's best half-dozen teams. They are now 6-7, playing just well enough to lose one close game after another, and reports are starting to surface that Ron Rivera could be out as coach after the season.

That'll teach me for believing we might have a Super Bowl team this season!


Much better news on the basketball front.

For the second straight Saturday, my Marquette Warrior Eagles defeated a top-15 team. This time the victim was our evil state rival, Wisconsin, which was ranked No. 12.

The game went into overtime, and my gallant lads prevailed 74-69.

Sam Hauser celebrates Marquette's big OT victory over rival Wisconsin (AP photo)

The goat of the game was Wisconsin irritant and infamous flopper Brad Davison. Not only did the 90% free-throw shooter brick all three of his attempts from the line ... and not only did the Badgers' third-leading scorer fail to register a single point ... but in OT he cemented his reputation as a dirty twerp by intentionally smacking Marquette freshman Joey Hauser in the ... um ... place where guys really don't want to be smacked.

Davison was assessed a Flagrant 1 foul (it should have been a Flagrant 2, IMHO, and he should have been ejected). Joey (younger brother of MU junior star Sam Hauser, pictured above) calmly stepped to the line to make his two free FTs, and my guys went on to beat the Badgers for the third time in four years. 

Exactly one week earlier, the Warrior Eagles had defeated Kansas State, ranked No. 12 at the time. As a result of the two big wins, Marquette moved back into the AP poll. At No. 21, it is our highest ranking in five years. 

It's great to see our program back among the best.


I actually watched the second half of the Marquette game while sitting in the bleachers at Butler High School, where my Ardrey Kell Lady Knights were waiting to play in the LBI Best of the Carolinas Holiday Classic.

Thankfully, Marquette completed its victory over Wisconsin about 15 minutes before my AK girls tipped off, and I got to focus fully on our exciting 81-61 victory over Carolina Prep Academy of Chapel Hill.

The win capped a 3-0 week for the Lady Knights. We are 7-0 this season and are No. 3 in the Charlotte Observer's area rankings.

All of our girls played well Saturday, but a special shout-out to junior Evan Miller, whose 30 points tied the school record. Given all the great players to have come through coach Jeff Buseick's program, that's quite an achievement.

As a sophomore last season (my first as an AK assistant coach), Evan was a bit player on a senior-dominated squad that reached the state Elite Eight. She has worked extremely hard to become a fine all-around performer, and the 5-11 guard now is a go-to scorer on yet another talented AK team. In our three wins this past week, Evan totaled 69 points and also had oodles of rebounds, assists and steals.

We open conference play Friday against Providence, which figures to be one of the most improved teams in our league. I'm psyched to see how good we can be -- and to see if this is the first step toward AK's sixth straight South Meck 7 title.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Big Milestone For My Favorite Basketball Coach

There are a lot of things I enjoy about being an assistant high school basketball coach. For one, our Ardrey Kell Lady Knights work extremely hard in practice, play all-out in games, get along with each other, respond well to coaching and are just plain fun to be around.

For another, it has been an honor and an incredible learning experience working under our head coach, Jeff Buseick. 

Our 2018-19 season began last week, and we are off to another good start. We're 3-0, and have improved each game.

The second of those victories was the 100th of Coach Buseick's career. Given that he is only in his 5th season, it's quite an accomplishment.

Coach Buseick stands between AK principal
David Switzer and athletic director Brian Knab.

In his first four seasons, our young coach (he's the same age as my daughter) won 25, 24, 24 and 25 games, with four conference titles and three trips to the state Elite Eight. His career record is now 101-21.

Every season presents a unique challenge for a coaching staff, and this one certainly is no exception.

Our top three players from 2017-18 by pretty much any measure -- points, rebounds, assists -- are now in college. We still have a talented team, but just about every player has had to take on a different role. 

Coach Buseick has re-worked our offense to emphasize our speed, aggressiveness, versatility and 3-point shooting. It's been an adjustment, but so far the girls have been up to the challenge. Coach is excited about what this team can accomplish, and so am I.

Last year was a huge jump for me, going from middle-school head coach to being an assistant at one of the best high school programs in the state. I'm still learning so much ... especially how much I still have to learn! I'm lucky to have such a knowledgeable, enthusiastic, hard-working head coach as a mentor.

Just like the players, I listen intently during time-outs, too!
Our practices are amazing, demanding and action-packed, with just about every second accounted for. It's truly awe-inspiring watching Coach Buseick get the most out of our team every day, and I continue to be impressed with his attention to detail and organizational skills. 

Based on my decades as an observer of basketball coaches -- from Phil Jackson and Coach K during my years as a sportswriter all the way down to those in the youth rec leagues I now referee -- I believe Jeff Buseick would be an outstanding college coach. 

However, he has said he loves it at Ardrey Kell, the second-largest public school in North Carolina, and his wife Anna also has taught there. Additionally, he is a doting dad to two beautiful daughters. It will be interesting to see how he responds if and when college programs start recruiting him.

After his 100th victory last Friday -- a nice win over private-school powerhouse Providence Day in a Thanksgiving holiday event -- Coach Buseick asked me and my fellow assistant, the wonderful Queen Smith, if we thought he should cancel the Saturday practice he had scheduled.

Unbeknownst to him, the girls were planning a post-practice, mini-surprise party to celebrate No. 100. So Queen and I were like, "Oh no, Coach ... we think the girls can really use the work. We'd better practice." 

Thankfully, he agreed to run a light practice, and he was surprised and touched by the presentation.

A very humble guy, Coach Buseick probably wouldn't like me writing all of this. But tough ... he deserves it!

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Gobble, Gobble! It's Turkey of the Year time again!

Remember 1998? I sure do. MJ's last championship before the Jerrys broke up the Bulls Dynasty ... the Summer of Steroid Sluggers, featuring Big Mac and Sammy ... Wanny's last stand in Bear Country ... my kids excelling on the basketball court ... my dad passing away after a courageous fight against cancer ... and me starting a new phase of my journalistic career as a sports columnist.

Naturally, a lot has changed since then -- far too much to list here. For one thing, I've been a former columnist for nearly a decade now; for another, my former business has been hurtin' for years. (Those things are related, of course.) 

Anyhoo ... one thing that has endured: the annual Turkey of the Year Countdown.

This is the 20th anniversary of me carving out a list of losers, lunkheads, dopes, druggies, cheaters and chokers -- a process I began back in my first year as Chicago sports columnist for the Copley family of newspapers.

For this edition, it would have been easy to select the abusive Michigan State doctor and his enablers, or the Maryland coach who had a player die on his watch, or the sleazy d-bag who had to sell the Carolina Panthers after getting nabbed in the MeToo movement. And then there's the reality show host masquerading as president, who is such a racist jerk that athletes refuse to visit to the White House after winning championships.

But because I don't want this to be too heavy, I'll go a different direction ...


Before I begin this year’s Turkey Countdown, let’s review the previous “winners” (and by that, I mean losers):

Mike McCaskey (1998); Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells and Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry and Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno and the Penn State Enablers (2011); U.S. Ryder Cup Team (2012); Alex Rodriguez (2013); Roger Goodell and Ray Rice (2014); Derrick Rose (2015); Pat McCrory (2016); Kyle Shanahan (2017).

Astute readers will note that up until 2010, each of those Turkeys did his gobbling in Chicago and/or the Midwest because that's where I was based. The "award" actually got its start under my Copley predecessor and friend, the late, great Gene Seymour. Since moving to North Carolina, I've expanded my Turkey-choosing horizons. Still, as always, I dedicate this in memory of Gene.

Now let's get to it!

15. LIONEL MESSI. I don't follow soccer, so I'll take the word of my futbol-fanboi friends who say he is one of the greatest players ever. Whatever. This mighty Argentine icon failed to score on a penalty kick as his heavily favored team couldn't even beat Iceland in the World Cup.

14. JON GRUDEN. Only days after the coach-turned-broadcaster-turned-coach traded Khalil Mack to the Bears, he had the gall to say: "Great pass rushers are hard to find." Although Gruden's Raiders have been laughingstocks, you can't say he hasn't quickly built a winner ... in Chicago.

13. PAUL GEORGE. You gotta love a guy who gives himself the nickname "Playoff P" despite pretty much sucking every time his team has played a series-deciding playoff game. This time, George missed 14 of 16 shots and committed 6 turnovers as the OKC Thunder bowed out meekly to Utah in the first round. More like "Playoff P-U!"

12. MARCUS WILLIAMS. The Saints cornerback arguably made the worst defensive play in NFL playoff history when he let Stefon Diggs score on a 61-yard catch and run (mostly run) to give the Vikings a walk-off win over the Saints. Not only did Williams whiff on Diggs, but his flying body also prevented any teammate from making a play. 

11. JAMES HARDEN. Choke much? To paraphrase one of the great sports quotes ever (courtesy of former baseball player Gary Gaetti): "It's hard to shoot the basketball when you have both hands around your throat."

10. SERGIO GARCIA & JORDAN SPIETH. In 2017, Garcia finally got the major title that had eluded him and Spieth was one of the world's great golfers. In 2018, however, they combined to miss the cut in 13 events, including 4 majors. Sergio's defense of his Masters championship ended on the first day, when he infamously dunked five shots in the drink on No. 15 to card a 13. Thirteen!!!

Still, both Garcia and Spieth did perform well in the Ryder Cup, which is more than I can say for ...

9. PHIL MICKELSON. He got benched by U.S. coach Jim Furyk after he failed in Friday foursomes. In Sunday's singles, Phil was routed by Francisco Molinari in the match that clinched the Ryder Cup for Europe. And those results weren't even the worst of it for Mickelson, who during the U.S. Open ran up to his ball while it was still moving on the green and whacked it with his putter for a 2-stroke penalty. I certainly will not be paying $19.99 to watch this washed up hacker "compete" against Tiger Woods on pay-per-view the day after Thanksgiving; heck, I'm pretty sure I wouldn't watch it if Mickelson paid me $19.99.

8. KEN GILES. The Astros reliever blew a save ... and showed his frustration by punching himself in the face

The closer for Houston's 2017 championship team, Giles was so bad this year that he was demoted to the minors. Then he was traded to Toronto, and he continued being horrible north of the border, too. I guess Canada shoulda built that wall!

7. JALEN RAMSEY. In a off-season interview with GQ, the Jaguars' cornerback ripped QBs such as Ben Roethlisberger, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco and Jared Goff. Of Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, all he would say was they they didn't suck. Fast-forward to this season; Jalen's Jags are 0-6 since a 1-3 start. And just last Sunday, Roethlisberger led the Steelers back from a late 10-point deficit to beat Jacksonville. Maybe now Ramsey will elevate Big Ben, a two-time Super Bowl winning QB, all the way up to "doesn't suck," too.

6. LeVEON BELL. The Steelers running back thought he had all the leverage, so he held out and held out and held out ... until finally deciding to skip the entire season. As it turned out, he didn't have any leverage because his replacement, James Conner, is running as well as Bell ever did for a Pittsburgh team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations. Bell also gave up $14.5 million ... making me wonder how he hopes to feed Latrell Sprewell's family!

5. VIRGINIA HOOPSTERS. It was bad enough that Virginia found a way to lose to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County -- becoming the first No. 1 seed ever to drop an NCAA basketball tournament game to a No. 16 seed. 

Even worse, the Cavaliers were out-shot, out-rebounded, out-defended, out-coached and out-played from the opening tip to the final horn in losing to UMBC by 20 points. If you didn't know which team was seeded first overall and which was the very lowest seed, you'd have sworn that the mighty Retrievers were the better team. 

4. TY MONTGOMERY. When his Packers played the Rams on Oct. 28, Green Bay return man Montgomery was told to take a knee if he caught the kickoff in the end zone with 2 minutes left and the Packers trailing by 2 points. Instead, he tried to make a "hero" play, fumbled, and Aaron Rodgers was deprived of the opportunity to lead a winning drive. 

Montgomery was said to be upset that he was taken out of the game the previous series, but he denied his mood had anything to do with his insubordination. No matter ... the Packers lost a game they could have won, and they sent Montgomery packing 2 days later.

3. RICK PITINO. It's not all that surprising that the former Louisville coach cheated; he's always seemed like a guy who has lived on the fringe of the rule book. What is surprising is that of all the stink attached to the college game, Pitino is the only one who ended up being flushed down the toilet. He now says he wants to coach again in the NBA, where he already has failed twice.

2. LARRY FEDORA. The North Carolina football coach might merit a spot on this list even if all he did was lead the Tar Heels to a 2-8 record. But he's the runner-up gobbler because of his all-around turkeyness all year long. First, 13 UNC players under his watch were suspended for breaking NCAA rules. Then Fedora said he didn't believe the act of playing football has led young men to suffer degenerative brain disease CTE, despite it being a scientifically proven fact. He doubled-down on his idiocy by saying those who agree with science were "attacking" football -- and America itself. If the sport is weakened, he breathlessly claimed, "our country goes down, too." How does a dim bulb like Fedora keep his job at a prestigious university?

And now ... the 2018 Turkey of the Year ...


The soon-to-be former Cleveland Cavaliers guard pulled off the most boneheaded play of 2018 ... and then compounded his boneheadedness by lying about the circumstances surrounding it.

In Game 1 of the NBA Finals -- which was tied with 4.7 seconds left in regulation thanks to the heroics of LeBron James -- Smith rebounded teammate George Hill's missed free throw. 

Rather than go right back up for what might have been the winning basket against the heavily favored Warriors, Smith inexplicably took off and dribbled rapidly toward midcourt. James frantically called for the ball, then pointed for Smith to pass to Hill in the corner and finally tried to call time out ... but alas, by then the buzzer had sounded.

In interviews after the game, Smith claimed that he knew the score was tied, but television cameras clearly showed him telling LeBron: "I thought we were ahead." (See the 18-second mark of this video.)

Naturally, the Warriors blitzed the downtrodden Cavs in overtime and then crushed them in the next three games to take their third title in four years.

LeBron, who otherwise was amazing all postseason in willing a mediocre team to the NBA Finals, didn't cover himself in glory here, either. He could have been a leader, consoled Smith and vowed to carry the Cavs to victory in OT. Instead, he sat dejectedly on the bench, didn't join the team huddle and ignored his coach's instructions.

Still, this was classic J.R. Smith, whose career has been filled with silliness. He had a miserable 2018 playoffs overall, and he has been horrible so far this season, too. At 33, he is in the twilight of his crazy career.

Smith recently asked for a trade, and it appears he'll get his wish after ripping Cavs management for tanking the season: "I don't think the goal is to win." He actually is probably right about that, but it doesn't make his boneheaded play in Game 1 of the Finals any less boneheaded.

Nor does it make him any less fitting as the choice for Turkey of the Year.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Maybe not a blue wave, but definitely a blue swell: Facts & Observations about the 2018 election

First, lets start with some actual factual facts (as opposed to the alternative facts that Spanky & His sycophants prefer) ...

** Democrats have picked up 30 House seats, and it looks like the final tally (once California is fully counted and a few "too close to call" races get called) will be 34 to 36 added. That means the House will have gone from 235 Republicans and 193 Democrats (with 7 vacancies) to approximately 230 Dems and 205 Republicans.

** Republicans have picked up 1-3 Senate seats. The most likely scenario is 2 (assuming AZ goes to the Dems as it looks now and Fla goes to the GOP as it appears). That means the Senate will have gone from 51 Republicans and 49 Democrats to 53 Republicans and 47 Democrats.

** Democrats flipped 7 governorships, giving them 23. A couple other races might go to recounts/run-offs.

** Dems also have flipped 370-ish statehouse seats in the last year, including 300+ in this election cycle.

Now, a few observations:

++ Dems have made their biggest gains in the House since Watergate. They have a "comfortable majority," so even if a dozen legislators vote with Republicans on a bill, Dems still can play the obstruction game that the GOP perfected during Obama's tenure if they so choose.

++ Democrats also now will chair all the important House committees, including a few that likely will investigate Trump. And not the kind of "investigation" Spanky sycophant Devin Nunes pretended to conduct about Russian meddling in the 2016 election and Trump's role in it.

++ Trump actively campaigned for more than a dozen House Republican incumbents who lost their seats, all in districts Republicans have held for years. Numerous other races saw Republicans barely hold on in districts they have owned for decades. Republicans lost seats in red bastions such as Missouri, South Carolina, Texas and Arizona. Additionally, Conor Lamb showed he was no "flash in the pan" after stunningly winning a special election in 2017 for a Pennsylvania House seat in a red district. Overall, there was an obvious anti-Trump backlash in this House election. He said the election was about him, and he lost the House.

++ In the Senate, Trump personally installed his own candidate in the Nevada race, Dean Heller, and that candidate lost decisively to an unknown named Jacky Rosen. Trump or his surrogates made several trips to Montana to try to oust Jon Tester, who won anyway in a red state. Tiny furiously tried to get Joe Manchin out in West Virgina but failed.

++ Whereas several Democratic senators had to try to protect seats in deep red states that Trump won in 2016, the opposite will be the case in 2020, when many Republicans will be trying to protect seats in states that Clinton won. It will be a challenge for the Dems to regain control of the Senate in 2020 due to the givebacks this cycle. Still, it isn't unrealistic to think that, if Trump's disapproval rating remains high, the Dems can flip the 4-5 seats they'll need.

++ Among the governorships Republicans lost were those in Wisconsin and Michigan. The Dems also flipped two House seats in Michigan and three in Pennsylvania.  And Democratic incumbent Tom Wolf also was re-elected governor in Penn. Why are those states significant? Despite Trump's claims that he won in a "landslide," the fact is that he won by about 78K combined votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania -- three states he might not be able to count on in 2020.


++ In addition to the hundreds of statehouse seats that have flipped to Democrats across the nation, several other states that had huge Republican advantages have seen those advantages reduced. For example, in NC, the Republicans had such a large numerical advantage that they could override any veto by Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat. But those advantages have been significantly reduced, and now the Republicans no longer can override Cooper without also getting votes from Democrats.

++ Also in NC, two proposed amendments to the state constitution designed purely to take authority away from the Democratic governor and give it to the Republican legislature were soundly defeated. It was a power grab, and voters saw through it.

++ The major Dem gains in the U.S. House and in statehouses came despite rampant gerrymandering that resulted in amoeba-shaped districts favoring Republicans across the nation. Courts have struck down many of the districts repeatedly as being racist and/or unfair. There are gerrymandering cases currently before the Supreme Court, and it will be interesting to see the rulings.

++ It has been entertaining to hear Spanky & His Sycophants proclaim that it's actually a good thing for the Republican party that the House has gone from a 42-seat GOP advantage to a 35-seat Democratic advantage. Where's O'Reilly's No-Spin Zone when Republicans need it?!?!

++ Trump thinks that he might actually get more things done because Dems in the House will now have to legislate rather than obstruct. Hmmm ... winning the House in 2010 didn't turn the Republicans into legislators; it just made them more effective obstructors, so we'll see how that goes. 

++ Dems, in general, aren't as good at being obstructionists as Republicans are, and I can see something like a major infrastructure project getting approval in the next year or two. Everybody likes infrastructure projects, and the jobs they bring. The Dems are always willing to spend money, as are the Republicans despite their claims to the contrary. 

++ The election no doubt hurt Mitch McTurtle's plan to pay for the Tax Cuts For Billionaires and Military Industrial Complex spending sprees on the backs of seniors, kids and sick people. It also probably will keep millions and millions of people on health care that McTurtle & Gang would rather throw under the bus.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

The Fun Before The Election Storm

With the midterm elections (and their related angst) just a couple of days away, I thought I'd touch on some of the fun stuff that's been going on the last couple of weeks.



I'm back for my second season as assistant girls basketball coach at Charlotte's Ardrey Kell HS. Practice has started, and we participated in a "Super Scrimmage" yesterday at Providence Day. 

We won 2 of our 3 scrimmage games, but as our great coach, Jeff Busieck pointed out multiple times, the scores really didn't matter in these things. What mattered is that our players' hard work during the offseason obviously is already paying off, as they competed hard and played well together at both ends of the floor. 

I was especially impressed with the individual improvement of several of the girls, many of whom played for AAU teams over the summer and worked tirelessly on their games. Three outstanding players graduated after last season's Elite Eight season -- taking some 75% of our scoring with them -- so we need these ladies to step up their games. We're going to play fast and ferociously, and I like our chances at another conference title.

Here's a photo I snapped of our girls between scrimmage games. Unfortunately, as you can see, it's more than a little fuzzy. I was high up and they were fairly far away. Still, it gives you an idea of how much fun they are.

We have two more weeks of practice to prepare for our season opener on Nov. 20. Can't wait!



We just spent a sensational weekend celebrating Robbie's birthday. It's not very fair that I keep getting older and she just keeps getting more beautiful.

Her actual birthday was yesterday, so we weren't together during the day. I had my team's scrimmages, while she and Simmie were visiting her dad at the assisted living facility. But in the evening, we went out with another couple for a few beers and a nice dinner.

We semi-celebrated it a week ago, when we went to see Hamilton -- what a great time. And then today we went to the Panthers game.

Wow, what movers and shakers we are!



Our gallant lads of the gridiron have reached the midway point of the season at 6-2. A few weeks ago, they weren't looking all that great, but then they rallied from a 17-point deficit at Philly to beat the defending champion Eagles, and they have played very well in home victories over the Ravens and Bucs.

They played nearly a perfect first half today against the Bucs, building a 35-7 lead. Cam Newton was wonderful, his linemen blocked superbly, the skill players surrounding Cam had one great play after another -- especially Christian McCaffrey, who leaped clear over a defender on one spectacular play, and Curtis Samuel, who ran more than 100 yards from one side of the field to the other during a 33-yard TD play on a double-reverse. And the defense was in the grill of Bucs QB Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Photo by Jason Miczek,
The Panthers almost always like to make things exciting, though, and they let the Bucs pull back within 35-28 before putting the game away on a pass from Newton to Samuel in the fourth quarter.

There will be no rest for the weary, as the Panthers go to Pittsburgh in just a few days for Thursday Night Football.

Also today in the NFL, the Saints beat the Rams. The Panther fan in me wanted the Saints to lose, because then my boys would have been tied for first place in the division. But the old Dolphins fan in me was glad to see the previously undefeated Rams lose -- meaning another season will have passed without anybody equaling the incredible achievement of the '72 Dolphins.



I said I wanted to keep this about the fun before the storm, so I won't ramble on about perhaps the most important election of our lifetimes -- a chance to check the power of the most corrupt, dishonest, unstable, incompetent president ever.

So I'll talk about Tuesday night also being the season opener of my Marquette Warrior Eagles.

MU should be a real good team this season. The first AP poll has Marquette second among "others receiving votes," meaning that voters in effect consider us the nation's 27th best team. Also, Big East coaches picked us to finish second behind defending national champion Villanova. Juniors Markus Howard (pictured below) and Sam Hauser are two of the very best shooters in the country, and the supporting cast appears to be solid and deep.

Steven Branscombe-USA TODAY Sports

My lads will get a chance early on to prove they belong with the big boys, as the non-conference schedule includes games against Kansas, either Tennessee or Louisville (in the preseason NIT), Kansas State, at Indiana, Wisconsin and Buffalo.

Also, Tuesday's opener at Milwaukee's brand spankin' new Fiserv Forum is against Maryland-Baltimore County -- which last March became the first 16 seed ever to beat a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament (when UMBC ruined millions of brackets by taking down Virginia).

Yep, Tuesday is going to be a wild night of flipping back and forth between the game and various networks' election coverage.

Here's hoping I have a lot to smile about. 

Friday, September 28, 2018

What's The Supreme Hurry? One Observer's Look At An Incredible Senate Hearing

Christine Blasey Ford's testimony was entirely credible, and Brett Kavanaugh's defense of his character and actions was passionate. 

The only thing that makes sense now is to do what the American Bar Association advises:  Delay a vote on Kavanaugh's nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court until Ford's claims of Kavanaugh's sexual assault can be thoroughly examined by the FBI.

It's important to note that the ABA has strongly supported Kavanaugh, so this is not some kind of partisan stalling mechanism. It's the right thing to do - period.


UPDATE: Led by Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, a handful of Republicans have called for a one-week delay on a full-Senate vote so there can be an FBI investigation into these allegations. 

Even Donald Trump is calling Ford a "credible witness" now.

Maybe it's just for show -- I think we'll be able to tell if that's the case -- but it's definitely progress.

Mostly, it's good to know that Flake and a few other senators read The Baldest Truth!


OK, now that I got my main point out of the way ...

From 10 a.m. until nearly 7 p.m. Thursday, I sat in front of my computer monitor watching this most unique Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about a sexual assault that allegedly took place 36 years ago, when both people were in high school. 

It was the first time I had watched anything like this from beginning to end, only taking breaks when the hearing itself took breaks. It was that riveting. 

I decided that I didn't want to be bombarded by all kinds of banners and bells and commentary, so I watched the stream on the USA Today website. Their video included almost no dramatic graphics or silliness, as I figured streams from CNN, Fox News or other TV outlets might. 

I also did not listen to any commentary during the breaks. I had a dog to take care of, a mouth to feed (my own) and some stuff I had to get done that had nothing to do with the hearing.

Almost immediately after it ended, I left for a poker game at a friend's house, so I did not sit around watching hours of analysis. The hearing was intense enough, and I'm fully capable of coming to my own conclusions; I did not need to listen to what Rachel Maddow or Sean Hannity or Wolf Blitzer or Newt Gingrich thought about it.

I am proud to be a registered "Unaffiliated" (what N.C. calls an Independent), and I have done my best to keep an open mind about all of this. 

Here are 20 of my observations and thoughts, roughly in order of how they happened during the hearing:

1. Ford's demeanor was outstanding and her testimony was believable. 

She was obviously nervous and a bit beleaguered, but she willingly answered every question and did not seem to dodge any query - including those from the female lawyer that the 11 white male Republicans on the committee hired to do all of their questioning. 

She repeatedly stated that all she wanted to do was be helpful.

She certainly did not come across as a liar, actress or pretender. The two adjectives that best fit her were "credible" and "courageous."

2. The fact that she brought her allegations to the attention of her local congressperson several days before Donald Trump chose Kavanaugh as his nominee definitely gave her more credibility as both an accuser and a witness.

It showed she wasn't trying to take part in a partisan attack against Trump's choice just because he was Trump's choice. Had the president selected any of the other conservatives on his list, we never would have heard of Ford.

3. It is completely believable that a victim of the kind of attack Ford described from 36 years ago would not remember small, relatively unimportant details pertaining to the hours before and after the incident while remembering even the tiniest details of the act itself. 

For those who dismiss her account simply because it was so long ago - a tactic our cloddish boor of a president used - I ask this question: 

Were the thousands of Catholic boys who were sexually abused by priests - but who didn't give their accounts until decades later out of fear or shame - also liars?

I don't know how anybody could have watched Ford's testimony and come away thinking, "Wow, what a liar!" Indeed, her sincerity and courage shined through so forcefully that even several of the crusty old Republicans on the committee praised her.

4. It's hard to blame Republicans for choosing a female to question Ford. They were almost in a no-win situation, as any aggressive questioning by the 11 white men would have been viewed (probably correctly) as bullying an alleged victim of sexual assault.

However, they can't have been pleased by the work turned in by Arizona sexual crimes prosecutor Rachel Mitchell, who if anything helped turn Ford into an even more sympathetic figure. 

Mitchell failed to poke a single hole in Ford's testimony. And near the end, she made excuses for her poor performance by saying how difficult it was to question a witness in 5-minute segments.

I'm not saying this was Mitchell's fault, by the way. She is a prosecutor, so she spends her days trying to get guilty verdicts against those who commit sex crimes. She simply wasn't the right choice for this assignment, although perhaps, given the circumstances, there was no right choice.

Regardless, the Republican senators themselves took over the questioning of Kavanaugh.

5. Ford's recounting of the assault - especially her description of Kavanaugh laughing with a buddy who also was in the room, Mark Judge, both during and after the incident - was both totally believable and intensely compelling. 

As she described the alleged assault, I could almost see it in my mind. It was impossible not to feel sorry for her.

6. Some of Kavanaugh's defenders - including one of his friends - are doing him no favor by ridiculously pitching a "mistaken identity" defense. 

Their claim: OK, maybe Ford was sexually assaulted, but it was by somebody who only looked like Kavanaugh.

How despicable and desperate does that sound?

Asked by Senator Dick Durbin, "With what degree of certainty do you think Brett Kavanaugh assaulted you?" Ford leaned into the microphone and strongly stated: 

"100 percent."

She was far more believable than the dopes pushing the "mistaken identity" silliness.

7. Of the details Ford couldn't recall clearly, the only one that surprised me was that she couldn't remember how she got to the party on the night of the alleged assault. (I do understand her not being able to remember how she got home, though.)

Also, while one of her good friends who was at the party has said she believes Ford, the friend also has said she couldn't remember the gathering having taken place at all. Kavanaugh repeatedly brought that up, and I would have, too.

And of course, there were no corroborating witnesses for Ford's account. That's why it's so hard to prove sexual assault. It's also why so many victims don't report the crimes or seek justice. 

8. While Ford's opening statement was short, and her nervousness was obvious, Kavanaugh began by launching a long, passionate, often angry (and a few times tearful) defense of himself. 

Although his voice rose numerous times, and his lip quivered when he got weepy, he mostly sounded like a polished defense attorney, delivering a courtroom statement that sought to refute Ford's claims point-by-point.

When he let himself be vulnerable, I certainly could empathize with the anguish and frustration that any man might have felt after being accused of a heinous act he knew in his heart he didn't commit.

A man I'm very close to was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior a few years back. It devastated him. Even after he was fully exonerated by an investigation, he has never forgotten the hurt of what he calls one of the worst times of his life.

9. That Kavanaugh almost immediately attacked Democrats and praised Trump no doubt helped him with the Republican base, but it irreparably damaged any semblance of the independence he had spent weeks claiming he had. 

This whole two-week effort has been a calculated and orchestrated political hit fueled with apparent pent-up anger about President Trump and the 2016 election, fear that has been unfairly stoked about my judicial record, revenge on behalf of the Clintons, and millions of dollars in money from outside left-wing opposition groups.

It was a blistering, bitter, extremely partisan diatribe.

I wasn't at all surprised that a few Republican senators (especially an irate Lindsey Graham; more on him later) took that tone, but I didn't expect it from a prospective Supreme Court justice fighting a sexual assault allegation.

Given his history as an attack dog for Republicans, most Independents and Democrats already were leery of Kavanaugh's ability to be objective in any rulings he might have if confirmed for the Supreme Court. 

His opening statement left little doubt that they are correct to be leery. He sounded like a Republican politician. Even worse, he sounded like Trump or one of his conspiracy-theory-spouting sycophants.

It was not a good look for a supposedly independent jurist trying to get confirmed to the most important court in the land.

10. Saying you don't remember a party taking place is not the same as the party not taking place.

Kavanaugh tried to use the former as the equivalent of the latter dozens of times ... and he had success doing so. The committee members mostly let him get away with it, so I don't blame him for going back to it repeatedly.

11. Kavanaugh apparently lied about the meaning of a word he used in his yearbook profile: "boofing." 

He claimed it had something to do with "flatulence." It actually is a sexual act. "Devil's Triangle" - another yearbook reference - also has to do with sex, so Kavanaugh was misleading about that as well.

Additionally, there were yearbook statements by Kavanaugh and several of his friends that they were "alumni" of a girl from another school. He tried to say Thursday that it was a term of endearment, but it almost surely meant that the boys were claiming to have had sex with her. That's certainly how the girl - now a woman - understood it in recent interviews.

I don't want to make too much of the juvenile yearbook stuff of teenage boys ... but why lie about it under oath?

12. If you didn't already know it before Thursday, you know it now:


He said words to that effect ... oh ... about 300 times. 

Although a few Democratic senators, most notably Amy Klobuchar, pressed him on the subject, even citing statements from Kavanaugh's college friends that he was often drunk off his arse, I didn't think the senators were forceful enough in general. They let him either change the subject or simply get away with dismissing it with some form of, "I like beer."

Perhaps the single most unbelievable part of Kavanaugh's testimony was that he was absolutely certain that he had never, ever, ever blacked out from drinking. 

He testified that he liked beer a ton, that he drank regularly and sometimes to excess, that he started drinking when he was young, and that he often drank so much he had to puke. And he admitted that sometimes he fell asleep after drinking. 

But we're supposed to believe that he never blacked out one single time during all of these drinking episodes?

Of course, if he did admit it could have happened, it would have opened the door to the possibility of him committing a sexual assault and not remembering it.  

Klobuchar was one senator who at least took a shot at the subject, gently asking Kavanaugh if he had ever blacked out. Kavanaugh took a condescending tone, shooting back: "I don't know, have you?"

A short recess followed Klobuchar's questioning, and upon returning to the proceedings, Kavanaugh apologized. So either Kavanaugh knew he sounded like an overly defensive jerk, or somebody told him he did and strongly recommended that he apologize.

13. Hey, I like beer, too. I was too much of a goody-two-shoes in high school to do much drinking then, but I more than made up for it when I was in college. And I enjoy a craft beer (or 2) now.

However, I'm not a Supreme Court nominee, and I don't need to be (as the old saying goes) "as sober as a judge." 

Does this guy have a drinking problem? It's a legitimate question.

14. Kavanaugh suggested that he couldn't possibly have had a black-out-type drinking problem or that he didn't party on weeknights because he was a serious student, both in high school and college.

Well, one of my good friends at Marquette had roughly this routine:

9 a.m., wake up ... 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., class ... 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., study ... 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., dinner ... 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., study ... 9 pm. to 2 a.m., drink and smoke dope to excess ... 2 a.m., pass out. 

Day after day, week after week, that's what my friend did with few exceptions. He also was a straight-A student, and he has been a very successful businessman for years.

I couldn't do it, but some people can. My friend could. According to many of his Yale classmates, Kavanaugh could, too.

15. Given that Ford brought her accusation both to her congressperson and to the Washington Post on her own, I'm surprised Democrats on the panel mostly let Kavanaugh get away with suggesting that Dems had put her up to the whole thing as part of some conspiracy.

I would have asked, "If you're so sure that Dr. Ford was part of a partisan hit job to crush the president's nominee, why did she contact her congressperson with this BEFORE you were the nominee? Why wouldn't she have waited until you were the nominee? Why didn't she (or other Democratic operatives) try the exact same tactics with Neil Gorsuch, the very conservative, Trump-appointed judge who was confirmed for the Supreme Court last year?"

16. Kavanaugh made a big deal out of a calendar he started keeping when he was a teenager that served as both a planner and a diary.

It was an effective method to show his busy schedule, and the fact that it included plans for some of the parties he went to gave it a feeling of authenticity. 

He used it to help show that he wasn't around much in the summer of 1982, when the assault allegedly took place, and he tried to claim that there were no weekends in the middle of that summer where he took part in parties.

However, as reporters for several Web sites have since pointed out, on July 1, 1982, leading into Fourth of July weekend, Kavanaugh's calendar said he went "to Timmy's for skis w/Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi."

"Skis" were "brewskis." Judge was Mark Judge, the friend of Kavanaugh's whom Ford said was in the room when the assault took place. PJ was another Kavanaugh friend Ford also said was at the gathering. Ford said all of that before any of us knew that Kavanaugh's calendar existed.

So was Kavanaugh lying?

None of the senators, either Republicans or Democrats, asked Kavanaugh about this discrepancy in his testimony. Maybe no one noticed it, which also doesn't speak well of their ability to ask important questions.

17. A few Democrats on the panel, most notably Klobuchar, Cory Booker, Patrick Leahy and Kamala Harris, did a decent job pressing Kavanaugh and trying to get him to stick to facts.

All too often, though, the senators let him get away with changing the subject or simply not answering questions.

And while I get the reason they want the FBI to investigate Ford's accusation - I do too, as I already have stated - they hammered at Kavanaugh far too much about it. 

He's not the one who can call for an investigation ... and even if he asked Trump to call for one - as a couple of senators implored him to do - Trump wouldn't do it.

18. The Democratic senator who came out looking the worst was Diane Feinstein, who had been told by Ford about the alleged assault more than a month ago and who had pledged not to reveal Ford's identity.

Not only did Ford's name get out - turning her life upside down, leading to death threats, upsetting her kids - but Feinstein sat on the information until the 11th hour before springing it on her fellow senators.

It gave the appearance of a partisan hack job by Feinstein and the Democrats. That's exactly what it was, and the shame of it is that Ford was made to look guilty by association.

Kavanaugh repeatedly said that the Democrats could have had their FBI investigation a month ago if Feinstein had gone to the FBI with the allegations. And I agree.

The Democrats could come to regret their tactics if and when they get back in power and they try to get their president's next Supreme Court pick confirmed.

19. Lindsey Graham is sometimes accused of being a "RINO" because he often has been willing to work across the aisle. That's a good thing in my estimation, but it's seen as a black mark to far-right extremists.

Well, he certainly solidified his far-right cred with his blistering takedown of Democrats when he took the microphone.

Calling it "the most despicable thing I have seen in my time with politics," he said Democrats wanted "to destroy this guy's life, hold his seat open, and hope you win (the presidency) in 2020. Boy, you guys want power. God, I hope you never get it."

He also went out of his way to point out that he voted for Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan - President Obama's two liberal Supreme Court nominees.

(Of course, he didn't mention that he was party to the highly respected Merrick Garland being denied even a Senate hearing after Obama nominated Garland with almost a year left in his presidency.)

Graham ran against Trump for the 2016 GOP presidential nomination, and was critical of Trump early on after the election, but he has become one of the president's allies. And his performance Thursday definitely will help his standing with the Republican base.

Later on, he claimed that he believed Ford ... but that the attacker wasn't Kavanaugh. Again, the "mistaken identity" defense. Weak.

I'm pretty sure that if Kavanaugh punched Graham in the face, Graham would not think somebody else did it.

20. Kavanaugh is obviously an intelligent man and has been involved in jurisprudence for decades. 

That didn't stop him from repeatedly trying to claim that a short statement written by an attorney on Mark Judge's behalf was the equivalent of an independent FBI investigation and/or testimony under oath before the Senate.

Kavanaugh even tried to blame alcohol addiction for any poor behavior by his friend.

I want to hear from this guy, Mark Judge. He supposedly was in the room when a nominee for the highest court in the land committed sexual assault. He should be interviewed by the FBI, and he should be subpoenaed by Congress and compelled to testify.

Yes, the FBI already has looked thoroughly into Kavanaugh's background. But its officers have not had a chance to do so since these very credible allegations have come to light.


Bottom line:

If I were a Republican senator who wasn't a total partisan hack, and if I cared at all about both the truth and the sanctity of the Supreme Court, I would tell Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to delay the vote until after a full FBI investigation.

That's apparently exactly what happened, thanks to Flake and a few other Republicans who were on the fence after Thursday's testimony.

I'm impressed that Trump agreed to it - every once in a very great while, he does give us a pleasant surprise.

Here's hoping that this isn't just a head fake to placate a few Republicans, that it's a legitimate investigation. There were enough inconsistencies (and maybe even misleading statements) from Kavanaugh to warrant an extra look.