iDeclare: On drunk drivers, 'Redskins'

News reports suggest that U.S. Supreme Court justices were skeptical Wednesday when attorneys for the Justice Department and the state of Missouri asked them to OK warrantless, compulsory blood tests of motorists pulled over on suspicion of driving under the influence of alcohol.

I share that skepticism and join with the civil libertarians on the opposing side. Even though it can be trivially easy for a judge contacted by phone to quickly issue a warrant for a blood test based on a police officer's say-so, that extra step seems appropriate when it comes to such an invasive procedure.

But where I part company from the civil libertarians is in my belief in warrantless compulsory breath tests of suspected intoxicated drivers. A turn of the ignition key ought to imply consent to a breath test, and refusal to submit ought to be an additional offense akin to resisting arrest along with presumptive guilt.

Harsh? Yes. But as you've no doubt seen on those Illinois Department of Transportation signs over the expressways, there were 957 traffic-related deaths in Illinois last year, and though officials haven't yet analyzed those fatalities, long-term research suggests that roughly a third — more than 300 — involved drivers whose blood-alcohol content was over the legal limit.

That's a scourge. And if civil libertarians have a better idea how to battle it, I'd like to know what it is.

Missed bets

On this the most interesting weekend of the pro football season — four high-stakes games — casual sports fans may be wondering why the 12-team NFL playoffs don't generate the sort of bracket-frenzy in offices and among friends that's generated by the 68-team NCAA men's basketball tournament.

One reason is that, even in a single-elimination format, there's less serendipity in a 12-team playoff than in a 68-team playoff and therefore fewer chances for amateur touts to get lucky with Cinderella picks and make fools of the experts.

But the big reason is that the NFL doesn't start with fixed brackets. Its second-round matchups (this weekend's games) are set only after the opening round games in order to give the top-seeded teams in each conference the opponent with the lowest possible seed.

A fixed, 12-team bracket would generate extra buzz. But an 8-team bracket is barely worth drawing.

And speaking of fumbled buzz opportunities, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences continues to fail to make a prime-time spectacular out of its annual announcement of Academy Award nominees. Instead, the lists of Oscar finalists are read early on a weekday morning — 7:30 a.m. Central Standard Time. Public interest in the Oscars could easily sustain at least an hour of contrived suspense, movie clips and draft-day-style jibber jabber during peak evening hours.

The R word

Speaking of the NFL playoffs, Washington was knocked out in the first round last weekend. But the resurgence of the team has sparked interest in moving the team's home base back to the District of Columbia from suburban Landover, Md.

But D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray told reporters last week that, before any such move, "there's going to have to be a discussion" about the team's name: Redskins. It's an ethnic slur — a disparaging and offensive slang term for American Indians that many tribal leaders equate with most offensive such slurs in our culture. That the team clings to it even after many high schools and colleges have retired "Redskins" along with other, milder nicknames and symbols intended to honor native people is an ongoing scandal that's always worthy of a discussion.

I doubt a stern talking-to by a mayor trying to lure them back to town will persuade the owners to change. But I suspect it would start to make a difference if other media outlets, including this one, joined the Kansas City Star and the Washington City Paper in avoiding the routine use of "Redskins" in football stories.

"I find it inconceivable that the NFL still allows such a patently offensive name and mascot to represent the league in 2012," wrote KC Star public editor Derek Donovan in explaining the policy to readers last fall. He added his view that there's "no compelling reason for any publisher to reprint an egregiously offensive term as a casual matter of course."

Yes. And nothing is lost by referring instead to "the team from Washington." Nothing, that is, except an ugly vestige of the past.

Time for change?

My strong Democratic leanings are being sorely tested by the party's ineptitude in Springfield. And if the dithering keeps up under the current Democratic supermajorities, the GOP could win significant defections by putting forth brave, fiscally responsible candidates for statewide office who would smartly attack our pension and budget woes and vow not to turn into conservative culture warriors obsessed with battling abortion, gay rights and public education.

Comment on this column at chicagotribune.com/zorn

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