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Week in Review

By Chris Helsel

ISIS Destroys Ancient Assyrian Relics in Iraqi Museum

After months of threatening to do so, Islamic State (ISIS) militants have destroyed numerous ancient statutes in the Northern Iraqi city of Mosul. The artworks were among the recent archaeological finds housed at the Mosul Museum, which had not yet opened. The museum was captured by ISIS in June.

The destruction was in keeping with the Islamic State's practice of eliminating non-Islamic religious relics. A video released by the Islamic State's media office for Nineveh Province showed militants smashing the ancient pieces with sledgehammers and sawing them apart with power tools. On the video, a man declared: "The monuments that you can see behind me are but statues and idols of people from previous centuries, which they used to worship instead of God."

"The prophet ... ordered us to remove and obliterate statues. And his companions did the same, when they conquered countries." A message displayed on the screen during the video read, "Those statues and idols weren't there at the time of the Prophet nor his companions. They have been excavated by Satanists."

Amr al-Azm, a Syrian anthropologist and historian addressed the video on his Facebook page, calling the destruction: "A tragedy and catastrophic loss for Iraqi history and archaeology beyond comprehension." In an interview, he said, "These are some of the most wonderful examples of Assyrian art, and they're part of the great history of Iraq, and of Mesopotamia. The whole world has lost this."

The destroyed relics included items from the palace of King Sennacherib of Assyria, who reigned from 705-681 BC and whose siege of Jerusalem is recounted in the Bible.

Despite its stated desire to stamp out all offending relics, ISIS's treatment of ancient works has been somewhat inconsistent. While the group has destroyed historic mosques, tombs and artifacts it considers impermissible forms of idolatry, it has also sold some smaller, more portable relics in order to raise funds.

Mr. Azm believes that the motive behind the destruction in Mosul - and subsequent release of the video - is two-pronged. Not only do the militants want to stamp out heretic idolatry, he says, but they also intend to provoke the West into invading the city. "They want a fight with the West because that's how they gain credibility and recruits."


F.C.C. Votes to Regulate Broadband Internet as Pubic Utility

After months of political debate, the Federal Communications Commission (F.C.C., commission) voted Thursday to regulate broadband Internet service as a public utility. The new rules are intended to realize the long-pursued ideal of "net neutrality" - that is, that the Internet is not divided into "fast" and "slow" lanes that depend on the amount a user is willing to pay.

F.C.C. chairman Tom Wheeler said that the commission was using "all the tools in our toolbox to protect innovators and consumers" and preserve the Internet's role as a "core of free expression and democratic principles." He said that access to the Internet is "too important to let broadband providers be the ones making the rules."

Under the new policy, wired lines and mobile data service will each be regulated as a public utility. The new rules will now classify broadband Internet service as a telecommunication service, rather than an information service, under Title II of the Telecommunications Act.

Opponents of the new rules, including Republican lawmakers and cable and telecommunications companies, insist that they will stifle a competitive market by deterring investment and undermining innovation. Michael Powell, former chairman of the F.C.C. and current president of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, said in a statement that: "Today, the F.C.C. took one of the most regulatory steps in its history. The commission has breathed new life into the decayed telephone regulatory model and applied it to the most dynamic, freewheeling and innovative platform in history."

Supporters of the new policy include major Internet companies and President Obama. In November of last year, the president urged the commission to adopt "the strongest possible rules" regarding net neutrality. Mr. Obama specifically advocated classifying broadband Internet as a public utility, because "for most Americans, the Internet has become an essential part of everyday communication and everyday life."

Following the F.C.C.'s announcement, the Internet Association (which includes Google and Facebook) called the new plan "a welcome step in our effort to create strong, enforceable net neutrality rules."

In the weeks leading up to the vote, some Republicans in Congress were harshly critical of the proposed F.C.C. plan. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) described the F.C.C. rule-making process as "Obamacare for the Internet." However, GOP leaders changed course this week, saying they did not plan to introduce legislation attempting to undermine the new rules. In conceding the issue, Senator John Thune (R-SD), who serves as chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, said, "We're not going to get a signed bill that doesn't have Democrats' support. This is an issue that needs to have bipartisan support."

Nonetheless, cable companies and Internet service providers are expected to challenge the new rules in court.



Federal Judge Rules That the NFL Overstepped Its Authority in Suspending Adrian Peterson

Federal district court Judge David Doty ruled this week that National Football League (NFL) Commissioner Roger Goodell had overstepped his bounds by suspending Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson for more than two games.

In September, after playing in the Vikings' first game of the 2014 season, Mr. Peterson was indicted by a grand jury on child abuse charges. He was placed on the Commissioner Exempt List, where he was barred from playing, but continued to be paid his salary. In November, he pleaded no contest to reckless assault and was subsequently suspended without pay until at least April 15th, during which time he missed a total of 15 games. Mr. Peterson filed an appeal before NFL arbitrator Harold Henderson, who upheld the suspension under the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA). The NFLPA (players' union) then petitioned Judge Doty of the District of Minnesota to vacate Mr. Henderson's arbitration award, which he did.

The decision comes as somewhat of a surprise, as federal judges normally accord high deference to arbitration awards. Only in cases where an arbitrator grossly exceeds his or her bounds, acts with bias, or flagrantly strays from the terms of a CBA will a court overturn an arbitration award. In his ruling, Judge Doty, who has a history of ruling against the NFL, was harshly critical of Commissioner Goodell. He focused on the timing of the infraction and disciplinary measures, and took note of the NFL's new player conduct policy. The new policy took effect in August of last year, and while Mr. Peterson was not indicted until September, the underlying act had occurred in May.

"The Commissioner," Judge Doty wrote, "has acknowledged that he did not have the power to retroactively apply the New Policy ... Yet, just two weeks later, the Commissioner retroactively applied the New Policy to Peterson." The judge also criticized Mr. Henderson for ignoring former District Judge Barbara Jones' October arbitration award overturning the suspension of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice. "Henderson simply disregarded the law ... and in doing so failed to meet his duty under the CBA."

"It is undisputed that under the previous policy, first-time offenders faced a likely maximum suspension of two games," Judge Doty wrote.

The NFL appealed the decision immediately. "We believe strongly that Judge Doty's order is incorrect and fundamentally at odds with well-established legal precedent governing the district court's role in reviewing arbitration decisions," it said in a statement. "As a result, we have filed a notice of appeal to have the ruling reviewed by the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. In the interim, Adrian Peterson will be returned to the Commissioner Exempt List pending further proceedings by appeals officer Harold Henderson or a determination by the Eighth Circuit Court."

On appeal, the NFL will likely seek a stay of Judge Doty's decision, on the argument that it would suffer irreparable harm if it were prevented from enforcing its collectively bargained code of conduct. On the merits, it seems unlikely that the opinion will be upheld, because Mr. Peterson's was in fact upheld through a system of arbitration explicitly agreed to by the players in collective bargaining.

For now, Mr. Peterson and the NFLPA have won a great victory. Between this and the Rice appeal, the players' union has achieved very favorable legal precedent on the limits of the NFL's power to discipline players. However, all of that could change once the Eighth Circuit rules on the matter.



Numerous NCAA Conferences Considering Making Freshmen Ineligible

Citing concerns that collegiate basketball players who leave school and enter the National Basketball Association (NBA, League) Draft after only one year do not receive a sufficient academic experience, several major college conferences have suggested plans to make freshmen ineligible for athletic competition. While no formal plans have been announced, officials from the Big Ten, Pacific 12, Big 12 and Athletic Coast Conferences have expressed their support for the action.

Under current NBA rules, players entering the draft must be at least 19 years old, and American players must be at least one year removed from high school. This rule was enacted in 2005, in response to the growing trend of players skipping college entirely and declaring themselves eligible for the draft immediately after high school. Once a player declares for the draft, he loses National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) eligibility permanently. That is, players who leave school early only to go unselected in the draft are forbidden from returning to their college teams.

Under the current rules, most players qualify for the draft after their freshman basketball season. This has resulted in the "one-and-done" phenomenon, where top high school players enroll at universities fully expecting to stay for only one year. In fact, the top five picks in the 2014 NBA Draft were all only one year removed from high school.

As a result, university and conference officials contend that many of these purported student-athletes do not receive a meaningful education during their times on campus. In support of this argument, they point to numerous examples of freshmen basketball players dropping out of school before completing their spring semesters -- staying academically eligible only long enough to conclude the basketball season.

In the conferences' minds, a rule change making freshmen ineligible would virtually ensure that players stayed on campus for one extra year, because an NBA team would not risk drafting a player with no collegiate playing experience who has not played in a competitive game in over a year.

In reality, the conferences would prefer that the NBA amend its draft eligibility requirements to increase the League's age minimum. This, they argue, would virtually force college players to stay enrolled (and achieve sufficient grades to maintain their eligibilities) for at least another year, thereby affording them a more meaningful educational experience.

Either way, the conferences have made clear that they believe collegiate athletes would be better served by remaining in school for a longer time. According to Pacific 12 Commissioner Larry Scott, "It would make sure freshmen have time to make ties, socially adapt, and academically be going to classes and obtaining appropriate grades to stay eligible."

In lieu of the NBA changing its rule, the conferences appear ready to take action. While there has been no official proposal as of yet, officials have indicated that a "national discussion" on the topic is in the works.


Manhattan Court Upholds Landmarks Commission Decision Banning Addition to Underground Railroad House

The Manhattan Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court has upheld city officials' denial of a real estate developer's plan to add a story to a prominent stop on the Underground Railroad.

Back in 2005, the New York City Building Department approved developer Tony Mamounas' plan to add an addition to a house he owned in Chelsea. Four years later, however, officials revoked the permit after an inspection revealed that the project did not meet fire safety codes. Soon thereafter, the New York City Landmark Preservation Commission designated the building as a landmark, citing its vital role as a shelter for escaped slaves in the nineteenth century. On appeal, the Board of Standards and Appeals (Board) determined that the addition required the Landmark Preservation Commission's approval, despite the fact that it had been proposed prior to the house's landmark designation.

Mr. Mamounas then sued the city. This week, the Appellate Division upheld the Board's ruling. A spokesman for the city's Law Department said that he was pleased with the court's ruling that the Board's "determination regarding the development of this historic site was proper, rational and not arbitrary."


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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on February 28, 2015 8:46 PM.

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