Monday, December 10, 2007

So, What Next?

It’s hard to say whether Michael Vick’s 23 month sentence fits the crime or not. On one hand, by legal definition, dogs are simply property. In recent years steps have been taken to enforce animal cruelty legislation but penalties are sometimes laughable. You would face more severe consequences for getting pulled over with a bong in your front seat than you would if you happened to be dragging a dog behind your car.

On one hand, Vick didn’t hurt anybody. He ran an illegal dog fighting ring. The 23 months he was sentenced to serves as punishment for breaking interstate commerce laws. The animal cruelty charges carried minor penalties. Ultimately Vick didn’t commit a crime against another person. He is not a threat to himself or others. So 23 months seems kind of steep, if you’re being objective.

Of course it’s hard to be objective. Like so many people, I too love dogs. It’s really hard for me to dismiss Vicks crimes as victimless when I think about what dog fighting entails. Even if Vick hadn’t been accused of brutally exterminating dogs that didn’t perform to his expectations I would still want to see a sentence of significant duration. Even if Vick walks the straight and narrow in prison the best he can hope for is to trim three months off his sentence. That means he’ll be in prison until the summer of 2009. That’s a long time. Long enough to drive home a powerful message.

I have no doubt that Vick’s days of dabbling in illegal enterprises are over. I have serious doubts as to whether or not I could handle nearly two years of incarceration. That’s a long time to sit in stir. Vick’s punishment, however, goes well beyond the prison sentence. He has become a pariah. He stands to loose millions of dollars while he is in prison while former employers and sponsors seek to recoup money paid to Vick in good faith that he would remain a respectable spokesman. Vick could emerge from prison carrying substantial debt with no means to earn an income sufficient to recoup his losses. The NFL is not obliged to reinstate him and even if he does get a nod from Commissioner Roger Goodell, Vick will not command a high salary.

The question is whether or not this is worthwhile. Vick’s punishment is fair provided it helps discourage the underground activity of dog fighting. If the Federal Court pursues less recognizable practitioners with similar zeal we might take a big step toward putting an end to the brutal endeavor. If the Court continues to treat low profile suspects with kid gloves then Vick’s punishment is nothing but window dressing and it will prove to be horrible unfair and arbitrarily punitive.

Michael Vick’s received his punishment. He is on his way to paying his debt to society. Now it’s time to let Michael Vick go about the business of earning a second chance. Rather than worrying about what will happen when Vick gets out of prison we need to focus on the criminal justice system. Was this just a good show for the cameras?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

In the Name of God

The Golden Compass is the first book in the controversial His Dark Materials trilogy, by Phillip Pullman. The film adaptation, starring Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman, will be coming to theaters this December. Even though nobody has had a chance to screen the movie conservative Christian groups such as the Catholic League have gone on the offensive. Bill Donohue, the Grand Inquisitor of the Catholic League is furious because Pullman is allegedly a “militant atheist” who penned his trilogy to encourage impressionable teens to question their faith. Even if the movie softens its content to deal with more abstract conventions, Donohue maintains that it will draw readers to the books where Pullman’s viscous agenda is unchecked by Hollywood executives.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, disagrees. He read the trilogy and met with Phillip Pullman. Dr. Williams sees the books as a direct challenge to dogmatism. While Pullman formally identifies himself as a humanist, he does not have an axe to grind with religion in general but the power structure within organized religion that utilizes fear to instill a sense of conformity and compliance. That’s actually a pretty common trait among atheists and agnostics.

In 1999, Kevin Smith released a brilliant exploration into his own religious background. Smith, a Catholic, examined his faith with a satirical eye and delved into the roots of spirituality. The result was a hilariously clever but poignant movie entitled Dogma. Before Dogma was even released Bill Donohue and his minions were out in force protesting the release of the film and demanding boycotts. Ultimately Smith’s film was not an indictment of religion so much as it was man’s ability to corrupt it. Kevin Smith rarely pulls punches with his writing, and casting Chris Rock as the voice of reason made it difficult for a lot of people to absorb the message but in the end Dogma lets God off the hook and indicts man for the flaws in religion. Of course most of the people who could keep the vulgar content of the movie in perspective and actually get the point were lost when they saw who Smith cast in the role of God.

The problem with people like Donohue is that they refuse to open their minds. It’s OK for Mel Gibson to rake in millions of dollars by cashing in on Christ but the minute somebody challenges the authority of organized religion they call for boycotts. These people behave like spoiled children, throwing monumental tantrums whenever anything doesn’t go their way. There’s no civility or respect, just pigheaded protests. Donohue sometimes goes beyond acts of civil disobedience filing lawsuits and even employing borderline criminal intimidation tactics to force people to comply with his agenda.

Ironically, Donohue is a perfect example of religion gone bad. He’s a blustering, beet-faced bully who spends so much time preaching from on high he doesn’t see the fact that he is the problem. Donohue is all about money, power and control…which is exactly what Jesus took issue with when he threw the merchants out of the temple.

Donohue doesn’t practice Christianity as defined by Jesus. He embodies the sort of imperialistic dogmatism that stigmatizes organized religion. Donohue’s Catholicism protects pedophiles from the criminal justice system because the Church must appear infallible. Donohue’s Catholicism has a high powered legal team. Donohue’s Catholicism spends more time waging a war on the way people express their holiday wishes rather than simply expressing his. Here’s an idea: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. Ring a bell? Jesus approached those who denied him with open arms; Donohue, and his ilk, does it with a clenched fist.

The Golden Compass is not an attack on faith at all, it’s a critique of those who exploit faith for personal gain. For centuries religion has been used to control and oppress people. Its purpose was to consolidate power within the confines of the Church hierarchy. The reason Donohue and the Catholic League take it so personally is because no religious institution has been so corrupt for so long. That’s not an indictment of Catholics, most of whom are wonderful people; the problem is with executive branch of the Church headquartered in Rome. For more than a thousand years the Vatican has positioned itself in front of God. Critics of Catholicism believe that Catholics actually worship the Pope and for a number of years that was the case. This is why old school Catholics, like Donohue, refuse to acknowledge the fallibility in their own religion. If the Vatican is flawed so is the entire religion. It’s hard to find another religion that has been so successful at putting God’s reputed power in the hands of a few men. When it happens on a smaller scale, society calls it a cult.

That’s what makes religion dangerous. When people suspend rationality and put their faith in a dogma created by man rather than spiritual concepts they become slaves to dogmatism. That is the basis of atheism. The problem isn’t with God, it’s with man. The Golden Compass is the latest installment of an exploration into the nature of religion. It’s going to ask questions and challenge conventions. If that makes you uneasy you’re on the wrong spiritual path.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Due Process Compromised by Political Aspirations

Shameless self promotion and justice don't mix.

In spite of its many flaws our criminal justice system is superior to most around the world because of the presumption of innocence. Until a person pleads or is proven guilty they are presumed to be innocent. While the court of public opinion is willing to take an arresting officer at his word the court of law cannot.

In the grand scheme of things a misdemeanor charge of solicitation is not a big deal. Greater crimes are committed every day and one could make the case that prostitution is a victimless crime that really isn’t worth fighting. Why invest all that money in vice when those crimes generally involve consenting adults?

Prostitution rarely entails jail time. Public interests simply aren’t served when tax dollars are spent feeding and housing people who buy or sell sex. These cases are of such little importance most prosecutors amend the charges to petty offenses such as disorderly conduct. Small fines are paid and people are sent on their way.

Antonio Henton is a promising young football player for the Ohio State Buckeyes. He’s a third string quarterback who has athletic ability reminiscent of Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith. Most people around the country haven’t heard of him because he doesn’t play but in the microcosm that is Columbus he is a celebrity. So when Antonio tried to solicit sex from an undercover officer late one September evening the ensuing arrest was big news.

In Columbus police often practice a catch and release tactic when it comes to vice. A wayward man will get caught trying to close a deal for a 20 dollar holler and spend 15 minutes wearing handcuffs in the back of a squad car while the police run his criminal record and humiliate him. If he’s got no priors and seems sufficiently deterred from future indiscretions they’ll let him go. No need to ruin a guy’s life over a blow job.

Not too long ago Columbus vice officers busted a full service upscale brothel just outside of downtown. Much ado was made over the operation which had been infiltrated and tracked for months. It was reported that the clients who visited the brothel were high profile businessmen and public figures in the area but prosecutors decided to drop charges against all parties except for the brothel’s owner, Tamara Flory. She was sentenced to a few months in prison and released to probation for the next several years.

So precedent has been set. Prostitution is no big deal but yet Antonio Henton was arrested and it qualified as breaking news. Local channels interrupted regular programming with a crawl that announced Henton’s arrest and temporary incarceration. He spent the night in jail and was arraigned the next morning. That’s where things took an interesting turn.

The only place a person should expect justice is in the court room. The general public will jump to conclusions, police will make mistakes and the media will sensationalize a story to draw more viewers to the 11 o’clock broadcast of the local news. The court is the only place where judgment is not passed until justice is served and the judge is the only person who can see it through. We elect judges to be fair and impartial when others are not.

Amy Salerno is the judge who presided over Antonio Henton’s arraignment. Not surprisingly Henton entered a plea of not guilty and requested bail. Instead of recording the plea and advising Henton of his obligations Salerno lambasted the young college student with an opportunistic diatribe that one can only assume she labored over until the wee hours.

"Mr. Henton: I have to tell you sir that I and many fans and graduates of Ohio State University are very disappointed to see you here today in my courtroom. Considering, sir, the fact that you are an ambassador of Ohio State University; your visibility in the community, you need to keep that in mind, sir. "As well as the fact that you need to show up at court and henceforth you need to conduct yourself and comport your actions according to your status in the community, sir. "I can tell, sir, your head is hung down and you're looking extremely sad. I know you do not wish to disappoint your team members either, sir. I will give you a $2,500 cash or surety bond or appearance bond. Gook luck, sir, both off and on the field. Thank You."

It was a fine lecture and perfectly appropriate if Henton had entered a guilty plea but given the fact that a defendant is supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, Salerno’s comments were out of line. In fact, Salerno’s comments seem prejudicial and might very well serve to compromise the prosecution’s case. How can Henton expect a fair trial when his arraigning judge opted to address him in such an inappropriate and unprecedented manner? It would not be surprising to see the case get dismissed before the trial date and if Henton is found guilty it could be overturned on appeal. Salerno should know better.

I’ve been in a courtroom. Like Henton I was arrested for a first degree misdemeanor. Unlike Henton I was able to post bond within minutes and spent only a few hours locked up where as Henton spent the night in a cell and reported to his arraignment in prison garb and handcuffs. I was able to plead not guilty in a shirt and a tie. I did not speak to a judge not did a judge address me. I entered my plea with a paralegal who handed me a paper outlining the rest of the process. While I wasn’t facing charges of soliciting I was sitting next to a man who was and he received the same treatment. So I personally think that Henton was given undue attention given the nature of the charges but I’m not a judge or an attorney so I can’t attest to it from a legal perspective. I just know my experience did not include a lecture from the judge. To be honest, I was disappointed with the assembly line manner in which everything was handled.

Even if Henton’s arraignment wasn’t out of line, the manner in which Salerno addressed him was. It resembled a closing statement after a guilty verdict. Licking County Common Pleas Judge P. Randall Knece agreed in a response to Columbus Dispatch columnist Ann Fisher’s column on the matter. The full text of his email can be read on her blog.

Salerno’s comments reveal a serious problem with our criminal justice system. Salerno is a career politician. She has been walking the streets of Columbus politics for the better part of 25 years. When she realized a prominent Ohio State athlete was on her morning docket she smelled opportunity so she loaded up those Law and Order DVDs and stayed up all night practicing her landmark statement. The only problem is that is was completely out of line for the context of that case. She laid on the heavy drama and played to the cameras, which are a rare fixture in the Franklin County Courthouse, hoping to mine that soapbox moment in November. It was a clear cut case of premature judicial ejaculation. Salerno got all excited about a high profile case and shot her legal wad all over the arraignment. Gross? You bet…a gross miscarriage of justice.

When former Ohio State superstar Maurice Clarett faced the much more severe charges of armed robbery an carrying a concealed weapon his judge didn’t go out of his way to enter a sobering statement during the arraignment. In fact, Maurice didn’t hear such strong words after he accepted a plea and faced sentencing. What compelled Salerno to make such a scene in a much less important setting?

Henton isn’t a menace to society and his crime has no victims. If Salerno sabotaged the case with her ego and Henton goes free people can still sleep at night. If Salerno’s comments end up sealing Henton’s fate and he is found guilty he’ll pay a few hundred dollars in fines and court costs and be on his merry way. The problem isn’t what Salerno did to Henton. The problem is that Salerno has made it clear that our criminal justice system is fragile and that a rogue judge with an agenda can easily compromise the one principal that sets our system apart. Can we trust a judge like Salerno to handle more serious crimes? In the end, Salerno is guilty of a much more severe crime than that which Henton is accused of. We’re fortunate the charges weren’t more severe.

Innocent until proven guilty? It’s not supposed to be conditional.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Great Racial Divide

Republican pundits often complain that minorities, particular African Americans, are tricked into believing that the Democrats have their best interests at heart. They counter that the Democratic Party has made the African American community dependent on handouts and softened standards that make it impossible for minorities to compete in the open market. It’s an interesting point, inherently flawed but undeniably interesting.

Most minority groups believe that Republicans just don’t care about their needs. Colin Powell once criticized the Republican Party for wanting to tell African Americans what they need rather than engage African American leaders in a discussion about what they want. And the truth is that the social programs Democrats have tried to implement fail because Republicans are consistently trying to dismantle them. Rather than offering some ideas on how to build upon affirmative action and use it to achieve true progress, Republican want to tear it down and let the open market dictate social progress. The problem is that we have already been there…it was called segregation.

Minority leaders insist that they are not biased against Republicans at all; the problem is that the Republican Party ignores them. This point was driven home Thursday night at the All-American Presidential Forum at Morgan State University. The debate was intended to showcase Republican candidates addressing issues important to the African American community. The top four Republican candidates declined to attend. According to moderator Tavis Smiley, some of the campaigns declined to participate because the crowd was expected to be hostile and unreceptive but the official excuse for skipping the event was scheduling conflicts.

Fred Thompson, John McCain, Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney were all busy raising money for their respective campaigns. Of course the six candidates who did show played to the crowd and took their shots at the front runners but Newt Gringrich even called them out stating that the invitations for the debate were sent out in March providing every candidate with ample opportunity to make proper arrangements. The four Republican front runners also skipped a forum earlier this summer hosted by the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials.

While everybody acknowledges that the African American community is not likely to support a Republican candidate anytime soon, the snub drives home the point that Republicans just don’t care. Former Representative J.C. Watts, a rare African American Republican, characterized the decision not to participate as stupid and said that it reinforces the belief that race is an issue with most Republican candidates. The White House even released a statement reiterating the importance of reaching out to every community.

So why would these front running candidates have the audacity to skip such an event? The simple fact of the matter is that the heart and soul of the Republican Party is the angry white male. Listen to the pundits. Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and Ann Coulter all rail against minority groups and the programs that are designed to help them. In 2000 Karl Rove sabotaged John McCain’s campaign by calling registered Republican voters in the south and informing them that McCain was father to a biracial child. It was true that McCain had adopted a child from Asia but the implication was that McCain had a black child and McCain was slaughtered in the primaries. Republicans sell traditional values, which means life as it was before the Civil Rights movement. Yes the good old days when the blacks were at the back of the bus, the women were in the kitchen and it was perfectly legal to run queers out of town.

As much as the Republican Party wants to play up the big tent image, the money is coming from white people with white issues on their minds. Republicans don’t care about minorities. This recent snub proves it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

McNabb Exposes harsh reality of NFL

Donovan McNabb struck a nerve when he admitted to Bryant Gumbel that he believes black quarterbacks face greater scrutiny than their white counterparts. The story broke before Tuesday’s broadcast of HBO’s Real Sport with Bryant Gumbel was aired but the full context of the interview won’t soften the blow. McNabb’s revelation is polarizing.

Not too long ago Rush Limbaugh took a shot at McNabb’s popularity asserting that the Eagles QB got more credit than he deserved. In what can only be described as an opiate-induced haze Limbaugh stated that the media was “desirous” that a black quarterback do well. Never mind the fact that Warren Moon had already done that. Rush was rightfully sent packing by ESPN and narrowly missed a thorough ass-kicking by NFL Primetime co commentator Tommy Jackson.

McNabb deftly avoided the issue. He chose to take the high road and play football which won the respect of many. He showed the same poise when the infectious Terrell Owens decided to take personal shots at his quarterback. Now people will see McNabb as a whiner who wants to blame racism for his recent on-field struggles.

But lost in the controversy is the fact that what McNabb is saying is true. Even if it’s not a conscientious disparity, there is no question that black quarterbacks have a much tougher row to hoe in the NFL. Gone are the days when teams overtly denied black quarterbacks an opportunity to play, but that window of opportunity seems much smaller. White quarterbacks appear to have a much greater margin of error and teams seem more willing to identify themselves with a white quarterback.

McNabb sees a league dominated by black athletes but only six teams have black starting quarterbacks. McNabb sees a league that celebrates aging white quarterbacks as warriors while black quarterbacks who lose a step are cut without a second thought. Steve McNair was unceremoniously let go by Tennessee because the Titans had questions about his durability, which had been compromised by the team’s refusal to build a quality offense around the former MVP.

McNabb is in a similar position. Like McNair he’s a true pocket passer who can extend plays with his remarkable athletic ability. Instead of scampering downfield at the first sign of pressure, McNabb moves around behind the line of scrimmage looking for an open receiver. The result can be remarkable and his ability has allowed Philadelphia to eschew traditional concerns such as shoring up the offensive line and developing a consistent rushing attack. Unfortunately this strategy results in the QB taking more punishment. McNabb has had two seasons derailed by injuries. He tried to play through a hernia in 2005 and in 2006 he sustained a severe knee injury that will haunt him throughout the 2007 season.

In spite of all he has done, the Eagles drafted a quarterback in the 2007 draft. Instead of acquiring a quality receiver, a power running back or a few solid offensive linemen the Eagles opted to send McNabb a message: his days are numbered. Unfortunately with the talent around him McNabb’s chances to succeed are limited.

McNabb knows this. He sees his white counterparts around the league getting help. A few hundred miles up the road Tom Brady threw a tantrum over the quality of his offense and Bob Kraft went out and found receivers for him. Instead of getting blamed for his teams struggles, people gave Brady a pass and agreed that his productivity was compromised by mediocre receivers. Now the Patriots look unbeatable.

McNabb is taking the blame for the failures of his team. If he complained about the talent around him people would label him a whiner and the Eagles would be eager to cut him loose. When Tom Brady goes to management and complains about the state of his team, he’s being a leader but if a black man does the same thing he’s selfish.

Nothing typifies the disparity like Brett Favre. People adore him but the Packers are terrible and Favre’s “gunslinger” antics don’t help. As likeable as he is, Favre is reckless and he’s lost more games with his questionable sense of judgment than he has won with his rocket arm. When asked if he plans to take it down a notch and play more conservatively Favre bristles at the notion and insists that he’s always going to be a gunslinger. It makes for a great story but the reality is that Favre is a mediocre quarterback who puts himself above the team. Sure he’s tough but he’s also rather stupid at times.

Imagine if Favre was black. Would the Packers have played his game in the off season? Would he still be a media darling after capitulating about retirement for an entire off season? The answer is no. The Packers would have replaced him as the starter five years ago if Favre was black.

You can’t compare McNabb to Peyton Manning but a couple of years ago Manning lambasted his offensive line after a dismal playoff performance. Even though people felt his public rant was out of line the criticism wasn’t as severe as it would have been if Manning was black. His brother Eli wasn’t characterized as a petulant prima donna when he refused to sign with the Chargers but if Eli was a few shades darker you can bet it would still be an issue and you can bet the Giants would be less inclined to work through his growing pains.

A great example of this double standard occurred during the 2007 draft. Throughout the process scouts thoroughly examined Brady Quinn and Troy Smith. Quinn was criticized for not playing exceptionally well against top-ranked teams. Smith was haunted by a humiliating performance in the BCS Championship game. Both players skipped portions of the scouting combine and dictated the audition process by holding private workouts.

Smith was often questioned about his height and reportedly got testy about the subject causing many to speculate that his attitude was the reason for his slide in the draft. Still, Brady Quinn was bigger news because he slipped from the top five to the 22nd pick. If Troy Smith had been white would he have fallen so far? Drew Brees struggled with many of the same issues but he was drafted in the second round. Smith waited until the second day.

The problem is that you can’t prove that race is involved. It could simply be coincidence but when it comes to these matters perception is reality. A white fan looks around the league and sees a different situation than a black fan. A white fans sees six black head coaches and thinks it’s a fair representation of our country’s racial balance. A black fan sees all of the black players in the league and wonders why so many are denied coaching opportunities.

Donovan McNabb stepped on a lot of toes when he spoke from the heart but if you look at it from his perspective he makes a valid point. He has been harshly criticized over the years. He led the Eagles to the Super Bowl only to have credit for that feat stolen by Terrell Owens who didn’t even suit up during the playoffs. It was McNabb who led the team to the Super Bowl and McNabb who threw for more than 300 yards but as a team the Eagles fell short. Instead of questioning Andy Reid’s game plan, mistake prone receivers and a confused defense, people focused on McNabb. They questioned his competitive spirit.

Peyton Manning endured similar questions but not to that degree. The focus on McNabb has always seemed malicious. Part of that is the idiotic nature of Philadelphia sports fans. Part of it is because for every legitimate critic there’s a racially biased moron rubbing salt on the wounds. Also, many people are racists without even knowing it. Much of the criticism might be the manifestation of latent racism. Nevertheless, the Colts didn’t demonstrate a lack of faith in Peyton Manning by spending their first pick in the draft on a promising young quarterback, the Colts went out and found people to help Manning get over that championship hump.

McNabb’s right, race is a big factor in the NFL and now that he’s gone out on a limb and said so, we’ll see just how awful it is.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Lesson of 9-11 Yet to be Learned

September 11th has been dubbed "Patriot Day" in remembrance of those who lost their lives in the infamous terrorist attacks. Lost in all of the flag waving is a pragmatic look at what led to those attacks and what we have done to prevent them in the future.

First of all, the organization accused of the attacks is still in tact. Osama bin Laden appears to be as charismatic as ever and his ability to elude US forces has expanded the cult of his personality. Al Qaida has increased its reach and recruits members from all over the world. Millions of Muslims living in poverty and chaos see him as a hero. How can we honor those who died when the man believed to be responsible for those deaths is still at large, celebrating this day as his greatest accomplishment?

Second, we have not begun to address the root of the problem. Why did Osama bin Laden order such a devastating attack? Too many people have convinced themselves that these Muslim extremists simply hate our way of life but the reality is that Osama bin Laden's goal has always been the removal of western influence in Middle Eastern affairs. For hundreds of years European countries held loose control over tribal cultures, drawing arbitrary borders and creating imperialistic governments that failed to respect the rich cultural diversity of the area. The result has been decades of regional instability and global exploitation. How is it these countries that produce so much oil have so many people living in poverty while those of us who purchase that oil live in decadent comfort? This is the question that drives so many to hate the US. It's not our lifestyle but the fact that we appear to enjoy it at their expense.

Our current foreign policy typifies precisely what has bred the extremism that threatens stability throughout the region. We're trying to impose an American way of life on people who want nothing to do with it. In order to maintain control, political leaders must gain support of Islamic clerics while they fight to generate enough revenue to improve the quality of life for their citizens. Too often, the United States is perceived to be standing in the way of progress and anti-American sentiment grows.

September 11th 2007 marked the sixth year of this country's failure to address these issues. Thousands of Americans have lost their lives and there is no end in sight. Our military is overextended, our national budget is in the red, Osama bin Laden is still ranting, and the world is still a very dangerous place. Mission Accomplished?

Patriot Day. It's great that we have seen fit to honor the fallen in word but a shame that we have not done right by them in deed.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Watch what you say

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment addresses all things pertaining to freedom of expression. As amendments go it seems somewhat cumbersome because it appears to have freedom of speech, press and religion all thrown together with the right to assemble and the right to petition. That does not diminish the importance of these rights. The fact of the matter is that this amendment is the cornerstone of our democratic republic. It’s sacred.

Nobody can be punished for exercising this right. People can’t be prohibited from expressing themselves. That’s why every year the KKK gets to hold rallies. There are some limits as to how one can express themselves but those limitations only apply when the rights of other people are infringed upon. When expression becomes harassment the first amendment has been abused.

However, there is no provision addressing the issue of public accountability. When you exercise your right to free expression you open yourself up to varies consequences. You can’t be imprisoned for exercising your rights but there a big difference between punishment and accountability.

In Columbus, Ohio racism doesn’t seem to be that big a problem. Mayor Mike Coleman enjoys tremendous popularity and he happens to be African American. He’s a career politician bent on climbing the political ladder so he is not nearly as effective as he should be but all things considered he is a decent mayor. He’s done a fair job and his administration’s only serious scandals have involved his alcohol dependent wife and even her struggles have been handled fairly. Nobody has passed undue judgment.

Columbus, however, is no racial utopia. Racism is alive and well. It’s practiced on a daily basis but it’s covert. White people in Columbus don’t have the guts to express their true feelings unless they believe they are in the company of like-minded people. In many ways this racism is worse than overt bigotry because it has evolved to survive the so-called politically correct era in which we live.

That’s why Susie Purtee comes as a surprise. Susie Purtee is a patrol officer for the Columbus Police Department. Recently WBNS and The Columbus Dispatch reported that Susie Purtee published some racially insensitive commentary on the internet with her sister. In this video rant Susie and her sister call themselves the “Subie Sisters” and discuss a variety of topics ranging from Jews to African Americans, to Hispanics. If there’s a problem it can be attributed to some filthy minority and the Subie Sisters explain how to make that connection with the intellectual savvy only inbred white trash can deliver. The fact that these two old war horses managed to post videos on the internet is quite a surprise. I would have pegged them as the opening act for Toby Keith.

Now Susie is a cop, a fact she believes makes her an authority on the state of affairs in the world today, which creates a public relations nightmare for the Columbus Police Department. It’s bad enough dealing with day to day complaints but now there is proof in streaming video that at least one cop on the payroll might be predisposed to prejudice. That places every case Susie Purtee has been involved with in doubt. City officials are reviewing the matter to see what action should be taken and the FOP has already stated that it supports Susie Purtee’s constitutional rights and will defend her if action is taken.

The problem is that Susie’s constitutional rights do not guarantee her continued employment. When you open your mouth you take your chances. I know that everything I publish on the internet can be reviewed by anybody at any time. I accept the fact that I can be held accountable for expressing my opinions in a public forum. That means my boss might not care for my thoughts on George W. Bush and subsequently fire me. My employment is not guaranteed under contract and even if it was there are ways to show cause. I’m a representative of my employer and my blogs could affect business if clients read them.

Police have to be held to a higher standard. They carry badges and guns. They have the ability to arrest people and enter private property. The constitutional measures that prohibit civil rights abuses by law enforcement officers are retroactive. Ultimately police are granted the authority to temporarily override the Bill of Rights. When a patrol officer asks to search your vehicle he is asking you to forfeit your rights but if you refuse he can claim exigent circumstances and conduct the search anyway. If that officer is Susie Purtee the exigent circumstances could be tied to ethnicity.

We can’t have racist cops. There’s too much at stake. A racist car salesman might not be inclined to throw in floor mats, a racist realtor might steer non-white buyers away from certain developments but a racist cop might shoot a black suspect when the similar white suspect would live to run another day. Not too long ago a warrant was served on a deranged Somali man living in Columbus. He refused to drop a knife that he was waving around and officers shot him dead. The shooting was justified but a few months later a white man was taken down with non-lethal stun guns. Race might not have been a factor but when somebody like Susie Purtee comes along you have to wonder.

Shame on the FOP for pledging support. There are too many good cops out there for the Fraternal Order to waste time defending the thugs, hooligans and bigots who besmirch the reputation of law enforcement. Instead of defending Purtee, the FOB should be lobbying to get her fired. The so-called “blue wall” is precisely why so many people lack respect for police. Americans don’t trust cops because they refuse to hold themselves to the higher standard their station demands. Susie Purtee’s rights are not being trampled.

When it comes to employment the only right we have is to pursue it. We have a right to be judged on our qualifications and our character. Potential employers aren’t supposed to allow race, gender or creed to affect the process but nobody is entitled to a job. You have to earn your living. Susie Purtee earned the privilege of working as a police officer because she passed all the tests and met all of the requirements but her continued employment is conditional. By publishing her racist views on the internet she brought shame upon her profession and betrayed the trust of the public she works for. She must be held accountable.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Vick's not worthy of NAACP support.

Wow! The Atlanta NAACP has asked the NFL to refrain from banning Michael Vick. Why? The NAACP is an important organization but throwing its support behind a man who made a conscientious decision to break the law only compromises its credibility in dealing with more substantial issues.

Michael Vick is not the victim of racial discrimination. He hasn’t been singled out or treated unfairly. It’s true that this story has garnered considerable attention but that’s not because Vick happens to be black; it’s because he’s one of the most marketed players in the NFL. The world was his oyster and he had a enough money for seconds. People are fascinated because Vick chose to throw it all away.

Vicks supporters, including teammates like Fred McCrary, insist he’s a good father and a fine man but do good men associate with known criminals? People bought and sold drugs in a house Vick owned because he allowed drug dealers to live there. Do good fathers slam dogs to the ground until they stop breathing? We all make mistakes but traveling around the country to participate in the felonious act of dog fighting isn’t an indiscretion, it’s a criminal lifestyle. Good fathers don’t end up in prison.

Animal cruelty is not as serious an offense as it should be. Realistically Vick will serve less than a year behind bars. He’ll be sentenced to more but post sentencing appeals and good behavior provisions will have him out in time to start the 2008 season. Virginia is considering state charges but Vick’s attorneys will fare much better in thwarting their efforts. The real penalty will come from the NFL.

The problem the NFL faces is twofold. On one hand they have the public relations disaster Michael Vick has created. Just when Roger Goodell thought he was getting the NFL’s image restored by punishing troublemakers like Chris Henry and Pacman Jones, the Vick saga unfolds and the NFL is suddenly taking a beating. Everybody is waiting to see how Goodell handles this high profile case. Suspending Chris Henry for eight games was easy, banning Pacman for a year was understandable but Vick was an officially licensed icon. What now?

Goodell wanted to wait for the courts to determine Vick’s fate but the specter of boycotts and protests forced him to put Michael Vick on administrative leave. At the time it looked as though Vick would be mired in a high-profile trial that was scheduled to start right after Thanksgiving. It was a distraction nobody wanted so Goodell put everything on ice. Now that Vick has agreed to plead guilty to felonious criminal activities the NFL must take action. The fact that Vick has been accused of virtually torturing dogs to death makes determining the course of that action decidedly difficult.

But it might be a moot point. The NFL has never had to address the issue of dog fighting but gambling is a subject sports league commissioners know all too well. Every sport at every level has rules that spell out stiff penalties for gambling and most of them end with the words lifetime ban. Vick’s activities included illegal gambling because numerous bets were placed the dogs. It doesn’t matter how much he bet or that the betting was limited to dog fighting. The fact that Vick participated in illegal gambling might warrant a significant suspension. With the recent gambling scandal in the NBA no league can afford to take these infractions lightly. So the NFL has an easy way out.

Aside from skin color the NAACP has no basis for getting involved on Michael Vick’s behalf. Unlike Genarlow Wilson, a high school kid thrown in prison for receiving oral sex, Vick knowingly committed the crimes he is going to plead guilty to. Playing in the NFL is a privilege Michael Vick revoked when he allowed himself to become a public relations nightmare. The NFL will lose millions of dollars in revenue thanks to Vick’s decision to break the law and millions more will be lost if Vick is allowed to come back.

This isn’t about color. The NFL places a similar stake in Peyton Manning’s public appeal. Like Vick, Manning is one of the official faces of the NFL. Ladainian Tomlinson and Brian Urlacher are also go to guys when it comes to mass marketing the product that is the NFL. If any of them brought similar shame upon the league they would be facing similar circumstances. To put it in perspective OJ Simpson was found not guilty in a court of law but the NFL goes to great lengths to keep the Hall of Fame running back away from league functions. In the end it’s about money.

Racism is alive and well in this country. Genarlow Wilson is still in jail, six black kids in Louisiana are facing prison time for fighting back against racial intimidation, and somewhere somebody is being denied an opportunity because their skin is too dark. Michael Vick has his opportunity and squandered it. The NAACP should not compromise its integrity by helping him get another one. The NFL would be right to banish Vick from the league forever and the NAACP support that action.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

I made you say underwear!

I go out of my way to avoid Fox News. I guess I like the liberal propaganda foisted on society by all of the other media outlets. Last night, I stopped at a local pub and caught a closed caption version of John Gibson’s “My Word” rant.

Now Gibson is a professional polemicist. He is paid to be a pompous, self-righteous ass because there’s a lot of money to be had when there’s a heated argument. I don’t take people like Gibson or transsexual pundit Ann Coulter seriously. They don’t believe half of what they say. What I do take seriously are the people who subscribe to their positions.

Gibson’s latest rant was in support of a local ordinance in the little town of Mansfield, Louisiana. Apparently local officials have been so successful curing the ills of the world that they now have time to focus on the scourge of sagging pants. Effective September 15th Mansfield police officers will be able to write a $150 ticket to people who expose their underwear. It was not specified if there will be an exemption for plumbers and/or appliance repair technicians.

Gibson thinks that the community should enforce the ban until the courts rule against it. He said he might sound old but he doesn’t like sagging pants and he’s tired of seeing people like Britney Spears running around in her underwear. Of course he is, being staunch conservative he would rather see a congressional page completely naked and face down on a bed.

Forget about Gibson’s support of the ordinance or his homosexual procilivities. The issue at hand is the enactment of a law that is essentially a waste of time and a violation of civil rights. This battle has been fought time and time again to no avail. Back in the 1950’s the issue was plain white t-shirts and tight blue jeans. Small towns across the country futilely imposed rules and regulations mandating an acceptable dress code. Sagging pants and exposed boxers are no different. Sadly, many of the people carping about low riding pants are the same people who dared to wear jeans and t-shirts in public. Way to keep the faith, pops.

Below the surface it’s about race, not underwear. Clearly Mansfield is experiencing a little post-Katrina culture shock. Mansfield is not far from Shreveport and with New Orleans a long way from being repaired, former New Orleans residents are settling into nearby communities. Mansfield has probably seen an increase in African American residents which means that Hip Hop culture is more prevalent in a community that time somehow forgot. All of the sudden people woke up and the sharecroppers were lollygagging on the corner. Yes white kids do it to, but in the mind of these conservative nitwits that’s only because “negro culture” has been forced on them by the liberal conspirators.

Those who support the ban insist it’s about decency, contending that nobody wants to see another person’s underpants but how do you define underwear? What if somebody opts to wear swimming trunks or gym shorts under their sagging pants? And how can anybody take offense to boxers? I can see an objection when it comes to thongs but that objection is subjective. There are some people who shouldn’t wear thongs under any circumstance and others who should be required to wear nothing but a thong at all times.

Still, there’s no need for a law. If I happen to catch a glimpse of something I don’t like I tend to look the other way. If people want don saggy pants I have the option of ignoring their attire and the luxury of passing judgment on them. I never judge a person by the color of his skin but mix stripes with checks and court is in session. Throw on a “What Would Jesus Do” bracelet and I’ll cross the street to get out of harm’s way.

Generally I accept sagging pants as a passing fad. Like white T-shirts, flood pants and engineer boots, sagging pants make a statement. The whole idea is to piss off the old folks. A stupid ordinance is exactly what these kids want. It proves to them that adults are petty, small minded and ultimately powerless.

Hell, it stirs up my rebellious nature. Since the ban focuses on exposed underpants I’m tempted to drive down to Mansfield and put a pair of white briefs on the outside of my pants. Super hero style. I wonder if that would draw the attention of cops. We could get together and stage a million panty march to protest the ordinance.

The best way to get kids to pull up their pants is for adults to pull theirs down. Nothing kills a trend faster than adoption by old white people. Why do you think the Beatles broke up? As soon as old folks got past the mop tops and listened to the music the Beatles had to change their style and the band imploded. And look what happened to FUBU. My dad picked up a FUBU shirt at a thrift store and the entire brand lost its street cred.

Personally I’d rather see laws passed limiting how high pants can be hoisted. I find issues like camel toe far more offensive than whale tail. I’d much rather see junior’s boxers than the outline of grandpa’s nuts through a pair of chest high, sky blue sans-a-belts. Why not impose a ban on stretch pants too? While we’re at it, how about a complex ordinance outlining proper sock/shoe combinations? If we’re going to put an end to sagging pants we should also eradicate the practice of wearing black dress socks with white sneakers. And for crying out loud people, can we agree on a minimal amount of pigmentation before shorts can be worn in public?

Youth always wins. Every time the older generation has drawn a line the younger generation has rushed to cross it. We all know where this is headed. The underwear ordinance will fail and then kids will celebrate their victory by taking it to the next level. In fact, that trend has already started. Paris Hilton and her friends have been playing a game of celebrity hoo-hah for the past several years. If you didn’t like seeing underwear how will you feel about the full monty?

Friday, August 10, 2007

Dirty Work

Illegal immigrants are criminals. End of story. The entire problem can be simplified to one issue: documentation.

If you believe that then the only thing that's simple in this discussion is your mind. It doesn't matter if Lou Dobbs has your back, failing to delve deeper into the subject is socially, ethically and morally irresponsible.

Illegal immigrants aren't stealing jobs. They are filling jobs that American citizens find disagreeable. If employers would improve working conditions, increase pay and offer benefits sufficient to support a modest existence people would fill these jobs. Of course that would require the American consumer to shell out more for goods and services that are provided thanks in part to cheap labor.

Much of that cheap labor comes from illegal immigrants but there are programs that allow employers to import workers from other countries. Illegal immigration is a convenient scapegoat but even if it's eliminated, we still have cheap foreign labor coming in. The primary provider of this labor is Mexico and the program is called H2B It essentially converts Mexico into a temporary labor provider. You can find H2B workers throughout the country performing work in seasonal operations such as landscaping, sanitation and roofing.

The H2B program sets a minimum wage (adverse effect wage rate) that the employers must adhere to and the available jobs must be publicly posted. The classified ads of your local newspaper are replete with H2B ads months before the effective recruiting season begins. This is clever because people seldom look for landscaping jobs in January so the recruiting effort is designed to fail. You can pick out an H2B ad by looking for jargon-laden spots that post an odd hourly wage. In Columbus the recent ads featured an hourly wage of $8.62 an hour. Several larger landscaping companies posted the same ad with the same hourly rate and they currently have Mexican work crews. Once the ad has run for a predetermined period of time the employer can request assistance from the H2B program to fill remaining openings.

The employers arrange for seasonal housing to accommodate this foreign workforce. The housing arrangements often violate local housing ordinances by crowding too many people into a single family home. In Columbus, Ohio one local lawn care company got into a little hot water when it was revealed that 12 men were living in a three bedroom home. The reason for this is that people making $8.62 an hour can't afford to rent an apartment or a home of their own. The H2B program exploits foreign workers, shipping them to the U.S. like some sort of economic militia.

Of course Lou Dobbs doesn't talk about this. He's worried about those illegal immigrants, many of whom secure documentation that looks legitimate enough to qualify for full time permanent jobs that pay a more realistic wage. The legal H2B program allows employers to keep wages below market value driving away natural born or naturalized candidates. The waiting list for the H2B program is long and it doesn't provide an actionable plan for gaining permanent residency status. This program actually makes illegal immigration more attractive thus exacerbating the problem.

But people don't want to pay $100 a pop to have their grass cut in order to bridge the wage gap. We like to blame the American worker for being too demanding and lazy but that's not it at all. The problem is $8.62 an hour. And that isn't even a real wage. The H2B workers are often 1099 employees which means they are subcontractors who must deduct their own taxes, cover their own workers' compensation and most importantly they are not entitled to overtime wages. Those H2B laborers will work 16 hours a day seven days a week until the assignment ends.

Employers who use the H2B program claim to see an increase in productivity, experience fewer complaints from the workers and of course they see a decrease in attendance problems. That's because they replace an empowered American workers with a captive labor pool. It's not quite slavery because these people volunteer and recieve compensation but it's not as if an H2B employee can quit for a better job.

The problem with the American worker is the fact that they have freedom of choice. If you don't want to work on Saturday you can quit and find another job, if an H2B employee doesn't want to work on Saturday INS will be there first thing Monday morning to escort him back to Mexico. The incentive for H2B workers is built in. Who needs whips when deportation is just a phone call away? H2B employees get no due process, they either do as they're told or they are rejected from the program. It's not fair.

The scam goes even deeper. The employer arranges for room and board and often deduct those expenses from the H2B payroll. In fact, many H2B employers purchase low cost housing and can write it off as an business expense while receiving remuneration for putting the employees up in those houses.. The employer also arranges for transportation and can deduct for that as well. If an H2B employee gets hurt or sick, they go back to Mexico. How can Americans compete with that? How can anybody? The H2B program allows employers to establish work conditions that haven't been legal since the early 1900's.

Instead of increassing pay and benefits to stimulate productivity in a highly competitive job market, employers sign up for the H2B program because it's cheaper. The process isn't easy and there are requirements that must be met but once the employer learns to navigate the red tape, the pipeline of cheap captive labor is open.

Illegal immigrants are actually better because they put most of their money back into the local economy when they pay rent, purchase food or acquire relaible trnasportation. H2B employees send most of their money back to Mexico as their living expenses are covered by the employer. Still, illegal immigrants drive wages down because their choices are limited by education and language barriers. The difference is that employers don't control those choices.

The H2B program was created to provide qualifying companies with a legal means of acquiring labor that was once only available through illegal immigrants. Instead of risking heavy fines and sanctions associated with violating INS regulations, employers can artificially drive American workers out of the market. It's becoming increasingly difficult for skilled and semi-skilled laborers to find gainful employment.

Corporate outsourcing is an extension of the same problem. Labor is cheaper overseas because those people live in conditions Americans find unacceptable but as long as those computer programs are packed five to a shanty in Bashur, the greedy senior executives who contracted them don't have to think about it. It's unfair to expect American workers to compete with people who live with a drastically reduced cost of living and the consequences of exporting jobs while we import cheap labor will be severe for everybody. How will companies make money when nobody can afford to buy their products?

Illegal immigration is a smoke screen. Spending more money to "secure" or borders fails to address the issue. Threatening resident aliens with prison time and deportation will not solve the problem. We have a serious problem but in order to solve it we need to take a long hard look at the actual value of the goods and services we depend on. Where do people get the money to purchase them? Yes, it's great to get your grass cut for $30 a week and a new roof for $2000 is a fantastic deal but what's the actual cost? What impact will your thriftiness have on your son's career? The economy is cyclical; if we allow that cycle to be broken everybody will pay a devastating price. We have already started making those payments.

Lou Dobbs can rant and rave from his anchor desk but has he ever stopped to wonder why those peaches were only 98 cents a pound? Does he think about who made his shoes or where his landscaper got his crew? Talk is cheap, Mr. Dobbs. Illegal immigrants aren't causing the problem…we need to address our greed. Before it consumes us.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Killer Coyotes Terrorize Rich People!

Powell, Ohio is home to some of the wealthiest people in the greater Columbus area. Multi-million dollar homes grow like weeds in fields that were once part of small farms. Powell also lays claim to some impressive wooded lots, many of which attract those homeowners longing to escape the claustrophobic confines of urban living. But there’s trouble in those woods…trouble of the canine variety.

Coyotes have been inexplicably vilified by people for ages. For the most part the tiny Coyote, rarely tipping the scales over 40 pounds, is a skittish animal that preys upon small rodents but in some areas where habitat and natural food sources become scarce the coyote becomes an opportunistic feeder willing to rummage through trash, raid gardens and even gobble the occasional small pet. Attacks on humans are quite rare and have only occurred in extreme conditions. Pack hunting has been observed in isolated instances but the coyote, though highly social within its species, tends to hunt alone. They are timid animals that shun human contact. Rabies is a disease that can trigger dangerous behavior in any infected animal and seems to be the cause of aggressive behavior in coyotes.

This information is readily accessible today. A quick search on the web will reveal a number of websites more than happy to offer an objective view of the coyote and people in Powell most assuredly have internet access. They should be able to disseminate the truth and figure out how to live with the coyote in their midst.

It’s not complicated. In fact living with wildlife rarely is. All that is required is an acceptance of certain responsibilities. Responsibilities one would think a person willing to drop 3.5 million dollars on a wooded lot could readily accept. Securing garbage, protecting gardens and keeping an eye on small pets is all it takes and those are habits everybody should practice. The underlying rule is simple: don’t feed the animals. If people avoid that, contact with coyotes is minimal.

But people in Powell can’t be troubled with such monumental tasks. People in Powell want to feed the birds and the squirrels so they can enjoy nature, but they don’t want to contend with reality. Why should they be forced to invest in animal resistant trash receptacles when it would be easier for them to have somebody extirpate the offending wildlife?

Not long ago a man in Powell lamented to the editor of the Columbus Dispatch that he was regularly accosted by an aggressive deer on his way to the top of his drive to collect the morning paper. He seemed to think that the authorities needed to do something to address the issue of deer in his yard, a yard that happened to be adjacent to a large suburban park that encourages a healthy ecosystem. His story seems rather unlikely given that millions of deer encounters occur each week with the same result: the deer bounding away at amazing speed.

The coyote, however has sparked a firestorm. Self-righteous residents want action taken. At a recent meeting one woman, surprisingly inbred-looking for the esteemed village of Powell, pointed out that she lives right next to the woods and her children are at risk. Indeed they are, but more likely that risk comes from the nearby highway or the registered sex offenders in the area. The risk from coyotes is miniscule.

Even so, who put those children at risk? It’s not as if some eco-terrorist unloaded a truck of coyotes in Powell to upset the lives of the privileged and pampered. Islamic extremists in the midwest have proven to be surpisingly inept and don't generally deal with wilf animals. Coyotes have always been there. It’s just that urban sprawl has encroached on their habitat and the poor pups haven’t figured out how to handle it. Coyotes don’t get zoning notices.

Ironically people in Powell are also the fist to complain about raccoons, geese, groundhogs and squirrels; animals that have all enjoyed explosive population growth in light of a paucity of natural predators such as the coyote and its cousins the wolf and the diminutive fox. It’s the irrational fear demonstrated by the residents of Powell that virtually eliminated the predators at the top of the food chain. During the agrarian period of this country’s economic history farmers filled that role to keep their spreads flush. Now nature is making a comeback and people are getting in the way. Some of these people are collectors of animals much more dangerous than the coyote. One Powell resident is facing charges for letting an alligator escape in a local pond and not too long ago a missing boa constrictor turned up at a construction site. Sorry, but one pet alligator is infinitely more dangerous than a million wild coyotes.

It’s unfortunate to see the same sense of entitlement that rendered so many species extinct rear its ugly head in Powell. These people are the invaders. They made the choice to build expensive homes on large wooded lots. The least they could do is take it in stride and appreciate the cycle of life.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Vick's got to be punished

Michael Vick has been indicted on federal charges connected to dog fighting. This has been an ongoing investigation and the indictment is the first indication that authorities have anything meaningful to connect Vick to any criminal activity. An indictment is serious business but it is still a long way from a conviction.

Even if convicted on all charges Vick won’t likely see prison walls. Animal abuse charges are minor issues and somebody with a relatively clean record will likely receive a suspended sentence, hefty fines and arduous probation. One could argue that Vick took part and murdering underperforming animals in addition to abusing those who met his expectations but the most serious component of Vick’s alleged activity is crossing state lines for the purpose of committing a crime. By federal and state standards the real problem with dog fighting is the illegal gambling that occurs around it.

Of course Vick is a rich man who can afford powerful attorneys. The odds of the charges in the indictment actually remaining intact by the time a trial begins are slim. Indictments are relatively easy to obtain because. The grand jury simply decides whether or not there is enough substance to an allegation to warrant a trial. The defense is very limited in what it can do during the grand jury proceedings but once the indictment is handed down and the trial process begins motions can be filed and charges can be amended to lesser offenses.

The most likely scenario is that Vick will use his money to squeak out of this. Somebody in his circle will fall on a sword in exchange for financial security and Vick will get off with a handful of misdemeanor charges. There simply isn’t enough meat to the indictment to really put the heat on Vick. He faces a statutory maximum of six years but with no serious legal issues in his past it would be hard for any judge to justify a significant sentence. That puts Vick in the driver’s seat when it comes to negotiating a plea agreement.

Perhaps our legal system needs to put some teeth into laws prohibiting crimes against animals. The methods with which Vick and his cohorts are accused of disposing of under-performing animals are appalling but people get away with abusing animals every day. Have you ever seen chickens transported from one place to the next via flatbed? Do you know how that Butterball Turkey came to be? Where do we draw the line?

Americans hold certain animals in higher esteem than other cultures do. In this country dogs and cats become beloved members of our families but in other parts of the world dogs and cats are beloved parts of the menu. Saint Bernard is coveted for its tender, juicy meat and raised in many Asian countries the way we raise cattle in the United States. Ultimately it’s subjective. Cows are sacred in India and delicious in Indiana.

The court of the federal government might not be able to punish Michael Vick to our satisfaction but the court of public opinion can. Michael Vick is a public figure and his livelihood depends on his marketability as much as it does his athletic ability. Sports are not all about performance. The NFL is built around money. As talented as Michael Vick is, nobody would play him if his presence on a roster had a negative impact on ticket sales. The Atlanta Falcons would cut him without hesitation if people refuse to support the team as long as Vick is on it. The NFL would suspend Vick with extreme prejudice if such an action was necessary to remain in good standing fans.

The great thing about the court of public opinion is that it doesn’t have to be fair or just. Even if Michael Vick is the innocent victim of a poor choice of friends we can hold him accountable for that. The court of public opinion doesn’t owe anybody anything. It’s totally arbitrary and decidedly cruel. There’s no due process and everything is admissible. You are either in the court’s good graces or you are not.

So while the lawyers and the reporters and commissioners all tiptoe around the legal issues the general public can render its decision and put the screws to Michael Vick. Whether the criminal charges are substantial enough to stick or not, we have enough evidence on Michael Vick to render a decision. He’s a jerk with bad judgment and he is no longer worthy of our esteem. Punish him accordingly.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Stupid is as stupid does

You can tell that George W. Bush is the product of wealth and privilege. He refuses to take any responsibility for his mistakes and gets down right snotty when he is confronted with the mess he has made. Iraq has become such an obvious mess that most Republicans have gone to great lengths to distance themselves from Bush and the few who haven't publicly condemned his administration stop well short of supporting him. He's a true lame duck.

The entire country wants Bush to extract our troops from Iraq but Bush refuses. He characterizes a possible withdrawal as a defeat for the country but in reality he is simply too selfish to accept the fact that he was wrong. The defeat is all his. Pulling out of Iraq is not surrendering, it's just good sense. If the alleged government in Iraq isn't ready to stand on its own by now it never will. Perhaps it's best to let the rival factions wage war on each other to thin the field before we move troops back in. But Bush won't have it. He declared victory in Iraq four years ago and he's not about to abandon that vision. We will stay the course regardless of where that course goes.

This makes Bush a very dangerous man as his regime heads into its final throes. He's short on time. His political platform has been abandoned by his own party. The Rovian Republican era has come to an end. The 2008 election will be a departure from the neo-conservative theocracy that has ensnared this country in self-righteous nationalism and Bush will be held up as a scapegoat for the myriad problems this country will face in years to come. It's quite possible members of his administration will do time in prison before it's all said and done.

So count on Bush to leave a permanent mark on this country. One could argue that he's already done that with his Supreme Court nominations but with the power granted to him by the conservative majority on the high court Bush might very well be able to pull of the unthinkable. Even though he's struggling for approval, Bush managed to secure more power than his office was ever intended to hold and as a grateful public cheers his mandatory departure it would not be beyond the audacity of this petulant spoiled brat to spite us all. It could be a symbolic gesture such as replacing the Statue of Liberty with an oil derrick or something more devious like replacing the Bill of Rights with the Ten Commandments.

The frightening prospect of what this madman might do on his way out is precisely why he should be impeached. It's not uncommon for presidents to do things outrageous as they leave but those actions are generally limited to pardons. Bush might just do something really crazy like nuke Oregon or kick Massachusetts out of the Union. And then declare war on them.

Monday, June 18, 2007

People as pawns

Mike Nifong is taking a rightful beating in the press. He violated the public trust when he refused to accept reality and proceeded to extend the now infamous Duke Lacrosse rape case. By now you know the gory details of how Nifong tried to parlay his diligent pursuit of the case into strong support from the black community in the Raleigh Durham area.

People have accused Nifong of bowing to pressure from the black community. As soon as this case was reported, people were worried that an African American stripper would see her right to justice overridden by the rich white parents of the boys who assaulted her. As it turns out, Crystal Gail Mangum was lying but since Nifong refused to call her on it nobody knows why. She should be charged but until Nifong is hung out to dry, she’ll remain on the back burner.

Most of the pressure came from the press, namely ESPN, who loved digging into a scandal involving spoiled rich white boys. Every once in a while sports reporters like to pretend to be real journalists. Following their lead the rest of the networks jumped aboard and the entire nation wanted to see heads roll. In Nifong’s defense, he had to press forward. If he made the call to drop the case in the midst of the media storm nobody would have bought it. Nifong had no choice but to wait. Sadly, he allowed himself to become too invested in winning and in the end he was guilty of pursuing what can only be described as malicious prosecution. The press even dropped the bone after DNA evidence all but exonerated the boys.

The press had egg on its face and everybody blamed Nifong. It didn’t matter that virtually every journalist who “covered” the story took the alleged victim’s side and nobody seemed to remember that the big concern was that the rich parents of the accused boys would bury justice under a big pile of legal currency. We all share part of the blame for the way everything snowballed but Nifong will take the fall. As well he should, he was the one with a legal obligation to drop the charges in spite of what the press and public might think. That doesn’t absolve the media of its ethical responsibility to not sensationalize a story.

Some outlets, particularly those with ultra-conservative leanings, have expressed great sympathy for the lacrosse players. While there’s no question they were subjected to excruciating public humiliation, they were not victims of some great social injustice. The system ultimately worked for them. They were wrongfully accused but they didn’t even have to stand trial. Yes, they endured scrutiny but that’s part of life. Let’s not forget that it was their own reckless behavior that put them in the position to be accused. The entire Lacrosse team had a bad reputation heading into this mess and it was their decision to have a raucous party complete with strippers. They may or may not have broken any laws but you don’t have to break laws to pay the consequences for your actions. If anything these kids learned a valuable lesson. At least they didn’t have to go to prison.

Most people can’t imagine being accused of a crime they didn’t commit. That’s a sentiment often expressed by the members of the pity party that has formed around the Duke Lacrosse boys. Being falsely accused is nothing compared to being wrongfully convicted. These kids didn’t even come close to enduring that. Their case didn’t even go to trial.

We have no idea how many people are wrongfully convicted every year. Nifong is nothing. Prosecuting attorneys often have political aspirations and they hand their hats on conviction rates. Prosecutors are more concerned with wins and losses than they are with justice. We’d like to think that’s not the case but it is. We know for a fact that people get sentenced to death for crimes they didn’t commit. If we can sentence the wrong person to death what’s going on with lesser crimes?

Rudy Giuliani made a name for himself as a hard-nosed prosecutor. Some people loved his stance on crime but there is some concern over his zealous pursuit of criminals, particularly the high profile cases that garnered plenty of media attention. He parlayed his tough persona into a successful bid to become mayor of New York where his administration was credited with cleaning up New York but at a steep price. The deaths of Amadou Diallo and Patrick Dorismond seemed to be a direct result of Giuliani’s hard line style.

Another dangerous aspect of the criminal justice system is the shameless cronyism. In Columbus Ohio two men, Tim Howard and Gary Lamar James were sentenced to death for back in 1977. They were accused killing a security guard during a bank robbery. Both men were arrested when they contacted the police department to clear their names once they heard they were accused but their desire to set the record straight was not taken into account by assistant prosecutor George Ellis who clearly suspended his sense of justice.

The evidence simply didn’t hold up. Reasonable doubt is so painfully evident a modern day prosecutor would have refused to go forward and a reasonable defense attorney would have had the case dismissed. But this was Columbus, Ohio in 1977 and the defendants were two black men. It wasn’t too long ago that being black was all the evidence any jury needed to see. That didn’t stop George Ellis from withholding evidence and quite possibly suborning perjury. Activities he steadfastly denies to this day.

And where is he today? Still at the Franklin County Prosecutor’s office working for Ron O’Brien as chief legal counsel. It’s no surprise that O’Brien, who started his career at the prosecutor’s office as a legal intern in 1972, utilized taxpayer resources to prevent Centurion Ministries from getting a fair shot at justice for Howard and James. O’Brien’s got a vested interest in the continued suspension of justice.

Ultimately Howard and James were freed after spending nearly 30 years behind bars and the men responsible for putting them there were roundly chastised for the miscarriage of justice. Chastised but not punished.

Ron O’Brien wouldn’t stop there. When it came down to compensating Tim Howard and Gary Lamar James for the lifetime that had been stolen from them, O’Brien refused consider any financial reward and insisted on a wrongful incarceration trial. These men might have been found not guilty after spending 30 years in prison but if they wanted to receive any remuneration for their trouble they would have to prove themselves innocent.

Tim Howard went through the wrongful incarceration trial and was awarded $2.5 million but he died of a heart attack less than a year later. Gary Lamar James quickly settled for $1.5 million rather than endure the trial process. Surely he heard the ticking of the clock. Would you spend 30 years in prison for $1.5 million? Would Ron O’Brien?

Let’s not forget that these men were sentenced to die and would have been executed had some touchy feely liberal not managed to suspend the death penalty in Ohio. Howard and James were spared death in 1978 when their sentences were automatically commuted to life. Had they been executed nobody would have known of their innocence.

At least they got out. Of course, Tim Howard didn’t get much of a chance to make up for lost time but maybe Gary Lamar James will. Maybe. Prison has a funny way of taking an exponential number of years. You might serve six but you lose a few more on the back end. People who do time often see their life expectancies shrink much in the same was smokers and diabetics do.

But what about the people who don’t get out? Organizations like Centurion Ministries only have a fraction of the resources prosecuting attorneys around the country do and there are plenty of corrupt offices around the country where political allies take turns running for office. Let’s also bear in mind that nobody’s out there trying to overturn wrongful sentences for armed robbery or grand theft auto. If a sentence is under 10 years it’s probably not worth the effort. Unless you talk to the person doing 10 years. Compare that with prosecutors who see the criminal justice system as a mechanism for publicity. Giuliani loved to march his defendants through a gauntlet of reporters and camera men. Do you think small time politicians are more or less inclined to exploit media attention?

Ron O’Brien has never worked in the private sector. Most of his career has been in the Franklin County Prosecutor’s Office with his brief stint in the City Prosecutor’s office bridging the gap from his run as an appointed lackey to the elected position he currently holds. Voters might be able to send him a message but in the inbred world of the criminal justice system it’s hard to break the cycle. These are lawyers and they have created checks and balances that ensure that lawyers remain in control.

And Ron O’Brien is not exactly a bad guy. He was way off base in this situation but overall it seems as though his office does a decent job. That we know of. Again: how many people are serving time for crimes they didn’t commit?

The only answer is imposing stiff penalties on prosecutors who get caught pursuing these cases. Since the Duke lacrosse boys didn’t even suffer the indignity of a trial, a lengthy prison sentence for Nifong might be a little over the top but he must be held accountable to the people he was supposedly representing. He didn’t commit a crime against the accused young men but he did commit a crime against the people who elected him. In former assistant prosecutor Ellis’ case justice demands he pay a price. He stole almost 30 years from two men and he did it on behalf of the people. We should at least have a trial to determine the extent of his culpability and allow the people to determine his fate.

Elected positions generally possess great power. As citizens we trust our elected officials to be fair, honorable and just. Those elected officials must wield that trust and power responsibly. When the abuse of power, or even a lapse in judgment, results in innocent people being killed, put to death or otherwise harmed, punishment should be swift and severe. We know that we can’t trust elected officials to uphold justice but we can be certain they will look out for their best interests.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Racism where you least expect it

In case you don’t know him, Gary Sheffield is a major league baseball player. He’s one of those guys who has the athletic ability to be among the best players in the history of the game but through the years he has displayed an attitude better suited for a maximum security prison. He exhibits all of the personality traits that demonstrate a great deal of insecurity.

Gary has been talking out of his ass since he came into the league. He’s a liar and a cheat (he has been linked to steroids and human growth hormone). He’s a selfish jerk obsessed with personal success even at the expense of his team. Everywhere Gary has played people have been impressed with his ability to hit a baseball and disgusted with his inability to say anything intelligent. Still, Gary’s recent comments about the dominance of Latin players are far beyond the conventional limits of stupidity.

It’s important to note that Sheffield is black. This wouldn’t be important if Gary didn’t make it such an issue. Gary’s one of those guys who would set a kitten on fire and blame the negative reaction on racial bias. Gary makes race an issue in every discussion. He realizes that people don’t like him and he assumes that it is because he is black. This is because he assumes all black people are jerks just like him. That’s probably because his friends, like Barry Bonds, are jerks too.

Some concern has been expressed over the dramatic decline of black players in major league baseball. The study began innocently enough…with Asian players making such a splash people were curious to see how the demographics of the game have changed. They were stunned to see that the percentage of African American players is almost half of what it was 25 years ago. The percentage of white players is smaller as well but not enough to cause concern. Of course the number of Hispanic players has increased.

Most people believe that the decline is because fewer African American kids are playing baseball. Cities aren’t keeping urban parks up, inner city schools aren’t offering sports, youth leagues are suffering from a lack of funds and volunteers…all of these reason make sense. It’s also possible that more black kids are drawn to sports such as basketball where financial rewards are immediate. LeBron James had a 100 million dollar shoe contract before he graduated high school while top baseball prospects have to prove themselves at the major league level before they can ink a big contract. Then you have the Nintendo effect: more and more African American kids are playing their games from the confines of the living room couch.

Gary Sheffield doesn’t buy any of that. He believes that racism is to blame. Black players are being forced out of baseball by cheaper immigrant labor.

Gary Sheffield explained that Hispanic players do what they’re told and endure more disrespect than a black player would tolerate. To hear Sheffield tell it, there are hundreds of black players with superior playing ability sitting at home because some Mexican player is willing to be humiliated and take less money. Sheffield claims that his race is not going to take such treatment. His race demands to be treated with respect and that is a concession that managers are not willing to make.

This is offensive to everybody. First of all, Hispanic players are not playing for less money. Two of the highest paid players in the league have names ending in “z” and one of them, Manny Ramirez is notorious for not following orders. He’s not necessarily a combative jerk but he’s definitely aloof and his attitude is sometimes problematic for managers. Manny gets a pass because his behavioral issues aren’t malicious. He’s just weird. Moreover, nobody’s trading performance for obedience with him; Manny’s getting paid all that money because he’s the best overall hitter in the game. Ramirez, even with his quirky behavior, is a much better player than Sheffield. Period.

When it comes to sports race is rarely an issue anymore. People want wins often at any cost. Players are paid far more than they’re worth and teams put up with more nonsense from those players than they should. Gary Sheffield’s entire career is a classic example of that. He’s one of the most overpaid players in the game and arguably the biggest jerk in the league. Nobody’s replacing him with some Hispanic player who will smile and do what he’s told. It’s ironic because if there is one black player in the league who should be replaced with a mediocre Mexican it’s Gary Sheffield.

The people who should be most offended by these comments are African Americans. Clearly Gary Sheffield believes that his behavior is typical of his race. He actually thinks that he is a positive black role model. In Gary Sheffield’s world a black man who respects authority as it relates to his job is an Uncle Tom and a black player who puts in extra effort without being paid extra money is a sell out.

Sheffield typifies the type of athlete American fans love to hate. He’s a spoiled brat who, at the age of 39 still believes that throwing tantrums and pouting is how to get his way. Sadly, because he can still hit with occasional power, it works too often. Coaches and players cater to him because he carries a career batting average of .297.

It’s unfortunate that Gary Sheffield is black because it gives him something to hide behind. As long as he looks in the mirror and sees a black face looking back at him he assumes it’s the color of his skin that people judge him by when in reality it is the content of his character.

Gary Sheffield won’t be embarrassed by his comments and if he is grilled on it he will undoubtedly claim that his words were taken out of context and blame that on some convoluted conspiracy by white journalists to impugn his credibility. Sadly, it’s Sheffield who is guilty of racism. He’s also guilty of embodying a negative stereotype unfairly associated with black athletes. Most African American baseball players don’t act like Gary Sheffield but guys like Sheffield seek out the spot light because they need to feed their massive egos. If they can’t get face time by being the best they talk the loudest and if that doesn’t work they say or do something controversial. It’s unfortunate because there are great players, like Ryan Howard, who deserve more attention.

It’s also unfortunate because Sheffield drew attention away from an important subject. We should be concerned about the declining numbers of African American baseball players and take steps to identify why this trend is developing but when a guy like Gary Sheffield claims to represent his race it’s hard to see this as a problem. Baseball doesn’t need more guys like that.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

What's the fuss over Dog Fighting?

Clinton Portis can’t figure out why everybody’s up in arms over Michael Vick’s dog fighting ring. The way Portis sees is the dogs belong to Vick, the house belongs to Vick so who cares? When advised that dog fighting is a felony Portis seemed surprised.

The big deal about dog fighting is that it is decidedly cruel. We’re not talking about a tussle between a couple of puppies in the front yard. Dog fighting is a brutal death sport where the losing dog is mortally wounded if not killed. Often the winning dog sustains severe injuries and it is not uncommon for both animals to be left for dead in some abandoned pole barn.

The dogs are bred to be killing machines. When they get loose they attack. A fighting dog running free will savage family pets, children and even full grown adults. These are dogs that have been mistreated to the point of murderous rage. They are raised and trained to be bigger, stronger and faster than normal members of the same breed.

Training methods include treadmills, heavy chains, tires, and regular beatings. Dogs are shocked, burned, and cut in order to deaden nerves and encourage growth of scar tissue. Perhaps the sickest training method is the practice of rendering a passive dog, often a stolen family pet, defenseless and allowing the killer in training to hone its skills. The hell holes where fighting dogs are trained often include the mauled bodies of mild mannered breeds such as retrievers, boxers, German shepherds and huskies, many with their mouths taped shut to ensure the valuable fighting dog wouldn’t fall victim to a lucky desperate chomp.

This is not some misunderstood vocation. These are not happy dogs. Certain breeds enjoy performing the tasks for which they were bred. Border collies love to herd. Anything. Sheep are great because sheep love to be herded but border collies can be seen at any dog park trying in vain to round up the other dogs. They don’t much like to play fetch but they will give chase to establish order. How dare that other dog leave the imaginary corral? It’s not cruel to put a border collie to work at a golf course to run geese off the greens. Border collies must be trained…not to herd but to stop herding on command.

Huskies like to pull. The Iditarod comes under fire from animal rights groups every year because of the risks posed to the dogs. Of the hundreds of dogs who race each year some will get hurt and on occasion one or two might die but great lengths are taken to ensure veterinary care is available along the way. The huskies, however, love every grueling mile. Huskies live to run and pulling a sled makes all of that running worthwhile. Anybody who has owned a husky or a husky mix will tell you that there isn’t much you can do to engage them…they don’t fetch or play catch…but once they have something to pull they don’t want to stop running. Huskies will run themselves to death and die happy. And on the rare occasion a husky doesn’t want to run, nobody will make him. Huskies are stubborn dogs.

Various breeds, including those used in fighting, make excellent guard dogs. These animals require more training because they aren’t inclined to play with strangers. Strangers are a threat to the pack and these dogs are committed to protecting their pack. Even though they can be trained to attack, the idea isn’t to kill but to subdue. Dogs will kill food but when they fight they fight to submission. Generally a guard dog will handle everything with a curled lip and a low growl. Often that’s enough to get the job done.

Retrievers come by their name honestly. They are working dogs too and they love to fetch things. A Retriever will work himself into a frenzied lather on a sweltering day chasing a Frisbee for hours. They’ll swim hundreds of yards to bring that stick back to the person who threw it and literally beg for it to be thrown right back in. Guide dogs, though not generally of a particular breed, enjoy their vocation and while it’s not nearly as fun as chasing a tennis a ball across a soccer field, the pack mindset makes the work enjoyable. They love feeling needed.

And that’s the problem. Dogs aren’t really made for fighting. Dogs are socially oriented. Since dogs are direct descendants from wolves they do indeed possess formidable killing skills and in certain instances they can fight quite well but fighting is reserved for protection. In the wild wolves fight with rival packs for territory and within the pack dynamic they challenge each other for dominance but it is rare for these skirmishes to be deadly. Moreover, domestic dogs have had that instinct suppressed in order to protect man from the politics of the pack. People who raise wolves have experienced the occasional challenge for dominance, an inconvenience traditional dog owners don’t endure thanks to thousands of years of breeding and training. .

Dogs aren’t murderers. It goes against their design. To instill that compulsion in a dog the trainer must utilize exceptionally cruel tactics. In many cases these tactics are counter productive. For every dog that becomes a worthy fighter, three become chronically timid. They’ll bite when approached but they won’t go on the offensive. These dogs are often sold to novice fight breeders and subsequently abandoned because they simply aren’t competitive. So most of the dogs entering this world fail to meet the standards of market value; they are expendable.

People who are drawn to the dog fighting culture are not good people. This is not a vice like high stakes poker or midnight lap dances. These are people who simply have no respect for life. People who can’t respect animals generally can’t respect other people either. Dog fighting is a sick criminal act and the people who promote it, watch it or even defend it are dangerous.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Pope misses the point

The Catholic Church represents religious corruption at its worst although the current incarnation pales in comparison to the totalitarian religion that plagued Europe during what history refers to as the Dark Ages. Crusades, inquisitions and assassinations were the tools employed by the Vatican to destroy rivals and oppress the masses. Back then the Catholic Church rejected remarkable advancements achieved by the cultures that preceded the Holy Roman Empire. Concepts like sewage containment, medicine and personal hygiene were cast aside along with philosophy, art and science. People who sought enlightenment were tortured and killed.

Today the Catholic Church has stopped murdering people…at least in large numbers. Now the Catholic Church is run by impotent, beet-faced old men who scream their stifling rhetoric from ornate thrones. Although the Pope claims to speak the word of God, he and the rest of the Vatican power elite lack the faith to appear in public without armor and a highly trained security detail. Apparently God can’t be trusted to protect the Pope from those who might wish him harm. That’s your first clue that the Church believes more in power than it does in divinity. The Pope is worshipped as a demigod but he still needs to cruise the streets in an armored car. Ironic, eh?

Recently Pope Benedict dropped by to visit Brazil. South and Central America are Catholic strongholds, a holdover from the brutal manner in which Spanish and Portuguese missionaries imposed Catholicism on the indigenous people. Worship or die was the gist of the Church’s message back then. It hasn’t changed much. The church just can’t follow though on exterminating heretics anymore. They are trying to get back to that place, though. That’s why Benedict, a man with ties to the NAZI party, is there. He knows a thing or two about extermination.

Latin America struggles with overpopulation, under-education, disease, poverty and economic exploitation. Rain forests are being consumed at an alarming rate but the people are not seeing any of the financial gain. Typically American corporations like Cargil purchase huge blocks of land, slash and burn it through some local shell company and farm it until the soil is depleted. American get cheap stuff while Brazilians get the shaft.

Latin America needs protection from exploitation; they need birth control and help in educating the people to improve the quality of life. Did the Pope offer any assistance? Nope. He denounced abortion and encouraged people to devote more time to their faith. Never mind the AIDS epidemic spreading through South America; forget about the alarming number of babies born into poverty. Don’t worry about the literacy rate. Go to church and don’t forget to tithe. In order to bolster support for the Catholic Church, the Vatican opted to throw Latin America a bone and offer up a Latin American Saint. Amen. How about a clinic?

Elsewhere, particularly in places where people can read, the Catholic Church is struggling. In the U.S. the religiots flock toward evangelical denominations because they like an aggressive religion. Conservative Catholicism has all the teeth of Presbyterianism in this country. Our Bible thumpers need people to hate. The Catholic Church avoids hating people and focuses on issues. That’s why South and Central America are so important. The Catholic Church has an endless supply of ignorant people who can be molded into reliable Catholics. It’s not India, but if the church can stamp out birth control it might be soon.

However when it comes to those issues the Catholic Church is as blustery and misguided as Pat Robertson. The Vatican’s opposition to abortion is one thing. There are reasonable people who make solid arguments against abortion. It’s a genuinely debatable subject. But the Church also frowns on the use of birth control. Catholic leaders have taken foreign aid organizations to task for distributing condoms and showing people how to use them in African countries devastated by AIDS. The Catholic Church supports an abstinence only message and feels condoms are simply immoral. There’s no logical reason to oppose condoms. Perhaps the Church should think about making sex without a rubber a more severe sin than sex with one. Seven Hail Mary’s instead of five.

The Catholic Church acknowledges that people will make mistakes and sin, which would seem to provide a reason to support the use of condoms. To Catholics, sex outside of marriage is a sin but so is killing yourself. There are places in the world where sex is practically suicide, so why not deliver condoms to people with a stern message about morality? We have Catholic Priests who can’t keep it in their pants…how can we expect some 17 year-old Brazilian boy to resist temptation? Especially in Brazil!!! Have you seen the women there?

The Catholic Church limped toward progress under Pope John Paul II. He tried to fashion himself into a bit of a humanitarian. He recognized the real problems in the world and tried to create enough flexibility in the Church to address them. Mother Theresa was often criticized by Bishops and Cardinals for not promoting Catholicism aggressively enough but John Paul encouraged her to continue helping people. She might not have put butts in the seats on Sunday but she was doing a lot of good. Bishop Deamond Tutu ruffled a lot of feathers for getting caught up in political skirmishes but John Paul, although Tutu was not Catholic, went out of his way to support and praise Tutu for his efforts.

John Paul II still held to conservative views on sexuality and contraception but not to the forceful extent that Benedict does. It seemed that John Paul II wanted the Vatican to focus on the bigger picture and unify the world to promote peace. Perhaps the grandiose platform ignored the smaller issues the regular parishioner could relate to. Benedict is clearly thinking small.

It’s a dangerous time for that. The gap between the rich and the poor is expanding. The world is a hectic place and people need all the help they can get. An organization as powerful as the Catholic Church should be focused on real problems not rhetorical issues. Fire and Brimstone might sell tickets but what good is that if the audience isn’t there to buy them?