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. http://www.clemetparks.com/updates/notices/#coyote

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.