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This Is What Democracy Looks Like

Today's Note From a Madman

September 4, 2007



In much the same way "Elvis has left the building". President Bush has left Iraq. After a surprise visit to Iraq, and a surprise statement that, perhaps, US troops levels could be lowered "over there", President Bush packed up his $65,000-a-trip (at least!) on Air Force One and skipped out after GW could get his photo-op with some of our troops.

"How many troops does it take to protect us? What does it take to have this Iraqi democracy succeed?"
-President Bush

President Bush asks that questions much in the same way the cartoon child asked the owl, "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie-roll lollie pop?" The answer is much the same. "The World may never know." And that should come as no surprise because the President himself has no idea, and he never has. He went into a country to liberate it from a brutal dictator (just one of many reasons), but didn't think of the consequences. And when opportunity to help the Iraqi people make a new nation - a small window at best - appeared, instead of taking in that moment, his administration closed that window with stupid decisions and poor alliances.

Can anyone say Achmed Chalibi?

In answering the President's rhetorical question, one has to begin thinking that the answer is zero. As more and more troops are sent into the war-torn nation, in the form of "The Surge", it becomes more and more apparent that, quite possibly, less is actually more.

But make no mistake about it, there will be no troop withdrawal as long as George W. Bush is president. After all, there are dollars to be stolen from the middle class taxpayer and given, in the form of no-bid contracts and such, to his "base" of "haves and have mores". And let's not forget Vice President Dick Cheney who is still making money as the former CEO and a current stock holder in Halliburton, the recipient of many of those no-bid contracts.

What a country!

"General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker have said that if the security situation continues to improve the way it has, we may be able to achieve the same objectives with fewer troops,"

Don't bet on it.

Crocker is just another promoted NeoCon with allegiances to an administration, not a nation and Petraeus has been proving himself to be the no-go-to guy on the ground in Iraq. Remember it was General Petraeus who was in charge of those missing 190,000 weapons when they went "unaccounted for".

"The main factor that will affect my decision on troop levels is, can we succeed? What does it take to succeed? Because failure would lead to harm to America, is what I believe. As a matter of fact, I'm certain of it."

In much the same way President Bush noted that Viet Nam would have been better served had we stayed there in the 1970's, here he is stating the same thing. Let's face the facts: There is no plan; there are no flowers being thrown at the feet of our troops; and although once greeted as "liberators", we are nothing more than targets there today.

And although President Bush said his meeting with Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki as "comfortable", one has to question the comfort of the other 28 million Iraqis and the 150,000 or so American troops still on the ground there.

-Noah Greenberg

by Victoria A. Brownworth
copyright c 2007 Journal Register Newspapers, Inc.

On August 24th, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick was suspended from the NFL without pay after entering a guilty plea to federal dog fighting conspiracy charges.

If convicted, Vick could face up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has barred Vick from the Falcons' training camp, although he has not fired Vick. The NFL issued a statement after Vick entered his plea: "We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons."

Vick had previously pleaded not guilty, but others arrested in the dogfighting ring have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify against him, forcing him to change his plea. A grand jury has been convened, which will likely mean additional charges will be filed against Vick. The NFL’s personal conduct policy prohibits gambling; Vick could be barred from the league for life over those charges, if proven.

According to court documents, Vick executed at least eight dogs by electrocution, drowning, hanging and beating because they had performed poorly in fights. Vick’s co-defendants also asserted that Vick was the money behind the gambling operation called “Bad Newz Kennels” and would place as much as $40,000 on a single fight.

Vick’s estate in Virginia, where two of Vick’s cousins lived, was raided by police for drugs in April. During the raid, investigators reported finding “66 dogs, many of them injured, and items typically used in dogfighting... including a ‘rape stand’ that holds aggressive dogs in place for mating and a ‘breakstick’ used to pry open a dog's mouth.”

These details and other grisly details led to public outcry over Vick’s behavior which spurred repeated protests, including commentary on the floor of the U.S. Senate by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV). Several of Vick’s endorsement deals have been withdrawn due to the protests. On July 27, Nike announced it "has suspended Michael Vick's contract without pay, and will not sell any more Michael Vick products at Nike owned retail at this time." The same day, Adidas announced its Reebok division (the official uniform provider for the NFL) would stop selling Vick football jerseys and the NFL said it had pulled all Vick-related items from NFLShop.com.

When the NFL suspended Vick, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell wrote a formal letter to Vick, saying that Vick's admitted conduct was "not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible." Goodell also freed the Atlanta Falcons to "assert any claims or remedies" to recover $22 million of Vick's signing bonus from the 10-year, $130 million contract he signed in 2004.

Anyone who reads this column regularly knows that I am dedicated to saving animals Having rescued pit bulls used in fighting myself–as well as cats used as bait in dog-fighting rings–I have a particular aversion to this form of animal cruelty. The attention being paid to the Vick case is not only warranted, but long overdue. Dozens of studies have shown that men who participate in cruel and inhumane treatment of animals–which in this case also included actual killing–have an underlying sociopathology. Men who abuse animals are likely to abuse people as well. Every known serial killer convicted in the U.S. tortured and killed animals before moving on to humans. Torturing animals is well outside the realm of normal behavior.

As relieved as I am that Vick is being brought to justice for his participation in maiming and killing what is reported to be several hundred dogs over the past few years, the attention garnered by the Vick case raises questions about the extent of criminal behavior among sports figures, and I am not referring to the epidemic use of drugs or steroids.

Why was Vick suspended for his criminal actions against *dogs* when so many other major sports figures have not been suspended when they have been arrested for assaulting or raping *women*?

Paul Zeise, a sports reporter at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette who also does sports commentary on a local Pittsburgh TV show said last month, “It’s really a sad day in this country when somehow Michael Vick would have been better off raping a woman if you look at the outcry over what happened.” Zeise went on to say, “Had Vick done that, he probably would have been suspended for four games and he’d be back on the field.”

Zeise’s statement, with its myriad insensitivities, caused immediate outrage. Zeise later apologized. But unfortunately, recent sports history supports what Zeise said: Abuse an animal and you are *persona non grata,* abuse a woman and it’s virtually ignored.

In June 2006, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Brett Myers was arrested and charged with

hitting his wife in the face on a street not far from Fenway Park in Boston. There were several eyewitnesses to the assault, one of whom called 911 while others held Myers at the scene. Myers pled not guilty to assault charges when he was arraigned.

Unlike the NFL or Falcons management who have come down hard on Vick, however, Phillies general manager Pat Gillick said the team would not take disciplinary action against Myers until the legal case was resolved. Gillick had immediately told reporters “It's a very sensitive issue, and I certainly think that anything that affects our players or affects the team, we take it very seriously.” But Gillick felt compelled to add, “I don’t know that it’s an embarrassment to the team.”

Really? So dog fighting is a disgrace, but beating your wife in public isn’t?

One begins to see why Zeise made the comments he did, because Myers was out playing the Red Sox mere hours after his arraignment.

Witnesses told police that Myers was arguing on a street corner with his wife when Myers hit her and pulled her hair. When police arrived, Kim Myers was crying, her face swollen from the assault. The 6'4" Myers was arrested and booked. His bail was set at $200.

But Myers was pitching again hours after his arrest. Gillick said that Myers had been the Phillies best pitcher and that he thought it was in the “best interests of the club” that Myers pitch in the game a few hours after his arrest for beating his wife in public. When Myers was arrested and charged, not one member of the Phillies franchise seemed to take it seriously. Their concerns were not for Kim Myers, the victim in the incident, but for Brett Myers, pitcher. Pitching coach Rich Dubee noted, "Knowing Brett, the competitor he is, I think we'll be able to keep him focused and he'll be fine." As if it were *Myers* who had been assaulted, rather than his wife, by him.

Myers wasn’t the only member of a major franchise to be charged with assaulting a woman, of course. Tampa Bay running back Michael Pittman was suspended for three games by the NFL as a result of being *convicted* of domestic abuse. Yet Pittman is hardly a first time abuser. Pittman has also been charged in several previous domestic abuse incidents, for which he spent five days in jail and had been suspended for one game. He also had been arrested for aggravated assault for ramming a car carrying his wife, two-year-old son and a babysitter. In that instance he pleaded guilty to one count of assault, spent 14 days in jail and was suspended for three games, plus fined two paychecks by the NFL.

Randy McMichael, currently the St. Louis Rams tight end, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault for beating his pregnant girlfriend while he was with the Miami Dolphins. He was never even fined by the NFL. In 2005, McMichael was again arrested and charged, this time for simple battery and criminal trespass, also for domestic violence. McMichael pleaded guilty, was given 90 days probation and was fined one game check.

Travis Henry, running back for Buffalo, was arrested for attempted sexual misconduct for trying to have sex with 15-year-old girl. Henry pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor and received 100 hours community service and no NFL punishment. If he’d been caught by *Dateline’s* Chris Hansen on *To Catch a Predator* and *not* been an NFL star, he’d be in prison right now, not playing football.

Chris Terry, offensive tackle for the Kansas City Chiefs, was arrested for assaulting his wife. After completing 48 hours community service and going to counseling, the charges were expunged from his record. He received no NFL punishment.

And of course there is the infamous case of NBA Lakers star Kobe Bryant, who was charged with raping a 19-year-old hotel clerk in 2004. The young woman received death threats and was hounded by Bryant’s fans. Her picture and name were put on internet websites and as the jury was being chosen, she refused to continue with the case. The District Attorney, committed to prosecuting Bryant, attempted to continue, but the alleged victim said she would refuse to testify, so the DA had no choice but to drop the case.

Bryant insisted the sex was consensual, but made a public apology for the incident, saying he believed it to be consensual, but realized that the young woman did not. Bryant paid an undisclosed amount to the alleged victim in a civil suit.

At the time of the incident, NBA playoffs were underway. Bryant’s hearings were postponed so that he could continue to play.

Even Rae Carruth, former Carolina Panthers wide receiver was only let go from the NFL because of a morals clause in his contract. The fact that he had been arrested for killing his pregnant girlfriend in a drive-by shooting was not given as the reason for the firing. Carruth is one of the only criminals from major league sports to be serving an actual prison sentence, although he was *not* convicted of first-degree murder despite the cell phone call from Cherica Adams, his victim, that he was trying to kill her and had already shot her several times.

In the NFL alone, more than 30 players have been charged with assaults on women in the past two years–none has done more than two weeks of jail time and only a handful have received any punishment whatsoever by their respective teams or the NFL. Baseball may be obsessed with steroid use, but domestic abuse is far more prevalent among its major and minor players. Assaults on women are epidemic among NBA players. National sports writer Jeff Benedict recently published a book about that phenomenon, *Out of Bounds: Inside the NBA’s Culture of Rape, Violence and Crime,* which names many major players accused of and arrested for assault and/or rape.

The Vick case has been portrayed as some anomalous event in sports history. But while Vick’s crimes are indeed horrifying, he is hardly the only criminal playing major league sports in America today. The only anomaly regarding Vick is that the NFL has taken such a strong stand against him.

Violence against the perceptibly weak–be it women, children or animals–is pandemic in major league sports. There seem to be as many players guilty of crimes against women as there are players who aren’t. Yet the majority of these cases go utterly unpunished, either in the courts where community service has become the norm in sentencing, or by the franchises and leagues. Some players, like McMichael and Pittman, are repeat offenders, yet receive no reprimands.

Arrests for violence against women by athletes now begin in college–last year alone there were more than 50 arrests among college ball players for date rape and assault. None resulted in jail time or total suspension from the respective teams. Between the beginning of the school year and the Thanksgiving break last year, athletes from more than ten colleges with major sports teams, including the Naval Academy, had had sexual assault charges filed against them in cases so dramatic, they became national news stories. In Pennsylvania alone, athletes from St. Joe’s, Penn State, Penn and LaSalle have been named in sexual assault cases.

Athletes are prone to violence. Study after study has revealed this to be true. College athletes, for example, represent less than three percent of college students, but are responsible for more than 20 percent of sexual assaults on campuses.

Since punishment of college athletes for violence is basically non-existent, these players–like Bryant who starred in Philadelphia before signing with the NBA–continue their violent behavior in the major leagues where they also receive little punishment.

In his court appearances, Vick has appeared stunned by the charges against him. But considering the culture of violence, arrogance and defiance that has become the keystone of major league sports, it’s not surprising that he would be shocked at having been held accountable for his actions when so few are or have been.

The culture of violence among major league athletes has reached critical mass. The suspension of Michael Vick should only be the beginning of sports addressing it’s criminal element. When players assault dates, girlfriends or wives, they should be suspended. To allow these men to continue on as if they have not committed a crime implies tacit approval of their actions.

Michael Vick has been charged and suspended for his vile actions. But it is past time that the major leagues took notice of the repeat offenders in their ranks and purged them, rescinding their millions of dollars in contracts. What Michael Vick did was vile and inhuman. But he’s not alone–he’s just one of many criminals that fans cheer daily, while the women they beat and torture live in fear and degradation, just like the 66 dogs at Michael Vick’s place did.

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-Noah Greenberg