Did Michael Vick on 60 Minutes Convince You?

The first word I thought of after watching Michael Vick’s interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night was stoic.

The young man was stoic, unemotional, yet at the same time straight to the point, and quite direct in taking personal responsibility for the actions that led him to a prison cell.

The second thing I thought about was the fact that I didn’t think the conversation with James Brown (CBS Sports) would change many minds, one way or the other.

Michael Vick has his supporters, and for them his was a stellar performance. For his detractors, performance is the operative word. They won’t be convinced by what they saw Sunday that Michael Vick has transformed himself from the guy who oversaw the dogfighting ugliness now so closely associated with his name.

Not knowing Michael Vick personally, I take him at his word that he understands the depravity of dogfighting, and his responsibility to steer young people away from it, as he says the elders in his community didn’t do with him. Yet from the beginning, the most powerful ally Vick has is former NFL coach Tony Dungy. When he speaks of working with young people in prison, his words have a ring of truth no matter what you think of Michael Vick. It’s Tony Dungy, after all, who lost his own son to suicide.

So for Michael Vick, there are second chances. His signing by the Philadelphia Eagles was as much about commerce as altruism , but that’s the nature of professional sports. Animal lovers in Philly may hate what team ownership has done, but if Michael Vick can help his team get to the Super Bowl, it will have been worth the risk.

The risks for Michael Vick, however, are different. Nobody in their right mind thinks he’ll ever get near dogfighting again, but his judgment will be tested in other, more subtle ways. Like when his teammates decide to hang out at that most dangerous place for professional athletes, the strip club. There were reports, since vehemently denied, that he spent his first night out of prison ay a Virginia Beach strip club with NBA star Allen Iverson. Iverson’s agent  said he hadn’t seen Vick since his release, but what happens down the road?

Will he take up with the same group of hangers-on he consorted with when he was with the Atlanta Falcons? The Michael Vick on 60 Minutes Sunday seemed smart enough to avoid such pitfalls, but you never know. Plaxico Burress didn’t seem dumb enough to carry a loaded weapon into a Manhattan club and shoot himself with it, either.

What do you think?

Did Michael Vick convince you he’s sincere?

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Dead Prostitutes – Does Anyone Care? MOMS does.

So many American cities have women who, for one reason or another, live on the margins. In some cases, they are that sad combination of hooker and drug addict. They sell sex to feed their habits, or to feed their children.

In one small, North Carolina City, nine such women have vanished since 2005.

rocky mount women

Six were later found dead, murdered but so decomposed that finding a cause of death became near impossible. All of the victims were black.

The city is Rocky Mount, 60 miles northeast of Raleigh. Sadly, the story of prostitutes who die by violence is not unique to this particular place. Yet residents of Rocky Mount tell a story of alleged police inaction due largely to the lifestyles of the victims. That too is not unique. It’s almost a given that serial killers can ply their trade among prostitutes and drug addicts because it takes so long for the law to recognize what’s happening.

In the case of Rocky Mount, it wasn’t until the latest victim was discovered in June that  local and state police formed a task force, and it was last month that the FBI got involved. They won’t say if they suspect a serial killer, but an awful lot of people in Rocky Mount think its the work of one man. Keep in mind that three women have disappeared, and none of them have been found.

The issue here, beyond the tragedy of these homicides, is the value of human life. Say what we will about all being equal, we treat some as less than equal, in some cases, far less. The life of a drug addicted hooker isn’t one to envy on any level. Still, our own humanity should demand we care, especially if such women are deliberately targeted.

In a couple of cases, women who walked the streets of Rocky Mount and jumped in and our of cars with men decided it wasn’t worth the risk.

One woman who knew two of the victims has founded a group to publicize the slayings, and to search for the three women who remain missing.

The group is called Murdered or Missing Sisters or MOMS. They’ve raised awareness to the point that national media has begun to cover the story.

While that’s all well and good, one wonders if these killings would have been highlighted sooner if the women involved weren’t part of that shadow world of people living on society’s margins.

Will we ever consider that their lives mean as much as anyone else’s? You tell me.

Will Karl Rove Face Criminal Charges?

The release of nearly 6000 pages of documents focused on the firing of former New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias is either nothing new or illuminating, depending on who you’re talking to. Iglesias, you may remember, was one of nine US attorneys fired during a Bush Administration purge that eventually led to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

There have been questions for some time about the role top White House officials played in getting rid of the nine prosecutors. Specifically, the House Judiciary Committee was looking at “The Architect”, Karl Rove, and former White House counsel Harriet Miers, what they knew, and when they knew it. The Bush Administration stonewalled, but finally some new information is coming to light.

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Among other things, the documents show an 18 month long effort to get rid of Iglesias, and it looks like Rove’s office was at least at the center of that effort. At issue was Iglesias’ hesitancy to go after voter fraud cases in his home state. Those cases would have benefitted Republican office holders, at least one of whom complained about his lack of action.

Examining the minutiae of these documents is the job of Nora Dannehy, the federal prosecutor probing whether anything criminal was done here. For his part, Rove, in classic spin mode, says he welcomes the release of the documents because they show he did nothing wrong. Yet Harriet Miers recalls at least one instance, in the fall of 2006, when Rove contacted her wanting “action taken” against Iglesias.

There’s also the matter of Scott Jennings, a top Rove aide. He wrote a colleague in 2005 that Iglesias should be removed because Republicans in New Mexico “are really angry over his lack of action on the voter fraud stuff”. Rove says Jennings was “freelancing”. That might be a hard sell if criminal charges are ever brought.

Let’s face it, a lot of Bush Administration critics thought this was what was going on all along. Many have argued Rove and his minions ought to be criminally prosecuted for firing US attorneys for partisan political reasons. However, even with all this information, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for lawmen to slap the cuffs on Karl Rove.

My guess is the Obama Justice Dept. won’t have the fire in the gut to make examples out of Rove and  his coven of partisan thugs (thanks, Lou Dobbs). It’s easier for them to simply say what was done was wrong, and we don’t do business that way. Already Republicans in Congress are spinning like tops in an effort to blunt the impact of these revelations.

In the end, the ball will be in Eric H0lder’s court. What do you think he’ll do? Prosecute or punt? You tell me.

Paula Abdul or William Jefferson…Which Story’s Bigger? You Decide.

Today, dear reader, I’m going to let you decide which is the bigger story.

Is it former Louisiana Cong. William Jefferson being convicted on corruption charges, or is it Paula Abdul leaving “American Idol”?

I know which one is bigger to me, but that’s just me. If you go by the Google News tally, it’s no contest. So which should command our attention? Is it a marginally talented singer/dancer/choreographer who didn’t get the money she wanted, or the ethically challenged legislator who most folks now feel got what he deserved?

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I must admit, I don’t “get” “American Idol”. I’m not one of those who, like my wife and daughter, sit glued to the TV whenever Simon Cowell, Paula Abdul and company are on. Talents contests are as old as the medium itself, and there’s plenty on the tube more spacey than Paula and more acerbic than Simon . Yet there’s no doubting that “Idol” is, as Abdul modestly puts it, an international phenomenon.

Does that mean she’s worth the money she was asking for? Not if I had to pay it. I’m sure Paula Abdul won’t miss any meals after her departure, and there are reports she’s already being wowed by other show producers. Good for her. I just never thought she had the chops to judge the talent of others. Her singing has been described, not be me, as “thin and transparent”. Yes, she’s a great choreographer, but “American Idol” wasn’t about dancing. Anyway, you get my drift. To me, her leaving “American Idol” will never, ever be confused with getting those journalists out of North Korea.

Nor does it compare to the stunning fall from grace of William Jefferson, the first black congressman elected from the state of Louisiana since Reconstruction.

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Some may have forgotten his sad saga, but in 2005, the FBI raided his CD home and found $90,000 dollars stashed in a freezer. The money was a payoff to the Vice President of Nigeria for help in launching a telecommunications venture.

William Jefferson became another first in May of 2006, when the FBI seized his computer hard drive and office files in the Rayburn House Office Building. It was the first time that happened to a sitting member of Congress. Now, Jefferson stands convicted on 11 of 16 counts, including bribery, racketeering, and money laundering. At 62, he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

Now, I happen to be a political junkie, which is why William Jefferson trumps Paula Abdul in my book. Yet I know I’m probably in the minority. Most people will be huddled around their water coolers today, talking not about a disgraced former congressman, but about an out of work former Los Angeles Lakers cheerleader.

So, you tell me. Which story is bigger?

Does Michael Vick Matter?

Ordinarily I shy away from blogging about sports. There are more than enough people who seem to live or die by what their favorite team or athlete does or doesn’t do.

Yet over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked a bunch of times about Michael Vick, and what I think about his incarceration, suspension, reinstatement, and possible return to football. What’s startling to me is the passion the mere mention of the man’s name engenders, whether the person is a supporter or detractor.

Vick Surrenders Football

There’s really no reason to go over Vick’s dogfighting transgressions here. Right now the media frenzy isn’t over his conditional reinstatement, or even when he’ll play again. It’s who he’ll play for, and that question has become a parlor game in sports media. The coach of a team says he’d like to have Vick on his squad, the the general manager or owner says the exact opposite. It’s great summer theater.

Yet the central question is more about whether he’s deserving of playing football again, and, one expects, earning that multi-million dollar paycheck. On the one hand, you have the Vick supporters, some of whom argue the man has paid his debt to society, and therefore should be able to play immediately. I’ve also heard some people make the argument, “well, they were just dogs”. I take specific issue with that. Cruelty to animals ought not be taken lightly. What Vick did was reprehensible, and one hopes he understands that.

However, the argument that he’s done his time does tend to resonate. Maybe he should have gotten a longer sentence, but he didn’t. Should he be banned from making a living because people still are repulsed by what he did?

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One of Michael Vick's dogs

I don’t think so, not in this case. There are those who say he hasn’t been publicly contrite, or not contrite enough for them. That’s a tough one. How do you look inside a man’s heart, and determine if he’s really sorry for a wrong?

There is, by the way, something else looming over this entire debate . That would be the world of professional football. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell knows only too well that world has more than its share of miscreants, and to keep Michael Vick out of football for too long would invoke comparisons with past discipline meted out to others.

That’s why, on balance, Michael Vick got what he deserved. And he will play football again, not because some team is making a moral judgment one way or the other, but because they need that most precious of commodities, a seasoned quarterback.

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Animal rights groups may protest, but it won’t do any good. I say this as a dog lover myself, one who can’t conceive of the horror Vick inflicted on those animals.

What do you think. Will Michael Vick play in the NFL this season? Should he?

Beer for Obama…Will the Gates Story Ever End?

If you have any doubts about how central the issue of race remains in America, consider this. The Google News front page lists the major news stories of the day. Robert Gates is in Iraq.

There are 750 stories flagged about that.

Seven men were busted on terror conspiracy charges in North Carolina. There are 1166 articles about that. The health care debate warrants 733 articles. The continuing controversy over Henry Louis Gates, Barack Obama, and Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge police? 2722 articles. Everyone, and I mean everyone is weighing in on both sides of the racial fault line.

Some dwell on President Obama’s “acted stupidly” comment. While truth might be an absolute defense under normal circumstances, the screaming and hollering that followed kept the story alive, and insured an Obama retraction, or “modification”, or however you want to describe it. Then the president, not “acting stupidly”, invites both Henry Louis Gates and James Crowley to the White House to share that most working class of liquid concoctions, a beer.

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Hopefully, some common ground can be found here. Like maybe Crowley’s actions weren’t smart, and neither were Gates’. Do they balance each other out? That largely depends on how you look at things. If you support the police, the scales are obviously on the side of Sgt. Crowley, a cop trying to do his job who was unfairly berated first by Gates, then by the President of the United States. If you’ve ever been the victim of racial profiling, or understand how prevalent a law enforcement tool it’s been, then Skip Gates’ anger is entirely justified, as is his belief that he was treated differently because of his race.

So what does it all boil down to? Is it, as ABC News reports, a question of what beer Obama chooses for this monumental event? Is it who speaks first, who says sorry, and whether or not they shake hands?

Trust me, that’s what you’ll get as “analysis” from even the most “reputable” media. Never mind the health care quagmire, that can wait. Robert Gates (no relation to Skip) in Iraq? Big deal. Better to spend time and effort on Skip Gates, Sarah Palin, the “birthers” movement, and God knows what else. Will somebody focus on what Obama wears to this meeting? Will Gates and Crowley come dressed casual or in suits and ties?

You get the picture. Race matters. A lot. There are those who believe that the election of Barack Obama signaled a turn toward the nation’s post-racial future. Not so fast. There’s real work to do.

What do you think? Is the media overplaying the Gates controversy?

Corruption- You From Jersey?

Suffice to say the Garden State, my home by way of full disclosure, has had its problems with corruption before.

Three ex-mayors of Newark, the state’s largest city, have been convicted of crimes.

Yet the arrest of 44 people, including the mayors of three municipalities and five rabbis takes the notion of corruption to a whole new level.

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It’s a twisted tale, this one, and involves allegations of kidney selling, fake Prada bags, and a box of Apple Jacks cereal stuffed with $97,000 dollars. And it should surprise no one living in New Jersey that it all began with a real estate developer.

Developers in Jersey, you see, have almost become synonymous with double dealing. In order to get profitable projects built, the logic goes, they’ve got to grease the wheels. That sometimes means making nice with elected officials who hold the fate of an office tower or condo block in their hands. In this case, the developer is one Solomon Dwek, who himself was charged with scamming a bank out of millions back in 2006.

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The feds turned him into an informant, and what a snitch he turned out to be! All of what follows are allegations, and those charged are innocent until proven guilty.

Most of the rabbis involved are accused of laundering Dwek’s money through charities they controlled. Some of them also allegedly laundered their own profits from the sale of fake Gucci and Prada bags in a similar fashion. The politicians allegedly took bribes to make sure Dwek has those necessary permits and approvals to get projects finished.

Yet the most outrageous allegations are against Levy-Izhak Rosenbaum.

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He’s allegedly been running a kidney peddling operation that makes the $10,000, to $25,000 bucks the pols were scamming pale in comparison. According to prosecutors, Rosenbaum would buy kidneys from people in Israel for $10,000, then resell them here for $160,000. The story goes that Solomon Dwek introduced the kidney merchant to an undercover agent posing as his secretary. She told Rosenbaum her uncle needed a transplant, to which he allegedly assured her he’d been in the business for a long time.

Even more startling is word that many of the key players involved in the corruption dealt with Dwek knowing that he’d been a government target for his bank scam. The probe that netted the 44 suspects began a decade ago out of two cases, and Thursday arrests involved 200 FBI and IRS agents. In one case, the Mayor of Hoboken, NJ, Peter Cammarano had just been sworn in at the beginning of the month.

One wonders what the politicians are thinking now that they know the money they got was pitifully small when compared to the $3 million dollars allegedly laundered by the rabbis. No matter. The one person who must really be sweating after all this is New Jersey Gov. John Corzine. Facing a nationally watched election some say he could lose, the last thing this “corruption fighting” governor needed as to see a bunch of predominately Democratic elected officials led away in handcuffs.

Yet this is the public perception of New Jersey anyway, isn’t it? Should it be? You tell me.