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There are times when I'm ashamed to be a member of the human race. Sadly, the most recent occurrence came after reading of the indictment of Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick on charges of being involved in the "sport" of illegal dogfighting.

Of course, both Vick and his associates are entitled to all the rights allowed by the system of due process. However, in light of indictments having been issued, these rights should not obscure another reality: An indictment is the end product of a usually exhaustive process of investigation to gather evidence, upon which to base a criminal charge. In short, no evidence, no charge.

Anyone having seen documentary or captured video footage of these dogfights, can get some idea of the brutality involved. Contests are to the death, or until one animal is so badly injured, it can't continue. According to some news accounts, Vick aided in executing a number of dogs unlucky enough to meet such a fate.

If the measure of a society is the manner in which it treats its least powerful members, then we fall far short of greatness by turning a blind eye to such cruelty. Dogs have interacted with and benefited mankind for thousands of years and have, for many of us, achieved honored membership in our homes and our world. We owe them, at the very least, compassion and respect. What a pity that there are some who see a dog's worth in providing amusement for humans by dying. Shame.

John Finelli, Port Richey

Stop tolerating sports' antisocial behavior July 21, editorial

Lacrosse lessons

The Times editorial board either did not learn the lessons of the Duke University lacrosse case or has forgotten them.

The Duke lacrosse players were accused and indicted on charges of gang-raping an "exotic dancer" at a team party. They were suspended from school. The remainder of the lacrosse schedule was canceled, and the lacrosse coach was forced to resign.

Joining the lynch mob led by Durham County District Attorney Mike Nifong were Duke's president and his Gang of 88 professors, who took out a full-page ad in Durham's newspaper, the Herald-Sun, in which they condemned the players.

Instead of trying to defuse the volatile situation by cautioning restraint, the Herald-Sun's editorial staff inflamed the community by trashing the players and by turning the case into one of class, racial and gender conflict.

Because Nifong said they were guilty and presented manipulated "evidence" that led to a grand jury indictment, everyone assumed the players were guilty.

Of course, they were innocent.

Is Michael Vick guilty? I don't know, and neither does anyone else. And yet there you are, joined by columnist Gary Shelton, screaming that he should be stripped of his livelihood. Shelton even goes so far as to claim that Vick must prove his innocence. Under which principle of American jurisprudence does he arrive at that conclusion?

I should have expected Nifonging by liberal rags such as the Herald-Sun. I would have expected better from the Times.

Dave Highlands, St. Petersburg

Take action against Vick

I am a longtime fan of the NFL, an animal lover and a conscientious citizen of the United States. From all three perspectives I am outraged at the dogfighting activities alleged in the recent federal indictment against Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick.

Nobody with a soul and a heart can be at peace with the way those dogs were treated. Dogfighting is a brutally inhumane activity. It is not a "natural" way of life for any dog, no matter what you have heard about pit bulls. It is manufactured, preordained carnage and bloodletting. Furthermore, torture and death by electrocution, drowning, hanging, and body slamming are unspeakable acts of cruelty, and the pain and suffering those dogs felt at the end of their lives are unthinkable.

I am a volunteer at a local animal shelter and have seen firsthand the effects of human abuse on dogs. The subculture that exists in society today that promotes violence and killing as "cool" and "hip" is not acceptable in a civilized society. It seems to have taken root among many athletes in today's professional sports leagues, and it should not and must not be tolerated.

The NFL is the marquee league of American professional sports. It must be the league that sets the example for the rest of professional sports.

I urge NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to take swift and decisive action against Michael Vick.

Tom Williams, St. Petersburg

It's happening here

With the indictment of the Atlanta Falcons' star player, Michael Vick, on charges of dogfighting, maybe the public will finally see what really happens in this horrific sport.

What kind of a man starves, chains and then abuses dogs just so he can teach them to tear each other apart and then endure a horrible death from the hands that train them to obey?

As a volunteer at the SPCA of Tampa Bay, I have seen these poor pit bulls and other bully breeds that have been tortured and then have to be euthanized because they can never be trusted around other animals.

Please, people, wake up! This is happening in your own counties. Help these poor dogs, and stop dogfighting and the other crimes that go along with it. If you even suspect that dogs are being fought or abused, please call the local authorities and report it.

Dayle Burger, Tarpon Springs

Liquor for fans in stands - July 20, story

More alcohol for Bucs fans doesn't make any sense

We have enough drunken drivers on the road already! Who is going to be responsible for the people who are killed and hurt after a Bucs game due to drunken driving? The city? The county?

Who is going to test their alcohol levels before they get into their cars and drive away? Have some sense, people!

Linda Rodante, Tarpon Springs

Irresponsible move

In Florida, we have had an average of 45,000 DUIs annually in recent years. Do Floridians drink responsibly?

Over the years, the state of California has enacted some of the toughest DUI laws in the country. Florida has followed suit - possibly even more so since Gov. Charlie Crist's new insurance law that is set to go into effect this year. California has more home foreclosures, second only to Florida. I believe this is in direct proportion to DUIs.

The number of DUIs in the state would be much higher if lawyers were not able at times to reduce the charge to reckless driving or have the charge dropped completely due to a technicality.

In the face of all this, Raymond James Stadium is looking to increase its profits by seeking to sell hard liquor to more of its fans and help increase the number of DUIs in Florida.

Noel King, Gulfport

Fans are already obnoxious

It's ironic that Gov. Charlie Crist signed a new law increasing insurance coverage for convicted DUI offenders on the same day that the Tampa Sports Authority got initial approval to sell hard liquor at Bucs games.

People just don't get it. There are already enough people drinking and driving related to Bucs games, with so-called fans crawling out of the stadium drunk and obnoxious. It does not matter how many laws are enacted, the message we are sending at all sports events is that driving drunk is okay as long as it is connected with some sport.

It is becoming impossible to attend a game without being affected somehow by the behavior of irresponsible drinking fans, who then drive home after the game.

Luis E. Tobar, St. Petersburg

Staying away from stadium

How appropriate that on the same page with the headline informing the already alcohol-obsessed Bucs fans that they soon may be able to buy hard liquor at the games, we have another headline saying DUI offenders must soon carry more insurance. Will they be selling DUI insurance at the games, too? I will make sure I'm nowhere near that stadium on game days.

The phrase used in ads by the liquor companies, "Drink Responsibly," is an oxymoron.

MaryJane Schmidt, St. Petersburg

Tragedy calls for real investigation July 26, editorial

Emergency room incident shows health system's flaws

It is unfortunate that Mark Surette died from sudden cardiac death. I would like to express my sincere condolences to his family. The fact that he was being treated 200 feet from the Bay Pines VA Medical Center emergency room but was then transported to St. Petersburg General Hospital is tragic. There is no question as to where this man should have been treated.

This sequence of events underscores the inefficiencies, redundancies and inadequacies of our health care system. It is only logical that critical patients be seen in the nearest emergency facility. It saddens me as a physician that such simple logic is missing in our current delivery of medical services to our citizens. Even health care workers find it difficult to navigate through this "system." We currently have different rules for government-insured patients, our veterans, privately insured patients, auto-accident victims, work-related patient injuries and, of course, the 47-million uninsured U.S. citizens.

The savings in terms of resources and individual frustration with a single-payer system would be monumental. Every citizen deserves access to basic health care. Patients with good health insurance often find it difficult to understand a system that reminds many of us of the Internal Revenue Service tax code. In summary, a tragedy such as this only emphasizes the immediate need for a complete overhaul of our health care system.

Sadly, in all probability, Mark Surette's outcome would not have been any different. We will never know. We do know that this 51-year-old man deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Joel Prawer, M.D., St. Petersburg

VA turns away cardiac victim - July 25, story

Arrogance spreads tragedy

I read in horror the very sad and tragic story of the man who died because he was refused critical emergency care at the Bay Pines VA Medical Center, apparently in part, because he was not a military veteran. I understand he was also a civilian employee at the same VA facility for more than 17 years.

My heart goes out not only to his family members, but also to the VA staff who unfortunately had to think, question, then decide to turn him away for treatment. How sad is it when policy and procedure take precedence over the value of a precious human life. My guess is that these VA staff members, the paramedics and anyone involved with the situation are all suffering as well.

This undoubtedly is due to the arrogant and ignorant attitude and philosophy that exists within the current administration. It starts with the commander in chief and trickles down to the basic core staff members whose hands are tied within a runaway bureaucratic nightmare.

This story, however, is not just about the poor soul who wrongfully lost his life because of policy and red tape. It also exemplifies the present mistreatment of our veterans and active military personnel who are also being shoved aside and not provided the care they need and deserve. Our government can spend something like $3,000 a second on the war in Iraq, but it can't seem to find the funding to provide adequate health care for our injured, traumatized and sick. When are the people of our fine nation going to wake up and say we've all had enough?

Steve Corrado, Tarpon Springs

Hospital is for veterans

It appears to me that the policy of the VA hospital is very clear and easily understood. The key letter in VA is the "V" which stands for veteran.

If you have served the United States honorably as a member of the military, then you are a veteran and have earned the right to use the services of a veteran's hospital. If you have not, then you can't.

The paramedics know this, so why waste time asking the VA hospital where they should take the victim? Neither the VA hospital, nor the paramedics, are to blame for the death of this gentleman, a heart attack is.

The media, including your newspaper, are quick to blame the veteran's hospital for "shabby" conditions and "lousy" service. Yet, you also want to blame them for not making this available to non-veterans. I suggest that you pull your heads out of the Florida sand and smell the reality. You can't have it both ways. If you want to use the VA's services then join the military and serve your country.

Jerry Cheever, Wesley Chapel

Emergencies are different

The recent articles regarding the man denied treatment at Bay Pines VA Medical Center while having a heart attack on hospital property should be of concern to every citizen of this county.

I am a veteran and use the facilities at Bay Pines. I am both frightened and outraged to know that if my wife and I are hit by a car and sustain life- threatening injuries while crossing the road outside VA property, that I might be treated and saved at the Bay Pines emergency room, while my wife could be sent to an ER miles away.

What is wrong with a country as rich as ours that can spend billions of dollars in Iraq where the people don't want us, and yet cannot treat its own citizens in the event of an emergency?

It is admirable that our government provides care (albeit questionable at times) for the veterans who have unselfishly served our country in times of war. But an emergency room at any hospital is just that: It's for emergencies, whether the person is a veteran or not! As a veteran I do not want to see a non-veteran sitting in a waiting room with me expecting to get treated for the same high cholesterol problem as me. But if I were in the emergency room at Bay Pines waiting to be treated for a broken arm I would absolutely endure the pain while they attended to a heart attack or stroke victim whether he was a veteran or not.

That the VA hospital cannot take care of one of its own employees is cause for concern for all who work there.

Your tax dollars pay for this. Are you satisfied with how your dollars are spent? Are you satisfied with how one of your neighbors is denied possible life-saving treatment while collapsing only a few hundred feet away from an emergency room?

No. I didn't think so. Then do something about it. I certainly will.

Randall Durham, Largo

Spinning the news

The July 24 St. Petersburg Times gave a major spin to the news. In the World News section, you cite a CBS News/New York Times poll showing that "a majority of Americans, 66 percent, said they want the United States to withdraw some or all troops from Iraq ... "

The key word is "some." The poll you referred to said 36 percent wanted all troops withdrawn, with 30 percent wanting some troops withdrawn.

What the poll really said, using those same percentages, was 64 percent of Americans did not want to withdraw all troops from Iraq. When the 3 percent margin of error is added in, almost 7 out of 10 Americans believe we should keep some troops in Iraq and finish establishing a democracy there.

We are obviously not fighting just Iraqi insurgents. How do you think all those explosives are finding their way to the insurgents? Iran and Syria definitely do not want a democracy on their borders.

We also did not start this mess. Please remember 9/11. I don't want American troops to die or be injured, but I took my chances when I enlisted to serve my military obligation and wound up serving in peacetime (of sorts) and received an honorable discharge. Please forget liberal or conservative and Republican or Democratic slants, and report the actual news.

Don Kiger, St. Petersburg

Scare tactics

I got a gut feeling that the inappropriate remarks by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff, and now the rest of the administration, are the result of orders from the "Secret White House Propaganda Department."

Does everyone feel safer now that the secretary knows summer is a time for more terrorist actions than other times of the year? Do we feel safer because he had a bad hot dog that gave him a gut feeling?

What are these statements really supposed to do? Make us feel safer, be more beholding to the administration and make us support the wars in the Middle East? Perhaps it is none of the above but rather a case of using the old bromide of let's scare the populace so they get off our backs about how poorly we are doing. That's my gut feeling.

Roger Meissner, Sun City Center

Be informed about Islam - July 21, letter

Consult the Koran

I do not know if the letter writer was misinformed herself or is trying to misinform the public. I disagreed with her on everything she said about how Islam teaches Muslims to deal with non-Muslims.

The only thing I agreed with her on was when she said "read the Koran and Hadith (prophet's tradition)." Indeed, I urge readers to go to a book store and purchase a copy of the translation of the Koran. Non-Muslims are even invited to call the Tampa office of CAIR at (813) 514-1414 and ask for a free copy of the Koran to be shipped to them.

When they eventually read through it I urge them to specifically read 60:8: "God does not forbid you regarding those who have not fought you due to your religion, nor drove you out of your homes, if you show them kindness, and be just to them; verily God loves the just ones."

Mohamed Ghabour, Valrico