When in doubt, pardon

On the way out the door, presidents have been known to inflict a mountain of damage on the American public with the pardon power. Since President Bush has funneled more garbage into the American political system than just about any president in history, why should we be surprised when he leaves a trail of garbage as he waltzes out the door?

Last week Bush pardoned 14 Americans for a variety of crimes. Half of them, according to the Wall Street Journal, shared one characteristic: a love of firearms and a citation of that as the reason they wanted pardons. Convicted felons only regain the right to own weapons (with the exception of certain antique guns) by presidential pardon.

The most widely publicized pardon recipient (and in my opinion, the most noxious among them) is one Leslie Collier, a Missouri corn and soybean farmer. His crime: poisoning two Bald Eagles and killing them. The poisoning wasn’t purposeful. He meant instead to kill another American icon—coyotes, who he feared would kill wild turkey that had reappeared on property he farms after he believed they had gone extinct.

Instead of finding some way to build up the wild turkey population on the property he farmed (so he could again drive them into extinction by hunting them down) he decided he would poison the coyote to eliminate the turkeys’ natural predator, according to the New York Times:

"…he laid a trap of ground beef laced with the pesticide Furadan, which, under federal law, may not be used as animal poison. Seven coyotes died after eating the beef. But several other animals fed on their carcasses and died as well, including the bald eagles."

Hunting is a so-called sport, which I have never understood. Taking pleasure in the destruction of another living being is unfathomable to me. And the claim it is challenging is bunk. I’ve had so many deer freeze right in front of me and continue to stand and stare after I shout and clap at them to run away, an infant with a BB gun could have easily shot them.

I’ve witnessed whale hunting in Alaska by native Inuits sporting high-powered, scoped, elaborate weapons. They eat at chain restaurants and shop at chain grocery stores in Barrow, Alaska, live in mobile homes with huge satellite dishes so they can watch 500 channels, and claim to need to "harvest" the whales for subsistence living. There’s not an igloo or spear in sight. It’s a sorry, sorry spectacle.

Luckily for nearby residents and for the animals, hunting is becoming a dying sport. In the last few years, such groups as The National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association representing the firearms industry, The National Rifle Association and The National Wild Turkey Federation have all tried to bolster the "sport" with training programs designed to inure young Americans to the cruelty of hunting and to portray it as a family event and an American heritage.

The Christian Science Monitor reported three years ago: "Hunting and gun groups are active for a reason. Between the mid-1990s and 2001, the number of hunters dropped 7 percent to about 13 million, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service. By 2025, that number is projected to drop 24 percent to about 9.9 million, according to a recent study conducted for pro-hunting organizations."

Time is not on the side of those who would slaughter animals for pleasure. America’s fast-growing population is spreading urbanization and suburbanization like small pox. On the down side, it’s degrading the quality of life for many Americans. But on the up side, it is gobbling up much of the open space hunters used to traffic in search of "game." Urban and suburban sophisticates aren’t drawn to hunting, which is mainly entertainment for rural folk. But there’s less of rural America these days and with it, fewer rural citizens.

Maybe there’s a natural link between Bush’s pardons and everything else that is making his presidency and his way of life seem so retro and out of sync with the social sea change that brought Pres.-elect Barack Obama into office. Let’s all wave President Bush and his antiquated views a not-so-fond farewell.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)CompuServe.com.)

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