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Miami Herald

Posted on Tue, May. 07, 2002

Cockfighters need wings clipped
They drip with blood.

They strap blades onto rooster legs, pump the birds full of hideous stimulants, then set the animals against one another in smoky pits, gamblers howling with blood lust.

If, in the course of the death match, a rooster gets his throat slashed, leaving it gurgling and clogged with blood, they'll stick the bird's head in their mouths and suck the windpipe clear, extending the bird's life -- and the fight -- a few more awful moments.

Their savage bloodsucking pursuits are illegal in 47 states and those who flout the laws are regarded by local cops as nasty sociopaths. Lt. Sherry Schleuter of the Broward County Sheriff's Office, an expert on animal abuse and cruelty who was summoned before Congress two years ago to testify about the effects of cockfighting, said raids on illegal matches in Florida turn up gambling, drug, prostitution and firearm violations. The crowds, she said, teem with convicted felons.

THEIR CLOUT

They may be outlaws. They may be cruel. They may be moral dwarfs. Their blood sport may be despised by the rest of society. They may be exposing children to cruelty and violence that will eventually find its way into human relationships.

But, despite overwhelming public contempt, cockfighters have something unobtainable to most of us. These lowlife chicken-head suckers have political clout.

Last year, cockfighters demonstrated that clout in Tallahassee and managed to bury a bill in committee -- despite its support by law enforcement -- that would have strengthened Florida's wishy-washy cockfighting prohibition. But that was nothing compared to the political muscle exerted these last few weeks in Washington.

An amendment to the farm bill would have made transportation of fighting roosters across state lines or national borders a felony. Policemen in states where cockfighting is banned had complained that violators often escape conviction by claiming they had were merely raising roosters to fight in Louisiana, Oklahoma or New Mexico.

Both the House and Senate approved the amendment. Under the usual rules, that made the cockfighting provision untouchable when the farm bill went to conference.

''It should not have even been discussed,'' said Wayne Pacelle, senior vice president and chief lobbyist for the Humane Society of the United States.

ALTERED BILL

But this repulsive gang of chicken-killers managed to infiltrate the process with lobbyists who reportedly charged $300,000 to ply their secret magic. The lobbyists quietly persuaded a couple of north Texas congressmen on the conference committee to change ''felony'' to ''misdemeanor'' and to extend the effective date from 30 days after the President signs the bill to a year.

''It was outrageous,'' Pacelle complained.

But the conference bill has been approved by the House and comes before the Senate on Wednesday. The bill has been larded with $170 billion in farm subsidies and enough political pork to entice a senate majority. It will pass with the cockfighting crackdown reduced to a piddling nuisance.

Most of us might regard blood-spattered cockfighters with particular disdain. But popular sentiment hardly matters in politics. Not after these chicken-head suckers bought clout.