Ready for your Close-Up, Mr. Obama?

Barack Obama, Tinley Park, ILNews outlets are reporting today that Barack Obama has finally admitted that he has not ruled out a run for the presidency in 2008. This is good news. However, there are quite a few who think 2008 may be too early for Senator Obama.

I was proud and honored to work Sen. Obama’s campaign for election to the U.S. Senate. I met him first at the “Barn” in Olympia Fields, IL. At the time it was easy to approach the then-State Senator, and ask him how he stood on some key issues. First impressions? Then, as now, gold. He spoke to me, not at me.

I have no doubt that Sen. Obama could, can, and will become one of our greatest U.S. presidents. Imagine a U.S. President who can talk to, not down to, the American people. Imagine a U.S. President who can talk to, not down to, the international community, the press. You name it.

And I’m confident that wife Michelle will keep him grounded. She better. I’ve often wondered what his Achilles heel might be. I’m sure the weird-right is wondering as well. But I think he can handle them. With Michelle at his side.

The Greeks spoke of kairos, the right time, the ample time, the perfect moment.

Obama just needs to be himself. He’s remarkable. But himself at the right time, right place.

And not a moment too soon.


Gay Teens and Suicide: Counting Down

A tragic story in today’s Chicago Sun-Times demonstrates the continuing need for attention to teen suicide. The story details a “lovesick 16-year old girl” in Atlanta, GA, who crashed her car into another vehicle in a suicide attempt. In the moments leading up to the crash, the girl was sending text messages to the female classmate who spurned her. The girl survived. However, a woman driving the other car was killed, 30-year old Nancy Salado-Mayo, a mother of three.

The teenager, Louise Egan Brunstad, was charged with murder.

”There was what might be described as a countdown to the actual event — 10, 9, 8 . . . then the crash,” District Attorney Paul Howard said.

Prosecutors intend to try her as an adult. She faces an automatic life sentence if convicted.

Tragedies like this are all too common. Suicide is still the leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds, the sixth leading cause of death for 5 to 14 year olds.

And suicide is preventable. Thirty percent of all young people who commit suicide are gay or lesbian. (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1989). This statistic is incredibly shocking, as gay teens only comprise approximately one-tenth of the teen population. This means that they are 300 times more likely to kill themselves than heterosexual youth.

Among The Warning Signs of Teen Suicide:

  • Change in eating and sleeping habits.
  • Drug and alcohol abuse.
  • Noticeable personality change.
  • Violent reactions, rebellious behavior, running away.
  • Persistent boredom, difficulty concentrating, falling grades.

In Searching for a Way Out: Stopping Gay Teen Suicides, Ciara Torres reports:

Examples of discrimination are ubiquitous. In 42 states, gays have no legal protection from employment or housing discrimination. Worse, laws put on the books during colonial times still criminalize homosexual acts in 25 states. These laws were upheld in 1986 by the Supreme Court in the Bowers v. Hardwick case.

Thus young gay individuals realize that they must hide their identity for fear of social and legal consequences which can destroy their lives. Homosexuals can be fired, evicted, kept from their own biological children, restricted from adopting children, and imprisoned for sodomy. The homosexuality of historical figures has been systematically left out of education in the public schools, giving gay youth the false impression that gays have never affected history in a positive way.

There is much room for hope, however. When schools support gay and lesbian teens, the positive results are phenomenal. The Gay, Lesbian, Straight Education Network reports on how Catholic schools in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis have taken the lead in reaching out to gay and lesbian students. Sister Mary Ellen Gevelinger, O.P., Ed.D. and Laurel Zimmerman tell of a girl who stood in front of a class and reported of her friend Heidi. Heidi had been beaten, kicked, and reviled by her parents. When she was 14 she was told she could no longer live at home. She moved from place to place, stayed with relatives and friends with whom she was barely tolerated. She attended three different high schools. “Students and teachers at the schools she attended often treated her as an outcast, so eventually she learned to keep to herself and tell no one about who or what she was.”

Her sin? In her early teens, she had told her parents she was a lesbian. The girl concluded her remarks to the class, “I am Heidi.”

The Archdiocese took the lead:

We developed the following mission statement: “The Pastoral Care and Sexual Identity Study Group in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis exists to support competent and compassionate pastoral care for all students, families, and staff in the Catholic schools communities.” By the end of the year, we had identified four goals:

  1. Hold a workshop for all teachers, administrators, and counselors on the topic of sexual identity.
  2. Train faculty members in each school to function as “safe staff.”
  3. Teach students and teachers that homophobic behavior is inappropriate and unacceptable.
  4. Form an interschool support group for students.

Sr. Gevelinger and Laurel Zimmerman respond to the question, how can a Catholic school system reach out to gay and lesbian students? They cite many writings from Catholic bishops that show “less concern for homosexual behaviors and more concern for the pastoral care and just treatment.” They provide evidence with the followin statement from John Roach, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis (1991):

“Many homosexuals experience unnecessary pain and suffering … It is the firm intention of this local church not only to advocate for the rights of homosexual persons, but to provide care for such persons.”

There is hope. Sadly, Louise Egan Brunstad, age 16, is now charged with murder. And Mrs. Nancy Salado-Mayo, age 30, mother of three, is dead.


Replacing Mark Foley

Contribute to Mahoney for FloridaWho can ever replace Mark Foley?

A Democrat. Tim Mahoney.

Mahoney is running to replace Mark Foley in Congress. Americans are completely fed up with Republican leadership. Yes, we know that the Democrats are not perfect, but the Democrats never claimed to be perfect. When we have problems, we take care of them. When the White House has problems, they promote and give medals.

Mahoney believes in responsibility and accountability, regardless of anyone’s political affiliation. He has pledged to fight for fiscal responsibility. He is a successful rancher and businessman who supports 9/11 Commission reforms to keep our country safe. Mahoney’s website reports that Republicans are pouring in money to produce negative campaign ads.

Mahoney has been campaigning for over a year, and the disgraced Republicans in Florida have a hand-picked candidate to try to keep the seat. If you can contribute at all, the time is now.


Republican Ad Calls Black Women “Hos”

The New York Sun reports that a new Republican ad financed by white billionaire J. Patrick Roone calls black women “Hos.” The group, America’s Pac, began running ads last month in more than two dozen congressional districts. The ads triumph some right-wing pride issues: warrantless wiretapping and school choice among them. The most notorious of the ads target abortion, accusing Democrats of discrimination because “black babies are terminated at triple the rate of white babies.” The most shameful exchange explicitly exploits African Americans. In an exchange between two black men:

“If you make a little mistake with one of your ‘hos,’ you’ll want to dispose of that problem tout suite, no questions asked,” one of the men says.

“That’s too cold. I don’t snuff my own seed,” the other replies.

“Maybe you do have a reason to vote Republican,” the first man says.

Another ad attempts to link Democrats to white supremacist David Duke, who served as a Republican in the Louisiana Legislature:

“I can understand why a Ku Klux Klan cracker like David Duke makes nice with the terrorists,”a male voice in the ad says. “What I want to know is why so many of the Democrat politicians I helped elect are on the same side of the Iraq war as David Duke.”

The ads are completely inflammatory. Essentially, the ads are financed by white billionaires recruiting black actors who apparently speak on behalf of the black community.


FOX News Looking Forward to Armageddon?

Just when you thought FOX news was Odd and Biased, they go right over the edge.

David Friend’s new book, Watching the World Change, takes a look at the images of 9/11, some of the stories behind them, and the effect of these images on a post-9/11 world. The book has made a major impact on the lives of many, and Friend’s website has become a focal point for people’s memories and reflections.

What has escaped the attention of many up to this point was a disturbing quote in the book from Roger Ailes, head of FOX news. Friend asked him, “What was the significance of two billion people being able to watch the same thing at the same time on September 11?” Ailes’ response was extremely disturbing:

Roger Ailes laughing to the end.“The implications from a television standpoint are simply that: When the end of the world comes, we’ll be able to cover it live until the last camera goes out. I believe I mean it literally. If you can witness something like [9/11] by two billion people, live, then there’s nothing that can’t be covered. And if we get into a world war, with nuclear weapons, I assume we’ll be covering it live.”

“It’s horrifying to think about. But maybe God set it up that way. You can either figure out how to live in freedom…and hope, or you can watch yourselves burn to death. Nine-eleven is a warning shot that says: Look, this can go either way. It’s your choice, folks.”

The political and religious implications of this statement are horrifying. Do the execs. at FOX really believe that the end is near, and they will somehow be blest to cover the final battle? When pressed as to whether he really meant that we would all be watching the Apocalypse live on FOX, Ailes responded, “I believe I mean it literally.”

Someone check the man’s medication and turn the channel.


Judy Shepard Speaks at Roosevelt University

Judy Shepherd at Roosevelt University Judy Shepard spoke at Roosevelt University in Chicago Monday, October 16. Her son Matthew was murdered at age 21 in an anti-gay hate crime October 12, 1998. The presentation was not at all what I expected. I’m not sure what I expected. Perhaps I’m still grieving for Matt, and expected tears from his mother, or someone angry. But Judy Shepard told a soft, determined, calm, and, at times, humorous story.

She started by reading the victim impact statement which she first read at the sentencing hearing for Russell Henderson, one of the two men convicted in the murder of Matthew Shepard.

“I’ll never understand why anyone would hurt Matt,” Shepard said in the statement.

Matthew Shepard Vote For MeShe then segued into a brief presentation on the importance of voting. Mrs. Shepard, a proud Democrat, spoke at length about life in Wyoming, a staunchly Republican state with a population of 450,000 people. Her tongue-in-cheek humor about Wyoming provided a window into her warm spirit, “People give the same answer when asked either why they live or do not live in Wyoming: ‘Because no one else lives there.'”

She came on stage after a brief film that spoke about two hate crimes: the murder of her son Matthew, and the murder of James Byrd, Jr. Mrs. Shepard said she felt it was important to speak about both because all crimes of hate are related.

This was not a person speaking in anger. While conveying her family’s pain seeing Matt in the hospital, hardly recognizable, she spoke about the unimaginable with strength. She seemed to draw strength from reading the victim impact statement, and conveyed strength as she continued to tell her story. She spoke about the importance of gays and lesbians coming out to family, friends, and co-workers. Telling one humorous anecdote, she recalled speaking to a 50 year old man who told her he was so touched by her talk that he finally came out to his mother. She laughed, “You mean she really didn’t know? Trust me, a mother knows.”

She spoke about Matt coming out to her at age 18. Her response was simple, “What took you so long to tell me?” Her husband Dennis took a bit longer to understand Matt’s coming out, but not much more. He was not present Monday, but his victim impact statement is worth thoughtful reflection.
Her story was about pain, forgiveness, and realizing that the pain continues for others; that racism continues, bigotry continues, hate continues.

The presentation was over too soon.

Support the Matthew Shepard foundation.


John Kerry: Man On Fire

John Kerry on Fox News Sunday

I never thought I would write those words about John Kerry. And if the man ever does another photo-op wind-surfing or in a pink bunny outfit for NASA, well, then I give up on John Kerry.

But it’s true. He’s come alive.

First, Kerry spoke last week at the New Hampshire Democratic Party Jefferson-Jackson Dinner. His speech was, well, inspiring. People were cheering. For John Kerry.

It’s worth watching.

Next, he appeared on Fox News Sunday — you know Fox News, the network that claims it will film the apocalypse — and sat for an interview with Chris Wallace. Kerry confronted accusations from the Weird Right that North Korea’s nuke test are somehow Clinton’s fault. That’s right. Georgie spent the last several years in Iraq, ignoring the rest of the world, and North Korea is Clinton’s fault. Also worth watching.

I don’t know at this point if his star is rising again, but he still has something to say.

I’d love to know what some of our friends outside the United States have to say about our political scene.


Jeb Bush Comes Out Of The Closet

Gov. Bush coming out of the closetFlorida Governor Jeb Bush visited Pittsburgh, PA, Friday for a fund-raiser for Sen. Rick Santorum. Bush was making his way to the Duquesne Club, a posh, private club in Downtown Pittsburgh. Membership is by “invitation only.” If you have to ask how much membership costs, well, you probably won’t be asked to join.

The closest I ever came seeing anything like it was watching 1983’s Trading Places, with Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy.

At any rate, as Bush approached the club, he had a close encounter with a group of anti-Republican protesters. The protesters were on their way to join other protesters already gathered in front of the club.

Protesters say Gov. Bush “blew them a kiss,” which was enough to thrill the group of about 30 protesters that was made up of United Steelworkers, and members of a group called Uprise Counter Recruitment, whose website says they are, “…a tour of mid-west and mid-Atlantic states aimed at advancing regional counter-recruitment efforts and linking the issues of war and military recruitment to corporate globalization and environmental sustainability. The Tour consists of a dozen activists traveling via a bio-diesel bus to cities both large and small.” They have teamed up with Iraq Veterans Against the War and Alive In Baghdad. Alive in Baghdad “shows the occupation through the voices of Iraqis.”

It was this distinguished group, then, that Gov. Bush blew a kiss to on a street in Pittsburgh.

The group drew nearer, shouting, “Jeb, go home.”

The governor made a retreat to a nearby T-station, an entry to Pittsburgh’s subway. The protesters followed Bush into the station, so Mr. Bush descended the escalators to the mezzanine level. At this point, Mr. Bush found himself surounded by signs that read, “Pittsburgh is a Santorum Free Zone,” and, “Honk if you’re sick of Rick.” “We don’t want you here,” protesters chanted.

Some days it just doesn’t pay to be born with a silver spoon in your mouth.

The situation apparently became very tense. Approximately 75 protesters had gathered on the street. They were asked to disperse, and did not. Two protesters were tased by two officers from a Port Authority canine unit.

As a precaution, the governor was ushered into a T-station supply closet. He reportedly remained there until the crowd dispersed.

Pittsburgh police, monitoring the front of the Duquesne Club, said the protesters were peaceful, and did not respond, and apparently were not asked to respond to the incident at the T-station.

The entire incident lasted approximately 5 minutes, after which Gov. Bush safely came out of the closet.


What if your boss is a Homophobe?

While many states and counties have passed non-discrimination legislation for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered persons, the sad fact is that many have not, and even if discrimination is not legal, it still occurs, and it is hard to prove. Many companies are gay-friendly, but there are more than enough that are not. So what do you do if you are gay or lesbian and work for an employer who is a homophobe?

There are employers who will harass employees in an attempt to get them to quit. What recourse does the employee have? According to an article published by Monster.com, employees with homophobic bosses have three options: Accept the situation, change it, or leave.

Neither one is necessarily the more pleasant alternative. It is important to know your rights. There are avenues for help, there are resources out there. One resource for GLBs is Lambda Legal. But there are other forums. Employees need to take into consideration pension benefits they may have accrued, or health benefits they may be losing if they leave a job.

All in all, discrimination in any form can be subtle or overt, but it is always destructive. Federal employees are protected by an executive order signed in 1998 by President Clinton, which is still in effect under President Bush. Unfortunately, the United States Congress has yet to pass ENDA, the Employment Nondiscrimination Act. The current Republican leadership does not support it.

Andrew Stone, editor at Los Angeles Confidential, bluntly warns, “Don’t compromise yourself. Your work should speak for itself. And if an employer discriminates against you and you don’t want to go the route of pressing charges, then leave your job. Life is too short to work for a jerk.”


Demonizing the Opposition

For the life of me I don’t understand why political campaigns today are so hell-bent on demonizing the opposition.

One has only to turn on the television in Illinois to see the rabid attack ads Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D) and challenger Judy Baar Topinka (R) are hurling at each other. Blagojevich’s ads, which offer ostensible proof of Topinka’s poor thinking in the form of Topinka sound bites, commonly end with the taunt, “Judy Baar Topinka, what’s she thinking?” Topinka has taken to attacking Blagojevich, offering for the viewer’s consideration tidbits about one of Blagojevich’s 7-year old daughter receiving a $1,500 birthday gift from one of Blagojevich’s lifelong friends and 2003 campaign treasurer, Michael Ascaridis. Yes, it sounds wrong. Who gives a $1,500 check to a 7-year old? Or rather, who gives a $1,500 check to a 7-year old and expects us to believe that the money was simply a casual gift — to the 7-year old?

The simple fact is, both of these candidates look aweful now. The insults and accusations they have leveled at each other have tossed at each other have reduced both gubernatorial candidates to a pair of foolish, trifling clods. Neither one appears to be a good choice for governor in Illinois, a state that desperately needs and deserves to see some dignity return to the state’s highest elected office.

But all of this is simply symptomatic of a larger, much older trend in politics. Political candidates may and often must disagree with each other. How else can the voter distinguish which person is best for an office? But the tendency to demonize the opponent, attack not the ideas but the person, this is truly a horrific and increasing trend in contemporary politics.

And it is so easy to do. Much of it is done in “whisper campaigns,” when one candidate is travelling door-to-door. The simple and sad fact is that most voters do not pay attention to campaigns. Many do not even know who their local elected officials are, let alone who their state representative, state senator, or congressman are. Many people respond to dirt. It’s sad. It’s true. Many of the malicious charges that are made in today’s politics are calculated and cold, not angry outbursts. People make up the most outrageous fabrications about an opponent because many in the American electorate believe such things without question. We’ve become so fatigued with rude and scurrilous behavior from our candidates that we don’t want to have anything to do with either the accused or the accuser. So, sometimes the accuser wins, even if he or she has put forth outrageous fabrications.

The American electorate deserves better. But this is not new.

In the 1828 presidential election, Andrew Jackson ran against President John Quincy Adams. Jackson was convinced that he had the 1824 election stolen from him (sound familiar?), and put himself forward as the people’s candidate. During the 1828 campaign, Adams charged Jackson and his wife with adultery. The charges grew from Jackson and his wife’s gullibility. Jackson’s wife had been unhappily married to Lewis Robards. In 1790, the Kentucky legislation passed a resolution granting Robards permission to sue for divorce. However, Robards never did so.

Andrew and Rachel married in 1791 after making a declaration of divorce, but not realizing that Rachel Donelson was still legally married. Robards finally sued for divorce in 1793, citing Rachel’s “adultery” with Jackson. The Jacksons remarried in 1794, but the political damage was done.

Rachel died a few weeks after her husband’s inauguration. Jackson blamed her early death on the public discussion and the outrageous accusations about their supposed immorality during the campaign.

We haven’t come far. What are we thinking?