Thursday, January 29, 2009

Ted Haggard Update

The young man mentioned in the recent scandals involving Ted Haggard has been identified as Grant Haas. Mr. Haas alleges he became friends with Haggard following his expuslion from a Bible College for admitting he was gay. Although Haggard maintains he only solicited Mike Jones for sex, Haas said he received over 2,000 text messages from Haggard over a period of months, messages where Haggard recounted sexual encounters he had while traveling doing church business.

The story is getting even more twisted and I hope Mr. Haggard doesn't end up regretting his decision to not only continue with the production of the documentary but also his many public appearances in the last few days including "The Larry King Show" tonight.

Trials, Tribulations, and Temptations of Ted Haggard

After being exiled from his church and home state for admitting he had solicited sex and drugs from a male prostitute, Ted Haggard, the founder and pastor of the evangelical New Life Church in Colorado Springs is making headlines again. When news of his affair became public, Haggard who was also the president of the National Association for Evangelicals - a role that gave him weekly access to President George W. Bush- denied the allegations. He would later admit his involvement and was subsequently fired from the 14,000 member church that he helped start and left Colorado for counseling at an undisclosed location in Arizona. Within three weeks of the program, Haggard made the announcement that he was heterosexual, an announcement that angered many in the gay community.

At the time the allegations were made, Haggard assured the public and the church that despite dealing with "thoughts that were contrary to his belief," the escort Mike Jones who tipped off authorities was the only male he had been with. In an article carried by the Denver Post, members of the leadership board at the church speculated that the encounter with Mr. Jones may have been Haggard's only foray into homosexuality because after three months of the news becoming public no one had come forward with other allegations. But this Sunday, Brady Boyd who is now the senior pastor at New Life made an announcement to the church that Haggard had another indiscretion with a young man at the church who is now 25. The indiscretion happened when the young man was already an adult, so Haggard will not be criminally charged. The church also admitted to assisting the young man with money for college and other monetary needs since 2007. The money came from insurance they claim and not from the church.

In an interview with the New York Times, Boyd notes that the allegations were not made public because the church was trying to be discreet and do what was honorable. The incidence was supposed to be kept secret, but the young man whose name has still not been released threatened to go public. Preempting his decision, Boyd made the announcement to the now 10,500 member church. Haggard admits to inappropriate relations with the young man but has denied any sexual contact. And it seems Jones and the young man are not the only players in this game that has become increasingly tangled. The church admits that a couple of church members who witnessed or had inappropriate relations with Mr. Haggard have come forward, but no settlements have been made.

Following Haggard's admission back in 2006 that he was now heterosexual, I assumed that it would be there would be a huge lapse before he made any more public appearances. He had previously hinted that both he and his wife Gayle were returning to school to pursue advanced degrees in psychology. Haggard is back in the news now and has made appearances with prominents stake holders in the media as he promotes a new documentary based on his life, "The Trials of Ted Haggard," which is set to air on HBO tonight at 8:00pm. Directed by Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the aim of the documentary she says is "not about whether Ted had one or 1,000 indiscretions... This film is about a what happened to a man and his family after his fall from grace."

So is Ted Haggard gay, straight, or somewhere in between and what are his views on homosexuality? In an interview with the Associated Press this month, Haggard admits that "stereotypical boxes don't work for me...My story's got some gray areas in it. And of course, I'm sad about that, but it's the reality." Haggards admits to telling his wife about wrestling with some "inappropriate thoughts" years ago but speaking with Charles Gibson in an interview this week he claims that he and his wife are enjoying what appears to be a peak in their intimate relationship. When asked by Gibson if homosexuality was a sin, Haggard responded by saying that for him, the practice was sinful. Speaking on the Oprah Winfrey show this week, Haggard admitted to being "a heterosexual with issues." Haggard says he refuses to be put in a box because it would be a denial of whom he was. His wife Gayle tried to make the argument that despite inclinations of some sort, there is still the issue of choice, a matter Ms. Winfrey strongly refused to accept.

Haggard's recent media foray comes as a shock but raises important issues. Issues about homosexuality, choice, the will of God, sexual abuse and pedophilia. Haggard admits to being sexuality abused by his father as a 7 year old and blames his struggle with sexuality on the incidence. "I had same-sex play as a second grader, and then all that blew up when I was 50," Haggard says in a clip for the documentary. In the documentary he is forth coming with his struggles to take his own life, his anger at being dismissed from the church he started in his basement and the treatment he has received from the evangelical community. Cases like Haggard's present many gray areas. He is however quick to point out that he has issues and is seeking recovery. There's a possiblity he admits that his affair with Mike Jones and the ensuing public scandal were attempts by God to help bring healing to him. Haggard's struggle with homosexuality and his struggle to be honorable to his family signals the element of choice in the homosexual lifestyle. There is still a lot that is unknown about Ted Haggard the man that hopefully will become clear with time.

The Trials of Ted Haggard airs tonight on HBO at 8:00pm.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

"We Are the World" at 24

What began as an idea by Harry Belafonte and Will Kragen to put together a concert to raise money for Africa became reality when on January 28, 1985, the song "We Are the World," was recorded on the night of the American Music Awards. Written by Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson and produced by Quincy Jones, the song debuted at number twenty-one on the Billboard chart and rose to claim the top spot after only three weeks. A testament to the power of team work in support of a cause "We Are the World" is an endearing song that is still relevant even today.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

...And the ARt went First

Struggling to recover from falling victim to the nearly $50 million Bernard Madoff ponzi scheme, Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts has made the decision to sell its entire art collection at the Rose Art Museum. The collection at the Rose is one of the largest collections of post-war art in New England. The move to sell the art has come as the school struggles to find balance in the recession, as its nearly $700 million endowment is all but gone. The collection includes works by Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Stuart Davis, Milton Avery and many other American artists. The museum's collections is valued at between $350 to $400 million. The case is currently under review by the office of the Massachusetts attorney-general. The closing is significant because it does not only jeopardize the study of arts at the University but also the jobs of the museum's employees, some of whom heard about the school's decision through the media.

The Rose Art Museum opened it doors 48 years ago, and 2011 marks the 50th anniversary of the museum. The museum was the dream of Brandeis University President Abram Sachar and two generous donors, Edward and Bertha Rose for whom the museum is named. Lacking an acquisition budget when it first opened in 1961, the museum was able to acquire a major part of its collection largely in part by a donation by collectors Leon Mnuchin and his wife Harriet Gevirtz-Mnuchin. The Mnuchins donated $50,000 with the specification that the money be used to purchase only contemporary art. According to the museum's website, the Mnuchins' gift back in 1961 is comparable to Bill and Melinda Gates making a donation of $150,000,000 million today. The Rose Museum has a great collection that has been loaned to museums from Paris to Spain and around the United States.

But now the 7,000 strong collection at the museum is about to be sold, some of the works for less than their current market value. It should be noted that Brandeis' move to sell gifts of art work is not a first. In 2005 and then in 2007 Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee and Randolph College in Lynchburg Virginia respectively both made attempts at selling paintings that were part of their collection. Fisk was stopped while Randolph made a sale and has plans for more sales in the future.

As a student who attended a University with an exceptional art museum the decision by Brandeis is deplorable. There should be other means to raise money for an academic institution beset by hard times besides selling works of art that have become part of the fabric of the institution. By selling the paintings in the collection, the University is not only making an unsound economic decision, but selling what I believe is a huge piece of academia. The works of art have as much a stake in providing a wholesome learning experience for the students and the Waltham community as the books in the library. I would be appalled to learn that any school is selling historic documents and I am no less so with Brandeis's decision.

While Brandeis will not be setting precedent, if they are allowed to carry on with their intentions of selling almost 7,000 works of art valued at almost $400 milion they will be sending the message that a price tag can be put on knowledge. The repercussions will be significant and may open up an avenue for other institutions in similar financial circumstances to auction off or either sell relics of their institution. Will Emory University move next to sell the papers of Seamus Heaney, Flannery O'Connor or Alice Walker? Regardless of how dire the circumstances are at Brandeis, the University should be strongly condemned and should not be allowed to continue with their decision. Would New York City ever consider selling the Statue of Liberty?

On the website of The Rose Museum there is still no word of the closing or the impending sale of works in the collection. Soon, "the dream of the Rose to honor its unique and inestimable collection...and enhancing it with the inexhaustible generosity of donors and the keen, experienced eyes of its caretakers," will soon be all but forgotten.

Photograph courtesy of the New York Times

Editorials and Opinions

Late last week, I wrote about two key significant issues that took place in the United States. One of the issues was pro-life rallies commemorating the landmark Supreme Court ruling in Roe v. Wade that took place in the capitals of several major cities and in Washington D.C. Another issue was the reversal of the so called "global gag rule" by President Barack Obama. The ruling lifted the ban on funding for international agencies that provide abortions as options to their clients.

In conversations over the weekend, I believed it would be best to engage both parties involved in the issue. Hence, I contacted The Georgia Right to Life, and The Planned Parenthood Federation chapter in Atlanta. I offered to give them a platform and they obliged. Over the next few days, I will post opinion pieces from both of the organizations as they respond to the global gag rule and what implications it has for their organizations going forward.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Mexico City Policy

In what was considered a major defeat for pro-life advocates, President Barack Obama lifted the ban on giving money to international organizations that provide abortions or give information about abortions. Obama's actions comes just a day after a series of pro-life rallies marking the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. By lifting the ban Obama ends his first working week in office, a week that has been spent reversing policies of the Bush administration.

The ban on funding abortion groups is known as the "Mexico City Policy." Adopted in 1984 by Republican President Ronald Reagan the ban was lifted when President Bill Clinton came into office. It was revived again during the Bush years and now has been lifted again with Democratic control of the White House. The ban previously prevented the United States Agency for International Development from using tax payers money to fund international groups who provide forms of birth control that include abortion. The bill comes as a victory for several Democrats including Senator John Kerry, Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Cinton.

The ban which is also refered to as the "gag rule" has been criticized for preventing necessary health care to some of the world's poorest women. However supporters of the ban argue that the rule does not prevent access to reproductive health care but only restricts abortions some of which they consider unecessary. Lifting the ban will free money that had been allocated to the U.N. but was withheld by the Bush adminstration. Lifting the ban should come as no surprise. The ban has been lifted and reinstated in accordance with party platforms beginning with the Reagan years. Already, pro-life supporters have lost a key battle and winning the war will prove to be an uphill struggle.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Whose Victory Is It Anyway?

Today, tens of thousands of pro-life supporters rallied at state Capitols all across the nation and at the national mall in Washington D.C. The events today symbolized a Memorial for the Unborn, marking the 36th Anniversary of the Legalization of Abortion. Now, these rallies for the unborn face a questionable fate with the election of President Barack Obama. Since women were granted suffrage, a woman's right to choose has been on the national agenda, polarizing the nation, creating individuals who are vehemently either pro-life or pro-choice. Often, only few straddle the fence.

In 1973, the Supreme Court decided that most anti-abortion laws were unconstitutional and violated a woman's right to privacy as stipulated by the Fourteenth Amendment. The landmark ruling Roe v. Wade changed the landscape of abortion on a federal level. Regardless, states still had the right to exercise what kinds of abortion laws would be permitted, and some states like South Dakota were able to enact laws to counter the ruling. Besides South Dakota, most states redefined the ruling by including some stipulations. Stipulations such as minors requiring parental consent, spousal consent, a waiting period before the abortion, laws requiring that abortions be performed only at hospitals and not clinics, and other such laws. It seems however, that the laws most states have fought so hard for may soon be pulled from underneath their feet.

On the campaign trail, President Barack Obama spoke about abortion at a number of rallies. During the third Presidential debate, he expressed his views on abortion in what seemed like support for a pro-life agenda. But, his speech at Planned Parenthood rallies did not reflect what seemed to be his conviction on the night of the debate. On July 17, 2007, President Barack Obama promised that one of the first things he woud do once he assumed office was sign the "Freedom of Choice Act." Once in effect, the Freedom of Choice Act would make abortions a fundamental right, erasing many hard years of pro-life effort. The Act will in essence take away any rights states currently have. It would uphold Roe v. Wade to the full extent of the law, even erasing the need for parental notification that is still required for minors in most states.

The argument over abortion is sensitive. It has polarized the nation and has disallowed room for logical reasoning. Quoting President Obama, I would like to say that no one wants an abortion, but I know that statement is untrue. I understand the position of pro-life supporters because they echo my sentiments. On the other hand, I have never understood if the fight for a woman's right to choose was to provide a level playing field for women where they had access to making their own decision without interference or if abortions simply were just justified. I understand that in cases of incest or rape the decision to have an abortion provides recourse, albeit temporary. However, I am unable to reconcile giving minors who choose to engage in cavalier activities the right to terminate a pregnancy without parental cosent. If minors are refused dental procedures without parental permission then why should they be permitted to decide the fate of another individual without such.

I understand that abstinence does not work in all cases and it does not provide for a moral society. However, there is room for common ground and compromise. Compromise that makes sense, compromise that is within the confines of what we can agree on as a suitable definition for morality. Morality is relative, but I would like to think that we would all agree that a sexually active 13-year old is cause for concern. We may not agree on vending machines that dispense condoms or on birth control in our schools, but we should agree that sex education makes sense. We should agree that making individuals aware of the choices before them makes reasonable sense. My argument thus far seems narrow because it alludes to young people. However, the choice to have an abortion is not a decision only young people make. It is also made by women who are of age, who for some reason decide to terminate a pregnancy. The will is hard to bend and education and dialogue will serve both sides of the argument as we seek to forge ahead.

Tomorrow marks the third day of Obama's presidency. Over the coming days he will feel the pull of special interest lobbyist and will be expected to make good on most of his promises, the Freedom of Choice Act being one of them. Divesting any power states wield will only prove to so many that Obama was the wrong choice. Afterall, during the campaign, I heard expressed on several occassion how the "idea" of a "Barack Obama" was great. Nonetheless, some wished he were packaged a little differently or in some cases was a different person entirely. Already, the Obama adminstration seems hard at work. But in their quest for change, they might be undoing what others saw as a movement towards real change.

Presidential Pledge Update

MySpace Celebrity and Katalyst present The Presidential Pledge

The Presidential Pledge website, a collaboration between MySpace Celebrity and Katalyst Media a production company co-founded by Ashton Kutcher and Jason Goldberg has been officially launched. The website features celebrities making a pledge to move the nation forward in the spirit of Obama's presidency. To upload your pledge, please visit Presidential Pledge.

Heathcliff Ledger (April 4, 1979 - Jan 22, 2008)

The first year anniversary of the death of Heath Ledger was marked by a bitter-sweet event. Today the nominations for the 81st Academy Awards were announced, with a posthumous nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role going to Heath Ledger for his performance as the joker in the movie "Dark Knight." Along with the late Mr. Ledger, others nominated in this category are Josh Brolin for "Milk," Robert Downey Jr. for his performance in "Tropic Thunder," Philip Seymour Hoffman for "Doubt," and Michael Shannon for "Revolutionary Road."

The late Mr. Ledger's nomination is the only major acting nomination for the movie "Dark Knight." The other nominations for the movie are all in technical categories, including Art Direction and Cinematography. Ledger previously was honored with an award at the Golden Globe and his family is wished much success at the Oscars this February.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Style Comes To Washington

Michelle Obama's Inaugrual Ball Gown will long be remembered as the gown that broke the mold. Looking back on past gowns, I can't help but wonder how much involvment The Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints had in the design process. Michelle Obama looked fresh in a romantic Grecian one-shoulder gown by Jason Wu, a 26 year old Taiwan born, Manhattan based designer. Resplendent was the word I hoped to use to describe Michelle's gown but I wasn't wooed. I found the gown to be very youthful. However, I expected Michelle to use some of the sketches several designers had provided as inspiration for her gown (view the sketches here).

I laud Michelle's choice of giving Mr. Wu, a Parson's School of Design graduate a platform to showcase his work, but I was looking forward to seeing something more elegant. When I thought of a gown for Michelle, I imagined a gown with a defined waist in a bold color. Michelle got the memo on the waist line but the prize for color choice goes to Jill Biden for her smart choice of a red gown. An eggplant colored gown that combined elegance and simplicity would have been my choice as it would have highlighted the first lady's skin tone. Still, her choice was smart and refreshing a welcome change from the boring gowns of former first ladies.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Grading The Inaugural Address

The vision for the Presidency usually is cast in the Presidential Inaugural Address. The theme of President Barack Obama's address was a call to responsibility and service. Compared to his other speeches, most notably his address given at the Democratic Conventions in 2004 and most recently in 2008 at Invesco Field at Mile High, President Obama's speech did not have the same fervor reminiscent of his style of oratory. Further, his speech did not cast a vision for the future, but centered on imminent concerns. No doubt, it was a hard lined speech with clear directives and outlined his vision for not only his Presidency, but the nation.

In his speech, he addressed the ongoing war in Iraq, the failing economy, healthcare and education. He called for all Americans to assume a collective responsibility for the failures the nation has endured. He noted that a new day had dawned in the United States, because "we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord." He praised the efforts of revolutionaries past from Gettysburg to Normandy to Khe Sahn. His speech echoed the contributions of immigrants and pioneers who in search of new frontiers left the familiar for uncertainty. Hence, he called for unity of all races and people, Jews, Christians, Muslims and non-believers alike.

President Obama assured that the grandiose rhetoric of his ambitions will not be undermined. He notes that history has proven that the people of the United States are capable of rising to the occasion and will not relent now. Echoing the sentiments of President John F. Kennedy, Barack charges Americans not to ask "whether our government is too big or too small, but whether it works," the answer to which Americans will expect his administration to deliver, starting with the first 100 days in office.

On issues of national security, President Obama sent out a mixed message to the Muslim world, offering friendship to those who would take the offer and the threat of sticks to those "who seek to sow conflict and blame their society's ills on the West." I interpret this as a strong message to terrorists and detractors that attacks of any sort will not be tolerated. He called for altruism and for a selfless spirit as efforts at wealth redistribution begin.

Urging Americans to unite, the speech was a call to responsibility and service. A call that complacency cannot be permitted because "God calls on us to shape an uncertain destiny." His speech echoed that this will be a participatory government and all Americans will be called upon to give of their talents and resources to serve this great nation. For "let it be said by our children's children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God's grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations."

For full text of the speech please visit

Congratulations President Barack Hussein Obama

Live Coverage of the Presidential Inauguration

Monday, January 19, 2009

Auf Wiedersehen "W"

INTERVIEWER: Can you name the President of Chechnya?
BUSH: No, can you?
INTERVIEWER: And the prime minister of India?
BUSH: The new prime minister of India is (pause)...No.

George W. Bush
"Pop Quiz," November 4, 1999

In his book "The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style From FDR To George W. Bush," Fred I. Greenstein writes, "The presidency is often described as an office that places superhuman demands on its incumbent. In fact, it is a job for flesh-and-blood human beings, who will be better equipped for their responsibilities if they and those who select them do not begin with a blank slate." When George W. Bush assumed the presidency of the United States on January 20, 2000 the script on the slate was illegible. Beginning with his controversial election and his Inaugural address, the Bush presidency started on the wrong note. During his speech, Bush halted abruptly at several junctures rather than at logical breaking points. Hence, his inaugural speech would serve to expose his weakness as a speaker.

Consequently, over his Presidency, he would shy away from addressing the Press, for he had the tendency to misspeak, a flaw that haunted him. Hence, his press briefings were infrequent and tailored to avoid questions that might lead him to shoot from the hip. He would change tradition, giving his first address from the Oval Office the night after September 11, 2001 almost two years after taking the oath of office. Most recently, following the commission of the U.S.S. H.W. Bush in honor of his father George H.W. Bush, the forty-third President rather than stay behind to receive questions from the press corps dashed off. When pressed to make a statement, he assured the press that he would make an appearance, but instead changed his mind and declined to face the press.

George W. Bush, was born on July 6, 1946, in New Haven, Connecticut. Unlike his father who attended elite private schools in Connecticut, the younger Bush attended a public elementary school in Texas. It was in Texas that Bush picked up the accent that branded him a true Southerner. Always a people person, he had a reputation as a socialite. It is noted that President Bush developed his social skills as a young child as a result of playing "clown" to entertain his mother. She had fallen into a depressive state after the death of her three-year-old daughter from leukemia. The "joker" trait lived on with Bush well into adulthood, shaping his image as one who couldn't be taken seriously. Bush's outgoing personality would come in handy when he attended preparatory school in Massachusetts and then Yale University. As a student, he was often ridiculed, an experience that would lead him to despise so called "intellectual snobs," Greenstein notes. He was however able to make up for his academic short comings by active extra-curricular participation. Hence, these early experiences were formative in molding the pysche of the man who ruled this nation for eight tumultuous years.

Every presidency faces great obstacles. However, President Bush could not have imagined the challenges he would encounter. Beginning with the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001 President Bush had his work cut out for him. In a great show of leadership, President Bush passed the first major test by rallying the nation. As he stood on the rubbles of the World Trade Center, he urged Americans to unite under one banner and for a while this country was not a sea of red and blue states divided by partisanship. In the days following the attack, President Bush not only provided visionary leadership but vowed to retaliate. He would make several addresses over the ensuing weeks, addresses that helped secure the support of the world, support he believed would persist if he made the decision to attack.

If President Bush looked disillusioned when he was briefed about the attacks on September 11, he acted even more disoriented a few years later when the levees broke in the ninth ward in New Orleans, Louisiana. From the poorly managed response by FEMA to accounts of Condoleeza Rice shopping for shoes in the wake of the deluge, the Bush Administration's management was a total fiasco. The flood was unavoidable, however the ensuing response was uncoordinated because it was no secret that Michael Brown, who was FEMA director at the time was under qualified. Brown stepped down shortly after, amidst calls for his resignation by prominent Democrats. Many have attributed the response to apathy, disillusion, and shock. New Orleans is a predominantly black city and the response led many to conclude that race relations were still an issue in the United States and maybe even more so for the President.

More than his response following the attacks on September 11 or the response to Hurricane Katrina, President Bush will be most remembered for the war on terrorism. Addressing the war on Iraq recently on the Larry King Show, Bush expressed disappointed with some of the intelligence that led to the war but still maintained that he acted to protect the nation. As Bush leaves office, he leaves behind not only a nation at war, but also a nation that failed to address some of the most important issues facing our world. By narrowly defining instigators as an "axis of evil," he postulated that complex issues could be decided by simplistic categorization. Bush never fully developed his foreign policy platform. He failed to engage other nations and dropped the ball with the Middle East peace process. His knowledge of international affairs was at best inept, the Bush Doctrine being his most important contribution to American foreign policy.

The Bush years also witnessed the rise of corporate scandals from Enron to WorldCom, the sub-prime mortgage meltdown, the near demise of the auto industry, and the highest unemployment rates since the Great Depression. Nonetheless, President Bush maintains that he gave his all. He does admit his mistakes as when he gave his farewell address, an address some networks were unwilling to broadcast in a ratings war. His farewell address coincided with the emergency landing of U.S. Airways Flight 1549 on the Hudson River. Even the print media snubbed coverage of his address the following day, scorning him till the end.

For all his short comings, Greenstein notes that Bush had as his forte the ability to engineer a vision. Unfortunately, his vision was tempered by poor intelligence that cost him dearly. Despite the criticisms of the Bush years, it's almost safe to say that Bush acted on the convictions of his Evangelical roots, a conviction he believed was founded on his faith in God. He was a good man, a great father, and a loving husband, but unequivocally failed at leadership. Hindsight always provides clarity and perhaps one day, history might be kinder to George Walker Bush.

A Day On, Not a Day Off

Today, we commemorate the 80th birthday of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. More than ever, this year's holiday will be remembered for a long time. The celebration today will give way to the Inauguration of the first African-American President of the United States, Barack Hussein Obama, a fulfillment in part of the famous speech Dr. King gave during the March on Washington. When Dr. King gave his famous "I Have a Dream Speech" over 45 years ago, I know for certain that his dream included Barack Obama.

His dream that one day all God's children would unite was so clearly shown in the way the country came together to elect Barack Obama. Like Barack, Dr. King's achievements were not borne in a vacuum. He stood on the shoulders of great men and women; Leo Tolstoy, Mahatma Gandhi, Rosa Parks, Abraham Lincoln, Henry David Thoreau, Alberta Wiliams King and many others. I am quite torn with emotion and this perhaps is the most difficult post I have written thus far. There's so much I want to write, however, I am not quite sure where to begin.

Dr. Martin Luther King touched my life in a very special way and I hope that one day I can also live the dream. I hope that I can one day walk in his shoes and live behind a legacy of a life devoted to the service of mankind. I realize that to be born with a heart such as Dr. King's is uncommon. Each time I visit the King Center in my hometown, Atlanta, I feel a connection to a man who made it possible for me an immigrant to participate in the American dream. For undoubtedly, had it not been for Dr. King, I will not be where I am today. I salute him for his service and I am assured beyond doubt that Dr. King did not die in vain.

We may never see that mountain top that Dr. King referenced, but I am convinced that every one through personal struggle and ensuing triumph has seen a mountain top of some sorts. For all the short comings we have as a people, hope springs eternal. Collectively, the human race will triumph. We will all one day see that promised land as we devote ourselves to altruism through service and love. Rather than become complacent, let's brace ourselves for the journey ahead. Barack's election is not the culmination of that great dream, but rather the beginning and the best is yet to come.

In the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., President-elect Barack Obama has designated today as a national day of service. To find ways to serve in your community please visit the UsaService webpage.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Presidential Pledge

In honor of the Presidential Inauguration, Ashton Kutcher, Jason Goldberg and MySpace Celebrity are teaming together to record videos of celebrities pledging their support to President-elect Barack Obama. Bringing their unique talents, the celebrities will pledge to bring visible change in the spirit of the Obama/Biden campaign. The videos which will be directed by Demi Moore will premiere on Monday, January 19, 2008 on MySpace Celebrity. Details of the videos will be posted as soon as the website is launched.

The Obama Express

Following in the footsteps of his hero, President-Elect Barack Obama has embarked on a 137-mile journey from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to to Washington D.C ., retracing the train ride Abaham Lincoln took to assume the Presidency in 1861. Lincoln's trip took 12 hours and he made 100 speeches along the way. Obama's trip is scheduled to last only a few hours and will include few speeches.

The President-elect is traveling onboard an Amtrak charter train with family and guests. Currently, train stations along the route are packed with supporters who may likely not catch a glimpse of the President-elect as he makes this historic journey. Children on the shoulders of their parents, and men and women from all over the world have packed out train stations just to catch a glimpse of the train. The train has made two stops, one in Wilmington, Delaware to pick up Joe Biden and his wife Jill and then another in Baltimore, Maryland.

As I watch this historic event unfold, I am once again enveloped by the same feelings from November 4, 2008 when Obama won the election. This definitely will be one of the most historic moments in my life. I can imagine what it most have felt like for those who witnessed the Million Man March, the March on Selma, or Dr. Kings' address in Washington, D.C. I am so thrilled to be a part of this historic moment in world history and even more elated that I had an opportunity to meet the man Barack Obama.

Happy Birthday Michelle Obama!

Incoming first lady Michelle LaVaughn Obama turns 45 today. I once read an article in a local magazine titled "How Many Miracles Does God Give in A Day," and for Michelle I can't help but wonder how many he gives in a week. This certainly will be the week of Michelle's life. When President Elect Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, history will be made not once but twice as Michelle will make history as the nation's first African-American first lady. Michelle undoubtedly will be bringing something special to the Obama White House.

She'll bring the sensitivity of a young mother of two charming girls, the intelligence of a Harvard educated lawyer, a style reminiscent of the Jackie O White House years, and the take no-prisoners approach of a former South side Chi town resident. More than these however, she'll be the great woman behind the man on whose shoulders so much will rest in the next four years and possibly eight. Michelle has proven herself to not only be comfortable in these roles but she has excelled both in public life and in private. She is wished much happiness and the courage to face the years ahead. Happy Birthday Michelle Obama!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sundance '09

The 2009 Sundance Festival kicked off yesterday in Park City, Utah. Committed to showcasing and supporting independent film, this year's lineup delivers an array of films that will appeal to most moviegoers. Movies premiering at the Festival this weekend include "Thriller in Manilla," a movie about the last fight between Joe Frazier and Mohammed Ali, that sealed the rivalry between the two. Other movies premiering at the Festival include the feature film "Taking Chance" starring Kevin Bacon who really does need this and other roles since falling victim to Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme. "Humpday," "Big River Man," "The Glass House," and "Lulu and Jimi" will be showcased today. Besides the movies listed, there are other really interesting documentaries, short films, and features making their great debut at the Festival which ends on January 25th. For more information and to join in the Sundance Experience, please visit Sundance Festival 2009.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's a Bird it's a Plane...

No, it's both. Today's events on the Hudson River will certainly change the way most airline passengers view birds, and of course flying. The next time you are up in the air and see a bird, the last thing you'll want to do is marvel at how clear your view is. Instead, you might want to make peace with God because there may be no Hudson River beneath for an uneventful emergency landing. You can curse those birds for flying too closely, but remember, we are intruders competing for the space that rightfully belongs to them. Humans were not designed to fly. We were designed to traverse the earth. It's our domain. I haven't seen a flock of eagles or bats trying to take over the freeways yet. So what business does man have choking up the domain of our feathered friends with loud engines and propellers? Arguably, man's desire for flight has been driven by needs, and wants. The need for pleasure, speed, military expedition, and sheer ingenuity has seen the journey of flight make the leap from mythological musing to rockets and fighter jets.

The fascination of humans with flight did not begin with the Wright brothers or Montgolfer. Man's fascination with flying can be traced back to pre-historic times. Ever since man saw insects and birds, there has been that nagging desire to ascend into the skies and glide gracefully. Almost every culture has toyed with the idea of flying and has tried to interpret their fantasies through religion and myths. Ancient deities in Egypt, Mesopotamia, and Asia Minor were often depicted as having wings. In ancient Hebrew, the cherubim and seraphim depicted on the Ark of the Covenant had wings. Biblical angels are also described as having wings. Even in most cultures, witches and other such dark forces are transported by flight. Some of the earliest records of flight can be found in Sanskrit text, which discuss "Rathas" vehicles which may have been designed for aerial flight. They were able to move at amazing speed with a three-person crew. Designed from gold, silver, and other precious metals, these vehicles had the capabilities of space travel.

Besides the preoccupation of Vedas with flight, other ancient civilizations also had their musings with flight. Mesopotamians were consumed by a desire for air travel. King Etana of Mesopotamia who lived around 2300 BC is depicted as flying on the back of an eagle. The founder of the Inca empire, as described in Inca mythology had wings and could fly. In the far East, the Chinese also made attempts at flight. Dating back from 2200BC the Chinese Emperor Shin is said to have made a successful attempt at flight wearing large straw hats as proxy for wings. In their relentless quest, the Chinese made one of the most successful inventions, the kite, that helped to illuminate the science behind flying. It is recorded that the ancient Chinese built kites similar to modern day parachutes that were used in actual flight. Several visitors to China including the Italian explorer Marco Polo reported seeing kites used in transportation. The Chinese also used the science behind kites and that of projectile motion to develop and launch rockets that were used in military expedition.

The importance of being able to fly was such that the Greek philosopher Plato said of flight, "the natural function of the wing is to soar upwards and carry that which is heavy up to the place where dwells the race of gods. More than any other thing that pertains to the body it partakes of the nature of the divine." Another great Greek philosopher Aristotle also had this to say about flight; "Man must rise above the Earth- to the top of the atmosphere and beyond- for only thus will he fully understand the world in which he lives." Man has certainly risen to the top of the earth and certainly has conquered many frontiers, however, the ability to fly has not entirely increased man's understanding of the world in which he lives. It can be argued though that the ability to fly has provided opportunities for travel and has opened man to new frontiers, most importantly space travel and the potential for exploring the vast universe. It has allowed man the opportunity to stretch his imagination and accomplish feats that were once thought impossible. Flight has also inspired awe for every time I board a plane, the laws of physics still don't quite add up.

So, with the amazing landing on the Hudson today my fascination is once again awakened. I marvel not only at the beauty of flight, but at how safe air travel is. The passengers on U.S. Airways Flight 1549 have a lot to be thankful for. They not only escaped death in a plane crash but also escaped another near Titanic like experience-death due to hypothermia. Hats off to the crew who managed to allay the fears of the passengers who must have been scared to death. Of course I couldn't close out this post without mentioning the pilot Chesley B. "Sully" Sullenberger for his courage in directing a phenomenal landing. Sullenberger, a safety consultant with 40 years experience in the aviation industry has been with U.S. Airways since 1980. So, the next time time a politician tries to tell you experience does not count remind them of Flight 1549. The passenger and crew however are not the only ones thankful for today's event. President Bush couldn't have been a more thankful man. He gave his farewell address to the nation today and if this was not the mother of all distractions then I don't know what else is.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Woman is Not a Potted Plant

A woman is not a potted plant
her roots bound
to the confines
of her house

a woman is not
a potted plant
her leaves trimmed
to the contours
of her sex

a woman is not
a potted plant
her branches
against the fences
of her race
her country
her mother
her man
her trained blossom
turning this way
to follow
the sun
of whoever feeds
and waters

a woman
is wilderness
holding the future
between each breath
walking the earth
only because
she is free
and not creeper vine
or tree

Nor even honeysuckle
or bee.

~Alice Walker

Monday, January 12, 2009

Golden Globe Awards

Last night at the Golden Globe Awards was full of a lot of surprises. From Kate Winslet taking home the Best Actress Award for the movie Revolutionary Road to Michael Rourke winning for best actor for his performance in The Wrestler it was quite an interesting night. Other winners included Sally Hawkins for her performance in Happy-Go-Lucky and Colin Farrell for In Bruges. The winner in the category for Best Foreign Film went to the Israeli picture Waltz with Bashir. The incomparable Tina Fey won the prize for Best Actress in a Television Series for the hysterical hit television show 30 Rock. Miss Fey's award was one of three for 30 Rock last night. Alec Baldwin won the award for best actor in a television series and the ultimate award for Best Television Series went to 30 Rock.

Tina Fey is one of the funniest women alive and 30 Rock is not only a great show but is the the show other reality shows should aspire to (note to those other reality shows). The cast is phenomenal and the acting is fresh. Predictably, the best speech of the night came from 30 Rock co-star, Tracy Morgan who noted that he is now the new voice of the show and also the the voice of post-racial America, following the Obama win, "So deal with it Cate Blanchett," he yelled. A huge upset at the awards came in the Best Original Song Category. The award went to Bruce Springsteen for The Wrestler, a sore loss for Gran Torino. A posthumous award went to Heath Ledger for his role in Dark Knight. This is one award that was by no means a pity award. If Heath were still alive I believe he'd have won either way. The night however belonged to Slumdog Millionaire, winning the awards for Best Original Score, Best Screenplay, Best Director, and Best Motion Picture.

Each year since 1952, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, the organization responsible for the Golden Globe, has presented the Cecil B. DeMille Award for outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment. The first recipient of the award was Cecil B. DeMille himself in 1952 for his epic film, "The Greatest Show on Earth." Since then, other recipients have included, Sidney Poitier, Sophia Loren, Sean Connery, and other talented entertainers. This year's Award went to Steven Spielberg who credited DeMille's movie for inspiring him to pursue a career in film, after seeing the movie whilst still a six year old lad. Visionary and daring do not even begin to describe Mr. Spielberg. From E.T. to Jurassic Park to Catch Me If You Can, and most importantly Schindler's List, Spielberg has changed the way we make movies.

In his acceptance speech, the ever so articulate Spielberg talked about the benefit of being mentored. He also mentioned something really important; for every movie he has made that was daring, he always asked himself, "Can I get away with this?" He noted that he used his level of anxiety over a movie not resonating with the public -because it was too visionary - as a tool to gauge if it was worth his investment. Thankfully, more times than can be counted, his bold efforts have been rewarded by phenomenal numbers at the box office. All the winners last night deserved their awards and a heartfelt kudos to them all and their work. Now that the organized ruckus called the Golden Globes are over, it's on to the mother of all Award shows; the Academy Awards which airs on February 22 on ABC primetime.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Indictment, Impeachment and the Corruption Element

It took me a while to decide on the title for this post. "A New Frontier in American Politics," was the closest contender but alas I did not go for it. It is only the second week in the year, and already Illinois State governor Rod Blagojevich has been impeached. Blagojevich is not the only public official to get the axe this week, Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon was also indicted. Neither of the events come as a surprise though. It was pretty obvious that sooner or later Blagojevich would be impeached, and as for Mayor Dixon, reports of her illegal activities made headlines in a very prominent magazine late last year. The wave of corruption and scandal that have hit the news media over the past twelve months leaves a lot to be desired from elected public officials. It seems like no official is immune from getting caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Even for those who manage to escape, a trail of crumbs often serves as incriminating evidence.

Corruption in government is quite common. It's a fundamental employed by almost every government. Most governments like to believe they operate on principles of diplomacy, but the argument can be made that clandestine agreements are the bedrock of what we call diplomacy. Diplomacy is certainly not all about shaking hands and signing treaties. There's a lot more to the art of conversing behind closed doors. Deals are struck and bargains are made. The rule of the game is reciprocity. The hand shake comes after each party feels they have gotten more than should be legally allowed, but is that really ever the case? Unquestionably, there is a time and a place for such but to what extent should such bargaining methods be employed? Further, should such bargaining be used as tools when doing so is outrightly criminal? We like to think of the United States as a democracy hence it's only a given that bargaining be employed in most decision making. As a result, the players in the pool can range from small town mayors to big city council women. They all have something to offer and they expect payoffs in return. So, with Senate seats to be filled and construction projects looming, there's a lot to work with. However, Blagojevich and Dixon did not invent corruption in American government.

Corruption in the United States dates back to the era before the Revolution, and it has been argued that most of the rhetoric in the Federal Constitution of 1787 was inspired by anti-corruption sentiments. From the time the first colonists landed on the shores of this nation, there have been opportunities for illegal activities, opportunities which still abound. From the Bureau of Indian Affairs down to Halliburton to Jack Abramoff, illegal activities have flourished. Unfortunately, almost every facet in the American government is riddled with corruption, including the way we select our leaders. There's been no bigger scandal in American politics than there was in the 2000 Presidential elections when all sorts of mishaps in Florida put George W. Bush in office. However, George W. did not set the precedent for electoral fraud. The 1876 contest between Ohio Republican Governor Rutherford B. Hayes and Democratic New York Governor Samuel Tilden still goes down in the records as the most corrupt United States Presidential Election ever. Although Tilden won the election by 265,000 more popular votes, he still lost to Hayes who had the support of the Republican governed southern states. Following an impasse that lasted four months and at times erupted in violence in the nation's capital the Electoral College decided in favor of Hayes in what was regarded as the greatest fraud of the century.

Subsequently, there have been several attempts at reform, beginning with the Pendleton Act of 1883. The Pendleton Act was created after the assassination of President James Garfield by a disgruntled job seeker. The Act required that Federal Government jobs be awarded through merit and that employees be selected after competitive exams. The Pendleton Act transformed American Civil Service which until that point had been riddled by uncontrolled corruption. Following on the heels of the Pendleton Act were the Tillman Act of 1907, The Federal Regulation of Lobbying Act, the Federal Election Campaign Act, the Federal Corruption Practices Act of 1977 after the Watergate Scandal (I'll avoid this can of worms), the Ethics in Government Act of 1978 and several other pieces of legislature all aimed at controlling corruption.

Nonetheless, corruption has and still continues to pervade the fabric of American democracy. Despite legislature, corruption is still common place in the United States calling into question the fundamentals of American Democracy. If this is what democracy is all about I wonder why there is such a desire to spread it to the rest of the world. Like I will always argue, democracy is home grown. The United States democracy is what it is today because it has been nurtured by a style of corruption that only thrives on American soil. There is a lot of brown nosing, bribery and illegal lobbying that have helped shape it. From the colonists down to small town mayors in Wasilla, Alaska corruption is the golden thread in the American fabric. So, it's time to stop pointing fingers at developing nations and attempting to punish them for being corrupt. If African and other politicians choose to stash their loot away in foreign banks, then so be it. Maybe that's just their style just like it's the American style to have your brother as governor in a key state where the votes go awry. It's all corruption at the end of the day but what differs is how it is executed.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Inaugural Parade Tickets

Tickets to the Inaugural Parade went on sale today at 1:00pm EST. The Parade will be held at Constitution and Pennsylvania Avenue in the nation's capital and will feature over 90 musical, cultural and community groups along with representatives from the Unites States Armed Forces. There are 5,000 tickets available, but there is a limit of 4 tickets per person. Further the tickets are being sold on a first come first serve basis through TicketMaster for $25. To purchase tickets, please visit: