Thursday, December 29, 2011

It's sobering reality how many revelers will ring in New Year for last time as holiday drunk driving takes its deadly toll





Momentum is building for the last blast of the 2011 holiday season, but not everyone should count on awakening safe and sound in their own beds with the traditional celebratory hangover on New Year's Day.

The more fortunate partygoers will find themselves on an old friend’s sofa, in bed with a new friend or even in a jail cell with a bunch of strangers. But the less lucky won’t be waking up at all because they will have become a part of the year’s impaired driving fatality statistics.

That’s why U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said he kicked off a nationwide crackdown on impaired driving on Dec. 13 in an attempt to remind Americans they risk killing others or themselves if they get behind the wheel drunk or stoned.

Impaired driving fatality statistics for 2010 released by the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed a decrease in many states in comparison to the previous year, but 10,228 or one-third of the fatalities on American highways still involved intoxication.

The fatality statistics spiked during the second half of December when drinking traditionally becomes more prevalent because of holiday parties. The U.S. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism reported that 40 percent of traffic deaths during the Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays involved drunk driving.

The risk increases during the holidays because it is a time when many people uncharacteristically drink to excess and take on one of the characteristics of what is known as hardcore drunk driving.

Hardcore drunk driving refers to anyone who gets behind the wheel with a blood alcohol account of 0.15 or above, does so repeatedly and is resistant to changing that behavior. For the past decade, fatality statistics show that 70 percent of impaired drivers responsible for the deaths had a blood alcohol account of 0.15 or higher.

It is an issue of particular concern to the LGBT community because many studies have shown a high incidence of alcohol and drug abuse among its members.

In connection with the national anti-drunk driving campaign that carries the slogan, “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over,” alcohol awareness educators are warning revelers to understand how beer, wine and liquor affect the human body. Many occasional and frequent drinkers apparently harbor misconceptions about the effects of alcohol.

Alcohol impairs coordination, driving skills, reflex time and judgment long before the drinker or anyone else notices signs of intoxication, and it can spark aggression that makes the driver more dangerous on the road. 

Even after an individual quits drinking, alcohol in the stomach continues to enter the bloodstream and affect the brain for hours afterward. Coffee or other caffeine drinks do not reduce the effects of alcohol and do not make the impaired driver any safer. Only time can counteract the detrimental effects of alcohol.

Educators advise party goers to take a cab or to designate someone to drive who will not have any alcohol to drink. Otherwise, anyone planning to get behind the wheel should not have any more than one alcoholic drink per hour, and it would be a good idea for every other drink to be nonalcoholic.

No one should rely on someone else to monitor and take care of then on New Year’s Eve or any other holiday party. No matter whether the reveler is at a private party or a nightclub, the person in charge may be far too busy to notice the drinker is impaired.

The bottom line is that many citizens who typically would not dream of breaking the law risk doing exactly that if they drink to excess and try to drive themselves home. The legal limit is 0.08 in most states these days, and that only amounts to two or three drinks for many people.

Others who have problems with alcohol and other drugs should seek help before they get behind the wheel again and risk the lives of themselves and others. It could be time to go seek the help of the folks at Alcoholics Anonymous.

Anyone who drives drunk this New Year’s Eve risks getting arrested, being jailed, bonding out of jail, hiring a lawyer, going to court, possibly going back to jail, serving probation and making huge financial expenditures. It is estimated that a drunk driving charges costs about $20,000 when all of the expenses – including increased insurance costs – are tallied.

That is the risk if the drunk driver is lucky and doesn’t have an accident resulting in an injury or fatality. In a worst-case scenario, there will never be an end in sight to the anguish and devastation affecting everyone involved.

That’s cause enough not to ever get behind the wheel in the first place.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gay author, activist Glen Maxey on road promoting his book about Rick Perry's alleged secret homosexual life


Life is changing quickly for gay former Texas Rep. Glen Maxey since the publication last week of his memoir chronicling a five-month investigation of Republican presidential contender Rick Perry’s alleged homosexual liaisons with a subordinate, steady boyfriends, anonymous sex partners, a hustler and reportedly anyone else he could coax into a horizontal position.

Prior to the book’s debut Maxey, who became a gay activist after leaving politics, had stocked his Austin apartment with food and other supplies anticipating a period of time when he might want to stay out of sight. But after his expose attracted national media attention and outrage by conservative religious supporters of Perry he decided to go further underground.

“Got some death threats of the crank level, but have moved to a safe house until it calms down,” Maxey said in a message via Facebook following a telephone interview a few days earlier.

Maxey, who is the only openly gay politician to have ever served in the Texas Legislature, sent the message as he prepared for a Univision morning interview and a KLBJ drive-time radio interview that afternoon.

The “calm before the storm” that Maxey had talked about in the telephone interview apparently has erupted into a major disturbance, and he is now planning personal appearances to sell and autograph the book. He has already sold a good number of the $19.95  paperback books at book-signings in Austin and Dallas.

“Head Figure Head – The Search for the Hidden Life of Rick Perry” is the product of Maxey’s work with The Huffington Post reporter Jason Cherkis and the frustration he felt when publisher Arianna Huffington killed what the former legislator claims was a completed story approved by editors and ready for publication.

When it became clear the story would never be published, Maxey started writing his book.
In his book Maxey does not name any of the sources he cites who claim knowledge of Perry’s alleged sexual escapades, nor the Huffington Post reporter, whom he refers to only as the national journalist. The book was at first only available online, but now is also available as a paperback through Amazon.com.

Maxey said other publications were interested in talking to him and his sources about the allegations of extramarital homosexual pursuits by Perry, but both he and the men who claimed to know the governor in the biblical sense were reluctant to start over with a new reporter.

 “That was a mountain I couldn’t climb again, and the other folks had the same reaction,” Maxey said. “It’s difficult to get people to talk about sex in general, it’s more difficult to get them to tell their story to a reporter, and it’s an even bigger climb when it’s Rick Perry they are talking about.”

Maxey disputes Huffington’s claim to POLITICO.com that the story was never ready for publication, and that there was no real story. The activist claims the publisher killed the story after Perry’s campaign hired famed libel lawyer Lin Wood, and the lawyer wrote a letter to the Huffington Post threatening to sue if the story was published. Huffington denied that the lawyer’s letter had anything to do with her decision.
“Arianna Huffington told a bald-faced lie,” Maxey said.

No response has been received to an e-mail sent to Huffington Post’s media relations department seeking comment on Maxey’s claim.

Maxey concedes a high-priced call boy who claimed to have engaged in sex with Perry and another man for hire in hotel rooms several times never went on the record, even though celebrity attorney Gloria Allred reportedly was signed on to represent him when the story hit. An affidavit signed by the prostitute – whom Maxey said was feeling “traumatized” by the prospect of going public with his allegations -- might have convinced Huffington to go with the story, but the activist maintained there was already enough documentation to justify publication.

Maxey claimed Huffington exercised a “double standard” when she decided against publication of the Perry story, probably on the advice of AOL parent company corporate attorneys. If the story had involved extramarital heterosexual activities, the story would have run, he claimed.

In late August the Huffington Post reporter, who made several trips to Austin and had contacted gay journalists for information earlier in the investigation, wrote in an e-mail seeking clarification that he was putting finishing touches on the story before it ran.

Some political observers have speculated Perry’s drastic drop in the national opinion polls from frontrunner status might have contributed to Huffington’s decision to kill the story.

Another source familiar with the investigation said it appeared the publisher -- for reasons only she knows -- was never interested in outing Perry, and the story will never be published. The Huffington Post scribe reportedly indicated he had no problem with Maxey’s book, and that he thought Maxey needed to write it.
For his part, Maxey said that he is not worried about Gov. Perry filing a lawsuit against him, and he doubts anyone from Perry’s camp will ever contact him. The former legislator also doubts that he would lose a lawsuit if Perry filed one against him.

“Everything I said in this book is my opinion,” Maxey said. “I believe Rick Perry is homosexual or had relations with gay men. The evidence points to that conclusion.”

Maxey said it is unlikely Perry would file a lawsuit against him because if he did the governor and his wife, Anita, would be forced to answer questions under oath about the widespread rumor that she caught Perry and another man having sex in the governor’s mansion six years ago.

At the time, a story was widely circulated that the governor’s wife had checked into the luxurious Driskill Hotel in Austin and hired a prominent divorce attorney. The story became so widespread that Perry and his wife – who typically avoid one-on-one media interviews -- sat down with an Austin American Statesman reporter to refute the tale.

“If Perry was bold or stupid enough to file any action against me, my lawyers would welcome the opportunity,” Maxey said. “I don’t think Perry would take that risk.”

There has been no response to a telephone request for comment from the Rick Perry Campaign.

Maxey said that although he is gaining widespread attention for the book, his only motive in writing it was to expose the alleged hypocrisy of Gov. Perry, who is recognized as the most virulently outspoken anti-gay governor to ever hold office in Texas. The governor’s claim to conservative religious leaders after he announced for the presidency in August that there was nothing in his personal background to embarrass them rankled him, the activist said.

“How amazingly hypocritical he was claiming there would be no scandal,” Maxey said. “It was astonishing to me. That was the impetus for writing the book.”

Maxey said at the time he wrote the book there were only a dozen men known who had claimed to have had sex with Perry. Now, there are twice that many, and new tips come in daily, he said.

“I went into publishing this with no real expectations,” Maxey said. “The story may get retold in a more comprehensive way, and people can make their own decisions about it. I think the rest of this will play out in the public discussion.”

Maxey said one thing is for certain. Perry will be a bigger enemy to the state’s LGBT community than he ever has before if his bid for the presidency continues on its failure track and he returns to Texas, he said. The activist said he wouldn’t be surprised if Perry attempted to call the Texas Legislature into emergency session on an anti-LGBT initiative to pacify his conservative religious supporters.

“When you see a snake in the grass you chop off its head,” Maxey said. “I believe this snake is coming back to Texas. He is going to be a meaner snake. He will have something to prove. He will take it out on gay people.”

And that threat is likely to keep Maxey, the author and the activist, busy on his anti-Perry campaign for a very long time.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hateful bigotry of Perry campaign surpassed only by its asininity; latest strategy smacks of utter desperation


Just when I thought the 2012 Rick Perry for President Campaign couldn’t get any nuttier, guess what? Yep, it managed to get sillier with the release of Gov. Perry’s campaign video attacking openly gay and lesbian members of the U.S. Armed Services.

Never mind that in the video dubbed “Strong” Perry is wearing the same type of tan Carhartt ranch coat actor Heath Ledger wore in the gay romance movie “Brokeback Mountain,” and that the video’s musical score was inspired by gay American composer Aaron Copland. The message is ridiculous, and the video’s distinction of registering  what some are calling the most “dislikes” ever for a YouTube video (646,000 dislikes to 20,000 likes) is probably attributable as much to its asininity as its hateful bigotry.

Facing the camera against a wooded backdrop that conjures images of the big gay movie’s outdoor scenes, Perry declares that he is not “ashamed to admit” he is a Christian. “You don’t need to be in the pew every Sunday to know that something is wrong when gays can serve openly in the military, but our kids can’t openly celebrate Christmas and pray in schools.”

Perry adds that as president he would “end Obama’s war on religion” and “fight against liberal attacks on our religious heritage.”

Aside from the imagery and the music of the video making Perry and his campaign staff again look like fools, the idea that openly gay and lesbian members of the military somehow undermine Christianity is ludicrous. Or are children supposed to resent gay and lesbian soldiers because they get to go off and fight wars while they are stuck at school unable to pray out loud?

I doubt that it will come as a shock to Perry, his staff, the voting public or even school children that there are openly gay and lesbian people working in every level of local, state and federal government and private business -- even churches -- without harm to Christianity. Yet for some reason they expect everyone to swallow the notion that openly gay and lesbian members of the military will put the nation under the control of pagans.

What about openly gay and lesbian soldiers who observe Christianity by going to church, reading their Bibles and praying? Are they to be the demise of their own religion?

And do U.S. citizens who are Jewish or members of other faiths matter at all to Perry and his campaign staff? Under the Perry plan are those children to be indoctrinated into Christianity?

As to Perry’s promise in the video’s closing, it would be news to everybody if it were learned President Obama had declared a war on religion. Those laws regulating Christmas displays and school prayer were put in motion decades ago, a long time before Obama ever thought about running for political office. Open prayer in school was banned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1962 when Perry was in grade school. Surely he remembers.

Ultimately, I can’t imagine many people viewing the overturn of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” which was supported by a majority of the American public, enacted by Congress and signed into law by Obama, as an assault on Christianity.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said this week that Obama is probably not aware of the Perry campaign video, but he added that the president is proud of his support LGBT issues.

The video looks like evidence of the Perry campaign’s desperation following the governor’s disintegration in national polls since his announcement in August he would run for president. Perry dropped from a double-digit front leader status to 5 percent following a series of debate missteps and disastrous public appearances that showed him to be outmatched on the debate stage by every other Republican in the campaign.

A new American Research Poll shows Perry now has 13 percentage points in Iowa, the first primary state. But he still is in back of the pack, far behind Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul.

Regardless of where Perry goes in the polls, I’m confident he will again sabotage himself in some manner, unless he has an undercover gay or lesbian person on his campaign staff doing it for him. 

Oddly enough, it was revealed just this week that Tony Fabrizio, a nationally known GOP campaign consultant  who was outed by GOProud executive director Jimmy LaSalvia, has played a key role in Perry’s campaign. Later, it was claimed that Fabrizio had sent an e-mail calling the ad nuts.

But aside from the obvious aspect of Fabrizio being a traitor who apparently has sacrificed the LGBT community to make a few bucks for himself, he doesn’t appear to have been using his expertise as a gay man to help Perry navigate difficult waters.

Who will ever forget the image of Perry deep throating a corn dog at an Iowa state fair while Romney graciously nibbled on his? What were they thinking when they handed a corn dog to Perry, who has been fighting rumors that he is secretly gay for years?

In fact, a common question today is, “How did he ever go so far in Texas politics?”

There is only one group of people – other than personal friends, relatives and other beneficiaries of the governor’s influence as an elected official – to whom Perry still appeals. That is conservative Christians who put their religious beliefs ahead of every other consideration, regardless of whose rights get trampled upon in the process.

No wonder Perry released such a video and continues to offer it on his campaign Website, but I don’t think there are enough of them to vote him into office. With the release of gay former Texas legislator Glen Maxey's book "Head Figure Head" this week detailing an investigation of Perry's alleged secret homosexual life, he might also lose a lot of that base.

Many people who started off supporting Perry have now fled from his camp, saying that his performance as a presidential candidate has brought about a national embarrassment.  The worst part of it is that there is no telling what Perry and his campaign will do next. But it’s bound to be a dilly.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Suicide data shatters myths but statistics still staggering



                                 In Memory of Water Felker, June 7, 1949 - Nov. 9, 2010,
                                 pictured with his beloved mother Mattie Muriel Felker on a
                                 cruise during the Christmas holidays.


One of the biggest myths about suicide apparently is that people are more likely to kill themselves during the Christmas holidays. That’s what I had always thought, but now I know I was misinformed about that and much more related to suicide.

It turns out the month of December actually has the lowest number of suicides during the year, and spring and fall months have the highest incidence, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It is speculated that people who might be suicidal think less about killing themselves during the holidays because increased social activity distracts them from their thoughts.

The federal agency recently released the results of its study of suicidal thoughts and behavior in adults for the years 2008-2009. The report, which reveals that someone kills themself every 15 minutes in the United States, provides some interesting statistics about suicidal thought. It is the first report to present such data state by state.

One of the more interesting findings of the study is that suicidal thought and behavior vary widely from state to state. About 2.2 million adults – representing 1 percent of the nation’s adult population – acknowledged making plans in the study year to commit suicide, ranging from .01 percent of that number living in Georgia to 2.8 percent in Rhode Island. About 1 million adults reported attempting suicide, ranging from .01 percent in Delaware and Georgia to 1.5 percent in Rhode Island.

The report’s researchers concluded that adults in the Midwest and West were more likely to think about suicide than those in the Northeast and South. Adults in the Midwest were more likely to make plans to commit suicide than those in the South, but suicide attempts did not vary by the four regions.

The variance among the states’ statistics is peculiar, but suicide statistics in general seem to be perplexing. As in the case of loved ones who are often left wondering why victims killed themselves, researchers must try to make sense of the data the victims’ deaths leave behind.

The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention reports that four men commit suicide for every woman who kills herself, as was reflected in the 2008 statistics when 28,450 men succeeded in killing themselves compared to 7,585 women. Yet women reportedly attempt suicide three times as often as men.

By age, suicide is the sixth leading cause of death for children 5 to 14 years old, and it is the third leading cause of death for people 15 to 24 years old. Rates of suicide among adult men rise with advancing age, and men 65 and older are seven times more likely than women to commit suicide. Women are most likely to commit suicide between the ages of 45 to 54, and then again after age 75.

By ethnic groups and race, the highest rates are seen among Native Americans, Alaskan Americans and Anglos. The lowest rates are seen among Latinos and African Americans who commit suicide at rates of less than half of what is seen in the other groups.

People diagnosed with AIDS are 20 times more likely to commit suicide, according to the foundation.

Among LGBT people the reports of suicide attempts are significantly higher in comparison to straight people in similar socio-economic and age groups, according to the report “Talking About Suicide and LGBT Populations.” The report published by the 2011 Movement Advancement Project notes that statistical information about suicides among LGBT people is scarce.

Indeed, most of the statistics about suicidal behavior and suicide seem to create more questions than they facilitate understanding, but researchers have identified certain constants. People who kill themselves are most likely to use a firearm in the process, their deaths are likely to occur after they have made an average of 11 previous suicide attempts, they might suffer from major depression, they may abuse alcohol and other drugs and they could be victims of bullying, physical abuse or sexual abuse.

There are preventive measures that can be taken if someone is in crisis and at risk of suicide, and it is a good idea to be prepared for such an event. The strongest indicator of a suicide risk is a previous attempt or ongoing expressions of intense distress and despair. Those people must never be left alone, and they should immediately be afforded mental health treatment.

Psychotherapy has helped people who are at risk of suicide survive, and alcohol and drug abuse treatment can succeed in saving lives that seemed destined for destruction.

And even though it turns out the holidays are not a time when people are most at risk for planning or attempting suicide, the myth has created an opportunity to raise awareness about a preventable tragedy for both the potential victims and their loved ones. After all, there often are no second chances when it comes to a risk of suicide.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Openly gay Congressman Barney Frank opened door for other LGBT politicians when he came out in 1987



Openly gay U.S. Congressman Barney Frank’s monumental contribution to the LGBT rights movement will one day be honored in the collection of unique individuals and events that makes up every American history book.

Frank, 71, may no longer be alive to see that day arrive, but as sure as God made little apples, it’s coming. That’s because the LGBT rights movement has become an unstoppable force under the guidance of the testy congressman and the scores of other openly gay and lesbian politicians who have joined him over the years in public office at every level of local, state and national government.

Now that Frank, a Democrat, has announced he will retire in 2012 and not seek re-election to the congressional office he has held since 1981, it is time to start putting his contributions to the American human rights movement in perspective.

Most LGBT rights activists agree the single most important measure in achieving success requires securing a place at the table where law is being made, and Frank accomplished that at the highest level a quarter-century ago when he publicly came out.

At the time Frank came out he had already served in Congress for six years, and it surely was no surprise to his colleagues, friends and families to learn about his sexual orientation. But the same could not be said for the majority of the American public which still viewed homosexuality as quirky at best.

Even many LGBT people were unsure in 1987 about what to make of a congressman coming out as gay and thought it would likely be the end of his political career, which he began in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1973.

Probably to the shock of some Frank continued to gain respect in Congress, and he now is viewed as one of the smartest, wittiest and most eloquent politicians in Washington, D.C.

Frank achieved success and gained admiration from his peers, the media, his constituents and others even after being enveloped in a scandal in 1989 that nearly wrecked his career. It was learned that year Frank had an affair with a male prostitute, whom the congressman had allowed to move into his home.

Frank was investigated by the House Ethics Commission at his own request, and it ruled after a 10-month inquiry that the congressman had not been aware the live-in prostitute had continued to practice his trade from the household. It did recommend Frank be reprimanded for using his position as a congressman to get favors for his prostitute boyfriend.

In the height of irony, Frank survived an attempt by former Republican Idaho Congressman Larry Craig to remove him from office. Craig, who was elected in 1991 to the Senate for Idaho, made news in 2007 for attempting to solicit sex from an undercover male vice squad officer in a Minneapolis-St.Paul International Airport restroom.

Craig, who plead guilty to the charge but made laughable excuses about his predicament in an attempt to claim his innocence, did not run for re-election the following year. On the other hand, Frank went on after his scandal to win every following election by a wide margin.

At the time Frank came out as gay there was not much more than a handful of openly gay politicians in the nation, if that many. As Frank’s fortunes rose so did those of other politicians in the LGBT community, and today there are openly gay and lesbian people serving in a wide variety of major elected offices.

In the last election in November, the Victory Fund saw 53 of the 75 openly gay and lesbian candidates it had endorsed elected to office, including Mayor Annise Parker of Houston, State Sen. Adam Ebbin of Virginia and State Assemblyman Tim Eustace of New Jersey.

 As Frank retires from public office, he leaves behind in Congress Rep. Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado and Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who also are Democrats.

No openly gay or lesbian member of Congress has ever been elected on the Republican Party ticket, although there have been a number of gay Republicans who have served from the closet. And more than one has been exposed for their hypocrisy as a result of a scandal, something Frank wisely avoided.

Frank’s legacy will be that he broke ground in American politics, inspiring other openly gay and lesbian people to seek and win elected office at every level.  That has resulted in the type of political gains that many people who have been around since the start of the gay rights movement in 1969 never thought they would see, regardless of how Frank might be viewed on some other issues.

Considering what has happened in the past four decades, it is conceivable that one day an openly gay or lesbian politician could be elected to any office, including the U.S. Senate or even higher.  That’s a thought that probably never even occurred to Frank back in 1987.