Well, I am even more out of the loop than usual. I have just come back to Memphis having had the privilege of accompanying 15 Stax Music Academy high school students on their Summer Soul Tour Presented by FedEx to Australia and I have not seen one American television show or news broadcast and I have not picked up one American newspaper in two weeks. I can't tell you how thrilled I am — or was. I'm thrilled on a lot of different levels, the main one being the time I spent with these kids on another continent. For most of them, it was the first time they had ever flown on an airplane, seen the ocean, and been to a different country. They performed for a great number of American and Australian diplomats, the general Australian public, youth groups, high schools, children's hospitals, and child refugees from around the world. The trip turned out to be nothing short of a peacekeeping mission. We stood at the site of the first Aboriginal settlement at Botany Bay on the outskirts of Sydney with the most active Aboriginal activist in Australia, who told the students — and us adults — about how the native people of Australia had been conquered and almost removed from the world by white explorers and settlers and how deeply touched he was to see such a large group of African Americans from the United States visiting his country. His name was Vic and he was one of the sweetest people I have ever met. On the flip side of the coin, we had "tea" at the United States embassy in Australia's capital city of Canberra, hosted by Ambassador Robert McCallum and his wife, Mimi, who told the students that the embassy was "their house" and that they — the ambassadors — were just temporary residents. You might or might not know that the McCallums are native Memphians and their generosity with our students was overwhelming. I have a feeling that none of the students will forget all this for a very long time. As for the Australians with whom we interacted on a daily basis — including some at-risk teens of Aboriginal descent, government workers, hotel employees, restaurant workers, bus drivers, young hospital patients and their parents, shop owners, and countless others — we couldn't have invented nicer people in our minds. It was a far cry from the first few days of our trip, when I had to de-board a plane in Los Angeles with a student who had become too ill to fly. If you ever hear any of the Washington talking heads mention the "progress" we have made in the "war on terror," crane your arm back with a rotten tomato in your hand and think about throwing it at them. Don't do it, of course. But just scream three letters at them or the television screen on which they are appearing: "L-A-X." Yes, Los Angeles International Airport. Spend one minute in that scum pit and you'll realize we lost the war on terror a long, long time ago, because anyone trying to travel through that place is instantly dehumanized to the point of wanting to never travel again. And it wasn't always that way. I can remember flying to and from there before 9/11, before we had our national paranoid breakdown of common sense and could actually fly with a tube of shampoo and weren't considered potential murderers for doing so, and it wasn't that bad. And to all of the lemming-like people who think taking a dehydrated girl's half-full bottle of water from her backpack in the security checkpoint line is good for Americans because "it keeps us safer from terrorism," go ahead and vote for another candidate who shares the same ideals as George W. Bush and see how the rest of the world reacts. And that leads me to this point, which should come as no surprise: If we don't elect Barack Obama as the next president of the United States, we might as well shut down all of the airports and stop traveling abroad because no one, NO ONE, will want to see us. His name came up in almost every conversation as the last chance the United States has to redeem itself from the reputation it has gained over the past seven-plus years. It's the same with everyone in every civilized corner of the world outside the U.S. A few sentences back, I mentioned that I am thrilled — or was — to have been spared the onslaught of news from here. And then I read that Jesse Helms passed away on July 4th and read some of the commentaries in the U.S. media, most of which extolled his virtues as a patriotic American who had served his country well. Not to kick a dead dog in the head, but please give me a well-deserved break. The man hated blacks, gays, Jews, and anyone who ever had one single progressive thought. He was the embodiment of everything wrong with the United States government. Barack Obama might not be perfect, but all you need to do to understand how much we need him in the office of president here is to travel to a different country. That is, if you care at all about how we are viewed outside our own little republic.