What’s really been neglected in the Pledge of Allegiance

Over the weekend NBC began its coverage of the final round of the U.S. Open with a rendition of the Pledge of Allegiance. Omitted, apparently, was the phrase “under God.”

After an online firestorm, NBC issued an apology, which read, in part:

“Regrettably, a portion of the Pledge of Allegiance that was in that feature was edited out. It was not done to upset anyone, and we’d like to apologize to those of you who were offended by it.”

Fair enough.

The phrase “under God” was not in the original version of the pledge, which was written in 1892 and adopted by Congress as the national pledge in 1942, not long after the United States became involved in World War II.

The “under God” was added in 1954, the same year Congress enacted the Communist Control Act amid virulent McCarthyism. Sadly, that manic atmosphere has reemerged, with all its hatred, fear, and divisiveness.

Lost now, as then, is the more important original language into which “under God” was inserted: “and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

I never knew nor recited the pledge without “under God,” but those last seven words — “indivisible, with liberty and justice for all” — are the ones that have stuck with me.  I wish more Americans would express outrage that these concepts and precepts have been willfully and aggressively violated by so many for so long.






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Late Winter

I crave a thunderstorm.

Weeks and weeks and months of snow-thaw-slush-freeze,

Salt and shovel cabin fever, too-sharp sun,

Tailgaters, white knuckles,

Back-breaking snowthrowing spade-wielding salting.

“Global cooling?” chortle the drooling doubters.

Huddling under down, watching each step.

Who might slip, and fracture, and sue?

More salting. And more, more, more, more damn salting.

I long for the lightning’s rip,

The seconds-delayed crash,

The light patter, the crescendo rush,

The aromatic symphony

Of drenched mulch and steamy asphalt.

An assault; a caress.

I’m a winter being, but

Good Lord, how

I crave a thunderstorm.

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Celebrations of light amid the darkness

December is a time of observances many religious, some secular.

When daylight grows short, we opt to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

Years ago, I was touched and honored when a friend asked me to light the candle on his family’s menorah one December evening. Candles are featured in the celebration of Kwanzaa, as well, of course. And for centuries, candles burned on Christmas trees. We’ve found safer alternatives, fortunately, but candles flickering on mantels and in frosted windows are part of this season of lights and love.

The solstice is a turning point, one marked for centuries. As we head into the dormancy of winter, the days grow colder, but the daylight starts to lengthen and we head toward rebirth.

The life that seems to have ended rests, waiting to renew itself with a few turns of the calendar and a gradual and welcome warming.

“Out, out, brief candle,” Shakespeare wrote in describing life’s inevitable conclusion. Some candles burn anything but briefly. Like the lamp that burned in the Temple for eight nights with only one night’s supply of oil, they endure. They glow within us, brightly and warmly, long after the flame is quenched.

Sleep in heavenly peace, Annie.

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‘I have a dream’: Dr. King’s speech, Aug. 28. 1963


http://www.americanrhetoric.com/speeches/mlkihaveadream.htm (for image and video)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon light of hope to millions of Negro slaves who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.

But one hundred years later, the Negro still is not free. One hundred years later, the life of the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination. One hundred years later, the Negro lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the Negro is still languished in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land. And so we’ve come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we’ve come to our nation’s capital to cash a check. When the architects of our republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir. This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the “unalienable Rights” of “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note, insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given the Negro people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. And so, we’ve come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and the security of justice.

We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment. This sweltering summer of the Negro’s legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end, but a beginning. And those who hope that the Negro needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual. And there will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the Negro is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

But there is something that I must say to my people, who stand on the warm threshold which leads into the palace of justice: In the process of gaining our rightful place, we must not be guilty of wrongful deeds. Let us not seek to satisfy our thirst for freedom by drinking from the cup of bitterness and hatred. We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow our creative protest to degenerate into physical violence. Again and again, we must rise to the majestic heights of meeting physical force with soul force.

The marvelous new militancy which has engulfed the Negro community must not lead us to a distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny. And they have come to realize that their freedom is inextricably bound to our freedom.

We cannot walk alone.

And as we walk, we must make the pledge that we shall always march ahead.

We cannot turn back.

There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, “When will you be satisfied?” We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality. We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities. We cannot be satisfied as long as the negro’s basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one. We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their self-hood and robbed of their dignity by signs stating: “For Whites Only.” We cannot be satisfied as long as a Negro in Mississippi cannot vote and a Negro in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote. No, no, we are not satisfied, and we will not be satisfied until “justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.”¹

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of great trials and tribulations. Some of you have come fresh from narrow jail cells. And some of you have come from areas where your quest — quest for freedom left you battered by the storms of persecution and staggered by the winds of police brutality. You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive. Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina, go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our northern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair, I say to you today, my friends.

And so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”

I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia, the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day, down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of “interposition” and “nullification” — one day right there in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today!

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”2

This is our hope, and this is the faith that I go back to the South with.

With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood. With this faith, we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to stand up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

And this will be the day — this will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing with new meaning:

My country ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing.

Land where my fathers died, land of the Pilgrim’s pride,

From every mountainside, let freedom ring!

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true.

And so let freedom ring from the prodigious hilltops of New Hampshire.

Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that:

Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.

From every mountainside, let freedom ring.

And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                Free at last! Free at last!

                Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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‘Time to put grownups in charge,’ Mr. Boehner? Really?

“It’s time to put grownups in charge. It’s time for people willing to accept responsibility,” House Republican leader John Boehner told a civic group in Cleveland on Tuesday. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/38829485/ns/politics-capitol_hill/38829485

Well, Mr. Boehner, let’s just take a look at what your alleged Republican “grownups” have done for us so far.  Let’s look at your party’s fiscal and legislative responsibility.

That same day, Mr. Boehner, you also urged President Obama to support an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for the very, very, very rich.

These tax cuts for the upper 1% or 2% do not trickle down into the mainstream economy. Not enough, anyway.  And there’s still nothing to balance the revenue shortfall, so the deficit would continue to expand – and that’s what you’ve all been wailing about of late, no?  Just as George W. Bush did with the nation’s credit card, you would be borrowing from Peter (who hasn’t been born yet) to pay Maxmillian Worthington III.

As part of the stimulus, Obama did provide tax breaks to 95% of Americans and further tax incentives to small businesses.  Those are the people who will actually spend all of their tax breaks, stimulating the economy.  Get it? Stimulus = stimulating.  The money flows, and everybody – even the ridiculously affluent – do better. (Remember the 1990s?)

The American Prospect notes that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has determined that the GOP-opposed stimulus  has been working:

According to the CBO’s analysis, the stimulus increased GDP between 1.7 and 4.5 percent, lowered unemployment between .7 and 1.8 percentage points, and increased the number of people employed to between 1.4 million and 3.3 million.


More money for the upper tier simply turns obscenely wealthy people into grotesquely wealthy people. It also runs up the deficit like nobody’s business.  Just check out the numbers during the Reagan-Bush years. http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn/A26402-2004Jun8?language=printer

President Clinton erased that deficit (raising taxes, by the way) http://www.factcheck.org/2008/02/the-budget-and-deficit-under-clinton/ only to have Bush 43 give huge tax breaks to his uber-wealthy supporters.  Let’s remember Bush’s famous remarks to a white-tie crowd at the Waldorf-Astoria during his 2000 campaign. Referring to his audience as the “haves and have mores,” he said, “Some people call you the elite. I call you my base.”


The first graf of the above 2008 article reads: President Bush’s new budget will top $3 trillion. It envisions massive deficits for fiscal years 2008 and 2009 — nearly matching the record in 2004, when the federal budget went $412 billion into the hole.

Every bit as reckless as that was, there’s more. The Bush 43 administration also did everything it could to gut the regulation of all of its party-friendly industries:

  • Banking and other financial services, including Wall Street. (No surprise there; Dubya violated federal securities laws at least four times when he was a director of a Texas oil firm in the late 1980s and early 1990s, according to an SEC report. http://www.publicintegrity.org/articles/entry/449 )  The gutting of the regulations was exacerbated by lax enforcement of the laws and regs that remained in place.  Please note: When the federal government created the TARP bailout of the banks, it was under Bush, in September 2008. Both Republicans and Democrats neglected to stipulate that the banks needed to make loans to keep the economy fluid. Instead, the banks hoarded the money – and awarded big bonuses to their brilliant higher-ups.
  • Mining. Nearly 40 miners and would-be rescuers were killed in a series of explosions and collapses during the Bush years. Safety enforcement was an issue in most of them. There were no fatal accidents during the Clinton administration. http://www.mining-technology.com/features/feature82279/
  • Big oil. We still do not know the full effect of the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.  We do know that BP was a recidivist scofflaw, but nothing was done beyond nominal fines ($373M) representing less than a week’s profit for BP (1Q of 2010, per BP’s website). From ABC World News: “In two separate disasters prior to the Gulf oil rig explosion, 30 BP workers have been killed, and more than 200 seriously injured. … OSHA statistics show BP ran up 760 ‘egregious, willful’ safety violations, while Sunoco and Conoco-Phillips each had eight, Citgo had two and Exxon had one comparable citation.” http://abcnews.go.com/WN/bps-dismal-safety-record/story?id=10763042

When President Obama called for a moratorium on new offshore drilling, the Republican “grownups” shrieked about how unfair that was to their friends.  Mr. Barton of Texas referred to Obama’s holding BP financially accountable for the mess it made as a “shakedown.”

Along the way to trying to put the country back to work, trying to curb citizens’ health care burden at 16% of the GDP (lest it rise to 20% and even 25% percent in the coming decade if left unchecked), and lending (that’s right, lending – NOT giving) money to American carmakers to keep them solvent, Obama and the Democrats kept persevering while the “grownups” on the right squealed and lied and called people names and cajoled, anything to get their way.

They have also resorted to the filibuster at a record pace. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/wireStory?id=9974807 The Republicans, frustrated at not being in control and willfully oblivious to the American mood, have literally hurled themselves onto the floor – the Senate floor – to obstruct progress, like so many recalcitrant toddlers in supermarket aisles. When it’s pointed out to them that Americans overwhelming elected Obama and a slew of Democrats in the House and Senate, the Republicans fall back on the nebulous and absurd, “That not what the American people want!”  Translation:  “That’s not what I want!”  Alternative translation: Sticking fingers in their ears, yelling, “Lalalalalalala!  I can’t hear you! Lalalalalalalalala!”

So much for your grownups, Mr. Boehner.

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Opening our collective mind

In the course of sharing my last blog post with anyone who would listen, I summarized the theme (freedom of religion in the context of the proposed Muslim community center in lower Manhattan) to a friend and neighbor.  He’s a rational conservative, and we agree on a good many things.  At the end of my synopsis – and we were sitting with a third neighbor and friend on our commute home – the first fellow acknowledged my points.

Still, he said to me, you have to concede that there’s a “dick factor” in putting a Muslim place of worship so close to the former WTC site.  The train had reached our stop and we were heading our separate ways, so I didn’t really respond.  I’m not sure I knew then what to say. Actually, I’m still not sure.  (I have at least a dozen possible replies, in varying degrees of snark.)

My original reason for starting this blog was, and remains, to provide responses to many of the contentions that don’t make sense to me.  Not “gotcha” comebacks, as tempting as those can be, but reasoned and clear explanations for the positions I hold or reject, the public figures I support or oppose, the ideals I cherish or dismiss. And yes, arguments to change people’s minds – or at least realize that there is merit in a contrary viewpoint.

This comes from several sources within me.  I was raised in a Republican family. That was our label as much as was, at the time, Episcopalian.  I was never baptized into either faith.  The first time I was in a church, I’m reasonably sure, was at my oldest brother’s wedding.

I was as cognizant of politics as I was of Genesis and Deuteronomy – nil – but that label stuck nonetheless.  Politics was harder to dodge than religion. I ditched the GOP designation, though, when I started paying attention.  The people, public and private, whose values I admired were not Republicans; they were liberals.  So I did something remarkable: I changed my mind.

It’s remarkable not in the sense of being incredible; it’s remarkable in that I’m remarking upon it. Really. It’s not difficult.  It is, however, fairly uncommon, in terms of political affiliation.  (Politicians do it to keep their jobs; that doesn’t really count, in my book.) 

So, I’ll address the notion of the “dick factor” privately and directly.  But publicly, in this blog, I will try to address the divisive nonsense being spewed by people who value greed over decency, hatred over community, bigotry over compassion. In the process, I hope to deliver enough information and insights that we can start help people see a little better, and maybe change some minds in the process.

The important thing is not one viewpoint triumphing over another. It’s restoring reasoned and reasonable conversations about stuff that really matters, and making sure that discourse douses the flamers who seek only to divide and exploit.

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One Amendment Fits All

No matter what you may feel about people of other cultures and religions, no matter how profoundly affected you were by the heinous attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stands:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Please note that the section on freedom of religion precedes those about the freedoms of speech, of the press, and of peaceable assembly. It doesn’t supersede them, of course, but the Founders figured it was important enough to state it right up front.

I am not a religious person. I have no dogma in this fight.

Maybe you feel that placing a Muslim cultural center — note: not a true mosque, despite the proposed area for prayer — several blocks away from the WTC site is insensitive. I certainly understand that (though I disagree); I felt the same way about the insensitivity of Charlton Heston’s NRA gathering in Denver, a short distance from Littleton, Colo., not long after the Columbine school shootings.  Perceived insensitivity does not allow for the suspension of constitutional rights, however.

Lumping those who would gather at the Muslim center in lower Manhattan together with the bastards who plotted to and eventually did kill thousands of Americans (of a wide variety of ethnic and religious stripes, it must be noted — again and again and again, it seems) would be akin to likening responsible gun owners to the young, vindictive Columbine killers.

On a larger scale, putting all Muslims on par with the violent religious extremists of Al Qaeda would be like saying all Christians are members of the Ku Klux Klan. It’s a ridiculous notion: Decent, spiritual people being capable of such religious and ethnic loathing that they would commit acts of terror? Think about it: It can only be as true of one group as it is of the other.

As for free speech: Certainly the truly disinterested have as much constitutional province as any other American to sound off about any given issue. But rights carry responsibility, and relevance and sincerity have more than a little to do with the exercising of that right to its best effect.

So when a prom queen — no valedictorian, here — sounds off from Alaska about a matter in lower Manhattan, and for pure political gain, one wonders about responsibility and relevance and sincerity. This goes for the many whose loved ones were not incinerated or crushed in the Twin Towers on that horrific Tuesday morning, a morning of religious zealots’ violence against innocents.

Instead, Ms. Palin and the others who would make political hay of others’ simple desire to worship, please follow your better angels, and do whatever is within your great power of celebrity or legislative might to quell religious and cultural intolerance, that we may better understand one another, rather than brand and label and castigate and despise — just because they spell their God’s name differently.

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