Category Archives: currency

Have You Talked with Your Kids About Pledging Allegiance?

The original Pledge salute was eerily similar to the Nazi salute, so it was changed to hand-over-heart.

Are you a bad American if you refuse to recite the Pledge of Allegiance? Are you a bad parent if you encourage your child to opt out of the Pledge in school?

Not at all. In fact, sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance, and encouraging your children to do so as well, can be seen as an affirmation of certain important values that are sadly lacking in modern America. One could even argue that sitting out the Pledge is itself a noble act of patriotism – or, at least, that those who opt out are by no means any less patriotic than those who participate. (Note: the right to refuse participation in the Pledge has been guaranteed by the United States Supreme Court(link is external).)

It would be a mistake to assume that the Pledge of Allegiance is an exercise that somehow unites all good citizens. Most Americans – liberal, moderate, or conservative – are decent and loyal citizens who appreciate at some level the nation’s core values: freedom, equal rights, democracy, and the fundamental principles embedded in the Constitution. They may often disagree about how to define and apply those values, but that’s simply the nature of a pluralistic, open society. With such a diverse population and a wide range of viewpoints, it shouldn’t be surprising that many see little value in a pledge exercise.

At a minimum, parents should talk with their kids about the Pledge – about what it means, what it doesn’t mean, and even its history. For starters, kids should understand that the exercise is voluntary, because many schools don’t inform them of this. And whether individual children decide to participate or not, all kids should understand that nonparticipation is not unpatriotic or disrespectful in any way. The reverse side of the same coin would point out that participation doesn’t make one a patriot.

In fact, serious participation in the exercise might require a child to make affirmations that run contrary to a child’s core personal beliefs or matters of conscience – and this of course could be unhealthy and problematic. Some families may not believe that the nation is “under God,” for example, whereas others may not feel that we truly provide “liberty and justice for all.” Others may simply have objections to pledging to anything. Families grappling with such issues are part of the fabric of the nation, and they should be appreciated and supported, not criticized.

For any humanist family, and for many others as well, there are numerous issues relating to the Pledge that are worth discussing. A few of them would include:

The Loyalty Oath Problem. No matter how much you love your country, you could question the wisdom of any recitation that essentially amounts to a loyalty oath. To be good citizens, must we visibly and publicly pledge our allegiance? And must even childrendo so – on a daily basis? It’s interesting that the Founding Fathers never felt it desirable to promote such loyalty recitations from citizens. (In fact, the Pledge wasn’t even written until 1892(link is external), a full century after the founding era.) The framers, as men of reason with Enlightenment values, most likely would have been aghast at the idea of citizens being expected to regularly recite a loyalty pledge.

Promoting Nationalism. We can love our country while still being skeptical of nationalism. We can agree that America is a marvelous place, from sea to shining sea, and that the principles upon which it was founded are worthy of exaltation – but that doesn’t mean we should constantly encourage widespread feelings of nationalism. History shows that national pride (in America and elsewhere) can be overdone, that it can lead to militarism and a diminished appreciation of outsiders. Nationalism can be seen as a manifestation of the human tendency toward tribalism, and such “we-are-so-great” thinking is hardly an impulse that should be encouraged. Beyond our borders are fellow human beings whose worth and dignity should not be disregarded. As such, maybe we shouldn’t instill our children with a daily dose of national superiority.

Racist and sexist roots. Liberty and justice are fine values, but they are hardly a comprehensive statement of important American values. When Francis Bellamy, a socialist, originally wrote the Pledge in 1892, he considered including the values of equality and fraternity in the recitation, but he was discouraged from doing so. It seems that too many Americans – particularly those in leadership positions – were opposed to equality for women and African Americans, so inclusion of those values would have been too controversial. Thus, by excluding those values, the Pledge as it appears today reflects not-so-subtle invidious attitudes of racism and sexism – reason enough to pass on participating in it.

The ‘Under God’ Problem. Many Americans don’t even know that the “under God” wording was added to the Pledge in 1954, during the McCarthy era. Interestingly, in asurvey released this week(link is external) by the American Humanist Association, when Americans are informed about this history over one-third support removal of the words and a return to “one nation, individible.” Obviously, a statement that the nation is “under God” is contrary to the sincerely held beliefs of atheists, humanists, and other religious skeptics. That didn’t bother the Knights of Columbus(link is external) and other religious groups that lobbied for inclusion of the phrase, but it obviously bothers many nonbelievers The survey showed over 90 percent of atheists oppose the affirmation, as do more than one in five believers. As the Pledge currently reads, it defines patriotism by drawing a circle that excludes millions of atheists and humanists who of course are perfectly good citizens. That alone is reason for many to opt out.

The Rote Recitation Problem. In an age where critical thinking is hardly a widespread phenomenon, it’s hard to see how the act of reciting any pledge in unison with a large group does much good. Even if the Pledge of Allegiance were a perfect statement of national values – which it is not – it certainly isn’t a reflection of independent thinking. Group activities can indeed sometimes have value in an educational environment (reciting the alphabet, for example, or singing songs). But they are usually done for a short time – a few days, or perhaps a few weeks – until the lesson or the song is fully learned and appreciated, and then the class moves on to something else. However, a daily recitation of a pledge of national loyalty, for 13 years, is an indoctrination, not an education.

A Declaration of Independence. Just as participation in the Pledge exercise discourages independent thinking, nonparticipation is an act of independence. The nonparticipating student is making a statement of sorts – not a statement of disloyalty, but a statement that tells others that he/she will not be herded and given words to recite. The intelligent, independent thinker knows what her values are – and certainly does not need a dailygovernment-sponsored exercise to define them or instill them.

These are some of the reasons that good, decent Americans are sitting out the Pledge of Allegiance. Critics of nonparticipation might object, and they might even accuse nonparticipants of disloyalty. The late Sen. Joseph McCarthy, famous for witch hunts that, not coincidentally, were occurring as the Knights of Columbus was lobbying for insering “under God” into the Pledge in the early 1950s, would have called such nonparticipants disloyal and subversive. This, however, would prove my point. If those claiming to be the “real” patriots can accuse nonparticipants of disloyalty merely for opting out of a recitation, we have forgotten the meaning of patriotism. If anything, such accusations should encourage even more critical thinkers to opt out.

Humanists know that recitation of words does not make a patriot, nor does waiving a flag or putting a yellow magnet on one’s car. If you want to be a good American, talk is cheap – but there’s nothing unpatriotic about critical thinking and personal independence.

Follow on Twitter: @ahadave(link is external)

David Niose’s new book is coming out this fall. Preorder Fighting Back the Right: Reclaiming America from the Attack on Reason

Is Obama Doing Right Economically?

We are all connected to the economy and that’s just a fact. There is a lot of what the current administration done that has created a lot of jobs. The numbers don’t lie (unless you are watching Fox News) and they are very good. Despite all that our economy, and the economy of the world could be sensing a false sense of a true recovery when there are still a lot of things that could and should be better.

We live in a global economy where what happens in one country affects some things in other countries. We have to face that fact. The world is an ever-changing place.

The problem is that the United States and other countries with leading economies are starting to make some of the same mistakes that were made prior to the collapse of 1929. We are not at that point, yet. What we can see is that things haven’t changed that much from the way they were before the 2008 downturn (I use that word cautiously).

The United States cannot still be the masters of the world economic status like they have (sometimes) been in the past. The U.S. has a lot of debt and even though the deficits (by ratio) are less than they were previously, the fact remains. Also part of this is the unnecessary (in my view) Iraq war which conservatively cost us about 3 trillion. I could go into how so much was wasted mostly through no bid contracts (think Haliburton), but that is for another article.

Then is comes to global trade. The rest of the world has come to the realization that their economic recovery will come sooner and easier by selling exports to the U.S., creating a lopsided trading system. So while these economies are dependent on American demand, at the same time America is losing (good paying in many instances) jobs to industry overseas. We cannot continue in this manner and think we can get away with it.

One way our trading partners are gaining ground is that these countries are devaluing their own currencies so their exports will be cheaper than American products. The U.S. trade deficit is on the rise as a result.

The president might be oblivious to this as he is looking at another so-called free trade agreement , the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP. The president (through his advisers) is claiming it to be a job creator when that may be just a pipe dream. The claim is that it would create 650,000 jobs but the true number is much less and could even be zero or even a negative number. It’s based on faulty math.

As he takes this bill to congress for approval (the fact remains that he might not ask for its approval, given the correct motive, which could be public outcry) there are some in congress (on both sides of the aisle mind you) that are resisting approval unless we stop our trading partners from currency manipulation.

That might just be the deal breaker we must have, but could make the agreement unworkable for the others. This has its own ramifications. So what else is blocking a true recovery? Fundamentally it’s a lack of consumer demand and the large debt, not just here in America but everywhere. We need to write off a lot of private debt. We bailed out Wall Street, now it might be time to help homeowners  and credit card holders too.
The financial community caused this but if you think they are the ones to solve it, we should talk. I have some very attractive deals for you (large smile).

By listening to them I and others believe Mr. Obama is getting bad advise. Much like letting the fox tend the hen-house. Reforms are necessary. There are big problems in the global economy and it must be taken seriously.

I guess that will be for another time as well. I would sure hate to see this as the President’s legacy and even with his success with the ACA, it could overshadow him.

Probably much of the needed reforms will not be accomplished given the tenuous situation between the President and this (narcissistic, obstructive) congress.

For now all we can do is sit and watch as it is going to be a difficult two years (for everyone, but especially the President) and then the next band of “leaders” will inherit this.

Jerry Bierens