The Obamacare Nobody Knows – Part 1

By David Adamson

(This is the first of a series.)

I was a foot soldier in the crusade to pass Obamacare.

David Adamson worked in high technology and health care. He’s the author of Walking the High Tech High Wire and The Wellness Club. He’s written hundreds of blogs on politics and fitness. Learn more about David…

Initially, it wasn’t by choice. I was the executive of a federally qualified community health center (FQHC) with outpatient clinics in rural mountain towns in Colorado. FQHCs, the linchpin of the national healthcare safety net, would play a frontline role in its implementation. Part of my job was to learn what was going to happen, when, and why.

I read books and articles, attended conferences and workshops, joined conference calls, and talked to high and low government officials. Most importantly, I read all 906 pages of House Resolution 3590, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA), which became known as Obamacare. Hidden within the legalese was the thinking of our best clinical and health economics and finance experts translated into policy.

Among the healthcare communities with whom I worked, word got out that I knew a little about the ACA, so I was invited to summarize it to county commissions, hospital boards, and public health departments who didn’t yet. I’d show graphs like this:


Then I would explain that our healthcare system had become a financial black hole, sucking in every free dollar, and closing in on 18% of GDP (it’s now 20%). Insurance premiums and deductibles were soaring out of control, as they had pre-Obamacare (and still are — in 2016 it was $25,826 for a family of four). They were squeezing out wage increases and other purchases, like vacations and college. Private sector American companies complained the cost of employee health insurance was making them uncompetitive in global markets. And uncompensated care delivered to the uninsured flooding emergency rooms was hurting hospitals. I’d finally present how the ACA would change this.

My time in the ACA crusade was an eye-opening adventure. Had I been more astute, I would have seen the anti-Obama, ultra-conservative onslaught coming that now plagues our body politic, starting with this troubling scene at a pro-Obamacare rally in Grand Junction, Colo., on Aug. 1, 2009.

Troubling scene: Protest at a pro-Obamacare rally in 2009 in Grand Junction, Colo. Photo by David Adamson.

Or two years later when I was requesting the support of a Republican county commissioner who dressed like a Wild Bill Hickok, right down to boots, duster, shoulder-length hair and handlebar mustache. We were planning a new clinic, to be partly supported by federal funds, in a town that was overrun by uninsured natural gas fracking workers with their attendant health problems, e.g., respiratory ailments, VD, alcoholism, and meth. He took me in his computer to show the National Debt Clock (it’s really cool), and, with sincerity, said that as a patriotic American concerned about our future, he would not support any project using federal funds because that would increase the debt. He added warmly that he supported what we were going to do (and did).

These days when Republicans threaten to repeal Obamacare, it’s obvious that they don’t know what Obamacare actually is. They didn’t when it was passed in 2010, and they don’t now.

Same protest at a pro-Obamacare rally in 2009 in Grand Junction, Colo. Photo by David Adamson.

President Obama could have enjoyed a long tenure in the White House without ever getting tangled with healthcare. As the hapless Republicans are about to discover, healthcare is dangerous for politicians. Corporate healthcare is not heavily populated with leaders whose values are inspired by Mother Teresa. If you threaten their profits, they will try to stop you. Obamacare has been profitable! (Remember insurers sponsored the ads that first branded Hillary Clinton as a cold-blooded, elitist bureaucrat when she tried to help Bill reform healthcare in the early 1990s, and the poisonous label stuck with her right up to her defeat in 2016.)

However, President Obama, a faithful Christian, believed that all people should have access to healthcare. Suffering, disability, and death may be part of the human condition, but access to modern medicine can often eliminate, reduce or postpone them. In his view, it was flat-out immoral that almost 50 million Americans were blocked from it. The Bible commands believers to heal the sick.

Also, one of the most visionary presidents ever, President Obama realized that the healthcare system itself poses a long-term threat to the US economy. He needed to act. It would be dicey; he would be like the kid in the boat with a hungry tiger in “The Life of Pi,” only he would have to finesse multiple tigers — insurance, pharmaceuticals, hospitals, nursing homes, provider associations, equipment suppliers, laboratories.

This already dangerous task was made worse by the ignorance, hostility, and, let’s be honest, racism of Republicans in Congress.

On Feb. 25, 2010, I stayed home from work with a wicked head cold and happened to flip on C-Span, which was live broadcasting the Health Care Summit, hosted by the President, for the leaders of both parties to exchange views about the bill.

Aware he was on national television, Eric Cantor, then Minority Whip, walked into the room with a hang-dog look on his face, carrying a foot-high stack of loose paper that he plopped down on a table with a dramatic sigh.

President Obama patiently watched this, then observed, “The truth of the matter is—is that health care’s very complicated. And we can try to pretend that it’s not, but it is.” At every opportunity, Republicans had been exaggerating the gross volume of the healthcare bill to frighten the public that it was packed with god-awful provisions such as death panels and socialized medicine. (Read the transcript here. President Obama knew his stuff.).

Senate Minority (now Majority) Leader Mitch McConnell, then and now the personification of active aggression towards President Obama, was in the room that day, sulking like always. But to his credit, he was listening because just last week, after releasing the Republican’s 147 page tax cut for the rich posing as a healthcare plan, he conceded that healthcare is “a big complicated subject.” Republicans have no plan of their own to improve healthcare.

Many of us, me included, would have preferred a single payer system like those in the rest of the industrialized world. However, President Obama was a pragmatist. He inherited an economy in the worst recession since the Great Depression. Support was shaky because of turncoat, deficit hawk Blue Dog Democrats. A single payer system was not a politically realistic option.

Facing reality, President Obama smartly neutralized the fears of the healthcare establishment, especially the insurance companies, by ensuring they would not lose money. He combined taxes on the rich, as well as several more obscure ones, and deficit spending to create access quickly. As a result, Obamacare has provided healthcare access to over 20 million Americans. That’s an amazing achievement.

Today no contorted Republican free market math can accomplish the same for less. Under any imaginable scenario, no matter how you fund access for the poor and people with pre-existing conditions, it will never be profitable and will have to be subsidized forever.

Obamacare was never just an insurance program. That’s why it was 906 pages long. It is the framework for a long-term transformation of our healthcare system to make it better and less costly.

It has already irreversibly changed the delivery of health care. You can see it when you go to your primary care doctor or into the hospital, if you know what to look for. In the long run, all of us, including Republicans, will be healthier because of it.

Civil Disobedience – a Primer of Sorts

By John Gascoyne

Let’s start with a definitional reality check: Civil Disobedience (CD) is an intentional, non-violent criminal act, committed in support of a perceived worthy public need or ambition. Inherent in an act of CD is that it will be done in public and that the actor makes no effort to conceal her/his involvement.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

If you engage in civil disobedience and are arrested, be aware of some of the consequences to you and to those close to you:

  • Your freedom of movement will be immediately curtailed for an unknown, but usually fairly short, period of time – e.g. overnight or over the weekend. Yes, it could be for a longer time. This time frame contemplates your being able to make bail; it does not consider a possible jail sentence following a trial.
  • Your access to other people, to work, to school, etc. will be severely or completely limited for an indefinite period if you are serving time as a result of your involvement
  • If convicted for your action(s), you will carry some kind of criminal record – one that may very well stay with you. Consider having older activists perform the civil disobedience with younger folks being part of the support group – and thereby avoiding the stigma of a career-endangering rap sheet.

On the other hand:

  • Historically, acts of civil disobedience generally have been regarded as both noble and effective. Henry David Thoreau coined the term in 1849 and his writings influenced the thinking and actions of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and thousands of other heroes. Thoreau said, “Let your life be a counter friction to the machine.”
  • If someone is convinced that the stakes are great enough, and that other redress isn’t going to work, civil disobedience can be a meaningful personal response.

Some do’s and don’ts if you plan to engage in CD:

  • Carry yourself and your objectives with dignity and reserve.
  • If arrest is imminent, you can submit to law enforcement peacefully. If you choose to not do so – e.g. by going limp – you may face additional charges such as resisting arrest. Try to chart your own course ahead of time. There is never good reason for you to physically engage with or be aggressive toward authorities.
  • Don’t insult or demean arresting authorities. On the other hand, the deputy sheriff or police officer is not your friend – during arrest, transportation, or incarceration. No digas nada – don’t offer anything beyond your name and address.
  • Historically, some political and social movements have been infiltrated by government agents. Be wary of the stranger who wants to run the show or who is encouraging excessive actions.
  • Don’t assume that the friendly stranger in your cell can be confided in. Jailhouse snitches earn points by ratting on you.
  • Plan ahead – let one or two non-participating friends know your intentions. Carry their contact information with you. Consider giving them access to your rainy day bail money.
  • If necessary, carry prescribed medications with you. You will be searched after arrest, so don’t carry anything that will embarrass you in front of Officer Friendly.
  • If you have attorneys who will likely represent you, keep their card with you if possible. Memorize their phone number or write it on your arm or leg. Be aware that advising your attorneys in advance of the particulars of an act of civil disobedience will put them in an awkward position as they cannot condone a criminal action of which they have prior knowledge.
  • If you do have an attorney, or intend to have one, the first thing you should say to the police is, “I want to contact to my lawyer.”
  • The Public Defenders are extremely busy and tend to handle mostly serious offenses. It may be difficult for them to engage on your behalf.
  • Try to record everything about the action, about your arrest, and about your post-arrest experience. If possible, keep a pen and paper with you after the initial search.
  • Have non-participating confederates witnessing from a secure position and recording the action on cell phones and video cameras. These witnesses should avoid impeding arresting officers; on the other hand, they cannot legally be ordered to stop recording. Not every authority will respect the law in this regard; you may have to verbally stand your ground.
  • Develop rapport with local and national media personnel. Advise them of when and where they should be on hand.
  • Some CD actions can result in the use of tear gas or other irritants. Your handkerchief, soaked in water and tied behind your head, can offer some protection for your breathing.

One organization’s How-To Guide and Suggestions

In order to move from the abstract to the real, the following commentary depicts one successful group’s operating procedures:

Direct Action means the overall effort to achieve an important social or political objective at a particular location. We employ circles of Direct Action and Civil Disobedience – Green, Yellow and Red-zoned participation levels. These are designed as concentric levels of support at levels which participants feel they can comfortably contribute to the issues and actions.

Naturally, all factors must be discussed and thoroughly evaluated before an action is taken. Every part of every element for every person and action must be analyzed and projected in order to assure the advancement of the social objective. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu states: “Those who can see the outcome before they start will always win the battle.

Red: Imminent arrest. A situation where a known law(s) will be broken and where the participant faces almost assured arrest. The participant is well aware of the laws that may be broken at this time, the subsequent consequences, and their effect on the direct action as a whole. If arrest is not going to escalate, i.e. serve the purposes of the direct action issue, then arrest is generally avoided where possible.

Yellow: This is an immediate outer circle layer of support of the “arrestables”. The word “support” has many meanings, some of which can include, but not be limited to film, photography, equipment, and safety in support of the person in the red zone. Yellow participants assume a certain level of risk of arrest, but generally do not participate directly at the same level of involvement in the direct action as someone in the Red Zone.

Green: The green zone is generally the safest of all and arrest is unlikely. This zone generally provides legal observation, scouting, communications with a legal team, media agencies, social networks and other resources.

Have legal support

One of the most critical aspects of what we have done nationally or internationally has been to always have legal support. If someone is going into the red zone, they use a permanent marker and write, on the inside of the thigh or arm, the phone number of their personal legal counsel and any other phone numbers necessary to their release from custody. No phone numbers should give away extra information regarding the group or their tactics.

Volunteer legal observers – lay persons – are always on site and document every movement of persons in the red zone, any interactions with authorities, etc. These documents can be utilized in court actions to defend an arrested person. This is also true of any video or audio content that might be captured from the location and the direct action.

If a person who is engaging in civil disobedience “goes limp” when given lawful orders by police authorities, they may have to deal with an added charge of resisting arrest.

Location “lock downs” are usually considered among the most effective tactics. For example, where someone’s arms are handcuffed inside of a large iron pipe, it can take a great deal of time to arrest them, thus providing lots of time for media coverage – one of the main goals of civil disobedience.

Lastly, protection of all parties is paramount. The safety of participants, law enforcement agents, and observers must be maintained.

Welcome to World War III, My Friend

By Gary Kimsey 

Part I of a series for Writers With No Borders

I’m not a philosopher, a scientist, politician, or deep thinker. I’m a guy from middle America who likes beer, pretzels, Sunday football, and naps.

On one specific topic, I’m a fellow who has plenty in common with the observation Butch Cassidy made when he announced to the Sundance Kid: “Boy, I got vision, and the rest of the world wears bifocals.”

Gary Kimsey is a writer and editor who lives part of the year in his hometown of Independence, Mo., and the rest of the time in his family’s ancestral home along the Poudre River in the northern Colorado Rockies. Learn more about him...

My vision: We’re in World War III and most Americans don’t know or care. The few average Americans aware of the global conflict don’t know what to do. This isn’t a war where we enlist, donate blood, or manufacture tanks, cannons and ships.

This war is being fought with computers instead of guns. Combatants rely on the sophisticated technology of bytes, bots, worms, Trojans, malware, viruses, and 010101s, the coding upon which computer language is based. Most Americans don’t even begin to understand the crucial inner workings of such technology.

During the last few years, the Internet has been crammed with news articles and opinion columns focusing on “when” or “if” World War III ever comes about. The general consensus: the war will be cyber attacks on such infrastructures as power grids, banking and financial systems, communication networks, voting systems, airlines—you know, the stuff of the culture and lifestyles in America and the countries of our allies.

While issuing such predictions, almost every expert qualifies statements by couching their thoughts in the future tense, as if they believe a cyber war may or may not happen in the future. Bifocals they wear; the war is here.

We have yet to witness a cyber Pearl Harbor or a cyber event with the magnitude of the assassination of an archduke that set off World War I. This is a war we’ve slipped into mostly unnoticed by Americans. We continue on with our lives in a state of denial or the bliss of ignorance, save for the inconvenience of having to change passwords now and then.

Some leaders are playing politics at a critical time when wisdom and action are needed much more. The most recent example occurred June 13 when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence about the extent of his knowledge of Russia’s intrusion into the 2016 presidential election: “I know nothing but what I’ve read in the paper.”

Does anyone really believe that ignorance constitutes a valid excuse from our nation’s top prosecutor? My opinion: Sessions pirouetted away from the issue because his boss is under investigation in the matter of Russian cyber warfare. Even Sessions himself is under suspicion.

Cyber attacks come almost daily: hacks that steal millions of IDs and supposedly protected information from banks, credit card companies, Yahoo, political parties, hospitals, and even the CIA and Department of Justice. The list is long, detailed and depressing.

The newest revelation came June 13 with the news that Russia’s incursion into the 2016 election was more widespread than previously believed. The attack targeted voter data bases in 39 states, twice as many and more viciously waged than initially identified. The attack upon Illinois, for instance, attempted to delete or alter voter data. These were attacks on the basic core of democracy, on our way of life. Not a single gunshot was fired or bomb exploded.

The cyber weapons reflect the evolution of warfare. World War I had its new technology: tanks and airplanes. World War II: jet propulsion; self-propelled missiles and nuclear bombs. The weapon now is intellect, the ability to arrange a mass of electrons so they go forth in an almost magical way to cause havoc and destruction.

Today’s combatants aren’t the 400-pound guys sitting on their beds, as Donald Trump proclaimed in trying to lay blame for the 2016 hack of the Democratic Party’s computer records. Rather, the combatants are Russia, North Korea, England, France, Iran, China, the Baltic countries, and other nations, including the U.S.

We must not forget ISIS. We frequently see TV news footage of bloodied ISIS battlegrounds. Yet, seldom do we hear that ISIS has a covert “hacking wing” which has the potential to be more dangerous than any other cyber warriors.

The basic purpose of World War III’s technology: espionage and sabotage. They—whoever they are—are trying to take us down. We—our computer geeks—are trying to stop and take them down. Sound familiar? Opponent against opponent. Warrior against warrior. It’s a war scenario.

At the risk of sounding like a hopeless doomsayer, I think what we witness now is tame compared to what we’ll see in the future. The current flexing of cyber warfare muscles is merely a toning and strengthening—like young athletes training for the Olympics. The gold medal represents a discernable shift in the order of the world.

Next in this series: Ted Koppel and the darkness.

Congress Forgets: Healthcare Impacts Real People, Real Lives

By Alan Vitello

My wife, Ann, is a pediatric physician assistant at a publicly funded community health center in Aurora, Colo.

She sees roughly 400 patients per month. That’s usually 20 to 25 patients a day. (Yes, you read that right.)

Alan Vitello is a writer and an award-winning cartoonist who lives in Colorado. Learn more about Alan…

Twenty to 25 children, poor children, immigrant children, refugee children, children with serious physical, psychological and emotional problems, foster children, homeless children, children from two-parent homes, children from single-parent homes, children who have been sexually abused, children who have been physically and mentally abused, children with fetal alcohol syndrome, autistic children, children whose mom or dad or mom and dad work three fast food jobs (each) to make ends meet, children who’ve gotten pregnant and don’t know why or how, children with sexually transmitted infections, newborns, toddlers, little boys, little girls, tweeners and teens, some children struggling with issues of gender and sexuality, sick kids, injured kids, children in for a well-baby visit and children in for a sports physical, children who speak English, children who speak only Spanish, children from Africa, and the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, and children from the good ol’ US of A…and on and on.

All day. Every day.

Think you could hack it? I’m pretty sure I couldn’t.

…and that’s to say nothing of the 12-hour days, and the up-late every night, sitting with the laptop, finishing patient charts, just to go to bed at midnight, to get up to do it again, tomorrow.

Like I said, think you could hack it? I’d like to see you try.

And guess what? She’s not alone. She has five very dedicated co-workers: pediatricians, fellow PAs, nurse practitioners who do the exact same thing, every day.

And that’s only the pediatric side of the house. The other side of the clinic sees adults.

The providers who see adults don’t see as many patients per month as the pediatric side does, but the problems they see can be exponentially more complex.

Complex because of age. Complex because of cultural issues. Because of language issues. Because of lack of insurance or lack of money. Complex because the patient is a refugee who has been in the United States a week and doesn’t know anything, like how to fill out a form in English or how to ride a bus to reach the clinic. Complex because poor people—because they may not have any insurance, or enough insurance, or because they may not have enough money—wait until a health problem becomes a health crisis before seeking help at the clinic. Complex because of domestic violence or substance abuse. Complex because of homelessness or transience. Complex because of joblessness. Complex because life is more complex when you are on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder.

And this is only at Ann’s clinic.

The organization she works for runs or provides staff members to 20 clinics—from pediatrics and mental health to school-based clinics and family practice—all over the Denver metropolitan area. Twenty clinics providing basic healthcare to tens of thousands of people, every day, every week, every month, every year, year and year out.

That’s 126,700 individual patient medical visits in 2015 alone (to say nothing of mental health visits or pharmacy, wellness, substance abuse, or dental or school-based visits).

That’s 126,700 human beings depending on 535 people in Washington, D.C.—members of the U.S. Congress—to make a wise decision on health care that will have a profound and far-reaching impact on human lives, and the lives of their spouses and children and parents and…

My wife sees the REAL WORLD on her doorstep every, single day. Every day.

For Ann, and her incredibly dedicated and hard-working co-workers, “Healthcare” is not some wonky, abstract idea that people like Rep. Paul Ryan, speaker of the House, and Sen. Mitch McConnell, majority leader of the Senate, bat around to score political points.

It’s not about “winning.”

It’s not about “getting something done in the first 100 days,” just to say you did.

Nor about getting revenge on Barack Obama and his Democrat cohorts. Or about sticking it to Obama’s legacy.

It’s REAL. It’s living, breathing human beings. Real children. Real parents. Real circumstances. Real world. Reality.

When we stop talking about the “real” in healthcare we lose the thread. We lose the key that must drive the conversation.

Real people. That’s where it starts and stops.

Americans must demand members of congress answer these questions:

  • Which one, or ones, of Ann’s patients are you going to tell they can no longer afford care, or because of cuts to Medicaid, will have no prospect for care, at all?
  • Which ones are you going to decide are worthy enough, or lucky enough, to have the chance at life; their life, their real life?
  • Which ones would you tell that their chances have run out, because for you, “winning” is more important than “caring?”

With a straight face, I’d like to see members of congress tell them that “party” beats “compassion,” and “politics,” well, sorry, but that’s simply more important than common sense and common decency.
I mean really tell ’em, face-to-face. In person.

But, unfortunately, it’s likely not to happen until we make it happen. As we’ve seen in the last few weeks, many of our elected officials are avoiding meetings with concerned citizens; some have even ducked out of back doors when a town hall event got too tough with questions and comments.

Many of our elected officials have forgotten they have the power to impact real people’s real lives. Everyday in Ann’s exam rooms, and the dozens of other exam rooms, all over Denver, all over Colorado, all over the United States. Millions of real lives that don’t care about scoring political points.

Something to nosh on. Then contact your U.S. representative or senator to provide them your thoughts.

Trump Should Study the Koran

By Bear Gebhardt

Although many passages in the Koran seem quite harsh and inhumane, there’s one passage all good ol’ American blue collar workers can quickly agree with: “A worker should be paid before the sweat is dried from his brow.” This is a passage Donald Trump should follow, but doesn’t.

Bear Gebhardt is a writer who lives in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

One way to describe D.T.’s basic business practices is “Donald the Octopus.”  He has many, many arms (over 500 corporations), and each arm has hands, and each hand has fingers, and each finger has digits. Each digit is a corporation designed solely for the purpose of profit, e.g., designed for getting, not giving. Many, many people who have worked for D.T. over the years have not only not been paid “before the sweat is dried from their brows,” they don’t get paid at all or get paid less than he promised.

In the last three decades, the Trump Octopus has been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits.  His way of doing business regularly ends up with his partners, his contractors or subcontractors suing him, or he suing them. Apparently his way of doing business is to delay payments, and often not pay at all.  He disputes, disputes, disputes. Not only is the sweat dried from his workers’ brows, they’ve worked and completed a dozen other projects and he still hasn’t paid.

As USA Today documented, Donald Trump may have learned this tactic from his father Fred, who got him started in business. They both have a long history of not paying their contractors, not fulfilling their end of signed contracts, and lying about their true intentions. Anybody who takes even a cursory glance at the business history of Donald Trump, as this Newsweek article documents, would have a hard time defending such practices.

The contractors who have not been paid, or the business partners who want him to ante up his share, naturally, want to use whatever leverage they can—often Trump owes them millions of dollars for the work and materials they have provided, or the investments they have made on his behalf. So when it becomes obvious workers are not going to get paid, or that he’s stalling about his payments, they sue him, trying to get what they are owed. That’s why he creates a new corporation for every new project, or even a new phase of an old project. Contractors can only sue that one corporation, and not the man himself, hiding behind his many “corporate walls.”

But Donald the Octopus is not afraid of being sued. On the contrary, apparently one of his secret business tactics is lawsuits. So he keeps a Tower full of lawyers on payroll whose only job is to drag out the lawsuits year after year, and/or institute counter-suits. Eventually, the contractors and unhappy investors are willing to settle for anything—for pennies on the dollars—just so they can get paid something, rather than nothing. That’s just how he does business.

And if the deal doesn’t work—if he can’t bully local people into doing what he wants them to do—he can disband that little piece of this business, that temporary corporation. Or simply declare bankruptcy, as he has done on six separate occasions. Again, it’s like an octopus.  You fight one arm, and you can win—but he has many more arms. In Donald’s case, 500 more arms that keeps the octopus alive.

Again, the one passage from the Koran that all American blue collar workers will quickly agree with, and that Donald Trump should take to heart: “A worker should be paid before the sweat is dried from his brow.”

Does it take the Koran to teach this man the honest American way of doing business? Then again, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” seems pretty clear in itself. For a man whose penthouse apartment is decked out in gold, you’d think the golden rule should apply.

Evidence put forth by some of the most respected lawyers in the country documents sufficient constitutional cause to impeach this man. His lousy business practices give further evidence that this man has not yet learned to be an honest, upright, fair-handed American. He does not represent the best of our people, or our history.

I Pledge…I Guess

By John Gascoyne

I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.

Confession time: yes, I frequent Facebook. In fact, it’s become more than just a habit – it is, however mild, an embarrassing addiction.

John Gascoyne is a writer and lawyer living in Fort Collins, Colo. Learn more about him…

I recently responded to one of those frequent and superficial Facebook polls. The question for this one: “Should children recite the Pledge of Allegiance daily in our public schools?”

A raft of responses was unanimous-zip in favor of pledging – until I started typing.

In somewhat snarky words, I asked if all schoolchildren should be required to pledge and if that should also hold true for middle and high school kids, and what about college students? Now I was on a roll: what about adults? What about those apparently unpatriotic miscreants, students and older, who would rather not feel forced to declare their allegiance – can their property be confiscated? Can they otherwise be forced into compliance?

Some context: we live in a time of oughts and ought-nots. We ought to feel just fine about the new regime; we ought to manifest our patriotic righteousness in manifest ways; we ought to assume that there will be elections in 2018; we ought to cheerfully pay our taxes while the elite evade theirs; we ought to be okay with critical classified information being peddled as a blue light special on Aisle 3, etc.

So…we ought to force our children to have their voices daily ring with the Pledge of Allegiance; we adults ought to recite it daily; we ought to think about placing our hands over our exposed hearts and reciting it in the bedroom with our lovers just before we…the possibilities are endless.

Before we get too far down the patriotic road, however, let’s learn a bit about the Pledge and student participation in it and with it.

The first known recital of the Pledge by students was on Columbus Day in 1892. Although it soon became something of a cultural hit, there were some who objected to reciting it in school and elsewhere – some extremist groups for religious reasons, some extremist individuals for a myriad of personal reasons.

Francis Bellamy was the author of the first version of the Pledge and wrote it in 1892. Three different sources describe Francis in three somewhat different ways:

  • According to one, he was the son of a Baptist preacher and a socialist, wanting to criticize, via the Pledge, the excessive greed and extreme individualism of the time.
  • In a Smithsonian-released 2003 article, Bellamy is described as an ordained minister – with no mention of socialist inclinations.
  • In something of a tie-breaker, the Huffington Post identifies the author as a Christian Socialist.

Whether to pledge or not to pledge became an issue that roiled through our society for many years. In 1943, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that students do not have to participate in the Pledge. The ensuing legal history of the issue seemed to settle corollary issues:

  • Students do not have to stand while their comrades recite the Pledge.
  • Students cannot be compelled to leave the room during the Pledge.
  • Teachers cannot single out a non-complying student nor can they comment upon an individual’s decision to exercise their choice.

Whether these laws of the land are actually respected is, of course, a different question, one to be determined by tracking individual schools and classrooms.

The wording of the Pledge has some elasticity and has seen modifications over the years. The most recent, and likely the most controversial change, was finalized in 1954. Consider the historical context of the time: we were hotly engaged in the Cold War and “godless communism” was the enemy du jour. What to do, what to do?

Dwight D. Eisenhower was President at the time and not a member of any particular religion when he entered office. Assumedly influenced by his wife, Mamie, he was baptized into her church and became a serious Presbyterian.

Many groups had begun advocating to insert “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. Perhaps most prominent was the Knights of Columbus, an activist group of laymen Catholics. (My dad was a member of the Coral Gables, Fla., branch at the time; don’t recall any discussions on point.) The Knights are generally found at the head of the line when credit for the added two words is accorded.

Eisenhower, then, with overwhelming support, effected the introduction of the two words “under God into the Pledge of Allegiance. Despite occasional efforts to go back to the older phrasing, the two words have been there ever since. There is little reason to believe that things will change in the foreseeable future. (“In God We Trust” replaced E Pluribus Unum as our national motto, also during Eisenhower’s reign. We’ll reserve comment for a subsequent rant.)

In trying to assess my personal feelings about the Pledge, particularly the “new” Pledge, and by inference how I feel about the Flag, I’m all over the board:

  • December, 1958, my 19-year-old brother Peter is lowered into the ground at Denver’s Fort Logan National Cemetery. My last memory of him is the U.S. flag covering his coffin, giving him more accord and honor than might have otherwise been true.
  • November, 1962, in Hong Kong harbor, aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Topeka. The Cuban Missile Crisis erupts, my tour of duty is extended a year but I was okay with being there—serving under my country’s flag.
  • May 8, 1970: Four days after Kent State, the University of New Mexico is one of the many schools shut down amid the national chaos. The nation’s flag has been flying at half-mast in honor of the students murdered at Kent State. After four days, the flag is scheduled to be returned to full-staff and a group of veterans has gathered to ensure that this happens. I’m at the flag now, totally adrenalized and needing to act. The paradox manifests: I’m a student striker and feel the flag should remain lowered; I’m also a veteran and sympathetic to the other vets and their ambition to raise the flag. I’m not able to choose; I wander away and soon joined and began to lead the student marshals – student strikers dedicated to seeking peaceful resolutions on campus. A few days later, the New Mexico National Guard storms the campus and bayonets a dozen people, including three of my young marshals. The flag was flying at the top of its mast as this took place.
  • When I see tired old white politicos sporting Chinese-made flag pins on their lapels, I bristle and resent this supposed support of the flag. I see it as a sacrilege and resent their smug misstatement of patriotism.
  • When I’m standing for the Pledge of Allegiance, I go silent when we get to the words “under God,” then I pick it up on the flip side. My belief is that this “God” of the Pledge is not a Buddhist, a Hindu, or a Moslem god. No, I can’t get past the conviction that those two words are a Christian invention and that most everyone knows, even while vehemently denying reality, that this is an homage to Jesus Christ and that we are pledging our fealty to a particular god – the god of white Christian America.
  • There’s an old and somewhat stained U.S. flag in my hall closet. When the occasion warrants, I take it down from the shelf and fly it from my front porch. Any reservations are put aside: this always feels like the right thing to do.

I don’t know if we truly need pledges or if other people need to hear us making them. Nonetheless, I’ve drafted one that would work for me:

I Pledge Allegiance to the Constitution of the occasionally United States of America and to the Democracy for which it may or may not stand (depending upon situational considerations), one Nation which recognizes the separation of church and State, indivisible (other than gerrymandering for the benefit of Nazi wannabees) with liberty (after the end of the reign of King Donald and his gang of anti-American sycophants) and justice for all – not just for those who can buy it. 


Crossing the Line: One Woman’s Feminist Journey

By Mary Roberts

My foot lands solidly on the half-court line. Zing! A confusing mix of joy and fear fills the space between my ribs. Joy, because I was free to cross that line, and fear, because it felt like I was committing a crime.  Running hard and fast with elbows akimbo, adrenaline propelled me into the fray of girls under the basket trying to score on us.

Mary Roberts writes to say, “Wake up, people!” Learn more about Mary…

“Tweet, tweet!” The ref calls a foul on me. I look toward the bench at my coach who stands there, shaking her head. We weren’t supposed to try to foul out, but being short and lacking defensive skills, I was willing to sacrifice myself. The other team was in the paint, ready to score. I just made sure I didn’t foul their best free-throw shooter.

It was 1966 and we were playing six-on-six girls’ high school basketball. Only a couple of players per team could cross the mid-court line without incurring penalties. I felt sorry for my teammates who had to come to a screeching halt before they tumbled over the line into forbidden territory. I fought hard to keep my position as “roving guard,” terrified that I would be imprisoned behind a thick black line if I didn’t play well.

“Was I more delicate than my twin brother?”

In 1958, the Office of Civil Rights started phasing out six-on-six girls’ basketball, finally accepting that women and girls can sprint up and down a full basketball court without losing a uterus or lapsing into a coma. It took 37 years.

My brothers, on the other hand, crisscrossed the floor with abandon, unfettered by sexist rules, devised by ignorant men, medical and otherwise. Was I more delicate than my twin brother? Was I unknowingly causing irreparable damage to my baby-making parts when I flew down the court, ready to engage in hand-to-hand combat if it meant that a basket wouldn’t be scored? If I wasn’t already a ‘feminist,’ I surely would be one by the end of the 1966 girls’ basketball season.

I was one of six kids in my family—three boys and three girls.  We all attended Catholic school where the nuns ran the place like soft-spoken Gestapo but whenever a priest entered their sanctum, it was all bows and “yes, father, no father, and your will be done, father.” Even at 10-years-old, it confused me. Why was all the power concentrated in these men when, clearly, the nuns knew how to run a school and ensure their charges were not sent into the world as idiots?

I never understood what the priests did, except say Mass on Sunday mornings and listen to people spill their guts in the confessional on Saturdays. The Our Fathers and Hail Mary’s they offered in return for my stutter-riddled admission of bad behavior didn’t help me, but whenever my 8th grade teacher, Sister Ann Patricia, kindly asked me how I was doing, she poked a few more holes in the walls I had built up at a young age.

Mom had a steady job as a social worker and Dad worked inconsistently as a salesman, but the burden of six kids and childhood emotional wounds or character flaws or whatever we call them today, was too much for him and Mom became the de facto head of house.

“How could I not be a feminist?”

I joined the National Organization of Women in 1972 and marched for the passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. Yet, I stumbled too many times making my way in the world, and settled for a marriage I shouldn’t have. My dream was to become the head of a women’s fitness publishing empire. My magazine, Healthword Magazine, a regional health and fitness publication covering the Front Range of Colorado, lasted three years. I want to blame my ex, but I didn’t fight hard enough to keep it. I gave up.

I still rail against the gender pay gap, the lessening of reproductive rights, the lack of women in powerful positions, both in business, science and legislative bodies. I call out men whose language and attitudes betray an insidious and deeply-held belief that women are inherently less than men. It’s the demons of yesteryear that trip me up, that too many times make my decisions for me or want me to cling to the fallacy that I don’t have the ability to rise, once again.

Women growing up in the ‘50s and ‘60s experienced a struggle of proportions that young women today don’t understand but are still in the thick of, whether or not they acknowledge it. We have much to do and a long way to go. The goal is not to be in the boardrooms and the halls of government, or to see how much money and power we can amass—a male-dominated view of the world.

The goal is to shift the paradigm of what we mean by liberty and justice for all and how to achieve it. The goal is that no one is denigrated or considered “less-than” because of economics, gender, race, etc. The goal is to make decisions based on “the good of all” and not just a few.

For me, the goal is that all women can fly across that half-court line with joy, flexing their muscles and minds, the winds of change and the work of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers at their back.