history, leadershipI 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.

How many times have you said it? Hundreds? Thousands? 31 simple words. We repeat them as a matter of rote. How many times have we really thought about these words and what they mean?

I recently had the deep honor to attend the Naturalization Oath Ceremony. My friend Muhammad Maaita was taking the Oath along with 60 other proud soon to be Americans. They came from dozens of different countries, from all over the globe, but they all shared to common desire to become US Citizens, they had met the requirements of residency (most, like Muhammad, five years), they had passed the English test exhibiting the ability to read, write and speak English, they had passed the civics exam showing an understanding of US history, our form of government and the duties and responsibilities of citizenship. They gathered today to take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States of America.

leadership, history, patriotism

Muhammad Maaita

If they were all half excited as Muhammad, this group of new Americans will be a model for groups to come. The smile on his face was contagious!

As we sat there watching the ceremony unfold, I couldn’t help but wonder, how many of us who have been born into citizenship could pass the tests? English? Ok, maybe most of us. But, Civics? I don’t know about you, but I hated Civics class in high school (funny from a guy that grew up to love Lewis and Clark and other figures from US History). Could you pass it? Take the practice test. I double dog dare you (and post your score)…I missed FOUR!!! Pretty lame!

OK…assume you passed all the requirements…now raise your right hand and repeat after me…

“I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God.”

Hmmm….140 words. 140 words vs. 31 words. Read them again…go ahead, I’ll wait…….Wow! What a difference THAT would make, if we ALL had to take this oath and if we ALL had to live by this oath.

Many peoples, many religions, formalize the Rite of Passage, or the Coming of Age, that time when we move from childhood to adulthood. The forms and ceremonies differ dramatically, but they all symbolize the same three stages: withdrawing or separation from the current state, transition between states, and finally re-incorporation into the community. You could say the college experience embodies these three phases: the student leaves home (separation), studies and learns (transition) and finally graduates and heads out on a career (re-incorporation).

Here, within the Native American cultures that lived the lands hundreds of years ago this rite of passage was vitally important, many times signified by the person taking a new name, an outward symbol that they were not the same person as before.

The Oath of Naturalization follows the same three phases. Once expressed, the individual is incorporated into the body of citizens of the United States. What if we ALL had to pass the tests? What if we ALL had to take the Oath? What if we ALL followed this rite of passage? I believe we would be a stronger people, a stronger country, a more bonded people.

Witnessing this event, made me proud to be an American, made me proud of Muhammad and his rite of passage, and made me proud to be Muhammad’s friend.

If anything you read here or in other posts strikes a chord, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment, hit me up on Twitter (@jtongici), find me on LinkedIn, or Google +.

I had never heard of Black Liquor until a colleague told me about it a few weeks ago (though I do confess to drinking several Black Dogs with some locals in a bar in Mumbai India a few years back…but that is another post!). Turns out, Black Liquor is not a drink at all, but is VERY bitter to swallow.

We’ve all heard of the bank bailout, we’ve heard of the auto industry bailouts, who knew we were bailing out the paper mill industry? Who knew they even need bailing out? Who knew we were bailing them out to the tune of $4 billion a year?

In 2005 congress enacted a law as part of a highway bill that would provide a tax credit to companies that would mix alternative fuels with fossil fuels. This tax credit provided a 50 cent per gallon tax credit OR DIRECT PAYMENT. The Joint Committee on Taxation estimated that this credit would cost the US Taxpayers (me and you) about $61 Million. Now, dear reader, how would YOU interpret the intent of this law? Any sane person would think something that is part of a highway bill would apply to vehicles, right? Any logical person would think the intent of this bill was to reduce the amount of fossil fuels used, right? I think even my dear friend Jay would agree that those are both logical conclusions.

Ok…put that on hold for a minute, while I tell you about Black Liquor. Black Liquor is a byproduct of the paper pulp making process (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_liquor). Since the 1930’s paper mills have been using Black Liquor as a fuel to create energy for their plants. Truly green, before green was cool! Before the recovery boiler was invented in the 30’s this Black Liquor was dumped in to streams and rivers killing off untold numbers of aquatic life. Some mills now achieve over 99% recovery and reuse of this byproduct. In fact US mills produce about 28.5 megawatts of electricity from the burning of this byproduct.

So, all you environmentalists are feeling pretty good about this about now…but as Paul Harvey used to say…in a moment the rest of the story.

Somewhere in 2007, some corporate bean counter had a brilliant idea. “What if we take diesel fuel and MIX it with the Black Liquor? It will still burn in our boilers…AND we will qualify for the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit. WHAT? You are going to take a process that used zero, zip, zilch fossil fuels and introduce the burning of fossil fuels so you can get a tax credit, a refundable tax credit at that (read…a direct payment). An average mill burns about 175 million gallons of black liquor, which equates to about 90 million bucks you and I are giving them! 90 Million bucks to an average mill and the entire program was only supposed to cost 61 million! My guess is that some of the folks that own these paper mills are the some folks complaining about the mounting federal deficit, decry government bailouts and think they pay too much in personal income tax! Hypocritical?

And now? We have Canada ticked off at us! Canada! Mad at us! Their mills don’t get part of this “bail out”! In fact, this practice has lead to layoffs in Canada. (think how outraged WE would be if it were reversed!)

Congress has a lot of issues in front of it when it returns from summer vacation…health care reform, the American Clean Energy and Security Act and countless others. Please express your feelings to your representatives…let them know they need to close this loop hole to stop the bail out of the paper industry!

I am sure by now that you have seen the disruptions of town hall meetings throughout the country (unless of course you don’t read the paper, blogs or the only TV news you watch is on ESPN). What has been an integral part of the American democratic process for over two centuries devolves into nothing but a contest to see who can yell the loudest or the longest or both without really making a point. It’s all over the news media. Something you may have missed however and something that I feel completely undermines the political and democratic process in this country and is far more serious than a handful of folks with the capacity to yell loudly, something that should have all of us outraged…

As reported by the New York Times and others, a firm working for the lobbyist group American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) forged a dozen letters from various community organizations and sent them to members of congress. These letters included the community organization’s name and logo and purported to speak on behalf of the organization’s membership. These letters urged the members of congress to vote against the American Clean Energy and Security Act. Forged Letters! One of the fundamentals of democracy is that our representatives in Washington are just that, OUR representatives. Through letters, phone calls and emails, our representatives gain an understanding of how we, their constituents, feel on any given matter. Forged Letters!

Now, the ACCCE is outraged that a subcontractor to one of its vendors committed such a heinous act. So outraged that they waited over a month to own up to the forgery and then didn’t own up to it until after it was uncovered by the press. So outraged in fact that they basically washed their hands of the situation and accepted no responsibility except to point a finger at the subcontractor of the subcontractor. So outraged in fact that when they learned of the fraud on June 24 TWO DAYS BEFORE Congress was to vote on the American Clean Energy and Security Act they did NOTHING! It is interesting to note, that two of the three Representatives that received these letters voted against the bill.

As I’ve stated in previous postings, I am not a lawyer but let me show you the definition of “Mail Fraud”, a felony.

MAIL FRAUD – 18 U.S.C. 1341, makes it a Federal crime or offense for anyone to use the United States mails in carrying out a scheme to defraud.

A person can be found guilty of that offense only if all of the following facts are proved: First: That the person knowingly and willfully devised a scheme to defraud, or for obtaining money or property by means of false pretenses, representations or promises; and Second: That the person used the United States Postal Service by mailing, or by causing to be mailed, some matter or thing for the purpose of executing the scheme to defraud.

In addition the False Statements Accountability Act states:

The False Statements Accountability Act of 1996, amending 18 U.S.C. § 1001, makes it a crime knowingly and willfully: (1) to falsify, conceal or cover up a material fact by trick, scheme or device; (2) to make any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or representation; or (3) to make or use any false writing or document knowing it to contain any materially false, fictitious, or fraudulent statement or entry; with respect to matters within the jurisdiction of the Legislative, Executive, or Judicial branch. The False Statements Accountability Act does not assign any responsibilities to the Clerk and Secretary.

I would think someone needs to go to jail over this. I, for one, certainly feel defrauded and frankly violated. Congressman Markey, one of the authors of the American Clean Energy & Security Act, has expressed deep concern over these forgeries and is demanding some answers from the subcontractor. Other groups are urging the Justice Department and Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate the matter.

We need to take action! I urge you to join me in expressing outrage and in taking back one of our fundamental rights of democracy, the right to have our voices heard.

Please write to Attorney General Eric Holder and encourage him to investigate this matter and hold all the parties responsible, not just the subcontractor to the subcontractor. You can write to Mr. Holder at:

The Honorable Eric H. Holder, Attorney General
US Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20530-0001

 Next write to the Office of the Clerk of the US House of Representatives and ask them to investigate this as a violation of the Lobbying Disclosure Act and to revoke the registration of the ACCCE to lobby in the House.

Office of the Clerk
US House of Representatives
B-106 Cannon House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Then write to your respective congressmen or congresswomen and urge them to raise the voices and express their outrage.

Finally, write to Stephen Miller the President and CEO of ACCCE and express your outrage to him. Ask him to accept responsibility for those that were under contract to his firm. Ask him why he failed to notify congress the minute he learned of the forgery. You can contact Mr. Miller at:

Mr. Stephen Miller
333 John Carlyle Street
Suite 530
Alexandria, Virginia 22314

 Of course, when you do send these letters you might need to provide 3 or 4 pieces of ID so that they know it’s really you! Or on second thought, why don’t I just write some letters and sign your name…you wouldn’t mind…would you?