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Extremists provide plenty of political fireworks this Independence Day.

As we prepare to celebrate a rather subdued, fireworks-free Fourth of July, our nation is in a somewhat uneasy, fractious state. Despite our awesome military might and financial resources that allow us to topple entire governments, we can't seem to find one of the most unique-looking individuals on the face of the earth. We can't convince our top ally to stop behaving badly. And here at home, extremist vultures are tearing away at the flesh of our society.

We'll survive these times because we've survived much tougher times. We might even come out ahead in the long run. Of course, the stuff in the Middle East will probably remain unresolved for many years to come because the Palestinians are unable to recognize a good damn deal when they see one, while the Israelis can't seem to grasp that after you build a fence, you shouldn't stand on both sides of it.

What's most disheartening is that here at home, we have pretty much been overwhelmed by the Politics of Selfishness. These days, the average politically active person is a single-issue screamer with an absolute patent on the Truth. (PeTA, anybody?) Their fanatical devotion to whatever their lone issue might be (guns, animals, other people's eating habits) renders them useless to society as a whole, as it blocks their peripheral vision, permeates their every thought and pretty much reduces them to a caricature.

Just in the past week, we've been subjected to several public spectacles where people on diametrically opposite ends of an issue sat upon their lofty perches on the twin peaks of Righteousness and Intransigence and lobbed grenades at each other across the Valley of Reason. Of course, the grenades were weighed down by stridency and the throwers' aims were distorted by a lack of vision, so they fell far short of their intended targets and did neither harm nor good. All they did was make a lot of noise.

For example:

THE COURTS: Ruled that the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it includes the words "under God." The case was brought by an offended atheist.

JUST ABOUT EVERYBODY ELSE: The sky is falling! The sky is falling! The Senate votes 99-0 to express its displeasure with the judicial ruling. The House does the Pledge on national TV. Political and religious leaders flood the airwaves decrying the attack on America from within.

COMMON SENSE: The Court is probably right, although the guy who brought the suit needs to get a life.

As I've mentioned in the past, my heritage is Italian and Irish, while my wife's is Mexican and Spanish. I'm an industrial-strength Catholic, but the government has no business in my religion and my religion has no business in the government. I saw where President Bush said that God enabled us to found this country and to live by His principles. God doesn't give a crap whether we're Americans or Azerbaijanis and to suggest that we're His chosen people is insulting.

If you believe strongly enough in your faith, you don't need the government to have your back. Besides, what would happen if we all of a sudden became a country with a Muslim majority? Or if people started reading those horrible L. Ron Hubbard books and Scientology exploded beyond the fringes of Hollywood? Would the people who are now part of a Christian majority like it if the Pledge included "under Allah" or "under L. Ron?" I don't think so.

The words "under God" were added to the Pledge by Congress in 1954 and should have been stricken by the Supreme Court in 1954. I don't think the words are harmful as much as they're unnecessary. They could easily be replaced by "one nation united in liberty" or "one nation empowered by freedom" or any of a million other things.

SUPREME COURT: By a 5-4 margin, said it was OK to use public money to send kids to private and religious schools. Supporters say it's simply an education issue, not one of religion, although it looks like the Catholic Church will now have enough money to pay off all the child-abuse lawsuits.

OPPONENTS: Call it the worst breach in the separation of church and state ever.

COMMON SENSE: Falls clearly on the side of the opposition. This might be the ultimate victory for the selfish and short-sighted. In strict economic terms, this amounts to welfare for the rich. In strict political terms, it's a screw-you to the public school teachers' unions whose members toil in the most noble of professions and, not surprisingly, tend to vote Democrat. And in strict constitutional terms, it's un-.

Didn't we warn you that Clarence Thomas was a dolt?

Have a nice Fourth of July.

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