BY JOHN SHAFFER
A few weeks ago Bowe Bergdahl entered a guilty plea to charges of desertion and misbehavior before the enemy. You remember Bergdahl – the US soldier who sent his valuables away and took an unauthorized walk away from his base in Afghanistan back in June 2009, and within a few hours was captured by the Taliban. Over the next few months, at least five videos of Bergdahl were released by the Taliban, and the Obama administration began negotiations to secure his release. By May of 2014, the Administration was successful – it pried Bergdahl out of the clutches of the Taliban, and all it cost was the release of five Taliban “generals” who had been in US custody at Guantanamo Bay. Oh – we forgot to mention that within hours of Bergdahl’s initial disappearance, perceptive critics smelled a rat, and, what do you know, those suspicions were well-founded. A lot of evidence points to the likelihood that Bergdahl attempted to defect to the enemy, and that he may even have provided them information that placed other US soldiers at risk. At the very least, some were placed at risk searching for him or trying to rescue him, and the other soldiers in his unit universally thought that he was a defector. President Obama, in a Rose Garden ceremony, didn’t bring any of those unpleasant facts to light, and apparently thought that he would be lionized for repatriating Bergdahl. Actually, public opinion, though initially sympathetic to Bergdahl, soon came to pretty negative toward him, believing he was, at least originally, attempting to aid the enemy in some fashion.
BY JOHN SHAFFER
A 3-judge panel from the US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that a memorial in Bladensburg, Maryland,dedicated to 49 US soldiers from Prince George’s County Maryland who lost their lives in the First World War (you may remember, that’s the one we fought to “make the world safe for democracy”) should be removed because it violates the “establishment” clause of the US Constitution. That’s in the First Amendment, and states that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion. What the Founders meant was that America should not have a State Religion. In the past 70 years or so, that clause has been interpreted as forbidding governments from essentially any mention or invocation of religion. Well, reasonable people can disagree over the correct interpretation of the law and the Constitution, but you may wonder what is so offensive about said World War I monument? The monument, it happens, is in the shape of a cross, and not just any cross, but a "Latin Cross," which the Judges’ opinion states “is the core symbol of Christianity.”
BY JOHN SHAFFER
President Trump has released some details of his tax reform plan, and there is something in it for everyone to like – and to dislike. But let's not bog down in the minutiae of the plan, or issue hysterical warnings about how it will destroy someone’s fortune or business or pet project. Instead let’s start at what a tax system should be. Obviously, the purpose of a tax should be to raise revenue so the government can do the tasks set before it. Well, there’s our first problem – because there is a huge disagreement over what the government’s business properly should be; and beyond that, there is disagreement over how much money government should spend on any of that proper business. To the "big government" people any reduction in spending is seen as “cutting to the bone.” Furthermore, any tax cut is perceived as a “tax cut for the wealthy.” The small government people may favor cuts for the sake of cuts rather than for efficiency or fairness. The progressive left will never get behind a movement to reduce the cost of government (except for military spending), nor will they support tax cuts.
But think of this: Our government has racked up over $20 trillion of debts. If the need for revenue is reduced, the amount of taxes paid also could be reduced. Therefore, does it not make sense to spend wisely and prudently? To discourage cheating or fraud? To use the tax code as a means for collecting revenue rather than as a tool for directing behavior, punishing something we don’t like or rewarding something we do? The key to fairness in the tax code is that it should be neutral, in the sense that it treats everyone and everything alike. Tax breaks or favors for this or that group or function may be good for those special interests, but may be harmful to the general interest.
All this long introduction leads us to these basic points: The simpler a tax system is, the less costly it is to comply with it. The less money government spends, the less money it needs to collect. The more prudent and frugal government is, the less revenue it requires. The fewer favors, breaks and loopholes a tax system has, the fairer it is for everyone. The less favoritism government bestows on any given interest (through subsidies, tax breaks, favorable treatment or special considerations), the fairer the system will be. Rather than the mere dollars allegedly raised or saved through anyone’s tax plan, or the potential positive or negative effects a plan may have on this group or another one, let’s look instead at the plan from the perspective of the points listed above. That will tell us if it “promotes the general welfare,” as the Constitution ordains, or instead rewards someone’s friends or punishes his enemies. Let’s use the tax code for what the Constitution says it should do.
BY JOHN SHAFFER
The “kneeling” movement continues, and each few days brings a different development. The National Football League traditions, conventions and guidelines state that players shall stand on the sidelines for the National Anthem, helmets at their sides. That worked only so long as everyone did it. As soon as a few players used the anthem as the focus of a social or political protest, the powers that be let convention and tradition slide, in favor of granting those players the freedom to make a statement. There actually is nothing ironic about league officials allowing people to use the symbol of freedom and liberty as a demonstration of their freedom and liberty. We do not have a police state and we do not compel patriotism, and another one of our traditions is to “live and let live.” We prize our freedom and don’t want to see it curtailed.
And those who objected to the “kneelers” did not advocate they be arrested or imprisoned, only that they realize the full significance of their protests and reflect on the positive side of America rather than on the negative. The claim that America is oppressive is disproven every time someone protests the flag and experiences no legal penalties – or even fears none. Try to protest a national symbol in one of the many nations in the world that truly is oppressive and one will quickly learn how “un-oppressive” America is. Our objections to the objectors do not aim to coerce or demand, but to persuade or explain: we want the protestors fully to understand the freedom that they possess, and to show to our national symbols the proper respect – if not out of patriotism, then out of simple courtesy to the massive majority who devotes a scant minute or two of their time to honoring America. Remember, this is what the stadium announcers say: “And now, to honor America, please rise and join in the national anthem.” The announcers do not say, “and now, to honor our president,” or to support a policy, but to “honor America.” The protestors know this full
well – that is why they are, if we may use the term, dis-honoring America by protesting during the anthem.
Among those developments: the National Basketball Association has declared that its players must stand for the anthem; the National Football League, finally, has decided to promote a policy of standing; and the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League enthusiastically visited the White House. It was scant weeks ago that the NBA champion Golden State Warriors debated whether or not they would and promptly were disinvited by President Trump. Another big development was that Vice President Mike Pence left the game in Indianapolis in reaction to several members of the San Francisco 49ers kneeling during the anthem. The progressive left went berserk over the Vice President’s actions, but, if the people who protest are allowed to make a point, so too are those who disagree with them; and that point is not limited to standing respectfully for the anthem. Oh sure, the Vice President might have stayed and said “I am not going to let six or seven players protesting against America spoil an event where about 70,000 are supporting it.” Or he might have said, “the protestors are doing this to make a point. The most effective response would be to ignore them – to deny them the attention they crave, and not to let them disrupt our enjoyment or to assail our patriotism.”
Yes, he could have ignored them, but sometimes it is important to take a stand – a belief the kneelers apparently share – and the Vice President did indeed make his point, and it is this: in our free country, we do not arrest those who peacefully protest or who disagree with the majority or who express unpopular opinions, but just as they have the right to say we are wrong, so we have the right to say they are wrong; and sometimes that is the best course of action. The kneeling phenomenon has inspired a lot of comment and opinion and drawn up many historical comparisons. The one we think is among the most heart-warming took place in April of 1976, when two men tried to burn an American flag in left field at Dodger Stadium during a baseball game. Chicago Cubs outfielder Rick Monday ran from his position, snatched the flag before it could be burned, thus thwarting the protests. He truly stood up for America. Rick Monday realized that our flag is not “just a piece of cloth” but is a representation of America, and of all those who have contributed to its greatness. America, and what it stands for, deserves to be respected. Rick Monday did not stand idly by when our flag was being defaced. He did not slam into the protestors or pummel them with his fists – he simply whisked the flag to safety. Rick Monday says “what they were doing was wrong,” and he did something about it. Vice President Pence’s action can be seen as the appropriate equivalent – what the protestors are doing is wrong, and he did something about it. And, coincidentally or not, the NFL reformulated its “flag ceremony policy” only after the Vice President walked out of that stadium.
BY JOHN SHAFFER
Right at the start, let’s note that the number of kneelers in the National Football League this week was only about a third of what it was last week. There could well be many reasons for this. It could be that some of last week’s protestors believe they have made their point and did not have to make it a second time; it may be that the backlash from fans and TV viewers compelled some of the kneelers to have second thoughts. There were some who may not have understood that families of fallen military people and many others saw the protest as an insult to the America their loved ones died for, and thus an insult to their memories. Last week we touched on the viewpoint of some supporters of the “National Anthem kneelers", who believe that the protests are “true patriotism” and are not disrespectful. We disagreed, and would like to explain why. In the first place, the purpose of taking a knee is not to elevate America, but to protest it, to show its flaws. It is a demonstration of the kneelers believing that America is somehow unworthy of their respect.
And yet, almost universally, the "kneelers" are upset when they are accused of lacking patriotism. "How dare you question my patriotism?" they ask. Gee…that's not hard to figure out. No one "questioned their patriotism" until they refused to stand for the national anthem or took a knee in front of the flag.
They want to be seen as patriots, even when they do disrespectful things; Our memory is long enough to remember many times that members of America’s intellectual establishment criticized those who say the Pledge of Allegiance or sing the National Anthem as "flag wavers," or "false patriots."
BY JOHN SHAFFER
A long, long time ago, during the third Presidential Debate last year, Donald Trump was asked if he would accept the results of the election. He responded by saying things such as “I’ll keep you in suspense,” or “I’ll accept it if I win.” His remarks were met with almost universal disapproval across the political spectrum. Of course, we never will know if he would have accepted the results if he had lost, because – he won. Hillary Clinton most emphatic critics of Mr. Trump’s comment, saying it was “horrifying.” Well, here we are, about ten months later, and Mrs. Clinton her self has told an interviewer that she might challenge the election, even though there is no Constitutional means to do so. And, although Mrs. Clinton did concede, she has hardly let a day go by without finding some platform for denouncing the President, calling the legitimacy of his win into question, or supporting “the resistance” to President Trump in some form. The people who screamed the loudest over Mr. Trump’s remarks have been silent over Mrs. Clinton’s. Heck, none of them have even given her a gentle tut-tut or a wrist slap. Mr. Trump justified his concerns by speculating that the system could be “rigged” or that there were millions of illegal votes cast for Mrs. Clinton; Mrs. Clinton justifies her concerns by claiming the the President conspired or colluded with Russia to thwart her candidacy.
By John Shaffer
Last year NFL player Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the National Anthem, because, he said, of America’s racism and the deaths of blacks at the hands of police. We believed, then and now, that his protest was based on a false premise- that the number of such deaths was very small and, in fact, most of them were “line of duty” type incidents, in which the victim actually committed a crime, resisted police, attempted to seize an officer’s weapon, or approached a police officer in a threatening manner. In any case, policemen in America are almost exclusively local, and even assuming the worst, a handful of violent racist officers should not be used to taint the vast majority of good, honest policemen; and why Mr. Kaepernick decided that “America” should be represented by the negative rather than the positive is something he has yet to explain.
Yes, we disagreed with Mr. Kaepernick’s protest, although he surely has the right to protest. A handful of other football players joined in, a few singers, and others, but the number was still pretty small until this past week, after President Trump called out the protestors in impolite language. That statement was like the crack in a levee, because this past weekend nearly 200 NFL players “took a knee,” stayed in the locker room, or otherwise protested the Anthem. The Dallas Cowboys, united with their owner Jerry Jones, linked arms and “took a knee” prior to the National Anthem, although all of them did stand for the Anthem. The protests have inspired folks to come out in support of the kneelers, and also to oppose them, and that turmoil of conflicting view points has always been part of life in America. We do have the right to “take a knee,” but that also means that those who don’t like “taking a knee” can freely express that viewpoint as well.
BY JOHN SHAFFER
This Monday was the sixteenth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2001. We all should know the story: Radical Islamic terrorists hijacked aircraft, which they used as weapons in an attempt to destroy America. Unfortunately, and though it defies belief, many people seem not to know the story. The radical left has long believed that America, and not the terrorists, were responsible for the attacks. For the record, most of the progressive left use the word “terrorist” to describe entities such as the US government, Congress, the Republican Party, the President (when he is a Republican), Big Business or the Military. They will almost never use it to refer to actual terrorists (except for one instance, which we will explain below). Similarly, they use the word “Nazi” to mean anybody who holds a political belief anywhere to the progressive’s own right. We think it is pretty accurate to make the supposition that if the progressive left calls someone a terrorist or a Nazi, that he actually is neither; this says more about the progressive left than about Nazis or terrorists.
But although it may be disappointing or even distressing that there are Americans who believe that America “had it coming” on 9-11, it is truly dangerous that there are Americans who refuse to treat radical Islamic terrorism as the threat it is. There are a great many people, including our previous President and most of the senior members of his administration, who, even as they fought them, refused to utter the term “radical Islamic terrorist” to describe the enemy. Why won’t they use the terminology? Because, they say, its use fortifies claims that America is hostile to Islam; and drives people to oppose us and even to become terrorists. We say, in response, that anyone who takes up the mantle of terrorism because someone calls an Islamic terrorist an Islamic terrorist was pretty far along the path to radicalism to begin with. And, despite the fact that the 9-11 hijackers were almost exclusively upper middle class, wealthy, well-educated, even professionals, from prominent families, there is a belief out there that it is poverty and Western prejudice that breed terrorists. (Please note that is the time we referred to above, one time the progressive left feels free to use the term “terrorist” to describe actual terrorists: when they can accuse a Western nation or society of doing something that causes people to become terrorists.)
BY JOHN SHAFFER
We got to thinking about some of the ways that things have changed in the last few years, at least in the eyes of the major news media outlets:
During the Obama years: athletes who said they would not visit the White House were attacked by the media as racists or reactionaries
During the Trump presidency: athletes who said they would not visit the White House are held up as heroes
During the Obama years: We are admonished to have understanding and empathy for violent criminals
During the Trump presidency: We dare not forgive men who have been dead for over 100 years.
During the Obama years: if a radical Jihadi committed a violent act, we were cautioned not to use it to judge all other members of that group.
During the Trump presidency: If a neo-Nazi crashes a car and kills a woman, everyone with any non-Progressive opinions is considered to be guilty of the crime.
During the Obama years: Nancy Pelosi never mentioned Confederate statuary in the Capitol
During the Trump presidency: Nancy Pelosi demands that the Republicans remove the Confederate Statuary in the Capitol
BY JOHN SHAFFER
Any readers who still need to be convinced of the national crack-up over the “Confederate Monument" and other current controversies may look at the University of Southern California, which is under pressure to rename the white horse ridden by its Trojan mascot at USC football games. The horse is named "Traveler," and that is just too reminiscent of the name of Robert E. Lee's horse, "Traveller." No, we are not making it up.
How about this: a group of girls who wanted to eat in the cafeteria at Howard University were asked to leave because they were wearing pro-Trump clothing and "Make America Great Again" hats. They left, without raising a fuss. Can one imagine the reaction of someone wearing an Obama or a Hillary outfit who would have been asked to leave a college cafeteria? Just wondering…should they set up separate (but equal) water fountains and tables for Trump supporters?
Hillary Clinton was First Lady of Arkansas for 13 years, and in each one of those years (since 1905, to be exact) there was a massive "Confederate Soldiers Monument" on the lawn of the State Capitol. Mrs. Clinton is not on record as ever expressing opposition to that statue. Does that make her, or her husband, a vicious racist? Oh - those who might want that monument torn down may be unhappy to learn that the statue was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1996.
And then there is the logo for the Clinton-Gore campaign in 1992. You remember, the Arkansas Governor and the Tennessee Senator were nominated by the Democrats as President & Vice-President, For their campaign logo they used - get this - the Confederate Flag, emblazoned with their names. Yes, that's right, "Clinton-Gore" on the background of the Confederate Flag. Wonder if they would use that theme today? We are confused. Were they racists then?
BY JOHN SHAFFER
Last week we wrote of the legacy of Abraham Lincoln. He experienced terrible things during the years after he first was elected to the White House: Many are things we hope never to see: Riots – over slavery, and over the draft; our bloodiest and most bitter war – which was fought to preserve the Union and to bring slavery to an end; families, states, the nation itself torn apart over ideals and ideology. Often, the fact of peoples’ place of birth determined the side they chose to fight on or to die for.
But we have seen terrible things in our lifetimes, too: wars; terrorism; economic depression, turmoil, and challenges to our basic institutions. All were around in Lincoln’s time, and in fact have been with human civilization for about the entire span of human civilization. We don’t know what Mr. Lincoln would have said about one of our era’s most terrible events – this weekend’s riots in Charlottesville, Virginia, but we think he would have put it in some sort of context, and would have addressed it in honesty, attempted to deal with it in wisdom and love, in hopes that even a horrible tragedy can be a thing that inspires us to understand and to heal.
A brief version of the story: the authorities in Charlottesville determined it was in the best interest of the city to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee; a group of people who objected expressed their opposition to its removal; and a group of people who supported its removal wanted to express their opinions as well. Had everyone had the wisdom, outlook and demeanor of Abraham Lincoln, there would have been a debate without an escalation into violence. Tragically, Mr. Lincoln’s qualities were scarce to be found on that day, for the protest was organized by radicals and the counter protest was organized by radicals. The two groups ended up at the same place at the same time, armed with clubs and sticks and looking for trouble. It was a volatile mix, and in the end a woman, Heather Heyer, who supported the statue’s removal, was killed by a white supremacist who opposed it. Although details are still a bit unclear, he drove his car into a crowd, killing her and injuring nearly thirty others. To make the bad even worse, two State Policemen, monitoring the dangerous situation from a helicopter, lost their lives when it crashed. The man who drove the car was arrested and is being charged with homicide.
By John Shaffer
America's President has been exhibiting some "Steinbrenneresque" traits with the frequent dismissal of high level advisors and his need to continually assert control of his administration. President Trump denies that the administration is in chaos, but for those of us who see value in stability, if this isn't chaos, it will do until the real thing comes along. Recently, Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci was engaged and disengaged in 11 days, with Chief of Staff Reince Priebus the main casualty. Mr. Preibus was replaced by General John Kelley, who has been serving as Secretary of Homeland Security. Well, we hope the President gets it right this time.
We have been giving some thought as to why there is so much "chaos" (with apologies to the President), and we have come up with three reasons.
For one, the President still does not have his administration fully staffed, with many Obama-era holdovers still in important slots. Part of the fault for this lies with the President, who has not been breaking any records with the pace of his nominations, but more of it lies with the Democrats in Senate, who have been "slow-walking" the nominations, using parliamentary rules merely for the sake of delay. They are not trying to defeat any particular nominee (in fact, the ones they have been most outraged over have been confirmed), but they are trying to stretch the process out as long as possible. For reasons that remain unclear to us, the Republican majority in the Senate has not done anything to prevent this turn of events. The Republicans did not behave in this fashion when they were in the minority or the majority; yes, they did stop a few nominees they found objectionable, but passed everyone else. We are at a loss to explain why the Republicans do not completely eliminate the "60-vote" rule for confirmations - otherwise known as the "Daschle Rule" or the "Reid Rule," which means that Republican nominees (but not Democrat ones) need 60 votes to be confirmed. Notice this is not called the "John C. Calhoun rule," or the "Henry Clay Rule" or the "Daniel Webster rule," because it was not the common practice when those giants of the Senate held office. Nor is it called the "Lyndon Johnson rule" or the "Everett Dirksen rule," because it was not the practice in their day either. No, this is a relatively recent invention, coming in 2001 when the George W. Bush administration was about to take office. End that "rule," return the Senate to "majority rule" and one will see a dramatic change in the fortunes of the Trump Administration. Of course, that is why it won't happen.
By John Shaffer
Every once in a while there is a news story about some person who was unjustly imprisoned and, upon his release, is given a substantial amount of money. Most people think a person unjustly jailed deserves compensation, but how about when a huge payment goes to someone who was guilty as charged, and thus deservedly punished. Well, it happened earlier this month, when the leftish Canadian government of Justin Trudeau awarded $10.5 million Canadian ($8 million in US dollars) to Omar Khadr. Now 30 years of age, Omar Khadr was 15 when in 2002 he threw a grenade that killed Sgt 1/C Christopher Speer in Afghanistan. Captured on the battlefield, he was detained in Guantanamo until 2015. Here’s an interesting piece of intergenerational trivia: Justin Trudeau is the son of the even more leftish former Canadian Prime Minister, Pierre Elliot Trudeau; and Omar Khadr is the son of Ahmad Khadr, a terrorist adherent of Osama bin Laden who was killed in 2003 by Pakistani soldiers.
Of course, Omar Khadr was not directly rewarded for being a terrorist or for killing an American soldier (and wounding another) but because he was allegedly mistreated while a detainee at Guantanamo. How, you may wonder, did Canada become involved? It’s because the younger Khadr was born in Canada, and when President Obama was releasing terrorists from the Guantanamo facility, Omar Khadr was released to Canada.
BY JOHN SHAFFER
On several occasions we have written that President Trump, through his tweets and comments and off-hand remarks, makes most of his own problems; and it does seem that the most vehement reactions to the President stem from something he said or texted or tweeted rather than some action he took. However, President Trump’s social media habits are not the only cause of his problems – last week we found out that he is not even the only member of his family who causes problems. Donald Trump Jr. made a generous contribution to the family stewpot with his 2016 rendezvous with some Russians, notably the mysterious Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya. Mysterious, and ubiquitous, for Ms. Veselnitskaya had other meetings during her visit to America back in 2016. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, the meeting everyone is interested in is the one in which Donald Jr. was inveigled to partake on the premise that he would be presented with some sort of dirt on Hillary Rodham Clinton. Yes, of course young Mr. Trump should have said “get thee hence, Satan” to his hostess, but he did not.
Mr. Trump Jr. should have known better, and realized that opposition research and muckraking is best left to the professionals. That way the candidate, or his immediate family, does not get his own hands dirty. You or I or anybody we know would not have engaged in a meeting to learn dirt about a political opponent, but we can be pretty sure that there are dozens of operatives in both parties who would have done so with little hesitation. (It is amusing and quaint to hear the hard-bitten veterans of many a campaign publicly declaim that they would never, never do any such thing.) Dirty tricks have been around for some time, and eleven-year old hot mike remarks by a future presidential candidate don’t harvest themselves.
BY JOHN SHAFFER
Finally! Here’s a story everyone can agree on. No, that’s wrong, there may be no story that everyone can agree on any more, but let’s try it anyway. How about President Trump’s speech in Poland? It was a full-throated defense of America and of "western values." The world heard his predecessor apologize for America in practically every speech he ever gave. In those years, we heard of our flaws, of our mistakes, of the things we did wrong; we heard how we were not any better (and probably a good deal worse) than most other countries. That might have been sobering, because there is nothing wrong with knowing our shortcomings, of course, or even talking about them; but one would think that a nation whose leader bad-mouths his people, his country and its history gave little regard to the good things that America and Americans have done (such as defeating Naziism and Japanese Imperialism, rescuing Europe after the Second World War, building the greatest economy the world has known, curing polio, putting men on the moon, being a leader in innovation and championing free speech and freedom of religion). After all, who can forget that President Obama’s wife, inspired by her husband’s campaign, said, “for the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country because it feels like hope is making a comeback.” One would have thought that adult life must have included a few moments of hope and pride some other time, but we guess not. She was proud for those eight years, but she isn’t anymore- and that is the problem. Patriots love their country regardless of its flaws, because its attributes are so wonderful – and America does not, contrary to Mrs. Obama’s opinion, rely on the election of any one individual to make it great or something to be proud of. President Obama may have felt pride in America, but he took pains not to show it.
But it also is refreshing to hear someone express his patriotic pride, and President Trump believes that America is a special place and he isn’t afraid to declare it, even overseas. He championed the values that have made us what we are, and made us the magnet for oppressed people all over the world. As has been said – “Without America there is no Free World.” That bears repeating. Donald Trump knows that. He also knows who the enemy is, and does not shy away from naming “radical Islam” and “Russian aggression” as major threats to world peace. President Obama still can’t utter the first and ignored the second.