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."