I have been out of pocket for the past week with both business and driving a car across the great country. That is not to say that nothing has happened that has caught my attention.
In the NFL the topic of kneeling during the national anthem became a lead story on the news. It had been brewing on the back burner for quite some time but President Trump forced it to the front with some comments in a political rally in Alabama. Specifically, he called on NFL owners to either suspend or fire players that would not stand for the anthem. This did not go over well with the players and force the public to take a position.
Some facts that need to be put out there surround what the NFL says should be happening. According to the rules of the league players and coaches are required to be on the sidelines for the playing of the anthem and to stand still while holding their helmet to the side and placing their hand over the heart. Let’s be honest, players have been shuffling around during the anthem, talking to each other and basically acting like they want to get the song over with so they can get to the business at hand, playing football. Then Colin Kaepernick decided to make a silent comment on what he feels was racial injustice in the country and knelt during the anthem. Slowly a few other players joined him in that protest. It continued to grow and was becoming a topic on many sports and a few news shows and then Trump threw some gas on the fire and suddenly it was a major issue.
The NFL is made up of a majority of black players. Some certainly agreed with the position by Kaepernick and joined him in kneeling but many others probably just gave in to social pressure. But the words of Trump galvanized them into acting in unity and whole teams knelt was some just refuse to come out of the tunnel until the anthem was played. One player, Alejandro Villanuevo, stood just outside the tunnel while the rest of his teammates on the Pittsburgh Steelers were nowhere to be seen. Villanuevo is a West Point graduate, a former Army Ranger and someone that has done three combat tours. He did what he felt comfortable doing and then felt he had to apologize to his teammates for abandoning them. They have voted as a team to stay in the tunnel so as not to have some kneeling and some not.
The American public is pretty much on the side of players standing for the anthem. In a Reuters/Ipsos poll 69% said they stand in silence during the anthem. In the same poll 58% said they felt the players should stand. They differed with President Trump on the issue of firing players and 61% opposed that type of action. They real dichotomy in the poll is they support Trump’s position that players should respect the flag but only 35% feel he should have made the comments.
I should note that the Steelers have reversed themselves and according to one of their captains, Maurice Pouncy, they will all be on the sideline standing during the anthem in next week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The real issue for the owners is whether this social activism by players is going to hurt their product. We have already gone through a season where televisions ratings are down and players kneeling was cited as an issue. Last week ratings were down again on a week to week basis and this was a major reason people said they were tuning out. DirecTV, which has paid the NFL billions for the right to sell the broadcast of out of market games, took the most unusual step of offering fans refunds if they cancelled because of this issue. If television ratings and attendance drop you can be sure the owners will start enforcing the rule about how you act during the anthem.
I personally believe the players should stand for the anthem and kneeling shows total disrespect for the nation and the men and women who have both served and paid the ultimate sacrifice so that people could engage in political debate. To me the issue is this is the workplace for these players and everyone knows that we are normally advised to keep your politics out of the workplace.
Speaking of kneeling, the Republicans took a knee in surrender (at least for a while) on their efforts to repeal and replace ObamaCare. With time running out on the ability to use the reconciliation process the Republicans in the Senate tried one last time to muster a majority vote only to fail once again. Politics trumps policy when it comes to passing any piece of legislation and Republicans like Susan Collins (R-ME), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Rand Paul (R-KY) along with a few others. They like holding office and when something they had promised to repeal for seven years was within their grasp they let go for fear of losing some votes. John McCain (R-AZ) seemed to relish the spotlight as he dramatically held his hand out before turning his thump down on the previous attempt and once again voted no. He has said whatever the Governor of Arizona wanted he would support but reneged on that comment as well. The only thing the Republicans can do now is let ObamaCare implode as it is doing around the nation. Insurers are leaving states and pleading poverty as they raise premiums and demand greater government subsidies. It may take a full implosion to force Democrats and Republicans to work together to get a bill on healthcare that would actually benefit the American public. That would also mean attacking the cost of healthcare and not just the cost of insurance.
The coming week the Republicans will be kneeling again, but this time in prayer, as they pray for support for their tax plan. It is no secret that the Republicans need some form of victory in their legislative agenda. They have come out bold with a tax reform bill that the Democrats and critics will call a win for the wealthy only because the initial version reduces the top rate from 39% to 35%. But Trump has said that he would accept the higher rate if that is what Congress wants. The plan calls for the elimination of one of the deductions that I have previously written should be eliminated. That is the state and local tax deduction. I also called for the elimination of the mortgage interest deduction. Both of these disproportionately benefit higher incomes. Only about 30% of the people in this country itemize on their tax returns. The rest take the standard deduction and with the call for doubling the standard deduction the number of people itemizing will only go down. Democrats won’t like this because it will hurt their core constituencies that live in states like California and New York. These states have the highest state tax rates.
If the Republicans have any hope of passing tax reform they are going to have to get unified very quickly. In the Senate they will need 60 votes since you can be sure Chuck Schumer will attempt to filibuster any tax bill that does not meet with his approval. The key to victory on this issue is all Republicans supporting the bill and then aggressively going after potentially vulnerable Democrats like McCaskill (D-MO), Heitkamp (D-ND), Donnelly (D-IN) and Manchin (D-WV). Trump will have to seize the bully pulpit of the Presidency and put the heat on other Senators like Nelson (D-FL), Tester (D-MT) and a couple of others to get to the magic number.
We need tax reform to be done. It has been over 30 years so this time I hope the Republicans stay on their knees and get their prayer answerd.