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Finally Vaccinated, Scalise Falsely Blames Democrats For Red-State Hesitancy

Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos

In case you missed it, the political race is suddenly on to point fingers over the latest coronavirus surge ripping through red states and highlighting the severely lagging vaccination rates among Republican voters in particular.

According to the White House, seven states have accounted for half of all new U.S. COVID-19 cases over the past week: Florida, Texas, Missouri, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi. Among that group, Florida and Texas have led the charge, contributing one-third of all new cases. The obvious trend is that nearly every one of those states is run entirely by Republicans. Louisiana is the only outlier, seating a Democratic governor while both state legislative chambers are controlled by Republicans.

Senate Republicans and some governors are now making a sudden push to rewrite history about their own party's malignant disinformation campaign on the vaccines. But some House Republicans are attempting something even more preposterous—blaming Democrats for the vaccine hesitancy and rejection that has flourished in red America.

Chief among them is GOP House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana, who spent months putting off getting vaccinated before having an abrupt change of heart in late July. As the delta variant started ravaging his state, Scalise was photographed getting the jab. At a press conference several days later, he told reporters, "I would encourage people to get the vaccine. I have high confidence in it. I got it myself."

But quickly adopting a pro-vaccine posture wasn't enough for Scalise. On July 26, he posted a disinformation video claiming, "Democrats have a history of vaccine misinformation and not trusting the science."

Using sound bites from last fall—before the vaccines had even been developed—the video features then-candidate Joe Biden, his running mate, then-Sen. Kamala Harris, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo expressing doubts about the Trump administration's push to develop the vaccine before the November election.

At the time, Trump had become obsessed with the idea of announcing a vaccine prior to Election Day, viewing it as a cure-all for his reckless mismanagement of the pandemic.

In September, with roughly 200,000 Americans already succumbing to COVID-19, Trump started publicly pressuring the Food and Drug Administration to approve a vaccine forthwith. As the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler recounts, on Sept. 23, Trump said the White House might even overrule the FDA if it moved too slowly on approval. Simultaneously, FDA leadership was pushing back in an effort to maintain public confidence in any vaccines that did eventually emerge. "FDA will not authorize or approve a vaccine that we would not feel comfortable giving to our families," said FDA commissioner Stephen Hahn.

Crucially, for the sake of his reelection, Trump was actively warring with the scientists charged with keeping the American public safe. It's in that context that some Democrats began to express concerns about the integrity of the approval process under Trump. But Scalise's video plucks comments made in that early fall timeframe devoid of all context.

"The first question is: Is the vaccine safe? Frankly, I'm not going to trust the federal government's opinion," Gov. Cuomo said at a Sept. 24 press conference.

When a vaccine finally is approved, Biden worried on Sept. 2, "Who's going to take the shot? Who's going to take the shot? Are you going to be the first one to say sign me up? They now say it's okay."

Harris, asked on Sept. 6 if she would take the shot, responded, "Well, I think that's going to be an issue for all of us. I will say that I would not trust Donald Trump."

In her vice presidential debate on Oct. 8, Harris offered, "But if Donald Trump tells us that we should take it, I'm not taking it." What wasn't included in Scalise's disinformation montage was her preceding sentence, "If the public health professionals, if Dr. Fauci, if the doctors tell us that we should take it, I'll be the first in line to take it. Absolutely."

Republicans have clearly looked at their polling and realized their staunch anti-vaccine, anti-mask, anti-mitigation posture is a political liability. They have good reason to worry—Trump's epic mishandling of the pandemic sealed his fate in 2020. Consequently, many Republicans are pulling a complete 180 on messaging and hoping the American public will forget which party stoked doubt, fear, and even animosity toward the Biden administration's all-hands-on-deck effort to get shots in arms and restore some sense of normalcy to both the U.S. economy and American life.

Whether the GOP gaslighting works remains to be seen. But for now, most Americans know exactly which party stymied the vaccination effort, and it sure as heck wasn't Democrats.

In Central America, Migration Is Not The Crisis

Reprinted with permission from TomDispatch

Earlier this month, a Honduran court found David Castillo, a U.S.-trained former Army intelligence officer and the head of an internationally financed hydroelectric company, guilty of the 2016 murder of celebrated Indigenous activist Berta Cáceres. His company was building a dam that threatened the traditional lands and water sources of the Indigenous Lenca people. For years, Cáceres and her organization, the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, or COPINH, had led the struggle to halt that project. It turned out, however, that Cáceres's international recognition — she won the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2015 — couldn't protect her from becoming one of the dozens of Latin American Indigenous and environmental activists killed annually.

Yet when President Joe Biden came into office with an ambitious "Plan for Security and Prosperity in Central America," he wasn't talking about changing policies that promoted big development projects against the will of local inhabitants. Rather, he was focused on a very different goal: stopping migration. His plan, he claimed, would address its "root causes." Vice President Kamala Harris was even blunter when she visited Guatemala, instructing potential migrants: "Do not come."

As it happens, more military and private development aid of the sort Biden's plan calls for (and Harris boasted about) won't either stop migration or help Central America. It's destined, however, to spark yet more crimes like Cáceres's murder. There are other things the United States could do that would aid Central America. The first might simply be to stop talking about trying to end migration.

How Can The United States Help Central America?

Biden and Harris are only recycling policy prescriptions that have been around for decades: promote foreign investment in Central America's export economy, while building up militarized "security" in the region. In truth, it's the very economic model the United States has imposed there since the nineteenth century, which has brought neither security nor prosperity to the region (though it's brought both to U.S. investors there). It's also the model that has displaced millions of Central Americans from their homes and so is the fundamental cause of what, in this country, is so often referred to as the "crisis" of immigration.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the U.S. began imposing that very model to overcome what officials regularly described as Central American "savagery" and "banditry." The pattern continued as Washington found a new enemy, communism, to battle there in the second half of the last century. Now, Biden promises that the very same policies — foreign investment and eternal support for the export economy — will end migration by attacking its "root causes": poverty, violence, and corruption. (Or call them "savagery" and "banditry," if you will.) It's true that Central America is indeed plagued by poverty, violence, and corruption, but if Biden were willing to look at the root causes of his root causes, he might notice that his aren't the solutions to such problems, but their source.

Stopping migration from Central America is no more a legitimate policy goal than was stopping savagery, banditry, or communism in the twentieth century. In fact, what Washington policymakers called savagery (Indigenous people living autonomously on their lands), banditry (the poor trying to recover what the rich had stolen from them), and communism (land reform and support for the rights of oppressed workers and peasants) were actually potential solutions to the very poverty, violence, and corruption imposed by the US-backed ruling elites in the region. And maybe migration is likewise part of Central Americans' struggle to solve these problems. After all, migrants working in this country send back more money in remittances to their families in Central America than the United States has ever given in foreign aid.

What, then, would a constructive U.S. policy towards Central America look like?

Perhaps the most fundamental baseline of foreign policy should be that classic summary of the Hippocratic Oath: do no harm. As for doing some good, before the subject can even be discussed, there needs to be an acknowledgement that so much of what we've done to Central America over the past 200 years has been nothing but harm.

The United States could begin by assuming historical responsibility for the disasters it's created there. After the counterinsurgency wars of the 1980s, the United Nations sponsored truth commissions in El Salvador and Guatemala to uncover the crimes committed against civilian populations there. Unfortunately, those commissions didn't investigate Washington's role in funding and promoting war crimes in the region.

Maybe what's now needed is a new truth commission to investigate historic U.S. crimes in Central America. In reality, the United States owes those small, poor, violent, and corrupt countries reparations for the damages it's caused over all these years. Such an investigation might begin with Washington's long history of sponsoring coups, military "aid," armed interventions, massacres, assassinations, and genocide.

The U.S. would have to focus as well on the impacts of ongoing economic aid since the 1980s, aimed at helping U.S. corporations at the expense of the Central American poor. It could similarly examine the role of debt and the U.S.-Central America Free Trade Agreement in fostering corporate and elite interests. And don't forget the way the outsized U.S. contribution to greenhouse gas emissions — this country is, of course, the largest such emitter in history — and climate change has contributed to the destruction of livelihoods in Central America. Finally, it could investigate how our border and immigration policies directly contribute to keeping Central America poor, violent, and corrupt, in the name of stopping migration.

Constructive Options For U.S. Policy In Central America

Providing Vaccines: Even as Washington rethinks the fundamentals of this country's policies there, it could take immediate steps on one front, the Covid-19 pandemic, which has been devastating the region. Central America is in desperate need of vaccines, syringes, testing materials, and personal protective equipment. A history of underfunding, debt, and privatization, often due directly or indirectly to U.S. policy, has left Central America's healthcare systems in shambles. While Latin America as a whole has been struggling to acquire the vaccines it needs, Honduras, Guatemala, and Nicaragua rank at the very bottom of doses administered. If the United States actually wanted to help Central America, the emergency provision of what those countries need to get vaccines into arms would be an obvious place to start.

Reversing economic exploitation: Addressing the structural and institutional bases of economic exploitation could also have a powerful impact. First, we could undo the harmful provisions of the 2005 Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Yes, Central American governments beholden to Washington did sign on to it, but that doesn't mean that the agreement benefited the majority of the inhabitants in the region. In reality, what CAFTA did was throw open Central American markets to U.S. agricultural exports, in the process undermining the livelihoods of small farmers there.

CAFTA also gave a boost to the maquiladora or export-processing businesses, lending an all-too-generous hand to textile, garment, pharmaceutical, electronics, and other industries that regularly scour the globe for the cheapest places to manufacture their goods. In the process, it created mainly the kind of low-quality jobs that corporations can easily move anytime in an ongoing global race to the bottom.

Central American social movements have also vehemently protested CAFTA provisions that undermine local regulations and social protections, while privilegingforeign corporations. At this point, local governments in that region can't even enforce the most basic laws they've passed to regulate such deeply exploitative foreign investors.

Another severe restriction that prevents Central American governments from pursuing economic policies in the interest of their populations is government debt. Private banks lavished loans on dictatorial governments in the 1970s, then pumped up interest rates in the 1980s, causing those debts to balloon. The International Monetary Fund stepped in to bail out the banks, imposing debt restructuring programs on already-impoverished countries — in other words, making the poor pay for the profligacy of the wealthy.

For real economic development, governments need the resources to fund health, education, and welfare. Unsustainable and unpayable debt (compounded by ever-growing interest) make it impossible for such governments to dedicate resources where they're truly needed. A debt jubilee would be a crucial step towards restructuring the global economy and shifting the stream of global resources that currently flows so strongly from the poorest to the richest countries.

Now, add another disastrous factor to this equation: the U.S. "drug wars" that have proven to be a key factor in the spread of violence, displacement, and corruption in Central America. The focus of the drug war on Mexico in the early 2000s spurred an orgy of gang violence there, while pushing the trade south into Central America. The results have been disastrous. As drug traffickers moved in, they brought violence, land grabs, and capital for new cattle and palm-oil industries, drawing in corrupt politicians and investors. Pouring arms and aid into the drug wars that have exploded in Central America has only made trafficking even more corrupt, violent, and profitable.

Reversing climate change: In recent years, ever more extreme weather in Central America's "dry corridor," running from Guatemala through El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua, has destroyed homes, farms, and livelihoods, and this climate-change-induced trend is only worsening by the year. While the news largely tends to present ongoing drought, punctuated by ever more frequent and violent hurricanes and tropical storms, as well as increasingly disastrous flooding, as so many individual occurrences, their heightened frequency is certainly a result of climate change. And about a third of Central America's migrants directly cite extreme weather as the reason they were forced to leave their homes. Climate change is, in fact, just what the U.S. Department of Defense all-too-correctly termed a "threat multiplier" that contributes to food and water scarcity, land conflicts, unemployment, violence, and other causes of migration.

The United States has, of course, played and continues to play an outsized role in contributing to climate change. And, in fact, we continue to emit far more CO2 per person than any other large country. We also produce and export large amounts of fossil fuels — the U.S., in fact, is one of the world's largest exporters as well as one of the largest consumers. And we continue to fund and promote fossil-fuel-dependent development at home and abroad. One of the best ways the United States could help Central America would be to focus time, energy, and money on stopping the burning of fossil fuels.

Migration As A Problem Solver

Isn't it finally time that the officials and citizens of the United States recognized the role migration plays in Central American economies? Where U.S. economic development recipes have failed so disastrously, migration has been the response to these failures and, for many Central Americans, the only available way to survive.

One in four Guatemalan families relies on remittances from relatives working in the United States and such monies account for about half of their income. President Biden may have promised Central America $4 billion in aid over four years, but Guatemala alone receives $9 billion a year in such remittances. And unlike government aid, much of which ends up in the pockets of U.S. corporations, local entrepreneurs, and bureaucrats of various sorts, remittances go directly to meet the needs of ordinary households.

At present, migration is a concrete way that Central Americans are trying to solve their all-too-desperate problems. Since the nineteenth century, Indigenous and peasant communities have repeatedly sought self-sufficiency and autonomy, only to be displaced by U.S. plantations in the name of progress. They've tried organizing peasant and labor movements to fight for land reform and workers' rights, only to be crushed by U.S.-trained and sponsored militaries in the name of anti-communism. With other alternatives foreclosed, migration has proven to be a twenty-first-century form of resistance and survival.

If migration can be a path to overcome economic crises, then instead of framing Washington's Central American policy as a way to stop it, the United States could reverse course and look for ways to enhance migration's ability to solve problems.

Jason DeParle aptly titled his recent book on migrant workers from the Philippines A Good Provider is One Who Leaves. "Good providers should not have to leave," responded the World Bank's Dilip Ratha, "but they should have the option." As Ratha explains,

"Migrants benefit their destination countries. They provide essential skills that may be missing and fill jobs that native-born people may not want to perform. Migrants pay taxes and are statistically less prone to commit crimes than native-born people… Migration benefits the migrant and their extended family and offers the potential to break the cycle of poverty. For women, migration elevates their standing in the family and the society. For children, it provides access to healthcare, education, and a higher standard of living. And for many countries of origin, remittances provide a lifeline in terms of external, counter-cyclical financing."

Migration can also have terrible costs. Families are separated, while many migrants face perilous conditions, including violence, detention, and potentially death on their journeys, not to speak of inadequate legal protection, housing, and working conditions once they reach their destination. This country could do a lot to mitigate such costs, many of which are under its direct control. The United States could open its borders to migrant workers and their families, grant them full legal rights and protections, and raise the minimum wage.

Would such policies lead to a large upsurge in migration from Central America? In the short run, they might, given the current state of that region under conditions created and exacerbated by Washington's policies over the past 40 years. In the longer run, however, easing the costs of migration actually could end up easing the structural conditions that cause it in the first place.

Improving the safety, rights, and working conditions of migrants would help Central America far more than any of the policies Biden and Harris are proposing. More security and higher wages would enable migrants to provide greater support for families back home. As a result, some would return home sooner. Smuggling and human trafficking rings, which take advantage of illegal migration, would wither from disuse. The enormous resources currently aimed at policing the border could be shifted to immigrant services. If migrants could come and go freely, many would go back to some version of the circular migration pattern that prevailed among Mexicans before the militarization of the border began to undercut that option in the 1990s. Long-term family separation would be reduced. Greater access to jobs, education, and opportunity has been shown to be one of the most effective anti-gang strategies.

In other words, there's plenty the United States could do to develop more constructive policies towards Central America and its inhabitants. That, however, would require thinking far more deeply about the "root causes" of the present catastrophe than Biden, Harris, and crew seem willing to do. In truth, the policies of this country bear an overwhelming responsibility for creating the very structural conditions that cause the stream of migrants that both Democrats and Republicans have decried, turning the act of simple survival into an eternal "crisis" for those very migrants and their families. A change in course is long overdue.

Aviva Chomsky, a TomDispatch regular, is professor of history and coordinator of Latin American studies at Salem State University in Massachusetts. Her new book, Central America's Forgotten History: Revolution, Violence, and the Roots of Migration, will be published in April.

The Beltway’s ‘Gotcha’ Media Comes For Kamala Harris

Reprinted with permission from Press Run

Stepping into the role of theater critic, CNN this week panned Vice President Kamala Harris' first foreign trip, as she traveled to Guatemala and Mexico. The negative review wasn't based on the substance of Harris' diplomatic excursion, instead the network deducted points for style, following the direction set by Republicans who were dead set on giving the trip a negative slant.

Leaning heavily on Republican talking points, CNN declared the Central American visit had been marred "by her seemingly flippant answer" given during an interview with NBC News. "Republicans are using this moment to ramp up their attacks on Harris" the network announced, as if that somehow determines Harris' fate.

CNN's coverage was relentlessly negative, attacking her "defensive" behavior, questioning her "political agility," stressing her "political missteps," mocking her "clumsy" and "tone deaf" media performance; her "shaky handling of the politics" surrounding immigration.

Over and over, the CNN report stressed that because Republicans and conservatives didn't like Harris' trip, it must be considered a failure — it was a "bad week" for the VP. And all because of a single back-and-forth she had with NBC's Lester Holt, who pushed a favorite GOP talking point, repeatedly demanding to know why Harris hasn't visited the U.S. southern border — the one that the press and the GOP insist represents a "crisis."

Doubling as the Gaffe Police, CNN uniformly announced that her brief response to the border question had "overshadowed" her entire trip. But who decided it "overshadowed"? News outlets like CNN, which were busy singing off the GOP chorus, and noting how Republicans had "pounced" and "piled on" the kerfuffle. CNN insisted Harris' trip had produced "poor reviews," but CNN and Republicans were the ones producing them.

The lack of context was also telling, coming after four years of Trump and his team ransacking the norms. In light of his dangerous tenure, the Harris controversy this week about a single border question and whether she was too casual in her response, seems quaint and rather absurd. The last time Trump's vice president made news was because he was in danger of being killed in the halls of Congress by a roaming, insurrectionist mob unleashed by his boss. By contrast, Harris got hit with days of bad news coverage for possibly mishandling a policy question during a television interview. (By the way, CNN.com published a Mike Pence valentine this week.)

Would Harris likely answer Holt's question differently if given a second chance? It's possible. But the idea that her 30-second border response "overshadowed" her entire Central American trip is absurd.

Harris' foreign visit coverage was part of a larger media push recently to try to trip up the VP with Beltway gotcha coverage — her Memorial Weekend tweet was all wrong! She's hiding her Asian heritage!

This kind of eagerly negative coverage springs from a media yearning for conflict. Frustrated by the No Drama Biden era, which has been completely absent of backstage White House gossip, and the kind of daily and hourly tumult that marked the Trump years, journalists are constantly overreaching, trying to create news where none exists.

Consider this bewildering media narrative that's become commonplace in recent weeks: It's bad news for Harris that she's taking on substantive responsibilities as vice president, such as leading the administration's response to stemming the flow of migration from Central America, and organizing the Democratic fight against a slew of Republican suppression laws being passed nationwide. This bad-news VP meme has been relentless ("Is Kamala Harris Being Set Up to Fail?" Slate asked), and it defies logic. Instead of giving Harris credit for tackling the nation's tough problems, the press is preemptively dinging her for possible failures. "Harris can't win," New York Times columnist Frank Bruni recently announced.

As for the role Harris has played in the administration's stunning Covid-19 vaccination success story, that mostly gets buried in the coverage of her tenure to date, as the press scrambles for missteps to highlight.

Note that a recent Atlantic profile of Harris was dripping with condescending commentary, calling her "uninteresting," "having a hard time making her mark on anything," and stressing that, "she continues to retreat behind talking points and platitudes in public, and declines many interview requests and opportunities to speak for herself." Of course, the piece was loaded with quotes from Republicans demeaning her, which appears to be the basis for most Harris coverage these days.

Last year, when Biden announced Harris as his running mate, the conservative media machine set off allegorical bomb blasts all around her, frantically trying to depict Harris as radical and dangerous, not a mainstream U.S. senator from the largest state in the union.

"In style and policy, Harris epitomizes an authoritarian," the National Review gasped. The far-right Federalist warned panicked readers that Harris, a former prosecutor, represents a "radical threat to America." And Fox News' Sean Hannity announced the Biden-Harris duo was "the most radical ticket of a political party in our lifetime by far."

The right wing loves to vilify Harris. The mainstream media fails when it treats those attacks as news.

Danziger Draws

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.

Kamala Harris And The Worsening Job Of Vice President

Kamala Harris has been vilified by critics on the right, but the people who may end up detesting her most are not conservatives or even contemporaries. They are future vice presidents, who will curse her for loading up the office with heavy burdens.

On Tuesday, President Joe Biden announced that she will lead the administration's charge against voting rights restrictions being devised in one red state after another. The assignment reportedly came at her request, and it's easy to picture Biden pondering the idea for 0.01 seconds before offloading the issue to her.

He had already given his veep a job that might have gone unfilled if he had invited applications: figuring out the reasons and remedies for the migration crisis at the southern border. Given that large numbers of people from Latin America have been sneaking into this country for decades, there isn't much chance Harris will find a way to dry up the flow. By now, it should be clear that unauthorized migration is not a problem that can be solved but a situation that can only be managed.

If Harris wants to keep busy, it's an ideal portfolio. But it carries extensive political risks, because any policy she offers is likely to inflame conservatives who oppose immigration, legal or illegal, or liberals who favor making it easier for foreigners to come and for those already here to stay. Most likely, she'll alienate both, no matter what she does.

A campaign against GOP measures to curtail voting won't antagonize people across the board, but it's pretty much doomed. In states where Republicans wield power, governors and legislators would no more heed Harris' recommendations than they would pierce their navels.

After Georgia passed new restrictions in April, Atlanta-based Coca-Cola and Delta joined the chorus of critics denouncing them. Major League Baseball moved the All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. Will Smith's film company, which had planned to shoot a movie in Georgia, pulled out. None of it mattered: The voting law stayed in place.

Likewise, opposition from American Airlines and Dell Technologies cq could not deter the Texas legislature, which was poised to approve a strict voting law until Democrats walked out to block action on the bill. But the bill will undoubtedly pass in the special session that Republican Gov. Greg Abbott plans to convene.

Nor does Harris stand much chance of persuading enough senators to support federal voting rights legislation, unless Democrats unite to scrap the filibuster. About the best she can hope for is to rouse enough public disgust with new voting restrictions to elect more Democrats in 2022 — a beastly challenge for the party in power in an off-year. But the more exposure she gets, the more Republicans will depict her as the terrifying reincarnation of Lady Macbeth.

All this represents a further transformation of an office that used to be the functional equivalent of a long vacation — or a long detention. Under most of our presidents, the vice president's job description was to get up each morning, check to see that the boss was alive and then pass the time with funerals, photo ops, and crossword puzzles. "You die, I fly," said George H.W. Bush when he was Ronald Reagan's spare tire.

The 19th-century Senate titan Daniel Webster declined an invitation to run for the office with the comment, "I do not propose to be buried until I am dead." Nelson Rockefeller, appointed by Gerald Ford in the aftermath of Richard Nixon's resignation, groused, "I never wanted to be vice president of anything." But Bob Dole, Ford's running mate in 1976, looked at the bright side: "It's indoor work and no heavy lifting."

It was Walter Mondale, under Jimmy Carter, who managed to acquire meaningful duties in the White House, and that role has grown with Al Gore, Dick Cheney, Joe Biden, and Mike Pence. Harris is on course to enlarge it further.

All this will pay off should she eventually become president, by acquainting her with the impossible responsibilities that go with the office. As Barack Obama said, when "something reaches my desk, that means it's really hard. Because if it were easy, somebody else would have made the decision, and somebody else would have solved it."

And if Vice President Harris doesn't solve the problems she's been assigned, President Harris will know just the person to give them to.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Underestimate That ‘Senile’ Biden Guy At Your Peril

In a Democratic presidential debate in September 2019, Julian Castro thought he heard Joe Biden say something that contradicted himself, and he pounced on the opportunity to suggest that Biden was over the hill. "Are you forgetting what you said two minutes ago?" he demanded. "Are you forgetting already what you said just two minutes ago?"

Propelled by this moment of triumph, Castro went on to become a member of the board of directors of a Washington think tank. His humiliated opponent was never heard from again.

As it turned out, it was Castro who was confused about what Biden had said. If the 2020 campaign proved anything, it's that underestimating Biden is dangerous. But Republicans persist in depicting him as a decrepit specimen who is wholly inadequate to his presidential responsibilities.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) expressed concern last month that the president was not doing cable news interviews or tweeting much. "Is he really in charge?" he tweeted. When Biden addressed Congress, Fox News host Tucker Carlson claimed to hear "a 78-year-old man losing his grip." Wall Street Journal columnist Holman Jenkins Jr. wondered if Biden is "a man of diminished capacities" who is "making himself a prop for an agenda that he may not quite grasp."

This sounds eerily like what Biden's detractors said about him during the campaign. First it was from the left, with supporters of Bernie Sanders putting out talking points insisting that Biden was in "obvious cognitive decline." Sen. Cory Booker said, "There are definitely moments where you listen to Joe Biden and you just wonder."

Biden somehow stumbled his way to the nomination, vanquishing a huge field of younger and supposedly sharper rivals (and an older one, Sanders). But that didn't stop Republicans from insisting that he was conducting a mostly virtual campaign — "hiding in the basement" — not because of the pandemic but because he was too addled to appear in public.

Then-President Donald Trump predicted that if Biden should somehow win, "They are going to put him in a home, and other people are going to be running the country." An editorial in The Wall Street Journal warned that Biden might "duck the debates" because "his handlers are trying to protect him from doubts about his cognitive capacity."

But the Democratic nominee apparently was pulled out of his nursing home bed to participate in the debates. He managed keep his composure even in the chaotic first one, when Trump ignored the rules, bullied the moderator and interrupted Biden 73 times.

For a dementia victim, he did amazingly well. In fact, polls indicated that voters thought Biden got the best of Trump in all three faceoffs. He also won the election, over an incumbent president who called him "the worst candidate in the history of politics."

But critics continue harping on this losing theme. In March, Fox News contributor and The Hill columnist Joe Concha demanded to know why Biden hadn't held a press conference or given a speech before Congress. Biden has since done both, and handled both with competence and aplomb.

His foes still imagine that they can make people accept something that is plainly untrue. But Americans prefer to believe what they see with their own eyes. Biden's approval rating is higher than Trump's ever was, and an ABC News/Ipsos poll released Sunday found that 64 percent of Americans are optimistic about the direction of the country.

The portrayal of Biden as disconnected from reality is particularly creative coming from people who shrugged off Trump's fantastical claims, nonstop lies, strange mispronunciations and unhinged rants. They had no problem with a Republican president who spent an outlandish amount of his time watching TV and fulminating on Twitter while neglecting the more important duties of his office.

The image of Biden as helpless is hard to reconcile with the parallel claim that he is ruthlessly transforming America into a woke Marxist dystopia. But conservatives square this circle by theorizing that Vice President Kamala Harris is actually running the show. Their paradoxical accusation: Biden is hiding to conceal the fact that he's not in charge, while Harris is hiding to conceal the fact that she is.

So far, their entire portrayal of this White House has failed to persuade anyone but the dishonest and the gullible. Meanwhile, Biden continues advancing an ambitious Democratic agenda that has broad public support. Sure, he's senile. Senile like a fox.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Poll: Voters Favor Biden’s Border Strategy — Including Republicans

A new poll has found that a majority of Republican voters support the Biden administration's approach of addressing the root causes of immigration to the United States even as GOP lawmakers have repeatedly attacked the president for it.

A Civiqs/Immigration Hub poll, which surveyed just over 3,000 voters from April 15-20, revealed that 85% of Americans believe the U.S. government should work more closely with other countries to reduce immigration before it starts.

Among Republicans, that number was even higher, at 87%.

Among Democrats, 86% said the United States needed to work with foreign nations to address the root causes of immigration; 81% of independents said the same.

"After four years of harsh, inhumane immigration tactics aimed at deterring people from coming to America, we now see a public and a president intent on taking a new approach," Immigration Hub executive director Sergio Gonzales said in a statement on Thursday. "In particular, as Vice President Harris continues to roll out new initiatives and achievements in addressing the root causes of migration with our neighbors to the south, voters strongly support the need for this type of regional leadership. They understand that migration at our border is driven by desperate circumstances such as extreme hunger and violence."

In March, President Joe Biden tasked Vice President Kamala Harris to look into the primary reasons that prompt immigrants to flee their home counties, in particular the Northern Triangle countries of Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador in Central America, where gang violence and poverty are rampant.

On April 27, the vice president held a virtual roundtable with Guatemalan community-based organizations to help her identify the communities that need support the most.

"I know that there are acute factors," she said. "The acute factors that I think of are the catastrophes that are causing people to leave right now: the hurricanes, the pandemic, the drought, extreme food insecurity. And then I believe there are the longstanding issues, what we call the 'root causes': corruption, violence, and poverty, and, of course, the lack of economic opportunity and the lack of not only climate mitigation, but climate adaptation and the lack of good governance."

Harris noted that she would visit Guatemala in June.

On April 26, the vice president hosted Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei for a virtual bilateral meeting to discuss ways the two nations could cooperate on issues surrounding immigration.

"They agreed on the importance of prosperity, good governance, and anti-corruption measures to protect all members of society and to build a foundation of hope for a better future," Harris' spokeswoman Symone Sanders said in a statement. "In light of the dire situation and acute suffering faced by millions of people in El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras, Vice President Harris announced an additional $310 million in U.S. government support for humanitarian relief and to address food insecurity."

Harris also spoke over the phone on April 7 with Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador about collaborating on similar issues. She is scheduledto speak with him again on May 7 about his tree-planting immigration proposal in Central America.

Despite those efforts, Republicans have blamed Biden for stoking a so-called "crisis" at the southern border, suggesting he himself is the "root cause" of immigration from Central America due to his various policies on the matter.

"I'm getting sick & tired of hearing this 'root causes' gibberish coming from the White House. If they traveled to the border they'd know before even landing that the root cause is THEM," Rep. Byron Donalds tweeted on Thursday.

Moreover, GOP lawmakers have refused to accept that Harris is not directly in charge of issues at the border itself, repeatedly attacking her even though the Biden administration has clarified her actual role numerous times.

"Why hasn't our 'Border Czar' Kamala Harris visited the border? Why won't Biden mention that? We need to keep our country safe and secure. This administration is NOT up to the task," Texas Rep. Ronny Jackson, the former Trump administration White House physician accused of misconduct, tweetedon Thursday.

As White House press secretary Jen Psaki noted in a March 29 briefing, "The Vice-President of the United States will be helping lead that effort [to address] the root causes, not the border. There's some confusion over that."

"The Northern Triangle, which I'm sure you're aware of, is not the same as the border," she reiterated later, in an April press briefing.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Biden Condemns Systemic Racism And White Supremacy In Blunt Terms

By Andrea Shalal WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Joe Biden took aim on Sunday at the "ugly poisons" of "systemic racism and white supremacy" that he said had long plagued the United States, and vowed to change the laws that enabled continued discrimination. In blunt language, the Democratic president said the country faced problems with racism, xenophobia and nativism. Biden's statement followed similar sentiments from Vice President Kamala Harris, who detailed in Atlanta on Friday the U.S history of discrimination against Asian Americans. "Racism is real in America and it has always been," s...