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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

Murder Rate Rose In Republican Cities, Too

If you're worried by the rise in violent crime — a real and troubling phenomenon — don't ask Republicans for solutions. All they can offer is a blame game that relies on dubious cherry-picked data. To get their message, just glance at Breitbart.com, the home of hard-right hackery: "Violent Crime Surges 25 Percent in 2021 With Democrats in Washington." You can find dozens of similar headlines across right-wing platforms, which invariably announce "skyrocketing crime rates in Dem-run cities." (Stay tuned for grainy video of a disturbing attack.)

Then there's former President Donald Trump himself, the loudest presidential loser in history, blathering fantastical statistics that are meant to show how dangerous life is in America now that he's gone.

Such assertions may momentarily satisfy the two-minute anger ritual that substitutes for critical thinking among the Republican base. Whenever something bad is happening, it can only be the result of a conspiracy implicating Democrats, immigrants, minorities, immigrants and minorities in cities — and preferably all of the above. Rising crime fulfills both the cynical strategy of Republican politicians and the primitive emotions of their voters.

But should you wish to understand what's actually happening, not only in major cities but in towns and counties of every size, then it's worth examining data beyond the Republican talking points.

Murder rates are indeed going up in cities around the country. And because most cities are governed by Democratic mayors, it is accurate to say that violent crime rates are rising in "Democrat-run cities." But, as the Republicans parroting that line of propaganda know, it's also accurate to say that violent crime is rising in "Republican-led cities."

While the murder rate has gone up in Chicago and Detroit and Philadelphia, all run by Democrats, the murder rate has likewise gone up in Tulsa and Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; in Fort Worth, Texas; in Fresno, California; and in Miami, Florida. Every one of those cities is run by a Republican mayor and overseen by a Republican governor.

Jacksonville, Florida, is known as the "murder capital" of the Sunshine State — and has had a Republican mayor for the past six years. Fort Worth survived its most violent year in the past quarter century in 2020, with a murder rate that nearly doubled from the previous year. Betsy Price has been the city's Republican mayor for the past 10 years.

The point is not, of course, that Republican mayors are culpable for the shocking upsurge in violence that beset their cities last year — nor were they probably responsible for the sharp drops in crime that the entire country experienced over the past two decades. The underlying causes of crime rates, whether trending up or down, have puzzled criminologists, cops and other honest experts for many years.

Equally inaccurate is the claim that "defund the police" — a wrongheaded and confusing slogan briefly popular in the aftermath of George Floyd's 2020 murder — has sparked the growing number of urban killings. But the data show clearly that the same trend is evident across cities, whether they increased or decreased police funding. Even stupid slogans don't kill people.

Guns do kill, however — and among the suggestive statistics of the pandemic is the alarming national flood of firearms purchases. While most crime remains relatively low compared to previous decades, gun violence is way up. The National Rifle Association might tell you that more guns make us more safe, but life doesn't actually work that way.

The extremes on both sides of this issue are misguided. We would almost certainly be safer with more and better-trained police as well as fewer and better-tracked guns. Still, the plain fact is that we don't yet know for sure why the rates of the worst violent crimes went up over the past year or so.

What we do know — and what someone should tell Trump whenever he opens his mouth to exacerbate racial polarization — is that the sharp increase began in 2020. Yes, that was during his presidency. So, you could write a headline blaring: "Homicide Rates Increased 53 Percent in Major Cities Between 2019 and 2020," and that would be true, too.

Would that claim prove anything? Not really. Except that on issues of public policy, the former guy and his little partisan echoes should pipe down.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Will Americans Go Backward Into Disease And Depression, With Trump?

In the professional stratum of politics, few verities are treated with more reverence than the outcome of next year's midterm, when the Republican Party is deemed certain to recapture majorities in the House and Senate. With weary wisdom, any pol or pundit will cite the long string of elections that buttress this prediction.

Political history also tells us that many factors can influence an electoral result, including a national crisis or a change in economic conditions — in other words, things can change and even midterm elections are not entirely foretold. There have been a few exceptions to this rule, too.

Such an exception ought to be possible in a country where, increasingly, the Democratic Party represents majority opinion on most salient issues, while the Republican Party wields power mainly because of rules, traditions, population imbalances and constitutional anomalies that thwart the majority. In no other democratic nation is the will of most citizens so systematically frustrated.

So the Democrats must fight their way uphill, and they would be wise to start now. The way to begin is to define the terms of battle with a message that reflects the lived experience as well as the hopes and expectations of voters in America after former President Donald Trump's 2020 election loss — and draws a powerful contrast with the opposition.

That message begins with the behavior of the Republicans, who no longer even pretend to have policy solutions to the crises that America confronts. Instead, they function solely as sycophantic servants of Trump, whose synthetic grievances over his impeachments and defeat continue to be their shared obsession. The Grand Old Party is no longer grand and scarcely a party, but it is terribly "old" in the most insulting sense: an entity decrepit and stuck in the past.

In recent days, the Republican leadership and a few of its media minions have seemed to sense how badly and bloodily they botched the pandemic. Suddenly, after more than a year of pretending it would go away and months of undermining the vaccination campaign, some of them are urging Americans to get inoculated. But with so many loonies and cultists infesting their active base, the party can't dispel the aura of needless, stupid death that surrounds it. Geniuses that they are, the Republicans apparently noticed President Joe Biden's strong approval, which rests on his competent, compassionate, scientific response to the pandemic.

Meanwhile that awful negative aura extends over the Republican obstruction of Biden's investments in economic recovery and national infrastructure, which are favored by a big majority of voters — and even a plurality of their own party rank and file. As the benefits of the Democratic program reach more households, the inadequacy of the Republicans will only be underlined.

The last time Democrats defied the midterm curse was in 1998, when Newt Gingrich overplayed his hand by impeaching Bill Clinton — another Republican outrage against the popular will. Their paranoid and conspiratorial tendencies have only grown worse over the past two decades.

Today's Republicans can be relied upon to exhibit the same character deficit as the 2022 cycle unfolds. That process began earlier this month, when a mob of fascist thugs disrupted a town hall hosted by Democratic Rep. Katie Porter in her Southern California district. While Porter spoke about solutions to climate change and the pandemic, they interrupted her with shouted slogans and tried to drown her out. The disturbance was planned, organized, and led by her Republican opponent, a white nationalist and anti-vaccination activist who disgracefully joined in physical attacks on her supporters.

The attack on Porter, so reminiscent of the worst Tea Party scenes in 2009, is a harbinger of things to come. It is a clear reminder to every voter of what the GOP now represents as an engine of authoritarian violence, big lies and bigotry — the continuation of January 6. They are nothing more than Trump, a hollow figure who returns endlessly to a past that reeks of depression, disease and deception. And they are willing to violate every democratic principle to drag the country backward with him.

But most Americans don't want to go backward with Trump and his goons. Now they must mobilize to defend democracy and keep moving forward.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The Pedophiles' Best Friend Is A Trump Republican

Of all the lurid nonsense circulating among conspiracy-addled Republicans, none of their theories is viler than the libel of child sexual abuse that began under the rubric of "Pizzagate" and became the basis of the cult ideology of QAnon. So successful was the smear campaign begun by followers of Donald Trump that millions of deranged people now believe those gothic horror tales targeting the likes of Hillary Clinton, Chrissy Teigen, and Tom Hanks, with the connivance of Republican politicians in search of Jewish space lasers.

Then there's real life, in which actual, detestable pedophiles and other sex offenders can depend on their reliable defender Kenneth W. Starr to shield them from the punishment they deserve. Yes, it's that Ken Starr, the Savanarola of sexual propriety, who is the pedophiles' best friend.

What we have learned in recent days about the sanctimonious Starr, from his alleged sexual infidelities to his zealous defense of the late Jeffrey Epstein, not only strips away his pious pretensions as sheer hypocrisies but also raises serious questions about his conduct that must still be answered.

A former public relations executive named Judi Hershman opened the latest inquest into Starr's iniquities on July 13 when she published an essay on Medium titled "Ken Starr, Brett Kavanaugh, Jeffrey Epstein and Me" that detailed, among many other things, her own illicit affair with the former independent counsel. Her account of an episode with the borderline Kavanaugh and his uncontrollable temper when they both worked for Starr on the Clinton prosecution, as well as her disillusionment with the misogynistic Starr, is worth reading. Yes, that Ken Starr, who, she says, took her hand and "placed it on his crotch."

Hershman recalls Starr's attempt in 2010 to deceive her into "counseling" Epstein, whom he whitewashed as "a very wealthy, very smart businessman who got himself into trouble for getting involved with a couple of underage girls who lied about their ages." He explained that "everyone deserves representation" and that the very smart businessman had "promised to keep it above 18 from now on." By then Epstein had raped scores of underage girls, and thereafter continued to do so.

Hershman writes that at the time, it didn't occur to her that Starr himself would be lying about Epstein, or that he might have been involved in executing the "secret and egregious sweetheart deal" that allowed the very smart businessman to evade justice for so many years.

But according to a new book by Miami Herald reporter Julie K. Brown, who first blew the lid off that deal, Starr was zealously committed to the Epstein defense. Her earlier reporting led to the dismissal of Alex Acosta, the U.S. Attorney in Florida who signed off on that agreement, from former President Donald Trump's cabinet.

In Perversion of Justice, Brown writes that Epstein brought on Starr and Jay Lefkowitz, his longtime associate and partner at Kirkland & Ellis, because of their connections in the Bush Justice Department. Starr's campaign on behalf of Epstein included a "brutal" smear of a female prosecutor and an insider lobbying effort at the department's Washington headquarters.

Apparently, Starr has a strangely protective attitude toward molesters and rapists, even when he isn't being paid big money to defend them. A few years after his crusade on Epstein's behalf, he and his wife sent a letter to a county judge urging leniency for Christopher Kloman, a retired school administrator and friend of the Starrs who pled guilty to molesting five girls at the Potomac School in McLean, Virginia. They thought he should be sentenced to community service, but the judge instead gave him 43 years in prison.

Americans first glimpsed the dark side of Starr's character when he published the salacious Starr Report (co-authored by Kavanaugh) that led to the impeachment of former President Bill Clinton. They learned more about him when he was booted from the presidency of Baylor University for covering up the rampant sexual abuse of women on campus, including a gang rape by football players. With his partisan fanaticism and his bogus religiosity, he was a natural for Trump's impeachment defense.

Considering the smears perpetrated against Hillary Clinton in recent years, it is ironic indeed to review the unsavory conduct of a man who spent so much public time and money attempting to frame her for crimes she didn't commit as first lady. But these revelations about Starr should evoke more than bemused contempt.

What Julie Brown's book demands is a full investigation of an authentic conspiracy to pervert justice by Republican prosecutors and lawyers, including Starr. The Justice Department and the House and Senate judiciary committees must not let them get away with it.

[EDITOR'S NOTE: An earlier version of this column wrongly identified the former US Attorney in southern Florida as Alex Azar -- the former secretary of health and human services. Azar has no connection with the Epstein case and we regret the error.]

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

How The Republican Party Became A Death Cult

The childish narcissism and prideful ignorance of the American right — as personified in its idol, former President Donald Trump — have transformed "conservatism" into a public health menace. Republicans in office and their media echoes are the principal obstacles to vaccinating enough Americans to achieve herd immunity from COVID-19, which would be awful even if their gullible audiences were the only potential victims.

But the rapid spread of the highly contagious and harmful delta variant is a warning that large pools of unvaccinated human hosts create the perfect environment for further mutations that may overcome vaccines and kill more efficiently. This means, in short, that the Republicans resisting vaccination and encouraging others to resist are a danger to all. After whining bitterly for the past year about masks and shutdowns, these same complainers may now make a safe reopening impossible.

The campaign to thwart vaccination grows more intense on the right as the Biden administration seeks desperately to prevent a viral catastrophe. It is a campaign of fear and lies, seemingly designed to ensure that the maximum number of Americans will succumb to the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control, at least 99 percent of those Americans now dying from coronavirus infection are unvaccinated. The Republicans urging their constituents to reject the vaccine appear determined to massacre them in a terrible parody of the Darwinian theory of natural selection.

What's so strange about this strategy is that its only possible result will be to cull the gullible who make such easy marks for every "conservative" crusade, con and scam. Perhaps the point is to block President Joe Biden's vaccination campaign from ultimate success, even if such partisan recalcitrance mostly kills their own.

Equally sinister is the fact that many of the loudest voices hindering universal inoculation belong to hucksters who are already vaccinated themselves. Consider the Fox News Network, where hysterical anti-vaccine messages are broadcast every day and night, most prominently by Tucker Carlson — who refuses to disclose whether he (and his family) have been vaccinated.

Sean Hannity at first refused to say whether he got the shot, but then admitted that he had. With his usual intellectual consistency, Hannity continued to discourage vaccination anyway. Jesse Watters, Brit Hume, Harris Faulkner, the hosts of "The Five" and "Fox & Friends," and nearly every other on-air personality are all inoculated. We can be confident that the studio personnel, camera crews and all the office staff who work for the network are vaccinated too.

We know for certain, too, that Rupert Murdoch is not only vaccinated but went to London last December so he could jump the line for a jab. The marauding billionaire Fox News boss clearly knows how to keep himself safe but doesn't care if hundreds of thousands of his network's viewers are imperiled. The profits from stoking stupidity have always been irresistible to him.

Why Republicans have decided to pursue this destructive obsession to the point where it specifically threatens their voters and donors is difficult to comprehend. After all, they spent months insisting that the Trump administration deserved all the credit for the development of the COVID-19 vaccines, a gross exaggeration of a scientific process that occurred over many years and outside the framework of Operation Warp Speed. Trump got the shot and has declared vaccines to be "safe and effective" and "a miracle."

Yet almost every day, Trump's lackeys ratchet up the anti-vaccine melodrama to new and highly fictionalized extremes. Crazed members of Congress declare that the nation faces a "Marxist" conspiracy to force everyone to get a shot. Their foam-flecked rhetoric threatens the safety of health care workers who will soon be visiting households to inform the unvaccinated about the shot and where to get one. For trying to save lives, those workers will encounter scorn and perhaps violence.

The Republican loudmouths must be unaware that mandatory vaccinations have been a reality in this country for decades — and of course have saved millions of lives. Today, according to the CDC, every single state, red or blue, mandates various vaccinations for staff and students in public schools. Thousands of businesses, large and small — and probably not operated by Marxists — are requiring employee vaccination now.

Does freedom require us to allow stupid people to endanger everyone else and the future of society? Or should we be seeking to free ourselves from the ravages of a disease that has killed 600,000 of our people and millions around the world?

It isn't a hard question. Get vaccinated.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

What Patriotism Means -- And Doesn't Mean -- In America Today

Marking this year's Independence Day will feel different to most Americans because the yoke of an oppressive presidency has been lifted from the nation. Over the past four years we endured the rule of a man unfit for the responsibilities of his office, unwilling to honor the oath he had sworn to uphold the Constitution and unable to lead our diverse people as we seek a more perfect union. The end of that unwholesome episode is ample reason for celebration — and an occasion to reflect on what patriotism means to us.

No American president in memory has so starkly epitomized the distinction between patriotism and nationalism as former President Donald J. Trump. And what he has showed us, in his typically crude style, is that lurking behind the loudest manifestations of nationalism is usually a gross betrayal of American ideals. We have also learned important lessons, sometimes — but not always — uplifting, about the values held by our fellow Americans.

Trump's misuse of national symbols and slogans was embedded deeply in his presidential campaign and the authoritarian movement it spawned. Ignorant of the rules and protocols that surround our flag, he hugged it to himself as if it were his personal property. Contemptuous of our constitutional traditions, he told voters that only he could "make America great again." Oblivious to the historical meaning of a phrase used by Nazis to weaken our resolve against fascism, he proclaimed "America First" as the foundation of his foreign policy. Or perhaps he did know — as so many of his bloody-minded supporters surely do.

From the day that he opened his first presidential campaign with the utterance of racist tropes, to the day that he tried to hang onto the presidency by inciting an insurrection at the Capitol, Trump violated every principle that an American patriot should uphold. He sought the highest office with the assistance of a foreign adversary in a manner that his own campaign manager deemed "treasonous," and then compounded that offense. He repeatedly undermined confidence in our democratic system, an act he has vowed to continue until his final breath. He purposely damaged the alliances that have protected our security for 75 years. He spit on the principles of liberty that distinguished us and our allies from the regimes that aim to humble us and cultivated dictatorships because he adores that vile and alien form of government.

Unhappily we watched as Trump infected the Republican Party, which was founded by Abraham Lincoln, with the nationalistic bluster that is his political brand — and displaced its policies and principles with conspiratorial obsessions and a personality cult. The party that once prided itself on its support of national security, military valor and the rule of law has discarded those standards. Trump's nasty little minions disparage the U.S. Army, the FBI, flag officers and decorated heroes, merely to please their Dear Leader. Those debased displays have settled the question of whether conservatives are more patriotic than liberals, which I have sometimes contemplated in this space.

But we have also watched over the past four years as some lifelong Republicans confronted the truth about Trump and what his rise proved about their party. Forced to choose between party and country, many of them made the truly patriotic decision to fight against Trumpism, even if it meant turning their backs on longtime friends and joining with their former foes in the Democratic Party. With those courageous acts, they salvaged a measure of honor for traditional conservatism.

At the moment, Trump and his minions are once again brandishing "patriotism" and so-called "patriotic education" to demonize Americans who are willing to face the ugly facts about American history, from slavery and Jim Crow to the dispossession and genocide of native Americans to the bigotries that still deface our country. It's another big lie.

On this holiday, let's acknowledge that love of country need not be blind. Generations of Americans of all backgrounds — the Black soldiers who return home to communities that violated their dignity, the Nisei troops who defended a nation that interned their families, the Native code-talkers from impoverished reservations — have proved their loyalty over and over again, despite their own deep awareness of how distant we are from that more perfect union. My father was a soldier too, and I stand with them.

Know your country, love your country, and defend your country's ideals of liberty and equality against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Happy Fourth.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Yes, There Is A Conspiracy

Conspiracy has replaced policy as the motivating force of the Republican Party and its media minions — but only the most flimsy and imaginary conspiracies qualify for partisan attention. Actual criminal conspiracies that threaten the nation merit no concern.

That's why congressional Republicans killed the independent commission to investigate the January 6 insurrection but now insinuate that the terrible events of that day were secretly instigated by the FBI. While there is no shred of evidence to support that fraudulent and insulting claim, the Party of Trump can say anything to its moronic cultists without fear of contradiction. They're faithful supporters of law enforcement, except when they're insulting law enforcement officers, accusing them of felonious schemes or perhaps trying to maim them.

Such fabrications ought to be familiar to anyone who has been paying attention over the past few years. Concocted to distract from real events and issues, they have become the standard Trumpist retort whenever a troubling question arises.

When the collusive relationship between Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and the Kremlin became too obvious to ignore, the response from the suspected perpetrators (and traitors) in the White House was to scream "conspiracy." Somebody was conspiring to mount a "witch hunt" against Trump, whether it was the Deep State, the Clinton campaign, Fusion GPS, the fake news media, or all of them combined. Investigators and subpoenas uncovered the facts, which included Trump Tower meetings with Russian agents, interference by Russian intelligence assets to support Trump, and even a handoff of sensitive campaign materials to a Russian spy. Then came the cover-up, with Trump promising (and eventually delivering) pardons to Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Steve Bannon, Mike Flynn, and other crooks who might incriminate him.

Dismissing all of that, Attorney General Bill Barr pretended to see a possible conspiracy against Trump — and even deputized a U.S. Attorney named John Durham to uncover it. By the time that probe came up empty, however, everyone had presumably moved on.

Now the Republicans want to avoid a thorough investigation of the January 6 insurrection — and the malign and traitorous actors behind it — at any cost. Any serious probe will not only incriminate Trump and certain figures around him but may well implicate members of the House Republican caucus who encouraged the violence. We already know at least a few of their names, including Reps. Paul Gosar and Andy Biggs of Arizona, Rep. Mo Brooks of Alabama, and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia. All of them are frantically trying to conceal the horror of that day. Their actions scream consciousness of guilt.

Equally troubling for the Republican leaders is the prospect of testifying under oath about their own knowledge of what went down. They don't want to discuss the very strange failure by Trump to respond to pleas for help while the rioters hunted for members with intent to kill — as recounted by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. It's just too sickening, and so is their cowardice.

The Justice Department is prosecuting extremely violent conspiracies by members of the Trump-affiliated groups that attacked the Capitol, notably the Oath Keepers, the Proud Boys, and the QAnon cult. When all of the connections between those scummy outfits and Trump's circle are finally revealed, McCarthy and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell pray that America will no longer be paying attention.

If the fascist faction in the House — and their spokesman Tucker Carlson, the Fox News fabulist — believe their own slanders of the FBI, they should be clamoring for an independent investigation. But they're manufacturing a lie — and they know it.

Fortunately, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi just announced the formation of a House select committee to mount a full investigation of the January 6 insurrection. That special committee will have subpoena authority and, hopefully, a Democratic chair who will pursue the facts without remorse or fear. Unlike the independent commission, which Republicans rejected despite concessions to all of their demands, this committee will face no deadlines, nor require bipartisan agreement on investigative decisions.

Yes, there was, and is, a conspiracy against democracy, whose ringleaders will be exposed — despite the Republican leadership's desperate attempts to shield them.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Dr. Fauci And His Enemies

Ever since the Republican Party devolved into a wholly owned subsidiary of former President Donald Trump, it is increasingly preoccupied with conspiracy theories and smear campaigns. For Trump himself, as well as such Trump operatives as Roger Stone, smears and conspiracies define their politics, rather than policy or principle. Over the past few years, unfortunately, we have become accustomed to their grimy style.

The latest target of their fantasies and defamations is Dr. Anthony Fauci, now among the most familiar faces in America as the principal presidential adviser on the coronavirus. Fauci has become someone about whom right-wing noisemakers feel free to fabricate vicious lies. They slander him incessantly because — in the course of performing his duty to the nation — he displeased their master.

You see, the renowned epidemiologist didn't think Trump was making America great when the former president suggested that we inject bleach into ourselves, or buy up hydroxychloroquine or shun masking. Fauci even dared to note that the Trump administration's horrendous mismanagement of the pandemic had led to many thousands of unnecessary deaths. Because it did.

Now these same extremists — some of whom, such as television personality Tucker Carlson, masquerade as journalists — have insinuated that Fauci is actually responsible for the virus escaping from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, where it was supposedly "engineered." This grotesque falsehood briefly gained traction when a series of Fauci's emails were disclosed by BuzzFeed — and were promptly distorted and falsified to defame him. As The Washington Post's Philip Bump demonstrated in an article dismantling Carlson's charges, the Fox fabricator didn't even try to check whether there was any factual basis for his argument.

As Bump showed, there is no evidence that Fauci misled Congress about the origins of COVID-19. Nor is there a shred of proof that he tried to suppress research into the possibility that the virus somehow escaped from the Wuhan lab — a theory that most virologists still reject, although it bears further scrutiny. Demands for transparency from the Chinese government are valid; demands to "fire Fauci" are ridiculous.

The unsubtle goal of Trump's minions is to wipe away the blood of dead Americans that is now all over him and deflect the blame elsewhere. Republicans are now echoing a true meme about their fallen idol — "Trump Lied. People Died." — and trying to stick it on Fauci. But their noise cannot exonerate Trump. History will record him as a failed president who oversaw the worst American medical catastrophe in a century.

How will history regard Anthony Fauci? Unlike Trump, born to wealth and privilege, Fauci was a Brooklyn kid who grew up in an apartment over his father's pharmacy. He earned his way through merit, whether as the diminutive captain of his college basketball team or as the eventual winner of nearly every prize and award that matters in his chosen field. Having joined the National Institutes of Health as a clinical associate as soon as he completed his medical residency, he has served this country for more than 50 years.

Fauci is a professional, not a politician. He was appointed to his current position as director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases during the Reagan administration and has served both Republican and Democratic presidents ever since. In that position, where he has earned the world's trust, Fauci has led the nation's defense against a series of medical challenges, including the AIDS pandemic, the Ebola threat and a series of potential pandemics including the earlier SARS, the Middle East variant, and swine flu. To the extent that we have escaped the worst consequences of living on a planet where disease spreads like wildfire, he deserves much of the credit. He is one of the scientists most often cited in medical journals.

In 2008, then-President George W. Bush — another Republican whom the right once decreed as God's anointed leader — awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Fauci. That honor was based on Fauci's direction of the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, or PEPFAR, which was among the most successful government efforts in U.S. history and probably saved at least 18 million lives. Back in those days, the nation's conservative evangelicals helped persuade Bush to fund PEPFAR as a work of faith. Now, worshipping the golden calf, they disparage the man who made that program work.

Tony Fauci is a great American of no party or ideology. He would be the last to say that he has never made an error, because scientists make mistakes and learn from them. But if his dishonest critics live a thousand years, all of them together will never achieve a tiny fraction of the good he has done.

We don't need to hear any more from them.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Democrats Must Begin Jan. 6 Investigation -- Now

Framing his diplomatic visit to Europe within a broader historical mission, President Joe Biden rightly warns us that authoritarians are eager for democracy to fail. He knows very well that democracy's enemies are active here as well as abroad. Now, he and the leadership of his party must act to fully expose the most overt assault on our system of self-government since the Nixon era.

Congressional Democrats should move swiftly, with Biden's support, to establish a select committee to investigate the January 6 insurrection.

Like many Americans, including Democrats, Republicans, and independents, the president previously expressed his preference for an independent bipartisan commission, empowered by Congressional legislation, to conduct that investigation. But that path was closed last month when Senate Republicans killed the January 6 commission bill that had already passed the House. They did so at the bidding of Donald Trump, the principal investigative target, and of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who articulated one of their more absurd arguments against the commission.

"I think we will know everything we need to know. We were all witnesses," he said. "We were right there when it happened and I simply think the commission is not necessary." When a shattering crime occurs and a major witness then insists that an investigation is "not necessary," suspicion immediately arises concerning that person's consciousness of guilt.

The devious McConnell has aimed to prevent or discredit an investigation of January 6 not because we "know everything we need to know," but because he's scared to death of what we will learn — about the former president and other members of their party. On Trump's orders, the minority leader instructed his caucus to vote down the commission, despite its perfectly bipartisan composition, its pre-midterm deadline and a host of other features demanded by House Republicans.

Of course, this isn't the first time that Republicans have tried to evade scrutiny of a national catastrophe for which they were culpable. The bill establishing a commission to investigate January 6 was modeled on the 9/11 Commission — but that probe itself was nearly killed by aides to President George W. Bush, who feared that he would be blamed for failing to curtail the al-Qaida plot.

Then-Vice President Dick Cheney made a threatening phone call in the spring of 2002 to Senator Tom Daschle, the Democratic majority leader, warning that any investigation of 9/11 would be seen as a partisan maneuver and a hindrance to the "war on terror." Cheney's intervention is ironic in hindsight since his daughter Liz is among the handful of Republicans who urge a thorough investigation of the Capitol insurrection.

Congress ignored Cheney's whining; Bush reluctantly signed the enabling legislation; and the 9/11 Commission discharged its duties honorably, issuing a report that escaped the "partisan" taint. Now, however, the Republicans have only themselves to blame for shutting down the option of an independent commission on which they would have shared equal authority with Democrats.

Instead, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi can and should create a select committee to investigate the events of January 6. With the House Republicans behaving as if nothing untoward happened that day, the select committee ought to operate with a Democratic majority and a tough chair who will dismiss obstruction and distraction from the minority. And unlike the commission that Republicans stupidly killed, it would have the power to issue subpoenas without their consent.

No doubt some Democrats in Congress, as well as the White House, fear that any investigation of January 6 will suffer from accusations of partisanship. In a moment of comical hypocrisy, Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — who boasted about the partisan gains achieved by the Benghazi select committee in 2015 — has already leveled that charge against the bipartisan commission. Republicans are never more indignant than when they're faking it.

But who cares what McCarthy thinks anyway? What will matter in this investigation is an orderly, comprehensive, and undaunted finding of facts. It is indeed possible that such an investigation will benefit Democrats in the midterm elections and beyond. That's why Republicans want to stop it at all costs.

Too bad for them. Unearthing the truth about a violent assault on our Constitutional procedures — nothing less than an attempted coup d'etat — is a fundamental duty of Congress that cannot be evaded. Tempted by authoritarianism, the Republicans have chosen to dishonor their oath and cover up a crime against our country. There must be consequences for that, or we will forfeit our democratic heritage, perhaps forever.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

It's Time to Dump, Depose and Defenestrate DeJoy

Now that Postmaster General Louis DeJoy has confirmed reports that he is under investigation by the FBI for alleged campaign finance violations, ordinary postal customers who have suffered under his regime may rightly wonder why he is still in office. That is an urgent question — and has been an urgent question ever since President Joe Biden's inauguration — but it is worth examining how DeJoy got the job, and how he abused a position of constitutional trust.

The FBI probe concerns an alleged "straw donor" scheme undertaken by DeJoy to illegally funnel over a million dollars in excess contributions to the Republican Party and Donald Trump's presidential campaign. It's an obvious form of trickery designed to evade federal limitations on individual donations by urging others to support a campaign or candidate and then reimbursing them under the table. Corporate executives with political ambitions like DeJoy have committed this particular felony over and over again — and if DeJoy is indicted and convicted, he won't be the first suit sent to prison for it.

During and after the 2016 election, DeJoy raised upwards of a million dollars each for the Trump campaign and the Republican National Committee. For that he was named one of the party's three deputy finance chairmen — along with Michael Cohen, then still Donald Trump's personal attorney, and venture capitalist Elliott Broidy.

By then, Broidy had already been convicted on public corruption and bribery charges, while Cohen would soon plead guilty to campaign finance crimes as well as bank fraud. DeJoy would complete a dubious trifecta.

Last fall, a Washington Post investigation found that DeJoy had used the straw donor technique for over a decade to raise his profile as a Republican fundraiser in North Carolina. Former employees of New Breed Logistics, the supply chain firm he founded and then sold, said they had been pressured to make donations and repaid with bonuses and other compensation. The pattern dated back to the Bush administration — and appeared to have won at least two ambassadorial appointments for DeJoy's wife, Aldona Wos.

Yet while DeJoy's appointment as postmaster general was obviously greased by his massive donations, his alleged violations of election law are not the worst aspect of his regime. Even more troubling are major conflicts of interest that he has failed to resolve — and that some experts have described as potentially criminal.

When DeJoy sold New Breed to XPO Logistics, he held onto large amounts of stock and options in the merged company — which is a U.S. Postal Service contractor and might well profit from decisions made by him as postmaster. Policies promoted by DeJoy to diminish and even destroy postal delivery last year became controversial because of their effect on mail balloting — which his patron Trump blatantly sought to impede for partisan gain. But DeJoy is suspected of devising policies destructive to the Postal Service for his own self-serving purposes, too.

DeJoy and his family have invested tens of millions of dollars in companies, including XPO, that either contract with USPS, compete directly with USPS or both. Their investments in those competing firms, such as United Parcel Service, Forward Air and JB Hunt Trucking, are estimated between $30 million and $76 million, according to their own financial disclosures. Holding those interests in competing companies while serving in government is a serious violation of the law.

As Walter Shaub, former director of the Office of Government Ethics, said last year, "the idea that you can be a Postmaster General and hold tens of millions in stocks in a postal service contractor is pretty shocking." Except that the behavior of Trump, his family, his treasury secretary and many other conflicted employees lowered ethical expectations below zero.

Incredibly, DeJoy has only pretended to shed those conflicts since they were exposed last summer — by "divesting" his XPO holdings to his adult children. He continues to represent a holdover of the corrupt administration that voters ousted in 2020. And his plans to wreck the U.S. Postal Service remain a grave danger to an agency founded in Constitutional authority.

Biden could take action to have the Postal Service Board of Governors remove DeJoy from the board, which would mean he could no longer serve as postmaster general by law. Americans who depend on the mail for their livelihoods, medications and so much more need reform now. They can't wait until the last crooked Trump appointee is taken away in handcuffs.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The Party Of Surrender...To Tyranny

When the violent mob finally dispersed from the Capitol late on January 6, it left behind a troubling choice that Republican congressional leaders are only now being forced to make.

This week, they had to decide whether to fulfill their constitutional oath by supporting a full and independent investigation of that day's terrible events, which inevitably will reveal all the dimensions of former President Donald Trump's responsibility for the insurrection, or to surrender to Trump by attempting to kill that investigation while muttering excuses that only underline their cowardly dereliction.

We know how that went. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, along with a majority of their caucuses, showed abject obedience to the would-be dictator, who now rules the Republican Party with a clenched fist. He publicly ordered the pair of them to oppose the National Commission to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the United States Capitol Complex, as the legislation is titled, and they heeled like whipped dogs.

Considering the stakes, that was an especially disgraceful way for elected officials in a democracy to behave. In the immediate wake of the insurrection, both McConnell and McCarthy made statements showing that they understood what had happened and why accountability is essential. Both then flinched from holding Trump accountable through impeachment. Instead, they implied support of an empowered investigative commission — similar to those created after Pearl Harbor, former President Kennedy's assassination and the September 11 attacks.

Let's be clear about what led to this low moment. With very little reason to trust either McConnell or McCarthy, House Democrats nevertheless negotiated in good faith with their Republican counterparts on the House Homeland Security Committee to create legislation reflecting a bipartisan commission. Specifically, all of McCarthy's views, no matter how specious or silly, were incorporated in the final draft that reached the House floor, with the support of the committee's ranking member, Rep. John Katko, R-N.Y., and 34 other Republican members including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

Already fearful of Trump's reaction, McCarthy still indicated that leadership wouldn't whip a "no" vote. And McConnell nervously said he was open to supporting the commission. Then the tyrannical dicta was issued from Palm Beach, and suddenly, McCarthy dumped poor Katko and ordered his stooge Rep. Steve Scalise to whip against the bill, while McConnell crumpled, too. The debate was over before it started, because that's how tyranny rolls.

The explanations offered by these contemptible men deserve little or no comment. It suffices to contrast their flaccid approach to investigating January 6 with their unquenchable zeal to probe the far less consequential Benghazi tragedy, which they believed would harm a Democratic presidential contender (as McCarthy so memorably and stupidly boasted at the time).

There can be no valid reason to oppose the January 6 commission, and they all know it. The only sincere opponents are those such as the fledgling fascists of the "America First Caucus," who support the objectives of the insurrection and seek to destroy democracy.

The commission's mandate is not, as Sen. John Thune so feebly complained, "relitigating the 2020 election." That election ended last November with a decisive defeat for Trump; only he and his cult are still trying to "litigate" it, as Thune well knows.

The investigation of January 6 — and that investigation will continue, in grand juries and congressional committees, if not a bipartisan commission — is absolutely critical to the defense of the nation from an internal threat that includes but is not limited to the Trumpist cult. We must know every dimension of that tragic event, along with every measure required to curb its recurrence and uproot its instigators.

If Trump believed that an independent investigation would clear him of culpability for the insurrection, he could be expected to encourage it. But he appears terrified of what America would learn from a probe with subpoena power and skilled forensics. He may already know what the rest of us only suspect — namely, that he, his cohort and his militants contrived to assault the Capitol in a coup attempt against the constitutional process that sealed his electoral defeat.

Only ten Republican senators are needed to step forward with the courage and wisdom to perform their obvious duty. But they are all far more likely to fail, and history will despise them for it.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

The Dirty Secret Behind The Cheney Purge

When House Republicans deposed Liz Cheney from her leadership post, they were widely mocked for that display of abject servility to former President Donald Trump. But the motives behind her abrupt removal are more profound — and far more sinister — than the Wyoming representative's penchant for angering Trump.

Only a few months ago, Trump's irritation wasn't enough to undo Cheney, who easily survived a vote to remove her that was promoted by the ex-president's surrogates, notably the disgraced Rep. Matt Gaetz. Back in February, she had just voted to impeach Trump but nevertheless retained the support of two-thirds of her fellow Republicans and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.

So why did the Republicans, spurred by McCarthy, feel so compelled to oust her now?

According to Byron York, a veteran right-wing columnist well-connected with GOP leaders, Cheney lost her colleagues by continuing to confront Trump's attacks on American democracy. York suggests that her opposition to the big lie about the election and its aftermath "had become a distraction from the GOP's mission to oppose the Biden agenda and win back the House." Said one Republican who switched from supporting Cheney to opposing her, "I think a lot of people have changed their minds since the first vote because she just kept it going. We're trying to go forward."

To those Republicans, going forward means never looking back — and burying the January 6 assault on the Capitol, the events leading up to that attack, and especially the embarrassing and potentially incriminating involvement of their own members, leaders and supporters.

Immediately after the caucus vote, Cheney told NBC's Savannah Guthrie what she believes is provoking "real concern" among her colleagues: the prospect of a full and independent investigation into the January 6 insurrection, like the 9/11 Commission Report. "I've been very public that that commission needs to be bipartisan. It needs to look only at Jan. 6 and the events leading up to it, not at the BLM" — Black Lives Matter — "and antifa riots last summer," Cheney said on the Today show. "I think that that kind of intense, narrow focus threatens people in my party who may have been playing a role they should not have been playing."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has advocated a bipartisan commission of inquiry into Jan. 6 for months, but the Republicans are blocking it. McCarthy seems particularly unenthusiastic about examining that day of shame, perhaps because he does not wish to testify under oath himself.

Much has changed for the minority leader since he confronted Trump on the phone during the attack — and discovered firsthand that the then-president was pleased to let his mob sack the Capitol. "Well, Kevin," Trump reportedly said, "I guess these people are more upset about the election than you are." A week later, McCarthy was still furious enough to say on the House floor that Trump "bears responsibility for Wednesday's attack on Congress by mob rioters" and "should have immediately denounced the mob when he saw what was unfolding."

Today, McCarthy pretends that Trump acted promptly to quell the insurrection and deserves no blame at all. Unburdened by principles of any kind, or even a rudimentary sense of dignity, the Republican leader has become wholly complicit in Trump's betrayal of the Constitution.

Overseeing McCarthy's cooperation in the cover-up is his new political director, one Brian Jack, who held the same job in the Trump White House. Jack was directly involved in the events of January 6, including the recruitment of Rep. Mo Brooks to speak at the White House rally that preceded the riot, where the Alabama representative infamously incited the mob to "start ... kicking ass" at the Capitol.

These seditious miscreants want no part of a serious investigation of January 6. They fervently wish that it will never be mentioned again. Their own polling warns that reminding swing-district voters across the country of the insurrection — and Trump's election lies — will do grave damage to their campaign next year.

All the more reason why every patriotic American should join Liz Cheney in demanding a real investigation and complete accountability — and why Democrats should talk about Trump's onslaught against democracy every day from now through November. 8, 2022.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Gaetz's Patronage Of Medical Marijuana Industry Now Subject Of Criminal Probe

Prior to Florida's legalization of medical marijuana, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) was at the center of the proposed efforts to pass legislation. For years, he was also a fierce advocate for medical marijuana, but with the onslaught of investigations he is currently facing, there are also questions about his motivation for getting the legislation passed.

According to The Tampa Bay Times, just hours after the marijuana bill was passed, lawmakers incorporated an amended version of the bill that included a stipulation on who could apply and benefit from the billion-dollar income opportunity.The distinct change led to questions about conflicts of interest that may have motivated Gaetz. Several of Gaetz's close friends benefited from that stipulation.

Per the Tampa Bay Times, here is a short list of Gaetz's close associates and friends who benefited from the marijuana bill:

"— The brother of Gaetz's friend and fellow state Rep. Halsey Beshears, who co-founded one of Florida's first licensed marijuana companies and amassed a fortune currently valued at about $600 million — and became a major Republican Party donor.

— A Panhandle developer and client of Gaetz's law firm who invested in another of the state's first marijuana licensees and who, according to financial and court records, roughly tripled his money in two years.

— Ballard Partners, a prominent Tallahassee lobbying firm, which until recently employed former state Rep. Chris Dorworth, whom Gaetz once described as his legislative "mentor." The firm was given investment interests in at least three companies that eventually won marijuana licenses, and is now earning $160,000 a year in lobbying fees from a fourth.

— Another of Gaetz's friends, Orlando hand doctor Jason Pirozzolo, who helped craft that 2014 legislation and then started several marijuana businesses, including a consulting firm that worked with companies applying for marijuana licenses and a professional association that sells sponsorships to marijuana vendors."

Due to the number of people connected to Gaetz who have benefited from Florida's medical marijuana bill, investigators are working to determine if he received gifts or any form of compensation for his work to pass the marijuana legislation. Another aspect centers on the fact that all four are connected to the investigative probe into Gaetz's close friend, former Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg.

Gaetz's spokesperson Harlan Hill released a statement in response to the speculation, insisting the Republican lawmaker never received any gifts or items of value in exchange for his work to pass legislation on marijuana policy.

"While drafting Florida's initial medical marijuana law in 2014 with State Senator Rob Bradley, Gaetz had no knowledge that any of the people named in your story would seek to enter the industry," Hill said.

"Congressman Gaetz has never accepted a gift or any other thing of value in exchange for his work on marijuana policy," Hill added. "Congressman Gaetz's support for marijuana reform is rooted solely in his support for the Americans whose lives can be made better, healthier and easier through the use of marijuana. He looks forward to continuing this work in Congress."

Suspend Those Vaccine Patents Now

Images of the uncontrolled pandemic in India or Brazil may seem too distant to worry us in America, separated as we are by thousands of miles and decades of development. But any such complacency is badly misplaced. Raging contagion poses an existential threat to us, whether abroad or at home, and can only be stanched by an emergency mobilization of massive inoculation.

That global effort is only likely to succeed in time if Western countries remove the patent protections that now stand in the way of rapid and decentralized production of COVID-19 vaccines. Any nation that can make its own — with appropriate safeguards and quality assurance — must be given the formulas and technology to do so now. Delay means allowing the virus to spread and mutate at an unlimited rate, which would only result in disaster. It would render useless the vaccines, which represent the single meaningful achievement of former President Trump's administration.

After months of dithering over this question, despite an earlier promise by President Biden, the White House now supports lifting U.S. patents on the vaccines. That encouraging announcement came within hours of the publication of a pathbreaking article in The Atlantic magazine by Chelsea Clinton and Achal Prabhala. The daughter of former President Bill Clinton and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a public health expert as well as vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. Her co-author is a respected voice on access to medicines in the developing world.

As Clinton and Prabhala explain, the United States can back a pending proposal before the World Trade Organization to temporarily suspend intellectual property rights on the pandemic vaccines. "The proposal has been languishing at the WTO since October, despite overwhelming support from developing countries," they write, "because of opposition from the U.S., as well as from Canada, Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom." With the Biden administration switching sides, pressure on the other recalcitrant states will be too strong to resist.

But that won't be enough. Clinton and Prabhala also urge Biden to require both Moderna and Johnson & Johnson to disclose how they make the vaccines that were invented with billions invested by U.S. taxpayers. In fact, the principal technology that underlies the production of nearly all the COVID-19 vaccines is based on a discovery made with government funding that will shortly be patented — by the U.S. government.

Despite the critical public role in producing most of the vaccines now being used, the Trump administration negotiated contracts with the pharma companies that omitted any obligation to share those products or license them to other countries. Instead, following the blind stupidity of their "America First" mantra, Trump officials insisted that no such requirements be imposed.

Those foolish decisions can be overruled by Trump's successor, however, who now seems inclined to do so. Clinton and Prabhala point to the Defense Production Act, which provides broad presidential power to assist foreign nations during a worldwide health crisis. Biden could also threaten to sue most of the vaccine manufacturers for patent infringement, and he possesses many other levers to obtain their compliance.

The usual reluctance to sympathize with Big Pharma might be diminished somewhat by their remarkably swift creation of the lifesaving vaccines, heavily subsidized though they were. Their spokespersons have come up with a long list of excuses for maintaining the patent protections that most countries seek to suspend. For instance, they claim that even if patents are suspended, few countries have the capacity to safely manufacture the new vaccines at scale.

But quality manufacturing processes for those medicines have been greatly simplified and decentralized — and while Western countries delay, China and Russia have been licensing production of their own versions for the sake of "vaccine diplomacy." There is no reason why the United States and Europe, whose vaccines are superior, should lose that contest. The Western pharma companies have already earned tens of billions of dollars from vaccine sales and stand to make much more. Saving the planet from a coronavirus conflagration is in their interest too.

The world watched a similar process unfold two decades ago, when the industrialized countries finally reversed their genocidal policy of withholding HIV/AIDS medications from the poor because they were "too costly." The pharmaceutical companies opposed that humanitarian change, at the risk of a hundred million lives. Their greed was eventually overruled — by Bill Clinton and the late Nelson Mandela, among others — and that is exactly what should happen now.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Those foolish decisions can be overruled by Trump's successor, however, who now seems inclined to do so. Clinton and Prabhala point to the Defense Production Act, which provides broad presidential power to assist foreign nations during a worldwide health crisis. Biden could also threaten to sue most of the vaccine manufacturers for patent infringement, and he possesses many other levers to obtain their compliance.

The usual reluctance to sympathize with Big Pharma might be diminished somewhat by their remarkably swift creation of the lifesaving vaccines, heavily subsidized though they were. Their spokespersons have come up with a long list of excuses for maintaining the patent protections that most countries seek to suspend. For instance, they claim that even if patents are suspended, few countries have the capacity to safely manufacture the new vaccines at scale.

But quality manufacturing processes for those medicines have been greatly simplified and decentralized — and while Western countries delay, China and Russia have been licensing production of their own versions for the sake of "vaccine diplomacy." There is no reason why the United States and Europe, whose vaccines are superior, should lose that contest. The Western pharma companies have already earned tens of billions of dollars from vaccine sales and stand to make much more. Saving the planet from a coronavirus conflagration is in their interest too.

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The world watched a similar process unfold two decades ago, when the industrialized countries finally reversed their genocidal policy of withholding HIV/AIDS medications from the poor because they were "too costly." The pharmaceutical companies opposed that humanitarian change, at the risk of a hundred million lives. Their greed was overruled — by Bill Clinton and the late Nelson Mandela, among others — and that is exactly what should happen now.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Biden’s Big History Lesson For Republicans

Embedded in Joe Biden's first speech to Congress was a crucial lesson in our nation's economic history that every American ought to understand.

Explaining why he proposes to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on the construction of new power grids, broadband internet connections and transportation systems, the president reminded us of the public investments that have "transformed America" into a prosperous world power. It is a lesson too often and too easily forgotten amid the incessant propaganda, imbibed by almost all of us from an early age, about the "magic of the free market," the "dead hand of government" and various equally hoary conservative cliches.

Markets are marvelous, but government has been essential in growing and regulating the economy from the republic's very beginning. Biden cited the transcontinental railroad and the interstate highway system, the construction of public schools and colleges that enabled universal education, the medical and scientific advances that sprang from the space program and defense industries - but his speech could well have continued for quite a while in that same vein. Political leaders from Alexander Hamilton and Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy all have promoted public investment in research, infrastructure and people as the prerequisites of progress, and sometimes even national survival.

What progress requires, however, changes in every generation along with technology and society. Today, we face rapid climate change that jeopardizes the future of human civilization, creating threats that range from flood and fire to pandemic, famine, drought and mass migration. We must swiftly rebuild our basic infrastructure, which is crumbling after decades of neglect. And we have to bring the entire country into the modern digital economy before inequality permanently damages our democracy.

When Republicans say Biden wants to spend too much on a "liberal wish list" and we should do nothing more than repave roads and repair bridges, because that's "real infrastructure," their complaints only expose their ignorance. The expansion of rural broadband is just as necessary as fixing a bridge on a country road, and the replacement of lead pipes in city water systems is just as critical as filling potholes on an urban highway. The long list of projects enumerated in Biden's proposal, from new schools to veterans hospitals, from upgrading water systems to capping old oil and gas wells, and yes, for providing child and elder care — these are harbingers of a future that works.

We ought to have started this transformation years ago, even before the former guy uttered his false promises about infrastructure. But interest rates are still low — and more importantly, the billionaires whose fortunes derive from public investment can certainly pay for its upkeep and expansion. Biden correctly observed that while most Americans suffered from lost jobs and income during the pandemic, the richest families saw their wealth increase by a trillion dollars, after pocketing a Trump tax cut that awarded them trillions more. Are we all in this together? Not unless the super-rich pay their fair share.

It's nice that some Republicans — though not all, apparently — understand that we can't just let everything fall apart because we don't like taxes or we distrust government. Unfortunately, their comprehension of what infrastructure means is quaintly out of date. While the president warmly welcomed Republican proposals because he's interested in achieving a measure of bipartisan agreement, what they have offered so far is absurdly inadequate.

So, he offered a clear warning as well. Doing nothing — like the Republicans and their incompetent leader over the past four years — is not an option.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

How To Survive A Global Pandemic

Well before Joe Biden marked the end of his first hundred days as president, his administration doubled the goal of 100 million vaccinations he set at the beginning. His government's performance suggests that we can eventually temper the hesitancy among certain populations — notably white males who watch too much Fox News — on our way to herd immunity.

After the United States manages to inoculate the great majority of those who live here, however, we will still have to face a greater threat — and a lesson about life on this planet that we ought to have learned decades ago.

The rich nations, including ours, must vaccinate the poor nations, all of them, or we will never escape the shadow of the pandemic. This is an obvious moral imperative, since billions of lives are at stake. But if that doesn't work for you, try this: Every unvaccinated human being on Earth is a potential breeder of virus mutations that could evade current vaccines and decimate our population.

That's the merciless science of viruses — and yet, to date, we and our allies have done far too little to ensure that the miraculous vaccines will find every arm that requires one.

Biden seemed to acknowledge the necessity of a global vaccination campaign within weeks of taking office, when he promised to deliver $4 billion for Covax, a multilateral effort promoted by the World Health Organization to finance vaccination in poorer countries. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is trying to raise another $2 billion.

Unfortunately, those well-meaning pledges won't mean much in the developing world now, as a recent report from scientists at Duke University points out, because wealthy nations have cornered the vaccine market. With a population of just over a billion, those nations have acquired nearly 5 billion doses, locking up production capacity for months ahead.

By July 4, when the president hopes we can all enjoy barbecues with friends and family, the United States will have over 300 million extra doses on ice — enough to immunize the entire populations of many smaller countries that have almost none. Neither the United States nor its allies have announced any plan to donate the hundreds of millions of extra vaccines to the needier nations. Which means that another two years or more may pass before people in those countries can be vaccinated; many, many innocent people will die; and the danger of vaccine-proof mutant viruses will grow exponentially.

The intractable inequities are made worse by bad policies that have somehow survived the pandemic, including the insistence on protecting vaccine patents by the United States, the United Kingdom and the European Union. Those powerful states stymied a petition to the World Trade Organization from nearly a hundred developing countries to set aside patent protections on vaccines during the pandemic. They asked for a temporary waiver, but in fact, it should be permanent.

And that is only the first step in recognition of our global mutuality. Despite the xenophobic barking that got so loud during the era of former President Trump, the truth is that none of us will be safe until all of us are safe — and that will remain true for our children and their children. The strutting nationalists who denounce "globalism" have no viable answers to the problems we confront, from pandemics to climate change; instead, they pretend those crises aren't real.

Such denialism remains the "nationalist" attitude toward the pandemic even now. After burying more than 570,000 of our fellow Americans, we know how that blind approach has worked out. Hostility, ignorance and selfishness equal death.

Whether we like it or not, we live on a globalizing world with billions of other people, and at the moment, we have nowhere else to go. After all this misery, we must grow up and act as if we understand that most basic fact — lifting up humanity together, the only way we will save ourselves.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com

How To Exit The Forever War

The courage of President Biden's decision to bring our troops home from Afghanistan should not be underestimated. But neither should that withdrawal be mistaken for the end of the "forever war" that the United States and its NATO allies have endured there for so long. We will leave, but the Afghans aren't going anywhere — and our responsibility for what happens there won't disappear either.

Biden surely knows there will be bad prospects for the government in Kabul when our troops go, even though we will continue to finance its army and air force. Most Americans, who devote little attention to what happens in Afghanistan, probably don't know how limited the reach of that regime is today (which is why our veterans sometimes call it #Forgotistan). After two decades, $2 trillion and the loss of more than 2,000 of our troops, it scarcely rules over more than the capital itself. The Taliban and other hostile forces control the rest.

That obviously doesn't bode too well for the future, and as Biden also knows, his Republican critics will blame him should the Kabul regime fall. They will conveniently forget that his predecessor not only insisted on an Afghan withdrawal but also set a departure date too abrupt to be met.

No doubt Donald Trump will join that chorus, turning around and shamelessly attacking Biden for "abandoning" Afghanistan, because that's what he does. So will figures like Sen. Lindsey Graham, a military strategist whose insights lured us into Iraq, a far worse disaster than Afghanistan. Graham now predicts that pulling out will result in terror attacks — but the biggest threat to America is from white supremacists within our own borders, a menace he denies. We don't have to occupy another nation to fight extremist enemies here or abroad.

Biden's critics will also forget the most salient fact about the Afghan war, which is how it began. I will confess to supporting the initial invasion following the 9/11 attacks, because I regarded the destruction of al-Qaida and the punishment of the Taliban for harboring Osama bin Laden as essential to American and world security. Like many others who endorsed the war in its earliest stages, I have long believed that the administration of former President George W. Bush — obsessed with overthrowing Saddam Hussein in Iraq — ensured failure at the start.

Yet honesty compels me to say that those few who opposed the U.S. action back then may have been right all along. After such a long and costly misadventure, it isn't certain that what once seemed imperative was ever prudent, or just. What could have been done and what should have been done are no longer relevant — except to the Afghan people, who have suffered gravely without any end in sight. More than 150,000 of them have died in the war, with almost a third of the dead civilians.

Those Afghans were innocent of the terrorist violence that struck our cities on Sept. 11, 2001, and that level of death and destruction seems like a high price compared with what happened on 9/11, a day I remember too well. While most of the Afghan dead were killed by the Taliban, that doesn't absolve our responsibility. We also owe a deep and permanent debt to the veterans who served — the great majority of whom want us to bring their brothers and sisters home.

Discharging that debt will oblige us to rescue as many Afghans as we can from the vengeance of the Taliban, especially but not only those who served alongside our troops. For years now, Taliban assassins have murdered Afghan interpreters and others who assisted allied forces. They ought to have gained asylum here, but the Islamophobic prejudices of the Trump administration put obstacles in their way.

Now that must end. The United States should grant "immediate refugee status to all Afghan nationals that have helped us in the last 20 years," says Rep. Ruben Gallego, an Arizona Democrat. "We can't let them be targets." Gallego, a Marine veteran of Iraq, is painfully aware of how Iraqis who worked with U.S. troops there were later hunted down by Islamic State group killers. He is right to demand that we start protecting the Afghans left behind.

We can hope that Afghanistan fares better than expected, but hope won't save any lives. Already the Taliban, which has not improved with age, is assassinating those who might dissent from its medieval ideology. If and when its mullahs regain state power, they may well kill many thousands more — unless we welcome them to this country.

There is no other honorable exit from the forever war.

To find out more about Joe Conason and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Saving Not Just Our Roads And Bridges, But Democracy Itself

Talking about the challenges faced by the United States and its allies in a world always ambivalent about democracy, President Joe Biden said a few words the other day that bear directly on his own confrontation with authoritarian forces at home. What he aimed to explain is more important than any specific aspect of his infrastructure proposal or the debate over how to pay for that big bill's cost.

"It is absolutely clear," said the American president, that this era "is a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21st century and autocracies," by which he meant China and Russia but not only those major rivals. "That's what's at stake here. We've got to prove that democracy works."

Proving democracy works is no longer an abstraction for a civics classroom. At the moment, that phrase has a very specific meaning: Can we maintain, improve, and modernize the nation left to us by the greatest generation, now that we are painfully aware of its disrepair? Can we provide a decent livelihood to our people – all our people – and preserve an environment that sustains and nourishes them? And can we do all that in a political system that is free, competitive, transparent, and fair?

The Chinese and Russian autocrats, and their smaller imitators, openly mock those aspirations. China's leader Xi Jinping argues that only a party-led dictatorship can achieve high living standards and development. So does Putin, with less candor. The dictators are eager to test their power against our principles. And thanks to the partisan myopia of the Republican Party, now infected with a yearning for its own would-be dictator, we are in danger of failing that challenge.

To anyone who has observed American politics over the past three or four decades, Biden's warning is indisputably apt. Our political system suffers from a gravely diminished capacity to achieve important public purposes – let alone the massive national investment required to rebuild our physical infrastructure. When every major decision becomes an occasion to achieve partisan victory, rather than national progress, a closely divided America will remain paralyzed.

The chief vector of this paralytic illness has long been Mitch McConnell, the highest ranking Republican. Ten years ago, he could imagine no purpose more compelling than to end Barack Obama's presidency after a single term. While Democrats aimed to modernize the health care system and provide universal coverage, Republicans conceived their role as wholly negative and behaved accordingly.

They acted like termites – and that is exactly what they are threatening to do with Biden's infrastructure plan today.

Well aware of what polls show about infrastructure –and health care, for that matter – the Republicans offer lip service to popular preferences. Many Republican elected officials will endorse public works, improved transportation, safer water systems, even carbon reduction. They may then pretend to "negotiate" with Biden, but they won't vote for a program that he proposes or that Democrats can support.

What makes their reflexive opposition so dispiriting is that the Republicans know very well how desperately the nation needs the physical and economic revival offered by the Biden program. Whatever they mean by "America First," their political opportunism always puts America last.

The contradiction between Republican rhetoric and the party's termite behavior is drawn even more starkly when framed in a global context. While Beijing surely poses economic, diplomatic, ideological, and perhaps even military challenges to America and its allies, the Republican response is almost hysterical -- as if the "Chicom" hordes were about to literally invade our shores. Their answer to the coronavirus pandemic wasn't action to save American lives, but a racially tinged blame campaign aimed at the Chinese.

Yet if the Republicans believed their own warnings about China, they would find ways to support Joe Biden's infrastructure plan rather than trying to block him. For the past four years, their own president laughably and limply failed to address this enormous problem. The opportunity to now rise above petty partisan concerns, defend democratic values, and build the future is historic – and history will condemn every politician who fails again.


To find out more about Joe Conason, editor-in-chief of The National Memo, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com