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

Why I’m Not (Very) Worried About Inflation

For a long time, inflation has been the phantom of the American economy: often expected but never seen. But the latest Consumer Price Index, which showed that prices rose by five percent from May of last year to May of this year, raises fears that it is breaking down the front door and taking over the guest room.

The price jump was the biggest one-month increase since 2008. It appears to support the warning of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, who wrote in February that President Joe Biden's budget binge could "set off inflationary pressures of a kind we have not seen in a generation." Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell charged last month that the administration has already produced "raging inflation."

For anyone who lived through the turbulence of the 1970s, when the CPI climbed year after year, peaking at a rate of more than 13 percent, the specter of inflation is enough to induce night terrors. One of the great governmental marvels of the past 40 years was the Federal Reserve's complete conquest of this malady. To let it return would be a grievous setback.

There are reasons to think that could happen. The Fed has pumped huge sums of money into the economy to offset the effects of the pandemic, and the Biden administration got Congress to approve a huge economic relief package. Americans saved a lot over the past year, and if they decide to burn through all that cash, they could push prices still higher.

At this point, though, watchful concern is a more appropriate attitude than outright alarm. For now, I'm not worried — not very worried, anyway — about inflation.

Why not? One reason is that a spike in prices is not inflation any more than a stretch of rain is Noah's flood. It's no surprise that prices in May were appreciably higher than a year earlier — when much of the economy was shut down because of the pandemic.

Prices will keep going up as life continues to return to normal and Americans rush to spend money on all the things they missed because of COVID-19. Lingering supply chain snarls will put additional pressure on prices. But this should be a one-time phenomenon. Inflation is not inflation unless it persists over months and years.

Another reason for optimism is that even when it was trying to raise the inflation rate, during and after the Great Recession, the Federal Reserve found it remained stubbornly low. The central bank's monetary expansion should have brought about the higher inflation it sought. But it didn't — suggesting that something has changed about the connection between the money supply and consumer prices.

Back then, conservative critics forecast an outbreak of inflation caused by easy money and excessive federal spending. In 2009, economist Arthur Laffer wrote, "We can expect rapidly rising prices and much, much higher interest rates over the next four or five years." Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) said Americans should be "prepared to carry money to the grocery store in a wheelbarrow."

Let's hope their hallucinations have subsided. If those policies didn't cause inflation then, they may not cause it now. Stable prices have become the intractable norm over the past quarter-century, for reasons we don't fully understand. Loose fiscal and monetary policies don't seem to matter the way they once did.

One danger is that the recent price increases will fuel inflationary expectations, prompting businesses to raise prices and workers to demand higher wages, setting off a self-perpetuating upward spiral. But what inflationary expectations are we talking about?

Data compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis indicate that, as of June 10, the expected inflation rate over the next five years is just 2.23 percent. Interest rates on 30-year mortgages have fallen below three percent, compared with nearly five percent in 2018.

Given their performance over the past 13 years, it's not unreasonable to believe that the Federal Reserve officials who set monetary policy actually know what they're doing. When the pandemic hit, the economy was well into the longest peacetime expansion ever — and inflation was still subdued.

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and his colleagues have earned the benefit of the doubt. They haven't forgotten the trauma of the 1970s, and they don't want to go down in history as the people who brought it back.

When prices jump, vigilance against inflation is entirely justified. But we should also watch out for false alarms.

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.

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.

Trump’s Trade Policy Failed — And Biden Should Abandon It

When he became president, Joe Biden summarily reversed his predecessor's policies on a range of issues, including climate change, immigration, taxes, social welfare and police reform. But on international trade, it's almost like Donald Trump never left.

Trump had a primitive view of this issue. Good, in his view, were exports, trade surpluses, tariffs and trade wars. Bad were imports, trade deficits and multilateral trade agreements.

He saw global commerce as a zero-sum game, in which anything that benefited another country must come at our expense, and vice versa. He was unable to grasp that exchanges of goods and services across national borders could — and do — make people in every nation better off.

So, Trump slapped tariffs on steel, aluminum, solar panels and washing machines. He put tariffs on some $360 billion worth of Chinese apparel, appliances, machinery, shoes and more. He threatened to slap import taxes on cars made abroad.

He pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free-trade accord with 11 other countries. He ended talks on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, a major effort to lower trade barriers between the U.S. and the European Union. He nullified the World Trade Organization, which resolves trade disputes, by blocking the appointment of new members to the body that hears those cases.

But his efforts accomplished nothing worthwhile. They raised prices to American consumers while punishing American companies that use steel and aluminum. What the Tax Foundation described as "one of the largest tax increases in decades" now costs the typical American family more than $1,200 a year.

The tariffs failed to create jobs in the steel industry, which shrank even before the pandemic, and produced only a tiny boost in aluminum jobs. But a study by economists at the consulting firm The Trade Partnership estimated they would eliminate some 145,000 jobs in other sectors.

Our trading partners retaliated against U.S. companies with tariffs of their own. American farmers were hit so hard that Trump had to come up with $23 billion to cushion the blow.

Nor did his strategy reduce our trade deficits. The overall U.S. trade deficit last year was the biggest since 2008. China has not given up the practices Trump was trying to stop.

In March, Gallup found that 63 percent of Americans — including 79 percent of Democrats — have a positive view of trade, with only 32 percent disagreeing. Biden was part of the Obama administration, which negotiated the Pacific trade deal and pressed hard to reach an agreement with the EU. But the Democratic Party has somehow fallen under the sway of protectionists, and he's shown little interest in resisting.

He's left most of Trump's tariffs in place, and his trade representative, Katherine Tai, said removing them would be a bad idea. She vowed a "worker-centric" trade policy focused on raising wages, omitting such goals as expanding commerce and fostering competition. Her stance fits the prevailing progressive superstition that commerce with the world makes us poorer.

That view is bad economics and bad history. In her 2019 book Open: The Progressive Case for Free Trade, Immigration and Global Capital, Reed College economist Kimberly Clausing argues that tariffs "harm consumers, with particularly harmful effects for low- and middle-income workers," while creating disruptions that eliminate jobs in affected industries. Nearly nine out of ten losses in manufacturing jobs, she notes, are the result of technological advances, not international competition.

Trump portrayed China as a ruthless predator that exploits global rules for competitive advantage. But that's the very reason that he should have kept the U.S. in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which was designed to facilitate trade among the Pacific Rim countries — not including China.

It would have put strong pressure on Beijing to reform its trade practices to gain admission. But with the TPP dead at Trump's hands, 15 Asian countries opted for a different trade agreement. In this accord, China is in, and the U.S. is out.

Trump's sabotage of the WTO's appellate body was another own goal. From 2002 through 2018, it had heard 23 cases involving disputes between the U.S. and China — with the U.S. winning 20 and China winning zero (with three pending). The U.S. should be pushing the WTO to crack down on China's abuses, not kneecapping the only system for addressing them.

As a rule, any policy Trump embraced is one that ought to be abandoned. Trade is not the exception.

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.

The Growing Republican Threat To Our Democracy

The American system of government has been around for 232 years, and it has survived wars, depressions, social upheavals and pandemics. But we should not bet that it will survive much longer. The proliferating signs of rot suggest the end may be near.

The election of 1800, in which Thomas Jefferson defeated incumbent John Adams, was perhaps the most important in our history, being the first to involve a transfer of power from one political party to another. It established that both winners and losers would respect the outcome of elections.

"I have this morning witnessed one of the most interesting scenes a free people can ever witness," marveled a woman who attended Jefferson's inauguration. "The changes of administration, which in every government and in every age have most generally been epochs of confusion, villainy and bloodshed, in this our happy country take place without any species of distraction or disorder."

That marvel can no longer be taken for granted. The results of the 2020 election have been furiously resisted by the losing candidate and his supporters. Months later, the contest remains at issue among a significant faction of the electorate.

Some members of that faction took part in the violent invasion of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, intent on preventing the Senate from certifying the results of an election that had been certified in all 50 states.

They attacked Capitol Police with flagpoles, fire extinguishers, stolen police shields, and bear spray. They used illegal means trying to stop Joe Biden from becoming president.

Their rationale was that Biden won only through massive fraud. You can deduce this is nonsense from the fact that Republicans made gains in the U.S. House and in state legislatures. If Democrats stole the presidential election, why didn't they bother to steal the others? Donald Trump's lawyers filed more than 60 lawsuits pressing this claim and lost nearly every one.

Many of his political allies have not only promoted the fraud fantasy but shrugged off the attempted coup. House Republicans voted overwhelmingly against creating a bipartisan commission to investigate what happened. They purged Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership for daring to speak the truth on the election and the insurrection.

The campaign of falsehoods has worked with a lot of Americans. One poll found that only 23 percent of Republican voters believe that Biden legitimately won. Another found that a majority of them blame the Capitol riot on Democrats, antifa, or the Capitol Police.

What is especially ominous, though, is what this conduct implies for the 2024 election. A lopsided majority of House Republicans voted against certifying the results in Arizona and Pennsylvania. If Republicans gain a majority in the House in 2022 — as past off-year elections suggest they will — they could refuse to certify the results from states won by the Democratic presidential nominee.

In that case, neither candidate would have a majority in the Electoral College, and the election would go to the House, with each state delegation getting one vote. Republicans already dominate in more than half the state delegations — giving them the power to install a president rejected by the electorate.

All this may sound paranoid. But consider the many ways Trump and his supporters have tried to reverse his defeat. Trump called the Georgia secretary of state and pushed him to "find 11,780 votes." He called the speaker of the Pennsylvania House urging him to invalidate Biden's victory there.

He summoned Michigan Republican legislators to the White House in hopes of overturning the state's vote for Biden — prompting Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, to say, "It is difficult to imagine a worse, more undemocratic action by a sitting American President." Yet the vast majority of elected Republicans have stuck with Trump.

The GOP-controlled Arizona state Senate ordered an audit of votes in Maricopa County — an audit deemed illegitimate by the county recorder, a Republican. Trump allies are pursuing an audit of mail-in ballots in Fulton County, Georgia, though every vote in the state has already been tallied in three separate counts.

The effect of this sustained effort to delegitimize Biden's presidency is to undermine trust in our elections and thus justify efforts to use any weapon to ensure a Republican victory in 2024.

In 2017, The Washington Post adopted the somewhat self-important motto, "Democracy Dies in Darkness." But if American democracy dies, it will be in the clear light of day.

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.

Disarming North Korea May Flummox Biden, Too

Of the many mortifying moments of Donald Trump's presidency, few can match his hopeless infatuation with an unlikely partner: North Korean Communist dictator Kim Jong Un. It is still hard to believe that the leader of the free world could stand up in public and tell an audience: "We fell in love. No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters ... We fell in love."

President Joe Biden is meeting Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Topic 1, as usual, will be that belligerent nuclear-armed regime in Pyongyang. Biden's approach to North Korea looks and sounds much different from Trump's. But his results are likely to be more or less identical.

Trump thought he was much shrewder than his predecessors in defusing this nuclear threat. "Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed," he tweeted in 2017. "I won't fail." First, he warned that if the North Koreans threatened the United States, "they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." He tweeted, "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his."

Then, as often happens in romantic tales, two people who start out disliking each other soon went head over heels. In 2018, Kim invited Trump to meet with him, and Trump surprised everyone by accepting. After the first meeting ever between a U.S. president and a North Korean head of state, Trump exulted. "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea," which was a charming fantasy.

The two leaders met twice more, amid similarly extravagant claims. Trump's supposed goal was "the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." But by the time he left office, it was obvious that he had naively granted North Korea more time to do what it had been doing all along: building up its nuclear and missile capacities.

Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, had carried out two nuclear tests and 16 missile tests. The son ramped up, conducting four nuclear tests and 91 ballistic missile tests. Experts say North Korea has as many as 60 nuclear weapons and produces enough fissile material to add another dozen each year. Nothing Trump did impeded its progress.

Biden has his own strategy. One official told The Washington Post the administration will pursue a "careful, modulated diplomatic approach, prepared to offer relief for particular steps" with an "ultimate goal of denuclearization." But agreeable adjectives won't dissuade the North Koreans from proceeding with something they believe is vital to their survival.

They believe this because it's true. In 2018, Vice President Mike Pence warned that North Korea "will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn't make a deal." The "Libyan model," you may recall, involved the U.S. and its allies using military force to topple the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, whose gruesome fate was to be captured and killed by rebels.

But Pence chose exactly the wrong analogy. Gadhafi was vulnerable because he had earlier agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program. Had he managed to assemble an atomic arsenal, the U.S. would not have tried to evict him from power. From Libya, Kim can deduce the potential downside of surrendering his nuclear weapons.

It may not be impossible for the U.S. to reach an agreement with North Korea to freeze or reduce the size of its arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief and full diplomatic relations. But even that limited task will be harder for Biden because of Trump's self-defeating policy toward another adversary — Iran.

President Barack Obama had joined with several other major nations in negotiating an agreement in which Iran agreed to give up 98% of its stockpile of uranium, dismantle thousands of centrifuges and accept stringent international inspections — all of which would prevent it from building nuclear weapons. In exchange, the U.S. and its partners consented to lift economic sanctions on Tehran.

But Trump stupidly withdrew from the accord, proving that the U.S. can't be trusted to honor its commitments. Why would Kim reduce or surrender his nuclear deterrent to get an agreement that might end up in a White House shredder? Why would he risk being naked to his enemies, as Gadhafi was?

The specter of a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles has bedeviled one American president after another. Biden, the latest to confront it, won't be the last.

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.

The Constitutional Right To Abortion Is About To Disappear

In one of his 19th-century novels, Anthony Trollope depicts a protagonist who learns that his beloved has accepted a rival's marriage proposal. "A horse will gallop for some scores of yards, after his back has been broken, before he knows of his great ruin; — and so it was with Phineas Finn," he wrote. Soon, however, Finn realizes: "The game was played out, and all his victories were as nothing to him."

This is roughly the position of abortion rights supporters in America. But on Monday, the Supreme Court announced that it would review a Mississippi law that bans nearly all abortions after the 15th week of pregnancy.

The case won't be heard before October, and a decision may not come down for more than a year. But the devastating blow has fallen. We now know that the constitutional right that has been recognized for nearly half a century will not survive in its current form, if at all.

The Mississippi law, enacted in 2018, prohibits abortions after 15 weeks, except "in a medical emergency or in the case of a severe fetal abnormality." No exception for rape, incest or nonemergency risks to the health of the mother. The state declares that any abortion performed after this stage "is a barbaric practice, dangerous for the maternal patient, and demeaning to the medical profession."

The law represents a direct challenge to the Supreme Court's own rulings, which allow states to forbid abortions only after the fetus is viable, or capable of surviving outside the womb, about 24 weeks into a pregnancy. The court established that rule in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision and reaffirmed it in 1992.

Under its existing precedents, the law is flagrantly unconstitutional, as both a district court and an appeals court concluded. Five years ago, the justices declined to review a lower court ruling that threw out an Arkansas ban on abortions after 12 weeks.

What's changed? The Supreme Court, which now has three conservative members appointed by President Donald Trump. There is only one possible explanation for why the court would agree to review the statute: At least five justices are ready to let states outlaw abortion long before viability.

Otherwise, the court would have let the lower court ruling stand. "I'd be absolutely shocked if they didn't intend to uphold the law," University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, author of Sex and the Constitution, told me.

As he notes, the ban would allow most abortions. Some 90 percent of Mississippi abortions take place in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy. Some of those performed later involve the sort of medical emergencies and fetal defects that are covered by exceptions in this ban. For most women, getting a termination would remain within the realm of possibility.

But these figures are cold comfort for any woman who believes she should not be forced to endure the rigors of pregnancy and the dangers of giving birth, which are vastly greater than the risks of abortion. Poor women are particularly likely to be affected. If this law is upheld, some two dozen states are likely to enact similar measures — if not stricter ones.

If abortions after 15 weeks can be outlawed, why not after 12 weeks? Or 10 weeks? Or zero weeks? Having erased the bright line of viability, the conservative justices will find no obvious place to draw a new one — if they want to draw one at all.

Eleven states, including Mississippi, have passed laws that would ban all abortions as soon as the court overturns Roe v. Wade. They now have a realistic hope that those laws will eventually take effect.

If anti-abortion advocates think such bans would prevent women from ending unwanted pregnancies, though, they are kidding themselves. Many abortions involve taking a couple of pills — which, like other illicit drugs, would find willing sellers in a soon-to-thrive underground market. Women in red states could travel to blue states to find legal clinics.

The truly desperate would seek out illegal providers, some of them unsafe, or even try to self-induce. Each year, thousands of women around the world die from illegal abortions, and millions suffer medical complications. The United States can't expect anything different.

For the time being, abortion remains legal and mostly accessible in this country. But it won't be long before Americans who cherish the right to make their own decisions will know of their great ruin.

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.

Census Data Shows (Again) Why We Need To Expand Congress

The preliminary 2020 census count has been released, and as usual, it means that when it comes to congressional representation, some states will gain and some will lose. Illinois is one of seven states that will suffer a shrinkage of their House delegations. But the zero-sum nature of this game is not a necessary feature, and it's not a good one.

The reason states are pitted against one another every 10 years is that the nation's population has steadily grown but the House has not. It has been frozen at 435 seats since 1911, even though the number of people in America has more than tripled. Back then, the typical member represented 212,000 people. Today, it's 761,000.

The current number has no basis in the Constitution. The framers meant for the House to grow over time, and it did — from 141 in 1803 to 293 in 1873 to 357 in 1893. The only constitutional limit is that there can be no more than one representative per 30,000 people. James Madison wrote confidently that "the number of representatives will be augmented from time to time in the manner provided by the Constitution."

The author of the Federalist No. 52 (either Madison or Alexander Hamilton) said that each member should have "an immediate dependence on, and an intimate sympathy with, the people." There is nothing intimate about a relationship with 761,000 people. It may be no coincidence that only 37 percent of Americans know the name of their representative.

Some districts are physically enormous. New Mexico has one that occupies 71,000 square miles. Texas has one that stretches across 550 miles. But nothing tops the one that is the size of Alaska — because it comprises all of that state, which is 2,261 miles wide. Six other states have just one representative.

Expanding the House would mean members would be better able to serve the needs of their constituents, because they wouldn't have so many to serve. Helping people grapple with problems related to the federal government, such as getting veterans benefits or securing Paycheck Protection Program loans, makes up the bulk of what occupies congressional offices.

Less populous districts would also make it easier for members of Congress to get to know the communities and people they represent, and vice versa. It would provide fast-growing states with additional seats without depriving slower-growing states of the ones they have.

In the latest YouGov poll, only 25 percent of Americans approve of how Congress is doing its job. I know what you're thinking: If I don't like the people in Congress, why would I want more of them?

But more House seats would reduce the size of districts, making them more cohesive. Rural voters would be less likely to be lumped with distant urbanites. Minority populations would have a better chance of electing people attuned to their particular interests. Campaigns would be less expensive. Who knows? Better people might get elected.

Expanding the House would align the Electoral College more closely with public sentiment. Each state gets as many electoral votes as it has members of Congress. Increasing the number of House seats would mean more populous states would get a say in choosing the president that is more proportionate to the number of voters they have. It would reduce the grossly outsized voting strength of small states.

You might assume that a bigger House would be impossibly unwieldy. But other countries have lawmaking bodies that function well despite being much larger than ours.

The German Bundestag seats 709 people. The 650 members of Britain's House of Commons serve a country the size of Oregon. Each member represents about 100,000 people, less than one-seventh the number represented by the average U.S. House member. No other wealthy democracy has as high a ratio of citizens to national legislators as we do.

How big should the U.S. go? Under an option that says no district shall have more people than the least populous state (Wyoming, with 576,851 people), the House would grow to 545 members. An expansion on that scale would bring in a lot of fresh faces and ideas while changing the dynamics of a body that has gotten too far from the American people.

If the House had grown with the population as the framers expected, it would have 11,000 members. That would be too many. But 435 is way too few.

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.

Let's End Police Traffic Stops That Bring Needless Tragedy

Driving has gotten much less dangerous over time, thanks to new safety features in cars, better highway design and a decline in drunk driving. But that's no solace to motorists who face dangers of a different kind — not when they are driving, but when they are stopped on the side of the road.

Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old African American, was fatally shot by a police officer in Minnesota after being pulled over for an expired license tag. In Virginia, Caron Nazario, a Black and Latino Army officer, was pepper-sprayed after being stopped for lacking a rear license plate — though a temporary plate was affixed to his rear window.

Jenoah Donald, a 30-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by a Kentucky sheriff's deputy who had pulled him over for a broken taillight. And it's impossible to forget Sandra Bland, a 28-year-old African American, who died in 2015 in a Texas jail after being stopped for failing to signal — and was arrested for refusing to put out her cigarette.

A lot of factors figure in these deadly incidents. Police commonly have a tendency to target Black and Hispanic drivers for minor traffic offenses, and some cops are overly aggressive or inept in dealing with these motorists. Curing such failings has proven to be a difficult task.

But one solution is hiding in plain sight. None of the violence visited upon people during police traffic stops would have occurred if there had been no police traffic stop. Instead of focusing entirely on restraining cops in these situations, we should try to keep them out of these situations.

Life was different until vehicular infractions became the province of police officers. "Before the 20th century, the average American seldom came under police scrutiny," writes Columbia law professor Sarah Seo, author of Policing the Open Road: How Cars Transformed American Freedom. "Ironically, the rise of the automobile — that embodiment of personal freedom — vastly expanded the police's powers over everybody who drove or rode in a car." Cops pull over 50,000 cars every day, 20 million per year.

Someone has to take responsibility for administering traffic laws. But there is no compelling reason for armed police to confront individuals over petty errors and trivial transgressions. It creates unnecessary hazards for cops and for those they stop.

It also invites discrimination. Various studies indicate that cops are more likely to stop Black and Hispanic drivers than white ones and more likely to search their cars — even though they are more likely to find contraband with white drivers.

In a 2013 Gallup Poll, 24% of Black men aged 18 to 34 said they had been unfairly treated by police in the last 30 days. The New York Times reported that Philando Castile, who was shot to death by a cop in Minnesota in 2016, was pulled over 49 times in 13 years — typically for minor infractions.

Contrary to myth, traffic enforcement is not a good method of catching crooks and curbing crime. In Chicago, these stops yield contraband in only 1 in 555 cases.

A 2018 study of Nashville, Tennessee, by the Policing Project at the New York University School of Law found: "Traffic stops do not appear to have a significant impact on long-term crime trends. As the number of traffic stops declined between 2012 and 2017, crime rates remained quite flat." And, "Traffic stops also do not appear to have any effect on crime in the short-term."

Unpleasant experiences breed distrust and hostility toward cops among African Americans and Hispanics. The simplest way to prevent such incidents is to remove police from the picture whenever possible.

New York Attorney General Letitia James recently proposed that New York City police cease making routine traffic stops. "Armed police officers are not needed for traffic enforcement," her report concluded, "particularly when the underlying conduct in question is not criminal, such as a broken taillight, speeding, or not wearing a seatbelt."

More use of speed and red-light cameras could greatly reduce the incidence of police-driver encounters, while promoting road safety. Unarmed traffic monitors could document minor violations by photo or video and mail citations to offenders; they could also make stops when necessary. Cops could be reserved for instances of dangerous driving.

In every traffic stop, the driver and the police officer face the risk of being killed, and too often, the risk becomes a reality. Why not take both out of the line of fire?

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.

Republicans Attack ‘Woke’ Companies At Their Peril

Mitch McConnell has been presented with the spectacle of giant American corporations taking sides on a political issue, and his eyes were seared by the sight. The Senate Republican leader could not have imagined Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola, much less Major League Baseball, coming out against a piece of legislation. Processing the trauma may require years of therapy.

"I'm talking about taking a position on a highly incendiary issue like this and punishing a community or a state, because you don't like a particular law that passed — I just think it's stupid," he said Tuesday. "So my warning, if you will, to corporate America is to stay out of politics."

This is not quite what you would expect from a politician who last year got more than $250,000 in campaign contributions from chief executives of major companies. Nor is it quite in line with his longstanding view that corporations enjoy the same First Amendment rights as individuals. But McConnell hastened to add that he was not referring to business people making political donations, a practice he assured them is "fine."

The apparent problem for him is not that corporations are getting involved in politics; it's that they are getting involved in a way that conflicts with Republican needs. One of those needs is making it harder for Democrats to win elections in the previously red state of Georgia. McConnell objects to the corporate criticism of a new voting law that is designed to tilt the scales in favor of his party.

Major League Baseball decided to move this year's All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver to register its disapproval. Delta and Coca-Cola issued statements denouncing the election measure. But these were hardly the first time that professional sports or other businesses have intruded into the political realm.

Team owners use their leverage to extract public funds for stadiums and other arenas, notes Chris Lamb, author of the book Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball. They host politicians in their luxury suites. They make campaign contributions. Says Lamb, "I wish owners would stick to sports."

They also lend support to various causes that are inseparable from politics. All those military flyovers at ballgames are an implicit endorsement of our militaristic foreign policy. After 9/11, baseball teams started playing "God Bless America" during the seventh-inning stretch, a gesture of support for President George W. Bush's war on terrorism.

McConnell doesn't long for the era when big companies had no political agendas, because there was no such era. He longs for the time when they could pursue their political agendas without enduring nonstop scrutiny from their customers or employees.

Today, Americans often take account of the political activities of companies when making their purchasing decisions. Some companies see speaking up for social justice and racial equity as a matter of conscience — and a way of appealing to consumers who agree. They also know that silence merely invites criticism from either side.

Michael Jordan famously justified his avoidance of political controversy by saying, "Republicans buy sneakers, too." Nike took the risk of alienating customers with an ad campaign featuring San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who gained notoriety by kneeling during the national anthem. The Nike shoe decorated with his image sold out the first day.

Many athletes, despite being told things like "shut up and dribble," insist on using their public visibility to advance causes dear to them, regardless of who objects. Players for the WNBA Atlanta Dream wore T-shirts endorsing Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock in his race against Kelly Loeffler, who happened to be one of the team's owners.

Consumer boycotts over political activity have become an unavoidable feature of the marketplace. Critics who denounce these efforts as ugly manifestations of "cancel culture" use the same tactic when it suits them. Former President Donald Trump, with his usual flair for falsehood, urged: "Boycott baseball and all of the woke companies that are interfering with Free and Fair Elections. Are you listening Coke, Delta, and all!"

Good luck with that. Fear of the MAGA crowd didn't stop The Walt Disney Company, a shining symbol of wholesome American fun, from announcing last year that it would give $5 million to organizations fighting for social justice.

Republicans often accuse the left of hating America. But it's not liberals who find themselves at odds with baseball, Coke and Mickey Mouse.

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

Conservatives Betray Their Own Values By Rejecting Vaccine Passports

If there is any fundamental belief that has always united conservatives, it's the central importance of property rights. James Madison wrote: "Government is instituted to protect property of every sort ... (T)hat alone is a just government, which impartially secures to every man, whatever is his own." Said economist Milton Friedman, "Nothing is so important for freedom as recognizing in the law each individual's natural right to property."

That idea still has some appeal on the right. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) has gone so far as to criticize the Fair Housing Act, which barred racial discrimination in the sale and rental of homes, for infringing on the liberty of owners. "Decisions concerning private property and associations should in a free society be unhindered," he wrote in 2002. "As a consequence, some associations will discriminate." He was fine with that.

But Republicans have gotten fickle about the rights of property owners. This shift is apparent in their rejection of "vaccine passports," which would allow businesses to deny service to people who have not been inoculated against COVID-19.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis argued, "It's completely unacceptable for either the government or the private sector to impose upon you the requirement that you show proof of vaccine to just simply be able to participate in normal society." Rep. Pete Sessions (R-TX) said, "Vaccine credentials would be a complete government overstep" and would risk "substantially limiting normal day-to-day essential activities."

The Biden administration has said it has no interest in making such verification mandatory for any purpose. "We're not going to have any federally mandated, universal vaccine credential, and there will not be a federal database," said White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients. All it is doing is looking for ways to facilitate private-sector initiatives while protecting privacy and preventing fraud.

Some of the objections grow out of the fever-swamp paranoia we have come to expect from people who think COVID-19 was unleashed by Bill Gates to bring about a world government. But some of it comes from people who think anything that conflicts with their selfish preferences is a violation of their rights.

Americans have never had a problem with businesses enforcing a dress code for employees or restaurants requiring patrons to wear shoes and shirts. Conservatives champion the right of bakers to refuse to provide cakes for same-sex weddings. They think pharmacies should not have to provide emergency contraceptives.

They don't mind when corporations drug-test job applicants. They registered no outrage when a Michigan ammunition shop said it would refuse to sell to Biden voters.

All these policies rest on the accepted notion that private companies are allowed to set their own terms for doing business and customers who object are free to go elsewhere. (The exceptions are rare, such as forbidding discrimination against historically oppressed groups.)

But the pandemic prompted many Republicans to suddenly abandon their respect for the property rights of private companies. Over the past year, innumerable videos have surfaced of Trump loyalists who refused to wear masks screaming at retail employees while claiming their rights were being violated.

Now, in the same vein, conservatives who refuse to get vaccinated insist that businesses are not allowed to keep them out. Gun-toting Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) tweeted, "Vaccine Passports are unconstitutional. Period."

She's welcome to take that up with the Supreme Court, which has repeatedly described "the right to exclude others" as "one of the most essential sticks in the bundle of rights that are commonly characterized as property." A business choosing to make proof of vaccination a condition for employees or customers would be constitutionally protected.

Just last month, the court heard a lawsuit filed by the libertarian Pacific Legal Foundation aimed at striking down a California regulation granting union organizers limited access to farms to speak with workers. The foundation says, "You wouldn't be forced to let a solicitor in your home — why on earth should you be forced to let a private-sector union enter your property?"

Good point. So why, if you own a business, should you be forced to admit someone who declines to verify that he or she has been immunized against a highly contagious and potentially lethal virus?

Conservatives used to place supreme value on all the rights that go with property ownership. But today, one of the most important ones finds itself being turned away at the door.

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

Why Biden May Stay In Afghanistan After All

The U.S. mission in Afghanistan is nearly old enough to buy a beer, having gone on since 2001. Two presidents, Barack Obama and Donald Trump, promised it would come to an end, but the war outlasted them both.

Trump's administration negotiated a deal with the Taliban that committed us to leave by May. That obligation was conveniently scheduled for after the 2020 presidential election, making it Joe Biden's problem. Biden said at his news conference last week, "It's going to be hard to meet the May 1 deadline." But when asked if our troops would still be there next year, he said, "I can't picture that being the case."

Really? He served as vice president under Obama, who campaigned on a promise to get out within 16 months. Running for reelection in 2012, Obama promised to end our involvement by 2014. Trump made similar promises, which were equally empty.

If Biden can't picture our forces staying into next year and beyond, his imagination is failing him. There are powerful reasons to think they'll be in Afghanistan in 2022. Also in 2023. And 2024. And ...

The first reason is that there are far bigger political risks in leaving than staying. Our departure could lead to an expanded war between the Kabul regime and the Taliban, the defeat of the Afghan army and the return of the Taliban to power.

No president wants to have to answer for what could be the grim aftermath of our departure. Biden can remember the 1975 debacle following our withdrawal from Vietnam, when U.S. embassy staff in Saigon evacuated in helicopters as desperate Vietnamese took to the sea in rickety boats to escape. For the time being, the easiest way to avoid an embarrassing outcome is to stay.

This will be particularly true next year, with Democrats facing midterm elections that could give Republicans control of Congress. Critics of our endless presence in Afghanistan — a group that includes me — may take hope from polls indicating that most Americans would like to get out sooner or later. But that sentiment carries little weight.

The great majority of people rarely give any thought to Afghanistan. There are no protests against it or citizen lobbying campaigns to end the war. It gets minimal attention from the news media. Our troop levels are low — 3,500 — and no American has been killed in combat in more than a year.

None of these facts justifies a mission that has no prospect of success regardless of how long we stay or what we do. But Biden is shrewd enough to see that maintaining the status quo won't cost him votes, while pulling out could.

Another reason he is likely to go along with an extension is that his administration is staffed by creatures of the "Blob" — the network of establishment foreign policy experts who favor an expansive U.S. role in the world and resist every effort to pull back even from failed interventions.

His Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, supported the Iraq War as well as Obama's intervention in Libya. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan was an aide to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and chief foreign policy adviser for her presidential campaign. She favored both wars.

Biden's Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is a retired four-star Army general. In his presidential memoir, Obama recalled the resistance of the Pentagon brass to pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan. These officers were, he wrote, products of "a U.S. military that prided itself on accomplishing a mission once started, without regard to cost, duration, or whether the mission was the right one to begin with." Austin didn't get where he is by being a bold nonconformist.

Biden will probably keep slogging away in Afghanistan as long as the basic status quo holds. Assuming the Kabul government and its military can stave off defeat, delaying our departure makes political sense.

But it won't enhance our chances of success. If you don't know the answers on an exam, getting an extra hour or day to finish it won't help. It only postpones the moment when you have to confront the truth.

Bush left that moment to Obama, who bequeathed it to Trump, who passed it on to his successor. Biden is likely to conclude that 1) whoever leaves Afghanistan will bear the blame for the outcome, and 2) it won't be him.

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

How Trump Created The ‘Border Crisis’ — And How Biden Can Fix It

In 2014, the Obama administration was faced with a surge in unaccompanied minors from Central America showing up at our border and seeking asylum. In an effort to reduce the number of kids trekking across Mexico, it created a program to let them apply for asylum in their home countries. Some 13,000 did, helping to ease the rush.

You can guess what happened next. Donald Trump became president and acted on his twin beliefs: anything that Barack Obama did was bad, and anything that helped foreigners was worse. He killed the program, and soon the number of Central American kids crossing over began to grow. By the spring of 2019, his administration was faced with its very own crisis at the border.

His Department of Homeland Security responded with harsh measures — separating children from parents in large numbers, expelling children from Central America into Mexico and forcing asylum seekers to remain for months in Mexico in squalid camps.

Today, we see another tide of Central Americans coming north, and Republicans blame President Joe Biden for enticing them. They refer to it as "Biden's border crisis," as though it suddenly exploded on January 20.

In fact, it emerged when the White House was just a gleam in Biden's eye. The increase began last spring and built steadily over the remainder of Trump's presidency. From May to October, the number of "southwest land border encounters" recorded by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol nearly tripled. In truth, it was dire conditions in their home countries that drove the migrants.

Republicans claim they were emboldened by Biden's plan to stop work on Trump's border wall — the one Mexico was supposed to pay for. That theory is implausible, because Trump added only 47 miles of barriers in places that didn't have them before.

"Only a few miles were built in South Texas, the area most prone to illegal crossings," The New York Times recently reported. "Instead, much of the construction, especially in the Trump administration's closing days, has taken place in remote parts of Arizona where crossings in recent years have been relatively uncommon."

If Biden deserves any responsibility for the recent surge, it's not because of what he did wrong but because of what he did right. Trump's fondness for systematic cruelty may have discouraged some Central Americans. But the cruelty was impossible to justify, even for an ostensibly good purpose.

Under Trump's zero tolerance policy, thousands of children were taken from their parents when the families crossed the border to exercise their right to seek political asylum. Most of the parents were sent back to their home countries. Some of the kids spent weeks sleeping on the floor in chain-link cages. Last fall, we learned the horrifying truth that the Trump administration had lost track of the parents of 545 children, making it impossible to reunite the families.

The brutality was a design feature. Trump's White House Chief of Staff John Kelly boasted that "a big name of the game is deterrence." But sometimes deterrence asks too much.

There are alternative remedies, such as letting more foreigners in through authorized channels. But Trump was against immigration of any sort. His administration virtually eliminated admissions for refugees, and last year, it slashed the number of green cards for legal permanent residents.

Today, the worldwide backlog of applications for green cards is at five million. Many recipients have to wait ten years or more to be admitted. Cato Institute analysts David Bier and Alex Nowrasteh reach this startling conclusion: "At no time in American history has immigration been as legally restricted as it is currently."

For the moment, the Biden administration has the task of coping with the border crisis while dismantling the inhumane practices of its predecessor. In the longer term, it could relieve pressure on the border by increasing refugee admissions and allotting more slots to the Central American countries that have produced so many migrants.

It could create a program for guest workers from Mexico and Central America, as proposed by Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Biden has already moved to restore the Central American Minors Program to provide "a safe, legal, and orderly alternative to the risks incurred in the attempt to migrate to the United States irregularly."

Giving people an avenue to come here legally in order to keep them from coming illegally? A crazy idea, but it just might work.

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

Why A City In Illinois Is Choosing To Pay Racial Reparations

Difficult tasks often don't get done, because they are, well, difficult. It's easier to ignore them, delay them, hope they'll go away or give up on them. But the city council of Evanston, Illinois, has the idea that the formidable nature of one obligation isn't an excuse for doing nothing.

The task it has taken up is providing a measure of compensation to African Americans for some of the costly inequities they have endured. In 2019, the aldermen approved a measure committing to use revenue from recreational cannabis taxes to create a $10 million fund for "local reparations." On March 22, the council plans to vote on a plan for allocating the first $400,000.

The Chicago suburb, home of Northwestern University, has a population of 72,000 and is 16% Black. But despite its progressive politics (Joe Biden got 92% of the vote in 2020), Evanston has a history of racial exclusion and discrimination. In that respect, it's hardly unusual. What's unusual is its commitment to recognize that history and address its consequences.

That effort is necessarily modest when viewed against the immense crimes inflicted on African Americans over the course of American history, including mass enslavement, white supremacist terrorism, Jim Crow laws and persistent discrimination.

But any recognition that modern white Americans owe anything for historic wrongs elicits a host of objections. Such as: Why should those who never owned slaves, or whose ancestors immigrated after the Civil War, be expected to pay the victims?

How can we possibly identify who is entitled to reparations, given that many people have both Black and white ancestry, that some Blacks were never enslaved and that some didn't arrive until the 20th century? How can we possibly determine, much less afford, the amount due?

Behind the objections is a conservative belief that the entire campaign for reparations is just another product of liberal guilt and Black race hustlers, cheered on by the woke mob. In fact, it rests on the ancient principle of Anglo-American law that a person who wrongly injures someone is obligated to compensate the victim. It also reflects the fact that the legacies of this country, bad as well as good, belong to all of us.

That compensation should have begun immediately after emancipation. Congress authorized the confiscation of former slaveholders' land for redistribution to former slaves. But President Andrew Johnson, a champion of white supremacy, foiled the effort, depriving freed men and women of the means to support themselves. It was the first of many efforts to escape responsibility and a preview of injustices to come.

Evanston doesn't pretend to make amends for everything inflicted on African Americans, or for everything that occurred within its borders. The city enforced racial separation in parks and on beaches, and similar practices were followed in theaters and restaurants. Elementary schools were largely segregated until 1966.

Redressing all these wrongs would be impossible. So the alderman proposed to provide compensation to those residents who have suffered some specific harms.

Like many communities, Evanston took actions to keep Black people from many neighborhoods, forcing them into one geographic section that was starved of resources. Black areas were subject to redlining, which made mortgages hard to get.

With all that mind, the council's focus is on home ownership, which has been a huge source of wealth to white Americans — and has largely been denied to Black Americans. Grants of up to $25,000 would be given out for buying, renovating or improving homes or paying down mortgages. Recipients would be limited to direct descendants of African Americans who lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 and suffered housing discrimination.

It's a narrow, targeted program, which invites attacks for its modest reach and limited access. Not all Black residents would be eligible, and some signed a petition requesting cash payments instead. But the plan's modesty won't exempt it from derision among conservatives, who would rather do anything than acknowledge our vast unpaid debt to Black citizens.

As Richard Rothstein wrote in his 2017 book The Color of Law, "We have created a caste system in this country, with African Americans kept exploited and geographically separate by racially explicit government policies. Although most of these policies are now off the books, they have never been remedied and their effects endure."

The task of overcoming the crimes of the past is one that will never be finished. But it can at least be started.

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

How (Most) Americans Rose To The Pandemic Challenge

This month, the United States recorded a horrific milestone: 500,000 deaths from COVID-19. Someday, historians will look back at the pandemic and note all the mistakes and failures that helped make it the most deadly outbreak of disease in more than a century. But if they are wise, they will also note this past year as one in which Americans were asked to rise to a challenge — and did so in impressive fashion.

It's tempting to focus our attention on all the ways our leaders and people went wrong. The 45th president repeatedly lied about the severity of the threat, resisted basic measures to curb it and held out false hopes that only aided the virus. Some Americans protested against public health mandates and selfishly disregarded medical guidance, spreading disease in the process.

But the noise and fury in some quarters obscure the broad acceptance of unwanted changes. For the most part, Americans have recognized the danger and have embraced unprecedented obligations.

Most people have gotten used to faithfully covering their faces when they're out in public and interacting with others. Most have sharply curtailed social contact — even with family. Most have largely given up dining inside restaurants. Most have gamely accepted not being able to attend ballgames, concerts and festivals.

None of this was foreordained. In past crises, such as the 9/11 attacks, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the Great Recession, the citizenry was asked to make few if any sacrifices. On the contrary: Our leaders urged us to carry on as usual.

The pandemic is the first major national episode since World War II that required us to give up anything significant. At the start of 2020, we could hardly have imagined how radically life would change. Who could have imagined Americans adopting face masks, social distancing and remote work on such a vast scale? Who would have thought we would accept a brutal economic downturn as a regrettable necessity?

I speak as someone who expressed doubts about our willingness to step up. Even as the disease gathered steam in places like South Korea and Italy, a lot of Americans preferred to ignore reality.

By late February of last year, alarm bells were ringing. "We expect we will see community spread in this country," said Dr. Nancy Messonnier, a top official of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on February 25. "It's not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness."

But her boss, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, promptly insisted the virus was "contained" — one of many false administration claims that fostered deadly complacency.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot didn't cancel the city's massive St. Patrick's Day parades until just a week before they were scheduled. Not until March 12 did Broadway theaters halt productions. Not until March 11 did the National Basketball Association suspend play. We were collectively reluctant to confront what had to be done.

But that changed. By April, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll found, 80% of Americans supported stay-at-home orders. By May, more than half of Americans said they were wearing masks every time they left the house, and the great majority didn't plan to stay in a hotel, go to a live event or fly over the summer.

The inconveniences and disruptions went on much longer than expected at the outset, but most people didn't falter. By December, 73 percent said they were wearing face coverings on every venture outside the home, and 70 percent said they were prepared to abide by social distancing guidelines for another six months.

Now that vaccines are available, the great majority of us are determined to get the shots. Gallup Polls found that in September, only 50 percent were willing to be vaccinated, but by February, the number was 71 percent.

The death toll would be lower if more people had agreed to adapt as needed. But without the sort of mass support and cooperation we have seen, the number of U.S. fatalities could have been far higher — as high as 2.2 million.

Many lives have been lost because of the actions of an irresponsible minority of people and politicians. But a lot more have been saved by those who stoutly refused to become accomplices to COVID-19. Let history record: Most Americans did what needed to be done.

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

Frozen Texas Proves The Perils Of Denial

In an era of global climate change, Texas has retained an unshakable allegiance to fossil fuel production and use. It brings to mind the joke about the man who tells his psychiatrist that his brother thinks he's a chicken. The psychiatrist asks why the family hasn't gotten him help. "We need the eggs," the man replies.

Texas has long been vulnerable to climate change. It's always been hot: Gen. Philip Sheridan said that if he owned hell and Texas, he'd rent out Texas and live in hell. It's always been prone to drought. It's always gotten hit by hurricanes.

Texans may have figured that at least global warming would mean pleasantly milder winters. But this winter, millions of them have been freezing in the dark.

The reasons are complex. The Texas power infrastructure was not designed for extreme cold. This freeze was broader, more severe, and more prolonged than anyone can remember. It was a natural disaster that overwhelmed the usual protections.

Republican Gov. Greg Abbott made a fool of himself by blaming the shortfall on wind turbines that froze up. Plenty of frigid places — Finland, Nova Scotia, Alaska, Illinois — have no trouble relying on wind power.

The real problem is that ensuring the availability of energy, whether from fossil fuels or renewables, requires investments to make supply systems functional in extreme weather. After a 2011 storm, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission urged the state's utilities to winterize equipment, but little was done. Why not? Because such an effort would have required officials to ask residents to pay more. The inaction fits neatly with the state's prevailing approach to climate change, which is to whistle past the graveyard.

The buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere was already making life harder in the Lone Star State. A report last year by the Office of the Texas State Climatologist at Texas A&M University found that the number of 100-degree days has more than doubled over the past 40 years and predicted it would nearly double again in the next 15. The state is likely to grow more parched — but also to get more extreme rainfall and more flooding. Hurricanes will be worse.

They already are. Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 displaced some 30,000 people and killed 106 in Texas, was the wettest storm on record in this country. A study by scientists at Rice University's Severe Storm Prediction, Education and Evacuation from Disasters Center concluded that global warming played a part.

"Harvey was more intense because of today's climate, and storms like Harvey are more likely in today's climate," said Antonia Sebastian, one of the authors.

This winter storm may also have a connection. A thawing North Pole may disrupt the jet stream, occasionally allowing giant blasts of cold air from the polar vortex to roll southward. (In 2019, one of these events sent temperatures in Chicago down to minus 23 degrees.) As global warming persists, it increases the chances of extreme weather of every sort.

Texas politicians, however, refuse to give up their romance with petroleum. Land Commissioner George P. Bush recently vowed to "fend off threats to the Texas oil and gas economy." Abbott visited the Permian Basin to declare, "Texas is not going to stand idly by and watch the Biden administration kill jobs in Midland, in Odessa, or any other place across the entire region."

But fossil fuel use is largely responsible for the warming of the planet, which is certain to kill jobs, not to mention people. Dozens have died from this storm. Texas already faces the prospect of chronic water shortages. Excessive heat is bad for crops and livestock, which are a significant share of the state economy.

Parts of the state can expect more wildfires. Dollars spent to cool buildings as summers ramp up are dollars that can't be spent on other goods and services. Oh, and let's not forget the risk of extreme weather conditions, which demand costly investments to prevent catastrophes like the current one.

The natural impulse of politicians is to spare voters from sacrifice today, even if it means greater pain later on, after those politicians have moved on. That attitude, which has delayed federal action on climate change, is subsiding as Americans become more aware of the reality and the danger of global warming. But it has remained dominant in Texas.

Denial can be a comforting pastime. But eventually, it runs into cold, hard reality.

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.

Trump's Acquittal Does Deep Damage To Our Democracy

One of the most familiar lessons of the Donald Trump era is that no matter how bad today is, tomorrow can always be worse. We learned over and over that there is no bottom to his capacity for outrageous conduct, and there is no limit to his party's tolerance for it.

January 6 was one of the greatest catastrophes in the history of the American republic. An incumbent president who had decisively lost his reelection roused his deranged disciples to launch a massive attack on the U.S. Capitol in an effort to keep him in office. It was an attempted coup, nothing less. Lives were lost; members of Congress and their aides were traumatized; and the president who instigated the attack took pleasure in it.

But Saturday's Senate vote to acquit Trump in his impeachment trial was worse. Forty-three duly elected representatives of the people of their states chose to ignore or rationalize his shocking blitzkrieg. They repudiated their sworn duty to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic."

No American president has been so openly contemptuous of the constraints of the Constitution as Trump. He decided long ago to treat any defeat at the polls as the result of fraud, regardless of the reality. If the democratic processes of our system did not give him what he wanted, he would wage war on them. And he did — starting months before Americans went to the polls and continuing for months afterward.

Any elected government can be hijacked by a skilled and ruthless demagogue. But in the design of our system, Congress is supposed to serve as a counterweight to the president, jealous of its prerogatives and independent of the executive branch. The impeachment power is the ultimate check, allowing legislators to remove any president who abuses his office.

But the impeachment power now has about as much importance as the Third Amendment — which forbids quartering of soldiers in private homes during peacetime. Trump's second acquittal leaves no doubt that for most Republican members of Congress, party comes before country, now and forever.

The framers feared the emergence of political parties and thought the framework they erected would prevent it. In his farewell address, President George Washington declared, "The common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it."

Disagreements over religion, government and other matters, wrote James Madison in The Federalist, has often "divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered them much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good." A better explanation of Trump's acquittal would be hard to find.

Congressional Republicans, with a handful of noble exceptions, are more than willing to excuse the inexcusable if it comes from a president who shares their partisan affiliation. Maybe they are afraid of the political consequences they would face for breaking with Trump. Maybe they think what he did to advance the GOP agenda — tax cuts, deregulation, conservative judges — is bigger than what he did to sabotage constitutional government.

Maybe some even relish the idea of right-wing extremists terrorizing elected officials to advance Republican policies. Whatever the motive, the damage is deep and possibly irreparable.

The danger produced by this dismal outcome is not so much that Trump will run again in 2024. Chances are good that by then, he will be indicted and convicted for at least one felony, whether for tax evasion, campaign finance violations, solicitation of election fraud, or other crimes. He would have trouble running for president from a correctional institution. Likewise if he decides to flee to a country that has no extradition treaty with the U.S.

The real significance of the Senate's refusal to convict Trump is that it normalizes behavior that once would have been anathema to either political party. It assures his followers that he did nothing wrong. It eats away at the foundation of our form of government. It invites a future Republican president — shrewder and more disciplined than Trump — to install himself permanently in the White House.

It may sound impossible in a republic as long-lasting and resilient as ours. But since January 6, a lot of things that seemed impossible have come to pass. And they have inflicted a wound on our democracy that may never heal.

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.