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

A Disturbing Decline, From 9/11 Unity To Pandemic Division

The 21st century in America has so far been bracketed by two terrible mass-casualty events. The first was the 9/11 attacks, 20 years ago today. The second is the COVID-19 pandemic. The radically different public response to these episodes reveals a lot about us, and much of it is not flattering.

The airline hijackings were the worst terrorist attacks in U.S. history. They catalyzed a wave of fear and anger that permanently reshaped our foreign and domestic policies — or, rather, warped them.

The near-panic that gripped the nation back then is understandable. But it's plain today that our leaders, with broad public support, grossly overreacted. The consequences afflict us even now.

No one could have imagined on September 10, 2001, that an American president would authorize the use of torture against alleged enemies in secret prisons. Or that hundreds of American Muslims would be arrested and detained without charges for days, weeks or months. Or that hostility toward Muslims would grow widespread enough to require a new term: Islamophobia. Or that the government would soon be collecting millions of records of phone communications — many of them in violation of the law.

Worse yet, though, were the two protracted wars the United States launched after the 9/11 attacks. The invasion of Afghanistan was a legitimate response, because the terrorist group behind the attacks had been operating there. But after toppling the Taliban and routing al-Qaida, we stayed on in a foolish quest to remake the country — a quest given up only recently.

Then there was the invasion of Iraq to topple Saddam Hussein. He had nothing to do with the attacks, which didn't stop President George W. Bush and those around him from using 9/11 as a pretext for war. Between Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. sacrificed more than 6,800 American lives and trillions of dollars. But the president who initiated them was rewarded with reelection.

All this came in response to attacks that cost fewer than 3,000 lives. This pandemic will kill more Americans than that in the next three days — on top of the 649,000 who have already died from COVID-19.

The risk to each of us is hundreds of times greater than the risk of being killed by terrorists ever was. But the spirit of unity that arose after 9/11 has been conspicuously absent in the face of the virus.

What accounts for the disparity? Americans may not be unique in finding it easier to rouse themselves against violent human enemies than against microbes that spread silently through the populace. Osama bin Laden was easy to hate. The pathogen, visible only under a microscope, doesn't stir the same primal fury.

The 9/11 attacks produced a pervasive alarm that vastly exceeded the real danger. The low mortality rate of COVID-19, by contrast, has been used to downplay the need for basic public health measures, such as vaccinations and face coverings.

Leaders matter, for better or worse. Bush used his bully pulpit to call for a "crusade" against "evil-doers," and soon was vowing action against an "axis of evil" consisting of North Korea, Iraq, and Iran. In hyping the threat of terrorism, he commanded broad support and little meaningful resistance.

President Donald Trump, however, used his office to minimize the risks posed by COVID-19 and undermine public health guidance from experts. In March 2020, he admitted to journalist Bob Woodward that he had deliberately downplayed the virus in the full knowledge of how dangerous it was.

Publicly, he compared it to the flu and repeatedly promised it would soon disappear. He refused to wear a mask in public, mocked the government's chief infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, and held indoor rallies in packed arenas.

Trump declared war not on foreign enemies but on Democratic governors such as Michigan's Gretchen Whitmer. His credulous followers soon came to see the pandemic as a hoax cooked up to keep Trump from being reelected.

Perhaps the best explanation for the sharply contrasting public reactions is that the war on terrorism caused a negligible inconvenience to the vast majority of Americans. COVID-19 demanded significant changes in how we live — and millions of people not only refused to cooperate but celebrated their defiance.

The measures deemed necessary to fight terrorism exploited our eagerness to hate our enemies, which we had no trouble doing. Those required to combat COVID-19 required us to love our neighbors. Somehow, that's a much harder sell.

Follow Steve Chapman 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

Compulsory Childbearing Comes To Texas

For nearly half a century, Americans have lived in a country in which safe, legal abortions were generally accessible to those needing them. The constitutional protection established in the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was firm and secure. That fact, paradoxically, worked to the political advantage of activists who reject abortion rights.

They could pose as moderates trying merely to set some reasonable limits. So they pushed to require parental consent for minors, forbid "partial-birth" abortions, impose waiting periods, prevent post-viability abortions and saddle clinics with extensive regulations in the name of safeguarding health. In many states, they got their way.

But the new Texas abortion law should dispel any illusions about their real, and immoderate, purpose. What they want is to deprive all women of the liberty to decide whether to carry pregnancies to term. They favor a regime of compulsory motherhood from which there is no escape.

The law prohibits abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy, a point at which many women and girls don't even know they're pregnant. It allows no exception for a woman who has been gang-raped or a girl who has been molested by a relative. It would punish not only doctors and nurses who perform abortions but anyone who furnishes the slightest assistance to someone who gets one.

The scheme is fiendishly clever, delegating enforcement to private citizens. They are empowered to sue providers and anyone who "aids and abets" an abortion — and collect a minimum of $10,000, plus lawyers' fees, for each abortion performed. It is designed to turn Texas into a nest of profit-seeking narcs.

This setup was meant to avert a constitutional challenge, and so far, it's working. Because state officials have no role in enforcing the law, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday, it has no authority to block it.

Part of the sinister genius of the law is that it doesn't ever have to be used to succeed in extinguishing the right to abortion. Clinics and medical personnel will be at risk of onerous judgments if they terminate pregnancies after the cutoff point. If they win their cases, they would still have to pay their own attorneys — and if they lose, they would have to pay the lawyers who sued them.

By merely cooperating with women who choose to exercise a constitutional right, providers would invite severe financial penalties. The law may eliminate the vast majority of abortions even if no one ever files a lawsuit or collects a reward. It promises to render the constitutional right null and void.

You may assume the effects will be confined to the Lone Star State. Women with money may figure they can always drive to New Mexico or fly to Chicago to terminate a pregnancy. But as Harvard Law professor Laurence Tribe told me, the law has an unlimited reach.

If a Texas woman gets an abortion anywhere, any person — not just any Texan — would probably be able to file a lawsuit and collect rewards from the clinic and anyone who gave her any help. Texas lawmakers have locked every exit. And it's safe to bet that other states will do the same.

The point is not to put purportedly sensible limits on the reproductive freedom of women. John Seago, the legislative director of Texas Right to Life, said his goal is "to live in an abortion-free state." He doesn't want fewer abortions; he wants no abortions. He wants his state — not to mention all of America — to be a place where any pregnant woman or girl has only one option: enduring a nine-month physical ordeal before giving birth.

But the "pro-life" movement's efforts to punish those involved in abortion contains a curious omission. Anyone working for a clinic that performs a prohibited abortion may be sued. Anyone helping someone obtain an abortion may be sued.

Who may not be sued? The woman herself. Seago cheerfully admits that he would like to see abortion doctors sent to prison. But "women need to be treated differently than abortionists," he told The Atlantic. "Even with civil liability, we say that women cannot be the defendants. That's not the goal." It's a stunning display of hypocrisy that makes nonsense of the claim that abortion is murder.

For half a century, most American women and girls have been able to take for granted that they would have the option of ending a pregnancy if they felt the need. But millions now face the reality of being forced into childbearing. In Texas, reproductive freedom is a contradiction in terms.

Follow Steve Chapman 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

In Afghanistan Biden Did What Was Right, Not What Was Easy

If Joe Biden were a typical politician, his choice on Afghanistan would have been easy. Political wisdom says you should never accept consequences today that you can postpone until after the next election, if not longer. Deceptive gimmicks and clever evasions are always preferable to painful solutions that pay off only in the long run.

Biden could have persisted in prolonging the stalemate. He could have quietly expanded our troop presence to hold the Taliban at bay. He could have blithely accepted the deaths of more American troops — and more Afghan civilians — to maintain the status quo.

Most Americans wouldn't have noticed or cared about the cost of continuing the war. His own party's progressives would have groused, but their priorities lie mainly in domestic policy, where Biden has been fairly accommodating. Republicans would not have made much of the issue.

But the president whose political skills earned him 36 years in the Senate and eight in the vice presidency chose to act with statesmanlike foresight. When it came to our longest military conflict, he could not countenance the option embraced by his three immediate predecessors.

George W. Bush, Barack Obama and Donald Trump failed to win the war and refused to end it. Instead, they dragged it out, each leaving the problem to the next occupant of the White House. They wimped out to avoid being accused of wimpiness. They put their political interests ahead of the lives and limbs of American service members.

Biden refused to avoid the inevitable any longer — in the full knowledge that the consequences would most likely be ugly and highly visible. He was the first president to act as though the buck really did stop with him.

His Tuesday address to the nation was a model of realism. He found two important lessons from our ill-starred effort. "First, we must set missions with clear achievable goals, not ones we'll never reach," he declared. "And second, we must stay clearly focused on the fundamental national security interests of the United States of America." Neither principle could justify staying in Afghanistan.

Critics accuse him of weakness, but there was nothing weak about his resolve to put a stop to a hopeless war. In the face of furious denunciations by people whose terrible judgment helped lead us into the deadly quagmires that have bogged us down for so long, he was bracingly immovable.

Biden understands better than his critics what the options were: Get out and accept the defeat of the Kabul regime or expand our military role to push back against an enemy that had been steadily gaining ground.

As he noted in his Tuesday address, the Trump administration had signed an agreement committing us to leave by May 1, in exchange for the Taliban's agreement not to attack our forces. Biden extended the deadline by four months, and the Taliban chose not to renege on its obligation. But any further postponement — or renunciation of the deal — would have meant a renewed and wider war.

It is understandable that critics would find fault with the chaotic, deadly, and heartbreaking endgame. But the possibility that Biden might have managed our departure better doesn't mean the departure was a mistake.

The shockingly rapid collapse of the government only proved how completely we failed in Afghanistan. You might say that the structure we created turned out to be a Potemkin village, but that would be too generous. A Potemkin village doesn't disintegrate overnight.

The Afghan military got vast amounts of money, training and equipment from the U.S., not for one year or five years but for 20. It could call on American bombers, helicopter gunships and drones to incinerate its foes. It enjoyed an embarrassment of riches. In resources, the Taliban were grossly outmatched.

But they had the most vital asset any fighting force can have: motivation. It was something our Afghan partners lacked. In the end, they didn't really lose to the Taliban; they forfeited.

The late William Safire once recalled that as a speechwriter for President Richard Nixon, one of his tasks was to say, "Mr. President — Do the popular thing! Take the easy way!" Nixon could then tell the public, "Some of my aides have suggested that I do the popular thing, that I should take the easy way. But I have rejected such counsel."

For a long time, we've had politicians who happily accepted such counsel. Biden is a different kind of leader.

Follow Steve Chapman 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

Leaving Afghanistan Shows Wisdom, Not Weakness

The suicide bombing that killed 13 U.S. service members and at least 169 Afghans was an atrocity that evoked horror in Americans of every political persuasion. But among those who want to continue the war, the loss was taken as proof that the U.S. should have persisted in a mission that had previously claimed the lives of more than 2,400 Americans.

Had we been willing to go on spilling American blood to stay in Afghanistan, we would not have had to spill blood leaving it. The logic is peculiar.

But the hawks always find a way to justify endless war. They can't very well pretend that we could win in Afghanistan, now or ever. So they find boundless reasons to criticize the manner of our withdrawal, which was bound to be a messy, dangerous process.

They also resort to hollow cliches. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the administration of "weakness." Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE), asserted that "China and Russia will look to capitalize on Biden's weakness." Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass said the outcome "will reinforce questions about U.S. reliability."

Some of our European allies joined the chorus. A Conservative parliamentary leader in Britain said the withdrawal is "the biggest foreign policy disaster since Suez" — as though the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were not gargantuan catastrophes.

Carping about alleged displays of weakness and loss of credibility is the familiar fallback of those trying to sustain a pointless military undertaking. They insist that ending it will have harmful effects on how others perceive us — a claim so vaporous it is impossible to disprove.

Their logic is that if we do something stupid, we have to keep doing it no matter what, because, you know, only weak people repent of their stupidity.

But if committing 20 years — as well as nearly 25,000 American casualties and more than $2 trillion — didn't persuade other governments of our resolve and staying power, it's hard to believe that Year 21 would be a game-changer. Foreigners might instead marvel at our willingness to lavish so much for so long on a mission that did little or nothing to enhance our security. They could deduce that when genuine U.S. interests are at stake, the sky is the limit on what we'd be willing to do.

Biden has shown a dedication to strengthening our alliances that his predecessor did not. President Donald Trump showed much fonder feelings for Russian President Vladimir Putin than for German Chancellor Angela Merkel or French President Emmanuel Macron.

Trump, in fact, bitterly resented our support of NATO. He even raised the possibility of refusing to honor our obligation, under Article 5 of the alliance treaty, to come to the defense of any member of the alliance who was attacked. Privately, he repeatedly expressed his desire to pull out of NATO.

Biden, by contrast, proudly wore a NATO lapel pin to a summit with European leaders in Brussels and declared: "Article 5 we take as a sacred obligation. I want NATO to know America is there." His principal difference with Merkel and Macron at that meeting lay in his desire to take a tougher line against China.

History offers additional evidence that ending a foolish, costly war will not degrade our international standing. Hawkish types said our 1973 withdrawal from Vietnam would speed the march of communism throughout the world. But it somehow failed to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union, the liberation of Eastern Europe, or the capitalist transformation of China.

Our adversaries have good reason not to test the proposition that the Biden administration is weak. Our military spending, after all, amounts to more than that of the next 11 countries combined. Our Navy has a dominant worldwide reach that no other country can come remotely close to matching.

Our ground forces have decades of combat experience that Russian and Chinese troops lack. Our peerless air power is a deterrent to adversaries from Tehran to Pyongyang.

Ending our involvement in Afghanistan doesn't weaken our posture against our adversaries. It strengthens it, by letting us direct our resources and attention to matters that directly implicate our national security. Biden, for better or worse, is not presiding over a retreat from our role in the world — merely a sensible reshaping of it.

Thursday's bombing was a disaster. But staying in Afghanistan would only have guaranteed more like it.

Follow Steve Chapman 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

Forgotten Lessons Led To Tragedy In Afghanistan

The spectacle of Americans and their local allies rushing desperately to evacuate from Kabul brought to mind similar scenes from Saigon in 1975. The repetition suggested that Americans and their leaders didn't learn from the earlier experience. In fact, we did learn. But then we forgot.

Maybe the surprise is not that we had to rediscover the difficulty of extricating our people and allies after giving up on an unsuccessful war. Maybe the surprise is that there was such a long interval between the two debacles. For a while, we avoided such failures, and not by accident.

In the 1980s, liberals depicted President Ronald Reagan as a trigger-happy warmonger. But his two terms stand out as a time when the United States, haunted by Vietnam, largely rejected direct military intervention abroad. He did dispatch Marines to Beirut as part of a peacekeeping force — but when a terrorist attack killed 241 American service members, he quickly withdrew our forces.

Reagan's Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger laid out a set of principles for deciding when to go to war. He argued that "vital national interests" must be at stake and that we must have clear objectives and the means to attain them.

By 1992, the "Weinberger Doctrine" was incorporated into the "Powell Doctrine" by Gen. Colin Powell, who served President George H.W. Bush as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Among his contributions was the rule that we have "a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement."

This approach didn't mean the U.S. would never go to war: We did so in 1983 in Grenada to topple a Marxist government and rescue American students. We did so in 1989 in Panama to remove a dictator blamed for drug trafficking. Most notably, we did so in 1991 to evict Saddam Hussein's army from Kuwait.

Whether these wars were wise and necessary is subject to debate. But in each case, we did what we set out to do and got out.

Success, however, bred amnesia. President George W. Bush had little choice but to invade Afghanistan after Osama bin Laden used it as a base for the 9/11 attacks. But once the Taliban were defeated and al-Qaeda was on the run, Bush chose to stay in an effort to cultivate freedom, democracy, and prosperity. It was the antithesis of the Powell Doctrine: an ill-defined mission that lay beyond our core competence and was not essential to our security — all without an exit strategy.

It has been clear for years that our efforts in Afghanistan were not working. But three presidents chose to prolong our involvement rather than admit futility.

What we learned when President Joe Biden refused to continue the war is that our failure exceeded our worst assumptions. We didn't know what was really going on in Afghanistan, and we didn't know we didn't know. We were clueless in Kabul.

The sudden, complete disintegration of the government revealed that it was no more viable than a brain-dead patient on life support. All Biden did was pull the plug.

It's fair to say that his administration should have been better prepared for the collapse so it could manage a more orderly withdrawal. But as Texas A&M security scholar Jasen Castillo tweeted, "There is no pretty way to leave a losing war." The nature of wars is that winners dictate the final terms. And the Taliban won this war.

It's commonly assumed that we could have preserved the previous status quo by maintaining a military presence in Afghanistan. But by May 2020, long before Biden arrived, the government had seen its control dwindle to 30 percent of the country's 407 districts, with the Taliban controlling 20 percent — more than at any time since the U.S. invasion.

Back then, one expert told Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, "The Taliban has so far been successful in seizing and contesting ever larger swaths of rural territory, to the point where they have now almost encircled six to eight of the country's major cities and are able to routinely sever connections via major roads." Sound familiar? The longer we stayed, the greater the risk of being forced into an even bigger commitment — with no hope of victory.

During the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus said to a reporter, "Tell me how this ends?" Before we embark on a war, not after, is the time to answer that question. If we don't have an answer, the enemy will.

Follow Steve Chapman 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 Dangerous Rejection Of School Mask Mandates

Some time later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied. Then God said, "Take your son, your only son, whom you love — Isaac — and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain that I will show you."

— Genesis 22:1-2

Abraham, according to the Bible, was willing to do as God commanded, but at the last minute, Isaac won a divine reprieve. That option is not likely to save the many American children who are being offered up by parents and elected officials determined to defy science and public health experts.

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Why Corporations Are Leading On Vaccine Mandates

Public health is normally the responsibility of government officials and agencies. But the rampaging delta variant of COVID-19 has shown public institutions to be inadequate to the task. So it may be up to the private sector to do the heavy lifting.

Early in the pandemic, the urgent danger forced governors and mayors to take drastic actions that many citizens resented — closing businesses, issuing stay-at-home orders and mandating masks. But the arrival of vaccines sharply curtailed the virus, allowing life to return to near-normal. Even though this virulent variant has sent infections and hospitalizations soaring, public officials are leery of the opposition that new requirements might provoke.

President Joe Biden has shied away from putting any mandates on ordinary Americans, for obvious reasons. When he raised the idea of a door-to-door outreach initiative to encourage vaccinations, Republicans reacted as if the Gestapo were coming to drag people out of their beds. Treading lightly is part of Biden's attempt to restore calm after the nonstop turbulence of the previous four years.

He did issue an order requiring federal employees to either get vaccinated or wear masks and undergo regular testing. But that's not so controversial — if only because the GOP's anti-government zealots don't worry much about inconveniencing Washington bureaucrats.

The mandate will help stem the spread of the disease. But public employees make up just 15 percent of the U.S. workforce. The vast majority of Americans work in the private sector. Fortunately, capitalists can act with greater freedom and less political controversy than governments can.

Some of them are not waiting for brave statesmanship from politicians. A host of corporations have decided that when it comes to boosting vaccinations, they need more than gentle encouragement.

The Walt Disney Co. announced that all salaried and nonunion workers must be vaccinated. Walmart Inc. is requiring inoculations for everyone at its headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. Google and Facebook are doing likewise at their U.S. campuses. Tyson Foods will insist that its 120,000 employees get their shots.

Chicago real estate firm Related Midwest is giving its employees a choice between getting a vaccination and getting a pink slip. United Airlines and Delta Air Lines Inc. will insist on shots for new hires. Hundreds of private (as well as public) colleges and universities have told students and faculty to be vaccinated in time for the fall term.

Some Republican officials are trumpeting their rejection of "vaccine passports," of the sort decreed by New York City for employees and customers of restaurants, bars, fitness centers and performance venues. Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida signed a bill forbidding businesses to ask customers for proof of vaccination. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas barred companies that get state funds from imposing such rules.

But even in the GOP, there seems to be no fervent desire to tell businesses what to do. Meddling in conditions of private employment would be conspicuously incompatible with the usual (and usually sound) conservative approach to economic matters.

That's why it's not likely to catch on, even in places where vaccine resistance is most rabid. Republican officeholders seldom embrace policies that antagonize the business community, which accounts for a lot of campaign contributions. Their customary view is that if workers don't like how their employers operate, they are welcome to exercise their God-given right to find another job.

Companies in red states are happily accustomed to operating without a lot of bossy-pants government. They also rarely have to deal with unions, which might push back on mandatory vaccinations.

In Democratic states, of course, policymakers have made a priority of getting the vaccine into people's arms, not indulging those who think it contains a microchip. Even diehard progressives might rather defer to the titans of industry if it means saving lives.

So if businesses are inclined to impose vaccine mandates, no one is going to stop them. And more companies are likely to impose them.

Most adults are already immunized, and many will think they deserve to be protected from irresponsible co-workers. In a labor market where many employers are having trouble finding workers, a vaccine requirement would probably attract more applicants than it would repel.

Elected officials may not want to insist that Americans take this simple step to protect others as well as themselves. But if they aren't willing to lead, they shouldn't stand in the way of those who are.

Follow Steve Chapman 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 Capitol Riot Aftermath Bodes Ill For Democracy

Someday, the past year or so may be remembered as a bout of temporary insanity among a large share of the American people. This group refused to take basic precautions against a devastating pandemic, swallowed the lies of a president who had lost an election, and excused a violent mob that attacked the Capitol to prevent Congress from doing its constitutional duty.

Or maybe not. Maybe it will come to seem perfectly normal. Maybe this period will be known as the time when we lost our bearings for good, dooming us to a catastrophic national unravelling.

The rise in insanity is hard to overstate. A recent poll found that 20 percent of Americans — including half of those who are unvaccinated against COVID-19 — believe the inoculation implants a microchip that the government can use to track them. Nearly half of Republicans don't plan to get vaccinated.

Even as the Delta variant fuels a surge in infection, governors in some red states have rejected mask requirements in public schools, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis vowing to "provide protections for parents and kids who just want to breathe freely."

Right-wing politicians and their media allies have spread the preposterous claim that massive fraud deprived Donald Trump of reelection. A May Reuters-Ipsos poll showed that 61 percent of Republicans believe it. An April Reuters-Ipsos poll found that a majority of them agree that "the January 6 riot at the Capitol was led by violent left-wing protestors trying to make Trump look bad."

It gets worse. A poll sponsored by the Public Religion Research Institute found that the lunatic QAnon movement has gained a significant following, with 23 percent of Republicans affirming that "the government, media and financial worlds in the U.S. are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation." GOP Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Lauren Boebert of Colorado have praised QAnon.

This week's hearings on the Capitol insurrection were another reminder of the alarming radicalization of the Republican Party, something exploited and encouraged by Trump.

The mob set up a gallows, chanted "Hang Mike Pence," forced both Republican and Democratic members to flee for their lives and savagely beat police officers. But congressional Republicans now want to move on, treating it as a minor incident grossly exaggerated by Democrats and the media — rather than an extremist effort to block a legitimate transfer of power.

GOP senators blocked the creation of an independent commission to investigate the attack. House Republicans tried in vain to stock a House committee with Trump henchmen who could be counted on to disrupt the inquiry.

Many Republican politicians are too infatuated with Trump — or too afraid of him — to admit the terrifying scope of the danger the insurrection represents. The party's elected officials have become a coalition of crazies and cowards.

It fell to a lonely pair of GOP conservatives, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, to join the House investigative committee and decry the events of January 6 as a horrific attack on the nation and the Constitution.

Kinzinger did something else, debunking the pernicious claim that the Capitol attack was not as bad as the riots that erupted in cities last summer over the police murder of George Floyd.

"I was called on to serve during the summer riots as an Air National Guardsman," he said. "I condemned those riots and the destruction of property that resulted. But not once did I ever feel that the future of self-government was threatened like I did on January 6. There is a difference between breaking the law and rejecting the rule of law, between a crime — even grave crimes — and a coup."

In Tuesday's hearing, Kinzinger struck a hopeful note: "Democracies are not defined by our bad days. We're defined by how we come back from bad days."

But the response of Republicans to the attack is even more ominous than the attack itself. The aftermath offered a moment for them to confront the cancer that has embedded itself in the party and act to cut it out. They refused.

The majority of GOP voters have insisted on rationalizing or defending the insurrection while staying loyal to the defeated president who did so much to incite it. By indulging them, Republican leaders are inviting more of the same — and worse.

What kind of democracy is defined by its bad days? A dying one.

Follow Steve Chapman 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

Hypocrisy On Housing Is A Bipartisan Scourge

Right now, selling a home is akin to selling beer on a troopship: Buyers are so eager they'll pay almost any amount. The median home sales price in the United States was nearly 23 percent higher in June than a year earlier.

Surging demand is the immediate cause of the increase, and it will abate before long. But underlying it is a more durable factor: policies that choke off supply by making it harder and more expensive to build homes.

The claim that all politics is local has never been more true than in the realm of housing policy, which has a way of turning principles upside down. At the national level, Democrats favor affordable shelter for all and Republicans oppose burdensome regulation. But in their own neighborhoods, they give priority to high real estate values.

The 18th-century economist Adam Smith wrote: "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." The same can be said of homeowners, who in many communities have harnessed the power of municipal government to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone else.

In a lot of appealing locales, housing is increasingly unaffordable. The pandemic has boosted prices in suburbs and small towns by allowing urban office workers to relocate while keeping their city jobs. But that development only deepens a chronic malady: too many people and not enough homes.

A new study for the National Association of Realtors documents the fundamental cause. "While the total stock of U.S. housing grew at an average annual rate of 1.7 percent from 1968 through 2000, the U.S. housing stock grew by an annual average rate of 1 percent in the last two decades, and only 0.7 percent in the last decade," it noted. During this period, "every major region of the country heavily underbuilt housing."

It's true in Chicago. In Lincoln Park, one of the most desirable neighborhoods, loss of housing units has helped reduce the resident population by 40 percent. It's true in California. Since 2005, the state has added more than three times as many people as it has housing units.

In recent years, people have been leaving the Golden State for places like Austin, Texas, where rules have prevented the construction of multiunit buildings — helping to boost the median home sales price by 42 percent in the past year. In that respect, Austin resembles Los Angeles, where 75 percent of residential land is zoned for single-family homes and duplexes.

Democratic mayors can be faulted for making it difficult and expensive to enlarge the housing stock. Unfortunately, Republicans reject any attempt by the federal government to encourage more construction and density.

During the 2020 campaign, President Donald Trump alleged that Joe Biden would "eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down." Biden's infrastructure package includes $5 billion in grants to local governments that ease zoning rules to allow more housing units.

You might think conservatives would want to scrap government regulations that abridge property rights and interfere with the free market. No such luck. Like Trump, many of them see exclusionary zoning as a way to shut out undesirables and keep home prices up. Self-interest triumphs over ideology.

Liberals are prone to their own hypocrisy. While cities like San Francisco, Denver, and Austin flaunt their progressive values, they have clung to housing rules that harm the people progressives are supposed to care about.

On the left, though, the consensus has cracked. Minneapolis and Seattle have "upzoned" to permit more multifamily units. In 2019, Oregon Democrats won passage of a measure largely forbidding single-family zoning. Last year, the Democratic California state Senate approved a bill to let local governments override such restrictions, and it's up for consideration again this year.

It's often said that the three most important factors in buying a home are location, location, and location. When it comes to housing affordability and access, the three most important factors are supply, supply, and supply. Anything that facilitates more housing units helps; anything that obstructs them does not.

Bipartisanship can be a way for people of differing views to find practical compromises that advance common goals. In the case of housing, though, it amounts to a cartel of the haves against the have-nots. And it's working exactly as designed.

Follow Steve Chapman 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.

Political Dysfunction Holds Innocent 'Dreamers' In Purgatory

Someday, many years from now, historians will use the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program as a case study in the monumental dysfunction of American democracy in the early 21st century. But there is no guarantee that the issue will be consigned to the history books by then. Many of the "dreamers" could pass on to the next world before our political institutions have settled their fate in this world.

DACA was initiated in 2012 by President Barack Obama after he gave up on persuading Congress to pass legislation that both Democrats and many Republicans — including President George W. Bush — thought was wise and necessary. The program allowed foreigners brought here illegally as children to remain in the United States and eventually gain citizenship if they met certain criteria.

Broad public support for legislation was not enough to overcome irresponsible fearmongering and partisan gridlock. The blameless became the victims of the feckless.

Obama resorted to executive authority to grant a reprieve to hundreds of thousands of young people who were American in everything but citizenship documents — having grown up here, attended school here and even served in the U.S. military. But DACA was quickly mired in litigation that cast the intended beneficiaries into a perpetual purgatory.

Last week, a federal judge in Texas struck it down as a violation of federal administrative law. "The executive branch cannot just enact its own legislative policy when it disagrees with Congress's choice to reject proposed legislation," wrote Judge Andrew Hanen. At the same time, he specified that his decision does not "require DHS or the Department of Justice to take any immigration, deportation, or criminal action against any DACA recipient, applicant, or any other individual that it would not otherwise take." The "Dreamers" remain in limbo.

Americans can reasonably disagree on how to combat undocumented migration and what to do with foreigners who choose to break our laws in coming here. But the point of expelling those who didn't make that choice is beyond comprehension.

It would amount to punishing children for the sins of their parents. It would also amount to punishing grandchildren: DACA recipients have given birth to 250,000 U.S. citizens.

It would mean wasting the investment Americans have made to educate these members of our community. It would mean forfeiting their productive skills, to the detriment of the economy. It would deprive companies of workers and destroy small businesses founded by people pursuing the American dream.

But it would not deter migration. The Central Americans now waiting at our southern border didn't embark on a death-defying 1,000-mile journey because of an executive order issued nine years ago that may not survive. They did it out of a desperate desire to escape violence and poverty. Expelling every "dreamer" wouldn't keep a single migrant away.

On Monday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recognized as much, ruling against environmentalists and ranchers who said DACA violated the law mandating an environmental impact review for some major federal actions. The unanimous panel rejected the ridiculous claim that the program entices more foreigners to sneak in.

Wrote Judge Jay Bybee: "Plaintiffs ask us to assume that aliens outside the United States who are, by definition, ineligible for DACA relief would learn about the policy; mistakenly believe it applicable to them or that they might obtain similar relief from a future administration; come to the United States based on their misconceptions; and permanently settle near Plaintiffs, thereby increasing the population and straining environmental resources. The attenuation in this chain of reasoning, unsupported by well-pleaded facts, is worthy of Rube Goldberg."

Republicans in Congress have long criticized DACA as an illegal use of executive power. But the logical response would be for them to usurp this presidential decree by passing a bill to protect the "Dreamers." Many GOP members say they can't abide such legislation until the border is "secure," which is the equivalent of not going to confession until you're sure you'll never sin again.

A Pew Research Center poll last year found that 74 percent of Americans, including 54 percent of Republicans, support legislation to grant permanent legal status to the "Dreamers." The support has been there for a long time. But the state of our democracy is such that the solution the American people want is one they may forever be denied.

Follow Steve Chapman 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.

Pompeo Should Stop Lying About America's Founding

One of the many aggravating ills of the era of Donald Trump is having our intelligence constantly insulted. It is one thing to have spirited debate on divisive issues. It's another to have transparently fraudulent claims thrust upon us by people who are smarter than they pretend to be.

One of these is former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who weighed into the mostly manufactured controversy over "critical race theory" in schools with an ungrammatical tweet: "If we teach that the founding of the United States of America was somehow flawed. It was corrupt. It was racist. That's really dangerous. It strikes at the very foundations of our country."

Pompeo is an evangelical Christian, which makes it odd for him to suggest that what our forebears brought about in 1776, or 1789, achieved perfection. Christianity teaches that all humans are afflicted by original sin, dooming them to fall short in every endeavor. The philosopher Immanuel Kant channeled the Lutheran faith of his upbringing when he wrote, "Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made."?

But you don't have to be a Christian to see the absurdity of Pompeo's position. Of course our founding was flawed, as was our Constitution. Of course it was racist, because neither Black people nor Native Americans were allowed the same rights as whites. Of course it had elements of moral corruption in upholding slavery, the second-class status of women and the dispossession of indigenous people. He might as well deny that the ocean is salty.

Many Americans think the Constitution was a miracle inspired by the Almighty. But you would think that if a miracle brought our founding charter into being, it could have omitted some major defects.

There was the exclusion of nonwhites from the rights granted to others. There was the exclusion of women. There was the outsized political power granted to slave states.

Even if conservatives want to defend these disparities, it's hard to see how they can attribute to God so many features that later had to be corrected.

The system for electing the president was so faulty that it required a constitutional amendment just 15 years later, after it produced an Electoral College tie — not between Thomas Jefferson and his opponent, John Adams, but between Jefferson and his running mate, Aaron Burr. Some miracle.

That wasn't even the first revision (not counting the Bill of Rights, which makes up the first ten amendments). In 1795, the 11th Amendment was ratified to grant each state sovereign immunity against lawsuits by citizens of other states.

These sorts of repairs are what you would expect in a design produced by mortal creatures who lacked the ability to foresee the future. A design that was — what's the word I'm looking for? — flawed.

That's not to say that Americans should be ashamed of our origins. A rational conservative — or liberal — can argue persuasively that the nation and system of government were the best that could be achieved given the historical circumstances, conflicting interests, and political passions prevailing at the time.

Accepting the existence of slavery was the terrible price of keeping the southern states in the same union as the northern ones. The undemocratic nature of the Senate, ditto. The inferior status of Blacks, Native Americans, and women was too entrenched to be altered.

The same conservative can argue credibly that the durability of the nation and the adaptability of the Constitution to a 21st-century society are proof of their fundamental virtues.

Pompeo is not stupid. He graduated first in his class from West Point and got a law degree from Harvard. One thing he was doubtless taught at both institutions is that to progress at anything, you have to be willing to admit your errors. You can't ace the final if you don't understand why you failed the midterm.

But either he has let religion and ideology erode his reasoning capacity or he has chosen to make baldly preposterous statements to hoodwink the ignorant.

That's a feature of much "conservative" advocacy in our blighted era: It demands the acceptance of obviously false claims simply because they serve political ends. It poisons discourse by elevating prejudice and dogma over facts.

Honestly confronting the bad as well as the good of our history is not dangerous. It does not "strike at the very foundations of our country." The truth is nothing to fear — unless you put your faith in lies.

Follow Steve Chapman 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.

Don’t Blame Bail Reform For Spike In Violent Crime

The Fourth of July is an occasion for the reading of the Declaration of Independence. But a better project might be the reading of the Constitution, a document that many Americans revere without fully understanding.

Among this group are many police officers, even though they take an oath to uphold it and are greatly affected by it in the course of their duties. One provision that sometimes gets short shrift is the Eighth Amendment, which says, "Excessive bail shall not be required."

That provision rests on the longstanding right of criminal defendants to be granted bail except when no amount would ensure their appearance in court — notably in capital cases. But for others, the right to be released before trial is implicit in the amendment. Denying bail, after all, has exactly the same effect as imposing excessive bail.

Some states, recognizing this fundamental liberty, have enacted laws ending the use of cash bail. The reason is that requiring a money payment leaves huge numbers of defendants languishing in jail not because they have been proven guilty or are deemed dangerous but because they are poor. The vast majority of them will show up in court without it, and judges can require electronic monitoring to make sure they do.

But bail reform has coincided with a spike in violent crime across the country, and some cops have said this is no coincidence. New York Police Commissioner Dermot Shea decried his state's changes as a "challenge to public safety." When Illinois enacted a law this year abolishing cash bail, the head of the Chicago police union said it had "just handed the keys to the criminals."

The evidence for the charge is skimpy. Violent crime surged last year even in places that didn't reform bail laws, which suggests something else — such as the pandemic or the economic shutdown or both — was the real cause. And overall crime in the United States fell in the first half of 2020, according to the FBI — which is not what you would expect if hordes of unrepentant criminals were streaming out of the jails.

The opponents of bail reform miss some major points. Bail isn't supposed to guarantee that no one accused of a crime will commit crimes while awaiting trial. It's inherent in bail that some defendants will do exactly that. The only way to prevent it is to lock them all up before the government has proven they did anything wrong.

"This traditional right to freedom before conviction permits the unhampered preparation of a defense, and serves to prevent the infliction of punishment prior to conviction," the Supreme Court said in 1951. "Unless this right to bail before trial is preserved, the presumption of innocence, secured only after centuries of struggle, would lose its meaning."

Cook County State's Attorney Kim Foxx understands this even if her detractors don't. In a videoconference Wednesday sponsored by the Illinois Justice Project, she noted that some people think defendants should be locked up even before being convicted.

"They missed the step in the middle, where we haven't actually gotten to a trial yet," she said pointedly. But "the presumption of innocence maintains with the accused until there's a finding of guilt."

The logic of those who oppose eliminating cash bail is that dangerous suspects shouldn't go free. But the only sure way to determine which ones are dangerous is to put them on trial. Besides, requiring monetary bonds doesn't keep the more dangerous defendants behind bars. It keeps the poorer ones behind bars.

Cash bail is a form of punishment that may actually generate more crime rather than less. Defendants who can't raise the money may lose jobs, homes, and custody of their children. Dooming these people to poverty and dislocation is not a formula for putting them on the straight and narrow.

In Illinois, as in many other states, judges may deny bond to defendants whom they find would pose a risk to public safety if set free. Getting rid of money bail doesn't prevent judges from simply denying bail to this select group. The right to bail is not unlimited.

But selling freedom only to those who can afford it is not a formula for fairness or safety. Our system of criminal law and justice rests on the presumption of innocence. The critics of bail reform prefer a presumption of guilt.

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.

At Indiana, A Few Vaccine Resisters Have A Lot To Learn

From the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans have been yearning for the bygone life they once took for granted. But many of those most impatient to return to normal have been the least willing to help us get there. First, some people refused to wear masks. Now, some — often the same ones — balk at getting vaccinated.

This resistance is behind a lawsuit filed by eight students against the Indiana University, which is requiring all students, faculty and staff at all campuses to be inoculated against the virus for the fall semester. The school says exceptions will be "extremely limited," covering only those with religious objections or certain medical conditions.

The point is to move past the onerous restrictions and precautions that have made college life unrecognizable. "Classrooms, labs, housing, dining, recreation and other campus facilities will return to pre-pandemic capacities, with no physical distancing required," says IU. "Classes will be held in person in typical classroom settings."

Dining halls will return to normal service. Indoor events involving 250 or fewer people will go on as though it were 2019. Zoom will be a thing of the past. Oh, and everyone who is vaccinated can stow their masks.

Most students, it's safe to assume, will be happy to endure a couple of needle jabs for the privilege of enjoying the experience they signed up for. Most professors, likewise, will be relieved to interact with young scholars in person without fear of landing in the intensive care unit.

But on the theory that every garden party needs a skunk, this group of litigants objects. Their lawsuit claims that the school is trampling on their constitutionally protected "rights of personal autonomy and bodily integrity, and the right to reject medical treatment."

Their attorneys go so far as to compare the requirement to harvesting human organs without consent, as well as to the Tuskegee experiment, in which Black men were fatally deprived of treatment for syphilis without their knowledge or consent. Is there a vaccine for hysteria?

From the lawsuit, you might assume that no such burden has ever been placed on college students. In fact, both public and private colleges have long insisted on inoculations against dangerous, contagious diseases. Indiana University students were already obligated to get vaccines for measles, mumps, rubella, tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis, chicken pox and meningitis.

Nor is Indiana unusual. Vaccine mandates are the norm at public universities. But the advent of a disease that has become a weapon in the culture war suddenly makes a venerable, commonplace practice intolerable in some quarters.

The reasonable question is not why a university should add the novel coronavirus to the list but why it shouldn't. The vaccine, the students complain, has been approved only for emergency use, but we are still in the midst of a dire public health emergency — with an average of nearly 14,000 new infections and 347 deaths every day. Americans are also now exposed to strains of the virus that are more contagious and dangerous than previous ones.

True, young people are at relatively low risk of death and serious illness from this disease. The vaccine has also been blamed for causing myocarditis, a heart inflammation, among people under 30. But some 2,767 Americans under 30 have died of COVID-19. Cases of myocarditis associated with the vaccine are not only extremely rare — about one in 83,000 — but typically brief and mild.

CDC experts calculated that among men aged 18 to 24, the vaccine would prevent roughly ten hospitalizations for every case of myocarditis — and among women in that age group, more than 200 hospitalizations for every case of myocarditis. The benefits greatly exceed the risk.

That's not counting the value of mass vaccinations for everyone else on campus, most of whom are older and more vulnerable to COVID-19. IU spokesman Chuck Carney says that at the flagship campus in Bloomington, which had nearly 43,000 students last fall, "we're a huge part of this town" — whose population is 85,000. Administrators don't want the university to function as "an incubator for illness," he told me.

The students are suing to prevent Indiana University from taking a big step to safeguard the health of the entire community — as well as their own. It would be a shame for them to be unable to enroll this fall, because they have a lot to learn.

Follow Steve Chapman 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

What Manchin Knows — And What Progressives Could Learn

The 2010 Senate candidate was almost a caricature of the sort of Republican who drives Democrats crazy. He bragged about his endorsement by the National Rifle Association, criticized "Obamacare" and dramatized his support for coal by picking up a rifle and blasting away at a bill aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

But the guy who turned those themes into a victory was not a Republican. He was a Democrat, Joe Manchin of West Virginia. And he's somehow proven to be both the indispensable senator for President Joe Biden and a villain to many in his party.

You might think Democrats would be building shrines to the person who has kept them in control of the Senate. A Democrat has about as much business representing West Virginia — which Donald Trump won by a 39-point margin — as a vegan sandwich has on the Burger King menu.

Of course, Burger King does offer a vegan sandwich — the Impossible Burger. And it has succeeded much as Manchin has, by doing an excellent impersonation of something people like. Impossible Foods offers an appealing oxymoron — "meat made from plants," as it advertises.

Manchin does the same, compiling a center-right voting record from his desk on the liberal side of the chamber. An analysis by FiveThirtyEight found that during Trump's tenure, he sided with the administration 50.4 percent of the time. He scores low with both the American Conservative Union (27 percent) and the American Civil Liberties Union (23 percent). The website GovTrack grades Manchin as more conservative than two Republican senators, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska.

It's no wonder that liberals differ with him on many issues. But they have let his refusal to support reform of the filibuster or the Democratic election reform bill cloud their minds. Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) called Manchin "the new Mitch McConnell." Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) accused him of complicity in "voter suppression."

The attacks bring to mind what Biden recalls his own father saying: "Don't compare me to the Almighty; compare me to the alternative." It doesn't seem to occur to Bowman that if not for Manchin, the Senate would be under the control of the real Mitch McConnell, who would use a GOP majority to block Biden on almost every front. For Manchin to align himself with Ocasio-Cortez would produce a different type of voter suppression — of West Virginians willing to cast their ballots for him.

It's easy for politicians like these to fault Manchin for being insufficiently progressive, because they don't have to run for office in West Virginia. Bowman's district went for Biden by a 52-point margin; Ocasio-Cortez's by 45 points. They can lurch as far left as they want without fearing defeat at the polls.

A Democratic politician in West Virginia, however, has to carefully balance party priorities with political survival. That Manchin has been able to win statewide over and over is not an achievement; it's a miracle. He's been able to do it largely by consistently staying arms-length from the prevailing ideology of his party.

In that endeavor, his recent vilification by progressives is more likely to help him at home than to hurt him. It reinforces Manchin's priceless reputation as a different kind of Democrat.

But they have reason to be grateful to him. One reason is that he's not entirely averse to taking political risks on behalf of his party's agenda. The website FiveThirtyEight found he has voted with Biden 100 percent of the time so far.

Without Manchin, Biden would be unable to get many of his judicial nominees confirmed. Republicans would chair all Senate committees and determine the legislative calendar. The president would face a stone wall of GOP opposition. Today's Democratic frustration would give way to outright despair.

What the party needs is not fewer people like Manchin but more. The Democratic approach works well in presidential elections, but it has yet to produce lasting majorities in Congress — and it has been a dismal failure in state elections.

Manchin has demonstrated that it's possible for a Democrat to win in the reddest of states by selectively straying from liberal orthodoxy. If many others would follow his example, Democrats would have a stronger hand, which would make Manchin less of an impediment to their agenda.

Progressives who think they are at odds with him are really at odds with political reality. Manchin never forgets that, as Shakespeare wrote, there is no virtue like necessity.

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 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.