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

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.

Why Trump Finds No Refuge In The First Amendment

When the mob of Donald Trump fanatics invaded the U.S. Capitol on January 6, one of them carved a vivid message into a door: "Murder the media." So, it is only fitting that the former president's lawyers are defending him in his Senate impeachment trial by claiming the protection of ... the First Amendment. You know, the one that protects the media.

That provision bars the government from "abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press." The framers placed a high value on ensuring that newspapers and pamphleteers could operate without getting permission from the government or anyone else.

But MAGA nation is openly hostile to any journalists who don't champion its cause. At the Capitol, participants harassed, threatened and assaulted reporters. One group of people screamed, "CNN sucks!" as they smashed an Associated Press crew's cameras and other equipment.

The acting U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Michael Sherwin, urged anyone with information about these episodes to report it. "We are resolutely committed to upholding the freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment, including speech, peaceful assembly and press, and we will investigate, prosecute and hold accountable anyone who attempts to obstruct or curtail these freedoms through violence or intimidation," he said.

Violence against journalists is the predictable result of Trump's venomous attacks against anyone daring to broadcast or publish any information casting him in a bad light. He has frequently labeled the press "the enemy of the people."

He persisted in his incendiary rhetoric, even after it proved literally incendiary: In 2018, a Trump-worshipping nut case mailed pipe bombs to CNN's New York office and several prominent Democrats. The bomb maker got a 20-year sentence.

Trump and his cult take the view that the First Amendment should protect their right to say and tweet anything they want — but not the right of news organizations to dispense information refuting their claims.

He even thinks social media firms, notably Twitter and Facebook, should be required to spread his fabrications — more evidence that he has no clue about the First Amendment. It was meant as a check on government, not on private companies, which are free to take a pass on dishonest propaganda.

Trump has long dreamed of using the legal system to bankrupt news organizations. "I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money," he vowed. So, what's stopping him? Oh, right — the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has ruled that it sets a high bar for defamation suits by public figures.

Commentators can't be held liable even for erroneous accusations unless they deliberately lied or showed a "reckless disregard" for the truth. Accurate claims — what Trump has the most reason to fear — are fully protected. If a news organization had indeed published articles about him that were purposely false, it would be at high risk of ruinous judgments. Trump has filed or threatened to file a host of libel suits — but has never won one.

As it happens, you don't necessarily need to change the libel laws to punish vicious smears. The election technology company Smartmatic has filed a $2.7 billion lawsuit against Fox News, three of its anchors, and Trump lawyers Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell for an alleged "conspiracy to defame and disparage Smartmatic." The Trumpist network Newsmax reacted to the threat with an on-air admission that various claims about Smartmatic and Dominion Voting Systems were false.

Trump's Senate lawyers advanced the novel argument that his statements inflaming those attending the January 6 rally near the White House are protected by the First Amendment. It is one of the constitutional provisions, they say, that "specifically and intentionally protect unpopular speech from government retaliation." But the Supreme Court has long held that the government may punish speech that "is directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action and is likely to incite or produce such action." A group of 144 legal scholars and lawyers, some of them conservatives, said the argument was "legally frivolous."

Trump and his followers have a tortured relationship with the Constitution. They want it to shield them when they lie and punish critics when they tell the truth. So far, they have been unable to twist the First Amendment to serve their nefarious purposes. That failure is the ultimate vindication of its value.

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 Conservative Virtues Of Romney’s Liberal Child Allowance

The United States has a vast array of government programs that are meant to alleviate poverty, from food stamps to the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. Yet these efforts don't actually solve the problem they address. In terms of poverty, the United States ranks at or near the worst among developed countries.

One reason for that failure is that we keep avoiding the obvious solution: If people are poor, give them money. But Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, is not avoiding that solution any longer.

He has unveiled a major proposal to provide $350 per month ($4,200 per year) to every child in America up to the age of 6, as well as $250 per month ($3,000 per year) to every child age 6 to 17. Each family would be limited to a maximum of $1,250 per month ($15,000 per year). The program would be a model of simplicity, with the Social Security Administration mailing out checks every month. That's a big difference from the Earned Income Tax Credit, which typically provides cash only in one lump sum after the tax year ends.

"This plan," Romney says, "would immediately lift nearly three million children out of poverty, while providing a bridge to the middle class." There is also an unexpected bonus: Because it would trim other programs and repeal the federal deduction for state and local taxes, it would have a net budgetary cost of zero.

To hardline conservatives, this proposal may sound like a left-wing dream, vastly expanding dependence on federal handouts. But to anyone who thinks we have a collective responsibility to prevent serious hardship among innocent people, particularly those too young to fend for themselves, it represents a giant step toward a more humane social welfare system that also advances sound conservative principles.

The idea of fighting poverty with direct cash has an intellectual pedigree that notably includes Nobel laureate economist Milton Friedman, who advised Republican presidents and was revered on the right. He proposed payments through a "negative income tax," which he argued was a more effective, efficient remedy for poverty than a hodgepodge of programs that somehow spent far more money than the supposed beneficiaries ever got.

Romney's plan has the same virtue. It mirrors a proposal by Democratic Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado and Sherrod Brown of Ohio thiat enjoys broad support among congressional Democrats. A report from the centrist Niskanen Center in Washington, "The Conservative Case for a Child Allowance," concluded that Romney's plan would reduce child poverty by one-third. Ernie Tedeschi, a Treasury economist in the Obama administration, told The Washington Post it would be "among the most pro-family, anti-poverty policies in a generation."

How would it help families? It would avoid the penalty for marriage that some programs impose. The child allowance would give parents more freedom to decide whether to pay for child care or keep one parent at home. It would replace the current Child and Dependent Care Tax Credit, which does little or nothing for parents with low incomes but a lot for those with high incomes.

Direct payments also get around another problem with welfare programs — that beneficiaries lose benefits when they get jobs, paying a penalty for working. A child allowance that goes to everyone would remove that disincentive.

By helping parents afford whatever child care arrangements they prefer, it would ease a painful trade-off that falls disproportionately on mothers. It would make it easier for both parents to work outside the home if they want — or for either parent to do the unpaid work of childrearing full time. When Canada established a similar program, the Niskanen report notes, "single and married moms alike worked more."

Unlike many social welfare programs, this one does not require the employment of hordes of public employees or force low-income citizens to grapple with bureaucratic obstacles that flummox many who should qualify. It doesn't involve the sort of social engineering that conservatives abhor. By eliminating other programs, it streamlines government.

It furnishes a regular income without strings attached, on the belief that parents are fully able to decide how best to use it for their families. It enables parents; it doesn't compel them. In that way, it expands freedom.

Conservatives may bridle at the idea of establishing a big new anti-poverty program, but they know all too well the failures of our current policies. They might take a page from Mae West, who said, "Between two evils, I always pick the one I never tried before."

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 Barriers To Abortion Can Be Fatal In A Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has given a big boost to methods of bringing health care to people remotely, known as "telemedicine." If there's a lethal contagion going around, a doctor's office is one obvious place to avoid, if at all possible, and virtual visits make that option more feasible.

So, last year, the federal government took steps to spare Americans from risking their health in pursuit of treatment. The Department of Health and Human Services allowed Medicare to cover more remote services while letting physicians prescribe controlled substances without examining the patient in the flesh.

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How To Punish Trump For Sedition Even If Impeachment Fails

Trying to persuade Republican senators to convict former President Donald Trump in an impeachment trial is like trying to sell tickets for a trip on the Titanic after it sank. There is no more Titanic, and you wouldn't want to be on it anyway. They can't remove Trump from office now, and they wouldn't if they could.

Even Republican senators who are still suffering panic attacks about the Capitol violence must wonder if there is any point to impeaching the president who lit a fire under the mob.

Why vote to evict a president who is already gone? Why spend precious time debating the misdeeds of someone whom the American people have disowned? Why give Trump more time and attention?

On Tuesday, only five Republican senators voted to proceed with an impeachment trial. Given that at least 17 Republicans would have to vote for conviction, even holding a trial seems to be an exercise in futility.

There is a point to impeachment, of course. It doesn't take much imagination to realize that the Jan. 6 insurrection, deadly as it was, could have been far worse. Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress could have been injured or killed. Congress could have been prevented from carrying out its responsibility to certify the Electoral College results.

Trump not only spurred his followers to disrupt the proceedings but declined to call them off once they stormed the Capitol — even though his own vice president was in danger. He obviously hoped to deploy these extremists to keep himself in office, despite the judgment of mere voters.

If those are not "high crimes and misdemeanors," what would be? Letting Trump go unpunished would encourage future presidents to emulate his criminal behavior.

Republicans have a point. So do Democrats. Fortunately, there is another option that would accomplish the most important purpose of convicting Trump — and would have a very good chance of success. As law professors Bruce Ackerman of Yale and Gerard Magliocca of Indiana University noted in The Washington Post, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution has a provision that fits our current needs.

It says that any "officer of the United States" who has "engaged in insurrection or rebellion" against the Constitution "or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof" shall not be allowed to hold "any office, civil or military, under the United States." Ratified after the Civil War, this section was meant to prevent former Confederate leaders from gaining positions of power in the government they waged war against.

But it would apply equally to anyone else who actively encourages a violent uprising, as Trump did. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell affirmed the obvious when he said: "The mob was fed lies. They were provoked by the president and other powerful people. And they tried to use fear and violence to stop a specific proceeding of the first branch of the federal government, which they did not like." That is sedition, plain and simple.

The main value of convicting Trump is that it would allow the Senate to take a separate vote to forbid him from running for president again. But under the 14th Amendment, Congress could impose a ban even without a conviction. As Ackerman and Magliocca explain, "Congress would simply need to declare that Trump engaged in an act of 'insurrection or rebellion' by encouraging the attack on the Capitol."

This option has several advantages. First, it would take only a simple majority of both houses. Second, it would give Republicans a middle way between convicting Trump in an impeachment trial and impersonating potted plants. For members thinking of running for president in 2024, it would take him out of the race.

What's in it for Democrats? Their chief purpose is making sure that Trump will never be president again. Using the 14th Amendment would be a reasonable alternative, particularly if it would attract a significant amount of Republican support.

It could be done quickly, freeing Democrats to move on to urgent policy matters, instead of delaying President Joe Biden's agenda. And it could not be undone by a future Congress without a two-thirds vote of each house.

It would also affix a unique and permanent mark of infamy on the 45th president, which he has earned in full. If the 14th Amendment ban was good enough for Jefferson Davis, it's good enough for Donald Trump.

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.

Don’t Put Capitol Rioters On The No-Fly List

If you've seen videos of people who took part in the U.S. Capitol riot weeping in shock after being barred from boarding their flights home, you may feel as Oscar Wilde did upon reading a tragic passage from a Charles Dickens novel: "One must have a heart of stone to read the death of little Nell without laughing." But schadenfreude is not a good basis for government policy.

In the aftermath of the horrifying Jan. 6 rampage, the Transportation Security Administration said it was "processing hundreds of names with law enforcement agencies for a thorough risk assessment," with an eye toward putting some of them on the federal no-fly list. Incoming Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer thinks anyone who was inside the Capitol building should be kept off of airliners. "We cannot allow these same insurrectionists to get on a plane and cause more violence and more damage," he said.

It's an understandable reaction to a poisonous attack on our elected representatives and our democratic system. But it would also be a gross and dangerous expansion of an ill-conceived program with a record of errors and abuses.

The list was created as a way of preventing terrorists from hijacking planes as a handful of fanatics did on 9/11. Its value was always doubtful, because tighter screening at airports, reinforced cockpit doors, air marshals, and a ban on knives have virtually eliminated the chance of such takeovers. These days, the worst thing a jihadist could do on a plane is remove his mask.

TSA says those banned are "a small subset of the U.S. government Terrorist Screening Database (also known as the terrorist watchlist) that contains the identity information of known or suspected terrorists." Note that the no-fly list is not meant to cover ordinary criminals, nut cases, or congregants in the Cult of Trump. It's supposed to block only people on the terrorist watchlist — and not even all of them.

In practice, it has snared some people who posed no evident threat. In December, the Supreme Court allowed three Muslim men who were put on the list for refusing to become FBI informants to sue the responsible agents. The American Civil Liberties Union has represented clients who were blocked from flying for years, even though they had never been convicted of a crime — some of whom the government eventually approved to fly.

The no-fly list is secret, and as of 2016, it reportedly contained some 81,00 people, including about 1,000 who were U.S citizens or legal residents. From those figures, we can deduce that being a convicted criminal, even a violent one, does not prevent you from traveling by commercial airline any more than it prevents you from legally taking a train, driving a car, riding the subway, or hiking the Appalachian Trail. Felons can even get pilot's licenses.

There is no obvious reason that people who invaded the Capitol deserve to be singled out. Does someone who forced his way into a congressional office and stole items pose a greater risk than someone who broke into a house and made off with a laptop? Is someone who smashed a window to enter the Capitol building more likely to try to hijack a plane than someone who smashed a window to protest the killing of George Floyd?

There's a problem that Schumer and Co. might consider before proceeding: If the no-fly list becomes a way of punishing people for violating laws, a lot of Americans stand to lose. Should someone be kept off airliners for joining a Black Lives Matter march that ends with some protesters throwing rocks? If we're going to have a no-fly list, it ought to target potential terrorists, not every mope who lands in the joint.

How airlines deal with passengers they deem disruptive or threatening, of course, should be largely up to them. After the riot, Alaska Airlines permanently banned 14 customers because they were "non-mask-compliant, rowdy, argumentative, and harassed our crew members." Other airlines took similar actions against dozens of unruly passengers. Like any private company, airlines are entitled to banish patrons who make a nuisance of themselves.

People who committed serious crimes on Jan. 6 can be prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated, some of them for many years. But that's no reason to decree that anyone who invaded the Capitol should be literally grounded for life. The government has plenty of ways to punish those who broke the law. The no-fly list shouldn't be one of them.

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.

Healing Will Come — After The Cancer Of Trump Is Removed

Emotions were raw during Wednesday's House impeachment debate, but Republicans were in a conciliatory mood. That is, they were in the mood for Democrats to conciliate them, Donald Trump and his aggrieved followers.

A group of House Republicans signed a letter opposing impeachment "in the spirit of healing." Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) worried that it was "not healthy for the nation." Rep. Brian Mast (R-FL) warned that the effort to remove Trump could "further divide and inflame our nation."

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Trump’s Self-Pardon Could Be A Service To The Nation

For the past four years, Donald Trump has regularly flouted the Constitution, laws and basic norms of presidential behavior, and he has gotten away with it. He has acted in faithful conformity to an inviolable principle: Anything he does is fine. As he said last year, "When somebody is president of the United States, the authority is total."

His incendiary speech last week before an angry crowd of delusional disciples in Washington is only the newest example of his self-proclaimed infallibility. "People thought what I said was totally appropriate," he said Tuesday, hearing things that are audible only to him.

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Can Mike Pence Save The Country From Trump?

After three years and 50 weeks of meekly deferring to Donald Trump, Mike Pence finally ran out of patience Tuesday. Trump demanded that the vice president block Congress' certification of Joe Biden's election victory, and Pence gave his answer: No.

That refusal so infuriated Trump that he appeared at a rally in Washington, castigated his long-suffering subordinate and urged followers to march on the U.S. Capitol. "You'll never take back our country with weakness," he bellowed. Soon after, a mob was smashing windows, attacking police and invading the Senate chamber, forcing Pence and others to seek safety.

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The Pandemic Is A National Test That We’ve Failed

Over the past century, there have been times when Americans showed they can unite to overcome formidable challenges: winning World II, sending men to the moon, bringing down Soviet communism. The coronavirus pandemic will not be remembered as one of them.

It's fair to say that we have done many things right, individually and collectively. Most Americans, most of the time, have abided by the counsel of public health experts that we wear masks, socially distance and avoid large indoor gatherings. Most governors and mayors have taken prudent steps to curb transmission of the virus. In all, we've done pretty well.

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The Dreamers Are Still Waiting For Their Nightmare To End

In 2001, two U.S. senators introduced the DREAM Act, to let immigrants brought here without authorization as children remain in the country. Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois and Republican Orrin Hatch of Utah didn't know how fitting the name would be. Today, the idea of granting legal status to these innocents is just that — a dream.

This is legislation that both parties should be able to agree on — and, to some extent, have. It would be an act of compassion for people who have grown up to be Americans, despite the accident of their foreign birth, and become productive members of our society. It would also be a service to everyone else, by ensuring the continuation of their valuable contributions — as doctors, nurses, teachers, construction workers and more — while opening up wider opportunities for them to contribute.

The usual complaints about immigrants, undocumented or otherwise, don't apply to the people who would benefit, known as "Dreamers." They didn't choose to violate our immigration laws. The vast majority has grown up speaking English and integrating into society. The legalization would include only those who earned a high school diploma or General Education Degree, haven't committed crimes and exhibit "good moral character." MS-13 need not apply.

This change has found its way into one major immigration bill after another, including a 2006 package that had the support of President George W. Bush as well as such Republican senators as Lindsey Graham, John McCain and Sam Brownback. That year, 23 GOP senators voted for it as part of an immigration overhaul. But it has never managed to become law.

It has been in abeyance for so long that some of the children who stood to gain back in 2001 have become parents. At this point, deporting the "Dreamers" would do grave harm not only to them but to their American-born children. But the measure has stayed on the shelf, in a triumph of indifference, inertia, cruelty and political dysfunction.

In 2012, confronted with this maddening failure, Barack Obama issued an executive order shielding these immigrants from expulsion. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program granted temporary protection to some 700,000 people. Republicans denounced it as a shocking overreach by a would-be king — back before they learned to love untrammeled presidential power. They forgot Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush had taken similar action to block the removal of large numbers of undocumented immigrants.

When the virulently anti-immigration Donald Trump became president, he ordered an end to DACA. But federal courts ruled against him; the program remained in effect; and this year, the Supreme Court saved it, finding that the administration failed to follow federal law in rescinding it.

For the "Dreamers," the decision was a reprieve. The next administration would like to make it permanent. Joe Biden's campaign website said: "Dreamers and their parents should have a roadmap to citizenship through legislative immigration reform. But in the meantime, Biden will remove the uncertainty for Dreamers by reinstating the DACA program, and he will explore all legal options to protect their families from inhumane separation."

DACA's opponents, however, have not given up their merciless crusade to punish the blameless. In July, acting secretary Chad Wolf ordered DHS to reject all new applications — only to be overruled by a federal court, which ordered the department to resume taking them.

On Tuesday, Texas and eight other Republican-controlled states asked a federal court in Houston to strip the "Dreamers" of their protection. That would allow their deportation to countries that, for many, are no more familiar than Antarctica.

The states supporting DACA argued that the court should bide its time until the new administration arrives and decides what to do. If the court should strike it down, Biden could unilaterally fashion a new program, which might or might not survive judicial review.

All this would have been avoided had Congress mustered the humanity to pass legislation protecting them. Trump professed "love" for the "Dreamers" and vowed to help them. But over the past four years, neither he nor his allies in Congress could bring themselves to do the right thing.

In the closing weeks of his presidency, Trump has granted clemency to all sorts of vile people who committed serious crimes. The "Dreamers," who did nothing wrong, are still waiting for their absolution.

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 America Shaped Christmas And How Christmas Shapes America

With its gaudy displays, rampant excess, celebratory spirit and high price tag, Christmas is a thoroughly American holiday. But it could also be called an un-American holiday that thoroughly infiltrated our culture - and transformed it.

This year, because of the pandemic, most Americans have had to change how they observe the season. Holiday parties are scarce. Far more shopping was done online. Many churches have suspended in-person services. Relatives will be less inclined to gather together. Christmas Day will be more subdued than usual. It's a major change, and a melancholy one.

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What’s Wrong With Joe Biden’s ‘Identity Politics’?


In 1980, a presidential candidate pledged to appoint the first woman to the Supreme Court. "It is time for a woman to sit among our highest jurists," said Ronald Reagan, and in 1981, he kept his promise by nominating Sandra Day O'Connor.

In 2008, John McCain made history by choosing the party's first female vice presidential candidate. Announcing his choice of Sarah Palin, he said he was "especially proud to say in the week we celebrate the anniversary of women's suffrage" that she was "a devoted wife and a mother of five."

From the criticisms of Joe Biden's choices for his Cabinet and other senior positions, you might think that Democrats had a monopoly on what is condemned as "identity politics" — selecting people because they represent specific groups (racial, ethnic, gender and sexual orientation) rather than because of their qualifications. But both parties have made a point of highlighting their efforts to expand representation beyond white men.

When Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, Donald Trump promised to appoint a woman to fill the vacancy, and nobody objected. At her confirmation hearing Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, welcomed Amy Coney Barrett as "a fellow woman, a fellow mom, a fellow Midwesterner."

But when Biden named Kamala Harris as his running mate, he was accused of elevating someone underqualified for the job. It was alleged that he chose her only because she checked so many boxes, being Black, Asian American and female. One critic lamented that Biden had not "searched the entire adult population and determined she was the best person for the job." Like that's unusual.

Never mind that Harris had 16 years of experience in elective office at the local, state and federal level, or that she had enough political skills and substantive heft to be taken seriously as a presidential candidate. Never mind that among the credentials cited for the pathetically unprepared Palin was — I'm not making this up — that she knew "how to properly field-dress a moose."

How many vice presidential candidates have been chosen strictly for their brains and experience? Age, religion and state of origin have all been regarded as reasonable criteria. Mike Pence's chief asset was that he could appeal to an important constituency: white evangelical Christians. Palin was not the first who didn't qualify purely on merit. Anyone remember Dan Quayle? Or Spiro Agnew?

As for the Cabinet, Biden would have to make a strenuous effort to find appointees less qualified than many of Trump's. Rex Tillerson, picked for secretary of state, had no diplomatic background. Ditto for U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley.

Barack Obama's first energy secretary, Steven Chu, had a Nobel Prize in physics. Trump's, Rick Perry, had a bachelor's degree in animal science. Ben Carson, an African American neurosurgeon, was tapped to run the Department of Housing and Urban Development even though he had no expertise in housing, aside from living in it.

Doubts have been raised about Susan Rice, a Black woman chosen to head Biden's Domestic Policy Council despite a background almost entirely in foreign and security affairs. But Biden pointed out, accurately, that she "knows government inside and out" and "is among our nation's most senior and experienced government leaders." Not to mention that she worked with him in the White House and earned his confidence.

Washington Examiner columnist Michael Barone insists that "among the public, if not in the press, most people care more about policy than ethnicity, more about competence than ticket-balancing." Easy for a peevish white guy to say. But he shouldn't fret. Biden's appointees will be appreciably more competent than the people they replace.

It's true that Biden has taken care to stock his administration with women, African Americans, Hispanics, Asian Americans, a Native American and an openly gay man. But what's wrong with including groups that have always been underrepresented?

"Identity politics is often a euphemism for 'shrill minority voices I don't like,'" says Jonathan Blanks, a Black scholar at the centrist Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity. "People experience America differently. Including them is valuable for understanding what is wrong and how it needs to be changed."

Conservatives say they long for a time when such differences as race, sexual orientation and gender will be irrelevant. They fail to understand that it will happen only after diversity in leadership is so commonplace that it is barely noticed. When that happy day arrives, some people will owe Biden an apology.

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.

Can Our Republic Survive Trump’s Attack On The Election?

The collapse of the Soviet Union, one of the most momentous events of the 20th century, contributed to a historic flowering of democracy. People who had been in the suffocating grip of communism for decades leapt at the chance to join the community of free, self-governing nations.

Much of the rest of the world followed suit, with democracy advancing in Asia, Africa and South America. The United States provided leadership to encourage this shift. Between 1975 and 2000, the number of countries qualifying as democracies quadrupled.

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Donald Trump Is The Superspreader President

Judicial nominations normally have an impact on real-world events only in the long run, but Amy Coney Barrett's was different. The White House event announcing her selection had rapid consequences. It gave COVID-19 an unobstructed path to a lot of important people, starting with Donald Trump and his wife, Melania.

The affair was what Anthony Fauci called a "superspreader event," with attendees crowded together outdoors and indoors, chatting, shaking hands, hugging and generally making merry. Few wore masks or kept their distance. Several later tested positive for the virus, including former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, GOP Sens. Thom Tillis and Mike Lee and former Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway.

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