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In Ahmaud Arbery's Georgia community, this group's demands for justice have had a real impact

By Margaret Coker
In Ahmaud Arbery's Georgia community, this group's demands for justice have had a real impact
A mural in Brunswick, Ga., supporting Black Lives Matter. Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed in the area's Satilla Shores neighborhood in February 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo for The Washington Post by Malcolm Jackson

Elijah Bobby Henderson grew up in Brunswick, Ga., surrounded by an expansive emerald landscape of marsh grass interlaced with tranquil waterways that feed the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Three generations of his family helped build this corner of coastal Georgia, working for paper mills, volunteering at church and dedicating time to their historic Black community. But even with his deep roots here, Henderson - a tall, introspective father of five who quotes the Bible and philosophy - hasn't been immune to the endemic abuse many Black people say they have endured at the hands of law enforcement in Glynn County.

He was in first grade, he says, when a police officer arrested his mother after a mentally ill neighbor attacked her and she fought back. Her self-defense argument wouldn't matter in court, his grandmother recalled their lawyer saying. Jail was a forgone conclusion because she was Black and lived in Midtown, a neighborhood in Brunswick known for drug dealing. After the neighbor died, Henderson's mother was convicted of manslaughter and spent two years in prison.

When Henderson was 16, a police officer stopped a car he and his friends were in, on their way to a Saturday board game night. Without offering a reason, Henderson says, the officer drew his gun, ordered the three terrified Black teens to the ground, then handcuffed them and searched the car. When the officer found nothing illegal, he told them to get off the streets and go home.

At 23, a week after he was honorably discharged from the Navy, Henderson was pulled over by a city police officer while he was driving the family minivan. This time, he didn't mask his outrage when the officer couldn't provide a reason for the traffic stop. The officer, who was Black, ultimately handcuffed him and took him to the police station. "When it comes to the police, almost everybody has a story like this," says Henderson, now 46. "Once, you might shrug it off. But again and again? That pattern is self-evident. Black people in Glynn County face racism. Full stop."

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Henderson was reminded of these painful experiences in late spring 2020, when news began to spread about the killing of a 25-year-old Black jogger on a nearby suburban street in February. The original police report claimed that the jogger, Ahmaud Arbery, was a burglary suspect, and no arrests were made. More than two months later, cellphone video was released showing how Arbery was chased by three White men before being shot. Hundreds of people in Glynn County took to the streets in outrage. "We needed answers. We needed accountability. We grew up here, but it seemed like our lives didn't matter," Henderson says.

Arbery's death sparked Henderson and a small group of acquaintances to band together to try to force this staid county to confront the many failures of its law enforcement and other elected officials. Their group, A Better Glynn, wields a powerful combination of local roots, national experience and professional know-how.

They're trying to find justice and accountability in an area that's known for its problematic law enforcement. The 122-member Glynn County Police Department, initially responsible for the investigation into Arbery's death, has faced several high-profile scandals over the past decade and lost its state certification in 2018 (it hasn't yet been renewed). A few days after Arbery's death, criminal charges were filed against the county's then-police chief and a group of officers stemming from allegations of misconduct that whistleblowers in the department and county residents had been raising alarms about for years. All four have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial. Now, former Brunswick district attorney Jackie Johnson is facing her own criminal charges in her handling of the Arbery investigation - she pleaded not guilty and is also awaiting trial - reinforcing to Henderson and many other residents that multiple layers of government are rotten. "There was zero trust with the police and the whole political system," Henderson says. "We knew from growing up here how the system worked. Unless we demanded it, it was never going to change."

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Tourism sites have a name for the chain of barrier islands and miles of marshland encompassing and surrounding Glynn County: Georgia's Golden Isles. The area is described as "breathtaking" and "quaint," but omitted from those guides are the area's racial and economic inequities. Brunswick, a predominantly Black city of 16,000 on the mainland of Glynn County, has a 35% poverty rate, while the entire 85,000-person county is majority White and home to some of Georgia's wealthiest communities, especially on the resort barrier islands.

Growing up in Brunswick's public housing, Henderson bridged some of the county's racial and geographic divides. Recognized as a gifted student, he enrolled in Glynn Academy, one of two public high schools in the county. It is majority White, while its rival, Brunswick High, is majority Black. Academically minded young Black men and women were encouraged to leave town after graduation for better opportunities. Henderson and many of his schoolmates acted on that advice. He joined the Navy, while others enrolled in Georgia Southern University, about 100 miles north, or went to historically Black Morehouse College in Atlanta.

In 1998, after nearly five years in the Navy, Henderson resigned from his commission as a certified nuclear electrician at Virginia's Norfolk Naval Station. He and his wife moved back to Brunswick, intending to raise their sons around extended family. Within weeks of his return, he was rethinking that decision when he was pulled over in his Dodge Caravan, littered with toys and cookie crumbs. The officer wouldn't initially say why he pulled him over, recalls Henderson. Then he insisted that Henderson's Georgia driver's license was invalid in the state because Henderson had Virginia plates. But Henderson was still within the grace period to change his plates. "I knew the law better than he did," says Henderson. "He didn't like being talked back to, and when I refused to sign his BS citation, he was going to make me pay for being uppity." The officer put Henderson in the back of his police cruiser and drove him to the station. When they arrived, one of Henderson's cousins, who worked for the city, helped defuse the situation. "That's the only way I got free," Henderson says.

Over the next two decades, Henderson and his family settled into their new life in his hometown. He worked as a manager for Georgia-Pacific, the venerable pulp and paper company that is one of the county's largest employers. He and his wife successfully got their older sons through high school and into college and were raising young twin boys. In his free time, Henderson mentored young Black men, some of whom were growing up in Brunswick's public housing projects. And he observed the same issues he had years ago: a criminal justice system uninterested in enforcing the laws equally for all of Glynn's diverse residents.

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Around 2015, Henderson and other residents started to hear about controversial shootings involving the Glynn County Police Department, one of two main agencies that patrol and serve the area. There were also at least a dozen civil lawsuits alleging misconduct by officers, including racial profiling and wrongful death, between 2010 and 2019. The lawsuits were dismissed on the grounds of qualified immunity, which protects governmental employees, including police, from personal liability unless there is a clearly established constitutional violation. The district attorney's office in Brunswick declined to prosecute a single officer, according to public records.

A 2017 audit of the county police department highlighted many of the policing deficiencies that Henderson and his community had long been concerned about. In the 154-page report, the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP), a nonprofit agency that assesses police forces across the country, stated that it couldn't identify a specific department policy dealing with unbiased policing and was unable to determine if diversity training was conducted or whether accurate records of it were being maintained in training and personnel files.

The report also noted that the force "may not be collecting comprehensive demographic data on all law enforcement contacts." Many police departments across the country collect demographic data, like race, during traffic stops to evaluate bias. Georgia is one of 27 states that does not mandate it, and Glynn County police track demographic information only for vehicle stops that result in citations. "The GCPD would benefit from a more proactive policy on the gathering of data on citizen contacts," the IACP report explained. "Processes of this nature provide organizational and individual accountability, and they also contribute to public trust."

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In total, IACP listed about 100 changes the department should make to increase professionalism, accountability and trust with the community. Based on public meetings in mid-2021, it appears the department has not implemented the recommendation to more aggressively collect demographic information - nor has it acted on dozens of others. (The department did not respond to interview requests, but a Glynn County police spokesperson said via email that the department "is actively assessing the IACP audit recommendations and contemplat[ing] making changes where it's deemed appropriate.")

A different analysis - of 911 calls reporting "suspicious persons" - offers a glimpse into biases within the county's community that could contribute to policing problems. "Suspicious persons" is a catchall category used when reporting what residents believe to be unusual events. Generally, it is understood to be a stranger who makes a caller uncomfortable or a person considered out of place in a certain neighborhood. "In Georgia, typically it becomes a euphemism for White people who are uncomfortable with Black people," says Chris Bruce, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

While Brunswick and Glynn County are separate police jurisdictions, they share emergency services support such as a 911 call center. Between 2018 and 2020, residents called 911 operators 16,838 times to report "suspicious persons" in their neighborhood. Most of those calls were concentrated in suburban neighborhoods that, according to census data, are predominantly White. The city of Brunswick, which accounts for 19 percent of the county's population and is majority-minority, made less than 1 percent of the calls.

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Between August 2019 and late February 2020, 911 dispatchers for Brunswick and Glynn County received 11 calls reporting suspicious activities from Satilla Shores, the mostly White neighborhood about two miles from Arbery's mother's house. On Feb. 11, one of the White neighbors on trial for Arbery's killing, Travis McMichael, called a 911 operator and described a Black man whom he had never seen in his neighborhood. On Feb. 23, Travis, his father, Gregory, and another neighbor, William "Roddie" Bryan, chased and murdered Arbery in Satilla Shores. In court, the McMichaels' lawyer argued that they pursued Arbery because the father and son thought Arbery might be behind alleged break-ins in the area. Separately, Travis has claimed that his gun had been stolen from his unlocked car some time before Arbery's death. No one has been arrested for that incident, and no public information supported the theory that Arbery was involved in any thefts.

While the definition of a "suspicious person" is vague, members of Glynn County's Black community are aware they easily could be labeled one. "Black people think twice about where they go. This is the essence of Black life," explains Henderson, adding, " 'Maud's killing showed us [that] in Technicolor detail."

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The first Glynn County police officer arrived in Satilla Shores minutes after Arbery was shot. The officer didn't disarm the McMichaels, nor did he check Arbery's pulse or initiate any emergency medical aid, according to body-camera footage. Later, as multiple county police units worked the scene, no one arrested the men. Two prosecutors who viewed a cellphone video of the shooting recorded by one of the suspects and police body-camera footage believed that the scenes did not constitute a crime. Lawyers for Arbery's parents say that the treatment of the McMichaels can be attributed to Gregory McMichael's close ties to Jackie Johnson's office when she was district attorney, where he once worked. (The McMichaels' lawyers and the current district attorney's office declined to comment.)

The police, meanwhile, were suffering from a leadership vacuum. On Feb. 27, unrelated to Arbery's killing, Johnson announced indictments against Glynn County Police Chief John Powell, his former chief of staff and two members of the narcotics unit that included influencing a witness and violating their oaths of office for ignoring evidence that another officer was consorting with a drug dealer. The county put Powell on administrative leave with pay. For more than two months, the Arbery investigation went nowhere, while local officials recused themselves - first Johnson (soon after the shooting), then the prosecutor in the neighboring jurisdiction. (Johnson is facing criminal charges for allegedly "showing favor and affection" to the older McMichael and shielding his son from arrest. Johnson's lawyers did not respond to interview requests.)

Most everyone Henderson knew had a link to the Arbery clan, whose ties to coastal Georgia stretch back generations. Henderson's oldest son briefly worked with Arbery at a fast-food restaurant. Other friends had sons who played football with Arbery at Brunswick High School. Arbery's death manifested Henderson's worst nightmares as a father around how local police, and the larger world, might treat his Black boys. "I was born in the Brunswick projects and survived this place. But sometimes it just feels like luck," he says. "I know what the world can do to a Black man. . . . I made myself sick with worry that what happened to 'Maud might happen to my boys."

John C. Richards Jr., who grew up not far from Henderson before leaving to attend Morehouse and then law school at Howard University, knows Arbery's cousin. After the killing, he reconnected with Henderson on Facebook, where Brunswick residents gathered to vent and mourn while the pandemic continued, and the two soon forged a close friendship. "The community was terrified and outraged," says Richards, a lawyer and ordained pastor. "These two emotions are explosive elements that can bring folks together or tear a community apart."

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When the cellphone video of Arbery's killing was released on May 5, it went viral. Shemeka Frazier Sorrells, a strategic consultant who was born in Brunswick, saw the video as she was driving from Atlanta to Glynn, where she was closing on a house. "I knew that I needed to stay and do something," she says. "There was an urgency to what needed to be done." She soon connected with Henderson and Richards online.

The footage brought widespread scrutiny to the area. Georgia's Republican governor, Brian Kemp, called it "absolutely horrific." The Georgia Bureau of Investigation took over the case amid the growing perception that Arbery's death was racially motivated and covered up by law enforcement. On May 7, the GBI arrested the two McMichaels. Glynn County Commissioner David O'Quinn sent an email that week to his six board colleagues, demanding they fire the indicted police chief, John Powell, which is within the commissioners' authority. The email, obtained through a public records request, referred to Powell's alleged mishandling of the Arbery case and previous scandals, including a double murder-suicide committed by a county police lieutenant and a looming civil suit filed by a victim's family. "Our community is broken and [divided]," wrote O'Quinn, who is White. "We have to put the community first. A step in the right direction is to fire John Powell. He has been a cancer and as long as he is on the payroll, he will be a cancer in this community." There may have been informal discussions around a resignation package for Powell, according to a spokesperson from the county attorney's office. But no formal offer was presented by the commissioners. Powell stayed on administrative leave. (Glynn County commissioners and Powell's lawyers did not respond to interview requests.)

Henderson and Sorrells were marching in the streets of Brunswick, chanting "Black lives matter," but that didn't feel like enough, and, along with Richards, their discussions on the topic deepened. They considered how Sorrells and her husband hoped to settle in a more progressive Brunswick than her parents and grandparents had known. How Henderson wanted assurances that his sons could have a fair shake from the police. How Richards thought there should be better social services for everyone in the city. On June 12, Richards wrote: "What we all want is a better Glynn." Thus, the group - A Better Glynn - was formed.

They decided on three priorities: new leadership in the Glynn County Police Department, a new district attorney and more police accountability. "It was like a light went off for all three of us," Sorrells says. "This became our cause."

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The members of A Better Glynn knew they couldn't take on Glynn's board of commissioners, made up of six White men and one Black man, by themselves. So, they joined forces with Community First Planning Commission, a group of Black pastors and other leaders who are admired for their years of organizing economic opportunity for Glynn's low-income residents. Together, Henderson thought, they'd make a good one-two lobbying punch.

During the summer of 2020, the commissioners started a search for a new police chief. A Better Glynn, with its desire for an overhaul of the local force, didn't want to be excluded from the discussion. Richards reached out to Nadine Jones, a Howard Law School friend and the co-founder of a group dedicated to advancing relations between police and communities of color called the Initiative. With Glynn County becoming synonymous with America's racial reckoning, Jones told A Better Glynn she could find grant funding for the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) to recruit police chief candidates. A Better Glynn brought this proposal to the commissioners. The group was transparent about its desire to hire a person of color and an outsider to clean house. The members thought the message of change would be easier to accept given the savings they were offering taxpayers, because they had, in fact, secured a grant to cover NOBLE's $10,000 recruitment search fee.

In January 2021, the commissioners formally removed Powell from his position and payroll, nearly a year after his initial indictments. They rejected the offer to work with NOBLE, without public discussion on the matter. The commissioners decided that they would rely on the Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police to head-hunt a new chief, at a cost of $7,200 to $9,000, something A Better Glynn publicly opposed, contending that it wouldn't spark institutional change. A Better Glynn refused to let the issue go. Henderson and fellow group member Jason Vaughn got on the agenda for the next commissioners' meeting, challenging them in public to explain their rationale.

Vaughn, a football coach at Brunswick High School, demanded to know why the board declined a proposal that would have saved the county money. "I'm concerned, because once again it seems that the citizens must labor and fight to do what is right instead of our representatives," he said.

A few days before the first anniversary of Arbery's death, the commissioners made an about-face. In a meeting with Community First, they agreed to involve the group as well as NOBLE in the recruitment of a police chief. (The Georgia Association of Chiefs of Police remained involved.) In a joint statement, the commissioners and Community First declared they were united in "restoring the confidence of the Black community in Glynn County by advancing institutional actions that encourage systemic transformation in the department." A Better Glynn saw this as a win - but also a lesson about how getting things done wasn't going to be as straightforward as they would like, says Sorrells.

The victory came shortly on the heels of another triumph: the unseating of Johnson, the district attorney. Through the fall of 2020, as covid-19 raged in southeast Georgia, A Better Glynn used social media to encourage voter turnout and educate locals on the down-ballot district attorney's race. "Justice starts at home" was one of its get-out-the-vote messages. In November, Johnson, who had run unopposed for 10 years, lost to former assistant district attorney Keith Higgins in a landslide. For Henderson, success was measured in turnout. The race drew nearly the same number of total local votes as the 2020 presidential election. "People knew not to leave this box blank," he says.

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In April, with its momentum building, A Better Glynn's ranks grew from the original five volunteer staff members to 13. They divided their duties into five core categories: watchdogs for the county commissioners and Brunswick City Council, voter education, social justice, leadership training, and youth activities. The group applied for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and broadened its partnerships with voter education and criminal justice reform organizations.

Together with Community First, the advocates also turned to the objective of installing a citizen review board over both the county and Brunswick city police. For this project, Sorrells used her professional networks in Atlanta and called up Chris Bruce of the ACLU, whom she knew from a national leadership program. Bruce, a military brat like Sorrells and a lawyer like Richards, drafted a proposal primarily based on Atlanta's Citizen Review Board. The version for Glynn envisions an 11-person body with representation from each of the county's electoral districts, as well as a representative from A Better Glynn. "A Better Glynn had a great grasp on issues that veteran community groups take years to master," says Bruce. "Their batting average is inspiring."

The organizations have been shopping around the proposal, but the Glynn commissioners have so far been noncommittal. Instead, the board has focused on a body of its own creation: a police advisory panel made up of local experts and county officials, several with experience at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Centers, an organization with headquarters in the county. The panel is working with the county police to implement the 2017 audit recommendations and restore the Glynn County Police Department's state certification.

In addition, the commissioners have high hopes for the county's new and first Black police chief, Jacques Battiste, a veteran FBI agent with policing experience in his native New Orleans. In his first public appearance, organized just before the commissioners voted on his hiring, the county had a question-and-answer session with Battiste, who addressed topics that were submitted in advance. In that setting, he expressed positive views of the proposal for a citizens review board: "It allows the citizens to have a greater transparency into what goes on in the department." The commissioners also organized a private meeting between Battiste and A Better Glynn before announcing him as their finalist. While Sorrells is more willing to give him a chance, Henderson left wary of his ability to make radical changes. "He doesn't have any networks here except with the commissioners. That's going to tie his hands," he says. (Battiste's office did not respond to requests for an interview.)

In a late August virtual meeting of the commissioners' police advisory panel, Battiste offered a partial update on the checklist of reforms outlined in the 2017 audit, conceding that the force had a long way to go. For now, the department was updating its procedures and policy manual - another fundamental recommendation from the audit - and revising its use-of-force policy. (The meeting was not open to community questions.)

Battiste has also ramped up a recruitment drive at historically Black colleges and universities. The IACP audit noted that only 12 percent of sworn Glynn police were African Americans in 2017, even though African Americans made up about 27 percent of the county's population. In 2021, the department says, 15 percent of its sworn officers are African American, while people of color make up 22 percent of the force. The new chief said candidates from diverse backgrounds were in the pipeline to take some of the current vacancies.

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Amid A Better Glynn's accomplishments and growth, Elijah Henderson found himself stuck in another deep funk this summer. As a brief respite, the Hendersons traveled to Atlanta for a vacation in August. His twins were entranced with the aquarium and the free soft drinks at the World of Coca-Cola museum. But Henderson couldn't turn his mind off from his community's troubles. Soon after they got back to Brunswick, the area's covid cases and deaths per capita skyrocketed, forcing all county schools back to distance learning, while the Glynn County Board of Education declined to mandate mask-wearing. A mobile morgue was brought into the county to handle the rising deaths. County offices shut down completely to the public.

Henderson's heart was heavy with the grief of more friends and acquaintances dying. His worries were affecting his relationship with one of his older sons. "He's tired of me nagging. He thinks I don't understand him," Henderson says.

With the nation watching the Arbery case unfold in recent months, Henderson's expectations of meaningful change have tempered. Justice would not be as simple as a guilty verdict in Arbery's case, he says, and the goal of long-term change still feels far away. A Better Glynn has been an extraordinary source of support and resilience, but each of the group's founders feels drained after so many months of hard work. Henderson doesn't want to end up like the generations of Brunswick residents he remembers from his childhood, weary and ground down by the indifference to change among the officials who have run the county for so long. The stakes are too high, he says: "For my sons and for the other Black sons in Glynn County, we cannot afford the status quo."

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This story was supported by the Fund for Investigative Journalism. Nicholas Perez, a data reporter for the Current, contributed in addition to The Post's Joe Fox and Steven Rich.

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This story is being published in partnership with the Current, a not-for-profit, independent newsroom serving coastal Georgia. Margaret Coker is editor of the Current.

Why war with Taiwan is a huge gamble for China's Xi

By Iain Marlow
Why war with Taiwan is a huge gamble for China's Xi
Members of Taiwan's armed forces ride a CM-11 Brave Tiger main battle tank during a military exercise in Hukou, Hsinchu County, Taiwan, on Jan. 19, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by I-Hwa Cheng.

For all the talk of Chinese President Xi Jinping's desire to invade Taiwan, one counterpoint is often overlooked: The domestic risks involved in starting a potentially devastating war.

China is now enjoying the fruits of more than four decades of peace, which have turned the economy from an agricultural backwater into one of the world's primary growth engines. Many ordinary citizens like Beijing resident Joanna, who asked to be identified by her English name due to fears over speaking about Taiwan, are worried a military conflict would erase that prosperity and lead to a rise in poverty.

"A war will surely be a big deal and the U.S. could intervene and things could escalate," the 40-year-old said, warning that it would "plunge people into misery and suffering." "The level of uncertainty is high," she added.

While China has become more assertive under Xi, taking drastic measures to silence dissidents in places like Hong Kong and Xinjiang, those actions primarily served to quell potential challenges to Communist Party rule and reinforce the stability its leaders crave. An invasion of Taiwan, although appealing to China's increasingly vocal nationalists, represents a much bigger gamble.

Even as China's growing military advantage raises the odds of a swift victory, the alternative is a war that kills tens of thousands of people, slams the global economy, and potentially opens up the mainland to an attack by the U.S. and its allies.

All that could deliver a destabilizing shock to the ruling Communist Party, just as Xi prepares to secure a precedent-defying third term next year. His recent push to minimize wealth inequality, rein in the power of big tech and calm U.S.-China tensions point to a desire to eliminate risks, not take them. Moreover, his rigid policy to tolerate zero deaths from Covid-19 raises the question of whether the public is prepared for mass casualties in a war.

"The likelihood of imminent military conflict in the Taiwan Strait remains low," said Wen-Ti Sung, a lecturer at the Australian National University's Taiwan studies program. "The primacy of domestic stability shall triumph."

Although a war isn't in anyone's interest, all sides still have an incentive to play up the threat. People's Liberation Army fighter jets buzz the island democracy on a near-daily basis, and China's military last month conducted exercises in the Taiwan Strait in response to "the erroneous words and deeds of relevant countries." Taiwan's government warns regularly of China's aggression, helping to boost international support and backing for President Tsai Ing-wen, who has taken a hard line with Beijing.

The U.S. and its allies, meanwhile, have played up the possibility of a catastrophic war as they look to deter any aggression and make the case for bolstering defenses in the Indo-Pacific region. Last week Secretary of State Antony Blinken said an invasion would be a "potentially disastrous decision," while former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe separately warned it would be "economic suicide."

Even JPMorgan Chase Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon highlighted the domestic backlash Xi could face with an invasion, saying during a panel discussion last month that a Chinese intervention in Taiwan "could be their Vietnam."

"Body bags in any country have an adverse effect at one point, particularly when the objective may be irrelevant," Dimon said. "And so I think people will be very careful about what they're going to do, and I think it would be very painful for the Chinese to do it."

Within China, state media and party officials often push the narrative that Taiwan would quickly surrender while avoiding any discussion of the potential impact on the mainland. In late October, a deputy director of the State Council's Taiwan Affairs Office told a forum that Taiwan's fiscal revenue would be used to improve people's welfare after unification. A day later a report saying Taiwanese residents were hoarding survival kits went viral on social media.

Still, Beijing last month moved quickly to tamp down speculation within China that a war was imminent, showing the delicate balancing act leaders face in intimidating Taiwan and avoiding any panic on the mainland. In early November, a social media account affiliated with the official People's Liberation Army Daily newspaper denounced rumors of troop mobilization as a "malicious fabrication."

"It will not only cause negative impact to the state, the military and society, it could also lead to severe consequences," said the account, Junzhengping.

Western observers disagree on the urgency of the Taiwan threat. Some see a conflict occurring within the next few years, particularly as China bolsters its military capabilities. China's arsenal of long-range missiles, including the "carrier killer" DF-21D and suspected hypersonic weapons, could take out most U.S. and allied bases, airstrips and military installations in the "opening hours" of any conflict, according to an Australian research group.

"Most analysts I know believe Taiwan could be invaded next year, albeit at great cost to China and with real risk of a protracted great power war that could escalate to the nuclear level," said Ian Easton, a senior director at the Project 2049 Institute and author of "The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia." He added that the U.S. and Taiwan governments "remain overly complacent and seem unwilling to confront the problem in all its complexity."

Others like Shelley Rigger, a Davidson College political science professor who has written several books about Taiwan, didn't see a conflict as imminent because the dangers to everyone were "extremely high." A Taiwan conflict, she said, would be "way messier" than China exerting greater control over Hong Kong or even Russia's annexation of Crimea.

It's crucial for the U.S. and Taiwan to be steady and predictable in dealing with Beijing, according to Ryan Hass, who served on the National Security Council in the Obama administration. Biden, who has misspoken on Washington's position on Taiwan at least four times recently, should register concerns privately and clarify his message on new developments, Hass said.

"The near-term risk likely is far lower than a casual perusal of American commentaries on the subject would suggest," he added.

In China, that view is prevalent even among citizens that believe the mainland could easily win a war. Hu Xijin, the editor-in-chief of the Communist Party's Global Times newspaper, last month argued that "peaceful reunification" would likely result from applying enough pressure to make Tsai's party believe it had no choice but to surrender.

Cai, a 30-something Shanghainese woman who asked to be identified only by her surname, shares that view. She said China would continue to pressure Taiwan's economy, and the island's leaders will eventually realize they can't depend on the U.S.

"I don't worry about China-Taiwan relations," Cai said. "And for actual conflict? I don't think it could reach that point."

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Bloomberg's Jing Li, Charlie Zhu, Allen Wan and Adrian Leung contributed to this report.

Meet the new climate refugee in town: coyotes

By Todd Woody
Meet the new climate refugee in town: coyotes
A coyote warning sign stands in the front yard of a residence in Kensington, Calif., on Nov. 29, 2021. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by David Paul Morris

Amid the sylvan tranquility of the Berkeley hills neighborhood, an image of a snarling predator, fangs bared, stares down at passersby from atop a pole planted in the yard of a sprawling Tudor-style home. "Danger! "Coyotes!" the homemade placard warns.

It's a sign of a growing climate-driven conflict. Drought and heat waves are not only fueling catastrophic wildfires in California's wildland-urban interface, they're also driving coyotes and other wildlife into the streets in search of food and water, according to scientists. That's triggering clashes among residents over an influx of four-footed climate refugees into the Berkeley hills and adjoining neighborhoods wedged between a vast regional park and San Francisco Bay.

Tracy Richardson says she and her partner put up the sign after a coyote crossed into their yard on an August Sunday morning and growled at them and their three cats. A week later, she says, a coyote snatched one of the felines and ran down the street. "Our cat was sitting like five feet from us and the coyote came up to get the cat," says Richardson. "We're doing this to stop the inevitable, which is a human is going to get attacked."

Attacks on people are rare. But with reports of coyotes roaming the hills and preying on pets multiplying as California's record-breaking drought drags on, the response from some in this affluent, ecologically self-conscious enclave has become increasingly dark. "I am in favor of shooting the most dangerous coyotes," one neighbor declared on Nextdoor in August while another wrote, "Would be nice to see coyotes eradicated from the city."

Richardson has hired a trapper, who placed a cage on their property. No coyote has yet been caught.

Urban coyotes have established themselves as a permanent presence in cities nationwide over the past two decades. Climate change, however, is now pushing wildland animals - coyotes, bears, bobcats, feral pigs, elk - into residential areas where food and water are abundant.

"Most coyotes will try to stay away from folks as much as they possibly can, but as droughts and fires get worse, they will have no choice but to move into human settlements," says Christopher Schell, an assistant professor at the University of California at Berkeley who studies urban coyotes. "That sets up the perfect storm for human-coyote conflict."

As climate change alters the habitats and migration patterns of wildlife, those confrontations are likely to rise, scientists say, compelling a reassessment of how humans share a landscape they and their pets have long dominated.

"It's just an incredibly unrealistic expectation to think that we're going to be able to keep wildlife like coyotes out of cities," says Morgan Farmer, a PhD student researching urban carnivores at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "Our effort is better spent trying to understand how to coexist rather than to try and remove them."

Tilden Regional Park is a 2,079-acre preserve of canyons, meadows, eucalyptus forests and oak and bay laurel woodlands that borders Berkeley and other East Bay cities. Nearby residents have long lived with wildlife. Families of deer amble down winding lanes, grazing on carefully cultivated gardens. Gray foxes perch on backyard fences, scouting for squirrels. And on occasion, a mountain lion will leave Tilden for dinner in town, chasing deer through hillside neighborhoods.

Encounters with coyotes tended to be fleeting, a shadowy shape caught in the corner of the eye or in the headlights of a car as the omnivores moved through the hills at dusk and dawn. During periodic droughts, though, daytime sightings become common as water and prey grow scarce in Tilden. Such contact - and the alarm it raises - was cyclical. As the rain inevitably returned after past droughts, so did some coyotes to the park.

Now, scorching heat waves and back-to-back droughts are upending that balance. California is in the second year of an extreme drought, and since October 2020, more than 1,000 acres of trees have died in East Bay regional parks. By fall, most of the parks' ponds and streams had gone dry for the first time in memory, according to Doug Bell, wildlife program manager for the East Bay Regional Park District. That in turn precipitated a fall in populations of rabbits, squirrels and other coyote chow. As water dries up, wild turkeys have descended into the flatlands, and residents have recently posted sightings of feral pigs roto-tilling lawns and bobcats bounding into backyards.

"It's been mind-boggling and there probably has been a lot of movement of animals like bobcats and coyotes into the urban environment because we supply a lot of food, water and places for them to seek refuge," says Bell, noting coyotes' indiscriminate palate includes cats and other small mammals, fruit and just about anything edible that humans toss in the trash.

Across San Francisco Bay, the black bear population had been extinct in Marin County for 120 years with only rare sightings of individual animals over the decades. Then in May, a homeowner in the town of San Anselmo found a 200-to-300-pound bear clinging to an oak tree in her backyard, a block from downtown.

"There's probably several bears in Marin County now," says Stacy Martinelli, a wildlife biologist with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, noting confirmed sightings over the summer

In neighboring Sonoma County, a 500-pound black bear rambled around a neighborhood near downtown Petaluma last month before seeking refuge in a redwood tree. Martinelli has received so many calls from Sonoma County residents about bears that she is helping lead a two-year genetic study of the population that could shed light on whether climate conditions are prompting migration to cities. She says Tule elk, which were not known to exist in Sonoma, have begun to show up in backyard gardens.

How many coyotes traverse East Bay neighborhoods is unknown, though Schell says planned research projects aim to pinpoint the population and its distribution. He says increased sightings of coyotes in part may be due to more people working from home and strolling their neighborhoods during the Covid-19 pandemic.

One indication of coyote numbers in the area comes from a 2017 study conducted by Farmer when she was a UC Berkeley student. She set up nine camera traps on trails in Tilden and captured images of coyotes over the course of a year. Farmer determined that the park is probably home to six to 10 coyotes; likely many more live in the vicinity and may pass through Tilden.

"There's a lot of tension between people who are really concerned about the safety of their children or their pets and people who really value the animals and their place in nature," says Farmer.

Those tensions have intensified in recent months, polarizing an otherwise politically homogenous community where Joe Biden received upwards of 95% of the presidential vote in 2020 and "Hate Has No Home Here" signs dot the yards of $1.8 million houses.

Residents routinely post photos of coyotes trotting down streets during the day on social media along with reports of cats killed by the animals. That's generated hundreds of comments and petitions to local officials to reduce the animal's numbers. One neighbor called coyotes "a parasite on human beings" on Nextdoor in August, prompting another to respond, "Coyotes have been living and hunting here since before European colonization. Are you actually advocating for a mass extermination of a species?"

Gina Farr is an environmental educator and advisory board member at Project Coyote, a Marin County-based nonprofit that promotes co-existence with carnivores. She says such reactions express both an ancient fear of predators and a misunderstanding of coyote behavior in residential areas. Wildlife experts say coyotes rarely attack people and incidents mostly happen when a coyote has become habituated to humans who feed the animals or give them easy access to food.

"Coyotes are simply being attracted by a resource that takes very few calories to obtain," says Farr, noting that keeping cats inside, dogs on leashes and putting food and water out of reach will minimize negative interaction with coyotes.

Kensington resident Marilyn Stollon says she started a spreadsheet of sightings in three East Bay communities after a coyote jumped a fence and chased her cat through a neighbor's yard. She says she's so far this year recorded 102 coyote sightings and 21 cats killed.

"I do believe that once urban coyotes have been habituated and are rogue ... it may signal that those few need to be removed," Stollon said in an email, adding that she now keeps her cat inside.

Other factors may drive coyote conflicts. Schell says research shows that coyotes favor green spaces most often found in wealthier communities that may regard the incursion of such outsiders as a threat. "The historical and contemporary legacies of inequality shape how we perceive and treat coyotes and how folks view their ownership of the landscape," he says. "That will only get worse as fire and drought get worse."

To Farr, trying to wall off neighborhoods from animals people find problematic is "like digging a hole in the ocean" - there's always another wave of wildlife to take their place.

"We live in a natural world," she says, "and we can never sterilize nature around us."

Pulitzer-winning opinion from the most respected voices in the world.

How is the GOP's coronavirus recklessness compatible with being pro-life?

By michael gerson
How is the GOP's coronavirus recklessness compatible with being pro-life?

MICHAEL GERSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, and thereafter

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By Michael Gerson

WASHINGTON -- Under the intellectual and moral leadership of Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., Republicans in the House have done their best to set a standard of deadly misinformation, poisonous bigotry and mental vacuity. But Republicans in the Senate -- possessing greater intellectual kilowattage and fewer excuses for cowardice -- have recently taken center stage in the GOP festival of small-mindedness.

During last week's budget negotiations, and as America prepared for the full-scale arrival of the omicron coronavirus variant, every present Senate Republican voted to "defund" the federal vaccine mandate on businesses, the military and the federal workforce. This indicated a political party now so intimidated by its liberty caucus that senators such as Mitt Romney of Utah and Susan Collins of Maine felt compelled to bend the knee. It was a collective declaration of utter madness.

This is the strangest political cause of my lifetime. In the midst of a public health emergency that has taken more than 1 of every 500 American lives and which has reduced average life expectancy by 1.67 years (reversing about 14 years of life expectancy gains), Republican officials are actively discouraging citizens from taking routine medical precautions for their own welfare. This is not just a disagreement about policy. It is a political movement organized around increasing the risk of death to your neighbors, particularly your ill and elderly ones. And while it is certainly selfish, is not ultimately self-interested. Fatalities have increased especially in Republican-leaning portions of the country. A death cult has adopted a death wish.

For the "don't tread on me" crowd, this is part of a consistent ethic of death. By some recent measures, almost a third of Republicans say political violence may be necessary to "save" the country. Most of these advocates have spent many years being desensitized to bloodshed; they have been told that a portion of their fellow citizens are the embodiment of evil and bent on their destruction. A philosophy of freedom has been transformed into a means of dehumanization.

This sets up a serious conflict at the heart of Republican ideology -- at least for those who still put stock in political consistency. The other visible wing of Trumpism is made up of antiabortion evangelicals, whose support explains much of Donald Trump's political rise and endurance. But whatever view you take of the antiabortion movement, it is essentially communitarian, not libertarian. There is no rational way to advocate this viewpoint that does not involve the community of the born defending the interests of a voiceless, helpless group of nascent humans.

In fact, this communitarian case is one of the main ways the antiabortion movement remained viable during the decades it was encouraging the selection of conservative judges who find Roe v. Wade an abomination of judicial overreach (which it is). Influenced by Catholic social teaching -- and asserting historical continuity with the civil rights movement -- many Republican leaders adopted a tone of inclusion in their discourse on abortion. They talked of a "culture of life" in which the unborn were protected by law and by love. They urged a more expansive definition of the human community.

The core of the Trump movement has always been more interested in political conspiracies, White identity politics, persecution fantasies and disdain for elites. Remember that Trump himself was initially supportive of "partial-birth" abortion. As a presidential candidate, however, Trump issued one of U.S. history's most effective political bribes: He set out a list of conservative judicial nominees for the Supreme Court, promised to pick from among them and then kept his word.

Now, with a conservative legal challenge to Roe nearing fruition, antiabortion advocates are understandably pleased about their political alliance with the anti-government populists. Yet even after the effective overturn of Roe, years of political battles await at both the state and federal levels. And it is hard to see how a GOP increasingly dedicated to needless death can carry an antiabortion message. The effective end of Roe would be an ideal point for responsible pro-lifers to assert their position on abortion as part of a broader culture of life, including the unborn and their mothers, the old and ill, people with intellectual disabilities and refugees fleeing oppression. Instead, in the Trump era, the state of Texas is taking the messaging lead on the topic, ensuring that the antiabortion movement seems as radical, punitive and vicious as possible.

How can the anti-vaccine ideals of "my body, my choice" Republicanism -- which refuses even the easiest and safest sacrifices to protect the life of a neighbor -- coexist with a "culture of life"? One is a reckless purveyor of needless death. The other, at its best, is a movement of human rights. It is clear enough which is ascendant. The GOP has become the party of death.

- - -

Michael Gerson's email address is michaelgerson@washpost.com.

In Georgia, Republicans' Faustian bargain with Trump is catching up with them

By eugene robinson
In Georgia, Republicans' Faustian bargain with Trump is catching up with them

EUGENE ROBINSON COLUMN

Advance for release Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2021, and thereafter

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By Eugene Robinson

WASHINGTON -- Anyone who thinks the Republican Party is some kind of well-oiled juggernaut ready to steamroll Democrats in November might want to check out what's happening in Georgia, where the GOP is busy trying to steamroll itself.

Gov. Brian Kemp, R, who is seeking reelection, got bad news last week when he learned that his likely Democratic opponent will be Stacey Abrams, who came within a hair of beating him in 2018. He got worse news on Monday, when former senator David Perdue -- defeated in his reelection bid in January -- announced he will challenge Kemp in the GOP gubernatorial primary.

In what for decades has been a reliably red state, the Republican Party has lost both U.S. Senate seats to Democrats and stands a real chance of losing the governor's mansion as well. And all of this reflects the GOP's devolution into a cult of personality devoted to former president Donald Trump -- a nationwide phenomenon that could affect key races elsewhere as well.

It is true that the Democratic Party has been gaining strength in Georgia for some time. It is also true that Abrams is a singularly brilliant organizer and electrifying campaigner. But Kemp should be cruising toward another term, and likely would be if not for Trump.

When President Joe Biden narrowly won the state last year, Kemp -- long an enthusiastic, MAGA-hat-wearing Trump supporter -- showed some integrity and refused to go along with Trump's false claims of voter fraud. Ever since, Trump has been incensed with him and bent on revenge.

Trump wants to see Abrams defeated, he said in a statement last week, "but it will be hard to do with Brian Kemp, because the MAGA base will just not vote for him after what he did with respect to Election Integrity and two horribly run elections, for President and then two Senate seats."

Actually, it was Trump who lost those Senate seats for the GOP in January runoff balloting by questioning the legitimacy of Georgia's voting process and encouraging his supporters not to vote. But, of course, Trump blames Kemp, because anything that goes wrong always has to be someone else's fault.

While regularly trashing Kemp in the pompous statements he issues from Mar-a-Lago, Trump has been encouraging Perdue to challenge the incumbent. When they appeared together at a rally in September, Trump called Perdue a "great guy" and asked him, "Are you going to run for governor?"

The lesson other Republicans across the nation are meant to learn is that unless they go along with Trump's "big lie" about the 2020 election supposedly being "stolen," they will pay a price.

Perdue clearly has been paying attention. Georgia Republicans must be united to defeat Abrams, he said in a Twitter video announcing his candidacy. "Unfortunately, today we are divided, and Brian Kemp and Brad Raffensperger are to blame." Raffensperger, Georgia's Republican secretary of state, refused Trump's demand that he somehow "find" just enough votes so that he, rather than Biden, would win the state.

"Instead of protecting our elections," Perdue said of Kemp, "he caved to Abrams and cost us two Senate seats, the Senate majority, and gave Joe Biden free rein."

None of that is true, except in the make-believe world of MAGA-land. Here on planet Earth, recounts and an audit showed that there was no voter fraud in Georgia and that Biden won the state fair and square. And those Senate seats would probably still be in the GOP column if Trump hadn't told Republicans that their votes wouldn't be counted fairly and that they might as well not bother.

Kemp might well defeat Perdue in the primary, despite Trump's machinations. Kemp is familiar to Georgia Republicans, having spent two terms as secretary of state -- and having presided over election process changes that Abrams claims were responsible for her narrow defeat in 2018. As of July, he had already reportedly amassed $12 million in campaign funds.

But he might have to spend so heavily against Perdue that he could have a depleted war chest in a general election against Abrams, a prodigious fundraiser. And does anyone doubt that a primary victory by Kemp would be spun by Trump as yet another "rigged" election? Does anyone think Trump would be big enough to advise Republicans to unite behind Kemp, whom he so despises? Or is he more likely, once again, to tell them that their votes won't matter?

The GOP had the chance to make a definitive break with Trump after the Capitol insurrection in January. The party decided to stick with him -- and now it's stuck with him.

That's the thing about Faustian bargains. They rarely end well.

- - -

Eugene Robinson's email address is eugenerobinson@washpost.com.

The goodness of Bob Dole

By george f. will
The goodness of Bob Dole

GEORGE F. WILL COLUMN

SPECIAL COLUMN. Advance for release Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, and thereafter

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By GEORGE F. WILL

WASHINGTON -- His voice, flat as the prairie from which he rose to prominence, proclaimed what Bob Dole was: a Midwesterner, a man of the middle of the country and of the political spectrum. Like another Midwesterner -- a contemporary -- Hubert Humphrey, Dole was a senator who came agonizingly close to seizing the presidential brass ring of politics.

Dole, who could have become the United States' 41st chief executive, was born in Russell, Kan., 270 miles west of the Missouri birthplace of the 33rd, Harry S. Truman, another plain-spoken son of the Middle Border. Elected to Congress in 1960, when Dwight D. Eisenhower was president, Dole served during eight other presidencies.

If he had won the Republicans' 1988 nomination, he almost certainly would have won the White House because Americans then wanted something more like a third Ronald Reagan term than a first Michael Dukakis term. Dole probably would have won that nomination if he had won New Hampshire's primary. And he could have, if he had campaigned as what he really wasn't -- a fervent conservative. He might have won anti-tax New Hampshire if he had made a "no new taxes" pledge, the making of which later helped his opponent, George H.W. Bush, win the presidency, and the breaking of which helped Bush lose it.

Dole finally won a Republican nomination too late, in 1996. He then would have been the oldest person -- 73 -- ever elected to a first term.

Dole was never one of those puffed-up politicians who constantly act as though they are unveiling statues of themselves. He had a Midwestern cheerfulness -- see Ronald Reagan, of Dixon, Ill. -- about the United States' possibilities, but his mordant, sometimes acidic wit fit a man with some grievances against life's close calls.

If he had been a few yards away from where he was on that Italian hill on April 14, 1945, or if the war in Europe had ended 25 days earlier, he would have escaped the severe wound that left him in pain the rest of his years. A few thousand more Ohio and Mississippi votes in 1976 would have made Dole vice president.

But his aptitudes were not those of an executive. The presidency is a fundamentally rhetorical office; rhetoric can make mighty its rather meager de jure powers. Dole was unrhetorical -- almost anti-rhetorical.

In one of his three campaigns for the Republican presidential nomination, an earnest grade school pupil asked him a question about acid rain. Dole's full answer was: "That bill's in markup." The child must have looked dazed, but Dole could not help himself. Long acculturation in the legislative branch rendered him fluent in, but only in, Senate-speak, a dialect unintelligible to normal Americans. Uncomfortable with a text, he spoke easily only in the conversational, sometimes cryptic discourse by which colleagues in a small, face-to-face legislative setting communicate with each other.

List the most important American public servants who never became president. Two, perhaps the top two, were named Marshall: John, chief justice for 34 years, and George, soldier and diplomat. Others were jurists -- Roger Taney and Earl Warren, were, Lord knows, consequential -- as were some legislators, such as the Great Triumvirate: Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and John Calhoun.

But few congressional careers loom large. This is because legislative accomplishments are collaborative, the result of blurry compromises presented in pastels rather than sharp pictures painted in bold strokes of primary colors. Dole's legislative life was the political life as Plutarch described it:

"They are wrong who think that politics is like an ocean voyage or a military campaign, something to be done with some particular end in view, something which leaves off as soon as that end is reached. It is not a public chore, to be got over with. It is a way of life. It is the life of a domesticated political and social creature who is born with a love for public life, with a desire for honor, with a feeling for his fellows."

The melancholy dimension of Dole's life was not that he failed to attain the presidency, for which he was not well-suited, but that in 1996 in quest of it, he left the Senate he loved and where he excelled. When Democrats considered offering their 1948 presidential nomination to Eisenhower, taciturn Sam Rayburn, House speaker, said of him: "Good man, but wrong business." Rayburn's words were wrong about Ike but would have been right about Dole the presidential aspirant. Two of those words are especially apposite: good man.

- - -

George Will's email address is georgewill@washpost.com.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

How we deal with economic problems says a great deal about what we value

By e.j. dionne jr.
How we deal with economic problems says a great deal about what we value

E.J. DIONNE COLUMN

Advance for release Monday, Dec. 6, 2021, and thereafter

(For Dionne clients and FOR PRINT USE ONLY)

For Print Use Only. WRITETHRU: In 8th graf, swaps in new first sentence (now reads; "By contrast, even a slimmed-down Build Back Better bill would expand health coverage by some 4 million... "

By E.J. DIONNE JR.

WASHINGTON -- Our political dialogue is distorted by the disconnect between discussions of economics and talk about values.

Sure, you can find scores of politicians who have recited the words "budgets are moral documents." But a sound bite does not an argument make.

The prevailing tendency is to break up our conversations into particular economic problems (inflation and economic growth), "values" issues (which tend to be abortion, LGBTQ rights and racial justice), and spending programs (these days, the ones in the Build Back Better bill).

But how we deal with economic problems says a great deal about what we value. Start with those who would have the Federal Reserve immediately slam down on the economic brakes by raising interest rates. What they won't admit is that they place a much higher priority on taming inflation than in confronting the suffering that an almost certainly premature slowdown would impose on lower income workers just beginning to earn higher wages.

Similarly, those who blame inflation on the economic rescue package President Joe Biden and the Democrats pushed through in March choose to ignore how much that package did to improve the standard of living of so many Americans, especially the least advantaged.

A comparable logic apples to the debate over Build Back Better. It should be informed by a comparison of what Republicans chose to do when they controlled both houses of Congress and the presidency, and what Democrats are trying to do now with their tenuous trifecta.

The GOP focused on two big things: Slashing taxes on corporations and the wealthy and trying (fortunately, unsuccessfully) to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would have deprived some 20 million Americans of health insurance coverage. "Smaller government" (although not a smaller deficit) would be their way of describing their goals. A government friendlier to the best-off and harsher toward the least-privileged would be another.

By contrast, even a slimmed-down Build Back Better bill would expand health coverage by some 4 million additional Americans, and perhaps more, continue the expansions in the child tax credit that has already cut child poverty roughly in half, slash the costs of childcare for most families, and establish universal pre-K programs. How's that for "family values"?

The bill also invests a record amount of money in battling climate change, and significant sums in housing affordability, workforce training and higher education.

It's not surprising that Republicans want to talk about "big spending" and leave it at that. But if Democratic politicians are incapable of shifting the conversation to the terrain of values - care for children, upward mobility, shared economic growth, enhanced educational opportunities, health care for everyone - they should find another line of work.

Of course, whenever the issue of framing the political debate arises, we can't ignore the role of the media. Political commentary is, by its nature, episodic, headline-driven, and subject to the distortions introduced by pre-conceptions.

I should note that I know what I'm talking about because I have committed all of these sins.

The current media environment complicates matters further, since right-wing outlets and mainstream sources of news are engaged in very different enterprises.

Conservative and far right outlets are single-mindedly opposed to Democrats and progressives and happy to pick up any stone to throw at Biden.

They have no qualms about declaring in the morning that inflation is the administration's biggest failure and turning smartly in the afternoon to slowed employment growth. By evening, they'll be bashing Democrats on Critical Race Theory, the schools, or covid-19.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media pride themselves on reporting "both sides" and challenging whoever is in power. Even Democratic-leaning commentators regularly express frustration with Biden for 1) not being progressive enough, or 2) being too progressive, or 3) not being tough enough on his Republican foes, or 4) not talking about the right issues, or 5) not getting out there enough, period.

It's true that the mainstream media must do far more to confront the Republican Party's challenge to the democratic system itself. Nevertheless, political actors - this means you, Democrats -- have a responsibility to play the hand they're dealt.

Yes, Biden and his party will be judged in large part by how well they deal with the overriding issues - the pandemic, prices, jobs. The media cannot avoid covering these matters relentlessly.

But they should also pay attention not just to whether problems are solved, but also to the values reflected in which problems politicians choose to confront and how they go about it. Republicans are skilled in moving arguments to the terrain of "values." Democrats should not grant them a monopoly in this sphere.

- - -

E.J. Dionne is on Twitter: @EJDionne.

(c) 2021, Washington Post Writers Group

The mean girls in Congress just can't quit each other

By kathleen parker
The mean girls in Congress just can't quit each other

KATHLEEN PARKER COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Dec. 05, and thereafter

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By Kathleen Parker

First, it was the Squad. Now, it seems, we have the Plastics.

I'm referring to the four-way kerfuffle that began when Rep. Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., made an anti-Muslim remark about Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. Then Rep. Nancy Mace , R-S.C., tweeted her disapproval of Boebert, which prompted the inimitable Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., to defend Boebert by smearing Mace as "the trash in the GOP conference."

Well, dang, ya'll, what's in the ladies-lounge coffee over there? With all the teeth-baring and chain-yanking, somebody must have spiked it with testosterone. Before you know it, they'll be wearing animal headgear and breastplates and breaching the U.S. Capitol.

The Squad, you'll recall, was the name given initially to four super-left Democratic women elected to the House in recent years: Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan. All are women of color and two, Omar and Tlaib, are Muslim, which may partly explain, but does not in any way excuse, why Boebert and Greene refer to them as the "Jihad Squad."

One needn't be a great wit to create a nickname but being witless is surely helpful to hurling racial and religious insults. As to the latter, Boebert and Greene proudly excel.

Which brings us to the Plastics, the infamous high school clique in the 2004 movie, "Mean Girls," about a bunch of bullying young women in high school. The Twitter war that evolved among Boebert, Greene, Mace and Omar has all the markings of chick cliques gone wild. I wish it weren't so, but what else to make of such underage behavior by some of the nation's most visible females?

I suppose we could call it embarrassing, though there's no evidence that anyone but us bystanders has suffered so much as a flushed cheek.

To think that the Republican Party was once home to greats such as Sen. Margaret Chase Smith of Maine. Among other achievements, she was the first public figure to challenge Wisconsin Sen. Joseph McCarthy's anti-communist fearmongering in her 1950 "Declaration of Conscience" speech. Just imagine, if we still can.

That said, today's four gladiators aren't equally errant in the ways of manners and protocol. Omar was the victim of more than one inexcusable racist, Islamophobic attack by Boebert. The first came when Rep. Paul A. Gosar, R-Ariz., tweeted an anime video showing him stabbing Ocasio-Cortez in the neck. As the House considered censuring Gosar for his appalling judgment, Boebert tried to defend the indefensible, saying that stripping Gosar of his committee assignments would be unfair since Omar "the Jihad Squad member from Minnesota" sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee "while praising terrorists."

Logic and decency are not, shall we say, her strong suits.

Later, Boebert told a story at a private event about boarding an elevator when a Capitol police officer came running toward her. When Boebert realized Omar was standing nearby, she quipped to the officer: "She doesn't have a backpack, we should be fine."

Mace, who might have kept her heels glued to the high road, then entered the fray to defend Omar following Boebert's tasteless elevator remark. But you know what they say: Never wrestle with pigs. They have more experience in the mud and, besides, they like it there.

So along came Greene, no slouch in the mudslinging department. A devout Trumpian, she alternately praised the former president and called Mace "the trash of the GOP conference." Those would be fighting words without what happened next, but it got far worse. Greene accused Mace of not being a true conservative because, she claimed, Mace is "pro-abort."

Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait. What?

Greene's lucky she escaped with a mere counter-tweet from Mace instead of something more fitting a woman who was the first female graduate of the Citadel. Mace is, indeed, pro-life with exceptions for rape and incest, perhaps because she is, herself, a rape survivor.

Then something rather splendid happened. Greene tweeted at Mace, "your out of your league." Mace simply tweeted back the correction: "*you're."

Anyone who will plant a flag for "you're" instead of "your" as a contraction of "you are" has my undying admiration and loyalty. (I have a cartoon in my office in which a smart dame says to her courtier: "You had me at you're.")

Suffice to say, the "conversation" devolved from there, or, depending on one's point of view, became even more delicious. Mace ended the exchange (for now) with "Bless her f------ heart," which is clear enough, but usually expressed more modestly by Southerners as simply "Bless her heart."

Bless all their little hearts, I say, and the wee spirits that guide their fingers across keyboards in a land called Twitter.

May they all receive a biography of Margaret Chase Smith as a gift for the holidays and may they begin their New Year's resolutions accordingly.

- - -

Kathleen Parker's email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

The media treats Biden as badly as - or worse than - Trump. Here's proof.

By dana milbank
The media treats Biden as badly as - or worse than - Trump. Here's proof.

DANA MILBANK COLUMN

Advance for release Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, and thereafter

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By Dana Milbank

WASHINGTON -- A sampling of headlines atop the influential Politico Playbook newsletter over the past month:

"Let the Democratic freakout begin."

"Dems start to face the hard questions."

"Does the WH owe Larry Summers an apology?"

"The other big intra-Democratic fight."

"No BIF bump for Biden."

"White House braces for a bad CBO score."

" . . . Biden dithers . . ."

"Biden tries to calm nerves about 2024."

"The case for why Biden is screwed."

Even the extraordinary news that jobless claims had dropped to the lowest level in 52 years came with a qualifier: "BUT, BUT, BUT . . . don't expect [the numbers] to immediately change Americans' negative perceptions of the economy."

It isn't just Politico. My impression of other outlets' coverage of President Biden had been much the same: unrelentingly negative. Was it my imagination?

No, it wasn't.

Artificial intelligence can now measure the negativity with precision. At my request, Forge.ai, a data analytics unit of the information company FiscalNote, combed through more than 200,000 articles -- tens of millions of words -- from 65 news websites (newspapers, network and cable news, political publications, news wires and more) to do a "sentiment analysis" of coverage. Using algorithms that give weight to certain adjectives based on their placement in the story, it rated the coverage Biden received in the first 11 months of 2021 and the coverage President Donald Trump got in the first 11 months of 2020.

The findings, painstakingly assembled by FiscalNote vice president Bill Frischling, confirmed my fear: My colleagues in the media are serving as accessories to the murder of democracy.

After a honeymoon of slightly positive coverage in the first three months of the year, Biden's press for the past four months has been as bad as -- and for a time worse than -- the coverage Trump received for the same four months of 2020.

Think about that. In 2020, Trump presided over a worst-in-world pandemic response that caused hundreds of thousands of unnecessary deaths; held a superspreader event at the White House and got covid-19 himself; praised QAnon adherents; embraced violent White supremacists; waged a racist campaign against Black Lives Matter demonstrators; attempted to discredit mail-in voting; and refused to accept his defeat in a free and fair election, leading eventually to the violence of Jan. 6 and causing tens of millions to accept the "big lie," the worst of more than 30,000 he told in office.

And yet Trump got press coverage as favorable as, or better than, Biden is getting today. Sure, Biden has had his troubles, with the delta variant, Afghanistan and inflation. But the economy is rebounding impressively, he has signed major legislation, and he has restored some measure of decency, calm and respect for democratic institutions.

We need a skeptical, independent press. But how about being partisans for democracy? The country is in an existential struggle between self-governance and an authoritarian alternative. And we in the news media, collectively, have given equal, if not slightly more favorable, treatment to the authoritarians.

Sentiment analysis ranks coverage from entirely negative (-1.0) to entirely positive (1.0), and most outlets are in a relatively tight band between -0.1 and 0.1. Overall, Biden was slightly positive or neutral for seven months, ranging from .02 to -.01. That plummeted to -.07 in August -- a lower number than Trump hit in all of 2020 (or 2019) -- and has been between -.04 and -.03 ever since. Trump never left a narrow range of -.03 to -.04. (The data set doesn't go far enough back to make a comparison to Trump's first year in office.)

Also noteworthy: Trump got roughly twice as much coverage in 2020 as Biden has received in 2021. And the coverage of Biden is noticeably more negative than the tone of news coverage overall. Predictably, Breitbart and the New York Post are among the most negative outlets, but even liberal ones such as HuffPost and Salon have been negative. (The Post was the closest to neutral, at .0006.)

How to explain why Biden would be treated more harshly than a president who actively subverted democracy? Perhaps journalists, pressured by Trump's complaints about the press, pulled punches. Perhaps media outlets, after losing the readership and viewership Trump brought, think tough coverage will generate interest.

I suspect my peers across the media have fallen victim to our asymmetric politics. Biden governs under traditional norms, while Republicans run a shocking campaign to delegitimize him with one fabricated charge after another. This week, Republicans threatened a government shutdown to block Biden's vaccine mandates, after a year of efforts to discourage vaccination. Yet, incredibly, they're simultaneously blaming Biden for coronavirus deaths -- deaths occurring almost entirely among the unvaccinated. "More people have died of covid under President Biden than did in all of 2020," proclaimed Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), GOP conference chairman.

As Biden might say: C'mon, man.

Too many journalists are caught in a mindless neutrality between democracy and its saboteurs, between fact and fiction. It's time to take a stand.

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Follow Dana Milbank on Twitter, @Milbank.

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