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

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Good Things That Happened In The Decade Now Ending

Ten years ago, America was in an awful way. It had been through a decade of terrorism, war and recession, which combined to create a pervasive sense of anxiety. The worldwide expansion of democracy had shifted into reverse.

At the end of the first decade of the 21st century, the U.S. economy was just beginning to climb out of the worst downturn since the Great Depression. Unemployment was at 10 percent. Americans were being killed in Iraq at the rate of three per week. The war in Afghanistan was going so poorly that President Barack Obama mounted a troop surge. Congress was bitterly divided over his proposed health insurance reform.

Throughout the world, the United States was losing influence. In his 2009 book The End of the American Century, David S. Mason wrote that “in the past decade, and particularly since September 11, every aspect of this American dominance has begun to wane.” It was not only foreigners who were disenchanted with us. Americans were also beset with dread, confusion, and outrage.

Today, we still have plenty of serious problems: climate change, the epidemic of opioid overdose deaths, mass shootings, the continuing battle over health insurance. Not to mention Donald Trump and everything associated with his poisonous presidency.

But the end of the decade is a moment to remember that good things have happened since it began.

—The economy has enjoyed the longest expansion in American history, reducing unemployment to 3.5 percent and pushing up wages — without setting off inflation. The S&P 500 stock index has tripled. Home prices, which plummeted in the recession, have rebounded.

—The U.S. left Iraq, and even after the return of American troops to fight the Islamic State in 2014, we have only about 5,000 military personnel there now — compared with 136,000 in 2009. The number of Americans fighting in Afghanistan is down from 51,000 in 2009 to 13,000. In 2009, the U.S. military lost 465 men and women in the two wars. This year, the number is less than 40.

—The military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, which banned openly gay members, was lifted by Obama in 2011. Same-sex marriage, which was allowed in only a handful of states and had been forbidden by state constitutional amendment in most, gained nationwide constitutional protection thanks to a 2015 Supreme Court decision.

—Twenty states have banned discrimination on the basis of gender identity in employment, housing and public accommodations. Only one state, North Carolina, enacted a “bathroom bill” to keep transgender people from using facilities matching their gender identity, and North Carolina eventually agreed to a federal court settlement overturning key elements of the policy. Both the Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts decided to admit members based on their gender identity.

—Osama bin Laden, mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, was killed by U.S. Navy SEALs in 2011, and Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died during a U.S. military raid in Syria this year.

—Obama banned the use of torture on suspected terrorists by the CIA, reversing the Bush administration’s policy.

—The Obama administration granted protection to some 800,000 undocumented foreigners who were brought here as children. Courts have blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, whose fate is now in the hands of the Supreme Court.

—A succession of killings of unarmed black men by police helped focus lasting attention on America’s persistent racial inequities. This year, some Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed reparations for slavery and Jim Crow. The city of Evanston, Illinois, recently decided to use revenue from cannabis taxes to pay compensation to black residents, who make up 17 percent of the city’s population.

Trump has done immeasurable harm on all sorts of matters. But he has also created a powerful backlash that has manifested itself in annual women’s marches, renewed awareness of the persistence of racism, and public support for modest gun regulations, action against climate change, immigration reform, the Affordable Care Act — and his impeachment.

It says something good about the American character that for almost the entirety of his time in office, a majority of people have disapproved of this president’s performance.

In 2019, it’s easy to think our politics will never get better — just as in 2009, it was easy to think the economy would never get better. But when you hit bottom, most roads lead upward.

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 Judicial Nominee Bursts Into Tears At Senate Hearing

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

Lawrence J.C. VanDyke openly wept on Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee as he was confronted with a blistering review from the American Bar Association, which found that he was not qualified to serve on the federal courts after having been nominated by President Donald Trump.

The ABA, which can’t officially block nominees but whose recommendations are seen as carrying substantial weight, wrote of VanDyke:

Mr. VanDyke’s accomplishments are offset by the assessments of interviewees thatMr. VanDyke is arrogant, lazy, an ideologue, and lacking in knowledge of the day-to-day practice including procedural rules. There was a theme that the nominee lacks humility, has an “entitlement” temperament, does not have an open mind, and does not always have a commitment to being candid and truthful.

It also said some people interviewed in the assessment of VanDyke worried that he would not be “fair to
persons who are gay, lesbian, or otherwise part of the LGBTQ community.”

When confronted with these findings, which had been made public the previous night, VanDyke became distressed in the middle of the hearing and began crying. His face turned red.

“I do not believe that,” VanDyke said, referring to criticism of his views of LGBT people, according to CNN. “It is a fundamental belief of mine that all people are created in the image of God.” He added that he thinks “they should all be treated with dignity and respect.”

VanDyke isn’t the first of Trump’s nominees to get strong pushback from the ABA. Law.com reported that nine of Trump’s nominees have been rated as “not qualified” for the federal bench by the organization. At least four of these nominees have been successfully confirmed nevertheless, while others have been blocked. The ABA’s rating process has been criticized by conservatives, who say the organization is biased against nominees who aren’t liberals.

Writing for the conservative National Review, Thomas Jipping wrote that of the ABA: “[It’s] reasonable to ask whether this consistently liberal organization can really be objective and non-political in its ratings of judicial nominees.” He called the devastating letter about VanDyke “another self-inflicted wound” for the organization. Conservatives were particularly critical of the VanDyke letter because the investigation into him was reportedly led by Marcia Davenport, who donated $150 in 2014 to a political opponent of VanDyke.

Orin Kerr, a University of California law professor, noted on Twitter: “I don’t think I’ve seen anything like this before, which I say realizing that some will say it shows how unqualified the [nominee] is, while others will say it shows how biased the ABA is. I don’t know which is true. But either way, it’s a remarkable letter.”

In the hearing, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) noted Wednesday that there have been many criticisms of the ABA review process, some of which he agrees with. In particular, he acknowledged that the ABA’s conclusions are opaque, and it doesn’t provide the background documentation of its investigations.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham, the chair of the committee, said he agreed with these criticisms.

“We actually have something we can do about that,” Whitehouse said. “I’ve been on this committee awhile. ABA letters are always this way. They don’t give you the underlying backup. But what we do have here is some pretty darned serious concerns. And to just laugh them off, I don’t think is appropriate. I think we have a responsibility here. … We can resolve this by bringing in the ABA folks and letting them explain what the basis was for these charges.”

Watch Whitehouse’s remarks below:

SNL Brings Out Superstars To Spoof Democrats’ LGBT Town Hall

No Trump this week but still: Sparked by the wild spirit of Billy Porter, Saturday Night Live’s version of the Democratic presidential candidates’ LGBT town hall is amusing and even charming.

Playing himself as the emcee, alongside Alex  Moffat as CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, Porter introduces a cavalcade of talent satirizing the Democrats, featuring guests Lin-Manuel Miranda as a hilariously ingratiating Julian Castro and Woody Harrelson as Joe Biden, who replies to an audience question with a meandering “false memory” and a kiss for Moffat.

SNL cast members reprise roles they’ve played before, including Chris Redd as Cory Booker and Colin Jost as Pete Buttigieg, and they’re all funny but it’s impossible to outshine Kate McKinnon’s explosive Elizabeth Warren, who springs onto the stage and never stops bouncing: “I had some apple slices backstage, and they are hitting me like cocaine!”

Click and laugh. SNL will resume the Trumpsters’ true crime show next week.