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

Mike Pence Has Debased The Vice Presidency

Loyalty to Donald Trump demands more than many people can muster. One Cabinet officer and high-level aide after another has repeatedly endured ill treatment only to finally leave rather than accept further indignities. But no subservience is too much for Mike Pence.

His Wednesday night speech to the Republican National Convention confirmed that the vice president is prepared to say anything to celebrate his boss — and the more absurd the statement, the more resolutely he utters it.

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Trump Doesn’t Know How To Bring Back Prosperity

Whenever the oil business hits one of its periodic slumps, the joke heard in petroleum-rich areas is: "Please, God, grant me one more boom, and this time I promise not to screw it up." It makes a good bumper sticker, but Donald Trump is using it as a campaign theme.

The middle of a horrendous recession is an odd time to boast about your stewardship of the economy. But it fits with Trump's habit of taking credit for anything that goes right while taking no responsibility for any bad news.

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The Improbable Rise Of Joe Biden

Donald Trump may have won the most unlikely presidential election victory in U.S. history. But no one has ever taken a longer, more treacherous road to the White House than Joe Biden. If he should win, he will confirm that in American politics, nothing is ever final.

He arrived in the U.S. Senate barely old enough to meet the constitutional age requirement of 30. He had eked out a long-shot victory over an incumbent Republican in 1972, even as the GOP presidential nominee, Richard Nixon, carried 49 states.

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Can Kamala Persuade Biden To Push For Legal Weed?

A vice president has to defer to the president's decisions on policy, but vice presidents can also help shape it. Dick Cheney pushed George W. Bush to invade Iraq, and Joe Biden gave Barack Obama a nudge to endorse same-sex marriage. Maybe Kamala Harris will convince Biden to push for legalizing marijuana.

There are reasons to think so. One was her laughing reply last year when an interviewer asked if she had ever smoked cannabis: "Half my family's from Jamaica. Are you kidding me?" Another is that as attorney general of California, she endorsed legalization of recreational weed, which the state's voters approved in 2016.

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Why America Still Needs Political Conventions

Joe Biden won't be showing up in Milwaukee for the Democratic Convention. Donald Trump may give his acceptance speech from the White House instead of before cheering delegates in Charlotte, North Carolina. Without the customary galas, this presidential campaign will be the equivalent of a birthday celebration without a cake.

Not that it really matters, because the conventions, forced to downsize by the pandemic, will barely be recognizable. Instead of crowded, boisterous affairs that lift the participants' spirits, they will be sparsely attended, dull and generally ignored.

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The Deadly Consequences Of A Clueless President

In 2016, the libertarian magazine Reason polled a few dozen staff, contributors and allies on who would get their votes for president. Almost all planned to cast a ballot for Libertarian Party nominee Gary Johnson. I was alone in stating a firm intention to vote for Hillary Clinton, for three simple reasons: "She's sane, informed and competent."

There is nothing like a deadly pandemic to remind us that these qualities are not dispensable in a president. They are literally a matter of life and death.

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Biden’s Real Health Care Reform Is Far Better Than Trump’s Imaginary Plan

Health care policy has been a major issue for a long time. It played a big role in Barack Obama's 2008 election victory, his entire presidency and the 2010 GOP takeover of the House of Representatives. Repealing Obamacare was a Republican priority before and after Donald Trump became president. The debate on "Medicare for All" dominated the 2020 Democratic primaries.

Now, in the middle of the nation's worst pandemic in 100 years, you would think health care policy would be the object of obsession among politicians and voters. Instead, the issue has gone missing.

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Would Joe Biden’s Housing Plan Destroy The Suburbs?

A majority of Americans live in suburban areas, but not for long. No, they won't be moving. But the places where they live will cease to be suburbs. At least that's what a certain fear-mongering president would have them believe.

Donald Trump has said that Joe Biden's housing plans would "totally destroy the beautiful suburbs." On Thursday, the president announced he was scrapping an Obama-era rule that, he said, would "eliminate single-family zoning, bringing who knows into your suburbs, so your communities will be unsafe and your housing values will go down."

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The Shortsighted Rush To Reopen Schools

Let me get a show of hands: How many of you do not want schools back in session for in-person classes as soon as it's safe? How many of you think exclusive remote learning is by far the best way to educate kids? How many of you would rather keep teachers and students home for a long time to come?

Hmm. I'm not seeing any hands. That's odd, because Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, among others, seems to think that the only thing standing in the way of getting America's schools back to normal operations is that some people prefer to keep them closed.

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Trump’s Bogus Optimism Won’t Stop Pandemic Or Boost Economy

I have some bad news for anyone concerned about the economy. Very bad news. Donald Trump tweeted last Monday, "The Economy is coming back fast!" Tuesday, he proclaimed: "Things are coming back, and they're coming back very rapidly. A lot sooner than people thought."

This is an unmistakable signal that the economy is not coming back rapidly and may not be coming back at all. Whenever Trump boasts of something happening soon, it's time to settle in for a good, long wait, or maybe just give up hope entirely.

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It’s Time To Call Off College Football

If you are not a regular watcher of the Tennis Channel, it may surprise you to learn that the sport is back. Reruns of prehistoric Grand Slam finals have given way to live coverage of top professionals in exhibition tournaments that none of the players seem to treat as mere exhibitions.

Did I say top professionals? A June team event in Charleston included this year's Australian Open winner, Sofia Kenin, and 2016 Olympic Gold Medalist Monica Puig. A recent all-Czech tournament in Prague was won by Petra Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion.

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No, Susan Rice Didn’t Support The Iraq War

If Joe Biden takes my advice and chooses Susan Rice to be his running mate, then there will be criticism from people who opposed the Iraq War. That's because if you Google "Susan Rice" and "Iraq War," you will find several sources, including Wikipedia, that say she supported it. Let me try to save critics and journalists from that error by setting the record straight.

From everything I've been able to find, Rice did not support the Iraq War. She opposed it, in a show of wise and independent judgment.

I came by this information by falling victim to these sources and including a line in a recent column saying she endorsed the invasion. Shortly after it appeared online, I got a nice email from her press spokesperson, Erin Pelton, thanking me for the column but informing me that Rice opposed the war.

This came as a surprise. I asked for documentation but wasn't convinced by the information she sent. I talked with Pelton by phone; she said she would see what else she could find.

Then, Rice called and explained, in a gracious and congenial way, how frustrating this "urban legend" has been for her. She recounted her thinking, assured me that colleagues from the Brookings Institution, where she worked at the time, would back her up, and said, with a laugh, "I'll swear on a stack of Bibles!" Unsure what to think, and with the deadline for the Tribune's print edition looming, I deleted the reference.

Later, I contacted Michael O'Hanlon and Ivo Daalder, fellow foreign policy scholars who were at Brookings with Rice at the time. O'Hanlon told me, "Susan was consistently against it from 2002." Daalder concurred: "Susan was definitely against the war."

Their memories confirm what Rice wrote in her memoir, Tough Love: "From the start, I viewed that war of choice as a dangerous diversion from the main objective of defeating al-Qaida globally and in Afghanistan." She served as an adviser to Howard Dean's 2004 presidential campaign "because he was the only leading Democratic candidate to oppose the Iraq War." She signed up with Barack Obama in 2008 because he also opposed it.

But she got falsely tagged as a supporter of the war, and the stain has refused to come out, mainly because of two statements that have been misinterpreted.

In a December 2002 interview on NPR, she said: "It's clear that Iraq poses a major threat. It's clear that its weapons of mass destruction need to be dealt with forcefully, and that's the path we're on. I think the question becomes whether we can keep the diplomatic balls in the air and not drop any, even as we move forward, as we must, on the military side."

But O'Hanlon notes: "The military options she alludes to are not specified. For the Clinton administration, they were typically airstrikes or cruise missile strikes of limited duration and effect, not invasions."

Rice also endorsed the idea of "regime change." But there is less there than meets the eye. Bill Clinton signed a bill making it U.S. policy to "support efforts to remove the regime headed by Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq and to promote the emergence of a democratic government to replace that regime." But he didn't think the cause called for a U.S. invasion. The point was to encourage Iraqis to do the job.

In that December interview, Rice also said: "The administration frankly owes the American public a much fuller and more honest assessment of what the costs will be of the actual conflict, as well as the aftermath, the post-conflict reconstruction. And the costs are going to be huge."

Rice didn't oppose the invasion as boldly and unequivocally as some did. Peter Beinart of The Daily Beast said he listened to interviews she did before the war and concluded, "I still can't tell whether Susan Rice supported the war or opposed it." But being cautious and circumspect is not the same thing as supporting the war.

Why does all this matter? First, because the Iraq War was the biggest foreign policy catastrophe since Vietnam, and one most experts endorsed. Second, because Rice had to know her views carried a real risk. Most Democratic senators voted for the war resolution — including Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Had the outcome been a glorious triumph, her opposition might have doomed her from serving in another administration.

A lot of smart, knowledgeable people made the mistake of endorsing the Iraq War. Susan Rice deserves credit for not being 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.

America Is Losing The Fight Against Coronavirus

In the category of "famous last words," my favorite has always been what Union Army Gen. John Sedgwick said when urged to take cover from Confederate sharpshooters. "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance," he replied, and then fell dead from a rifle shot.

Mike Pence is guilty of a similar miscalculation. Writing in The Wall Street Journal on June 16, he boasted of the administration's response to the coronavirus pandemic: "We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy."

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How North Korea’s Dictator Scammed Trump

Donald Trump had a bad week. He went to West Point to make himself look like a strong leader but raised doubts about his health when he struggled drinking water and descending a ramp. His first Supreme Court appointee wrote the opinion in a case upholding gay and transgender rights.

The court also struck down Trump's effort to deport undocumented foreigners brought here as children. His former national security advisor wrote a book painting the world's most powerful person as an ignorant sleazebag who was guilty of the impeachment charges and more.

Trump had to reschedule a Tulsa rally planned for Juneteenth, but he insisted on holding it the following day — risking lives in a state suffering a surge of the coronavirus. New polls showed him trailing Joe Biden by landslide margins.

In any other week, it would be major news that the North Korean government blew up an office building that had been used for meetings with South Korean officials. Ordinarily, Americans might have taken note that, as The New York Times reported, the regime is threatening "to extinguish the fragile detente with a new cycle of bellicose actions and military provocations."

Attention would have been riveted by disclosure in Bolton's book that Trump's get-togethers with Kim Jong Un were not about eliminating North Korea's nuclear program but merely at making himself look good.

In reference to the first meeting, in Singapore, Bolton says Trump told him "he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique, have his press conference to declare victory, and then get out of town." Though Trump cared little about nukes, making sure that Kim received an Elton John CD "remained a high priority for several months."

Trump has been a failure in many areas, but nowhere else has there been a greater distance between what he claimed to achieve and what he actually did. In his telling, he averted the war that Barack Obama had been on the verge of initiating. "You would, right now, be in a nice, big, fat war in Asia with North Korea if I wasn't elected president," he claimed last year, in one of his hallucinatory episodes.

At the outset, it was Trump who sounded ready to launch an attack. In 2017, the Pyongyang regime carried out a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The president responded by declaring that if North Korea threatened us, "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In a speech at the UN, he said, "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

But soon Trump changed his tune. He dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to North Korea, and soon he agreed to travel to Singapore to meet with Kim. He made this concession even though the CIA, according to NBC News, concluded that "North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, but it may be open to allowing a western burger chain to open a franchise in the country."

In June 2018, his first summit with Kim yielded a vague joint communique and Trump's agreement to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea. But he immediately tweeted, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

In fact, Kim never gave up a single nuclear weapon. What he did instead was manipulate Trump with flattery. "He wrote me beautiful letters," the president gushed in 2019. "We fell in love."

But their love affair has not kept Kim from expanding his nuclear arsenal. Nor has he closed any of the reactors that produce weapons fuel. North Korea has gone back to regular missile tests. Last month, Kim convened his military leaders to announce "new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country," according to the government.

In short, Trump held three grand summits with Kim, bragged about eliminating the nuclear threat, expressed his love for the dictator — and has gotten a big fat nothing. Concludes Bolton, "We're now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons."

Trump is the political equivalent of the lonely guys who get scammed by dating websites promising to connect them with hot Russian women. The promises he got from his heartthrob didn't pan out. But hey — he'll always have those letters.

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.

When The Cops Are Their Own Worst Enemies

You may have seen it: a black and white American flag with one stripe highlighted in blue. The Thin Blue Line flag is used meant to show solidarity with the police. As Thin Blue Line USA says, it "represents all who faithfully serve and protect. A line that separates order from chaos, and a line that represents all who serve and all who stand for #justice."

Early on the morning of June 1, most of those who make up the thin blue line of the Chicago Police Department were straining to deal with hooligans. But according to Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Police Superintendent David Brown, 13 of their fellow officers were taking it easy in the burglarized campaign office of Rep. Bobby Rush as nearby shops were being ransacked.

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