FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE BY BOB FRANKEN HAPPY BIRTHDAY VLAD Vladimir Putin is not a Facebook friend of mine -- that I know of, anyway. He could be, perhaps registered under an alias put out by the Moscow Troll Department, but to my knowledge, I ...

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"Franken Sense" - 5 new articles

  1. HAPPY BIRTHDAY VLAD
  2. NOT READY FOR DEMOCRACY
  3. AMERICA-FINLAND FUNLAND
  4. THE SPIT AWARD
  5. PIG LATIN
  6. More Recent Articles

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VLAD

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

 

HAPPY BIRTHDAY VLAD

Vladimir Putin is not a Facebook friend of mine -- that I know of, anyway. He could be, perhaps registered under an alias put out by the Moscow Troll Department, but to my knowledge, I didn’t send a “Happy birthday to Vlad” greeting to mark the Russian president’s 67th.
Nor did Donald Trump send his good wishes, at least not on Facebook, even though Mr. Putin had a lot to do with his being the American president in the first place.
But he didn’t really have to mark the occasion. For Putin, Trump has been the gift who keeps on giving by tattering the United States of America and its already frayed tapestry of democracy. The U.S. political system is supposed to be an intricate knit of balancing powers that are woven into the legislative, executive and judicial branches of federal government, as any high school student is taught. Apparently, Trump missed class that day, or he simply chooses to ignore it. The same way he chooses to ignore any time-tested rule or moral standard that gets in his way. His conduct, both before he assumed the chief executive role and since, is splattered with the stain of corruption and hateful demagoguery.

Finally, the timid Democrats, who assumed majority control of the House of Representatives this year, decided to use their power of impeachment to try to end the nation’s embarrassment. That congressional power was carefully spelled out by our founders in Article 2 of the Constitution:
“The President, Vice President and all Civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”
Notice the word “shall” in there, meaning that Congress has the absolute ability to exercise the impeachment and removal functions.
Right now, the House is playing its role, looking into alleged wrongdoing by this president (the “alleged” descriptor is inserted in an abundance of fairness). Ultimately, when the investigation is complete, the members will vote whether to impeach Trump, which would be roughly equivalent to an indictment.
But the Trump administration has taken a Constitution-be-damned approach, refusing to cooperate. After coming up with a variety of reasons not to turn over information and provide witnesses even under subpoena, Donald Trump, through his lawyers, has declared the administration will not cooperate with the exercise because, quoting from White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s letter to House leaders: “You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and constitutionally mandated due process.” It goes on like that for eight pages, attorney Cipollone attacking the conduct but providing no real legal justification for defying the House Democrats and, by the way, the Constitution.
Back in high school Civics we learned that the founders designed the balance of power to allow each branch to curb the others’ excesses. It’s a fundamental part of this delicate democracy of ours. But for it to properly work, it requires the good faith of all involved. That is the nation’s fundamental weakness. There are always opportunists out there who will take advantage and stretch our inherent freedoms to exploit our various institutions.
In this case, you have a president who routinely ignores constraints on his behavior, particularly when he’s impulsive, which he usually is. That’s what has gotten us to the point of impeachment. It would seem the Democrats have an open-and-shut case, but they are tediously exploring whether there’s a lot more “there” there.
Trump’s political friends, the Republicans, have been intimidated into going through hoops to support him, in fear of his jeopardizing their political careers. From afar, Vladimir Putin is certainly relishing the spectacle, while making plans to keep Trump in office for four more years. The Democrats will have to show that they’re a match for Trump and Putin. So far, they’re not.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

NOT READY FOR DEMOCRACY

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

 

NOT READY FOR DEMOCRACY

In his “Gettysburg Address,” Abraham Lincoln described a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.” The problem for any democracy is that those people can make a mistake -- a dangerous mistake -- by electing someone who’s severely unqualified or a bloomin’ nutcase.
Look no further than Donald Trump, our current president, who possesses the power to wreak terrible damage. In fact, he’s doing just that, both with his policies that roll back decades of progress, returning America to a menace to the planet, and even more so with his rhetoric, which has exposed wounds to the nation that might never heal.
By the way, didn’t Trump refer to our 16th president as “the late, great Abraham Lincoln,” sounding like some sleazy lounge singer performing on a world stage? Those lined up against Trump in the impeachment fight hope that he will go down in history as the 45th president who was forced to prematurely step aside for the 46th president, Mike Pence. Actually, the get-rid-of-Trump forces shudder at the thought of replacing the deranged current act with his smarmy sycophant, but that’s how it works in our democracy. Unless, of course, they can make it a twofer.

In that case, it would be Nancy Pelosi as POTUS, since the House speaker is next in the line of succession. That would be a crazily tumultuous way to install our first woman president.
The preferred method, obviously, would be to elect one. Besides, Pelosi is busy these days playing Trump like a fiddle with her soft-spoken responses to every harsh Trumpster outburst. She coos while he talks of coups and treason and spies, and comes up with wackier and wackier responses to the fact that his gig may be over.
While we can only fantasize about the prospect of a female chief executive, Trump’s latest existential crisis is because he decided to ruthlessly smear the old white guy he apparently considers the greatest threat to his reelection. Hearkening back to his gutter fights with the mob bosses and finance people in the New York real estate world (it’s hard to tell the difference, although the finance people are usually more ruthless), the Don ordered a hit on Joe Biden -- actually, a contract smear job -- and attempted to enlist various world leaders to help.
His shakedown of the new Ukrainian president got him in his current deep doo-doo, but at least that one was supposed to be secret. Now he is publicly trying to recruit China for his scam, just as the two nations are making one last stab at saving the world from a trade collapse.
For the Democrats, too, the traps are out. Joe Biden has awakened to summon up outrage that he and his son Hunter are accused of sleazy dealings, but his people have overplayed their hand. They sent a letter to the various news networks demanding that they no longer book Rudy Giuliani so he can no longer “spread false, debunked conspiracy theories on behalf of Donald Trump.” While that may be an accurate description of Giuliani’s task as he takes on the Roy Cohn role as Trump’s enabler, and largely preaching to the Trump choir and spreading drivel, the networks have so far not responded to the Biden camp, which is a polite way of saying those two magic words we all know so well.
Frankly, while the Democrats don’t accuse “fake” and “corrupt” “enemies of the people” the way Trump does, they don’t really seem to understand the news process either. Bernie Sanders’ people withheld for a couple of days the fact that he had had a mild heart attack, which only served to amplify questions about his health. Many Democrats truly don’t comprehend that we are not in cahoots with them We are simply trying to tell the story, whatever it is.
The whole idea of a democracy is that the citizens make their choices as an “informed electorate.” Unfortunately, the leaders of our system fail to understand the process of informing them, or try to destroy it.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

AMERICA-FINLAND FUNLAND

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

 

AMERICA-FINLAND FUNLAND
---
Pity the poor head of state who visits the White House. This time around, it was the Finnish president watching another fight to the finish by his host, American President Donald Trump.
Finland’s Sauli Niinisto was the latest human prop, maintaining a stone face and keeping his thoughts to himself, but perhaps worrying whether his U.S. counterpart had rabies. Trump has been foaming at the mouth more than normal these days, going bonkers before our very eyes, as his attacks against anyone and everyone involved in his impeachment probe get increasingly vicious, seemingly with no regard to the safety of those who stand in his way.
First, one of his milder tirades: He accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of handing out subpoenas targeting his accomplices “like they are cookies.” Perhaps that’s his half-baked response to getting caught with his hand in the cookie jar, a whistleblower charge that Trump tried to pressure Ukraine’s new leader, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, to reopen an investigation against Joe Biden and his son Hunter for corruption in Ukraine, even though a probe was already concluded with no charges. Trump is accused of seeking foreign help for his reelection bid -- which by the way is a crime -- after a transcript of his July call with Zelenskiy provided strong evidence that he was holding back more than a quarter-billion dollars in military aid until he was satisfied that Zelenskiy was playing ball. Apparently, Donald Trump considers Joe Biden his greatest barrier to reelection. But now there is a threat that his term won’t make it to re-election, because the heretofore timid Democrats, who control the House of Representatives, have launched their aggressive impeachment process.

Since then, the Trumpster has been losing it, his rhetoric getting more dangerously erratic by the moment. At the event with Finland’s president, he called the whistleblower’s source a “spy,” which he’s done before, and stated that House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff is guilty of “treason” for his hardball tactics (his latest nickname is “Shifty Schiff”). He routinely calls the impeachment effort a “coup” and let us not forget how he tweeted it was “BULL***T” -- in all caps!
Many worry that his careless language could incite some of his more crazed supporters to violence. Donald Trump himself has never been known for his impulse control.
At one point during the news conference, Trump asked a reporter: “You talking to me?” Perhaps he did not remember that quote was from a famous movie, “Taxi Driver,” and uttered by a psychotic character.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are winning this war of words by keeping theirs low-key. At the same time that Trump was engaged in his Finland harangue, Nancy “Cookie Pusher” Pelosi and Adam “Shifty” Schiff were holding their own news conference. “Shifty,” responding to the Trump forces’ refusal to cooperate with congressional oversight, ominously warned: “We’re not fooling around here though. We don’t want this to drag on for months and months and months, which appears to be the administration’s strategy.”
That’s only part of the strategy. The Don's henchmen and women blatantly try to destroy the credibility of any adversary. The president demands that the whistleblower be identified to him so he can confront him or her, even though this person is a CIA operative, whose name is a secret. If revealed, it could destroy his or her career. And now the president has startled everyone by publicly asking China to investigate the Bidens, prompting the Federal Elections Commission to remind everyone that it is illegal for a foreign power to get involved in the campaign, or to solicit one.
Back to the Finnish president: What possible impressions could he take home? There is a hint in the White House transcript of the press appearance:

Q: Finnish media here. Finland is the happiest country in the world.
PRESIDENT TRUMP: Finland is a happy country.
PRESIDENT NIINISTO: Yeah, for sure.

It’s true, by the way. A U.N. survey designated Finland the world’s happiest country. That would certainly not describe the United States.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

THE SPIT AWARD

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

THE SPIT AWARD

As the summer of our despair turns to an equally bleak national autumn, it’s time to take note of those who have excelled at a unique political art form (I bet you never thought you’d see those words together). We really should pay homage to the victor in the month’s competition for best sound bite.
The winner of the Superlative Propounding of Incomplete Thoughts competition, the treasured SPIT award, for September is (pause for effect) Devin Nunes! This is an upset, because the champ is almost always Donald Trump. But he’s distracted these days, and appropriately so because he’s in deep spit over his attempted shakedown of Ukraine’s president.
Devin Nunes is a Republican congressman who is in President Trump’s pocket. He is among the most stridently partisan GOP members of the House Intelligence Committee, which is traditionally nonpartisan But traditions have been exploding left and right. Speaking of the left, in all fairness we should acknowledge that Congressman Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the committee, is no slouch when it comes to partisanship. In fact, he’s been among the most aggressive in pursuing the impeachment of Trump, now that his fellow Democrats have taken the plunge into those murky waters.

But back to showering the SPIT honors on Nunes. He won the coveted award for what he sputtered during a public hearing when he accused Democrats of dredging up all the accusations they can on his beloved POTUS mentor, and using every tactic at their disposal to pursue evidence -- including seeking “nude pictures of Trump.”
Now, as repulsive as the thought of seeing Donald Trump in the buff is, Nunes actually had a reason for his winning outburst. Last year, Schiff received a call from Russian pranksters offering him “pictures of naked Trump.” Schiff thanked them and alerted law enforcement, telling federal agents the whole thing was probably “bogus,” and that was that.
At least it was until Nunes resurrected the horrible thought of Trump as the emperor with no clothes on. As usual, he had brutal competition from the Trumpster himself, who was doing what he usually does when he gets into trouble: hurling accusations at his accuser.
The whistleblower, in this case, a CIA analyst whose identity is a secret, accumulated a record of specifics and submitted to the inspector general a credible report of Trump trying to muscle his Ukrainian counterpart into investigating the family of the one he perceives to be his most dangerous re-election opponent, Joe Biden. Trump has called those who provided the whistleblower information “spies” and repeatedly suggested they should be executed for treason.
Meanwhile, it turns out that his White House minions were trying to cover up the evidence by hiding it in a super-secret computer. It further turns out that this has become normal procedure for staffers who try to conceal records anytime their leader blurts out something either grossly outrageous or illegal. That happens a lot.
Do not be at all surprised that the whistleblower’s prized cover is blown as he is identified in friendly media because a spiteful president or a staff member has leaked it. That’s what happened to the wife of Joe Wilson, a diplomat under “President” Dick Cheney who wouldn’t play ball when Cheney pretended Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. In retaliation, Cheney had aide Scooter Libby blow the cover of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame, who worked for the CIA. By sad coincidence, Wilson died recently. Plame, who divorced Wilson and moved to New Mexico, is a Democratic candidate for Congress.
Dick Cheney wasn’t really president, of course; George Bush was. Cheney just seemed to run things. As controversial as the Bush presidency was, there are millions of formerly ardent opponents of his who look back on it fondly. The question for Donald Trump will be, How long until Americans can look back on his presidency, how many months, years or how many sound bites?

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

PIG LATIN

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

PIG LATIN

Latin is supposedly a “dead language,” meaning no one speaks it as their native tongue. Except attorneys, of course, who use it to make law indecipherable so that they can charge exorbitant billable hours to untangle the messes they create.
English, in this era of antisocial media and texting, is on its way to being another dead language. But I digress, which, by the way, is from the Latin “digressum.”
Let’s regressum: Back when kids were forced to suffer through a Latin course in high school, we all were required to ponder the Roman forces crossing the Rubicon River in defiance of Senate orders (some things never change). “Alea jacta est,” meaning the “die is cast,” said Julius Caesar, and for more than 2,000 years, “crossing the Rubicon” and “Alea jacta est” have meant “Well, now we’ve gone and done it.”
So it is now, as the Democrats in the House of Representatives roll their dice and cross into impeachment land. It’s nearly as momentous as it was back in Caesar’s time, opening an entire salad of possibilities. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that her members will directly take on President Donald Trump, a wannabe emperor, and investigate him in a coordinated fashion because of his “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”

Pelosi had carefully cultivated the appearance of a Democratic leader who was resisting the wild men and wild women of her crew clamoring for impeachment. But when the Trumpster was caught apparently trying to extort the president of Ukraine to reopen an investigation into Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, by withholding badly needed and authorized defense aid for that country’s fight against Russian incursion, she saw her opening. She decided to carpe diem, launching a coordinated investigation to decide whether to proceed with full-blown articles of impeachment. Bet on their doing that by year’s end and bet on the Senate voting next not to remove Donald Trump from office -- unless POTUS does something even more stupid or obscene than he already has. Since the House is controlled by Democrats and the Senate by Republicans, it doesn’t take a genius to figure all that out. But stating the obvious is why I get the big bucks.
The Trumpster didn’t even bother to deny the fundamental facts showing he was trying to muscle another head of state to get help smearing his perceived likely campaign opponent. His story changed every hour or two. At one point, his claim was that he simply was trying to avoid doing favors for a corrupt nation. How about his motivations for showering affection and gazillions of dollars on countries like Saudi Arabia, with a leader who U.S. intelligence agencies accuse of ordering up the murder and dismemberment of a columnist for The Washington Post? How does Trump explain his coziness with Vladimir Putin’s Russia?
He now has us going steadily downhill, implying the whistleblower’s sources were spies: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.” Was that an implied death threat? No wonder he gets along so well with the Saudis.
So, the obviously frightened president and the suddenly non-timid Democrats are going toe-to-toe over an alleged quid pro quo, as the Romans and the lawyers put it. It’s warfare, which will dominate the election cycle more than a year.
“Tanta stultitia mortalium est,” said the ancient Romans. “Such is the foolishness of mortals.” That’s particularly true of politician mortals. The problem is when our leaders decide they are immortal, like Donald Trump, impervious to accountability. The Democrats will want to change that. It will be a “certare usque ad mortem.” A fight to the death.

© 2019 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

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