FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019 CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236 BOB FRANKEN FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2017 AWFUL QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS --- We don’t know if ...

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"Franken Sense" - 5 new articles

  1. AWFUL QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS
  2. AMERICA'S PASTIMES
  3. CRASHING DOWN TO EARTH
  4. WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S LIAR
  5. SKINNY BUT OVERWEIGHT
  6. More Recent Articles

AWFUL QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
BOB FRANKEN
FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, APRIL 11, 2017

 

AWFUL QUESTIONS, NO ANSWERS
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We don’t know if President Donald Trump was purely motivated to fire cruise missiles at a Syrian military airfield. Was he genuinely horrified by the nerve-gas attack on a rebel-held town ordered by dictator Bashar Assad? His strongest critics insist that Trump saw the revulsion at the deaths of the innocents, including children, really and cynically as an opportunity to boost his approval ratings, which have spiraled ever downward during the constant embarrassments that have defined the earliest days of his administration. There is no way to know.
He wouldn’t be the first president whose commander in chief actions raised that same woeful question. In August 1998, Bill Clinton ordered a missile attack of his own, against the Al-Shifa pharmaceutical manufacturing facility in Khartoum, Sudan. He contended that it supplied chemical weapons to al-Qaida, although there has never been any actual proof of that, to this day. What is a fact is that it took place on the day that Monica Lewinsky was scheduled to testify before a grand jury in connection with, well, you know. Suddenly, the intense news focus shifted from a Washington courthouse to across the world.
I know this because, during my CNN phase, I covered the various Clinton scandals and was set for another day of live shots, tons of them, to service all the news networks in the Turner Broadcasting empire. Then came word from the White House of the rain of missiles on Khartoum, and suddenly I had nothing to do. No live shots for me. I couldn’t buy airtime. More than once I’ve quoted a colleague who observed, “We (the news networks) can only overcover one story at a time.” It was all Khartoum, all the time.
To this day, we don’t have any idea how the Monica factor influenced the Clinton calculations, any more than we do about Trump’s incentives. As a distraction, it ultimately didn’t work; four months later, President Bill Clinton was impeached. As for President Donald Trump, the early positive responses literally gushed. Suddenly, the pundits couldn’t be ecstatic enough about how Trump had been soooooo commander in chiefish, even the ones who had just moments before described him as soooooo buffoonish.

It didn’t take long, though, for the ones who hadn’t been totally caught up in the personalities of this administration, or the lack thereof, to start raising substantial questions about the long-term effects this jolt of decisiveness would have. Would it hasten the tattering of U.S.-Russian relations, even as charges continued to swirl about The Donald and The Vladimir colluding to push the election Trump’s way? Was the withering Russian response in the face of American chest-beating just rhetoric, or did it escalate the chance of a physical collision between the superpowers’ forces on the ground in Syria? Would the cruise-missile attack cause Assad to think he had to prove his manhood with another attack, either on U.S. forces or with some other horrific provocation. As a defiant gesture, he quickly launched another bombing attack from the same airfield, which was no big deal, but could all this escalate out of control?
As it stands now, the vengeance for the war crime and the grotesque deaths it caused has amounted to a few blown-up Syrian jets. Some optimists contend that it could even become a basis for some diplomatic negotiation that ultimately could hasten an end to a bloody war that has claimed a half-million lives, to say nothing of creating a flood of refugees. How can we forget that the President Trump who was so moved by the Syrian victims of nerve gas is the same President Trump who tries to block any of them from entering this country after fleeing their deadly homeland?
Some of these questions will be answered only in the days and months ahead. The ones about motivation, as we learned with Bill Clinton, will probably never be answered to the satisfaction of everyone. The fact that they are asked at all speaks volumes about our politics.

© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

AMERICA'S PASTIMES

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, MARCH 31, 2017
BY BOB FRANKEN

AMERICA'S PASTIMES
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What a relief: President Donald Trump will not be throwing out the first pitch for the Washington Nationals’ opening-day ballgame. I should say what a relief pitcher, because now the Nats will have to find someone else to give a ceremonial start to the season -- which will only end when they’ve won the Beltway World Series, defeating the Baltimore Orioles in seven games (who you calling a Beltway “homer”?).
The Nationals have a standing offer to presidents to heave the first ball, but the White House declined, saying POTUS had a “scheduling conflict,” which is another way of saying Trump and his handlers realized that he would be booed out of the stadium. Besides, with that weak pitch he gave Republicans before their health care plan loss, he had to realize that he’d probably fall short of the plate. Apparently he doesn’t have the strong-arm he might have had in the past.
It’s a pity, because the tradition dates back to 1910, when William Howard Taft did the honors. One might think Trump’s people could have at least offered up one of their own as a substitute, but that’s not as easy as it would seem. Let’s say they chose Steve Bannon, Trump’s incendiary chief strategist (and, some believe, the real president). The problem is that Bannon only throws bombshells. If he had his way, he’d simply trash the place, or at least upend the infield.
Sean Spicer would angrily throw a beanball at the batter and then pull out a weapon, which he’d fire at the press box. Kellyanne Conway would insist it was only an “alternative pitch.”
Meanwhile, Ivanka would want to stay behind to run her profitable private businesses from her White House offices. Her husband, Jared, had already set up shop there so he could take on the government functions in his portfolio, which includes everything.
If the Nationals decided to go to Capitol Hill, they might seek out House Speaker Paul Ryan. Since he’s so adept at speaking from both sides of his mouth, perhaps he can throw a ball with each arm at the same time. But alas, Ryan was not available, because no one could explain what was in it for him. As for House Intelligence Chairman Devin Nunes, he was too busy batting away any threats to his patron Donald Trump, particularly the accusations of coordinating the election campaign with Russia.

Come to think of it, there are those who believe that it’s Vladimir Putin who is running the country -- or, actually countries, the USA and USSR he’d like to restore. But no one wanted to ask him to throw out the first pitch because of the risk he’d be offended and murder the one whoever suggested the idea. Besides, now that he got Trump elected, the U.S. is playing ball with him just fine, thank you. To be fair, Putin denies that his government had any role in the U.S. election. Most recently he was asked by a CNBC correspondent whether Russia meddled in the campaign and he responded, “Read my lips. No.” Actually, what he said was, “Chitay po gubam. Nete.” But let’s not quibble. In any language, we wouldn’t expect him to say anything else, would we?
And let’s not forget someone else who demanded we read his lips: President George Bush the first pledged “no new taxes.” Subsequently, he raised taxes. Maybe “Read my lips” means “I’m lying” in Russian as well as English.
So many similarities: In baseball, the players aren’t always successful in avoiding collision, charging into each other; in the game of politics, Donald Trump is desperately trying to avoid charges of collusion. In baseball, the player often strikes out; in politics these days, President Trump often lashes out. In baseball, the player’s out. Trump’s not out. Yet.

© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

CRASHING DOWN TO EARTH

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
FOR ELEASE TUESDAY, MARCH 28, 2017
BY BOB FRANKEN

CRASHING DOWN TO EARTH
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Let’s dispense with the sanctimony and admit it: Most of us really enjoy piling on. I know I do. There are few things more exhilarating than participating in mass malice. Rarely do we get such an obvious opportunity for schadenfreude than the Trump-Ryan health care debacle. Maybe Donald Trump should have his ghostwriter create a new book: “The Thwart of the Deal.”
And while we are being brutally honest (or is it honestly brutal?), let’s acknowledge that such cheap shots like that are the best shots. They’re certainly no cheaper than all the promises Trump made while campaigning -- like his repeated pledge to dismantle Obamacare “first thing.” He denies saying that, but he did. It was a regular dose of the snake oil he sold, lapped up by millions of rubes who elected him president. He obviously was pandering to those right-wingers who still foam at the mouth at anything Obama.
In office, Trump realized how serpentine the issue is, exclaiming last month that “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.” Well, I don’t know how to break it to you Mr. President, but a lot of people knew. It’s just that some demagogues carelessly peddle the idea that they have simple solutions to impossibly complex problems.
That also would explain why Trump and his merry gang of misfits so badly botched their anti-Muslim immigration blockade. They haven’t even gotten to walling off Mexico yet.
Instead of “Make America Great Again,” Donald Trump’s motto should be: “Used to be I couldn’t spell ‘president.’ Now I are one.” He’s like that country bumpkin Gomer Pyle (do a web search, kiddies) who would be awestruck and exclaim “Gawwww-leeeee.” Except Gomer Trump is a city bumpkin who tries to cover up his ineptitude with nastiness, usually unleashed on Twitter.

Actually, in the case of his humiliation in the House, Trump switched tactics, trying out a humble act, telling a Washington Post reporter, “We learned a lot.” What he should have learned is that making the wheels turn in our ridiculously convoluted government is not for know-it-all rookies. Negotiating policy is much tougher than any real estate deal. For starters, in real estate all sides are united in their greed for money. Members of Congress are motivated by principle: staying in office. It is why so many who are successful in private enterprise are humbled when they dabble in public service.
While their word is law in the corporate world, that’s not how it works in government. In business, all they have to do is write checks. In this democracy, there are checks and balances. It’s easy to understand why Donald Trump likes executive orders. There is no one to get in the way, certainly not the gang of sycophants around him, who save their greatest treachery for each other.
That is not to say that all the players are inexperienced. Paul Ryan didn’t just fall off the turnip truck. After all, he was the author of the health care plan that his GOP colleagues shredded. He’s been in Congress since 1999, and before that was an aide to various Washington figures, ever-flattering them to move ever-upward. He was Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential candidate in 2012 and managed to slip-slide for or against Donald Trump during the 2016 campaign, depending on how the ill wind was blowing. He presents himself as the principled political professional.
Health care has knocked him off his high horse. He had the good sense to admit that this was “a setback, no two ways about it.” He can count on the gnat-sized memory of the American people to forget about this setback as he shifts to some other way to further his ambitions. Or at least to stay out of the way when everybody is piling on Donald Trump for some other amateur mistake.

© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S LIAR

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
FOR RELEASE FRIDAY, MARCH 24, 2017
BY BOB FRANKEN

WHERE THERE'S SMOKE THERE'S LIAR

Before Donald Trump and his language manipulators can really plan to “drain the swamp,” as they like to say, he and his cohorts need to stop fouling the air. The “swamp,” as we well know, is Washington and its stagnant slime of corruption, combined with an atmosphere of deception. The stench of D.C. air is particularly bad these days, worsened by the constant smoke screens deployed to manipulate reaction to the outrages that permeate the infant — make that infantile — Trump presidency.
Blatant lies pile upon blatant lies, followed by buffoonish rationalizations designed to obfuscate — smoke screens, in other words. None of them was more obvious than the attempt by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes to confuse the folks about the overwhelming evidence that Trump’s Twitter tantrum was utterly false when he banged out on March 4: “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory.”
Since then, Trump and his accomplices have tried to wriggle out of that one, but each attempt has been met with increasingly authoritative rejection of the entire claim. None was more devastating to Trump than the testimony of FBI Director James Comey and National Security Agency Director Mike Rogers, who is in charge of the government’s electronic surveillance, that nothing of the sort happened. They were appearing at a rare public hearing of House Intelligence to discuss the allegations that Donald Trump and/or his people colluded with Vladimir Putin and the Russian government to throw the election Trump’s way. We learned that the FBI is taking that charge seriously enough to be engaged in a full-scale investigation. We also learned from the ones who would know that the surveillance accusation against President Barack Obama was total bunk.

Nunes holds a uniquely powerful position in Congress: He is chairman of the oversight committee that oversees (hence the name) the ultrasecret intelligence activities of the United States government. Due to their sensitive assignment, the committees (the Senate has one, too) are supposed to be unusually bipartisan, majority and minority members dealing with the nation’s most classified information without the taint of politics.
Nunes insists that his committee is the proper place to investigate the explosive Russian charges, not a special body, called a “select committee” in congressional parlance or an independent commission. His ranking member (Washington-speak for the leading minority member) is California Democrat Adam Schiff. Usually, where you see one publicly, you see both. But not last Wednesday.
That day, Nunes, who has struggled to maintain an image of being impartial despite the fact that he served on Trump’s transition team, obliterated any chance of his credibility being taken seriously when he struck out on his own. Regarding the discredited tweet storm about Obama, which is really a sideshow for his committee, Nunes suddenly, without consulting Schiff, appeared not once but twice before reporters, announcing he had viewed, but didn’t possess, intelligence that “seems to me to be some level of surveillance activity — perhaps legal, but I don’t know that it’s right.” He outlined a vague, and contradictory, description of “incidental” scooping up and identifying Americans while spying on foreign citizens, the only ones whom U.S. agencies can legally target. He shared what he claimed to have seen with President Trump, which also was bizarre since it’s the president and his people who are under investigation. What we had then was a classic smoke screen, which allowed Trump to claim he was “somewhat” vindicated.
Predictably, Schiff was furious, or in more Washington-speak, he had “grave concerns”: “The chairman will either need to decide if he’s leading an investigation into conduct which includes allegations of potential coordination between the Trump campaign and the Russians, or he is going to act as a surrogate of the White House. Because he cannot do both.”
Nunes subsequently apologized to the members of his committee for the way he blew smoke without telling them he would. The Democrats made it clear that they believe his credibility is shot. The swamp’s ooze grows even thicker.

© 2017 Bob Franken

    

SKINNY BUT OVERWEIGHT

FROM NORTH AMERICA SYNDICATE, 300 W 57th STREET, 41st FLOOR, NEW YORK, NY 10019
CUSTOMER SERVICE: (800) 708-7311 EXT. 236
FOR RELEASE TUESDAY, MARCH 21, 2017
BY BOB FRANKEN

SKINNY BUT OVERWEIGHT

It’s called a “skinny budget,” because it’s just a president’s blueprint for where the federal money goes, and it doesn’t get into details. Those will be fleshed out later. Actually, this one is anorexic, containing the usual bullet points that Donald Trump always prefers rather than getting tangled in the weeds of messy specifics. That would require concentration, which has definitely never been The Donald’s strong suit. However, even these budgetary bullet points target the entire notion that the United States has a kindhearted government.
The money largely affirms the idea that this is a nation in a defensive crouch. There are huge increases for our armed forces and homeland security, including that wall that has become Trump’s trademark. Somebody has to pay for all that, plus the tax cuts for the super-rich he envisions, and that would be the non-super-rich. Just like always. The programs that will be gutted feed the poor and elderly, and address the extensive hunger in children that is a shame on America. In the past, the funding has gone to support education, and protect against fouling our nation’s and the world’s environment.
It is a concoction whose recipe compiled by Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney whose rationalization for abandoning the malnourished, for instance, twists the normal language into tangles of meaninglessness and, might I add, meanness. We have gotten used to the Orwellian absurdities from the Trumpsters, but try this on for size, as Mulvaney is facile about the absence of compassion in this budget. He feels too “compassionate” toward the taxpayers “to go to them and say, ‘Look, we’re not going to ask you for your hard-earned money anymore.’”
To pay for the Meals on Wheels program, that is a lifeline for the shut-in elderly and disabled. Or the program that would be cut that provides out-of-school meals to the children who would otherwise not eat: “We can’t do that anymore. We can’t spend money on programs just because they sound good.”
This is a budget proposal that sounds good to the fat cats who will become obese. Everybody else who relies on the federal government not just for nutrition, but for consumer protection against predator banks and corporations, for basic medical research that can save millions of lives by potentially curing or eradicating killer diseases, and even for the arts, which define our culture, well, see you around.

It brings to mind the Billie Holiday musical standard “God Bless the Child”:
“Them that’s got shall get / Them that’s not shall lose.”
The millions of “Them that’s nots” who voted for Trump are now being forced to understand that the Robin Hood they passionately supported was really a Hood Robin, who robs from the poor to give to the rich. They have stuck by their man through all the irresponsible and incendiary charges that have sprung from the Twitter fingers he can’t control that are embarrassing lies, which he won’t retract because he never retracts anything. They have stayed with him through all the over-his-head embarrassments, all the indications that he had improper relations with this nation’s Russian adversaries, through the slipperiness of his business dealings and refusal to release his tax records. Now they must decide whether the change he represented was a fraud. When they are among the 20 million-plus who will lose their insurance and health, while the rich and powerful have everything that ails them miraculously cured, at some point they will have to make up their mind whether their establishment-disrupting champion is a savior or strictly a flimflam man.
You have to hand it to Trump: Whether he’s president of the United States or some other kind of entertainer, he controls the spotlight. But his reality show is turning into harsh reality. A fair question is: Will the cruelty of his “skinny budget” so weigh down the nation that we can’t recover.

© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

    

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