Bob Franken

GPI AND OTHER RANK RANKINGS

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

GPI AND OTHER RANK RANKINGS

It doesn’t rank as the most dangerous country in the world — that would be Afghanistan, with Syria a close second — but the United States is in pretty dismal company when it comes to the so-called Global Peace Index.
The U.S. ranks 121st out of 163 countries, just ahead of Burkina Faso. That’s according to the Institute for Economics and Peace, by the way. And also by the way, Iceland comes in at No. 1 safest.
But the U.S., with its 121st place in the Armpit Parade, is far separated from the sovereign states that normally call themselves “developed nations,” right there among those that President Trump called “sh**hole countries.”
Political instability is one reason. It didn’t used to be that way, but then Donald Trump came along. But even preceding Trump was the insane prevalence of guns within our boundaries: 300 million privately owned pistols, rifles and assault weapons. Yeah, I know, the legal ones are technically not assault rifles, but they are mini machine guns. These human killing mechanisms are readily available to the deranged, the deadly unstable people, terrorists, others with violent political agendas and those with extreme anger issues who are set off by one straw too many.
The difficulty is where we used to settle disputes with our fists or even knives, now the societal saturation of guns means that an individual or group predisposed to a massacre can, either by a suicidal attack or from a safe distance, take the lives of scores of innocents unaware they are entering a deadly battlefield.
The carnage left behind has spawned a bunch of cliches, perverse because of the regularity that we are called on to use them.
One of the worst is “thoughts and prayers,” mumbled by someone who can’t think of anything more meaningful to say.
“Commonsense gun law reform” is another equally empty one. It is usually uttered by someone who favors compromise, placing some restrictions on weaponry, which he or she knows is impossible because of our paralyzed and corrupt government and the politicians who by rote state their own platitudes, like “law-abiding citizens.” Leaders like Ted Cruz know they can whip up a fervor by equating these death machines to freedom.

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AMERICA’S SPLIT PERSONALITIES

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

AMERICA’S SPLIT PERSONALITIES

Which is it: Are the police inherently thuggish, brutish enforcers of a racist America? They have been accused of being complicit in the deaths of so many minorities, particularly from the Black community, like George Floyd. Or are they the protectors of America’s democracy, like the heroes and victims in the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol?
Who are we as a country? Not what are we, but who are we? Do we bounce from festering hatred of one demographic group to another? A hatred that explodes into violence at the behest of one ignorant bigot who didn’t deserve to be in the position of the highest level of leadership — but was — and now doesn’t deserve to hold extraordinary influence — but does. Obviously, Donald Trump is that man. He is self-centered to an extreme, not even able to comprehend how the hateful words he uses, like “China flu,” can translate into discrimination against all Asians or how that discrimination might be exaggerated in the already warped mind of assailants violently aroused by centuries of discriminatory cultural fantasies.
Are we the white bigot-citizens who can’t let go of the prejudice that has dominated the entire Black experience in the United States? Our nation was put together partially by slave labor and has struggled sporadically to erase the stain that continues to influence our societal attitudes and the attitudes that poison our private thinking.
How about the rejection of immigrants or Muslims? Is xenophobia guiding us? In many cases, yes.
But what about those who are so moved by compassion that they join the demonstrations and otherwise embrace whichever demographic group is under attack? Do we open our arms? A lot of us, yes.
The point is obvious. We can neither define a “national identity,” nor determine the voter instincts in an individual state. It is such a puzzle that Wisconsin, for instance, can elect as a U.S. senator Ron Johnson, who is as obvious a bigot as there ever was one, while also choosing Tammy Baldwin, an outspoken progressive.
Johnson, of course, would deny he’s a bigot; most do. But there he was on right-wing radio — and most of it is right-wing — proudly proclaiming … well, I’ll let him express his feelings about the Jan. 6 invasion of the Capitol and why he “never really felt threatened”: “I knew those were people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law, and so I wasn’t concerned.” But then he went on: “Had the tables been turned, and President Trump won the election and those were tens of thousands of Black Lives Matter and Antifa protesters, I might have been a little concerned.”

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PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CHARADE

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

PRESIDENTIAL PRESS CHARADE

It’s better than nothing, but the fact that President Joe Biden is holding his first news conference of his presidency after two months is no big deal, other than for the White House reporters who get to show off asking their adversarial questions. But more importantly, they’ll get to strut their stuff as being way high up on the journalism food chain. It’s sort of like going to the correspondents’ dinner … only better.
The truth is, this glamorous life at the top is lived in the bowels of the Executive Mansion, which is where those screams of outrage at this secular blasphemy are coming from right now, but there I’ve gone and said it.
By the rules of any self-respecting news conference (or press conference, as the print people prefer), an accredited member of the gang gets to drop his bombshell in two parts, a question and a follow up (this is flexible, but that’s the way it usually is). President Whatch-a-ma-doodle deflects the first, similarly obfuscates the second and then tries not to smirk as he moves on to someone else.
By the way, he has a sheet of everybody’s name and where he or she is seated so he can flatter you by appearing to know you. I know this because I was startled the first time the president of the United States called on me by name, when I knew full well he had no earthly idea what I was even doing there.
I should also note here that he has been fully prepped — it’s not that a reporter has to submit any lines of inquiry, it’s just that it’s usually obvious what they will be. So it becomes a test of whether President Whatch-a-ma-doodle can follow the script.
If it’s President Joe Biden, there’s a decent chance he’ll flub his lines. Every media organization will have a gaffe patrol set up, so pundits arranged in a row for their inane commentary afterward, can gloat at POTUS’ mistakes. Similarly, the entire White House staff will have a cringe patrol established, ready to fan out and explain why it was no big deal. Joe Biden, after all these years, has never gotten ad-libbing figured out.
One difference between President Biden and Donald Trump (you remember him, the predecessor?) is that Biden says stupid stuff unintentionally. Trump could also blurt out the most outrageous material out of ignorance — like asking whether COVID could be cured by injecting disinfectant into the body — or because he wanted to appeal to his cadre of bigot voters.

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HOW BAD?

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
 BY BOB FRANKEN

HOW BAD?

One of my favorite recurring TV gags comes from “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” It always cracked me up when Carson would be talking about such and such and so-and-so, and would say something like, “You wouldn’t believe how bad it was!” His faithful straight man Ed McMahon could always be counted on to ask, “How bad was it?” Carson would invariably respond with something monumentally silly, like “It was so bad that Ed Sullivan tried to smile and he threw up.”
Stupid, I know, but then I’ve always had a low threshold for humor. I’ve also never had an original thought in my life, so out of desperation I’ll go with that one.
Straight man: How bad is the trouble that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is in?
Comedian: It’s so bad — he’s in such deep doo doo — that when he was asked whether he’d resign, he retorted, “People know the difference between playing politics, bowing to cancel culture and the truth.”
It must have galled the Democratic Cuomo to no end that he was stealing the Republicans’ “cancel culture” as his justification to stay on. (Although I, too, plagiarized George H.W. Bush’s “deep doo doo”). But then that splashing sound you hear is Cuomo’s fellow party members jumping off the USS Andy, sinking because it is being weighed down by all the women charging him with sexual harassment or worse.
Among those going overboard are the state’s two U.S. senators. Chuck Schumer is the Senate majority leader (barely) and Kirsten Gillibrand is best known for knifing Sen. Al Franken in the back, causing him to resign for his own sexual harassment issues way before he should have. Oh, did I mention that Al and I are distant cousins? Is it obvious when I’m discussing Gillibrand?
Here’s another for you:
Straight man: How bad off is Donald Trump without Twitter?
Comedian: He’s so bad off that he tried to horn in on Joe Biden’s first victory.

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PRESIDENTIAL CLICHES

FROM KING FEATURES SYNDICATE
BY BOB FRANKEN

PRESIDENTIAL CLICHES

How is the first hundred days of a presidency like Valentine’s Day? Valentine’s is a Hallmark concoction; the first hundred days is a news concoction — a reason for papers, magazines, broadcasters, narrowcasters, social media and anti-social media to ramp up entire sections of their papers and fill the screen with graphics and analyses that have catchy titles like “Biden His Time — 100 Days.”
It’s arbitrary, particularly since, to quote then Vice President Joe Biden whispering in President Barack Obama’s ear as he signed health care reform into law, a “big f***ing deal” has taken place in half that time. At 50-ish days, the Biden team has successfully passed through Congress a nearly $2 trillion pandemic rescue plan called, cleverly enough, the American Rescue Plan, with almost no Republican support.
Expect a nonstop victory lap. In fact, it has already started. The legislation became law a day early when the legal scutwork went faster than expected, so President Biden signed it right away. “We want to move as fast as possible,” said chief of staff Ron Klain.
Then it was on to the nationwide TV speech in prime time. Was it gloating when he promised to have enough vaccine available for every arm in America by May 1? Not IN everybody’s arm, that will take a lot of time. But still, by July 4 we should be on our way, said the president, to “not only mark our independence as a nation, but we begin to mark our independence from this virus.” The keyword here is “begin.”
That was not to say that they skipped the White House celebration with every Democrat in the world present. That may be a slight exaggeration, but the way it laid out, after the bill was signed, it got not one, not two, but three televised news hits. That was not counting the Sunday talk shows and, the following week, a bunch of as many photogenic events across the country as President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris can cram in before people get tired of hearing about COVID relief.
Lost in all this is the fact that the key vaccines had been developed under a remarkable “Operation Warp Speed,” which was approved and pushed by the administration of President Donald Trump. He may have foolishly bungled the rest of his response, but Warp Speed was a Donald Trump production.
Still, Republicans are busy changing the subject, talking about anything but the highly popular pandemic package.

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