TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — State Of The Union

Well, the groundhog saw his shadow, so six more months of Mueller.

The president might have basked for a while in the glow of his triumphant State of the Union address, of which a whopping 43 percent of Democrats and 109 percent of Republicans approved. Instead, he released The Memo, which instantly changed the tune from Kumbaya at a campfire to something from The Sex Pistols in a mosh pit.

Some had speculated the president would speak in Russian or maybe just plead The Fifth. But if you looked past the Mussolini jaw-jut and his clapping into the microphone, it was a strong “performance” that included numerous complete sentences.

He touted job growth — the most anemic in six years — but growth, nonetheless. He’d followed up on vows to cut regulations, harass immigrants, move the embassy to Jerusalem and restore Americans’ inalienable right to die uninsured.

He’d put someone to the right of Anthonin Scalia on the Supreme Court, with the appointment Mitch McConnell hijacked; the military has ISIS on the run, and the tax break fired up Wall Street. Pretty good stable geniusing.

Conversely, he was too busy golfing to enact sanctions on Russia. Other unfinished business includes firing everyone on the Russian probe.

Let’s go to the score card. So far, the FBI has recorded two guilty pleas, two indictments and a field goal. The president has sacked acting Attorney General Sally Yates, FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and threw incomplete trying to fire Robert Mueller.

The next time you get pulled over, tell the cop he’s fired. See how that works for you.

Meanwhile, the Democrats flunked Body Language 101. They sat and sulked through all the applause lines, thereby proving they hate God, America, cops, soldiers, capitalism, bootstraps, babies, puppies, kittens, sunshine, lollipops, rainbows, country music, assault rifles and Shirley Temple.

The sit-in was the most organized the Democrats have been all year, with the exception of the 15-minute holdout Chuck Schumer staged over the spending bill, which showed more fiscal discipline than we’ve seen in Washington since Andrew Jackson balanced the budget by selling land stolen from the Indians.

Schumer’s insolent slumping was absent only a black leather jacket and a smoldering Marlboro. Nancy Pelosi looked like a Holstein chewing a cud of lemons. Some Democrats even kneeled.

Even Melania threw shade, wearing a liberal white pantsuit and refusing to stand when the thrice-married kitty grabber talked about family values.

Almost as if she believes the fake news about her husband’s tryst with porn star Stormy Daniels, who has been googled more in recent weeks than Butterball at Thanksgiving.

“To put (white pantsuits) on a display like that at a joint session of Congress is undignified to say the least. It violates the common decency of the chamber,” Kevin Cramer said. Back when Democrats wore them.

It couldn’t have gone better for Republicans. Trump looked sane, Democrats like party-poopers. Sean Hannity was feeling so groovy, he loosened his tie at bedtime. Rush Limbaugh attempted a somersault that turned into a bizarre yoga move and a pulled hamstring.

The Democratic response came from either Conan O’Brien or Rep. Joseph Kennedy III. Apparently, Franklin Roosevelt IX was busy. It was a heartfelt speech from a millionaire in support of middle-class Americans, but too much Chapstick made it appear Kennedy was drooling. “Ask not what your country can drool for you, but what you can drool for your country,” someone tweeted.

Then, the president snatched defeat from the jaws of victory and released the Super Top Secret Memo intended to torpedo the FBI. It cited fake news magazine Mother Jones as one source. The theory is the FBI tried to get Hillary elected, a strategy that included announcing her newest email issues a week before the election.

Democrats claimed The Memo omitted contextual material. Republicans argued, “Hey, that’s how Fox News does it.”

Trump and Republicans, “must stop looking at this investigation through the warped lens of politics and manufacturing partisan sideshows,” John McCain said. “If we continue to undermine our own rule of law, we are doing Putin’s job for him.”

Paul Ryan said this was about transparency. Thus inspired, Trump immediately released his tax returns. Kidding.

The Memo revealed the FBI was tracking Trump campaign associate and Russianista Carter Page for years. That didn’t exactly restore confidence in All The President’s Men.

The Memo was released Thursday. On Friday, the stock market fell 666 points. Rattled conservative investors checked their 401Ks to see how many rubles they’d lost. Liberals checked their 420Ks. Evangelicals studied Revelations.

If you wanted more proof the universe speaks in metaphors, you need only consider the news the same day The Memo was released.

There was a train wreck involving Republican politicians. The Republican train ran over a garbage truck, killing a blue-collar worker.

There’s a headline that writes itself.

© Tony Bender, 2018

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Politics Of Self-Preservation

It will be interesting to see if the president can hold together The Party of Capitulation after Roy Moore’s defeat.

Divide and conquer. That’s how you keep your job with a 32 percent approval rating. That and fear. Republicans saw what happened to Jeff Flake. It’s more than party over people. It’s about self-preservation.

There are three subfactors in play — cluelessness, cowardice and political cynicism. We know U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer is a candidate to head the Ministry of Suck Ups, while U.S. Sen. John Hoeven remains in a fetal position under his desk. Really, that tax bill is good for North Dakotans? Really?

Gov. Doug Burgum saw which direction the wind was blowing last summer — down toward Hades — but endorsed Trump, anyway. I’d like to believe he was at least holding his nose. Here’s the thing about wetting your finger in the breeze — reinventing leadership requires bucking some headwinds.

The bully pulpit was invented here. You guys might want to look into that. Running with the herd ain’t leadership. You just step in a lot of cow pies. If Roy Moore’s defeat is any indication, the herd is starting to turn.

It’s unlikely Trump has the brainpower to calculate this strategy of division. He may just be a natural destroyer of worlds. An idiot savant with a black heart.

However, the Democratic “strategy” of “We’re Not Trump” isn’t inspirational, either. It may lead to gains in the midterms, but a coherent, less hypocritical message — like not giving $250,000 speeches on Wall Street — would do wonders. It’s the economy (of average Americans), stupid.

So far, Republicans have secured the tax bill and a transfer of more wealth from the middle to the top. You on the bottom? Sorry, your name didn’t come up. Please stop spending your money on booze, women and movies. You’ll need it for ramen. The self-induced deficits will be an excuse for gutting the social safety net.

Republicans, who are also held hostage by evangelicals, will cynically try to stick with President Machiavelli until they get a justice to overturn Roe v. Wade and put women firmly back in their places as second-class citizens — third-class if you’re a woman of color.

A good war could keep everyone distracted for a while. By then, the overheated stock market will have tanked; big banks will get bailed out again, but not mortgage holders. Bootstraps, people!

After that, Democrats will win more elections but will be rewarded with a big pile of dung. Then, as they did after Dubya, Republicans will induce mass amnesia and blame the mess on liberal policies. Demagogues will continue to tell white working-class families that they are paying to support a bunch of slacker minorities, while their pockets are being picked (again) for corporate welfare.

At least Trump will be safe from the estate tax. And we’re just fine with him monetizing the White House, even as he is neutered internationally by Russian blackmail.

State Media (Fox News) is building a case to fire Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller. If it happens, will the Republican majority finally do the right thing and defend democracy? Please.

You want to make big moral strides in America? Make this a drinking game. When Republicans do the right thing, you drink a shot. It will be drier than Prohibition. Jagermeister will be belly up by next Thursday.

Oh, and if you mention any of this, it’s fake news. Another proven tactic. Kill the messenger. Who needs objective journalists when we have stooges to tell us things we like to hear and remind us how enlightened our biases are? Please appeal to my uninformed vanity. Critical thinking is for losers.

Wanna fix it, people? Vote. Get out the vote. It works. See Alabama.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Things That Puzzle Me

Admittedly, I’m easily puzzled.

Therefore, I ought to be able to come up with a column on that topic. Even if I’m trying to write next to a guy noshing airport sushi while I’m waiting for a flight back to North Dakota.

The first thing that puzzles me is why I’m leaving Los Angeles this soon, knowing full well I’m flying back into the teeth of a northern Plains autumn —  which in the perspective of Californians is Antartica in the dead of winter. They think we raise penguins. We should consider it. The pheasant count is down.

Had the Dodgers actually won Game 7 of the World Serious, I might have been tempted to stick around, so I could help tip over cop cars on Rodeo Drive.

After my visit, I’m also thinking about investing in Dow Chemical. Facts I made up show that a full 20 percent of your average Californian’s body mass is silicone. The balance is a combination of botox, Perrier and arugula. The only other place that has bigger boobs and more fake smiles is Washington, D.C.

I kid. As eclectic as California is, it’s a sane asylum compared to the rest of the world. I did check the news while I was gone and that led to a good deal of confusion.

Like why Donald Trump Jr. had to drag his daughter, Chloe, into a discussion about economics. All the kid really wanted to do was to go trick-or-treating on Halloween in her Marie Antoinette costume.

When you’re a Trump kid, it’s complicated enough. You end up with things like Krugerrands, Faberge eggs, caviar, covfefe and truffles in your Gucci bag — a serious bummer when you’re 3.

On the bright side, at least she isn’t saddled with having some weird name ending in “-vana” or “-vanka.” Unless her full name is Chlovanka, which sounds like a trendy social disease. Or the perfect place for a nuclear accident. Or a country bordering Nambia.

Inexplicably, her father used Halloween as an opportunity to disparage liberal kids who aren’t working hard enough. “I’m going to take half of Chloe’s candy tonight and give it to some kid who sat at home,” he tweeted. “It’s never to [sic] early to teach her about socialism.”

Uhh, I’m not an economist, but isn’t socialism like when you knock on doors and ask for a handout? Some people call it Halloween, others call it tax reform.

Speaking of which, I’m puzzled by the almost patriotic fervor among paycheck-to-paycheck Republicans in the Heartland who support the desperate need to eliminate the estate tax.

It affects just 5,000 millionaires and billionaires a year. I guess this is a minority outreach program. Well, you gotta start somewhere.

I’m puzzled, too, by the contradiction that some economic philosophers in Washington want a new tax “reform” plan that would offer an increased child tax credit, while simultaneously cutting safety net funding that feeds and insures children. How did they decide which one is welfare and which one is not?

The sales pitch on this tax plan is that it’s about job creation. But isn’t unemployment already at a 17-year low, at 4.1 percent? The only people not working are liberal children who are too lazy to even ask for a mini-Snickers bar at the neighbor’s house.

If we create any more jobs, everyone will have to start working two jobs. Hold it. I think that’s already a thing. Anyway, as a liberal slacker, I don’t want another job. My plan if things get tough? Go Fund Me.

Ultimately, I just don’t think I’m ready for America to be too great too soon. Maybe we ought to just ease into it — you know, do a little economic foreplay. I’ll leave it to you to continue the analogy.

Every tax cut from Kennedy to Reagan to Bush II has added to the deficit, but this time they say it’s going to work. Absolutely. No doubt. Pinky promise.

Even though Wall Street is roaring, I guess we need even more stimulus.

Personally, I’m worried. What’s this much stimulus going to do to Mike Pence? He may start calling his wife “Baby” instead of “Mother.” The good news is he probably won’t have to arrange conjugal visits through Bob Mueller.

Equally puzzling to me about this rush to tax “reform” are the Tea Party congressmen who were against deficits under Obama. Most have apparently signed on for $1.5 trillion added to the national debt. We could rename it the T.P. Party because that’s what you need when you’re so full of … of … tax reform, I guess.

My guess is the tax cut for the rich will just add to the debt. In a few years, Republicans will start wringing their hands and blaming the working poor on food stamps, who just aren’t Halloweening hard enough.

Maybe I’m too skeptical. Perhaps a few days in California has addled my once sound judgment.

I bet someone put something in my wine spritzer.

© Tony Bender, 2017

NANCY EDMONDS HANSON: After Thought — Grilling Nothing Burgers

If you have an appetite for news, you know what’s on the menu this month: Nothing burgers.

They’re sizzling hot this summer. Cooked up in the realm of casual excuses, the nothing burger has been on the lips of Republican apologists ever since journalists began salivating over tantalizing whiffs of the meatiest political scandal since Richard “I Am Not a Crook” Nixon.

Hungry newshounds have been doggedly sniffing out the juicy evidence for more than a year now. They’re drooling over hints, and now much more, that the current occupants of the White House have a distinctly Russian flavor. As they turn up the heat, the evidence that started out rare is headed for well-done.

“Nothing burger” — that’s how the president’s defenders are dismissing growing evidence the Family Trump and their sycophants welcomed covert digital assistance from Russia to score their jaw-dropping victory. When Chief of Staff Reince Priebus was grilled about what Donald Trump Jr. had been cooking up with the Russians, he proclaimed it “a big nothing burger.”

Shades of “where’s the beef”! Not since Fritz Mondale’s run back in 1984 have we heard ground meat (or the absence thereof) served up so often in prime-time news. Back then, a classic Wendy’s TV commercial supplied what became the catchphrase of the campaign when a tiny female curmudgeon stared at an oversized but barren bun, demanding to know where the meaty part of her lunch had gone.

The phrase “nothing burger,” though — oddly girlish and coy — required some tracking down. Was it Valley Girl dialect from the 1980s? A remnant of stylish jabber from the TV comedy “Sex and the City”? It sounds familiar … but where did it come from?

Nothing burgers, it turns out, had lurked on the back burner for 65 years when Kellyanne and Reince and their troop of defenders served it up in its current context. Hollywood’s pioneering movie critic and gossip columnist Louella Parsons tossed it off in 1952, describing a minor performance in the sense of “much ado about nothing.” She was inspired, perhaps, by one of the hot trends of her day. California was falling in love with beef on a bun as the fabled McDonald brothers launched their burger chain with golden arches right in her backyard.

Helen Gurley Brown, though, deserves co-credit. You remember her, don’t you … the legendary editor of Cosmopolitan magazine, flagship voice of the female sexual revolution? Helen made the catchphrase her own. It first appeared in her book “Sex and the Single Girl,” a tome that shook the civilized world, just a little, back in the swingin’ Sixties. She tossed it in into her sassy magazine columns, too, along with the other term she coined, “mouseburger.” Both were handy to disparage all that was bland and unremarkable, be it too-innocuous accessories or a too-submissive outlook.

Like other terms that explode as sassy slang, then inch toward respectability, nothing burgers have crept into the English language’s chaotic, messy cupboard. They’ve even breached the ramparts of the sober, noble Oxford Dictionary with an official definition: “something that is or turns out to be insignificant or lacking in substance.”

Proper English or not, Reince may still rue the day he added nothing burgers to the menu, as grilling over the Russian scandal drags his team over the coals. But then again, they sound like just the thing when you’re going to have to eat your words.