The Cliffhanger, Jan. 23

Ever since the language of the ???fiscal cliff??? was appropriated to describe the political battle over a tax increase, it???s become increasingly clear that every issue is a ???cliff??? now.  Here are today???s snapshots from the edge???

** The European Union cliff: It’s not just the Germans who are having second thoughts about this whole “European Union” thing.  British Prime Minister David Cameron has proposed holding a referendum on continued membership, which he described as “a very simple choice” to purchase a “one-way ticket, not a return” out of the EU.  He envisioned holding this referendum sometime in 2017, after the UK has a chance to re-negotiate its relationship with the Union.  Cameron thinks the current arrangement doesn’t give the British people enough input into the course of the Union, but seemed optimistic that a better deal could be worked out, and might be hoping to use the threat of a referendum as leverage in his negotiations.  His Labour Party opponents said the proposal made him look “weak,” and would cause “uncertainty.”

Greece, meanwhile, is absolutely certain that it wants relatively well-heeled nations to remain in the European Union and send it more money, because it just had to cut the pay of its transportation workers, and they went on strike.  It is a matter of pride for Europe’s welfare basket case that it remain at least half functional most of the time.

** Gun control cliff update: The White House is poised to begin revealing some details of a little-discussed aspect of gun control: a “federal gun trafficking law,” which would essentially criminalize the transfer of a gun to a felon, even if the seller didn’t know the buyer had a felony record.  This is supposed to inspire gun sellers to perform extremely thorough background checks, although it might have the happy (for gun control zealots) side effect of frightening sellers out of the market altogether.  The great lesson for businesses to learn from Obamanomics is that if you’re not receiving direct subsidies from the State, it’s probably out to get you.  No word yet on whether David Gregory of NBC News will be formally immune to the new law, or if his immunity will remain a gentleman’s understanding.

** Obama wants you to shut up about your “inalienable rights” already: NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre gave a speech described as a “major response” to the President’s inaugural address, in which he said that “Obama wants to turn the idea of absolutism into a dirty word… just another word for extremism. He wants you, all of you, and Americans throughout all of this country, to accept the idea of principles as he sees fit. It???s a way of redefining words so that common sense is turned upside down and that nobody knows the difference.”

Naturally LaPierre was speaking in the context of gun control, but he’s right about the way “absolutism” has been vilified.  The Founders were big absolutists, what with all their talk of “inalienable rights” and those little “Congress shall make no law” absolutist land mines they dropped into certain Amendments.  When the State wants to take some of your liberty, you’re supposed to negotiate, not get all stubborn and huffy and insist that you have absolute rights.  As long as the government never has to take “no” for an answer, it can keep growing, and we’ll all be happy… or at least the unhappy will be powerless, which is close enough for government work.

** Hillary Clinton finally testifies on Benghazi: Now that President Obama has been safely re-elected and given a little time to consolidate power, it’s finally time to ask his Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, some tough questions about the Benghazi disaster.  She will reportedly be the only witness at hearings in both the House and Senate on Wednesday.  There’s not much at stake for her, since she’s retiring soon after the hearings, and thinking about your retirement is a great way to relax when you’re defending a deadly foreign policy blunder and cover-up.

It also helps to reflect that everyone in the media loves you, and absolutely adores your boss, so they’re not going to dwell on whatever happens in those hearing rooms… with one notable exception, Sharyl Attkisson of CBS News.  Attkisson takes a steady diet of red pills, and finds herself wondering why the rest of the media won’t wake up and realize it’s being sedated with hallucinations while a giant political machine uses it as a power source.  She erupted into a volcano of tough questions about Benghazi in a series of 22 consecutive Twitter messages yesterday, including “Who made the decision not to convene the Counter-Terrorism Security Group the night of the Benghazi attacks?” and “Who are the officials responsible for removing reference to al-Qaeda from the original CIA notes?”  Maybe Congress should deputize Attkisson and make her the sole interrogator in these hearings.  Or at least sign up to follow her Twitter account and put it on a big screen in the hearing rooms.

** The White House likes the GOP’s debt ceiling suspension plan: Well, of course they do.  Anything that lets them spend more money is grand.  “Clearly, we support extension of the debt ceiling without drama or delay,” said White House spokesman Jay Carney.  They’ll want the same thing in May.

While the Republicans use the time to rally their forces and work on a plan to actually balance the budget, the White House will use it to needle the Republicans for “playing games” with the debt ceiling.  Obama might be underestimating the GOP’s ability to win some points in this game.  According to a report in the Washington Postthe Republicans think their messaging is already having an effect, by shifting media coverage to the astounding four-year failure of Senate Democrats to even pass a budget.  “Most Americans believe you don’t do your job, you shouldn’t get paid,” as House Speaker John Boehner put it, referring to the GOP’s proposal to delay Congressional paychecks until a budget is passed.  The problem is that a lot of Americans also believe you should get paid even if you don’t have a job.

It’s comforting to know that I’ll never have to worry about renaming this news digest, because the true “fiscal cliff” will always be there.

** Obama’s CIA nominee really gets the whole “collective action” thing: The Daily Caller turned up a graduate thesis from John Brennan, who has been nominated to head the CIA, in which Brennan “denied the existence of ‘absolute human rights’ and argued in favor of censorship on the part of the Egyptian dictatorship.”  This was written in 1980, so he meant the previous Egyptian dictatorship, although happily his observations are equally applicable to the new one.

“Since the press can play such an influential role in determining the perceptions of the masses, I am in favor of some degree of government censorship,” Brennan continued.  “Inflammatory articles can provoke mass opposition and possible violence, especially in developing political systems.”  Or in disintegrating political systems, for that matter.  The “collective action” President Obama praised so highly doesn’t work if there’s a lot of inflammation and opposition, and of course the benevolent Mother State feels its opponents are always poised on the edge of violence.  John Brennan clearly belongs in this Administration.

** Violent videogames once more come under scrutiny: Nehemiah Griego, the fifteen-year-old boy who murdered his family in New Mexico last weekend, is said to have become “excited when he had the chance to discuss his penchant for violent video games with investigators,” according to Fox News.  None of the rest of the story suggests that Griego’s favorite game, a simulation of contemporary military action called “Modern Warfare,” had anything to do with his actions.  Frankly, the kid sounds extremely messed-up: he was angry at his mother, grappled with “homicidal and suicidal thoughts,” contemplated a shooting rampage at the local Wal-Mart, thought about killing his girlfriend’s parents, and eventually used his cell phone to send a photo of his dead mother to said girlfriend (who is only 12 years old) before spending the day with her.  It’s quite a stretch to imply that his eagerness to discuss his favorite hobby with the adults trying to gently but firmly procure details of his crimes means that the hobby inspired those crimes.