The Cliffhanger, Feb. 12

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???

** Here comes the boom: North Korea experienced a magnitude 5.1 seismic event late Monday night, which might possibly have had a little something to do with the powerful nuclear bomb they cooked off underground.  This gave a bad case of the shakes to every country bordering North Korea, including the United States, which borders everyone.  The detonation was denounced as “highly provocative,” a “grave threat,” and “irresponsible” by the U.S., Japan, and Russia, respectively.  Even one of North Korea’s only real friends, China, was nonplussed, pronouncing themselves “strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed” to the nuclear games played by its psychotic Mini-Me.  The Chinese are even talking about withholding food assistance, which is bad news for a deranged tyranny that can’t feed itself.

President Obama said the United States would “continue to take steps necessary to defend ourselves and our allies,” which makes it sound like a Strongly Worded Letter might be incoming.  The Norks claim the blast was a “first response we took with maximum restraint” to American hostility,” by which they mean the international sanctions that have left the hardscrabble Communist tyranny with barely enough money to feed some of its population, build palaces for its dictator, field a massive army, and create nuclear weapons.  The new bomb may have been stronger than those North Korea has detonated in the past, but perhaps more ominously if their state-run media is to be believed, it is also smaller, using highly enriched uranium that is harder to detect than more primitive bomb fuels.  Smaller bombs fit inside long-range missiles, and can be more easily deployed through skulduggery.  North Korea’s other real friend, Iran, specializes in skulduggery.

** Here comes the bust: President Obama is determined not to let either NoKo nuclear determination, or papal resignations, rain on his big State of the Union parade tonight.  The State of the Union, you may recall, is a lengthy infomercial for Big Government programs, in which great effort is made to avoid discussing the actual state of the Union.  You won’t hear anything about soaring gas prices, moribund employment, a stagnant economy, or the latest horrors of ObamaCare at tonight’s speech, for example.  But there will be plenty of human props for the great gun control crusade, which has been dangerously flagging in polls lately, and that’s not cool if it happens before the government gets a chance to restrict anyone’s rights.   We’ll get a few trillion dollars in fresh spending proposals, absurdly coupled with a demand to raise taxes because oh my God the deficit.  The President might open a bottle of mild “balanced” spending cuts and sniff the cork before waving at the waiter to take it back.  Amnesty for illegal immigrants will be pushed, because that battle is pretty much won already, and the President just needs to hammer out a few details with the Republicans.

The GOP response will be delivered by Marco Rubio, who will be holding the nail when Obama swings that detail hammer.  This is a big moment for Rubio; his 2016 presidential hopes will be greatly enhanced by a strong performance.  He has reportedly already rewritten his speech after learning that Obama planned to take an aggressive approach, and maybe also because possible 2016 rival Sen. Rand Paul will be giving the Tea Party response, and Rand Paul is not known for bringing a badminton racquet to hardball games.

** Debbie Wasserman-Schultz keeps it real: The highly entertaining chair of the Democratic National Committee, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, decided to give a pre-rebuttal to Marco Rubio’s State of the Union rebuttal by trotting out a “typical Medicare recipient” to warn America that Rubio’s “extreme budget priorities” would “make life more difficult for seniors.”  Ah, Medi-Scare.  It just never gets old, does it?  At any rate, a reporter on this conference call noticed the ever-so-slightly inconvenient fact that Wasserman-Schutlz’s “typical Medicare recipient” just happened to have the same name as the head of the St. Johns County Democrat Party.  A stunned DWS mumbled that she’d defer that question to her completely innocent, non-political, randomly chosen typical Medicare recipient, who corrected the reporter by noting that she used to be the St. Johns Party chair, but is now merely the Party State Committeewoman for St. Johns.  DWS does this kind of thing all the time; the big story is that a reporter noted it, and hilarity ensued.  And really, isn’t having the right Party credentials every American’s ticket to success these days?  We may look forward to a bright future in which the typical Medicare recipient really is a Party official.

** Getting to know Chuck Hagel: It seems like America’s relationship with her new Defense Secretary will be an ongoing process of discovery, because Chuck Hagel just keeps forgetting to mention stuff.  Now it appears he forgot to mention a couple of speeches he gave on the Arab-Israeli conflict in his disclosures to the Senate Armed Services Committee.  One of them was the keynote speech at a fundraiser for a group called the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee, which was very excited to have him, because it saw Hagel as the only person in Congress “willing to stand up to the Israeli lobby.”  The group also accused President Bush and his Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, of having “a lot of blood on their hands for remaining silent and for re-arming Israel, which allows the slaughter of [Arabs] to continue,” according to a Fox News report.  Awk-waaaard!  Hagel is due to be voted out of the Senate Armed Services Committee today, at which point the entire Republican caucus can declare its displeasure, but the Democrats will vote him through anyway.  Oddly, no one wants to talk about the confirmation hearings in which Hagel gave the impression that he might not be able to find Israel on a map.

** Saga of the Shooter: The Navy SEAL who shot Osama bin Laden has told an incredible tale of woe since he left the service, complaining to Esquire Magazine that his family health care coverage was terminated at midnight of the day he retired, and he left the service three years shy of qualifying for a pension.  (He says he left the SEALs because “I wanted to see my children graduate and get married.”)  He has not been able to get a job, and is waiting on a VA ruling to received disability benefits for neck, back, and eye injuries.  Fox News notes that Stars and Stripes Magazine disputed the ex-SEALs story about being ineligible for health care benefits, but evidently he was not told about the option they outlined, and in any event it would not provide coverage for his family.  This is no way to treat any veteran, let alone the man who killed bin Laden.  He says he recalled George Bush saying “Freedom was attacked this morning by a faceless coward, and freedom will be defended” in the moments before he hit the Abbottabad compound.  What would the America addressed by President Bush on that awful morning say, if it had known this would be the fate of the hero who went through such a risky mission and put three rounds in bin Laden’s skull?

(Update: has a roundup of the ongoing dispute about the health-care aspect of the SEAL’s story.  A number of knowledgeable people have come forward to support Stars and Stripes’ contention that his health care options are not as bleak as the Esquire story suggested, and the story was sloppy in the way it related some of the details.  Perhaps the real problem is that The Shooter wasn’t properly briefed on the choices available to him, although some observers question how that could be the case with a 16-year veteran.  Did everyone involved in this story – including the government, the veteran himself, and his Esquire interviewer – drop the ball?)

** The zombie revolution will not be televised: Astonished television viewers in Montana heard a a civil-defense alert tone Monday night, followed by an on-screen text crawl informing them that “the bodies of the dead are rising from their graves and attacking the living.”  Viewers were advised not to approach the extremely dangerous walking dead, and to switch their battery-powered radios to a special frequency for further news, as the zombies were on the verge of taking out power and television services.  It turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by hackers, but the local police said they received at least four phone calls from alarmed citizens.  They should have known it wasn’t real, because zombies wouldn’t know enough to take out the power grid or TV stations.  They’re not big on strategy.  On the other hand, they don’t let each other starve while pursuing nuclear weapons.