The Cliffhanger, Feb. 11

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???

** Pope Benedict XVI resigns: For the first time since 1415, the Pope has resigned his office.  Citing his advanced age and deteriorating health, which he said left him “no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry” in a world “subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith,” the 85-year-old Pontiff stunned the Church with his announcement.  A Vatican spokesman quoted by the BBC said “even the Pope’s closest aides did not know what he was planning to do and were left ‘incredulous.'” His brother said that he had been advised not to take any more transatlantic trips, and was having some difficulty walking.  There is said to be no obvious front-runner to replace him; some observers speculate that Benedict’s retirement decision was influenced by a desire to have a hand in the selection of his successor.  Benedict has been Pope since 2005, succeeding the legendary John Paul II.  He filled some very big slippers with intelligence and eloquence that will not be easily replaced.

** John Brennan and Benghazi: A new e-book authored by two retired special operators – Navy SEAL  Brandon Webb and Green Beret Jack Murphy – called “Benghazi: The Definitive Report” alleges that the September 11 Benghazi attack “was retaliation by Islamist militants who had been targeted by covert U.S. military operations,” according to the UK Daily Mail.  The authors also say that weapons gathered by Ambassador Stevens in post-war Libya were then exported by Brennan “overseas, to start another conflict,” a gun-running theory that others trying to penetrate the Administration smokescreen around Benghazi have advanced.

Allegedly, neither slain U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens nor then-CIA Director David Petraeus knew about these “unilateral operations in North Africa outside of the traditional command structure,” which were authorized by… White House Deputy National Security Adviser John Brennan, now tapped by President Obama to serve as Petraeus’ successor.  What’s more, in the course of researching their book, the authors say they discovered Petraeus was essentially ousted in a coup, as senior CIA officials and members of the Director’s personal protection detail worked together to expose his affair with biographer Paula Broadwell, leaning on the Justice Department and FBI to keep digging into the rather minor complaint filed against Broadwell by socialite Jill Kelley.  The disgruntled CIA personnel were said to be unhappy with Petraeus’ focus on paramilitary operations and drone strikes instead of intelligence gathering, and rankled by his four-star-general management style.  Author Brandon Webb is a friend of Glen Doherty, the CIA man and fellow former SEAL who was killed in the consulate attack, and is “furious that the real story of what happened has not yet surfaced.”  Webb says Doherty and some other CIA security officers stepped up and flew to Ambassador Stevens’ aid on their own initiative, when they saw the CIA, State Department, and White House weren’t doing enough to protect him.

** Senator Graham says “no information, no confirmation”: Speaking of that Benghazi smokescreen, Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says he’s mad as hell, and he’s not going to take it any more.   Appearing on CBS News’ Face the NationGraham said: “I don’t think we should allow Brennan to go forward for the CIA directorship, or Hagel to be confirmed to Secretary of Defense, until the White House gives us an accounting.  Did the President ever pick up the phone and call anyone in the Libyan government to help these folks?  What did the President do?”  After repeating the astonishing testimony from outgoing Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who said that Obama simply walked away from the unfolding Benghazi crisis to make a political phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Graham repeated his question: “What did he do that night?  That’s not unfair.  The families need to know, the American people need to know.”  He might not have enough support to mount the only effective operation that would hold up these nominations, a Republican filibuster, as Democrats could not care less what happened in Benghazi, or what Barack Obama did on the night of September 11.  But Graham’s friend and colleague in the Senate, John McCain (R-AZ), did say he was “leaning against” voting to confirm Hagel.

** Would-be bank bomber outlines plan for enlisting the media in domestic terrorism: Yet another triumph for Fake Bombs, Incorporated, as  Taliban wannabe Matthew Aaron Llaneza, 28, was busted in California on Friday by an FBI sting operation while working to blow up a Bank of America branch office in Oakland.  He was actually trying to cook off the fake bomb with a cell phone when his explosives providers flashed their badges and bagged him.  Llaneza’s diabolical plan was to blame the bombing on “a loose collection of anti-government militias and their sympathizers,” a story he knew the American media would lap up like kittens with a bowl of cream.  The long-term plan was to trigger a civil war between government officials and these right-wing groups.  He also thought the Occupy movement had helped make the BofA office a good high-profile target by protesting outside.  This just hasn’t been a good news week for the far Left, what with this guy and Chris Dorner and all.

** Million-dollar bounty offered for L.A. maniac: Speaking of Dorner, he’s still at large, and the city of Los Angeles has put up a million-dollar reward for information leading to his capture.  Security details have been provided for over fifty police officers and their families, who might be on Dorner’s target list, and the LAPD has stopped releasing the police chief’s schedule to the public.  Chief Charlie Beck also said he would review Dorner’s case – he was booted from the LAPD on charges of making false statements in a complaint against a fellow officer – and would investigate Dorner’s accusations of racism within the department, although he took pains to say he was not taking these actions “to appease a murderer,” going so far as to characterize the rampaging gunman as a “domestic terrorist.”  Unconfirmed Dorner sightings have been reported everywhere from the wilderness to the heart of the San Fernando valley.  Camping gear was said to have been found in Dorner’s burned-out truck, leading some to speculate he tried hiding in the mountains, and may have frozen to death.

** State of the Union: President Obama will doubtless find all sorts of happy things to say about the weak economy he presides over during his State of the Union address on Tuesday night, but the grim truth is that he’ll be speaking as the first modern President of the world’s second-largest trading nation.  We have now been officially surpassed by China, which is “becoming rapidly the most important bilateral trade partner” for many countries around the world, according to the chairman of Goldman Sachs’ asset management division.  That includes Europe, where “at this kind of pace, by the end of the decade many European countries will be doing more individual trade with China than with bilateral partners in Europe.”  There are, however, some questions about the accuracy of the Chinese trade numbers, since they are Communists after all, and therefore prone to fits of creative honesty.  At least we’ve still got a larger economy than China – about twice as big overall – although that’s on course to change within the next 20 years.  Maybe President Obama and his supporters are right, and being Top Nation is just too much work.  Better to leave the job to people who want it more.

** Farewell to a hero: A 200-mile procession ending at the Texas State Cemetery in Austin is planned to honor “American Sniper” Chris Kyle on Tuesday.  Escorting the procession will be the Patriot Guard Riders, whose captain, Mike Lambert, said that Kyle was “a hero, over and over,” a “very unique veteran,” and “a true Texas hero.”  The Patriot Guard Riders will also stand at the flag line during Kyle’s memorial service at Cowboys Stadium today.  Lambert hopes to have over a thousand riders for Kyle’s procession.