Saturday, February 25, 2017
Tuesday, February 21, 2017
“I laugh when I’m scared, too,” said Stephen Colbert recently, after delivering an opening-monologue joke about the latest President Trump gaffe. It was a throwaway line, something said while waiting for the guffaws to die down; I doubt it was written on his cue cards. But the remark gets to the heart of Colbert’s new surge in the ratings and as a pop-cultural force: He’s benefiting (in some ways doubtless to his regret) from the public’s widespread uneasiness about the state of America since Nov. 8, 2016.
Ever since he took over David Letterman’s old Late Show spot in September 2015, Colbert kept fine-tuning his new role. Having dropped the mask of the conservative blowhard he played on The Colbert Report, Colbert was constantly being reminded by media pundits that he wasn’t on Comedy Central anymore. He was scolded: You’re fronting a huge network franchise now, and you therefore need to broaden your audience and the scope of your comedic attack.
While every late-night host at least as far back as Jack Paar’s days hosting The Tonight Show engaged in jokes about whoever the current President might be, the gags were usually mild and equally apportioned to both Democrats and Republicans. Jay Leno did lots of Bill Clinton-is-a-horndog jokes, but also had plenty of George H. W. Bush and Bob Dole material as well. The idea was that if a host didn’t appear to be an impartial jokester, he’d lose half his audience. This was the rap Colbert encountered when The Late Show started slipping further and further behind Jimmy Fallon’s Tonight Show during Colbert’s first year: Why was he expressing all these opinions-wrapped-up-as-jokes that were perceived as being liberal? Wasn’t Fallon — apolitical to the point of apparent ignorance; cutting back on monologue time and adding lots of play-time games — the true future of late night?
The inauguration of Donald Trump has altered the mood of the country, and the late-night genre — the real daily newspaper of the TV medium, not bland network nightly news — always reflects that mood. There’s a hunger out there for someone with mass-audience outreach to articulate what millions are feeling, and turns out, it may not be Fallon and his beer pong — or even his “Box of Lies.”
For the week of Feb. 13, The Late Show was the number-one late-night talk show for all five nights — a first for Colbert. The show is up by double-digits versus its own performance last year during this same period. While The Tonight Show still leads The Late Show in the 18-49 demographic prized by advertisers, Colbert’s achievement is significant, since the dirty little secret about late-night TV is that its audience has long skewed older than is assumed — the majority of viewers for both Colbert and Fallon is over 49. Which also means that most are veterans of the voting-booth, ripe for the kind of messaging Colbert is delivering.
Colbert is taking full advantage of his uptick by working hard: He came into the office on President’s Day to cook up a fresh show on a night when The Tonight Show was airing a rerun. Next week, when the President delivers his first address to Congress, The Late Show will go live: Colbert not only knows where his sweet-spot for comedy is, he knows it’s best to hit that spot while the iron’s hot. (The preceding was a trademarked Tucker Mixed Metaphor).
The Ed Sullivan Theater audience is so primed for Colbert’s commentary that when the comedian recently did a joke about Gen. Michael Flynn’s communications with Russia, the crowd lifted a line from Trump’s anti-Hillary rallies and broke into a cry of “Lock him up!” Dig it: spontaneous irony. Is any more proof needed that Colbert and his audience are doing a Vulcan mind-meld?
In the old days, Johnny Carson used to have to set up a joke about someone in, say, Richard Nixon’s cabinet by explaining what position that person held. In the Trump era, viewers are so attuned to the daily news — well, maybe “punished by” is a better phrase than “attuned” — that Colbert can make a joke about the incorrect figures Trump cited about his electoral-college win-margin and add, “That was the DeVos-ification of Donald Trump,” and everyone laughs, knowing that he refers to the widely-despised new Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos.
Meanwhile, what is Jimmy Fallon doing with DeVos? This:
There’s always the possibility that The Late Show will overload its hour with Trump japery to the point where the audience says, “Enough already,” and returns to playing Pictionary with Jimmy. Maybe after the Trump administration unveils its Obamacare repeal-and-replace plan. Then we’ll see who’s laughing, and with which host.
Monday, February 20, 2017
from the Baltimore SUn
The Maryland Senate will consider two bills next week aimed at improving the prosecution of rape cases.Q-Why didn't you resist? A-I decided the day after that I shouldn't have consented in the first place... and by law, resistance isn't necessary to prove "rape".
The Senate's Judicial Proceedings Committee gave approved a bill Thursday that would change the legal definition of rape so that proving the victim resisted would no longer be required. Prosecutors and advocates for sexual assault victims have argued that the wording of the law makes it difficult to convict rapists.
The committee also approved a bill that sets standards for how long police departments must hold on to rape kits.
The office of Attorney General Brian E. Frosh reported that about 3,700 untested rape kits are sitting in storage at police departments. Police departments have varying policies for how long to keep the kits and when to test the evidence. Some agencies do not test kits in cases that don't advance to court or in instances when the victim and suspect know each other.
Both bills will be before the full Senate on Tuesday.
The House of Delegates Judiciary Committee is scheduled to hold public hearings on versions of the bills on Tuesday.
Saturday, February 11, 2017
The Maryland General Assembly is moving quickly to expand the power of the attorney general to sue the Trump administration without Gov. Larry Hogan's permission.
Acting with uncommon speed, the state Senate gave final approval Friday to a joint resolution broadening the authority of the state's chief lawyer. Within hours, a House of Delegates committee approved it, sending the measure to the floor for a vote next week.
The resolution would give Attorney General Brian E. Frosh, a Democrat, the green light to sue the new Republican administration in federal court over a broad range of potential disputes.
Under current law, Frosh could sue with Hogan's permission. Frosh said Friday that he asked the Republican governor nine days earlier for the go-ahead to sue over Trump's freeze on immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries, but hadn't received an answer.
"There's been a firestorm. I think it's dangerous for us to sit around and wait," Frosh told the House Rules Committee. He cited the travel ban and potential changes at the Environmental Protection Agency that could affect the Chesapeake Bay as areas of concern.
After Frosh asked Hogan for permission to file a lawsuit, the governor's office asked for more information. The attorney general's office provided it, but did not receive a response from the governor's office before Frosh filed a "friend of the court" brief in Washington state's suit against the travel ban.
Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor's office did not respond because it assumed Frosh had decided to go that route on his own.
At a news conference later Friday, Hogan called the Senate vote "unfortunate, rank partisanship."
"I don't know why you have to change the rules now that we have a Republican governor, but they've been doing quite a bit of that lately," he said. "I would rather not see that kind of political operation going on and just focus on the problems in the state."
Under the resolution, the legislature would exercise its constitutional authority to grant permission to sue. As a joint resolution, unlike a typical bill, the measure cannot be vetoed by the governor.
Democrats contended that the state urgently needs to empower its chief lawyer to stand up for the interests of Marylanders on such matters as immigration, health care and the federal workforce.
Republicans argued that the delegation of authority was so sweeping that it would be unconstitutional. They also argued that it was a political shot directed at Hogan.
After the vote, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller noted that the General Assembly didn't act to expand the attorney general's authority during the first two years of Hogan's term, when Barack Obama was in the White House.
"It's not about Larry Hogan. It's about Donald Trump," Miller said. The Calvert County Democrat said his constituents, particularly those from Prince George's County, have told him they were scared of the Trump administration's actions.
The Senate vote was 29-17, with three Democrats joining the Republican minority in voting against.
The resolution is on a fast track dictated by the Democratic supermajority in both chambers. The Senate vote came the day after two-thirds of the Republican caucus walked out of the chamber in protest of the majority's refusal to grant a usually routine delay to prepare amendments.
The walkout in the typically collegial Senate "broke my heart," Miller said afterward.
Senators on Friday returned for more than two hours of civil debate — most of it focused on the merits of the legislation.
Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings noted that there was no sunset on increasing the attorney general's power to sue the federal government. He warned that a future attorney general could "go rogue" while the legislature was not in Annapolis, leaving no alternative but a special session to rescind that authority.
"I don't know why we're doing it so quickly, why we're doing it as a resolution, why we're not doing this as a bill," said Jennings, who represents Baltimore and Harford counties.
Sen. Robert G. Cassilly, a Harford County Republican, warned that the attorney general's office would be "a very powerful position, left unchecked."
"He would effectively have not only the fourth branch of government but the most powerful branch of government," Cassilly said.
Sen. Wayne Norman, a Republican who represents Harford and Cecil counties, suggested that Trump could retaliate for the resolution by picking a site in Virginia for the new FBI headquarters, which Maryland officials have sought.
"I truly think this joint resolution is going to kibosh that," he said. Why would Trump "give Maryland anything?"
Sen. James C. Rosapepe said the implication of Norman's statement was that Trump would violate federal procurement law to deny Maryland jobs for "partisan, political reasons."
The Prince George's County Democrat said that possibility underscores the need to give the Maryland attorney general more latitude to sue, instead of just filing briefs in suits brought by other state attorneys general.
"You need your own lawyer. You don't rely on the other guy's lawyer," Rosapepe said.
At the House committee hearing, Minority Leader Nic Kipke asked Frosh, a former state senator, to respond to allegations that political gamesmanship was driving the request to expand his authority.
"All I can say about the charge that it's motivated by politics is — it ain't so," Frosh said.
Kipke, who represents Anne Arundel County, said stripping Hogan of the sole authority to sue the federal government would weaken his ability to negotiate with the White House on matters that benefit Maryland, such as the FBI headquarters.
"You can certainly say this gives the governor a stronger hand," Frosh said. "He doesn't have to take the blame for suing the federal government."
Frosh told lawmakers his office didn't have the resources to file a lot of legal actions.
"We don't have the capacity to bring lots of lawsuits," he said."I'm not sure we'll bring any lawsuits."
A companion measure, introduced as conventional legislation, would require the governor to allocate an additional $1 million in future budgets to cover the additional expenses of potential lawsuits. That bill is scheduled for a House committee hearing on Wednesday.
Friday, February 10, 2017
Thursday, February 9, 2017
The Doddering Establishment
The establishment is on life support. And it has dementia.
For proof, look no further than Foreign Policy's 'The Editor's Roundtable' podcast. It is full of sighs, and consternation at all things Donald Trump. Listening to it carefully is like reading the full medical file of the establishment as it lies in the hospital, talking to itself about whether the latest test results indicate it will live or die of this acute Trumpian ordeal.
The patient sometimes mumbles clearly about the dangers of Trumpism: President Trump's incompetence is endangering an alliance system that took decades to build and largely benefited Americans. But occasionally the patient skips over key details, like the fact that the alliance system that worked so well in the Cold War has dramatically and worryingly expanded in the last 16 years.
Sometimes the patient just seems to quietly seethe: How is a scoundrel like Stephen Bannon advising a president while I'm stuck here?
I'm more than a little worried that the patient doesn't understand how it got in here and how to get better. A lack of self-awareness among the elite led to Trump's rise — and now I wonder if this lack of self-awareness will prevent the establishment from recovering.
For instance, is it really only the Trumpian populists who are suckers for a juicy story they want to believe? On the most recent episode of the Foreign Policy podcast, Kori Schake of the Hoover Institution spread the fake news story that Trump's White House turned off the recording equipment when the president spoke to Russia's Vladimir Putin.
The willingness to blame Putin for the undermining of the Western order also leads to the patient's condition of self-blindness. Recently the patient fretted that WikiLeaks, a puppet of Putin, is dumping all over François Fillon, France's center-right candidate, whom the establishment hoped would defeat the far-right Marine Le Pen this spring.
It's true that Putin and WikiLeaks may be taking advantage of the fact that Fillon arranged no-show jobs for his wife and children, earning the family more than $1 million. But in the throes of their despair, the establishmentarians do not stop to note that Fillon's scandal was entirely of his own making. And further that this scandal was entirely characteristic of the Western establishment's typical corruption and ill-health. Fillon, like Hillary Clinton, piously insists that he is working to save the institutions and global order that benefit everyone. But even as native middle classes in Europe and America have been undergoing social and economic decomposition for decades, these two couldn't just rely on the system to deliver them prosperity. Instead, they used their access to the levers of power to enrich themselves and their friends directly or through the implied promise of future favor. The establishment asks us to be shocked by Trump's corruption after decades of inuring us to its own.
Trump and other populists just subtract the pretense of universalism and promise to enrich some different clients. Viewed this way, the rise of populism looks less like an inexplicable arrival of cancer than a painful form of shock therapy imposed on an unwilling patient.
Because the establishment was so good at engineering the kind of lifestyle it wanted, it also didn't realize how many topics it had begun to withhold from democratic deliberation at all, notably immigration and political integration. The desire for a tight and controlled immigration policy, in Europe and America, is simply overwhelming, but among the establishment, unfettered migration into any rich Western nation was increasingly treated as a human right. Referendums in the European Union that didn't achieve the establishment's preferred results could be ignored or tried again until the correct result was given. This high-handedness produced predictable results, but you won't find self-accusations among the establishment today. They're too busy deploring the deplorables.
And although the establishment spent months jabbering about fake news stories and the necessity of accepting electoral results, it turns out that they can act like spoiled children, too. For all the pretensions at being the cool-headed types avoiding excess and radicalism, it was less than three weeks after the establishment's toys were taken away that Foreign Policy ran an article that contemplated launching a military coup against Donald Trump.
If the establishment does not identify the causes of its malaise, the prognosis gets grimmer still. This constantly sighing and confused patient may be forced to avail itself of the treatment it recommends as humane for those who have lived beyond their utility to society and who find it hard to cope. The Dutch find it quite merciful.
Monday, February 6, 2017
In just a matter of days -- perhaps Monday -- a decision will be made in Washington affecting the futures of millions of children in low-income communities, and in the very troubled area of race relations in America.
An opportunity has arisen -- belatedly -- that may not come again in this generation. That is an opportunity to greatly expand the kinds of schools that have successfully educated, to a high level, inner-city youngsters whom the great bulk of public schools fail to educate to even minimally adequate levels.
What may seem on the surface to be merely a matter of whether the U.S. Senate confirms or rejects the nomination of Betsy DeVos to be head of the U.S. Department of Education involves far bigger stakes.
The teachers' unions and the education establishment in general know how big those stakes are, and have mounted an all-out smear campaign to prevent her from being confirmed.
What makes Mrs. DeVos seem so threatening to the teachers' unions and their political allies?
She has, for more than 20 years, been promoting programs, laws and policies that enable parents to choose which schools their children will attend -- whether these are charter schools, voucher schools or parochial schools.
Some of these charter schools -- especially those in the chain of the Success Academy schools and the chain of the KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) schools -- operate in low-income, minority neighborhoods in the inner-cities, and turn out graduates who can match the educational performances of students in affluent suburbs. What is even more remarkable, these charter schools are often housed in the very same buildings, in the very same ghettoes, where students in the regular public schools fail to learn even the basics in English or math.
You and I may think this is great. But, to the teachers' unions, such charter schools are a major threat to their members' jobs -- and ultimately to the unions' power or existence.
If parents have a choice of where to send their children, many of those parents are not likely to send them to failing public schools, when there are alternative schools available that equip those youngsters with an education that can open the way to a far better future for them.
Already there are tens of thousands of children on waiting lists to get into charter schools, just in New York alone. Those waiting lists are a clear threat to teachers' unions, whose leaders think schools exist to provide guaranteed jobs for their members.
Mrs. DeVos has shown for more than 20 years that she thinks schools exist to educate children. One of the biggest complaints about her is that, unlike Secretaries of Education before her, she does not come out of the government's education establishment. Considering what a miserable job that establishment has done, especially in inner-city schools, her independence is a plus.
Teachers' unions have fought for years to prevent charter schools from being created. Now that such schools have been created, and there are now huge waiting lists, the teachers' unions have gotten politicians to put a numerical cap on the number of such schools, regardless of how large the waiting lists are.
Desperate attempts to smear Betsy DeVos, in order to prevent her from being confirmed as Secretary of Education, have not let the facts get in the way.
She is accused of "steering public dollars away from traditional public schools." But nobody can steer anything anywhere, when it is individual parents who make the decisions as to where they want their children educated. The money follows the children.
Neither the money nor the children get steered by education bureaucrats, as happens with traditional public schools.
If charter schools educate one-third of the students in a district, and get one-third of the money, how does that reduce the amount of money per child in the public school? Actually, charter schools usually get less money per student, but produce better results.
American education is at a crossroads. If the teachers' unions and their allies can defeat the nomination of Mrs. DeVos, and the Republicans substitute someone else more acceptable to the education establishment, a historic opportunity will be lost, and may never come again in this generation.
Sunday, February 5, 2017
Get past all the noise, and the opposition to Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s pick for the Education Department, is all about the teachers unions — which consider it their right to have a friendly face running federal policy even in Republican administrations.
Yes, two Senate Republicans have come out against DeVos — the only two who routinely get A’s on the National Education Association’s “report card” because they vote the union line. Efforts to find another GOP vote against her will almost surely fail, because the other 50 Republicans aren’t in unions’ pocket, and Vice President Mike Pence can deliver a 51st vote if needed.
We wish DeVos were an existential threat to the unions, but the feds don’t really run US schools; that’s a state and local power. And the unions are too entrenched in those corridors of power, especially in states like New York.
At best, she’ll manage to reduce the sway of the NEA and the American Federation of Teachers — by giving more power to the nation’s parents, and to school innovators who refuse to toe the union line.
DeVos is an ardent supporter of school choice — public charter schools; voucher programs to help families choose qualified private or parochial schools when they think that’s best for their kids, and so on. Critics call this “radical,” and pretend it could mean educational Armageddon. In fact, school choice is near-universal in Canada, and the kids learn just fine.
But choice does threaten union power, which rests on most families having no choice beyond the public schools, where unions can call the shots.
By picking DeVos, Trump showed that he’s eager to “fight the power” — for the good of America’s kids. That battle begins as soon as she’s confirmed.