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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

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#EndorseThis: Jon Stewart Returns To Troll Colbert

Stephen Colbert takes six minutes to get through a brief monologue teasing the Obamas about their new Netflix deal. It doesn’t help that Jon Stewart is poking, grabbing, and taunting him from under his own desk.

In this surreal clip from The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, the former king of TV satire has a field day hiding from Backbone and the audience. Adorable sweepstakes winner Rachel Ulmer is alongside Stewart. The pair throw a tea party, show off (fake) newspapers like hostages, and tease Colbert with a Japanese throwing star.

Stewart, who seems intoxicated (with the moment or maybe literally), improvises odd jokes about the Queen of England before inventing a cramped game of Twister that is especially painful for Colbert. That’s if the feet Stewart ravages aren’t attached to a dummy. In fact the show cleverly hides whether Jon and Rachel are actually there in flesh…until the big payoff at the end.

Click to feel like Jon was never gone.

For Democrats, Obama’s Wall Street Payday Sends The Wrong Signal

I am not a member of any organized party — I am a Democrat. –Will Rogers, 1935

Never mind that at a rally in Harrisburg, PA, the president of the United States recently delivered what former George W. Bush speechwriter Michael Gerson described as “arguably the most hate-filled presidential communication in modern history.” Or that Donald J. Trump’s old pals on MSNBC’s Morning Joe are suggesting that the great man shows signs of senile dementia and needs a neurological workup.

Gee, no kidding.

Never mind too that Alabama Republican congressman Mo Brooks has suggested (also on MSNBC) that people with pre-existing medical conditions are morally deficient and deserve to pay much higher health insurance premiums than right-living specimens like himself.

It’s tempting to observe that when you’ve said “Alabama Republican congressman,” you’ve said it all.

Even so, like any proper Democrat, I find myself distracted by party infighting. Not that I’ve ever actually participated in a political campaign. However, readers may not be shocked to learn that I normally vote Democratic.

Anyway, never mind my misgivings about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). When Bernie’s right, he’s right. He and fellow New England puritan Sen. Elizabeth Warren are certainly correct about the dreadful optics of former President Barack Obama’s decision to accept a $400,000 fee for a one-hour speech to a Wall Street bank. Bernie thinks it’s “unfortunate,” while Warren pronounced herself “troubled.”

Actually, it’s worse than that. Granted, the investment firm Cantor, Fitzgerald wasn’t among the major malefactors in the 2008 financial system collapse, it’s a health-care conference that Obama will be addressing. Given Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, I’m confident he’ll have something interesting to say.

But ordinary voters aren’t going to hear it. What’s more easily noticed is the conjunction of “Wall Street” and “$400,000.” Many will be tempted to think pretty much what they thought when Hillary Clinton accepted similarly preposterous speaking fees from Goldman, Sachs before setting up to run for president as the working family’s friend.

To wit, that Lady Bountiful already had more money than she knew what to do with, but no understanding of their everyday lives. I think people were wrong about Hillary’s lack of compassion, but it’s easy to see how they got the idea. It’s the sheer symbolism of the thing.

Despite the fact that the Clintons have donated vast sums to charity, and that Bill Clinton has devoted his post-presidency to downright heroic efforts to alleviate Third World suffering (see Joe Conason’s book Man of the World: The Further Endeavors of Bill Clinton), the message behind those Wall Street paydays proved hard to overcome. (It didn’t help that the establishment media has all but refused to cover the Clinton Foundation’s charitable enterprises except to hint at scandal where none has been shown to exist.)

And then came “basket of deplorables.”

But back to the equally unfortunate symbolism of Barack Obama’s $400,000 speaking gig. Yes, Ronald Reagan once earned $2 million in 1989 dollars for a gig in Japan. (For which he was bitterly criticized.) And yes, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush have both cashed in, big time.

Nor do I begrudge former President Barack and First Lady Michelle Obama a nickel of their reported $60 million books deal. No more than I resent the outsized  riches of Steph Curry or the Rolling Stones. One way or another, I figure they’ve earned it.

Given their international celebrity and the fact that both Obamas had already written highly successful books, publishers competed to sign them. Ultimately, these are market decisions, paid for by the ticket- and book-buying public. You can read Obama’s presidential memoirs or not; it’s entirely your call.

But with the Democratic Party struggling to redeem itself in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss, Obama’s Wall Street payday sends exactly the wrong signal at a very bad time. The Washington Posts Greg Sargent writes about focus groups put together by a Democratic-oriented political action committee called Priorities USA.  Researchers talked to two kinds of voters: those who switched from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016; and those who switched from Obama to Did Not Vote.  

“Skepticism about the Democratic Party,” Sargent writes, “was echoed rather forcefully in the focus groups that I watched. In one, Obama-Trump voters were asked what Democrats stand for today and gave answers such as these:

‘The one percent.’

‘The status quo.’

‘They’re for the party. Themselves and the party.’

One woman, asked whether the Democratic Party is for people like her, flatly declared: ‘Nope.’”

Shockingly, twice as many respondents said Democrats’ policies favor the rich as said that about Trump and the Republicans. It appears that Trump’s relentless vulgarity protects him against the Scrooge McDuck aspects of his personality. He may be a jerk, but such voters don’t think he’s a snob.

About Wall Street Democrats, they’re not so sure.

America Rarely Lets You Forget That You’re Black

So I had myself an epiphany.

Actually, that’s not quite the right word. An epiphany is a moment of sudden clarity, but mine rolled in slowly, like dawn on a crystal morning.

I’m not sure when it began. Maybe it was in 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed and much of America held him guilty of his own murder. Maybe it was in 2013 when the Voting Rights Act was eviscerated and states began hatching schemes to suppress the African-American vote. Maybe it was on Election Day. Maybe it was a few weeks later, when a South Carolina jury deadlocked because the panel — most of them white — could not agree that it was a crime for a police officer to shoot an unarmed black man in the back. Could not agree, even though they saw it on video.

I can’t say exactly when it was. All I know is that the dawn broke and I realized I had forgotten something.

I had forgotten that I am black.

Yes, I know what the mirror says. And yes, I’ve always known African Americans face challenges — discrimination in health, housing, hiring, and a racially biased system of “justice,” to name a few. But I think at some level, I had also grown comfortable in a nation paced by Oprah, LeBron, Beyonce, and Barack. The old mantra of black progress — two steps forward, one step back — had come to feel … abstract, something you said, but forgot to believe.

So when we hit this season of reversal, I was more surprised than I should have been. I had forgotten about being black. Meaning, I had forgotten that for us, setback is nothing new.

Right after the election, as I was grappling with this, I chanced to see this young black woman — Melissa “Lizzo” Jefferson — on “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee,” and she performed “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” also known as the “Negro National Anthem.” Something about that song always gets to me. Something about it always stirs unseen forces, shifts something heavy in my soul.

“Lift Every Voice” was written by James Weldon Johnson in 1900. That was 23 years after the Republicans sold out newly freed slaves, resolving a disputed election by striking a backroom deal that made Rutherford B. Hayes president on condition he withdraw from the South federal troops who had safeguarded African-American rights and lives since the end of the Civil War. It was five years after the first “grandfather clause” disenfranchised former slaves by denying the ballot to anyone whose grandfather did not vote. It was four years after the Supreme Court blessed segregation.

And it was a year in which 106 African Americans were lynched — a routine number for that era.

Yet in the midst of that American hell, here was Johnson, exhorting his people to joy.

Lift every voice and sing

Till Earth and heaven ring

Ring with the harmonies of liberty

Let our rejoicing rise

High as the listening skies

Let it resound,

Loud as the rolling sea.”

Lord, what did it take to sing that song back then?

I pondered that as the year deepened into December, as Christmas came and went, as the ball dropped in Times Square. Now here it is Black History Month, and I know again what I had somehow forgotten.

I had forgotten that we’ve been here before, that our history is a litany of people pushing us back after every forward step. I had forgotten that it long ago taught us how to weave laughter from a moan of pain, make a meal out of the hog’s entrails, climb when you cannot see the stairs, and endure.

I had forgotten that America is still America — and I am still black.

But it won’t happen again.

IMAGE: U.S. President Barack Obama (R) is joined onstage by first lady Michelle Obama and daughter Malia, after his farewell address in Chicago, Illinois, U.S. January 10, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Obama Takes An Epic Vacation To Recharge For Future Political Battles

(Reuters) – Former U.S. president Barack Obama is trying some new and dangerous water sports that the Hawaii native had to miss out on for safety reasons while serving in the White House.

Obama, whose eight years as president ended last month when he was succeeded by Donald Trump, learned to kiteboard while vacationing last week on a Caribbean island owned by British billionaire and adventurer Sir Richard Branson, who published an account of their trip on Tuesday.

Photographs and video on the website of Branson’s Virgin Group show the former president, a life-long surfer, figuring out the increasingly popular sport in which people ride a board while being pulled behind a kite.

“Being the former president of America, there was lots of security around, but Barack was able to really relax and get into it,” Branson wrote.

Obama and his wife, Michelle, were spotted last week in the British Virgin Islands, and people posted photos of them on social media. Branson owns 120-acre (48-hectare) Moskito Island, which is part of the archipelago.

Kiteboarding was chosen in 2012 as a sport for the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, replacing windsurfing. The decision was criticized at the time because the sport can be lethal, and it was reversed within months.

According to Branson, Obama studied the pastime for two days and flew a kite from the beach, “as if going back to being a child again,” before heading out into the waves.

Branson was trying to learn a similar sport, foilboarding, which uses a modified board that rises a few feet above the water. He wrote that he challenged the ex-president over which of them would succeed first.

Obama triumphed, he said, by kiteboarding for 100 meters (328 feet).

“After all he has done for the world, I couldn’t begrudge him his well-deserved win,” Branson wrote.

(Reporting by David Ingram in New York; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Frances Kerry)

IMAGE: Obama sits on a boat during a kite surfing outing with British businessman Richard Branson during his holiday on Branson’s Moskito island, in the British Virgin Islands. Jack Brockway/Virgin Handout via REUTERS