Today is the 94th birthday of Broadway lyricist Sheldon Harnick, who won a Tony Award for Fiddler on the Roof, a Pulitzer Price for Fiorello!, and such other musicals with Jerry Bock as She Loves Me, The Apple Tree, The Rothschilds, Rex (with Richard Richard Rodgers), and the opera Captain Jinks and the Horse Marines -- and much more.
I interviewed him years ago when I was a student at Northwestern, and he returned to campus as Homecoming Grand Marshall. I made a radio documentary from it and two decades later when I finally tracked down his address through a mutual friend to send him a copy -- and when I told my mother that I finally found someone who knew where Harnick lived, she said, "Oh, you mean, Aunt Joan?" I was floored. I never had any idea that they grew up together and went to college together. Though. no, she didn't have her address. When I sent him the radio documentary though and explained my further connection, he sent a handwritten note back, and the first line was, "OH, MY GOD!!! JOAN SERED!!! (which was her maiden name. And yes, this is the Aunt Joan who I wrote about here back in January for her surprise 90th birthday party.) Though they've periodically crossed paths over the many decades, I was able to get them together seven years ago when we all saw a production of his show She Loves Me at the Writers Theatre in Glencoe, Illinois. (And yes, this was the production I've written about several times that starred Jessie Mueller before she left for Broadway and won a Tony Award for starring in the musical Beautiful.)
But enough of all that. On with the show. Here's a wonderful, hour-long interview with Sheldon Harnick from four years ago when he was 90, and you'll see he's vibrant and entertaining. My only suggestion is that you skip the ponderous first three-minutes from the host.
A new edition of the DOJ manual to prosecutors has edited out a section titled "Need for Free Press and Public Trial" and also a section on illegal racial gerrymandering to disenfranchise people based on race. These changes are to show current department priorities -- as seen through Jeff Sessions' smokey eyes.
Richard Painter was the Ethics Chief during the George W. Bush Administration, and a lifelong Republican. However, he's been a blistering, outspoken critic of Trump and his administration. I'd read recently that he was considering running for the Senate in Minnesota. He announced his candidacy today -- and shockingly, he did so by switching parties as a Democrat!
Though he's more conservative than my taste, I'm OK with the decent Mr. Painter joining the race with incumbent Tina Smith (Minnesota's former Lt. Governor, appointed to fill the seat after Al Franken's resignation). However, with Minnesota being more of a Blue state than middle-of-the-road, I prefer seeing a Senator there who fits that populace, which Ms. Smith is closer to. What I'm "more OK" with is someone like the moderate Mr. Painter (who as a lifelong Republican probably leans more conservative than liberal) running in states that are more conservative, moving the far right closer to the center, and hope we see that happen.
That aside, having a lifelong Republican like the Bush Ethics Chief running as a Democrat because, when deciding what to do, he didn't "know whether there’s a place for me" in the Republican Party sends a massively loud and booming signal.
No, there is not a place in today's Republican Party for an ethical moderate.
Larry Sabato's Crystal Ball is one of the top political analysts of polling, based out of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. Three days ago, in an April 26 article, they just took an updated look at several House races, including the seat of Devin Nunes -- Republican chair of the House Intelligence Committee which has come under great criticism for taking what was once a deeply-bipartisan committee and turning itself into a mouthpiece for the Trump administration. And in this new report, the seat which Nunes has never won by less than 20 points is now marked by Sabato as no longer “Safe” and now is only “Likely Republican.” You can read the full results here.
However, something else is at play which I think might make the race even less safe for him. (And for all California House Republicans, for that matter. Actually, any California Republican running statewide this November.)
Readers may recall that a month ago I wrote here about the California open primary law, whereby the top two vote-getters in a primary race – whatever the party – are put on the ballot in November. (For instance, if two Democrats get the most votes of everyone on the open primary ballot, then those two Democrats will run against each other in the November election. Same thing if two Republicans are the top vote-getters.) And I noted at the time how it was seriously possible that two Democrats could be on the November ballot in California for both Senate and Governor (and no Republican), which could drastically drive down GOP turnout. And if that happened, it would put all Republicans at risk who are now in close races.
Over the weekend, I checked various state polls, and though there is a bit of disparity among them, they do show that in the governor's race, Democrats could finish 1-2 there. The current leader is the state's Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom – and right behind him is former LA mayor Anthony Villaraigosa. Both are generally in the low 20 percent range. In third place is Republican John Cox, three points because Villaraigosa .
The race for the U.S. Senate is also unclear -- though all polls show problems for Republicans. Dianne Feinstein has a commanding lead for first place, so she's a shoe-in. In some polls, however, Democrat Kevin De Leon is in second place, while others have Republican Patrick Little in that second spot. But here's the problem that faces Republicans: De Leon is helped by having a reasonable profile in the state as the President pro tempore of the state Senate. If Little gets enough Republican votes to finish second, though (and one poll gives him a solid lead for second) -- he is a virulent white supremacist who has said that government should be "free from Jews." If he is the only Republican running for a major office in California, that could drive GOP turnout down just as much as no Republican on the November ballot. And in some ways, Republicans having a neo-Nazi on the November ballot for the U.S. Senate could arguable be far more problematic for the GOP "brand" across the country, rather than no Republican at all.
All of which returns us to the original point being that as bad as the news was for Devin Nunes that his race is no longer classified as "safe," it's even far worse if there are no Republicans on the November ballot running for governor and the U.S. Senate. Or if they get one candidate on the ballot and he's a white supremacist with no serious chance against the popular incumbent. And it's bad news for all Republican politicians in California...given that so many special elections around the country have shown Democrats gaining 15-20 points even in heaving Red districts.
As an added note, Sabato's article doesn't focus just on Devin Nunes's race, but updates 15 House races where Republicans ranged from Likely to Safe. And in all but one, their chances were downgraded. (The only one that improved was the Arizona 8, which Republican Debbie Lasko just won in a Special Election. But keep in mind, that was a very safe GOP seat that Trump had won by 20 points, and she squeaked in by only five.)
These are only 15 seats Sabato looked at here, most which he had marked "Safe Republican" the last time he checked them. Keep in mind that there are a great many seats that start significantly closer -- many even in which Hillary Clinton won the district -- and Democrats only need to pick up 23 seats to win back the House.
And if one of those is Devin Nunes, all the better...
The guest contestant on the 'Not My Job' segment of the NPR quiz show, Wait, Wait...Don't Tell Me! is Laurie Metcalf, who recently got an Oscar nomination for her role in Lady Bird and, of course, just reprised her role on the series Roseanne. Host's Peter Sagal's interview with her is very personable and gracious. It's pointed, as well, since the show is broadcast from Chicago, where she got her start at Steppenwolf Theater with people like John Malkovich, Gary Sinise, and William Petersen. (Actually, they refer to the theater's first home in a church basement being located in Chicago, but it was actually in Highland Park, the town next door to where I grew up in Glencoe, and where my dad's medical office was. These are the kind of details you get here on Elisberg Industries and few places else...)
If you missed it, as did the cowardly Trump who was too thin-skinned to show up, I've embedded below Michelle Wolf's monologue at last night's White House Correspondents Dinner. Personally, I didn't find it all that consistently good, and there were some "Really??" jokes that missed the mark by a lot -- but, she nailed quite a few that were very funny -- and pointed, and I admired her insight and willingness to be blunt. "Savage" was a word I read used in a lot of the coverage. And I particularly liked a recurring joke when she wanted to come up with a different way to criticize Trump.
The White House Correspondents Dinner speaker is a particularly challenging job. Half the room on either side of the political aisle is likely going to hate any joke you do. And the large ballroom isn't the most conducive venue for a comedy routine -- not so much for performing, but more that I've never felt the room is mic'ed for sound well, and so the response appears to be more deadened than I suspect it actually is for those in the audience.
Afterwards, I watched a little discussion on TV analyzing her performance (which I found deeply thin -- the analysis, that is, as I find it tends to be after this event). One person was asked if they felt she had been an equal opportunity insulter to both parties, and the woman said "yes." Which is utterly ridiculous, because it seemed like 90% of the material was slamming Trump and the GOP. I'm not saying they didn't deserve it, just that I don't know what monologue that analyst was watching. That said, among her few jokes at the expense of Democrats, she did have a particularly good one about the Clinton campaign.
She also had a several scathing jokes at the expense of Kellyanne Conway and Sarah Huckabee Sanders (who sat on the dais as a "replacement" for the absent Trump. I'm guessing she's going to tell her boss that she wishes he'd sent someone else to sit in such a visible spot. Because neither she or Ms. Conway were amused. In fairness, not all the jokes about them were that good. But some were. And they were all brutal. Or savage, take your choice...
Criticism on the right about the monologue on social media was fascinating. Not that they were required to find everything in it funny (they weren't) or that they shouldn't have thought it harsh. (It was.) But for the past two years we've seen so many of Trump's harshest comments -- most memorably the ridicule of a disabled reporter -- dismissed by his spokespeople, notably Sarah Huckabee Sanders and Kellyanne Conway, as being just jokes. And his most-loyal supporters taking special pride in being called "Despicables" and going out of their way to hold up signs and rallies on behalf of being Politically Incorrect. But when there's what is literally a comedy monologue, they're complaining about it being "mean." I guess a "snowflake" is in the eye of the beholder.
Speaking of which, I saw two Twitter responses that stood out for me. One was from former White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who called the monologue "a disgrace." I replied --
The other tweet came from New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. She wrote -- "That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive."
I replied back --
From the archives. This week's contestant is Lessa Virnya from Syracuse, NY. The composer style came down to two people in my mind...and to my surprise and pleasure, I guessed it correctly. As for the hidden song, it too seemed to be between two songs, as far as I could make things out, and though both the contestant and host Fred Child couldn't get it...huzzah, I was right, again. But making it all the better is that I didn't at first realize that this was from the archives, so I played along again, not knowing that it was a repeat -- and I got both right...again! Double huzzah.
The White House Correspondents Dinner is this evening. The guest speaker is Michelle Wolf, a periodic commentator on The Daily Show and former writer for Late Night with Seth Meyers. And particularly notable for the event is that that famously courageous man Trump -- who says he would have run into the gun fire at Stoneman Douglas High School -- has cowardly decided not to show up, afraid of jokes at his expense. (Which is such an encouraging sign as he heads into nuclear disarmament negotiations with North Korea...) In his place, the White House has sent press spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders, after this evening known as The Human Punching Bag.
That's when C/SPAN begins its coverage. MSNBC and CNN plan to start earlier. If the last couple years are any indication, those two channels with have their B-team on the air, pompously in tuxedos and evening wear, and doing a dismal job reporting what is going on (which is very little) and bizarrely analyzing the humor.
This is a very fun video -- couple of videos, to be accurate, divided in two. I'm not completely sure where it comes from -- I'm pretty sure it's the British version of Comic Relief in 2009, though it says "Red Nose Day."
It's a two-part, and impressively elaborate parody of the movie musical Mamma Mia!, done as a scathing yet affectionate homage, (Quite a trick to pull off.) But what's notable is the cast. It stars Jennifer Saunders as Meryl Streep and unites Saunders' two comedy lives -- her original partner Dawn French, and her Absolutely Fabulous partner Joanna Lumley. The latter two play Julie Waters and Christine Baran...well, no, actually Joanna Lumley doesn't. You'll see. And then toss in for good measure Sienna Miller playing Amanda Seyfried as her daughter.
(Side note: in order to get a joke it helps knowing that the original film's director is Phyllida LLoyd.)
Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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