Happy Birthday, Stephen: You’ve Come a Long Way

Raised in the deep south and the youngest of 11 children, Stephen was never like the other kids. Somewhat of a loner, he escaped into fantasy by reading science fiction and playing Dungeons & Dragons.

His South Carolina upbringing included a strong Catholic faith, which he continues to this day. Watching TV as a child, Stephen realized early on that southerners were often depicted as stupid, and he made a concerted effort to not sound southern by studying speech patterns of anchormen on the national news shows.

When he was ten years old, Stephen’s dad and two of his brothers were killed in the crash of an Eastern Airlines plane attempting to land in Charlotte, North Carolina.

As a teenager, Stephen dreamed of becoming a marine biologist, but surgery on a perforated eardrum left him deaf in his right ear and unable to pursue a career involving scuba diving.

Instead, he turned his attention elsewhere, enrolling as a theater major at Northwestern University. After graduation, he joined Chicago’s Second City improv group, and eventually found a measure of success on the TV sketch comedy show Exit 57.

One thing led to another, and Stephen joined The Daily Show with Craig Kilborn in 1997. Two years later, Jon Stewart took over as host, the show became sharply political, and Stephen’s career began to skyrocket.

In 2005, he hosted his own show, The Colbert Report, playing a Bill O’Reilly type blowhard. In 2015 he took over for David Letterman as the host of The Late Show on CBS.

Trailing Jimmy Fallon in the ratings, Colbert’s show shot to the top soon after Donald Trump was elected president. Colbert attacked Trump’s excesses head on, in biting comedy monologues and skits.

Last week, Colbert fiercely defended widely respected newsman John Dickerson, a CBS colleague belittled and banished by Trump, calling Trump a “presi-dunce” who is “turning into a real prick-tator” (and this was before Trump fired FBI director James Comey). Colbert also made what some called a homophobic remark.

Now the FCC may step in (you know how sensitive the Trump administration is about bigoted slurs) but the comic remains unapologetic. “I have the jokes, he has the launch codes,” said Colbert, “so it’s a fair fight.”

This Saturday, May 13th, is Stephen Colbert’s 53rd birthday. The shy southern kid has come a long way.


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Is This the Biggest Con in American History?

Who doesn’t love charming con artists? Sure, people who’ve been scammed by them, but let’s not nitpick.

Check forger and fake airline pilot Frank Abagnale was immortalized in the movie “Catch Me If You Can.” Charles Ponzi tricked investors out of millions in the early 1900s by transferring money from new investors to existing ones. And of course, Bernie Madoff, who took the Ponzi scheme to dizzying levels.

During the presidential primaries, Sen. Marco Rubio called Donald Trump a con artist. Was he right? After Trump launched his tax code initiative last week, which would balloon his bank account and our deficit, more than a few people squirmed. The New York Times’s editorial board labeled it “President Trump’s Laughable Plan to Cut His Own Taxes.”

But is this fair? Is Trump using our nation’s highest office to enrich himself? As the Trump team says about its Russian connections, is there any evidence?

Good question. For starters, Trump has virtually ignored the Constitution’s emoluments clause, which prohibits him from accepting gifts or other benefits from foreign leaders.

“That’s money from foreign governments going into our president’s pocket while he is making decisions that affect those countries,” Zephyr Teachout, an associate law professor at Fordham University, told National Public Radio.

While China has granted Ivanka Trump trademarks, the Trump family brand has been promoted in numerous and often dubious ways. Trump has jetted down to a Trump property at least nine times since becoming president, and the membership fee at Mar-a-Lago has doubled to $200,000. Meanwhile, Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway hawked Ivanka’s products on Fox News.

“It’s very possible I could be the first presidential candidate to run and make money on it,” Trump told Forbes in 2000. Any evidence his thinking has changed? To dodge complaints over conflict-of-interest rules, Trump has supposedly turned over his businesses to sons, vowing that he wouldn’t even discuss it with them. Hmm . . .

But as son Eric Trump told the Times, “The stars have all aligned. I think our brand’s the hottest it’s ever been.”

I wonder why?

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Will de Blasio Thank Trump if he’s Reelected?

A year ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio was struggling. His approval ratings were low and potential rivals were smelling blood. The carriage horse fiasco had hurt the mayor, while the taint of corruption haunted him.

But as 2016 drew to a close, de Blasio received an early, unexpected holiday gift. Donald Trump was elected president.

And suddenly, our sleepy mayor was energized. He will protect New Yorkers against this heartless ogre!

But isn’t homelessness still on the rise? And what about that nasty City Hall corruption scandal? Trump, the opposite of “no drama Obama,” has swept these stories off the front page.

Then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara was putting heat on de Blasio about trading political favors for donations. The corruption probe was ongoing against the mayor, but last month he was suddenly pulled to safety.

Trump fired Bharara, who also was investigating Trump’s Health and Human Resources secretary, Tom Price, for improperly trading health care stocks. Five days later, Acting U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced there wouldn’t be any charges against de Blasio.

Meanwhile, New Yorkers disenchanted with the mayor now have a juicier target for their anger. Hey, maybe de Blasio isn’t so bad after all. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, right?

In August 2016, the mayor’s approval ratings had sunk to a dismal 42 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. By last month, the numbers had reversed, with 50 percent approving and just 42 percent disapproving of the Trump-bashing de Blasio.

So what once promised to be a dogfight for re-election seems to have turned into a leisurely stroll in the park for Mayor Bill. Potential Democratic opponents have retreated, and no strong Republican candidate has emerged. Although he’ll never admit it, you’d better believe the mayor knows when and why his fortunes suddenly turned.

So on Nov. 7, after de Blasio is elected to his second term, he will thank his wife, family and the other usual suspects. But you can safely bet he won’t be thanking the man who made it all possible: Donald Trump.

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Why The Aliens Aren’t Worried About Us

Prepare for departure! And I don’t mean on United Airlines, whose slogan now reads, “Fly the friendly skies. Ha ha, just kidding.”

I mean, “To the moon, Alice!” Enceladus, a moon of Saturn, was recently discovered to have nearly perfect conditions for life, NASA said last week.

“We now know that Enceladus has almost all of the ingredients . . . to support life as we know it on Earth,” said Linda Spilker, a scientist from NASA’s Cassini project, which made the discovery. Enceladus offers life-sustaining hydrogen, a saltwater ocean and an 18-hole golf course. The first two are actually true.

However, there are no signs yet that Enceladus can support intelligent life. Perfect! We have plenty of less-than-intelligent life to shoot its way. Just look at how some human specimens greeted this news from NASA: “Great — send the Commies up there!”

NASA also reported that the Hubble telescope found evidence that Jupiter’s moon Europa is spouting water plumes similar to those on Enceladus, as we continue to explore the possibility of life in outer space. The agency has disclosed plans to launch a mission to Europa in the 2020s. “We need to probe [both of] them,” said NASA’s director of planetary science, Jim Green.

But do we really want to introduce our way of life to neighbors in our solar system? The hatreds? The MOAB (mother of all bombs)? The Kardashians? And while we continue to “probe them,” how about the possibility of hyperintelligent space aliens probing us?

Perhaps they are checking us out as you read this. But according to famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, we have nothing to fear from aliens light years smarter than we are.

“A sufficiently intelligent civilization would have positively no interest in us at all,” said Tyson at the 2016 Starmus Festival in Spain. They’d view us “the same way as when you’re walking down a street and there’s a worm.” You might want to kill a few, he surmises, but you’d soon get bored.

“Maybe our biggest protection against being killed by alien civilizations is their conclusion there’s no intelligent life on Earth,” he said.

Wow, Tyson really knows how to hurt an earthling.

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May I Have a Word With You?

Quetzal. Know what it means? If you’re a Scrabble player, you might. Thursday is National Scrabble Day, which reminds me how much pleasure being a Scrabble nerd has given me since childhood__and how stupid we’ve become as a nation.

Sure, some words are a waste of time to learn. Did you know that “za” is a legit word, slang meaning pizza? Did anyone ever asked for a slice of za?

But building vocabulary is important, and a thirst for knowledge even more so. Love of learning has always been a cornerstone of American innovation and world leadership.

Unfortunately, we also have a parallel history of anti-intellectualism, and it’s getting worse. “Idiot America” author Charles Pierce wrote “the rise of Idiot America today represents…the breakdown of a consensus that the pursuit of knowledge is good.”

It’s no accident that the majority of students at New York City’s elite public schools Bronx Science and Stuyvesant are Asian immigrants, or the children of immigrants. Meanwhile, the children of Indian-American immigrants dominate the National Spelling Bee

When American basketball stars Kyrie Irving and Shaquille O’Neal recently insisted that the world is flat, many howled with laughter. But too many of those chuckling scoff at other settled science. Our most watched news network, Fox News, regularly mocks climate change science, and has even suggested “fair and balanced” teaching of evolution to include creationism.

Hey, why not also have flat earth proponents present their case in American classrooms? After all, those who have fallen off the edge of the earth can’t speak for themselves, right?

Pierce was inspired to write Idiot America at the Creation Museum of Kentucky, which displays a dinosaur wearing a saddle. But this isn’t about a war between religious fundamentalists and scientists: it’s about glorifying ignorance.

President Trump has called global warming “a hoax, created by the Chinese.” At last week’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, the subject was scrupulously avoided. In the battle to save the planet, America is going AWOL. It’s flat-out embarrassing.

Oh, and quetzal? It’s a brightly colored species of tropical bird. But don’t worry about learning the word__it may become extinct if global warming remains unchecked. Talk about angry birds!

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The Real Housewives of the White House

What comes to mind when you think of conflict, chaos, extravagance and treachery? Hollywood? Politics? Perhaps Ramona, Teresa, and Bethenny of Bravo’s The Real Housewives?

Or Ivanka, Melania, Kellyanne, and Omarosa of the Real White House?

It’s getting harder and harder to separate reality shows from reality.

Has Countess LuAnn jetted off to Cancun? Is Melania at Mar-a-Largo? And how did Donald Trump’s controversial Apprentice contestant Omarosa Manigault wind up in the White House, recently informing PBS’ Frontline that “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump?”

For liberals and some moderate Republicans baffled by how Trump was elected, I suggest watching The Real Housewives series. It’s no accident that the franchise is such a cash cow for Bravo. Network president Andy Cohen recently called Trump a “first season Real Housewife”, and told NBC’s Seth Meyers that “there are so many parallels” between the Housewives and Trump’s election.

Why would anyone enjoy watching narcissistic, entitled brats living in gated communities go at each other? For the same reason Trump is in the White House: Whether in the movies, on TV or stage, we can’t get enough of conflict, drama and chutzpah. I’ve learned the hard way that without injecting constant conflict into my plays, people start to tune out. It’s just human nature. Ask any actor: The juiciest role is the villain.

No one knows this better than Trump. Even at 70, he is the embodiment of the modern TV reality star. His Apprentice followed the same script as his election, knocking out competitors one by one. Whatever your politics, it’s undeniable that the Trump presidency has been virtually non-stop conflict and drama. That’s no accident__Trump instinctively knows how to exploit people’s craving for never-ending spectacle and suspense. And it’s paid off for him “bigly”, both in entertainment and politics.

Al Gore might have made a fine president. Unfortunately, he was also a crashing bore. We live in a short attention span world, and we’re not going back anytime soon. If the Democrats nominate another Gore or John Kerry or yes, Hillary Clinton in 2020, they deserve whatever they get. I’m not saying it’s fair, or even right__but it’s definitely reality.







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Trump Has Resigned! April Fool!

Nothing says love more than making fools of your loved ones. On Saturday, thousands of misguided mischief-seekers will attempt to prove both their wit and affection by pulling April Fools’ Day pranks on their siblings, friends or partner. A word to the wise: this can be carried too far.

For example, in 2013, 18-year-old Tori Wheeler of Oklahoma pranked her boyfriend, Derek Bauer, by announcing she was pregnant, according to The New York Times. When Bauer reacted angrily, Wheeler pulled a knife on him. OK, pretty funny so far. But Bauer then called the cops on Wheeler. Enraged at his lack of humor, she cut him on the neck, which required seven stitches. Arresting officers said Bauer also had two bite marks. April fool!

So no fake pregnancy jokes, OK?

What I suggest instead are tasteful pranks that anyone would appreciate. Rearrange a close friend’s furniture while he or she is sleeping, or better yet, paint it all purple. Surprise! Or move your brother’s car around the block, and when he reports it stolen and the cops show up, yell, “April fool!” That’s when the fun really begins!

In my old trade reporter job, we used to send the new guy up to the roof to wait for the airmail. Yes, just mean and stupid 364 days a year, but a real knee-slapper when pulled on April 1.

New York City provides an endless supply of opportunities for April Fools’ mischief. For example, the MTA can shake its humorless reputation by announcing, “No Service Changes This Weekend” on its website. Then when you board an F train to Prospect Park, it skips 12 stops and winds up in Coney Island, as the conductor blurts, “April fool!” (and May, and June).

Or maybe, for just one day, make all the subway announcements audible? How about beside the bike lanes, post separate lanes for tricycles?

But we New Yorkers are pretty savvy. Would any of us fall for one of these stupid pranks?

By the way, to gather material for future columns, the editors have notified me that I’ll be going on an around-the-world, all-expenses paid trip, beginning April 1.

Only three more days!

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Palm Beach Residents Getting Heated Over Trump Visits

Escaping the NYC cold wave down in South Florida, I dropped by Palm Beach’s Mar-a-Lago vicinity to check the temperature of the locals on President Trump’s non-stop visits to his seaside palace.

Many were boiling. As if residents don’t have enough problems with their eroding beaches and snowbirds clogging their roads and favorite restaurants, they now have Trump regularly swooping in (five of the past seven weekends) and wreaking havoc on their community.

“This is getting way out of hand,” Palm Beach resident Mike Blazic told me angrily. “We’re paying for police overtime, additional services — our taxes will rise to cover him coming down here all the time. It hurts our economy.” Palm Beach County has paid more than $1 million for security, overtime pay and other Trump-related expenses in the past few months, according to Money.com.

New Yorkers can relate. From Election Day to inauguration, it cost us $24 million to provide security at Trump Tower, and we continue to pay six figures a day to protect first lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron. Rep. Carolyn Maloney has asked Congress to reimburse NYC.

Meanwhile, Palm Beach workers and businesses are suffering financially. Landscapers and pool cleaners are banned from the island after 3 p.m. on Fridays through May 1, and nearby Lantana Airport is on lockdown. It bleeds money every time Trump jets in for meetings and rounds of golf.

Trump mocked President Barack Obama for wasting taxpayers’ money on far fewer trips. But that was yesterday. The Mar-a-Lago visits provide free publicity for the Trump-owned resort, and initiation fees for membership were recently doubled to $200,000.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner is attempting to designate Mar-a-Lago as a “municipal service benefit unit” and asking the resort to help defray the costs of Trump’s visits. “These trips are costing us a fortune, and we should be compensated for it,” says resident Richard Horowitz.

I wouldn’t hold my breath, guys. But hang in there, Palm Beachers, a solution may be in sight. If Trump’s proposal to slash the Environmental Protection Agency goes through, Mar-a-Lago will be under water before you know it.


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Seriously Liar, Your Pants are on Fire

Either one of the stupidest pranks in history took place last week__or a miracle.

In case you missed it, a lawyer’s pants burst into flames in a Miami courtroom while defending a client on arson charges. No, that’s not a joke. The lawyer, Stephen Gutierrez, claims that a faulty battery in an e-cigarette in his pocket suddenly exploded. Gutierrez denies deliberately setting it off to prove his case that his client’s car could have“spontaneously combusted.”

Hmm, sounds a little fishy. But what if he’s telling the truth?

Then this moves from a classic “Flori-duh” tale to the greatest story ever told__undeniable proof of the existence of God. Imagine if this is a trial run from heaven?

Wouldn’t it be a wonderful world if every time a lawyer, or unfaithful partner, or yes, politician lied, their pants burst into flames? Do you see where I’m going with this?

Just a few days before Gutierrez ignited, about 90 miles up the road, President Donald Trump was furiously tweeting from his Mar-a-Lago retreat. Without offering a shred of proof, Trump claimed that former President Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. After a series of rapid-fire accusations, he suddenly stopped. Did his pajamas spontaneously combust?

Were these tweets aimed to deflect attention from reports that members of Trump’s team held covert meetings with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential campaign?

Is Trump blithely flinging pants-on-fire style fibs about everything from “millions of illegal voters” to the media deliberately underestimating the size of his Inauguration crowd to make us cynical of all news sources, lumping fringe sites with legitimate, established media sources as “fake news?”

Trusting our president is vital for democracy. If we suddenly were to attack North Korea, or Iran, some will wonder if it’s for legitimate purposes, or a more sinister deflection.

As evidence that members of the Trump campaign secretly met with Russia officials during our election process continues to be revealed, a special prosecutor seems likely to be called in. And it’s quite likely Trump himself will be required to testify.

If so, I’ve got the perfect lawyer for him. Gutierrez’ burns were superficial, and he’s ready to go!


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Time to Put Daylight Saving To Bed?

How do you “spring ahead” when you’re exhausted?

You’ve got just a few days to solve that riddle, because this Sunday, daylight saving (not “savings”) time springs upon us, again.

Sure, in 2017, losing an hour of sleep seems the least of our problems. But DST does affect us, often in dangerous ways, according to a number of studies. Some have even questioned the need for it.

When we roll the clocks ahead from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. Sunday, it not only costs us a precious hour of sleep, but stresses our minds and bodies long past that. A spike in heart attacks has been linked to the first week of DST, according to an American Journal of Cardiology study.

All this from losing an hour of sleep? We insomniacs can’t help but laugh. I’m often up half the night, but on the plus side, it gives me extra time for things, like writing this column in the dark (insert obvious joke here). I suspect the greatest impact in NYC will be thousands of people showing up late for brunch.

Some believe we should roll back the clock 60 years this Sunday to honor President Donald Trump’s mission to “Make America great again” by sweeping us back to the 1950s. For some reason, many women, gays and people of color aren’t thrilled with that quest.

Meanwhile, Mayor Bill de Blasio seems to have scaled back his “Make America late again” campaign, making more of an effort lately to show up for events on time. Hopefully, moving the clocks ahead one hour doesn’t cause a relapse.

As for the rest of us, the response to DST is decidedly mixed.

My girlfriend hates it. “I need my early morning jog — now I’ll be going out in the dark!” she complains. Many will go to work on Monday in a stupor.

So do we get rid of daylight saving time?

According to Business Insider, car crashes tend to decrease from March through November because it’s still light when people drive home from work or school. Energy use is reduced, serotonin levels boosted and depression lifted.

So I vote yes on DST. We can all use a little more sunlight in our lives. Especially now.


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