Rob Sivak | WYPR

Rob Sivak

Senior Producer, Midday

Rob Sivak is senior producer of Midday, with host Tom Hall.  Rob joined WYPR in 2015 as senior producer of Hall's previous show, Maryland Morning (which aired its final show on September 16th, 2016).  Before coming to the station, Rob enjoyed a 36-year career at the congressionally funded global broadcaster, Voice of America.  At VOA, he honed his skills as a news and feature reporter, producer, editor and program host.

After reporting stints at VOA's New York City, United Nations and Los Angeles bureaus, Rob spent two decades covering international food, farming and nutrition issues for VOA's 180-million worldwide listeners, and created and hosted several popular VOA science magazines.  At Midday, he continues to pursue his passion for radio and his abiding interests in science, health, technology and politics.

Rob grew up as an ex-pat "oil brat" on the Persian Gulf coast of Saudi Arabia, and studied and traveled widely in the Middle East, Europe and Africa.  He attended Hofstra University in New York and Boston University's School of Public Communications.  Rob and his wife, Caroline Barnes, live in Silver Spring, Maryland, where they've raised three daughters.

Photo courtesy Bowie State University

It's the Midday News Wrap, our regular Friday review of the week's top local, national and international news. This week, as headlines focused on President Trump's first foreign trip, his 2018 budget proposal, and on the continuing investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible collusion with the Trump campaign, the nation was stunned by news of the May 20 stabbing death of Bowie State University student Richard Collins III.  The 23 year-old Collins, who had just been commissioned as a US Army lieutenant, was murdered by a University of Maryland/College Park student, who has been identified as a member of a white supremacist hate group on Facebook. How is the community responding to this tragedy, and what are school officials doing to address rising concerns about racially motivated attacks on their campus? Joining Tom on today's NewsWrap panel to discuss these and other issues in the news this week are Kamau High, managing editor of the Afro-American Newspaper and Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead, an associate professor of communication and African and African American studies at Loyola University Maryland, and the author of “Letters to My Black Sons: Raising Boys in a Post-Racial America.”

Photos courtesy Austin Caughlin, Mikecheck

We close the show today with a little live music to spring us into the Memorial Day weekend. 

Austin Caughlin is a name familiar to listeners of Midday.  Every Friday, we remind you that Austin wrote and recorded the Midday theme music.  Austin is on the composing staff of Clean Cuts, a music production studio here in Baltimore.

On Saturday night, May 27th, Austin hosts a benefit concert  -"Singing in Solidarity" - with other artists and musicians from 7-9 pm at the Four Hour Day Lutherie to raise money for the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit dedicated to fighting hate and bigotry and to seeking justice for the most vulnerable members of our society.  

Austin joins Tom in the studio today with Mikecheck, a local singer and musician who'll also be appearing at the SPLC benefit tomorrow night, along with other performers, including singer Sandy Asirvatham and writer Rion Amilcar Scott.

Photo by Dave Iden

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom for her weekly review of thespian doings.  This week, it's the final production of Baltimore Annex Theater's 2016-17 season: The King of Howard Street is an original play based on the life of the formerly homeless Baltimore writer and housing rights advocate, Anthony Williams, who's portrayed in this production by Joshua Dixon.

For more than two decades, Williams lived in abandoned buildings up and down Howard Street. Several years ago, he began to chronicle his life story and the stories of his friends and family. Last year, Williams approached Annex Theater's Artistic Director, Evan Moritz, outside of the theater and handed him three spiral-bound notebooks filled with drawings and writings, including a draft of his autobiographical play.  Inspired by Williams' story, Moritz commissioned playwright Ren Pepitone and director Roz Cauthen to bring this story to a wider audience, and they've done so with a compelling mix of dance, music, and theater.

The King of Howard Street also features performances by Nathan Couser (Insurrection: Holding History) as Saint Lewis, William's right-hand man; Desirae Butler (The Tempest) as McFly; and Jonathan Jacobs  (Tempest, Master and Margarita) as Randall.  The cast also includes Malcolm Anomanchi, Kristina Szilagyi, Christian Harris, Mary Travis, David Crandall (Annex Company Member), and Elaine Foster. Costumes are by Stylz, Set by Bernard Dred, Lighting by Rick Gerriets (Annex Company Member), Sound by David Crandall, and Video by Rachel Dwiggins (Cook, Thief, Wife, Lover and Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman)

Over the past 20 years, a revolution in biotechnology has allowed scientists -- and the giant ag-biotech companies many of them work for – to blow past the tedium and imprecision of ages-old traditional breeding and dive directly into the DNA -- the genetic core -- of a plant, animal or microorganism, and move desired traits in or out as needed.  The result is that nearly all of four major crops being grown today -- corn, soybeans, canola and cotton -- are now genetically modified, high-performance varieties that a majority of farmers in the US and many other countries have been planting with gusto.

But the worldwide proliferation of these new GM crops has raised fundamental questions that go far beyond “are GMOs safe to eat?”  The questions go to the nutritional value and diversity of the foods we buy and eat every day, to the social and economic structures of food production and marketing, and to the quality of the environment in which our food is being grown.

Today, guest host Aaron Henkin (producer of WYPR's Out of the Blocks series) spends the hour examining how well the Baltimore City Public School System's "school choice" program is working, twelve years after its launch.

The program was created to give all students (and their parents) a chance to participate in the selection of the middle schools and high schools they wish to attend. 

The annual high-school choice program starts each fall, it goes on through each spring, and it gives late middle-schoolers an opportunity to identify their top five preferred high schools.  Kids make these selections based on a range of criteria:  they look at student population, gender mix, sports programs and, special academic offerings like advanced placement courses and college-credit curricular tracks.

photos: Russian Foreign Ministry; American Enterprise Inst.

We begin today's show with yet another stunning development in the 117-day-old Trump Administration: the Washington Post and the New York Times reported last night that President Trump “boasted” about highly classified intelligence relating to a purported ISIS terror plot, in a meeting last week with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador at the White House. The published reports, which were based on anonymous sources described by the Times as “a current and a former American government official,” said Mr. Trump “provided the Russians with details that could expose the source of the information and the manner in which it was collected.”

The classified material disclosed by Mr. Trump in his meeting with Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, and Sergey I. Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States, was reportedly provided to the United States by a Middle Eastern ally known to be very protective of its own intelligence information. The material Mr. Trump shared with the Russians was deemed so sensitive that US officials had not shared it widely within the US government, nor with other American allies.

Although Mr. Trump’s disclosure is not illegal, sharing the information without the permission of the ally that provided it was a major breach of intelligence protocol and could jeopardize a crucial intelligence-sharing relationship.

Joining Tom is Gary Schmitt.  He’s a Resident Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank in Washington, and the Co-Director of the Marilyn Ware Center for Security Studies and Director of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship.

Mr. Schmitt  previously worked on the staff of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence as the Staff Director.  During the second term of the Reagan administration, he served as the executive director of the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board.  

Courtesy Philadelphia Gay News

Since the 1960s, a succession of federal and state laws have been enacted to impose tougher penalties on perpetrators of hate crimes -- criminal acts that target victims because of their race, religion, gender or ethnicity.  But as the frequency of hate crimes has increased across the country in recent years, some lawmakers and civil liberties activists have questioned whether hate-crime laws are an effective response to acts of bigotry.  Today, we’ll explore that issue with a panel of experts: 

Faizan Syed is the executive director of the Missouri Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a grassroots civil rights and advocacy group that works to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in America.  Mr. Sayed joins us on the line from his office in St. Louis;

Robert West is CAIR-Missouri's Civil Rights Staff Attorney; and

Frederick Lawrence is a lawyer, civil liberties scholar and CEO of The Phi Beta Kappa Society, a Washington, DC-based honor society that promotes excellence in the liberal arts and sciences. He is the author of Punishing Hate: Bias Crimes Under American Law.  In the 1980s, Lawrence served as the Chief of the Civil Rights Unit in the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, working under then-US Attorney Rudolph Giuliani.  Mr. Lawrence has also served as dean of the George Washington University law school, and as President of Brandeis University.  He is currently a Senior Research Scholar and Visiting Professor of Law at the Yale Law School...

It’s terrible, but legal, to be a racist.  When bigotry is behind a crime, what’s the best way to prosecute the criminal?   

Photo courtesy Patheos.com

Today it's another edition of our monthly series called Living Questions – a series produced in collaboration with the ICJS, the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies here in Baltimore – that explores the role of religion in the public sphere.  

On today’s program, we’re going to be looking at the impact of the 112-day-old Trump Administration on religious freedom and tolerance in the United States.  Much has been said and written about the polarization in American political dialogue since the November presidential election, but we’re going to focus on how Donald Trump’s election victory has affected the way diverse religious groups interact with the larger society, and how presidential actions may have improved or worsened the climate of religious freedom -- one of America’s bedrock values.

Joining Rob to examine these questions are three leaders in their respective faith communities: 

John Gehring is Catholic program director at Faith in Public Life, which describes itself as a non-profit “strategy center…advancing faith in the public square as a powerful force for justice, compassion and the common good.”  He is also a contributing editor to Commonweal Magazine, and the author of The Francis Effect: A Radical Pope’s Challenge to the American Catholic Church, published in 2015. His analysis has been featured in the Washington Post, the New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, Commonweal, and the National Catholic Reporter.   John Gehring joins us from NPR studios in Washington.

Joining Rob in Studio A is Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg.  He has been the Rabbi at the Beth Am Synagogue in Reservoir Hill here in Baltimore since 2010. He is a fellow in the Rabbinic Leadership Initiative of the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem and is a contributing author to Keeping Faith in Rabbis: A Community Conversation about Rabbinical Education.  He is a trustee of the ICJS.

Also in the studio is Imam Mohamad Bashar Arafat.  A native of Syria who has lived in the United States for nearly 30 years, Imam Arafat serves as the President of the Islamic Affairs Council of Maryland, and is the president and founder of the Civilizations Exchange & Cooperation Foundation, a non-profit group that provides religious and cultural training, consultation and orientation services for foreign exchange students and for the staff of the State Department’s Youth Exchange Study Program.

Photos by Teresa Castracane

It's Thursday, and that means theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck is here with her weekly review of the region's thespian offerings.  Today, she joins guest host and Midday senior producer Rob Sivak with a review of the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's revival of the 1960 classic musical, The Fantasticks.

The longest-running musical in Broadway history -- and still a perennial favorite of theater companies across the country and around the world -- has a simple, Shakespeare-inspired storyline, at whose heart is a 19 year-old boy and the 16 year-old girl next door. Their controlling fathers scheme to lead the unwitting pair into romance, but the matchmaking goes terribly wrong. The lyrical and sentimental musical, with book and lyrics by Tom Jones and music by Harvey Schmidt, is filled with memorable songs.  The Fantasticks is Chesapeake Shakespeare Company's first musical.  Directed by Curt L. Tofteland.

The Fantasticks continues at the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company through Sunday, May 21st.

photo courtesy vanhollen.sen.gov

President Trump's surprise decision Tuesday night to fire FBI Director James Comey, ostensibly for mishandling the Hillary Clinton email-server investigation, has sparked a political firestorm, and precipitated what some political observers say is an unprecedented constitutional crisis. 

Critics of Comey's sacking allege it was a brazen attempt by Mr. Trump to derail the FBI's ongoing investigation -- being led by Mr. Comey -- into Russia's meddling in the 2016 US presidential election, and possible collusion with the Trump presidential campaign.  The presidents's supporters say Mr. Trump's decision to fire the FBI chief was justified by Mr. Comey's controversial public statements regarding the FBI's Clinton investigation.  And they dismiss critics' concerns that the FBI's Russia probe could come to a halt under the new director that Mr. Trump will appoint.

For the first segment of Wednesday's show, Tom speaks with U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D. Md.) about the Comey firing, how it changes the political dynamic in Washington, and what impact it will have on the effort to finally learn the truth about Russia's involvement with the 2016 presidential race and the Trump campaign.

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