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.

If Republicans in the US House of Representatives can’t pass their health care bill by Friday afternoon and send it on to the Senate, the President says he’ll walk away, and move on to other items on the Trump agenda.  Has Repeal and Replace morphed into Reveal and Disgrace?

Last October, FBI Director James Comey revealed he was looking into Hillary Clinton's e-mails. He waited until this week to mention that at the same time, he was also looking into allegations about collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign.   Devin Nunes is the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee. He got to visit the White House this week! And then he said he’s very sorry about it.  Appeals Court Judge Neil Gorsuch has made his pitch to join the Supremes. Chuck Schumer says the Dems will filibuster.  

The US Senate.

Barbara Mikulski has been a social worker, a community organizer, a Baltimore City Council member, a Congresswoman for 10 years, and for the last 30 years, she’s been Senator Barb.  By the time she retired in January as the longest serving woman in the history of the US Congress, Senator Mikulski had earned a reputation as a fierce advocate for families, women, children, seniors and scientists.  She’d also earned the respect of her colleagues on both sides of the aisle, mentoring and helping to pave the way for other women seeking elective office. 

Senator Barbara Mikulski, now a Homewood professor of public policy and adviser to the president at The Johns Hopkins University, is Tom's guest for the hour today.  They'll discuss her remarkable career, her take on Trump, and her prescriptions for the Democrats as they navigate the vagaries of Washington without her.

photo courtesy Boston Globe

In this seventh week of the Trump Administration, Republicans in the House, the Senate and the White House continued to wrangle loudly over a health care plan to replace the Affordable Care Act. 

President Trump’s second try at an executive order temporarily banning travel from six Muslim majority countries and halting all refugee admissions was blocked, again, by federal court rulings in Hawaii and Maryland -- rulings the White House says it will appeal. 

Mr. Trump also unveiled his first proposed federal budget, calling for huge increases in defense spending and deep cuts across a wide swath of social programs and federal agencies, including the EPA and the State, Labor and Agriculture Departments.

And in Maryland’s General Assembly, amid partisan battles over paid sick leave and bail reform measures, the House of Delegates passed a revised version of Governor Hogan’s 43.5 billion-dollar state budget proposal, and sent it on to the Senate.

Joining guest host Nathan Sterner to sort out the week’s developments are three keen observers: Amy Goldstein, a national reporter for the Washington Post with a focus on health care policy, on the line from the Post’s newsroom in Washington, DC;  Michael Dresser, State House correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, on the line from Annapolis; and, in the studio, Richard Cross, a former press secretary and speech writer for Maryland Governor Robert Erlich and now a conservative columnist and blogger at rjc-crosspurposes.blogspot.com.  

photo courtesy washingtonwire.com

This is another installment of Living Questions, a program produced in collaboration with the Institute for Islamic, Christian and Jewish Studies that explores the role of religion in the public sphere.  On today’s edition, guest host Rob Sivak leads a discussion about "school choice" in Maryland.

Ever since the 2010 Republican wave gained control of the US House, Senate, and governor's mansions across the country, states have been introducing school voucher programs and voucher-like initiatives such as tax credits or education savings accounts.  This year, 31 states have passed or introduced bills to create or expand some private school-choice program.

Last year, Maryland Governor Larry Hogan proposed, and the Maryland legislature approved, a $5 million program for the Maryland State Department of Education called BOOST -- Broadening Options and Opportunities for Students Today -- that funds vouchers, or scholarships, for students who are eligible for the free or reduced–price lunch program to attend eligible nonpublic schools.  In other words, low-income families who qualify are given some of the public funds that the state normally sends to public school districts, and allowed to use that money to pay some or all of the tuition at a religious or non-religious private school of their choice.  The governor has proposed raising BOOST’s funding to $7 million in his new 2017/2018 budget, and wants to raise it to $10 million a year by 2020.

The school voucher program has passionate supporters and equally passionate detractors, who charge that the cost of the voucher program is draining badly needed funds away from the public schools, and essentially subsidizing families already attending private religious schools. Joining Rob in the studio to discuss the pros and cons of Maryland’s school voucher program are two people on opposite sides of the issue: 

Matt Gallagher is a Baltimore native, and the President and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation, a Baltimore-based community and enterprise development grant organization.  Last year, he was appointed by leaders of the Maryland legislature as chairman of the 7-member advisory board of BOOST, which runs the Maryland State Department of Education's school voucher program. 

Meredith Curtis Goode is Communications Director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. The non-profit legal watchdog group has opposed school vouchers. It’s called for the BOOST program to be terminated and its funds used to support the state’s public school system.

Photo by Shealyn Jae

It's Thursday and that means it's time for Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck to join us with a review. This week, she joins guest host Rob Sivak to talk about "Trust," the new production now on stage at Fells Point Corner Theater in Baltimore until Sunday, March 19th.

Here's how Fells Point Corner Theatre describes this off-beat play by Steven Deitz -- one of the country's most prolific regional-theater playwrights:

"A rising star and a faded one. A radio DJ. A Bohemian. Guitar picks, pick-ups and wedding dresses waiting to be worn. In a fast-paced, grungy grind, how can anyone be trusted when temptation trumps all?  From the creative team who brought us previous year's productions of Other Desert Cities and Detroit, Director Michael Byrne Zemarel combines with the talents of Valerie Dowdle, Cassandra Dutt, Laura Malkus, Rachel Roth, David Shoemaker and Mark Scharf to bring you a play about rock'n'roll -- and the ones it leaves behind."

"Trust," by Steven Deitz,  is on stage at the Fells Point Corner Theatre in Baltimore until Sunday, March 19th.

Photo by Jillian Edelstein

Tom's guest today is the acclaimed Pakistani novelist and essayist Mohsin Hamid.  He’s the author of insightful and quirky novels like Moth Smoke, The Reluctant Fundamentalist and How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia

In his latest work, Exit West, he explores the complexities and punishing challenges of being a refugee.  With hints of fantasy and a trenchant analysis of the human condition, Hamid writes fiction that forces us to listen and essays that compel us to question the common wisdom.

Mohsin Hamid joins Tom to talk about his work, and the uncertain fate of refugees in a world that is becoming increasingly hostile to those displaced by war, famine and political upheavals.

You can meet Mohsin Hamid on Saturday, March 11, at the Church of the Redeemer in North Baltimore.  The event will support the work of the Baltimore office of the International Rescue Committee.  It’s sponsored by the Ivy Bookshop, and it begins at 7:00pm.   For more information, click here.

Photo by Richard Anderson

Midday's theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio -- as she does most Thursdays -- with her review this week of The White Snake, on stage in the renovated Head Theater at the newly named Baltimore Center Stage.

Based on an ancient Chinese fable, The White Snake uses mystery and magic to tell a fantastical tale that's staged in grand-spectacle style, intertwining traditional and modern storytelling techniques.  

Two animal spirits -- White Snake and Green Snake, played by Aime Donna Kelly and Eileen Rivera, have taken human form as a beautiful woman and her sly servant. White Snake falls in love with a poor pharmacist’s assistant (played by Joe Ngo), but their relationship is condemned by a conservative monk (played by Peter Van Wagner), and their newfound happiness is threatened by tragedy. 

The White Snake was written-adapted by Mary Zimmerman, and directed by Natsu Onoda Power.  Nicole Wee is the costume designer,  Hana S. Kim is the scenic and projection designer, and  Jeff Song is music director.

The White Snake is at Baltimore Center Stage until March 26th.  Ticket and showtime information is available here.

Photo by REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

It’s the Midday News Wrap, our regular Friday review of the week's top local, national and international news stories, with a rotating panel of journalists, commentators and community leaders.

President Trump gave a widely praised speech on Tuesday night to a joint session of Congress.  Various news outlets have identified more than a dozen false or misleading statements in that address.  The Washington Post is keeping track of such things.  They’ve accumulated 187 factually inaccurate statements by the President in his first 40 days in office.  Still, many people think the President quieted some skeptics with his performance in front of Congress.

Photo by Joan Marcus

Theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom in the studio, as she does each Thursday, with a review today of  the Broadway touring company production of The Bodyguard, on stage through Sunday (March 5) at the Hippodrome Theatre in Baltimore.  

Based on the 1992 hit film of the same name starring Kevin Costner and the late Whitney Houston, the award-winning musical showcases the extraordinary talents of the Grammy-nominated R&B superstar, Deborah Cox

Most audiences will likely recall The Bodyguard storyline: former Secret Service agent-turned-bodyguard, Frank Farmer, played by Judson Mills, is hired to protect superstar Rachel Marron, played by Cox, from an unknown stalker. Each is strong-willed and used to being in control, but in spite of themselves, they fall in love.  The Bodyguard features a playlist of popular classics, including "Queen of the Night," "So Emotional," "One Moment in Time," "Saving All My Love," "Run to You," "I Have Nothing," "I Wanna Dance with Somebody" and one of the biggest-selling songs of all time – "I Will Always Love You."

The Bodyguard was adapted from the Lawrence Kasdan screenplay with a book by Alexander Dinelaris.  The Broadway touring production is directed by Thea Sharrock, choreographed by Karen Bruce, with set and costume designs by Tim Hatley.  

The Bodyguard continues at the Hippodrome until Sunday, March 5th.

cnn.com

There are an estimated 19,000 addicts who inject heroin and other opioids in the city of Baltimore.  They shoot up, in the shadows.  They even have a name for the vacant houses they sometimes use:  abandominiums.        

Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health say that as part of a strategy to address this growing epidemic, Baltimore should establish places where addicts can use drugs in safer environments.  These “Safe Drug Consumption Spaces” would be monitored by medical personnel, who could intercede if someone overdoses, and addicts can, at the very least, be guaranteed the use of sterile needles. 

Dr. Susan Sherman recently published a report commissioned by the Abell Foundation that makes the argument for the creation of these safe spaces in Baltimore City.  She joins me today, along with Robert Kinneberg, the director of the Phoenix Recovery Center, who works to cure addiction.  And we're joined on the line from Annapolis by Del. Dan Morhaim, a Democrat and licensed emergency-room physician who represents Baltimore County in the MD House. He's just introduced a bill authorizing the creation of safe drug injection facilities in communities across Maryland.  We also take your calls, tweets and emails.

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