Midday | WYPR

Midday

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.

McKay Jenkins may be just the person to make sense of this complicated web of science, industry and culture.  The author of seven books, Jenkins has been writing for the past 30 years, in various ways, about our connections with the natural world.  Two of his recent titles have explored problems in the modern chemical industry: ContamiNation, published last year, is an investigation into the many toxic synthetic chemicals we encounter, often unwittingly, in our daily lives -- and a guide to avoiding them. In 2014, Jenkins published Poison Spring, co-written with E.G. Vallianatos, which examines the disturbing collusion between the Environmental Protection Agency and the chemical industry it was created to regulate. His latest book is the one we’ll be discussing today.  It’s called Food Fight: GMOs and the Future of the American Diet, and it reflects Jenkins’ journalistic approach to one of the most polarizing and misunderstood issues of our time.  

McKay Jenkins holds degrees from Amherst, Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism, and Princeton, where he received a PhD in English. He’s a former staff writer for the Atlanta Constitution, and he has also written for Outside, Orion, The New Republic, and other publications.  Today, Jenkins is the Cornelius Tilghman Professor of English, Journalism and Environmental Humanities at the University of Delaware. He lives in Baltimore with his family, and he joins Rob today in Studio A.

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.

The chance to enroll in a high school that offers rigorous, college-level content can be a determining factor in whether a student goes on to a four-year college.  Acceptance at so-called "academic entrance criteria high schools" can depend heavily on whether a student scored well in advanced courses during his or her middle school years. 

One of the stated intentions of the City’s school choice program? To create better educational opportunities for the city’s lower-income students.     So, today on Midday, we ask, “How’s that been going?”

An independent report released last month has an answer to the question:  It concludes that the school choice program remains well short of its goals, and that high school enrollment in Baltimore City is still strongly tied to income.  It found that lower-income students’ attendance at college-track high schools is roughly half the rate of higher-income students.  The report is titled, “Calculated Choices: Equity and Opportunity in Baltimore City Public Schools.” It was commissioned by The Fund For Educational Excellence, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that’s supporting efforts to increase student achievement in the city’s public schools. 

The Fund’s President and CEO, Roger Schulman, joins Aaron in the studio this afternoon to discuss the report’s findings and their implications for academic equity in the city’s public school system. Mr. Schulman moved to Baltimore two decades ago as part of the first Teach For America corps to serve in Baltimore City Public Schools. He served as the Executive Director of Teach For America and most recently as a Senior Partner with The New Teacher Project. Roger Schulman, welcome…

Also joining Aaron in the studio is Taylor Stewart.  She is the Baltimore Regional Director at Leadership for Educational Equity.  That’s a nonprofit education policy and teacher-training group whose goal is ‘a quality, equitable education for every Maryland student.’  Ms. Stewart has spent the past 10 years working as a teacher and advocate for academic equity in schools across the city and state. 

And on the line from the Manhattan studio of the New York Times is Nikole Hanna-Jones.  She is a staff writer for the New York Times Magazine, and she has reported powerfully on the issue of race and opportunity in America’s public schools. She won a 2015 Peabody Award for her series on school segregation for the public radio program, “This American Life.” And her story last year for the New York Times Magazine, Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City, just won her the 2017 Hillman Prize for Magazine Journalism.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

President Trump spent a year on the campaign trail saying terrible things about Muslims and NATO. He railed against Hillary Clinton for mishandling classified information. He even had bad things to say about the Pope.  

He leaves today to meet with leaders of Saudi Arabia, NATO, and Israel, whose trust he abused when he revealed secrets Israel had collected, to Russian diplomats. He’ll also meet with the Pope.  

Meanwhile, computers across the globe were paralyzed by ransomware, a white police officer was acquitted in Oklahoma after shooting an unarmed black man during a traffic stop, and layoffs are imminent in the Baltimore City Schools.  

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Everyman Theatre is wrapping up its 26th season with the raucous British comedy Noises Off. Everyman’s Resident Company of actors transforms into a bumbling British company of actors just hours away from their opening night. Everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Between the lost lines and love triangles pandemonium takes over before intermission. 

Vincent Lancisi is Everyman’s Founder and Artistic Director. He also directs this production. Deborah Hazlett stars in the role of Dotty Otley. They join Tom for a preview of Noises Off.

MD GovPics/Jay Baker

On Saturday, all eyes will be on the Pimlico race track for the 142nd running of the Preakness Stakes.  As the sports world bends its gaze to the aging track in Northwest Baltimore, track owners and local leaders are considering the future of Pimlico.

Almost everyone agrees that the track needs an upgrade. Will it take a facelift, or a complete tear-down and re-build to assure that the second leg of the triple crown stays in Charm City? Or, will the Preakness move to Laurel, MD? What’s at stake, with the Preakness stakes? Sandy Rosenberg, who represents Baltimore City in the House of Delegates, and WYPR reporter Karen Hosler join Tom to talk ponies and politics.     

Felicia Chapple

It's Thursday, and that means theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck is here with her weekly review of the region's thespian offerings. She joins Tom with a review of Arena Player's Crowns: A Gospel Musical

After 17-year -old Yolanda's brother is shot and killed in Chicago, she's sent down south to live with her grandmother, who is an active and respected member of her church community. Crowns is a show that focuses on African-American church women and as the title suggests, big, stylish, hats play a major role in the musical. The hats are used to convey history, tell the women's stories and to impart social rules.

TiaJuana Rountree gives a standout performance as Grandma Shaw and Khadijah Hameen's singing is nearly show stopping. Crowns, which is inspired by a portrait book of the same name, has been performed all over the country, this is first time it's being performed in Baltimore. 

Doug Mills/NY Times

Our country is becoming much more diverse. People of color will outnumber non-Latino, white Americans in 30 years. Are our newsrooms representative of our increasingly diverse nation? It’s a question that news organizations are grappling with across the country. Last month, NPR’s Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen published a report that said that in 2016, of the 350 employees in the NPR news division 75.4 percent were white. In the commentary Jensen wrote "There's simply no way around it: If the goal is to increase diversity in the newsroom, last year's was a disappointing showing” 

Last December, New York Times Public Editor Liz Spayd published a frank piece about the lack of diversity in their newsroom. Of course NPR and the New York Times are not alone. In 2014, minorities made up 22 percent of television journalists, 13 percent of radio journalists, and 13 percent of journalists at daily newspapers. That’s according to the Radio Television Digital News Association and the American Society of News Editors. People of color make up about 15% of the programming staff at WYPR.

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.  

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Next,  a conversation about a new, seven-part documentary that will be released on Friday (May 19) on Netflix. It's called "The Keepers," and it has already engendered intense interest in the cold murder case of a 26-year-old Catholic nun who taught at Archbishop Keough High School in Baltimore City.  Sr. Catherine Ann Cesnik went missing in November 1969. Her body was found at a dump in Lansdowne, in Baltimore County, in January, 1970. Her murderer has not yet been identified.

In February of this year, Baltimore County Police exhumed the body of a former Catholic priest who died in 2001. Seven years before his death, A. Joseph Maskell had been accused of abusing students at Keough High School. Police exhumed his body looking for evidence that may link him to Sr. Cathy Cesnik’s murder.

Ryan White, who directed "The Keepers," joined Tom in Studio A. He has met with and interviewed several of Sr. Cathy’s former students, some of whom have been actively investigating her murder for years. Several of these former students figure prominently in "The Keepers."

Gemma Hoskins is one of those former students. She joined us on the phone from Ocean City.  She maintains a Facebook page about the killing of her favorite teacher that now has more than 1,000 members.

Help is available 24/7 for victims of sexual assault via the National Sexual Assault Hotline at their website (click here) or by calling 1-800-656-4673.

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?   

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