Cubs Seek to Bounce Back from Rough 2017 Memorial Day Weekend

“Anything to take the edge off the reality that the 2016 World Series Champions are a .500 team. Last week was a trying one for the Cubbies and members of Wrigleyville Nation. A road sweep by the Los Angeles Dodgers and a disastrous Monday start to the San Diego series. I believe All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo bespoke the surprise and frustration of many fans in a post-game interview exchange transcribed by Comcast Sports Network (CSN):

‘Rizzo couldn’t believe it – ‘Did we walk 10 times?’ – when a reporter mentioned another part of the box score. ‘That’s a formula that usually shoots out more than two runs.’

Indeed, Tony. Indeed. Rizzo continued his extended foray into understatement by concluding, ‘It’s not all peachy right now…We got urgency. We’re grinding. We got a lot of guys that grind and will continue to – no matter what. We’ll keep playing hard…that’s really all you can do.

Nothing seems to be working the way it should for the Cubs. The starting pitching rotation has struggled to bring down a combined 4.58 ERA. After high hopes and much praise for the unconventional genius of the move, Kyle Schwarber has done nothing in the leadoff hitting position, and has been haphazard at best in the field. Addison Russell remains a defensive phenom – with a bat as cold as ice.

And take our bullpen – please.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Trump’s Away, But Congress Still Plays with America’s Future

When President Trump boarded a plane last week Friday for his first foreign mission (as with any discussion regarding the Trump administration, “mission” is a loose placeholder word for whatever it actually is this group executes), I breathed a sigh of relief. I’m certain there were others of the same mind. Moments of national embarrassment were bound to occur. Perhaps Trump would exhibit behavior more reckless for the safety of our union, inveterate loose cannon such as POTUS is. But it was kind of nice to have the house to ourselves for a moment. To take a deep breath and if not process all that’s happened since January 20 (who has that much time and money for therapy?), at least grab our collective bearings.

Because Trump just can’t help himself, the restorative breath did not last long. Some of the tour’s early coverage exposed the President’s oddly low brow, yet stubbornly persnickety, eating habits. Per Newsweek via Raw Story, “President Donald Trump eats like a 6-foot-plus, 240-pound petulant child—if that irritable youngster had the ability to push a button and make a lackey fetch a Coke.”

Other reports centered on Trump’s attention span and stamina challenges. And just what, in the what, in the WHAT was happening with that orb business in Saudi Arabia? It was the two-dimensional plot kickoff to an Austin Powers movie.

But while some of our attention drifted overseas in tandem with Trump’s reality show farce of a presidency, there’s still plenty going on stateside. Enough to remind a majority of voters that 45 is an ongoing danger to sanity and integrity wherever he roams, yes. At the same time he’s merely a product of the political culture from which he spawned. It took the Republican Party and its “base” four decades to bring us this week’s cynical two-ring mendacity circus. And President Trump was far away from the Big Top.

Let’s start with the proffered budget plan. Unveiled this week by Tea Party darling Mick Mulvaney, it doesn’t contain much to further candidate Trump’s populist agenda. Esquire’s Charles Pierce found it both wanting and sadly predictable:

“Make no mistake. This is not a ‘Trump budget.’ This is a Republican budget, a movement conservative budget, a product of the tinpot economic theory and the misbegotten Randian view of human nature towards which every serious Republican has pledged troth since the days of Reagan, a government-sanctioned fulfillment of all the wishes that Paul Ryan wished over the keg during the college experience that our contributions to Social Security helped buy him.”

Not only does the plan, as it were, savage funding for the arts, sciences, Medicaid and numerous human services – certainly nerve-wracking enough. But the actual numbers are an irrational output of magical thinking. Peter R. Orszag, director of the Office of Management and Budget during President Barack Obama’s first term, was quoted by the New York Times in response to a review of Mulvaney’s document. Words were not minced.

“It is not hard to write down a series of number on a paper and say: ‘Tada! I balanced the budget!’…That is a much different process than having a credible plan for how that could be achieved. And they have not done that.”

Americans are being served the same warmed-over, inequality-propelling trickle-down economics. A decades-old can of Spam we’re supposed to accept as fresh and nourishing. We watched this approach balloon our deficit in the 1980s and early 21st Century. Yet all the scolds and hawks of the Obama era seemed to have vanished. Funny, that.

This ideological pattern has little to do with Trump. He is merely a distracting, erratic vessel. It’s ok if he costs the Republican Party a generation of voters as long as Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan achieve upward redistribution of wealth and maintain a Republican SCOTUS majority. There’s no long-term thinking for these guys. Smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em. We little folks are just so many generic cigarettes.

The other freak show in Washington this week is the House Intelligence Committee. I have to admit, I’m not even sure what the GOP is doing here. This investigation is not helping further American interests. It’s also not doing much for Trump and the Republican Party. A disgraced Devin Nunes skulking around the White House in March. And just yesterday, former CIA Director John Brennan pantsed Trey Gowdy. A lot of time and money wasted on a forgone conclusion that embarrasses everyone involved.

Donald Trump returns to the White House this coming Saturday. There’s hope for a somewhat slow news weekend as the man-child recovers from jet lag and a public rebuff from Melania. Enjoy another few moments before Hurricane 45 unleashes anew. But never take your eyes off Congress. There’s not much novelty there. Just more of the same bad policy and American Dream erosion.

F is for Feminism

Let’s get a a couple of facts out of the way:

1). I’m a feminist.

2). If you respect any of the women in your life, you should be one too.

Feminism, as defined by Merriam Webster is “the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes,” or “organized activity on behalf of women’s rights and interests.” For the sake of this conversation, let’s use both variations as working content, rather than the ludicrous urban dictionary definition. I’m currently reading Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and one of the core takeaways is that as long as you adhere to the basics of equality, feminism is flexible. No matter how you react a word however, the truth is there’s a lot less respect for women around the world than there should be in 2017, and a lot of this inequality flies right under our noses.

In a previous post, I mentioned that pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition in the recent Congressionally-approved repeal of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare). However after she read my post, my mother pointed out I was playing softball. Her point: under some pre-Obamacare insurance plans, not just pregnancy, but RAPE could be classified as a pre-existing condition in some states.  If ACA is fully repealed, non-consensual sex could still be categorized as such, depending on providers and channels of coverage.

This health care onslaught against women comes at a time when we have definitions like Urban Dictionary’s crawling around the Internet (even as a “joke,” it’s highly offensive and disturbing). And there are many who treat the label “feminist” like a curse word, avoiding it altogether. What’s wrong with being an acknowledged pursuer of equal rights?

Answer: Nothing.

The “problem” is that asserting modern equality of any kind (see: Black Lives Matter) upsets the status quo and is viewed as a threat by the reproducers of ideology. Humans are capable of great change, but are too often resistant and intellectually lazy about the associated effort. But here’s the reality: women are treated unfairly. In the workplace, in interpersonal interactions, and by too many governments.

Most of you reading this are probably well aware of the gender climate. Apologies – the last thing anyone wants is another lecture from a white man. I know I’m writing from a position of privilege on complex set of issues that don’t subjugate me.  All the more reason to speak,  to push for an end to these injustices. My life has been enriched by strong women who overcame obstacles they shouldn’t have had to. As a society, we’re standing on yet another precipice of choice between advancement and regression. If I’m in a position to support and advocate, I will and I must.

The examples of regression are numerous.  Headlines display a barrage of egregious physical and political violations. Last week a ten year-old who was raped in India was granted (oh thank you justice system) permission to abort her abusive rapist’s child. This same district horrified the world in the case of a brutal gang rape, where the driver blamed the victim for “being out too late” and not what he considered a “decent girl.”

We don’t have to leave American shores to find other disgraceful examples of sexual violence that debase a women’s person-hood. Baylor University football players are accused of drugging and raping female students as a demented bonding ritual. This kind of depravity treats half a population like a commodity; a viewpoint enforced by governing bodies who attack women’s access to healthcare. Iowa just swapped out Medicaid money for state funds, which limits those funds’ usage at centers that provide essential care if they also offer abortions. Life and death decisions for women are founded on the opinions of those who can’t possibly empathize – mainly rich, white men. 

It’s almost a mistake to label the aforementioned examples “regressions.” The word ignores the history and constancy of gender inequality. Nothing here is new, but somehow it feels freshly discouraging.

Until a few months ago, a path to gender progress in American was visible. Hillary Clinton was primed to be the first female President of the United States of America. Despite constant hectoring (see this satiric compendium of everything she’s been called) voters seemed to be With Her. Instead, “Grab’em by the pussy” Donald Trump won the election, leading to the Women’s Marches as a direct response. For many the civil unrest offered hope that we haven’t lost our sanity altogether, that as a democratic nation we’ll resist all forms of tyranny. 

Maybe I’m guilty of romanticizing that moment, believing the day’s momentum would propel women forward. Easy access to healthcare, freedom from toxic slut-shaming, working side-by-side with men without the spectre of sexual harassment. But progress doesn’t move in bursts. Unfortunately it comes in fits and starts. Knowing this, let’s keep standing and protesting.

Objects in the Mirror

Lily Mojekwu (Luopu Workolo), Daniel Kyri (Shedrick Yarkpai) and Breon Arzell (Zaza Workolo)

In art, truth — the search for it, the lack of it and the emotional pain these activities impose — is a universal concern. What is human life if not the constant pursuit of trustworthy community and informational reliability? The struggle provides endless creative inspiration. Yet somehow, in 2017 America, “Objects in the Mirror,” the work of Chicago native Charles Smith, arrives on the Goodman Theatre stage that much more urgently.

As I write these words, our country is struggling through a nascent Constitutional crisis that has its roots in the mysterious relationship between the Trump administration and Vladimir Putin’s Russia. It could be months, even years before facts are laid bare and outcomes are decided. And while this catastrophe plays itself out on the world stage, works of art such as “Objects” remind us of an inescapable, universal truth. The reckoning always arrives. Always.

Playwright Charles Smith met a young, hungry actor in Adelaide, Australia in 2009. As press materials detail, Smith’s friendship with Shedrick Yarkpai grew, ultimately resulting in this story of the actor’s “valiant 10+ year (1995-2007) journey from war-torn Liberia through a number of refugee camps in Guinea and Cote D’Ivoire, before his final relocation” to the Land Down Under.

As played by Chicago actor Daniel Kyri, Shedrick is a conflicted survivor: loyal, earnest and brokenhearted over separation from his mother Luopu (the phenomenal Lily Mojekwu). He is determined to build a life of which he can be proud, despite years of human horror and Dark Side temptation.

Though it’s impossible to be certain of playwright Smith’s process, it’s hard to overlook the parallels between Liberia’s brutal warlord Charles Taylor and the current President of the United States. The foot soldiers and water carriers of both regimes are desperate and disillusioned. In Shedrick’s retelling of his personal and national history, any community and security is sometimes preferable to frightened, isolated starvation. The Trump administration has steered clear of indiscriminate murder to be sure, but it’s not hard to feel the country slipping down an increasingly deep and morally corrupt surface.

It’s a testament to Yarkpai’s story, Smith’s writing and Goodman Theatre resident director Chuck Smith (no relation) that “Objects” can feel so universal and personal, even as the action takes place “over there.” It also helps that every cast member is exquisitely talented and well chosen. In addition to powerful work from Kyri and the remarkable Mojekwu, Allen Gilmore as Uncle John Workolo is a revelation.

Workolo is the relentless center holding his tortured family together. His personal motto, repeated more than once during the play’s two-hour, 15-minute runtime, is that his kin and he survive or fall as one. He channels his considerable energies and focus into the noble pursuit of his family’s survival. He also seeks a life of which he can be proud — one in which a relationship with the truth is dictated by circumstances of the moment. Uncle John thinks on his feet, but his decisions are not always kind. Gilmore wrings every bit of emotionally-relatable nuance out of the material.

Ryan Kitley also turns in a good performance as Rob Mosher, an Australian lawyer who takes a personal interest in young Shedrick. The beauty of Kitley’s turn, the delicate artistry in fact of the entire cast, lies in uncertainty.

It’s possible to believe every player in Shedrick’s story means well without any confidence that anyone is telling the truth. Shedrick himself, while certainly sympathetic, demonstrates unreliability as a narrator. Does he make up drug experiences as a test of Mosher’s loyalty, as he tells Uncle John, or is his father figure the one being tried?

“Objects in the Mirror” is a gripping piece about the physical, metaphorical and spiritual challenges involved in living authentically. It deserves a wide audience.

“Objects in the Mirror” runs through June 4 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3800 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.

Getting Human Rights Wrong

Last week, America’s foreign policy shifted in a startling way. Our nation went from home of the free and the brave, to a potential Airbnb stay for oppressive dictators. Donald Trump is courting foreign leaders who have been likened to Hannibal Lector, and is opening the floodgates to negative possibilities by meeting one of the world champs of human right’s violations.

To the uninformed, inviting Rodrigo Duterte to the White House doesn’t seem that extreme or worrisome – foreign leaders are called to Washington on a regular basis. It’s common, expected diplomatic behavior. That this head of state, specifically, was invited is alarming, because a quick Google search turns up a number of 7,000 civilians killed due to his war on drugs in the Philippines (as of March 2017). Other evidence of his disregard for human rights can be found in additional returned searches. Legal experts assert that if Duterte were not President of the Philippines, he wouldn’t be allowed into the U.S due to these violations. But these are not normal times. There are certain similarities between Duterte and Donald Trump. The current egoist occupying the Oval Office would apparently love the opportunity to speak to himself through a fun-house mirror.

Combine Trump’s curious condoning of Duterte’s murderous war on drugs, with the recent designation of Kim Jong-Un as a “Smart Cookie.” Add in his ongoing obsession with Russia’s Vladmir Putin, and we’re looking at a bleak future for human rights. This is a president easily swayed by flattery who quickly absorbs problematic ideas. He shouldn’t be left alone unsupervised. All three of these foreign powers (The Philippines, North Kora, Russia) sit high on the Human Rights Watch violations list, with regressive policies against free speech and mounting (state controlled and sponsored) paranoia of the west, specifically the United States.

The truly terrifying take away from a potential visit with Duterte isn’t what could happen in the future, should The Donald develop a strong relationship with the leader. The real horrors are the shades of dictatorial political systems and regimes that have already infiltrated America. There are more examples than space in this column to provide, but you don’t have to look far to see escalated aggression against any group defined as “other” (read: non-white, poor, homosexual, religion other than Christianity). The divisive rhetoric from world leaders such as Duterte, Putin, Jong-Un and Trump creates a muscled environment for hateful propaganda to flourish. It encourages divisive hostility, supporting an “us vs them” narrative (looking at you, Breitbart, with your glowing “special report” of the first 100 Days of the Trump disaster) that  supporters embrace.

Mr. Trump signed an executive order (his 35th in just over 100 days in office- this list summarizes the first 29 and six more have been produced since) promoting “religious freedom,” which allows tax-exempt churches to advocate for and endorse political entities. This is another dangerous muddling of the lines between separation of church and state (The Constitution only mentions Congress in Amendment I). Many readers (myself included) interpret this as a blank check, allowing Indianans to refuse to bake me a cake if I decide to tie the knot. We all know how that turns out.

That’s just one tame example of authoritarian, dogmatic creepage. But right now, we have a President who’s achieved his definition of “winning” almost entirely through executive orders. He’s resentful of the press (no-showing at the Annual Correspondents Dinner) and prefers to create “alternative facts” while decrying reason and established journalism as “fake news.” We’re looking at the early stages of a dictatorship with a self-generating propaganda machine. Don’t believe me? Just take a look at the arrest for laughing during confirmed racist’s Jeff Session’s Confirmation Hearing,  the same week that Alton Sterling’s highly publicized death resulted in no charges for the officers who shot him.

While all of these are technically separate events and occurrences, together they point to a narrowing notion of freedom in America – one where racism is rewarded, undue aggression is allowed a free pass if the victim isn’t a cisgendered white male, specific religious beliefs Trump (pun intended) others, and unrepentant murderers receive invites to the White House. The closing window of life and liberty also expanded last week to shut out the poor and unlucky further. The House passed a bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, expanding the definition of pre-existing conditions to absurdly discriminatory levels (pregnancy is now apparently a pre-existing condition, whereas erectile dysfunction is not).

Detractors might say that coddling up to a man like Duterte could help promote a growing relationship with China. An increasingly hostile North Korea faced together and all that. I’m going to go however with a less is more approach. Given their records, Duterte and Trump should never be in a room together. America can’t risk it.

Jimmy Kimmel and Charles Pierce Humanize Media ‘Enemy’ with AHCA Rebukes

“While the House bill was rushed through without an immediate opportunity to assess its public popularity, budgetary impact or full coverage devastation, it’s worth remembering that the previous incarnation was supported by just 17 percent of Americans. That’s a unified, nonpartisan rebuke from a voting public coming to understand that health should not be a choice between food on the table and a doctor’s visit. A major illness shouldn’t bankrupt a family. We’re remembering that the Declaration of Independence, one of the founding documents of our imperfect union, declares our universal, inalienable right to life. Not just the lucky, well-funded few. All of us.

It’s our job as members of the media to pull the curtains away from yesterday’s decadent Washington fete and expose the real harm that will be done if this farce of a bill actually passes through the Senate. However unlikely that prospect seems to conventional wisdom now, let us recall that even top Republicans thought the “reform” issue was dead not 10 days ago. And a bombastic, buffoonish television reality star could never be elected President of the United States, right?

Yes it’s the media’s job to ignore all Trump administration claims of “winning.” We must continue shining a factual, human light on the losing his agenda inflicts on the middle and working classes. Some of us are doing better than others. A tip of the hat, and genuine thanks, to Kimmel and Pierce.”

Read the full post at Contemptor.