Midday | WYPR


Photo by Monica Simoes

The region's theaters remain dark as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to prevent traditional indoor public stagings. But as we've reported previously here on Midday, the shows must - and do - go on, through a rich variety of live-streamed and pre-recorded streaming productions.

Midday theater critic J. Wynn Rousuck joins Tom today to tell us about some upcoming and continuing virtual theater events. Notable among them is the first-ever live streaming at 7 p.m. this Sunday (June 28) of the recorded 2013 production of The Night Larry Kramer Kissed Me, by Obie Award-winning actor and playwright David Drake, with The Provincetown TheaterThe show, directed by Tony nominee Robert La Fosse, weaves threads of the LGBTQ coming-out experience with the story of veteran AIDS activist and playwright Larry Kramer (who passed away just three weeks ago). It features an all-star cast, including Mr. Drake, Tony Award-winners BD Wong (M. Butterfly) and Andre de Shields (Hadestown, Ain’t Misbehavin’), plus 3-time Tony nominee Robin de Jesus (In the Heights, Boys in the Band), and Tony-nominated star Rory O’Malley (Book of Mormon).

AP Photo/Evan Vucci

As we went to air today, the House Judiciary Committee convened an investigative hearing into “political interference and threats to prosecutorial independence” at the U.S. Justice Department.  The hearing opened on the heels of last weekend’s firing of Geoffrey Berman, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York.  President Trump’s plan to install in his place a political ally with no prosecutorial experience drew pushback from even Trump loyalists like Lindsey Graham.  The Committee chairman, Democratic Congressman Jerrold Nadler of New York, is expected to subpoena US Attorney General William Barr in early July, although whether Mr. Barr will comply is an open question...

Photo Courtesy / Keystone Korner

Theaters, concert halls and live performance venues were the first to close when the pandemic arrived, and many will be among the last to re-open.  Tom talks with jazz impresario Todd Barkan Co-owner of  Baltimore jazz club Keystone Korner  and Audrey Fix Schaefer communications director of the National Independent Venue Association on what’s needed to keep independent music venues alive. 

Then Ken Skrzesz, executive director of the Maryland State Arts Council, joins Tom to discuss how Maryland artists and arts organizations are coping with COVID 19.

Brian Witt / AP

We begin today with a check on the state of Maryland’s efforts to mitigate the coronavirus and continue Gov. Larry Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery. 

Tom’s first guest is Fran Phillips.

She is Maryland’s deputy health secretary for public health services and a member of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Coronavirus Response Team.

Before being named to her current role in the Maryland Health Department, Phillips was the health officer of Anne Arundel County for many years.

Senator Ben Cardin

Joining Tom for the hour today is the senior Democratic senator from Maryland, Ben Cardin.  First elected to the Senate in 2006, he is currently the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship.  He also serves on the Senate Finance Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee. 

Among today's topics :

President Trump held a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday.  The arena wasn't as full as his campaign predicted it would be, but Mr. Trump did attract more than 6,000 people, despite numerous warnings from health officials that the rally posed a major health risk. 

A federal judge denied the Trump Administration's request that Simon and Schuster be blocked from releasing former National Security Adviser John Bolton’s tell-all memoirnoting how many copies of the book were already circulating.  Bolton is making the rounds of national news shows, verifying reports in previous tell-all books that Mr. Trump is not fit to serve in the highest office in the land....

AP Photo/LM Otero

In June, 1921, White mobs destroyed Tulsa, Oklahoma’s Greenwood neighborhood, a thriving African American community known as Black Wall Street.  An estimated 200 to 300 African Americans were killed during the attack.  Perhaps as many as 10,000 people were left homeless. 

There has been renewed interest in this bloody chapter in America’s history because President Trump is set to hold a campaign rally in Tulsa tomorrow.  The rally was originally scheduled to take place Friday, on Juneteenth, but the date was changed after a national outcry.

Washington Post reporter DeNeen L. Brown joins Tom to discuss the significance of Juneteenth, the sacred space that the Tulsa massacre holds in our history, and the event's significance for race relations in the current moment. 

You can read DeNeen L. Brown's moving essay, 'Black people are tired of trying to explain racism, here.  

AP Photo/Ragan Clark, File

Streets around the world remain filled with protesters demanding that police be “defunded.” Today on Midday, a police perspective on the intensifying calls to defund and reform the nation's police departments.

Tom is joined by Officer Seth Templeton, a beat cop in Baltimore County who wrote an open letter in the Baltimore Sun to a protester, hoping to bridge the gap between demonstrators and law enforcement;  Chief Melvin Russell, who served in the Baltimore City Police Department for 40 years; and Matthew Horace, a 28-year veteran of local, state and federal law enforcement agencies and author of The Black and the Blue: A Cop Reveals the Crimes, Racism and Injustice in America’s Law Enforcement. 

Harper Collins Publishers

Nationally, the United States ranks 26th in the world in voter turnout.

Given the pandemic, a battered economy, widespread civil unrest and all that is at stake in the upcoming presidential election, it remains to be seen whether more voters will embrace the power they yield at the ballot box in November.

Tom’s guest is Kim Wehle, a constitutional scholar who has written a primer on voting: how voting differs from state to state, what the structural barriers are to voting, and how those barriers can be overcome.

Wehle is a law professor at the University of Baltimore School of Law and a legal commentator for CBS News.

Her last book was called How to Read the Constitution and Why. Her new book is What You Need to Know About Voting and Why. 

Also today, this sad note: Dr. Shirley Basfield Dunlap, the director of Theater Morgan at Morgan State University, passed away Sunday at her home in Baltimore. 

Dr. Dunlap was a highly respected theater artist who directed productions nationwide.

She worked with Melba Moore and Ossie Davis, but it was her students, at Morgan and elsewhere, who will forever remember her intensity and her vitality.

Photo by Larry Canner

All 50 states are in some phase of re-opening their economies after a few weeks, and in some cases several months, of lockdown.  Here in Maryland, health officials announced another day of fewer than 400 new cases of COVID-19, and the statewide positivity rate has dropped to 6.2%.  It’s been 10 weeks since we’ve had as few COVID patients in ICU beds as we do now, and as of yesterday (6/15/20), overall hospitalizations had dropped for 20 days in a row.  With 150+ testing sites now open, state officials hope that many more people will be tested in the coming weeks.  

These trends propelled Maryland Governor Larry Hogan to announce last Wednesday further easing of restrictions for a greater number of businesses.  Indoor dining is now allowed in many jurisdictions, and as of Friday, gyms and malls will also be allowed to re-open. 

Tom's first guest today is considered one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases, and at a media briefing last week he expressed concerns about the pace at which our state, and others, are re-opening.  Dr. Tom Inglesby is the director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security at the Bloomberg School of Public Health.  He has served on Governor Hogan’s Coronavirus Response Team since the governor announced a state of emergency in early March.  Dr. Inglesby joins us via Skype.

Khari Parker

Now, a look at how restaurants are adapting to "the new normal."  The National Restaurant Association estimates that about 40% of US restaurants will be forced to close because of the pandemic.  Many will never re-open.  Here in Maryland, indoor dining is now allowed in many jurisdictions, although not yet here in Baltimore City. 

Photograph by Chad Davis/Flickr

We are nearly three weeks into sustained worldwide protests over the Minneapolis police killing last month of George Floyd. On Friday night, a white police officer in Atlanta named Garrett Rolfe killed a 27-year-old Black man, Rayshard Brooks, as he fled after failing a sobriety test.  Brooks had taken a Taser gun from another officer and pointed it, and possibly fired it at Rolfe. The coroner has declared Brooks’ death a homicide.  Rolfe has been fired, and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation is investigating.

This latest incident has further intensified calls for reform of police use-of-force policies, and growing demands in cities across the country to “defund the police.”  The Baltimore City Council met virtually on Friday night to discuss cuts to the Baltimore Police Department budget. The U.S. Senate and the House are considering federal legislation, and leaders in Annapolis have vowed that police reform will be a high priority in the next General Assembly.

Some call for reform within traditional law enforcement structures; others advocate for reallocating funds from police to social services...

AP Photo/Brian Witte

If history repeats itself and the Democratic nominees for local offices prevail in November, a new cadre of progressive leaders will take a sharp left turn on their way to Baltimore City Hall, where they will assume responsibility for the COVID-19 pandemic, the re-build of the local economy, a persistent murder rate and the reform of a police department.

Political strategist Sophia Silbergeld and WYPR City Hall reporter Emily Sullivan join Tom with analysis.  


Alan Levine / WikiCommons

A Middle River crab house has become a flashpoint in the struggle for social justice in Maryland.  

On June 1, Vince Meyer, the owner and operator of Vince’s Crab House, wrote on Facebook, “There is one place I bet the protesters/rioters won’t light on fire or break into or even block the road to .... the social services buildings.”

Meyer closed all five of his establishments last week after this post and others came to light, prompting mass protests outside of his restaurants.

Tom's guest is local activist  Kellie Vaughan, who organized the protests against Vince’s Crab House.

Courtesy of MD Dept of Health

At the heart of Gov. Hogan’s plan to reopen the state economy are increased testing for COVID-19 and contact tracing.  The state has tested more than 460,000 people, and it has deployed 1,400 contact tracers so far.

Vickie Fretwell is Tom's guest. She is special assistant and senior advisor in the office of Maryland Health Secretary Robert R. Neall. And she is leading the Maryland Health Department’s new statewide effort to educate the public about contact tracing.

An important note: If a contact tracer for the state calls, your phone's caller ID will read MD COVID, and the call will come from this number: 240-466-4488. The Health Department's simple message:  Please answer the call. 

Courtesy of the Save Our Sun campaign

Next, a conversation about the future of The Baltimore Sun. Since 1986, when the A.S. Abell Co. sold the paper to the Times Mirror Corp., people throughout the community have lamented that our city’s paper of record was not locally owned. Over the years, there have been efforts to buy the paper and make a go of it as a for-profit business. 

Now a coalition of local business leaders, foundations and the union that represents journalists at the Sun have banded together to try once again to purchase the paper from its current owners, a company that is controlled by Alden Capital, a hedge fund with a history of buying newspapers and decimating them. The group has launched a campaign called Save Our Sun. Two of its leaders join Tom.

Liz Bowie is a Sun reporter and a leader of the Baltimore Sun GuildMatt Gallagher is the president and CEO of the Goldseker Foundation, one of the philanthropic organizations that would help fund the purchase, if the current owners agree to a sale. To add your name to the petition of those who agree with the Save Our Sun campaign, click here. 

Photo Courtesy / Corina Newsome

Black conservationists and avian enthusiasts are challenging the widely held racist stereotype that Black folks and people of color are more suited to urban landscapes than to the fields and forests of the natural world.

A group called BlackAFinSTEM declared last week to be the first-ever ‘Black Birders Week,’ a celebration using digital platforms to create virtual events that showcase African Americans working in the natural sciences, and who are lovers of the outdoors.

Baltimore City Health Department

One of the key elements in reopening plans, across counties or states, is to increase contact tracing to determine if people infected with COVID-19 may have exposed others to the virus. Maryland employs about 1,400 contact tracers so far, and it is looking to hire more. Last week, Mayor Jack Young announced the new Baltimore Health Corps, which will employ nearly 300 people as contact tracers.  

To tell us more about that program and other aspects of COVID-19 in the city, including testing, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa joins Tom for another installment of Midday with Tish the Commish. Dr. Dzirasa is the health commissioner of Baltimore City.

If you are interested in applying for one of the 300 new jobs with the Baltimore Health Corps, click here for more information. The jobs include training and do not require previous public health experience.

Penguin Random House


We begin our show today with a focus on foreign policy, and America’s role in the world. Tom's first guest is Dr. Richard Haassa veteran diplomat and policymaker who entered US government service in the 1970s.  He was senior Middle East adviser to President George H. W. Bush and director of the Policy Planning Staff under Secretary of State Colin Powell.  He is a recipient of the Presidential Citizens Medal, the State Department's Distinguished Honor Award, and the Tipperary International Peace Award...

Photograph by Molly Jordan Angevine/UVA

Tom’s next guest is Dr. Larycia Hawkins.  She’s a political scientist and social activist who is currently the Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture and a lecturer at the University of Virginia. Before taking her current position, Dr. Hawkins was an associate professor and founder and director of the Peace & Conflict Studies Certificate Program at Wheaton College in Illinois, a Christian liberal arts college near Chicago known in some circles as the “Harvard of evangelical colleges.”

In 2015, Dr. Hawkins, who is a Christian, was fired from her tenured position by the college after she posted on Facebook a picture of herself wearing a hijab, along with a statement expressing her “embodied solidarity” with Muslim women and her belief that Christians and Muslims "worship the same God." 

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

As the nationwide protests continue over the police killing last month in Minneapolis of George Floyd, there have been renewed calls for defunding police departments, and at the very least, reforming use-of-force policies employed by police across the country.   Protests have focused attention on the fact that people of color have been subjected to unconstitutional police tactics for generations.  Baltimore City is under a federal consent decree for that very reason.  The Speaker of the Maryland House, Adrienne Jones, has convened a bipartisan work group to study ways to reform law enforcement.  In Washington, the House and Senate will be considering federal legislation as well...

photo courtesy Tom Meagher

Today, we follow up on the continuing crisis in America’s prisons caused by the Coronavirus pandemic.  The Marshall Project, an award-winning non-profit reporting effort that examines problems in the criminal justice system, has found in its coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic that more than 40,000 prisoners have tested positive for the coronavirus.  More than 8,400 correctional staff have been infected.  More than 500 people have died in prison facilities across the country. Our first guest in today's follow-up is Tom Meagher (pronounced "mare").  He is the managing editor of Digital and Data Journalism with the Marshall Project, and he joins Tom via Skype from his home in New Jersey...

It’s the Midday Healthwatch with Dr. Leana Wen.  Dr. Wen is an Emergency Room physician and the former Health Commissioner of Baltimore City.  

She’s a visiting professor of health policy and management at the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University, a distinguished fellow at the Mullan Institute for Health Workforce Equity and a contributing columnist for The Washington Post.

Yesterday, Dr. Wen testified before the Congressional Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis about the continuing problem of racial and ethnic disparities when it comes to illness and fatalities due to Covid-19.  Today, she’s kind enough to join us on Midday.

AP Photo/Matthew S. Gunby

The Maryland State Board of Elections is in Day Two of its efforts to determine winners in the primaries for city-wide and city council offices in Baltimore City.  Given the reports of problems with both in-person and mail-in voting, the Governor made it clear in his remarks yesterday that he would like to see State Elections Administrator Linda Lamone removed from her job.  Other senior officials have made even more direct calls for her resignation.

As for potential winners, Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon maintains a lead in the race for Mayor, although she has not declared herself the victor in her race for her old job.  Marvin James, the campaign manager for City Council President Brandon Scott, who is in second place at this juncture, issued a statement yesterday afternoon that said We believe Brandon Scott will be the winner after all of the missing votes have been accurately accounted for and counted.”

Joining Tom on the line to discuss these and other election developments is WYPR’s City Hall reporter Emily Sullivan.

Md Film Festival

It's another edition of Midday at the Movies, our monthly look at films and filmmaking.  Today, we preview some of the hundreds of new documentary, feature and short films being showcased at the upcoming 2020 Maryland Film Fest - Virtual which will run completely online from June 12-21.  Tom talks with two of our favorite film aficionados -- Washington Post film critic Ann Hornaday, who joins us via Skype, and Maryland Film Festival founder Jed Dietz, to spotlight some of the standouts in the festival's huge lineup.

For more information on the 2020 Virtual Maryland Film Festival, and to register for a free Friday night preview, click here.

Ann and Jed also recommend some of best of the new studio films that are, or soon will be, available on streaming platforms, and comment on the uncertain prospects for the public's return to movie theaters this summer, a topic Ann explored in this recent piece

Pegasus Books

Tom's guest is Dr. Gary Vikan.  He was the director of the Walters Art Museum for nearly 20 years before retiring in 2013.  He’s been writing books since then.  His latest is about one of the most famous religious artifacts the world has ever known.  The Shroud of Turin came to prominence during another pandemic, this one in the 14th century.  Claimed for centuries to be the linen death shroud that covered the body of Jesus Christ after his crucifixion, it’s considered a holy relic by millions of believers.  Vikan traces its origins and gives the context for how it came to be so widely revered.  The book is called The Holy Shroud: A Brilliant Hoax in the Time of the Black Death… 

Gary Vikan and Tom Hall continue their conversation this evening at a virtual book launch.  It starts at 7:00pm.  To register for the free Zoom-based event, click here.

AP Photo/Brian Witte

Maryland held its first statewide mail-in election yesterday (Tuesday, June 2, 2020). Late last night, the MD State Board of Elections announced the first batch of returns in the primaries, and then, at about 2:00 this morning, they removed their totals for Baltimore City from the website, without explanation. 

At about 10:00 Wednesday morning, the Board issued a statement saying that there was a “proofing error” in the ballot title for the Democratic primary in the 1st Councilmanic District, and that mail-in ballots in that district could not be counted properly.  They are looking into whether or not ballots in the other districts in the city were affected...

Creative Commons

Time now for another edition of Midday’s Back to the Garden, our seasonal foray into the essential pleasures and healthful rewards of planting and tending our own fruits, vegetables and flowers. 

On Today’s Summer Edition, Tom is joined on the line by two of our favorite gardening gurus: 

Carrie Engel is the greenhouse manager at Valley View Farms, a family owned nursery in Cockeysville, where she’s worked for most of the past half century. 

And Denzel Mitchell is the Deputy Director of the Farm Alliance of Baltimore, a non-profit collective of urban farming operations in the city. Denzel is also serving as a farm manager at the Strength to Love 2 Farm, operated by Intersection of Change.

AP Photo/John Minchillo

More than 40 cities around the country, including New York and Washington, implemented curfews last night as protests against police brutality and the killing of George Floyd continued.  More than 1,000 people assembled and marched peacefully in a youth-led demonstration here in Baltimore.

Brandt Williams of Minnesota Public Radio joins Tom from Minneapolis with an update from the epicenter of the international protests.

Flickr/ Andy Thrasher

Overall, Americans are saving more and spending less during the quarantine.  According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, in April the personal savings rate in the US hit an historic 33%.

But with rampant unemployment, many people are facing an unknown financial future.  

What’s the best way to manage your money in a recession that is unlike any other economic downturn in modern times?  How will the pandemic upend plans like saving for college, buying a home or planning for retirement? 

Financial planners Lazetta Rainey Braxton and Nicolas Abrams talk about staying financially healthy during these uncertain times. 

Mark Gunnery/WYPR

As violence continued to erupt in communities across the United States, over the weekend, the Baltimore metro region saw largely peaceful protests against police brutality, in response to the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer a week ago. 

Legal scholar Michael Higginbotham discusses the prospects for further charges in the case that has been at the center of international attention. Plus, Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison talks about what happened in the city, and what he expects as protests around the country enter their second week.