Sunday, February 10, 2019

Hitting the Right Notes More Than ‘Once’ at Olney

Malinda Kathleen Reese as Girl and Gregory Maheu as Guy

As the patrons file into the Olney Theatre Center’s Mainstage, they are greeted by an impromptu, high-tempo mini-concert performed on stage by a group of musicians playing and singing a few Irish folk songs and some pop tunes thrown into the mix. Their wardrobe and spoken accents leave no doubt about the setting for what was about to unfold.

Once, a quirky romantic musical by Irish film director, producer and screenwriter John Carney, is making its Residential Regional Premiere at the Olney Theatre Center. The musical, which opened on Broadway in 2012 following a brief stint at the New York Theater Workshop, was based on the 2006 low-budget indie film that was also written (and directed) by Carney. Once received 11 Tony Award nominations and corralled eight statues in 2012 including Best Musical. #hocoarts

Marcia Milgrom Dodge, Tony Award Nominee for the 2009 revival of Ragtime on Broadway, makes her Olney Theatre Center debut as Director and Choreographer. Her direction and staging of this musical is impeccable. The production is paced superbly with precise timing, and a talented cast and crew deliver in splendid fashion. 
Once is an unconventional show in that actors comprise the orchestra, play multiple instruments, and are onstage through most of the production.  There are two leads in the show, and the other cast members appear in scenes and then return to the sides or rear of the stage so they can resume their instrumental work.

Even Olney’s talented resident maestro, Helen Hayes Award winner Christopher Youstra, who serves as Musical Director for the production, emerges from his familiar locale in the orchestra pit to participate in the onstage action, playing the accordion among other instruments, joining in a dance, and has a bit of a speaking part as Emcee.  He appears to be enjoying this different facet of his repertoire.

It is indeed a challenge to find accomplished musicians who concurrently possess solid acting skills, yet their performances demonstrate that the folks at Olney responsible for casting were quite successful in meeting that challenge.

John Sygar (Andrej), Carlos Castillo (Svec), Daven Ralston (Reza),
Malinda Kathleen Reese (Girl), Somaya Litmon (Ivanka)
, and Emily Mikesell (Baruska)
As was the case with the film with the same odd name, the musical Once features music and lyrics by Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová. The book for the musical was written by Irish playwright Enda Walsh, which contains a good dose of romantic sentimentality with comedic moments popping up throughout. 

There are peppy folk-rock numbers in the show but overall, the score is ballad-heavy. The Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly” plus others like “If You Want Me,” “Leaving,” “Say It to Me Now,” “Gold,” “Sleeping” and “When Your Mind is Made Up” are quite enjoyable in their tenderness. Generally, the melodies are sweet and the lyrics are quite touching in support of a sweet and touching story.

Guy, a contemporary Dublin street musician (played wonderfully by Gregory Maheu) is ready to throw in the towel on his music as the songs he wrote were directed towards a girlfriend who left him to move to New York.  The reason for the breakup is never divulged, but he continues to brood about it.

He encounters a Czech immigrant, referred to as Girl (played expertly by Malinda Kathleen Reese) who heard his guitar playing and singing and immediately becomes curious about him.  If that chance meeting wasn’t enough of a coincidence, you have the fact that Guy’s day job is a Hoover vacuum cleaner repairman and Girl’s Hoover that “doesn’t suck” is in need of repair.

Guy creates a barrier whereby Girl doesn’t get too close. But they open up to each other as the budding friendship ensues. She recognizes the beauty and scope of his talent and encourages him to not let his recent breakup prevent him from realizing his true potential.

Girl ultimately convinces Guy to share his music and she gets behind the piano.  It is clear both have musical gifts and they make each other’s music better.

She implores Guy to keep writing his music, make an album and go to America to win back his ex-girlfriend and return to his original love. It is during their quest to finish this album that Girl and Guy become closer and begin to fall in love with each other. However, Girl’s estranged husband wants to reconcile, and out of duty towards her young daughter, she wants to give it a chance.

Gregory Maheu as Guy and the ensemble of Once
As the guitar-playing musical talent Guy, sturdy and handsome Gregory Maheu is commanding and graceful on stage and portrays the brooding young man effectively while maintaining an Irish accent throughout.  Mr. Maheu’s guitar-playing abilities and baritone vocals are impressive and strong and are showcased in such songs as “Leaving,” “Say It to Me Now” and “Gold.”

His lines are perfect set-ups for the more comedic Girl character in the person of Malinda Kathleen Reese. With a Czech accent in tow, she is a loveable forceful firecracker but exhibits a vulnerability and resists the temptation to fall physically for Guy. Ms. Reese’s comic timing is spot-on in many exchanges, and her vocal prowess is on display in the duet with Mr. Maheu in “Falling Slowly.” The onstage chemistry between the two leads is outstanding as is the hilarious repartee. These are key factors in the production’s success.

They receive solid support from other performers, such as Dave Stishan as Billy who provides a comedic turn as well as Emily Mikesell as Baruska who is Girl’s mother, and Nick DePinto as Bank Manager.

Rounding out the talented cast are John Sygar as Adrej, Carlos Castillo as Švec, Katie Chambers as Ex-Girlfriend, Craig MacDonald as Da who is Guy’s father and owns the vacuum repair shop, Daven Ralston as Réza, and Brian Reisman as Eamon.  Girl’s daughter, Ivanka, is played in-rotation by Kyleigh Fuller and Somaya Litmon.

Scenic Designer Michael Schweikardt’s set, while not elaborate, is artistic and functional. The backdrop is abstract and aesthetically pleasing. A couple of lamp posts are shown to denote the street scene and chairs are off to the sides from where the musicians play.  Several large set pieces like a piano, a bed and a large wooden bar are used with the latter two being elevated from under the stage.

This setting is amplified by the warm glow from Colin K. Bills’ lighting and the exceptional sound designed by Matt Rowe. Frank Labovitz attired the cast neatly in costumes that are emblematic of  the working class neighborhood of Dublin.

Once is a different type of musical from what we’re accustomed and is highly recommended. It features a tender romantic story of looking back at what has been, how to bounce back from despair and to try anew while beautiful songs fill the theater.

Not splashy and bold as many musicals are, but Once is a performance-driven production executed by a wonderfully talented cast, a skilled technical crew, and helmed so ably by a total pro. The issue is you may not want to see the show just once.

Running time. Two hours with an intermission.

Advisory: Once contains profanity and is not suitable for young children.

Once runs through March 10 at the Olney Theatre Center, 2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Road, Olney, MD 20832. Tickets may be purchased by calling 301-924-3400 or by visiting online

Photos: Stan Barouh

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Curtain Up! Light the Lights! Gypsy Comes Up Roses at Toby’s

Cathy Mundy belting out "Everything's Coming
Up Roses"

Oh, how I well remember vaudeville back in the 1920’s! Those singers, dancers, magicians, comedians, minstrels, trained animals, male and female impersonators—you name it.  I had so much fun.

With the iconic musical Gypsy, now playing at Toby’s the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, I can relive those memories of vaudeville with its eventual decline and the rise of burlesque. The Toby’s production of this sterling musical under the co-direction of Helen Hayes Award winners Toby Orenstein and Mark Minnick will provide even better memories.  #hocoarts 

Gypsy is a 1959 musical with music by Jule Styne, lyrics by Stephen Sondheim making his Broadway debut, and a book by Arthur Laurents. It is loosely based on the 1957 memoirs of Gypsy Rose Lee, the famous striptease artist, her sister June who ultimately became the actress June Havoc and her mother, Rose, who is the focus.

Its songs are phenomenal with many becoming standards, such as “Let Me Entertain You,” “Some People,” “Small World,” “You’ll Never Get Away From Me,” “Together Wherever We Go,” “You Gotta Get a Gimmick,” “Rose’s Turn,” and my favorite “Everything’s Coming Up Roses.”

The original Broadway production received eight Tony Award nominations in 1960 yet failed to cash in on the big prize. However, subsequent revivals did capture Tony’s in 1975, 1990 and 2008.

On top of the skilled musical performances and proficient acting in the Toby’s production of Gypsy you can add in the brilliantly colorful and varied costumes designed by Janine Sunday, the meticulous choreography by Mark Minnick, the solid music direction by Ross Scott Rawlings and the six-piece orchestra, the perfectly balanced sound design by Mark Smedley, and the creative lighting designed by Lynn Joslin. The overall staging of this production is excellent with numerous set pieces moving smoothly on and off the in-the-round stage with precision.

MaryKate Brouillet soars as Louise
Toby’s features an accomplished cast who demonstrate skill, poise, energy and loads of talent. And among them is a bona fide star, Cathy Mundy, playing the lead role of Rose, an archetypical aggressive and brash stage mother.

The story centers on thrice-married Rose pushing her two daughters, June and Louise, at all costs to perform on stage and become stars.  Rose, whose parents as well as her previous husbands had left her, lives vicariously through her daughters and is like a wrecking ball in dealing with promoters, agents and other performers during the declining years of vaudeville.

Baby June is the chosen one to become the star. Onstage she is a precocious blonde cutie-pie while her older sister Louise is shyer and more subdued as she takes the back seat to June. When they get a little older they tire of their mother’s hounding as well as show business, and eventually June runs off to marry a young man in one of the acts her mother created.  Despondent over this development, Rose’s only hope for stardom for her children remains with Louise who can’t see herself as an entertainer.

All the while Rose finds a love interest in Herbie, an agent who has tried to get the acts booked anywhere he can and tries to put up with Rose’s antics.

In a fortuitous development Rose pushes Louise to fill in as a striptease performer in a Wichita burlesque house after one of the strippers was arrested.  Under the advice from her co-strippers she finds a gimmick for her act and the rest, they say, is history. Louise transforms into the famous Gypsy Rose Lee and eschews further involvement from her mother. Rose contemplates what all has happened and acknowledges she did this all for herself.

The part of Rose is a demanding one with belt vocals a necessity. It is a strenuous role not only for the singing performances but also for the acting, and she appears onstage in a vast majority of the scenes.  

Some of the previous stars who performed this role on Broadway over the years include Ethel  Merman, Angela Lansbury, Bernadette Peters and Patti LuPone.  I am not saying that Cathy Mundy is comparable to these Broadway superstars, but she is darn close. Her acting is top-notch; full of passion and conviction and portrays the loud, single-minded stage mother to the hilt.  She is called upon to navigate the complex character of Rose who is forceful and unbridled but at the same time one can detect a vulnerability from lacking something important in her life.

Cathy Mundy as the incomparable Rose
Ms. Mundy’s powerful vocals are also outstanding, especially in the beautiful ballad “Small World” as part of a duet with David Bosley-Reynolds as Herbie and in another duet “You’ll Never Get Away From Me.” She brought the house down with her rendition of “Everything’s Coming Up Roses” that concludes the first act. Ms. Mundy also scores high marks in such numbers as “Some People” and in “Rose’s Turn,” an emotional introspection of her life with all the highs and the many lows. 

To their credit, Ms. Orenstein and Mr. Minnick allow Ms. Mundy to unleash the full potency of her character.  In short, if there is no other reason to see this production, see it for the tour de force performance by Ms. Mundy.

Yet, the rest of the talented cast provides additional reasons to see Gypsy at Toby’s. Lovely MaryKate Brouillet soars as Louise in terms of both acting and vocal skills.  Her rendition of “Little Lamb” is touching as she contemplates her being pushed aside by her mother in favor of June and the loneliness she is experiencing on her birthday with her pet lamb. Her “Gypsy Strip Routine” number is also performed well and is a pivotal part of the plot.

Tina Marie DeSimone, Elizabeth Rayca and Heather Beck perform
"You Gotta Get a Gimmick"
As kind hearted and patient Herbie who was poised to marry Rose, David Bosley-Reynolds remains reserved most of the time (especially in comparison to the hyper Rose) but demonstrates his exasperation towards the end as he leaves Rose still seeking a wife in his life. In addition to the aforementioned duets with Ms. Mundy, he also demonstrates his smooth baritone voice in the bouncy “Together Wherever We Go” with Ms. Mundy and Ms. Brouillet.

There isn’t as much dancing in this production as in some other Toby’s offerings, but what is performed is done so very proficiently under the guiding hand of Mark Minnick.  For example, the young children and Baby June morph seamlessly into adolescents as the older dancers replace the young ones in the dance number “Dainty June and Her Farmboys.”

Louisa Tringali, delightfully playing the role of Dainty June, the older version of Baby June, dances skillfully in the group number “Broadway” along with those Farmboys—a group in the act that Rose created. The Farmboys are played enthusiastically by Shiloh Orr, Justin Calhoun, AJ Whittenberger and James Mernin.

In one of the show’s highlights for me is Shiloh Orr’s showcasing his dancing skills in “All I Need is the Girl” whereby as the character Tulsa he informs Louise of his plan to break away from the Farmboys and form his own dance act.  In this number Orr sings and gracefully glides around the stage while holding a broom employing various dance techniques and steps with an emphasis on tap. It’s a nice demonstration of artistry.
Louisa Tringali and her "boys"--Shiloh Orr, James Mernin,
AJ Whittenberger and Justin Calhoun
Another outstanding scene involves Louise getting advice from three veteran strippers in the song “You Gotta Get a Gimmick.” Tina Marie DeSimone, Elizabeth Rayce and an “electric” Heather Beck elicit a huge ovation with tons of laughs during this number.

Other cast members who perform notably include Jeffrey Shankle, Russell Sunday, Robert Biedermann, David James, Coby Kay Callahan, Maggie Dransfield, Amanda Kaplan and Santina Maiolatesi. Oh, and a bark-out to Dudley Foley, a pooch who appears in the early part of the show.

As far as the young children in the cast are concerned, on the evening this performance was reviewed, Nina Brothers as Baby June and Maddie Ellinghaus as Baby Louise performed admirably as did the child’s ensemble consisting of Cooper Trump, Jackson Smith, Hannah Dash.

Gypsy is a must-see show, which offers the complete package: a wonderful score and lyrics and a compelling dramatic storyline with an infusion of comedy that weaves in the music to form a gorgeous tapestry of entertainment.  A talented cast and crew do justice to this iconic musical and you will enjoy Toby’s famously delicious buffet as well.

Toby’s superb production of Gypsy will most certainly entertain you and you’ll have a real good time.

Running time. Two hours and 40 minutes with an intermission.

Gypsy runs through March 17 at Toby’s, the Dinner Theatre of Columbia, 4900 Symphony Woods Rd., Columbia, MD 21044.  Tickets may be purchased by calling the box office at 410-730-8311 or visiting online .

Photos: Jeri Tidwell Photography

Sunday, January 20, 2019

One Exit Ramp Remains Along Shutdown Highway

Neither side is giving an inch during the impasse.

Earlier this month I opined  that the government shutdown orchestrated by President Trump would be a losing bet politically similar to his other bad choices he’s made throughout his gilded life.  At the time, though, I believed the shutdown would be short-lived because of this political risk he’s taking.

I was wrong.  

Following the much ballyhooed and delayed “major address” on border security on january 20, it is clear that both sides have not budged much.  Trump continues to offer up nothing new in a “deal”  and, alas, never mentioned the plight of the over 800,000 federal workers (plus contractors) furloughed or being forced to work without pay, the impact of the shutdown on their families and local businesses as well as the hit the overall economy is taking the longer this goes on.

The delivery of his speech resembled a hostage video, and like most of his addresses, it was devoid of sincerity and empathy—and facts.  The proposal that minors can apply for asylum in the very country his or her parents are fleeing for their lives, is laughable if he had meant it as a joke. He didn’t.

In short, Trump’s address was like a Broadway musical opening without an orchestra. And rightly so, it was panned by the critics.

Democratic leaders labeled his proposals as non-starters.  The government must open first before negotiations on how best border security should be implemented can begin in earnest. If he refuses to end the shutdown impasse, shutdowns could be used down the road when other squabbles emerge and again federal employees would be used as pawns.

Even Ann Coulter, one of a handful of right wing hard line commentators who are seemingly devising policy for the president, criticized some of his proposals as they pertain to the Dreamers and those affected by Temporary Protected Status as too soft and leading to that dreaded “amnesty.”

Sure, Trump can say he put “reasonable” and “common sense” proposals on the table and, therefore, Democrats will now assume the mantle of the shutdown if they don’t give in on his border wall or barrier or whatever.

That strategy didn’t work.  He’s boxed in. Polls are against him. He’s a terrible negotiator. Trump’s rabidly anti-immigrant base needs to be mollified. So, what can he do?

Earlier in the month he threatened to declare a national emergency along the border in which Department of Defense funds could be diverted to build the wall.  He bragged that he has the “absolute right” to do so but has been reluctant to take that step.

The main problem with this, assuming a national emergency can indeed be established and aside from the fact Congress has the power of the purse, is the precedent it would set for future Democratic presidents. 

A future president could declare the burgeoning deficit a national emergency and inflict a 70 percent tax rate on high income earners.  The climate could be recognized (and should be) as a national emergency and a Democratic president could impose draconian cuts on fossil fuel usage. A future president could determine that the health care system is a national emergency and order a Medicare-for-all program be devised.  I believe Trump is aware of the risk a move like this would create and why he is hesitant to impose it thus far.

But it seems to be the only exit ramp short of a cave-in by either side who are emboldened by their respective bases. He should punt his way out of this, re-open the federal government and let the courts decide its legality.

Trump can tell his base that he tried his level best to acquire funding for a wall but the obstructionist Democrats will not give in. He desperately needs that base because, well, that’s all he has. 

Democrats can say that Trump is employing outlandish tactics to fund a medieval Trump Wall vanity project and indeed, precedent will have been set.

It’s an unseemly prospect but as of now, it’s the only exit ramp in view.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Trump’s Shutdown: Another Losing Bet

Image: Deadline

Though hailed by his supporters for his supposed business acumen, the truth is Donald Trump had made a ton of losing bets in real estate and other ventures leading to six bankruptcies, according to the Washington Post.  

Among them was the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City. Trump paid more than $600 million for the unfinished casino, which he billed as the “eighth wonder of the world.” It opened in 1990 and filed for bankruptcy a year later.

Betting on a casino—four of them in fact—would seem like a sure bet. Anyone who has gambled and lost in casinos can rightfully ask the question, How can you lose on a casino? It’s like a funeral parlor going under, if you forgive the pun.  But the self-described business tycoon Trump managed to lose money in his casinos but not by playing slots.

Now as President, Trump has made another losing bet: the Trump partial shutdown of the federal government over his insistence there be funding for an inane wall, which on the campaign trail in 2016 he assured his supporters that Mexico would foot the bill. 

Make no mistake, he owns the shutdown as he declared, “I’ll tell you what, I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump declared on national TV to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on December 11. “So I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down. I’m not going to blame you for it.”

About 800,000 Federal employees are either furloughed or working without pay as pawns in this standoff between Trump and the newly emboldened Congressional Democrats. Just sworn-in Speaker Nancy Pelosi described Trump’s medieval wall as an “immorality” and Trump is still digging in lest he will get criticized by his kitchen cabinet consisting of Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity among other right wing talking heads.

During the impasse, Trump has rarely mentioned the Federal employees victimized by this dysfunction.  Yes, he suggested that they can offer their landlords manual labor in lieu of paying rent (he was serious) and he characterized most Federal employees as Democrats (read: Black) so I’m sure he’s not losing sleep as their first paycheck since the shutdown began is about to be missed.

His insensitivity to their plight is not surprising given his decided lack of empathy during disasters, mass shootings, and a deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, a devastating hurricane in Puerto Rico as well as other tragedies.

But he should, if he had any political acumen, understand that this gambit is a losing one.  A solid majority in the country oppose a wall along the southern border.  Federal employees, their families, neighbors, friends and sympathetic retirees live in Congressional districts throughout the country and they will remember at the ballot box in 2020 who is responsible for this travesty.

The longer this shutdown lasts, the worst it will be politically for Trump, Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and other compliant enablers in the GOP.  Fissures are starting to form among Republicans and will deepen as this goes on.  

Particularly for Trump, however, this one was a loser from the get-go.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

OUTspoken’s Top Blog Posts for 2018

The end of the year means another list somewhere, and this blog is no exception. Since Steve Charing OUTspoken is a mix of LGBT, Politics and the Arts, the top 5 posts for 2018 according to page views are listed within the categories below. You may click on the title of each to access the full post.


1.     The Pride of Howard County (October)  
A survey taken of Howard County candidates on their perspectives on LGBTQ issues.

The official kickoff event to publicize the first ever Pride celebration in Howard County.

Then County Executive Allan H. Kittleman appointed Andrew Howard to be the county’s first ever LGBTQ liaison.

Nearly two thousand Pride celebrants attended to first team-sanctioned Pride Night.

Chicago Cubs newly acquired second baseman was dismissive of accusations of his homophobic comments a few years ago setting off another round of controversy.


Adam Rippon, the first openly gay athlete to compete for the the Winter Olympics, was right to snub Vice President Mike Pence’s alleged request for a meeting during the competition in Pyeongchang.

A tongue-in-cheek open letter to President Trump urging him to be interviewed by the Special Counsel.

When it Comes tothe Military, Trump is AWOL (November) 
Trump’s avoidance of military service plus his numerous displays of disrespect to service members is unprecedented.


Democrats were urged to associate Republicans with the unpopular Trump as often as they can in the upcoming elections.

5.     There He Goes Again (July) 
Trump once again found a distraction from his horrendous performance in Helsinki by reverting back to the NFL on players kneeling during the national anthem.


Received most page views for any theatre review on this blog. Popular show being brought back this season.  “… the polished, colorfully costumed, well-staged production at Toby’s is flawless with a high-spirited, talented cast performing their hearts out.”

“[Young Frankenstein is]a comedy about a monster but it’s also a monster comedy.”

All male dance revue. “[Ten Hairy Legs] combines athleticism, emotion, energy, technical mastery, ingenuity and range in a power-packed one-hour performance.

“Leave your worries at home for a few hours and enjoy a talented cast giving their all in this wild adventure in New York, New York, a helluva town.”

“The joy and warmth exhibited by these performers tell the audience they are truly having a great time onstage.”

Blasts from the Past

In addition to those popular posts from 2018 (above), below are several posts from previous years still garnering many views in 2018.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Action vs. Distraction: A Message from Beto O’Rourke

Image: Grist
The government of the greatest country the world has ever known, the wealthiest, most powerful nation on the planet: closed until further notice.

This shutdown – hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans working without pay during the holidays, basic government functions no longer available to the taxpayers who fund them – didn’t have to happen. The Senate passed a compromise government funding bill two days ago, 100–0. The men and women who can’t agree on what to name a post office were able to unite and unanimously agree on how to fund the entire government.

But maybe it was intended to happen.

Maybe in the face of an investigation that seeks the facts surrounding allegations of collusion with a foreign government and obstruction of justice within our own government… as one aide after another pleads guilty… as the stock market tumbles… as men and women intent on keeping their dignity and their conscience flee his administration… perhaps the President calculates that by adding to the blizzard of bizarre behavior over the last two years and shutting down the government at Christmas, while his own party still controls each branch of it, the institutions that we need for our democracy to function (and to ensure no man is above the law) will be overwhelmed.

From a President who promised action, we got distraction.

But my concern for the country goes beyond the immediate pain and dysfunction that this shutdown will cause. Beyond even ensuring that this President is held accountable. What’s happening now is part of a larger threat to us all.

If our institutions no longer work, if we no longer have faith in them, if there’s no way to count on government even functioning (three shutdowns this year alone), then perhaps ultimately we become open to something else. Whatever we choose to call it, whether we openly acknowledge it at all, my fear is that we will choose certainty, strength and predictability over this constant dysfunction, even if it comes at the price of our democracy (the press; the ballot box; the courts; congress and representative government).

If there were ever a man to exploit this precarious moment for our country and our form of government, it’s Trump. Sending 5,400 troops to U.S. border communities during the midterm elections. Organizing Border Patrol “crowd control” exercises in El Paso on election day.

Defying our laws by taking children from their parents, keeping kids in tent camps, turning back refugees at our ports. Calling the press “the enemy of the people” and celebrating violence against members of the media. Pitting Americans against each other based on race and religion and immigration status. Inviting us to hate openly, to call Mexican immigrants rapists and criminals, to call asylum seekers animals, to describe Klansmen and neo-Nazis as very fine people. Seeking to disenfranchise fellow Americans with made up fears of voter fraud. Isolating us from the other great democracies as he cozies up to dictators and thugs. Lying again and again. Making a mockery of the United States – once the indispensable nation, the hope of mankind.

Image: The Guardian
So we can engage in the immediate fights about blame for this latest shutdown… fall into his arguments about a wall, or steel slats, at a time of record border security and in the face of asylum seekers – our neighbors – fleeing the deadliest countries in the world… we can respond to his name-calling and grotesque, bizarre behavior… or we can pull up, look back at this moment from the future and see exactly what is happening to our country.

We are at risk of losing those things that make us special, unique, exceptional, those things that make us the destination for people the world over, looking for a better life and fleeing countries who lack our institutions, our rule of law, our stability.

If ever there was a time to put country over party it is now. This is not about a wall, it’s not about border security, it’s not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s about the future of our country – whether our children and grandchildren will thank us or blame us. Whether we will lose what was fought for, made more perfect, by the men and women who risked and lost their lives at Antietam, on Omaha beach, in Jackson, Mississippi… whether we will be defined by greatness and ambition or pettiness and fear. Whether we will continue to live in the world’s greatest democracy, or something else.

In the short term – let’s pass the funding bill that was agreed to by the Senate 100–0 just a few days ago. Send it to the President with the confidence that we represent the people of this country and that we are willing to override his veto if he cannot respect their will. Show that government can work, that we can see past our immediate differences to serve the greater good. To put country over party. To put country over one man. To do what we were sent here to do.

In the longer term – we must strengthen all of our institutions at the very moment they are called into question. Some clear opportunities for Congress: Ensure that our representatives in government reject PAC money, corporate and special interest influence. Demand that they hold town halls in our communities, listen to and respond to their constituents. Show America that they are working for us and for no one else.

Take action on the most urgent issues of our day: climate change, healthcare, endless war, income inequality, immigration, the vibrancy of rural communities and inner cities, education and criminal justice reform. Define the goal in each area, build the coalition to achieve it, find the common ground (between parties, between branches of government), and move forward.

Prove that our system of government – whatever its problems – is still the best thing under the sun.
It’s action vs. distraction. One will save our democracy, the other will lead to its end.

- Beto

Monday, December 17, 2018

Why Dems Will Not Face Trump in 2020

Potential Democratic presidential candidates for 2020 have been dipping their toes in the political waters to determine if they will indeed make a run. From the familiar Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden to the lesser known Julian Castro and Mitch Landrieu, with well over a dozen in between including Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker and Kamala Harris, these individuals are exploring whether or not they can raise sufficient money for a presidential bid, if they are viable to survive the grueling primary system, and to see if the voters think they are tough enough to stand up to Donald Trump in 2020. 

The latter point is interesting as these candidates will attempt to out-Trump Trump in an effort to corral the Democratic base behind them.  It should be noted, however, that Hillary Clinton has always been considered tough yet she couldn’t topple Trump for a bevy of reasons irrespective of her toughness. 

Nonetheless, voters, especially Democratic voters, will be applying ideological litmus tests to these candidates as well as determining their electability against an opponent who has yet to approach, much less crack 50 percent job approval.

With all the hand wringing that will take place in order to figure out an effective way to “stand up to Trump,” it may be a moot point.   I may be in a small minority but I truly believe that Donald Trump will not be their opponent in 2020.

The President’s legal woes haven’t even scratched the surface and already he’s in trouble. For the first time, Federal prosecutors directly implicated Trump for federal crimes involving illegal campaign contributions resulting from payments made to Trump’s alleged mistresses in an effort to defraud the U.S. by paying hush money to these women so their stories remained hidden from the voters during the 2016 campaign.

Those offenses alone supported by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s statement as well as corroborating evidence and testimony that are in the possession of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY) and Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III would amount to, in the opinion of many legal scholars, an impeachable offense.

Yet, that is just the tip of the iceberg.  According to NBC News, the following are other investigations underway:

. The Mueller probe looking at Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, and whether there was cooperation/coordination/assistance from the Trump campaign;

. New York prosecutors looking at the inaugural committee;

. New York’s attorney general examining the Trump Foundation and Trump’s business dealings;

. the lawsuits looking at whether Trump is violating the Constitution’s emoluments clause through his business dealings; and

. the defamation lawsuit by Summer Zervos, who alleges that Trump defamed her after she claimed she was sexually assaulted by the president in 2007.

In addition, there is Mr. Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice on the part of the President (think: Comey and Sessions firings, Trump’s public comments to Lester Holt and, of course, his tweets).

And let’s not forget the myriad investigations the Democratic-controlled House will launch in 2019.  Any organization Trump had led over the past decade is currently or will be under investigation. Follow the money because with Trump, it’s all about money.

A full listing of ALL the investigations that involve Trump and Russia can be seen here.

That is one big basket of deplorable legal perils. 

My gut tells me that the meticulous, professional and extremely competent Mr. Mueller will present
Image: The Daily Beast
(if allowed to complete his work) a convincingly damning case against Mr. Trump in the areas of his purview. Moreover, the relentless U.S. Attorney’s office in the SDNY as well as an incoming New York State Attorney General will probably clobber Mr. Trump and members of his family for other crimes.

So, what does all this mean with respect to 2020?  There will likely be Articles of Impeachment drawn by the new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives after reviewing the reports and/or indictments that will undoubtedly be forthcoming. But even if impeachment is voted by the House, the fate of Mr. Trump’s removal from office rests in the hands of the Senate.

When President Nixon was about to be impeached, key Republicans approached him to tell him his time was up.  Rather than face a difficult and divisive trial, Nixon chose to resign.

 Most people that I know believe a defiant Donald Trump would never cave like Nixon did.  He will fight back with all his might and try to rally what will remain of his loyal base to “revolt,” as he suggested, pressuring Senate Republicans from convicting.

Whether those Senators will succumb to such pressure will be determined by how the public reacts to the Special Counsel’s report and indictments and from what the SDNY brings to the table.

If the evidence is so overwhelming and his support erodes significantly, I suspect Mr. Trump will choose not to fight any impeachment attempt and may resign and return to his gilded lifestyle that was partially interrupted by winning the presidency. Even his wife feels the stress is too much for his health.  

More likely though, he will not seek a second term and will blame the media, the Democrats, President Obama, “Crooked Hillary” and everybody else but himself.

Either way, Democratic presidential candidates will not be facing Mr. Trump in 2020.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

The Walls Are Closing In

How will a volatile Trump react to the Mueller findings?

During the run-up to the 2016 election, Donald Trump was already discounting the results if he lost saying it is a “rigged system.” This accusation was offered without any evidence.

However, we are learning that the election was, in fact, rigged but in Trump's favor as interference on the part of the Russian government has been documented by the findings from a number of U S. Intel organizations.  Then after Trump stunned the world by defeating Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, he claimed, again without evidence, that he lost the popular vote because of voter fraud.

You see, Donald Trump cannot accept losing. He would be portrayed as weak and that's his biggest fear other than losing money.

As the legal walls continue to close in on Trump with likely charges of conspiracy and obstruction of justice facing him as a result of the work of Special Counsel Robert F. Mueller III and his formidable team, the shit is about to hit the fan .

If anyone believes Trump will take these citations calmly and with reverence to the probe, I have seaside property in Kansas to sell them.

Rather, we should anticipate an explosion the likes of which this country has not seen in modern history. I’m not suggesting his fire-breathing supporters will automatically take to the streets with their beloved weapons pointed and shooting everyone.  Nor will there be a civil war of sort as conspiracy theorist Alex Jones suggested .

But we could be entering dangerous territory here. I wouldn’t rule out an increase in attacks against minorities and immigrants even if they’re sporadic as a reaction to their cult leader finding himself in hot water.  Sharp spikes in hate crimes have already occurred since the election so it’s not out of the realm of possibility.  Trump would say or do nothing to quell an uprising regardless of the degree. He has been anticipating such an outcome ever since the “Russia Thing” got underway.

And he seems to be pushing for one.

His rallies with his base have been aimed at whipping up support for himself and defiance towards the Mueller probe while denigrating the “fake news” media and urging action to lock up his opponents.

Moreover, his off-the-rails tweets, which at times have further placed the president in legal peril, are not simply rants that occur often in the wee hours of the morning during an insomnia-induced brain dump. They are also messages to his rabid base to point out how unfairly he’s being treated by his enemies--mostly angry Democrats--who cannot accept a defeat in an election they were supposed to win.

These tweets and incendiary rallies are intended to send signals to his base that anything coming out of the Mueller probe cannot be taken as legitimate. The angry mobs Trump may actually see will not be Democrats (as he predicted following the Democratic takeover of the House) but his own fire-breathing supporters who will deny the inevitable outcome of a serious investigation that is a threat to the Trump’s presidency as well has his family.

A similar view is presented here.