The Democratic Presidential Field & The Democratic Agenda

5050391_011019-cc-ap-possible-2020-dems-social-imgThis year, it seems like every week another candidate announces his or her bid for the Democratic nomination.

UnknownBernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, Beto O’Rourke, Corey Booker, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, Pete Buttigieg, John Hickenlooper – and maybe Scranton Joe Biden

I say come one — come all!

Let there be a robust, upbeat competition for the Democratic nomination.

VIXFV2FORVCZLLASFYVF6EHGQILet there be a robust, upbeat dialogue about the Democratic agenda.

First and foremost, let’s define the Green New Deal— and then extol its virtues. We need a visionary agenda as ambitious as FDR’s bold antidote to the Great Depression.

This country (and our world) needs another spasm of liberal advancement like Kennedy and Johnson shepherded in the mid-1960s. In fact, a new Voting Rights Act is needed to overcome the damage done by the Roberts Supreme Court. When more American citizens vote it’s better for progressives.

694940094001_6016070216001_6016070379001-vsDemocrats! Progressives! Young folks who don’t relate to political labels!

We need a comprehensive progressive vision for reversing climate change, modernizing our national infrastructure and addressing criminal justice reform, equal rights, economic justice, fair taxation and voting rights – not to mention universal health care!

Let’s see which candidate embraces such an agenda.

Let’s see which candidate stands on an inspiring, revolutionary platform.

And let’s see which candidate can sell it to the American people.

US-POLITICS-ELECTION-HARRIS-VOTEBut, for *@#! sake, let’s not fall into the “Are Democrats moving too far to the left?” trap! Let’s not defend ourselves against charges of “Socialism.” Instead, let’s ask whether people like Social Security and Medicare – not to mention the Interstate Highway System.

The fact is that progressive Democratic reforms reflect mainstream American values. Most Americans want to see human beings survive – and, hopefully, thrive! That’s why tackling climate change is Job #1.

FILES-US-POLITICS-VOTE-TRUMP-BIDENProvided Democratic candidates are in ideological agreement, our 2020 ticket must balance race, gender, age and geography. And so far, I must say — I’m delighted with the casting pool.

Other than the fact that at least one woman must be on the ticket — and someoneon the ticket should notbe a white person — there’s plenty of time and room for any of the contenders to define a progressive agenda, inspire us and fire our imaginations.

Like Obama, a Democratic winner must motivate young folk, women, people of color, principled professionals and working families. Without the enthusiastic support of all these American voters, we don’t stand a chance.

6pZz_T3l_400x400That means American sanity doesn’t stand a chance.

Humanity doesn’t stand a chance.

So, come on Democrats!

We may differ on how we get there. But, despite our internecine disagreements — let’s not give the right wing anything to exploit.

Democratic candidates should promote their progressivism proudly. And they should put it in historical context.

ows_153920112233316FDR’s progressive New Deal” saved mid-century America from the Great Depression, won World War II — and saved worldwide Capitalism.

Democrats running for President or any other office must educate voters on the millionaire tax rates under Republican President and World War Two hero, Dwight Eisenhower. Ike’s highest marginal income tax rate was 91% — during the years that built the great American middle class. Taxing the rich works.

john-hickenlooper-speaks-onstage-at-conversations-about-news-photo-1129660942-1553170112The American people know these things in their bones. (At least the majority of us do.) And we’ll vote in overwhelming numbers for a progressive, forward-looking agenda.

And I haven’t even mentioned the Great Orange Disaster. Leave him to Mueller and Congress.

Democrats must embrace the Green New Deal and an Agenda for a Great American Future.

But, most of all, we must get out and vote for a DEMOCRAT in 2020!

The GOP has proven itself unworthy of governing this still promising country.

MarijuanaCollage

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Insect Extinction? What the hell?

10823418-16x9-largeScreen-Shot-2019-02-12-at-8.27.12-AM-e1549989084758On Monday, February 11, 2019, FOX News online ran a piece with this headline:

FOX News headline #2Wait.

What?

What the hell was that about the insects? And the survival of mankind?

According to the FOX News article, a “decline in insect populations happening across the planet has Earth’s ecosystems and humankind facing catastrophic consequences.”

“Catastrophic consequences.”

Did they say, “catastrophic”?

Smollett+caseI thought that among the burning issues of the day was whether some actor from the cast of “Empire” staged a hate crime attack on himself. And that according to sources, Senator Amy Klobuchar might be too hard on her staff.

But now I hear that “More than a third of the world’s insects are threatened with extinction in the next few decades.”

UnknownMore than a third of the insects could be gone in the next few decades? Shouldn’t we be hearing a lot more about our vanishing insects? Then again, maybe there’s just no time to address this insect extinction story – and still have room on our news broadcasts for breathless punditry about whether or not “Pocahontas” Elizabeth Warren tried to get ahead by claiming Native American heritage?

According to this same FOX online report, we humans have already “wiped out about 60 percent of the planet’s animal life since 1970.” Holy crap. I didn’t realize that? I must have missed those stories. Guess I was too busy reading about whether Jennifer Aniston and Brad Pitt were gonna get back together. And all that stuff about Kanye and Kim. Somehow, I totally missed the reports about 60 percent of the world’s animal life going the way of the dodo bird and the passenger pigeon.

aoc1Of course, with all the time spent on television and in the print and online media arguing about whether Alexandria Ocasio Cortez is a Socialist who’s moving the Democrats too far to the left, maybe there’s just not enough time to worry about losing all our insects?. While the pundits and politicos dither about whether AOC is too extreme — there’s scant time to explore the fact that “Due to the high level off species loss, Earth is considered to have entered into its sixth mass extinction event in half-a-billion years.” That problem sounds a lot more extreme than the political philosophy of a 29-year old freshman congresswoman. But what do I know?merlin_150449823_e3d772b6-4db2-4eba-8875-8f0356db66be-articleLarge

Of course, I hate that The New England Patriots won another Super Bowl and I do wonder what NBA franchise Anthony Davis will play for next. I, too, am concerned that all of the Academy Awards be announced during the broadcast and not during the commercials. (And I still worry about Jen and Brad.) But when I see a headline like this…

100 years

…I gotta wonder about our priorities.

As discussed to death and important an issue as it is — will Trump’s southern border wall help to save our insect species?

Of course not.  In fact, it looks like it will actually make the insect situation worse.

butterfly

Dr. Francisco Sánchez-Bayo of the University of Sydney warns that, “If insect species losses cannot be halted, this will have catastrophic consequences for both the planet’s ecosystems and for the survival of mankind.”

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln – how did you like the play?Insects-on-Display

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Numbers Don’t Lie. Trump Does.

banner 1screen shot 2019-01-25 at 10.22.55 pmbanner 3Events are moving fast in Trump era America.

Trump confidante Roger Stone just got indicted.

img_7463House Speaker Nancy Pelosi pulled the plug on Donnie’s State of the Union MAGA rally.

And the serial swindler who sold his passionate, ill-informed minions on a fantastical Mexican border wall was forced to eat his brain-dead campaign promise — by a girl!

How fast are events moving?

Only a couple days ago, millions of Americans took to the streets nationwide to resist President Trump and his agenda – and the news and social media were buzzing about the dust-up between BuzzFeed and Special Prosecutor Mueller over whether it’s kosher to say there’s solid evidence that Trump told his lawyer-fixer, Michael Cohen, to lie to Congress.

img_7456Now, Cohen says Trump told him to lie — which sounds entirely plausible. Given Mango Mussolini’s reputation as a pathological liar, it’s completely reasonable. In fact, if it’s a question of whether or not Trump’s lying or encouraging lies, the answer is nearly universally, yes.

Yes! Trump is lying and promoting lies.

But as Trump tries to Tweet-twist the facts, the negative drumbeat continues. His lies piles on lies. And lately, his lies have begun to catch up with him. Remember that wall across our entire southern border that Mexico was going to pay for?

screen shot 2019-01-25 at 10.37.34 pmStarting today, Trump’s Great Wall Cave-in will ignite even more strident right-wing blowback. It was Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter who buckled him into a political straightjacket – and surprise! – Donnie’s no Houdini. Might they spare him for attacking windmills at their behest? (I doubt if any of them ever actually read Cervantes.)

Taking the political temperature today, I predict that by the summer of 2019, President Blowhard Bankruptcy will be revealed to all but his most ardent fascist-religious fans to be a dismal, derelict, treasonous failure.

Why do I think so?

img_7440Part of it is a gut feeling.

I feel this to be true.

I can sense where this Trump/Russia thing is going. Like I could sense trouble when I was a kid and my brother and I were wrestling around in the living room – and we broke our mom’s best vase.

We could lie. We could tell the truth. But no matter what we said – we were guilty of the crime. And we’d ultimately pay for that crime.

Now, President Trump is paying for his crimes.

So, what will Americans think of Trump by the summer of 2019?

img_7484

Women’s March 2019 Los Angeles. You had to be there.

Let’s look at the numbers.

img_7474And not just the hundreds of thousands who showed up in downtown Los Angeles to enjoy the Women’s March 2019. (I’ve illustrated this post with photos of the march, as I accompanied my wife & some wonderful friends.)

Let’s focus on dry, nerdy numbers. Cold, hard numbers are hard to dispute. Especially numbers that mean so much to our Dear Orange Leader…

How is Trumpty Dumpty doing in the national approval polls?

Let’s take a look at Trump’s current poll numbers in comparison to, say. George W. Bush…

img_7447When President George W. Bush left office in January of 2009, he was one of the most unpopular departing presidents in U.S. history. The Iraq War was a crime. There were no WMD. Then the economy collapsed. And oh yeah, Hurricane Katrina, too.

According to a CBS News/New York Times poll, George W’s final approval rating was 22%. 73% disapproved.

bush 3Bush’s final approval rating was the lowest for an outgoing president since Gallup began asking the question over 70 years ago.

C’mon, Donnie! You can underperform Dubya!

You can do it!

For what’s left of you Donald Trump fans out there, dig this…

img_7462Trump’s current approval rating is far below the final ratings of two-term presidents Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan, who both ended their terms with a 68% approval rating.

Barack Obama — the first black President — enjoyed a 53% approval rating while Hillary Clinton took on Trump during the 2016 election.

Two years later, Trump is in deep trouble.

Nate Silver and 538’s average poll numbers on the eve of the 2018 mid-term elections indicated a substantial Blue Wave. Trump’s approval was at 41.8% — and his disapproval at 52.8%. Trump was underwater by 11%.

img_7454Sure enough, the GOP got its clock cleaned in the 2018 mid-term elections — giving the gavel back to Speaker Pelosi. Hello, Madam Speaker!

As of tonight, 538’s Presidential approval poll average puts Donald Trump’s support at 39.3% His disapproval is 56%.

Trump is now underwater by 16.7%.

He was down by 11% before the midterms. He lost nearly 6 points before he caved on his Wall.

img_7465It’s only going to get worse for Orange Julius Caesar.

What follows are my favorite shots from the Women’s March in downtown Los Angeles on Saturday, January 19th.

Let’s have fun and march until Mango Mussolini falls — and drags the GOP into the dustbin of history.

img_7492

Who could possibly disagree?

img_7491

Over-the-top satire? I don’t think so, Vice President Pence.

img_7444

This is my Women’s March 2019 posse. Bad ass, for sure. I was very safe.

img_7470

This was a big, big march. And everyone was having fun! Winning feels good!

img_7452

What else is there to say?

img_7478

 

 

 

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The Midnight Bike Ride of Eva B. Ross

In her latest music video, Eva B. Ross takes a bluesy bicycle ride through a classic summer night in the West Valley.

“Nick’s House” is written and sung by Eva B. Ross. Produced by Justin Neibank & Steve Rashid. Check all of Eva’s songs out on Spotify.

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Bringing Practical Radio Theatre to Life.

It was the first time I performed in a comedy revue while wearing a bowtie.goodtimes 1975

I wore a faux bowtie t-shirt under my jacket for “Goodtimes” — my first-ever comedy revue in Cleveland in 1975. That’s me on the far right. I was still in high school. (In fact, my high school drama director, Mary Ann Zampino, is seated above me.) But, 43 years later, the bowtie was real.

steveAt the suggestion of our musical director Steve Rashid, in cahoots with Chicago FM jazz station WDCB, we took up the creative challenge of adapting what we’ve been doing in our popular holiday shows for an audience of radio listeners.

First — we scheduled shows on December 28 and 29, 2018 at Studio5 in Evanston, Illinois.

Then, two months before those curtains were scheduled to go up, Victoria Zielinski, Dana Olsen and I began the process of becoming The Practical Radio Theatre Company of the Air.

bag-o

Bag O’ Fun at Noyes Cultural Arts Center (1980)

The Practical Theatre has played a lot with comedy revue formats since our first improvisational comedy revue back in 1980 — but this was the first time we were having fun with the radio show format.

To begin the process, we focused on sorting through which of the sketches and songs in our repertoire would work best on the radio. Most PTC sketches feature a lot of words (some might say too many) — and the material we developed for The Vic & Paul Show and The Vic & Paul & Dana Show is particularly loquacious. So, that was good. Certain beats needed some tweaking, especially topical jokes that had to be updated, but it was creatively stimulating to take a fresh look at some of our favorite sketches.

One of the happiest re-discoveries was the revival of the “Marine Comedy” sketch, which made its summer of 1980 debut in the running order of Bag O’ Fun– the PTC’s first improv comedy revue. I play a boot camp drill sergeant leading a group of comedian cadets through their comic paces. The call and response of a veteran DI grilling his green troops lent itself well to radio. But keeping in mind that the live cabaret patrons aren’t the primary audience we must serve — how do you simulate a pratfall for the radio?

Questions like that lead to the biggest revelation in our writing and rehearsal process: the sound effects.

Of course, we agreed right away that we wanted to employ traditional hand-made radio show sound effects: the kind we remembered so fondly from the classic radio shows of the 1930’s and 40’s. (And no, we’re not thatold.) My dad, who was born in 1927, introduced me at an early age to the classic radio shows of his youth: classics like “Fred Allen’s Alley” and “Fibber McGee and Molly.” Fibber McGee’s closet – the quintessential old time radio sound effect – would not have been as famously funny in any other medium.

set up danielSteve Rashid’s son, Daniel, embraced the critical job of making the sound effects come alive. Daniel’s a fine young actor — and he’s also a drummer. That’s good. Radio sound effects punctuate moments in the sketches like drum fills in a song. Plus, the gig requires imagination and ingenuity – and Daniel showed plenty of both. As everyone came up with more ideas for sound effects, Daniel’s SFX job grew and grew and…

With about a month to go before opening night, we began to develop some sketches specifically for radio, including two episodes of “Fred Knoblock: Secret President” — a retro radio mystery about a former Walmart greeter pressed into service as a body double for a thinly disguised Mango Mussolini.

For the past few years, we’ve normally featured a corps of dancers in our revues – and Victoria insisted that we include a dance number in the show. But how do you perform dance on the radio?

rehearse sfx team 2Dana came up with a script that evolved into one of the show’s freshest and funniest sketches — in which Daniel and his brother (also a drummer) put thimbles on all their fingers and became a tap dancing troupe breaking out show-stopping moves. It became the sound effects highlight of the show.

As occupied as we were with the creation and execution of all the sound effects, another vital radio show element never troubled me: the music.  That’s because maestro Steve Rashid was in charge, and the band he assembled was first class.

show jim & robertSteve was on keys, of course, as well as harmonica and trumpet. His Studio5 All-Stars were composed of the great Don Stiernberg on guitar and mandolin, the flawless Jim Cox on upright bass, and Steve’s son Robert on drums and percussion. (Tap-dancing thimbles, too!)

Among the musical wonders Steve performed were the composition of theme music for the show, Practical Radio Theatre On The Air, and all the shows within the show, including “Middle Aged Jeopardy”, “Fred Knoblock: Secret President” and “This Old Man”.
rehearse paul & eva

We also brought in two more musical ringers: vocalists Paul Marinaro and Eva B. Ross. Paul is a Chicago jazz favorite with a rich, dynamic voice that makes the Great American Songbook come alive. Eva is an up and coming singer-songwriter who shares Steve and Paul’s passion for jazz.

Whether singing solo or in duet, Paul and Eva gave us two more musical aces in the hole.

set up overhead 2So, on the day after Christmas 2018, we returned to the familiar cabaret confines of Studio5 to prepare for a presentation that was not at all familiar to us. We had just two days to set up the sound and lighting and stage the material we’d developed over the previous two months.

Luckily for us, we had audio master Sam Fishkin handling the complex task of not only making sure that the cabaret audience could hear everything – but recording it all for the radio, too. And making the lighting of the show seem effortless, as usual, was Charlotte Rathke. It’s a joy to work with two pros that do beautiful work and never miss a cue– especially when so much of what you’re about to do onstage is new for everyone involved.

I’ve often said that The Practical Theatre Company is like Brigadoon, the mythical village in the classic Broadway musical. We appear for a brief time – and then we vanish. What follows are some glimpses into the process and performances that brought Practical Radio Theatre On The Air to life over four magical days in Evanston. (Many of these photos were taken by guest vocalist Paul Marinaro — a man of many talents.)

Early on the first day in Studio5. Don Stiernberg practices on guitar while Steve Rashid steadies the ladder for Sam Fishkin, who is hanging microphones. Robert Rashid and Eva B. Ross hang out in the audience while Victoria Zielinski practices her lines in from of Daniel Rashid’s sound effects tables.

stool 2

Some critical sound effects props. Note the horn and siren whistle. Vic and Dana and I used these two items to censor our profane words in real time. The damn horns could be really funny — but often misbehaved. The siren whistles were more dependable fun. Get one for yourself and see!

banner rehearse

Early rehearsal on the second day. You’ll note that Charlotte’s lighting plan is underway. With our backs to her work most of the time, we had no idea what Charlotte achieved until we saw the photos later. It was a very pleasant surprise too see how good she made everything look.

rehearse from backstage 2

Another view of rehearsal. Sam (at left) listens as Dana, Victoria and I work our way from sketch to sketch, while Charlotte (who can be seen way back in the upper right) dials in the visual splendors of her lighting plot.

rehearse wide 1

Steve goes through his script during rehearsal. He had a ton of music cues, a band to lead, two guest vocalists to work with, his own songs to perform — and very little time.

rehearse sfx team

Daniel Rashid and his lovely assistant, Eva B. Ross, work on the sound effects for “This Old Man” — firing up a circular saw and a belt sander. Kids, don’t try this one at home!

running open before house opens 1

Dress rehearsal in the hours before opening night. See? I’m wearing a bowtie!

show wide 2

Another pre-opening moment — this time with a glimpse of Jim Cox playing the upright bass (upper left) which is just about the coolest instrument that exists. Note the upside-down bicycle (at right). The bike was used to simulate the motorcycle Dana rode onstage. How? A very old trick: baseball cards in the spokes.

backstage selfie color

The cast gathers just before going onstage for the first show. Paul Marinaro (bottom left) is taking the selfie — and why not? The dude’s way more than 6-feet tall! He sounds even taller when he sings.

before the show

A shot from the house as the audience begins taking their seats for opening night. In the background, Daniel and Eva go over some last-minute sound effects notes.

show wide 1

You can tell by the audience in the foreground that the first show is underway.  We enjoyed two sold-out, overflow shows in the 150-seat Studio5 cabaret theatre. Radio shows work best with a lively, smart and enthusiastic live audience. Our audiences were all of that and more on both nights.

show steve, paul dana from wings

A view of opening night from the wings. I like these black and white pics (shot by Paul Marinaro) because they look like they might have been taken in the 1950s or early 60s.

show eva from wings

Guest vocalist Eva B. Ross performs on opening night.

show sfx team

Daniel and Eva, his lovely assistant, perform sound effects for “This Old Man”. Eva runs the belt sander to approximate the sound of an electric generator — as Daniel blows bubbles to indicate a pump at work.

show steve

Maestro Steve Rashid in control at the grand piano. Note the socks. Steve is clearly a jazz guy.

show eva & dana

Eva B. Ross and Dana perform “Baby It’s Cold Outside” — with Dana singing in Norwegian.

Fun after the show.

Cast and crew photo at load out on the day after the second show.

practicalradiotheatre-suntimesclean cropptc trib crop

 

 

 

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Celebrate with Ms. Maura at Vitello’s

f33906293c2544e5b3519fcb0c118a7dMs. MauraGreat live music and fine Italian food – on the same night, in the same place!1497390160-Upstairs-Vitellos-tickets

This will be the coolest, hippest, tastiest gig my daughter Maura has put together yet.

Please join us on the evening of Thursday, January 10th, Upstairs At Vitello’s Supper Club, for Ms. Maura & The Mister’s Record Release ShowGet your tickets by clicking here.

Maura PosterMaura and her band are celebrating the release of their very first EP – which will be provided free to attendees!

Enjoy a full evening of Maura’s trademark Rockin’ Vintage Indie Soul while dining on the fine Italian menu of the famed Vitello’s Restaurant in Studio City. The full menu is available while enjoying the performance.

The elegant showroom is located just above the restaurant.

Bring your friends and make a night of it!

Doors open at 6:30 pm. The show starts at 7:3o.

Tickets are $20

VIP Tickets are $30

There’s a $10 ticket increase on the day of show – so get your tickets now!

vitellos-italian-restaurant-38Some more details:The full dinner menu is available for purchase as soon as doors open. Your ticket purchase is the only reservation you need. A minimum of two items is required per person. Valet parking is available with validation for $6. There’s metered street parking as well. (Be sure to read the signs. Parking is not permitted on Woodbridge St. after 9pm nightly.)

Upstairs At Vitello’s

4349 Tujunga Ave

Studio City, CA, 91604

http://www.vitellosrestaurant.com

 

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Just One Week Until Practical Radio Theatre Opens at Studio5 in Evanston!

Radio Art 2In just one week, The Practical Theatre will be back in the Chicago are with a classic radio show featuring grown-up comedy and great live music! Plus adult beverages! Join the fun as the PTC records two shows at Studio5 Performing Arts Center in Evanston for later broadcast on Chicago’s premier jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM.

There are just 2 shows: Friday December 28 and Saturday the 29th. Tickets are now on sale at Brown Paper Tickets. Click here for ticket info and reservations.

Radio Show Poster #2Practical Radio Theatre on the Air is a radio show format filled with high spirits, satire and song, featuring writer-performers Victoria Zielinski, Paul Barrosse and Dana Olsen with music by Steve Rashid and his Studio5 All-Stars, and special appearances by Studio5’s favorite singer Paul Marinaro, recording artist Eva B. Ross, and Giggle Break’s Daniel Rashid.

The Studio5 All-Stars are Steve Rashid (keyboards), Don Stiernberg (guitar), Jim Cox (bass) and Robert Rashid (drums).

Join the live audience and be an integral part of the show, sipping a smart cocktail in the comfort of the North Shore’s most intimate performance venue, located at Dempster and Dodge in Evanston — with acres of free parking!

SingersIt’s another holiday happening to remember!

Doors open for cocktails at 7:30. Showtime is 8:00.

Friday night’s performance begins with an opening set of songs by Paul Marinaro. On Saturday night Eva B. Ross opens the show. But the fun begins as soon as you get there!

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