Radio Free Bay Ridge is live!

I’m doing a podcast. About politics. Surprised, right? 😉

www.radiofreebayridge.org

Enjoy.

It’s Not Dead Yet: the GOP Effort to Repeal the ACA/Obamacare still has legs.

Just when you think the Obamacare repeal effort is dead…it comes back. (Photo from T2, used w/out permission.)

Here we go again.

Last night, the announcement came through: four GOP senators are now “no” votes on a motion to proceed with the BCRA – the Senate’s version of the repeal-and-replace bill. The bill would not make it to the floor, let alone through passage.

The 80%+ Americans who didn’t want that bill to succeed were thrilled; an air of celebration streaked across my Twitter timeline and my FB groups.

This morning, the feeling of trepidation that kept me from enjoying the celebratory mood turned out to be justified: the Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has given his approval of the 2015 ACA repeal bill. That bill, which passed both houses of Congress in 2015, repeals Obamacare – but with no replacement. At the time, the CBO scored the bill as meaning 32M people would lose their insurance while premiums would rise by 100%. The bill delayed the repeal, and if implemented now would end up taking effect after the 2018 elections.

It’s worth reading @IndivisbleTeam’s Twitter on why this is bad, but the short version: If this bill is passed as part of the current reconciliation effort, it would be possible for GOP leadership to completely replace the AHCA with language from the repeal-only bill. When the 2015 bill passed (on party lines), the GOP had a President who would veto it and no veto-proof majority. Now, we can be sure 45 will sign the bill – he called for full repeal directly on Twitter after the bill’s defeat.

So what’s the problem? The old bill is WORSE than the bill that just failed.

But here’s the thing: if you’re represented by a Republican, odds are (and are high) that they already voted for this bill.

That means that standing up against it this time around – the right thing to do, given the bill’s failings and the GOP’s proven failure to create a new, viable healthcare plan – means walking back their votes from the last congress. It means going to voters and explaining what’s changed their mind. In some cases, it may require a break with GOP leadership’s tribe, and a willingness to admit that their original vote was wrong. Maybe some will try; will it be enough? How many voters will hear “repeal” and, exhausted, think that’s what they’ve wanted all along?

There’s no time or room for complacency in this project; as Americans who care about our neighbors around the country, we can’t afford to let up the pressure.

Keep calling your members of Congress. Tell them you want them to reform and improve the ACA with bipartisan support and open debate. Tell them if they vote yea for McConnell’s latest strategy, you will vote them out in November 2018. And then follow through.

 

EDIT: This article from NBC News gives some more details.

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Local politics & political playwriting

It feels like a lot of my posts start with some variation on, “Sorry it’s been a while!” But the fact is, as much as I love updating this blog, there’s a lot going on in real life – some of which I’ll talk about and some of which I won’t – and often, after waiting for more than a few days or a week to update, I fall into the trap of thinking that whatever I post has to be hugely significant.

Sure, it would be nice to have something huge to say every week. But I don’t, really. And right now, a lot of my efforts (in writing at least) fall into two or three camps:

  1. Social Media / news-based conversations. This shouldn’t be number one on the list, but it is, because how else do you stay informed?
  2. Writing to my Congressman and Senators using Resistbot (@botresist, text “resist”to 50409)
  3. Blogging and other forms of writing for progressive activist groups
  4. A play where I eviscerate several political figures with language.

Even though the play is 4rd on the list, it’s an extension of the efforts I’ve put into writing something about the state of US electoral politics for a long time. Every day, what with the news that keeps crashing out of Washington (and everywhere else government reaches), keeping a steady hand on the play gets harder. And I’m well aware of how precarious writing this kind of political narrative can be – one reason Electalytics  has been shelved for the last year or so (and to those of you who were reading it via my mailing list, I apologize) is that what initially seemed like it was going to be a wild ride of a primary turned into the flaming garbage heap that is our current political status. Staying on top of that changing, shifting landscape presents a lot of challenges. So I take them one at a time.

Last night, I went to see The Public Theatre’s production of Julius Caesar  in Central Park, and in many ways it was a first for me. I’d won the tickets in the lottery, so it was my first time at the Delacourte theater in central park, but it was also the first time I’ve watched this particular Shakespeare tragedy and not been bored out of my skull.

The last few times I’ve seen Caesar, it’s been a rote, stilted mess. It’s not a play with a particularly strong plot, and part of the 100-minute production benefits from that in that we see Caesar’s assassination, the manipulation of the mob, and Brutus’ suicide, while the rest is glossed over. It didn’t feel like we were missing much, and in fact the brief length made the uncomfortable seating far easier to bear.

One of the strongest points in this production was how deftly it was reskinned to incorporate the Trump administration. From the guy who played the Republican primary challenger to Mellie Grant on Scandal (I’m writing on a tablet, and this isn’t an official review, so I’m not going to go look up his name, sorry), who blustered his way through a performance of a truly loathable Caesar, to the emotional depth of Brutus’ soul-searching in killing his friend (Brutus being played by the alcoholic congressman from House of Cards), there were subtle differences in watching this play about patriots trying to defend their country from a tyrant when you’re actually part of a movement trying to defend your country’s liberties from a wannabe tyrant.

The fight scenes weren’t super convincing, but our sightlines were a little weird – maybe seats nearer the center of the audience would have improved this. The set was inventive, and the many sly design nods – Calpurnia’s blonde hair, pink dress and Slavic accent; an arced set that at one point turned into the window behind Melania in her official White House portrait; RESIST posters and pussy hats; riot police and antifa – brought laugh after laugh. Perhaps the most telling moment about how deeply this production cuts was the when Caesar made his first, triumphant appearance. Nobody in the audience clapped. Nobody cheered. Not a whisper. I’ve only seen the play a couple of times, but generally speaking there’s at least one or two audience members who try to get in on the action.

The play gave me a lot to think about, and for that I thank the deft touch with which Brutus’ character was handled. Truly human and truly honorable, it was clear from the first moments of his conspiracy’s taking place that he had high-minded ideals, and that he saw Caesar’s murder as necessary to the continued health of the Republic. (This being Shakespeare, of course, it quickly devolves into battles.)

As I’ve struggled with my own current project, one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is that my hero is not just an antihero – he’s a character based on a person whose humanity I have a very, very difficult time seeing. If you’ve read my work, you know that antiheros are kinda my jam – so it’s a weird feeling to try and repeatedly get into the head of a character who actually repulses you. The biggest influence for me has, thus far, been anger – but watching Brutus on stage giving one soft speech after another about the need to protect the ideals of Rome from a man too ambitious to keep them safe reminded me that for Brutus, Caesar’s murder was the most humane solution he could think of. It gave me a different take on my own piece, and besides making changes to the beat sheet for the play, I wrote a 15-page scene as the subway brought me home.

The Progressive Coder’s Network is still going well, and I’ve joined Fight Back Bay Ridge to help me get more involved with local politics. While I missed the New King’s Democrats meeting earlier this week, where endorsements were voted on, I’m hoping to get to the Bay Ridge Democrats meeting, where one of the first Democratic challengers for Dan Donovan’s congressional seat will be speaking. Since Donovan still refuses to hold a legit town hall (I think we get a facebook town hall next week), it’ll be interesting to see how his Dem challengers might approach their discussions with the area’s political clubs and associations. Personally, I’d love to start seeing cross-party, pre-primary debates for any and all contenders – but if I got everything I asked the universe for, we’d have Bernie Sanders in the oval. Oh well.

Theatre Review: LONESTAR at The Wild Project, NYC

Lonestar
By James McLure
Directed by Pete McElligott
Nine Theatricals
The Wild Project

While the plot of Lonestar is fairly cut and dry – sixty minutes of two brothers coming to terms with secrets and their relationship with one another – this production truly shines in the performances by each of its three cast members.

As Roy, Matt de Rogatis (previously reviewed in The Collector) opens the show surrounded by beers and scattered junk food packaging. He’s back from Vietnam – has been for some time, we learn – and has taken to spending his nights getting drunk on Lonestar beer behind the local dive. His brother, Ray (Chris Luopos) joins him and they relive old memories; we get a feel for the dynamic between these two easily. A third character, Greg Pragel’s Cletis (aka Skeeter), provides us with a glimpse of how Roy and Ray relate to the world outside their brotherhood.

The show’s unpretentious and simple design allows – wisely – the characters to carry this sixty-minute piece. Adhering to a strict economy of props and set, this means that de Rogatis, Luopos and Pragel are charged with bringing images of the scene to life in our minds – something the manage easily.

The greatest strength of Nine Theatricals’ Lonestar is in its performances, and the control over which all three actors – particularly de Rogatis and Luopos – are able to exert over their portrayals of their characters. From casual joking to intensely physical fury, each character is brought to life in these full, emotionally nimble performances that drive the narrative ever-onward.

Lonestar has completed its run at The Wild Project; information on additional performances can be found here.

 

Add Contacts, Congressional Edition – #PhoneYourRep

As you might expect (or know already, if we’re FB or Twitter friends), I have a lot of feelings about Tuesday’s election and its subsequent results. And maybe, eventually, I’ll be able to organize them coherently and present them in essay form.

For now, I’m trying to focus on concrete actions I and you can take to prepare ourselves for a long few years. Much of this will require getting in direct touch with our representatives in congress. Per this piece, by a former congressional staffer, the best way to do that is via phone.

Well, guess what. We all carry our phones with us 24/7. So if we have their numbers in our phones, we are already better prepared to engage our reps across congress in conversations about the issues that matter.

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The leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Bernie Sanders and others, including Schumer, Warren, Reid and Booker, as well as the CWA, have endorsed Rep. Keith Ellison for the position of new DNC chair.

I’m starting with my own senators (Chuck Schumer and Kristin Gillibrand, both D-NY) and my House Rep (a republican who I have to look up again – see how much time I’d have saved if I’d whacked him into my phone the first time I called his office?) and the leadership of the Congressional Progressive Caucus. If you finish with those and want to keep going, think about adding regional DNC information as well.

So ask yourself, are you more likely to call your rep if you can just say, “Okay Google, dial Charles Schumer” and get a direct line to his office? Or if you have to go online, look up the number, and call from there?

If the answer is #1, and you want to help effect positive change in America, then take five minutes and put these numbers and more into your phone. Right now. Seriously. Cut and paste is your friend.

And remember, you can look up your reps and senators (links below), but think about looking up other reps and senators, as well. All of congress works for you. Your tax dollars contribute to all their salaries. You have a right to call and demand representation from any and all of them to address your rights and concerns, and you should do so.

And for Non-NYers:
Look up your Senator’s contact info here
Look up your Rep’s contact info here

Edit: Things are getting fun! A friend of mine has issued a #PhoneYourRep challenge to the internet! Once you’ve added your rep’s number to your phone, head to Dave’s Facebook and leave screenshot evidence – if we can get over 100 people to do it, he’ll be on the hook for a $500 donation to the Sierra Club (and given the person who’s in charge of their transition team, they’re gonna need it)!

Getting better at representative government AND saving the planet? Take part in this challenge and you’re basically a superhero. 😀

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Theater Review: “The Collector” at 59E59

You know that logline for “The Wizard of Oz” that circulates Facebook from time to time, about Dorothy killing a woman and then banding together with friends to kill again? Frederick Clegg (Matt de Rogatis) opens The Collector by pleading for the reverse shift in perspective for his narrative: self-pitying rich man in a position of ultimate power begs us to feel bad for him and blames everything but himself for his circumstances for 2½ hours, while we in turn watch him kidnap, torture and kill a young woman. Who he supposedly loves.

The source material, John Fowles’ novel of the same name, is thick with symbolism. It it would be easy to spend this entire review digging into the parallels between the butterflies Clegg collects and Miranda (Jillian Geurts), who he has kidnapped. But given that the book has been around since 1963 and the play was staged in Edinburgh around 20 years ago, I’ll set aside my desire to dig in on that side of things, and just talk about this production.

De Rogatis and Geurts achieve a deeply disturbing connection on behalf of their characters, one that develops and deepens over the course of the film. Of course, the question is always whether or not Miranda’s feelings are genuine – and Geurts’ accomplishment here is that there are times when Miranda’s attempts to escape shock even the audience – despite the fact that she has been straightforward with both her captor and with us: she will make the attempt every time she gets a chance.

While his accent initially seems unspecific, over time that becomes less distracting and de Rogatis’ real talent shows through: his ability to draw the audience into complicity through connections with individual audience members – some of whom I observed nodding and smiling as de Rogatis delivered a line to them here or there. What initially seemed like an awkward presentation became artfully intentional as the play progressed, transmuting the voyeuristic qualities of the audience into moral support for the monster at the center of the play.

Attempted, but flawed in its execution, is the horrific naturalism of novel and script. 59E59’s Theatre C is small, but the layout of the set and the script’s specific instructions regarding how to achieve its intentions mean that the weight of the set and action often felt imbalanced. Without enough space to really separate each level either physically or with laser-focused lighting changes, there were times when the sharply defined limits of Miranda’s world were blurred, lessening the transfer of her claustrophobic surroundings to the audience and intensifying the effect Geurts needed to have to keep the audience feeling that level of tension. While she more than made up for this loss of energy with one intense exchange with de Rogatis after another (and certainly it was helpful that in many of these exchanges de Rogatis was able to contribute physically to a claustrophobic atmosphere), the play requires the audience to watch a young woman’s terror and pain and take it in as entertainment. The script demands our complicity in its violence, with its treatment of Miranda as a character who wants to break out of the limitations and definitions imposed on her by others, but who is never able to transcend the boundaries and demands placed on her (as the damsel-who-can’t-quite-get-herself-out-of-distress) to achieve true personhood. We’re allowed glimpses into her life – she has a loving upper middle class family, a sister, some friends, a lover/teacher – but we have a far more specific picture of Clegg’s pathetic existence. Which is probably exactly as it should be, given that – again, requiring our cooperation in the narrative – we’re listening to Clegg’s side of the story.

As audience members, we are the reason for the theatrical snuff film that unfolds over the production’s two and a half hours (which, it’s important to note, doesn’t feel overlong at all). In any theater, after the play concludes and the lights come up, we reflect on what we’ve just been a party to. In the case of a production like The Collector, those reflections will be vast and sometimes disturbing.

The Collector plays at 59E59 in New York City, through November 13, 2016, and is presented by Nine Theatricals & Roebuck Theatrical.

When Voting 3rd Party Might Mean Voting for Clinton

The following is adapted from a Facebook post I made earlier today, which friends wanted to share.

I meant to write about this sooner, but later is better than never. So here goes.

wp-1474329232785.jpgLast Thursday night I went and met Bernie Sanders at the Working Families Party gala. Well, okay, I stood up against the stage snapping pics and then shook his hand (along with a bunch of other people) as he left the stage. (Okay. I stood up against the stage like it 2000 and I was at a Placebo concert at Irving Plaza. Shhh. Moving on.)

What impressed me (aside from OMG BERNIE SHOOK MY HAND!!!!) was the level of support that the party had from both local politicians and from more mainstream Dems, including people like Chuck Schumer and Bill de Blasio. Nina Turner spoke, too, and there were also WFP city council types and state legislature types.

Speaking at the Working Families Party gala.

Senator Nina Turner, speaking at the Working Families Party Gala.

One of my big issues (yes, there are more than one, we all know that by now) with voting for Clinton, outside of the issues I take with her positions and her campaign, has been thinking of voting for Clinton as rewarding the DNC for their choice —  and #sorrynotsorry, but there is no fucking way the DNC is getting my vote this year (and possibly any other year). Not in light of the way the primaries were run, the way the debates were gamed, the myriad of questions surrounding people purged from electoral roles, the behavior of their ex-Chairwoman and her subsequent reward of an “honorary” position, etc. Even if not doing *all those things* wouldn’t have meant a Sanders victory (and I would very strongly argue that a earlier and more frequent debates could have changed the Democrats’ primary landscape substantially), the fact that the Democrats did those things?

They don’t get my vote.

Period.

The end.

Well, going to the Working Families Party Gala  the other night gave me a new perspective – a new way of framing the workings of our political system.

The WFP, in NYC at least, has a very strong presence and has been able to help get laws like the $15/hour minimum wage and NY Sick Leave laws passed. In many cases, these smaller parties end up having a major party “nominee” in their candidate box. As speakers stressed over and over (and btw, here’s a link to the speeches, if you’ve got two hours and will excuse that I missed the first few minutes of Senator Turner’s remarks), many of the ideas that ended up in the non-binding 2016 Democratic Platform have origins in the WFP’s party goals.

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Senator Chuck Schumer at the Working Families Party Gala

 

Living in NYC and knowing what I do about my district, etc., I will likely be voting straight-ticket third party in November. HOWEVER. Up till Thursday night it hadn’t occurred to me that voting a straight third-party ticket could, potentially, include a vote for Clinton. And that, philosophically, I might be okay with that.

Whereas voters who vote Green or Libertarian won’t necessarily have a voice in the government after the election, Clinton will know how many of her votes came through local third parties, and even where she may not have success in major progressive domestic policies, at the local level I’ll know I’ve thrown my weight behind a third party that already has proven accomplishments where I live. As a party with deep roots in unions and activism, I can also be assured (to whatever degree one can trust politicians) that the party will advocate heavily for its agenda within the larger agenda, and that there are politicians at both the federal and the local level who consider this a party worth paying attention to. While I won’t know how I’m voting until close to November, after last Thursday’s gala I do know that anybody who shouts “a vote for a third party is a vote for Trump!” (or the reverse, as has happened once or twice in my conversations this election season) isn’t looking at the whole picture.

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NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio speaking at the Working Families Party Gala

I would strongly encourage other people who want to vote 3rd party, who do not want to support the current Democratic Party, to consider  strong local parties available near them.

At the very least, it’s a way of combining your voice with the voices of others in your area, pursuing a party whose goals more closely align with your personal viewpoint (because let’s face it: Dem, Repub, Green and Libertarian is still pretty damn broad as far as categorizing the political affiliations of +/-300M people), and ensuring that there will be a chorus of voices there to hold the politician at the top of the ballot accountable.