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Last Build Date: Sun, 19 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500


Review: The Quiet Power of 'Man From Nebraska'

Sun, 19 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

Director David Cromer has a way of elevating the ordinary (His final, breathtaking scene in his 2009 version of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" forever changed that play for me). And actor Reed Birney brings complexity to the common man — he won a Tony Award for best Featured Actor in a Play last year for his roles as the father in "The Humans."

Together, they highlight the richness of Tracy Letts' drama about a Midwestern man who goes to church with his wife (Annette O'Toole), has dinner at a fast-casual sort of place, and then, that night, breaks down in tears in the bathroom, weeping alone. He no longer feels the presence of God — and so he no longer believes. And because his whole life has been built around his faith, he no longer knows who he is or what he is supposed to be doing.

So after his pastor tells him to take a trip alone, he heads to London. He is searching — for something, though he's not sure what.

This should feel like a cliche, but there is a startling freshness here. None of the characters are stereotypes; not his wife, who in O'Toole's hands is forthright and strong, if baffled. Not the British bartender (Nana Mensah), who reluctantly takes him under her young wing. There is no sentimentality, no overwrought confessions or dramatic angst. Just the bite of true emotion and the message that no matter how lost someone is, there is always someone waiting to find them.

Man From Nebraska

By Tracy Letts; directed by David Cromer

At Second Stage Theatre 


Review: The Quiet Power of 'Man From Nebraska'

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Review: 'Escaped Alone' Captures the Current Political Moment

Sat, 18 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

Four women in their 70s sit in a small, fenced garden in Britain, talking about nothing much: family, the antique shop that formerly was a cafe, the soap opera they follow on TV. They are working class and a bit frumpy. 

But then, out of the disjointed detritus of their conversation, surprises emerge. A little quantum physics. A little speculation about alternate universes. 

And once in a while, the stage goes dark and is rimmed with a red, menacing box of light. One of them, Mrs. Jarrett (a sly Linda Bassett), steps out and addresses the audience. She's an oracle of sorts, detailing ludicrous horrors that, in our age of "alternative facts" seem, well, possible.

"The hunger began when 80 percent of food was diverted to TV programs," she says. "Commuters watched breakfast on iPlayer on their way to work. Smartphones were distributed by charities when rice ran out, so the dying could watch cooking. The entire food stock of Newcastle was won by lottery ticket and the winner taken to a 24-hour dining room, where 50 chefs chopped in relays and the public voted on what he should eat next."

It's apocalyptic. We don't know if she's describing something that's happened, or about to happen, or is happening, or is imagined. But there's a sense that there's a darkness underlying everything — the sunny garden that slowly clouds over, the idle chatter. This sense is only heightened as each woman (Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson round out the cast), in monologue, describes a secret that darkens her life. The secrets are expressed so vividly that we are right there with them, feeling their internal claustrophobia as they wrestle with themselves.

Caryl Churchill wrote "Escaped Alone" before Donald Trump became President — and before the Brexit vote, for that matter. But she perfectly captures the roiling anxiety of our current strange days. Yet it's not a dismal play. The women are wry and funny and smart and tough. There's a bright, lovely moment where they sing "Da Doo Ron Ron." They're good companions; not wise, exactly, but struggling with what many are struggling with: how to find happiness when the world seems to be shaking apart.

Escaped Alone

By Caryl Churchill; directed by James MacDonald

The Royal Court Theatre at BAM through Feb. 26

Review: 'Escaped Alone' Captures the Current Political Moment

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Trump Turns to a New York Financier, Again

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 16:30:00 -0500

President Donald Trump is vowing to crack down on what he's called "illegal leaks" of classified information amid revelations that members of his campaign and his business associates held conversations with Russia. But the president may be asking an unlikely man to help with the task: the billionaire founder of a New York-based private equity firm.

The New York Times reported Stephen Feinberg, head of Cerberus Capital Management, is being considered to lead a review of the intelligence community — though the president said Thursday it probably won't be necessary. Beyond private equity investment, Cerberus owns everything "from retailers, to supermarkets to America's largest gun manufacturer," said Dan Primack, business editor at Axios. 

Primack spoke to WNYC's Jami Floyd about Feinberg and his qualifications — or lack thereof — to lead an intelligence investigation. 

Trump Turns to a New York Financier, Again

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Immigration Courts Could Get Even Busier Under Trump

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 16:19:24 -0500

President Donald Trump's administration dismissed a report Friday by the Associated Press that it considered mobilizing as many as 100,000 National Guard troops to round up unauthorized immigrants. But there's no doubt the administration is giving signals that it plans to arrest and deport more people. And that's on top of the January 27th travel ban that is still being litigated.  Two days earlier, on January 25th, Trump signed another order dealing with immigration, which got much less attention. This included his plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, and hire 10,000 more immigration officers. But it also included new priorities for who the government can detain and seek to deport. Under President Barack Obama, immigration agents focused mostly on arresting immigrants without legal status only if they had criminal convictions. But Trump's executive order gives agents the power to detain people who are only suspected of violating state and federal laws, along with those who engage in fraud by abusing any public benefits. With this order, the Trump Administration is setting up the possibility to deport even more people than Obama, who deported about 2.5 million immigrants — more than any other president. But legal experts warn the system isn't able to handle more volume without a significant infusion of resources. "When everything is prioritized, then nothing is a true priority," said Dana Marks, a San Francisco judge speaking in her capacity as president of the National Association of Immigration Judges, the union for these federal employees. The nation's immigration courts already had more than half a million pending cases in late 2016. New York City has the third busiest courts in the nation. Another 200,000 new cases were entering the system each year under Obama. With only 300 immigration judges for the entire country, lawyers and judges describe a system in crisis. Most people in immigration court also don't have lawyers. (Although New York City is unusual because it provides free attorneys for people in detention.) In addition to needing more judges, Marks worried about what will happen when — and if — more people really are detained. The Trump administration recently made detained cases the first priority for immigration courts. "Before we can have more detained cases, you need to have more detention space," she said. There's an expectation that the government will enter into more contracts with private prison operators. If more people are held in detention, Marks predicted the government will have to install special video teleconferencing equipment in all the immigration courtrooms. This way, judges who normally don't handle detention cases (including those in the Federal Building in Lower Manhattan) can do them remotely. Will these scenarios come true? Marks said that's up to lawmakers on Capitol Hill. "Congress holds the purse strings," she said. "It remains to be seen whether the appropriators will be cooperating with the executive order, or whether they will decide that it is too expensive to implement and they want to change it and handle it in a different way." But there's already tremendous fear in immigrant communities, following a recent spike in arrests. There were 680 arrests last week, including 41 in New York City. Similar spikes occurred during the Obama Administration. But by the end of Obama's presidency, those arrested with criminal records fell to 10 percent. By contrast, 25 percent of the people arrested last week did not have criminal convictions. Any impact of Trump's order has yet to show up in the courts. According to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which runs the immigration courts, 24,802 new detention cases were entered in January, 2017 compared to 22,292 in January, 2016. The next few months will provide a fuller point of comparison. [...]Immigration Courts Could Get Even Busier Under Trump

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Open Your Eyes to Jamaica Bay

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 15:00:00 -0500

For most New Yorkers, Jamaica Bay is just some place out by JFK airport. But the new documentary "Saving Jamaica Bay," directed by David Sigal, calls attention to the natural wonders that lie below the air traffic. The film honors the local residents who never wavered in their commitment to the bay, even after Hurricane Sandy wiped out their homes.

— Thom Powers and Raphaela Neihausen

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For more information, click here to visit the official film web site.

Open Your Eyes to Jamaica Bay

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Speaker Mark-Viverito Proposes Long To-Do List in Final State of the City Speech

Fri, 17 Feb 2017 04:00:00 -0500

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito delivered her final State of the City address Thursday, offering up a robust agenda that served as a stark contrast to Mayor de Blasio's speech earlier this week.

As an outspoken critic of the Trump administration, she framed the Council's upcoming agenda as an example of how New Yorkers persevere.

“Whether defying a King in England or a President in Washington,” said Mark-Viverito.

Born in Puerto Rico, she's an ardent advocate for immigrant New Yorkers. During her tenure, the Council has passed laws limiting the City's role in federal immigration enforcement and funded lawyers for unaccompanied children facing deportation.

This year, she said the Council will do even more with a package of legislation to protect immigrant New Yorkers and their families. It includes a bill that would block federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement from private areas on city property and offices where New Yorkers receive social services unless they have a warrant or court order.

But this was not a one-note speech. Mark-Viverito expanded on her criminal justice reform agenda — a staple of her tenure.

After setting up a commission to study what it would take to shutdown Rikers Island last year, now she's calling for a series of measures to reduce the population at the troubled jail complex. She also said the Council will work with the Brooklyn, Bronx, Manhattan and Queens district attorneys to clear low-level summons warrants that are ten years or older.

For schools, she proposed more comprehensive sex education and said the Council would push for the state to re-evaluate the cultural relevance of its curriculum.

“Universal themes in Shakespeare are important, and relevant,” said Mark-Viverito. “But so are Reginald Shepherd’s poems about the Black gay experience in America.”

The speech hinted at potential budget fights this spring, calling for more money for the city’s food pantries and for a universal school lunch program. The Council supported the initiative last year but did not reach a deal with the mayor to fund it.

It was hard not to contrast Mark-Viverito's state of the city address with Mayor de Blasio's from earlier in the week. He worked off an outline, she read from a teleprompter.

He stuck to the theme of affordability and mentioned President Trump once. She never referred to Trump by name but laid out one idea after another that served as a direct response to his administration.

De Blasio's was a re-election speech that played it safe, with months of campaigning still on the horizon. Mark-Viverito is lame-duck who's out of a job come Jan. 1.

But it was a speech that lived up to the question teased in a video at the start of the program. It featured Mark-Viverito with the likes of Broadway phenom Lin-Manuel Miranda as she tried out new professions. The lingering question: what will she do next?

Speaker Mark-Viverito Proposes Long To-Do List in Final State of the City Speech

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Town Hall Tracker: Find Meetings With Your Representatives (February 18-26)

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 18:54:33 -0500

Congress is in recess this week for the first time since President Trump’s inauguration. The break is an opportunity for members to get out in their communities to meet with constituents and hear their concerns. Listeners in the tri-state area can use our Town Hall Tracker to see if their representatives are holding a public meeting this week.

If you attend a meeting, use the hashtag #TownHallTracker on Twitter to share your experience with us.


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Trump's Orders Spawn Fake Alerts—and Fear—for Immigrants

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 15:42:50 -0500

Fake alerts, spread by email and social media, are generating confusion and fear in immigrant communities, even those not affected by President Trump's executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority nations. The executive order is currently suspended, pending an appellate court's ruling. Meanwhile, attorneys, journalists and immigrant rights advocates in Asian-American, South Asian and Latino populations are countering countless rumors and misinformation. "There's been a lot of panic in the community," said Sujeet Rajan, the executive editor of News India Times, based in Manhattan. "Nobody knows what's going on." He cited a series of false messages spread via What's App, including some that referred to Indian supermarkets in Edison, New Jersey. One read, "Anyone going in and out of Sabzi Mandi and Patel Brothers were asked to show proof of legal status," while another suggested that stores were being raided by federal immigration authorities.  Rajan contacted the stores for an article.  "And employees there and a manager confirmed that none of this had actually happened," he said. "All this was absolutely false." Something similar is playing out in the Latino community. Mariana, who asked that her last name not be used, is a Venezuelan-born musician who lives in Brooklyn. She's here on an O-1 Visa. "It's just this general wave of panic," she said. One rumor making the rounds, she said, is that there's a second list of banned countries in circulation, a secret list, and that Venezuela's on it.  Just to be clear, there isn't such a list, but Mariana said the misinformation isn't only being spread by individuals, but by businesses too. One friend of hers, who's also from Venezuela, works at a Mexican-owned business in Manhattan with other Latinos. The company circulated a message advising employees to avoid all travel, even domestic travel. It also told its employees to scrub all their social media accounts and disable the fingerprint unlock on their phones. If traveling, the company said prepare for questions like "How do you feel about President Trump?" and when answering, "be creative in your positive responses." For immigration attorneys like Michael Wildes, the uncertainty has translated into an explosion of panicked phone calls. "It's triple my normal calls," said Wildes. "I would get about 50 new matters a day. I'm averaging about 150 inquiries a day." Wildes, a former federal prosecutor, said many of his corporate clients are now devoting resources to managing the chaos. "Every firm has somebody at an airport, or a client that's concerned, or somebody stuck abroad. It's the new normal right now," he said. "We hope the administration will step up and make sure they do proper vetting and not something that alarms the community." New Yorkers in the country illegally are also dealing with widespread rumors. Natalia Aristizabal, lead organizer at the immigrant advocacy group Make the Road, in Queens, said members regularly ask her about supposed immigration raids. Natalia Aristizabal at Make the Road, in Queens.  (Arun Venugopal/WNYC) "Usually it gets to 'Somebody told somebody told somebody,' a little bit of a chain like that. And so I have to then tell community members, 'We haven't heard anything, and you need to relax and know your rights.' Because that's going to be our main tool of defense." Cathy Dang, with the group CAAAV Organizing Asian Communities said the rumors of raids can be pretty specific: for instance, that Chinatown buses are being stopped between New York and South Carolina, either by the NYPD or federal immigration officials. This was being circulated via We Chat. NYPD spokesman J. Peter Donald even tweeted about this last week, "There is zero truth to this. I repeat: zero." For Dang and the others, it's hard to say how the rumors start. As a joke? Out of malice? But she said the net ef[...]

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New York Officials Open Doors to Refugees as New Jersey Shuts Them

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:22:16 -0500

In front of the Statue of Liberty sits New York, where local and state government are at the forefront of fighting President Trump's efforts to restrict immigration of refugees and would-be political asylees.  Behind her back back sits New Jersey, where Gov. Chris Christie is taking the opposite approach, supporting the president's travel ban and formally ending the state refugee resettlement program.  Here's a rundown of the difference between the two states when it comes to the hot-button national issue of the moment: New York: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has become something of the face of the opposition against Trump in a variety of areas, including immigration. He joined a lawsuit against Trump's now heavily litigated executive order temporarily banning certain refugees, calling it discriminatory and a new low in American foreign policy. He also sent legal help to refugees stuck at John F. Kennedy International Airport. New Jersey: Attorney General Chris Porrino is a friend and appointee of Christie's, and he has stayed mostly quiet about the situation even as attorneys general in the states across the northeast — New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut and Massachusetts — joined a lawsuit against Trump's travel ban now winding its way through the courts. Christie, a staunch ally of Trump's who has said he was offered jobs in the Trump Administration, agrees with the president's travel ban. He has only criticized the roll-out, which he blamed on Trump’s staffers.  New York: Immigration advocates say services for immigrants in New York have long been superior to those offered in New Jersey, from health coverage to language assistance to legal aid. And last month, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo launched a hotline to assist immigrants affected by Trump's executive order. New Jersey: As a presidential candidate in November 2015, Christie announced that New Jersey would no longer settle refugees from Syria, even 5-year-old orphans. By this past October, the state had fully "divested" from its refugee program, according to a spokeswoman. Refugees are still coming to New Jersey — including a Syrian family moving to Union City this week — but resettlement is now being overseen by the International Rescue Committee. After Christie pulled the state out of all refugee operations, the IRC became the "replacement designee" in charge of administering refugee resettlement in the state. That means, for example, that refugees in New Jersey now go through the IRC to collect allotted federal cash assistance, instead of state government. And a phone number that New Jersey once operated for refugees is no longer in service — an operator this week referred WNYC to the IRC. New York: The state maintains a robust website for its Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Assistance to help refugees with  "economic and social self-sufficiency." The site includes an educational curriculum to help teenage refugees find employment. Just a few weeks ago, the state of New Jersey offered a website with resources for arriving refugees. No longer. New Jersey: A spokeswoman for the state Department of Human Services confirmed this week that all information helping refugees is being removed from its web site. While the landing page still exists, the above screen grab from earlier this month shows that information for refugees on getting help with child care, homelessness and welfare has been purged.  New York: In the wake of Trump's election to the presidency Cuomo ordered the New York State Police to create a special unit to investigate the growing number of hate crimes.New Jersey: The state already has a Bias Crime Unit -- and efforts were announced to step up patrols of mosques after the Quebec mosque shooting last month — but a calendar of significant dates in which bias [...]

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New York Attorney General Urges Supporters to “Take Advantage of The Moment” on Voting Reform

Wed, 08 Feb 2017 13:22:13 -0500

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is seeking to capitalize on the simmering anger among voters over what he called the state’s “embarrassingly outdated” voting system.

Schneiderman’s solution: the NY Votes Act, a package of legislative changes that includes automatic voter registration, same-day voter registration and early voting. The legislation is an outgrowth of his office’s investigation into Boards of Elections statewide, including a report issued after his office received a record number of calls to its voter hotline about last year’s presidential primary.

“People are upset, people are angry, people are demanding change,” Schneiderman said Wednesday, standing outside Federal Hall in lower Manhattan. Invoking the history of the founding fathers — they first introduced the Bill of Rights at the same spot — he said it’s time for activists and legislators committed to voting reform “to take advantage of the moment.”

While Democratic lawmakers have routinely introduced bills to change election laws, Senate Republicans have routinely blocked efforts at reform.

“Early voting is a bill I’ve carried for years, but I can’t get it passed by the Republican Senate,” said Senate Democratic Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, who joined the attorney general to offer her support for the act.

But Schneiderman said his legislation has bipartisan support.

While no Republicans were on hand Wednesday, several members of the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference, who have a power-sharing arrangement with Republicans, offered statements of support. Newly-minted caucus member Sen. Jose Peralta was there in person.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office also signaled support.

“These are many of the same reforms the governor has long advanced and fought to pass into law,” said Dani Lever, a spokeswoman for Cuomo. “We welcome the additional support in our collective efforts to enact our democracy agenda and once and for all break down artificial barriers that discourage New Yorkers from taking part in the process.” 

Legislative changes aren’t the only way Schneiderman is trying to shore up New York’s elections. Last month, he joined a lawsuit against the New York City Board of Elections for illegally purging 200,000 voters from the rolls.

New York Attorney General Urges Supporters to “Take Advantage of The Moment” on Voting Reform

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