Review: Aaron Sorkin's 'Mockingbird' Just Sounds Dated

It took the beloved book To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, a long, long time to get to Broadway. Author Harper Lee turned down pitches after the movie debuted in 1962; she said Gregory Peck, who starred as Atticus Finch, looked just like her father, and she didn't want any other version to overshadow his portrayal. Toward the end of her life, Lee finally signed off on a Broadway production after she was approached by producer Scott Rudin. But she died before Aaron Sorkin's script was completed, and her estate filed a lawsuit after it saw a draft, saying that the character of Atticus Finch deviated too much from the book. The case settled and, this week, the world premiere of Sorkin's adaptation, directed by Bartlett Sher, opened at the Shubert Theatre. It's impossible to know whether the production's significant flaws are due to the (quite wonderful) creative team being hamstrung by the estate. But what we do know is what's onstage, and what's onstage is often tedious and preachy. Worse, in the first act, it traffics in stereotypes — there's a decent-and deferential black man and a sassy black woman. It also lionizes Atticus, shown here as a kind of white savior who is "brave" enough to reluctantly represent a black man accused of murder, all the while insisting his white, racist friends — who at one point approach the jail in hoods and carrying nooses — are just good people who have fallen on hard times. The young adult novel To Kill a Mockingbird is seen through the eyes of Scout. She's a 6-year-old tomboy who adores her father and who, over three years, comes to understand how racist and small-minded her town is, even though it's filled with quirky characters. But the play sidelines Scout (played by an adult, Celia Keenan-Bolger) in favor of Atticus (Jeff Daniels) and her brother Jem. Though she still narrates (she's a 10-year-old here), we don't learn much about her or hear much about her feelings. Jem (Will Pullen) has a character arc, but Scout just observes, and makes jokes. The play is framed almost entirely around the murder trial of Tom Robinson (Gbenga Akinnagbe), but thanks to time jumps and thin characterizations, the first act drags on with the n-word sprinkled liberally throughout. The second act is tauter and more complicated — Atticus is taken to task, finally, both by Jem and by the family's black maid, Calpurnia (LaTanya Richardson Jackson). Yet he doesn't seem to have learned that racism is systemic or that a civil rights ally need to stop making excuses for the racism of his friends. He just keeps on keeping on. This is a very unsophisticated portrayal of race in America. When it comes to theater, there's a lot out there that does this better. "To Kill a Mockingbird," by Aaron Sorkin, directed by Bartlett Sher, is at the Shubert Theatre in an open run.

This Week in Politics: A NJ Bill With Something For Everyone (to Hate)

As 2018 winds down, New Jersey Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg has a lot on her plate. The legislature is working on a minimum wage bill that Governor Phil Murphy originally wanted signed sealed and delivered by year's end. She's co-chair of a legislative committee investigating the hiring of Al Alvarez. He worked for the Murphy campaign and was accused of rape, and then was hired as chief of staff at the schools development authority. And she's preparing for a vote this Monday on a redistricting bill that has inspired a wave of opposition from dozens of organizations, including the Princeton Gerrymandering Project and former Attorney General under President Obama, Eric Holder. Senator Weinberg joins us on This Week in Politics for an end of the year update. Speaking about the redistricting bill with David Furst, Weinberg says it's not a foregone conclusion that it will move forward on Monday. She sums up the situation this way: "There's something in this bill to affront almost everybody. That's not always easy to do. But that's what we managed to do."

This Week in Politics: A NJ Bill With Something For Everyone (to Hate)

HUD Jumps — Deep — Into Fray Over New York's Public Housing

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development is giving the New York City Housing Authority until the end of January to prove it has a plan for fixing its crumbling developments. In a letter, HUD said unless NYCHA can establish specific milestones for fixing health, safety and management problems, the federal government will place the authority in default. "This would provide to HUD Secretary Ben Carson a wide range of remedies," HUD said in a press release. Those remedies would include, among other steps, hiring other housing authorities or private companies to manage the city's public housing system, an outright federal takeover, or a repeal of any contracts deemed detrimental to bringing the system up to par, according to the statement. The demand comes two months after a federal Judge William Pauley questioned why HUD, the federal agency responsible for overseeing public housing around the country, wasn't doing more to crackdown on the housing authority. Pauley made the comments when he rejected a proposed settlement to a lawsuit alleging NYCHA's mismanagement and fraud was forcing residents to live in developments with broken elevators, rodent infestations, toxic mold and lead paint. The lawsuit, filed by the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, also accused NYCHA of trying to hide the extent of the problem from federal inspectors. HUD's letter coincided with a deadline Pauley set for prosecutors and the city to submit status updates on the lawsuit. Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio outlined a plan he said would generate $24 billion for repairs to the housing stock. The plan proposes building market rate housing on NYCHA land and selling air rights to private developers. The mayor and his administration have been speaking out against a federal takeover for several weeks, and have repeatedly argued that NYCHA's troubles preceded his administration "Working people are the backbone of this city," de Blasio said Friday on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show. "You let control go somewhere else, all bets are off."

Birders in New York Are Conducting the Avian Census

The Christmas Bird Count starts today. Every year, the National Audubon Society organizes teams of citizen scientists to go out and conduct a census. "Anyone can do it. You don't have to have any birding skills really, and New York City is the perfect place because there are lots of experts and park rangers and such to help you along the way," said Purbita Saha from the National Audubon Society. Saha said there are counts in places in Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn where you can spot anything from Eastern bluebirds to great horned owls. The goal is to cover as much as New York City as possible. Saha said not to expect to spot rare birds. "But sometimes birds can surprise you. They're very unpredictable," she said. The count goes until January 5th. Saha spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.

Review: The Met Museum Gives Acres of New Space to Abstract Art

Many art museums are now in the process of re-installing their permanent collections, trying to make the story of art more inclusive. It's a noble goal. "Epic Abstraction: Pollock to Herrera," which opens Monday at the Metropolitan Museum, is an effort in this direction. Mingling works from the permanent collection with choice loans from foundations and other sources, the show sets out to prove that post-World War II abstraction – from the gestural, emotive canvases of Abstract Expressionism to the stripped-down geometries of Minimalism – is not strictly a male creation. Of the 40 artists in the show, 16 are women. Consider this social progress. The show opens on a magisterial note. The first gallery is devoted mostly to Jackson Pollock, whose drip paintings look more classical as the years pass. In the second gallery, the lights dim, and a group of Rothko paintings glimmer like headlights through shadow. But once you're in the third gallery, the chronology breaks down, as does the narrative, and the show becomes a mixed bag with an inexplicable number of mediocre works by artists who deserve better. A particularly dull stretch of wall pairs three Bridget Rileys with a late, predominantly white Barnett Newman, simply because they have stripes. On the plus side, curator Randall Griffey has pulled some wonderful finds from the Met's storage racks. I loved seeing Louise Nevelson's room-size assemblage, "Mrs. N's Place," Joan Mitchell's "La Vie en Rose," and Anne Truitt's "Goldsborough," a slender wooden column of dusky-pink that, as it turns out, was donated to the museum by her friend Helen Frankenthaler, who also makes a strong appearance in the show. But none of the above-mentioned artists are still living, and you would not know from this exhibition that abstract painting is currently enjoying a resurgence. Although the show is billed as a survey that extends from the post-war years through the present, it skimps on recent work. Where are the artists who are rehabilitating abstract art today – namely, Cecily Brown, Amy Sillman, Julie Mehretu, Charline von Heyl, and the sculptor Arlene Shechet? The Met's new show, astoundingly, omits all of them. That could change within the next year or so, since the exhibition, I hear, is a quasi-permanent installation that will be modified occasionally. One hopes that the curators will think about rotating in younger artists. The Met needs to establish that abstract art is not a historical style that peaked a half-century ago, but a force that still speaks to us today.

After Spike in Deaths, New Jersey Looks to Prevent Suicides in Jails

New Jersey's Department of Corrections is rolling out a series of initiatives aimed at preventing suicides in county jails, weeks after a WNYC investigation into the jail system found an increasing number of deaths in custody. "One suicide is too many," Acting Corrections Commissioner Marcus Hicks said in a statement. "These initiatives are designed to lead to improved outcomes. While the NJDOC does not have a role in the daily operations of county jails, the Department will remain vigilant in establishing suicide prevention standards that must be met by each county jail." Reporters Audrey Quinn and Matt Katz found the increase in deaths was largely driven by suicides tied to mental illness and drug addiction. By one count, New Jersey had the highest rate of deaths in custody of any large jail system in the country. Because jails face little state oversight, there's been a lack of accountability. Gov. Phil Murphy's administration is now amending corrections guidelines to make sure jails review each suicide and submit a report to the state. Under the NJDOC's new initiatives, the state will now conduct unannounced inspections. There will also be training on suicide prevention and the department will helps jails develop polices aimed at curbing deaths. The NJDOC will have to work in conjunction with the New Jersey County Jail Warden's Association, which oversees the daily operation of county jails. Calls to the association's president, Eugene J. Caldwell, had gone unanswered as of Thursday evening. The NJDOC released the following initiatives: The NJDOC will conduct unannounced annual inspections of county facilities. Each county will be required to attend an annual training session presented by the NJDOC, to include correctional best practices related to suicide prevention. The NJDOC will provide technical assistance in policy development to address suicide prevention in county jails. A recommendation will be put forth that county jails receive biennial training on suicide prevention from the National Institute on Corrections. The New Jersey Administrative Code – specifically 10A:31 – will be amended to include a requirement for county jails to conduct a multi-discipline morbidity review within a specified timeframe of a suicide. A summary of that review must be provided to the NJDOC within a specified timeframe. The NJDOC will conduct a review of the general facts of the suicide in the conduct of the requirements set forth by the New Jersey Administrative Code. A follow-up inspection of any relevant standards will be conducted and recommendations for remedial actions will be made, if needed. Murphy had previously said the issue was "deeply troubling" and vowed to fix the system "using any existing authority or, if need be, working with the Legislature to provide new authority."

World's Largest Cooperative Apartment Complex Opens in the Bronx

On December 11, 1968, New York City became home to the largest co-operative housing complex in the world, Co-op City.

Report: NJ Police Seize Millions in Cash from Residents with Little Oversight

Civil liberties advocates are asking lawmakers in New Jersey to reform the way police seize the assets of people suspected of crimes. A report released this week by the state's American Civil Liberties Union chapter found there's little oversight of the practice known as civil asset forfeiture. If police believe cash or goods are linked to a crime, they can take them. The ACLU-NJ found that police took more than $5.5 million worth of cash. That's on top of property that ranged from cars and houses to a massage table and baseball cards. And police departments get to keep the goods, often using the proceeds for operating expenses. "That incentivizes them to take as much as possible, especially from folks who are least able to fight back," said Liza Weisberg, an attorney and fellow at ACLU-NJ who contributed to the report. The only way for residents to get their goods back is in court. The report examined civil forfeiture data from Jan. through May of 2016 and found 97 percent of the time people didn't challenge the forfeitures, even if they were never charged with a crime. "It's not because they don't have winning cases," said Weisberg. "But it's because in virtually every single case the value of the thing that the police officers took away is usually less than the cost of getting into the courtroom to try to get it back." Low-income communities and people of color are disproportionately affected by civil asset forfeitures, according to the organization's analysis. In Jersey City, for example, "black people were arrested for low-level offenses at a rate 9.6 times higher than that of white people." Top 10 Municipalities by Number of Seizures (Jan - May 2016) Jersey City: 346 Newark: 175 Paterson: 93 Middle Township: 89 Trenton: 79 Toms River: 37 East Orange: 32 Camden: 31 Elizabeth: 31 Union City: 21 The report found Hudson County, which oversees a number of police departments, including Jersey City, had the most cases in the state, with 453, followed by Essex County, with 293. The Hudson County prosecutor did not respond to a request for comment. The Essex County prosecutor has not yet reviewed the report. "We will do so because we are always seeking to make improvements as part of our overall strategy to reduce crime in Essex County," said Katherine Carter, a spokeswoman for the Essex County prosecutor. "But, the fact that we are high on the list for civil forfeitures is not particularly surprising simply because of the sheer number of cases we handle. Annually, Essex County handles upwards of 25 percent of the state's indictable offenses." A bill requiring county prosecutors to submit a quarterly report on forfeitures to the state's Attorney General passed the State Senate earlier this year and is awaiting a vote in the State Assembly.

Report: NJ Police Seize Millions in Cash from Residents with Little Oversight

Why Chuck Schumer Is No Longer the Most Powerful Democrat in D.C.

Tuesday's dramatic Oval Office showdown over border wall spending and a government shutdown showed just how much power has shifted in Washington after the 2018 midterms. Not just from Republican to Democrat, but also from Chuck to Nancy. Before the midterms, Democrats had more leverage in the Senate, since Republicans controlled 51 votes but needed 60 to get most bills through a filibuster. Now, with big wins in the House of Representatives, soon-to-be Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi is calling the shots. WNYC Washington correspondent John O'Connor spoke with Richard Hake about why Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is no longer the top dog Democrat in D.C.

For Police, a New Alternative to Arrests or Emergency Rooms

Police often interact with people who are mentally ill or in the throes of addiction. And their choices for how to respond are limited. Often-times, they make an arrest or transport someone to a hospital emergency room. But soon there will be a third choice — dropping them off at a so-called diversion center where they can get proper help. For advocates of criminal justice reform, the centers represent a long-awaited merging of public health and policing. "This is really a paradigm shift of public safety," said John Volpe, special adviser on criminal justice for the city's health department. "The health department and police partner in a way to really meet need with the right response, rather than the typical response of putting people through the criminal justice system, which often does little good to anybody and costs a lot of money." A mayoral task force first announced the centers in 2014 as a way to reduce the population of mentally ill people in jails. The first center was supposed to open the following year but there were major delays. First, finding a non-profit to run the centers proved difficult because not enough funding was allocated to them. The contracts were then increased. Volpe said finding a place to locate centers was also a major hurdle. "Finding real estate in New York, you know it's very difficult," he said. "It definitely was a factor." Last Friday — three years late — the city announced that they signed 10-year leases for centers in East Harlem and the North Bronx. One major hurdle was cleared. But there are more to come, such as deciding whether police should use handcuffs when they transport people, and deciding what sort of behavior falls within that grey area where an officer can choose a center instead of an arrest. "It's not felony level. It's not violence. It's not identifiable victims," Volpe said. He imagined the behavior being more along the lines of a shirtless man running through traffic or someone being verbally aggressive outside a bodega, and the police get called. Instead of a disorderly conduct charge, a person might wind up at a center where medical staff would evaluate them and where a social worker would try to figure out who their last psychiatrist or therapist was, so they can reconnect them to treatment. The health department says the centers will feel like a hybrid between a "welcoming lounge and a health clinic". There will be food, a place to shower and wash clothes and offices for medical exams and assessments. The total cost of the program is $9.5 million. Each center is expected to serve up to 25 people at a time, and as many as 2400 per year. Five days is the longest anyone would be allowed to stay. It's all voluntary, and people can walk out at any time. Staff at the centers are supposed to ensure people get connected to services before they leave. Only police in the two precincts that surround the centers will be allowed to drop people off. "The plan is to have it a whole lot easier than arresting someone or summonsing them as well as going to the hospital," said NYPD Deputy Chief Terri Tobin. "We're going to be very proactive in terms of making sure that all the officers get a walk-through so that they're very educated about what will happen when they bring someone to the diversion center." Tobin said police officers have a front row seat to the dysfunction of the mental health system because they often bring people to emergency rooms, only to see them get released back onto the street without treatment. She believes police will embrace the centers. Arizona has had these types of centers for 20 years. Tobin and Volpe visited Phoenix to see how they work. "Someone actually flagged us down," Tobin said. "I happened to be on a ride-a-long with one of the officers out on patrol and the individual said, 'Listen, can you bring me to the diversion center? I don't want to be out here.' " Nick Margiotta, a retired Phoenix Police Officer, worked on the diversion center program for several years. He said the centers were always full but slightly different from what New York City plans to open. "They're open to anyone, not just law enforcement," Margiotta said. "But law enforcement is their primary customer." The key to making the centers attractive is to make the hand-off between police and health-care providers simple, Margiotta said. "If it's seamless, if it's easy, if the answer is usually yes, if there's not a lot of barriers and triage to get them in, then police will use these facilities a lot," he said. The first thing the centers do is stabilize the people who enter. "For some folks it will be medicine. For some folks it will be eating. And for some folks it will just be letting the effects of the substance they're on wear-off," Margiotta said. In New York, advocates say the centers are a crucial reform for a city where police respond to more than 160,000 mental-health calls a year. But it's a tougher sell in communities where the centers will actually be placed. George Torres is the District Manager for Community Board 12 in the northern Bronx. He questioned why the center was going up there instead of the south Bronx, where a serious opioid crisis exists. He read from press release the city recently released as proof of the need for intervention. "Yeah right here, 'Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Mcrae announce plan to fight opioid epidemic in the south Bronx, November 28, 2018'," Torres said. "It's not the north Bronx. The precincts that have this problem are in the south Bronx." Volpe, from the health department, acknowledged the north Bronx doesn't have the highest need. But he said it's still at a level that makes it a viable location. Bronx Councilman Ritchie Torres agreed. He represents the north Bronx. "Look, I expect NIMBYism and a knee-jerk reaction, but I cannot claim to be an advocate for criminal justice reform and then oppose a center that would divert the chemically addicted and mentally ill from the criminal justice system," he said. "Those positions are incompatible in my mind." Torres has a year to convince his constituents that the centers are worthwhile. They aren't scheduled to open until next fall.

A Troubling Look Inside Mind of Troubled Newtown Shooter

A new trove of more than 1,000 pages of documents left behind by the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter is shedding light on the worldview of a young man who committed mass murder at an elementary school, six years ago this week. The Hartford Courant sued the Connecticut State Police for Adam Lanza's writings, records, and computer files shortly after the incident that left 20 children, six school staff members, his mother and himself. After five years, the state Supreme Court ruled in their favor, and this week the paper published a deep look at the documents for the first time. Reporter Josh Kovner, who wrote about the documents with reporter Dave Altimari, told Jami Floyd on All Things Considered said the newspaper gave careful consideration about publishing excerpts from them. "I understand the feeling of the parents of the children. It's very difficult to see the shooter be the center of these articles," he said. "But it is with an aim toward putting a road map out there that fosters recognition of these signs and symptoms." To listen to the full interview, click "Listen."

The Keys to the Perfect Christmas Tree

From Rockefeller Center to your own home, everyone strives to select the perfect Christmas tree. "You want something that's going to make a lot of people smile and come around," said Erik Pauze, head gardener at Rockefeller Center. Pauze spends all year tracking down the perfect tree. A tree from Wallkill, New York was the right shape, color and height for the plaza this year. But for people thinking smaller and more personal, Scott Lechner, manager at SoHo trees, said the freshness of a tree can be checked by taking the branches and furling the needles. If there's no breakage, that means it's fresh. "A tree is like a piece of fruit or a vegetable. In your refrigerator, an apple doesn't look so good after a week, and you might not want to eat it," said Lechner. He said trees last about a month or so. So a tree cut in October or early November may not look good even in early December. Salazar spoke with WNYC's Richard Hake.

Einstein, God Are Prime Movers of Conversation At Local Cocktail Party

An anonymous bidder recently agreed to pay the astonishing price of $2.9 million for a page-and-a-half of musings on religion, the Bible, and the nature of reality. A large part of the price tag reflected the fame of the person whose signature — or "autograph," as a Christie's auctioneer called it — is appended to the bottom: Albert Einstein. But celebrity aside, why do so many people still care passionately about a deceased scientist's pronouncements on the divine? Suzanne Roff, a psychologist attending a panel discussion on Einstein's so-called "God Letter" at the Princeton Club last week, had a theory. "Because he was considered the most brilliant man of his time and we're all looking for someone to have answers for us," she conjectured before supplying a few traditionally vexing questions: "Who are we? Why are we here? What is the meaning of life?" Listen to the audio to hear what a formidable group of intellects had to say about Einstein and god, and religion and science, in the light of the strong views expressed in his letter. They also reflected on his Jewish identity and how it may have contributed to his thought. You'll hear from Peter Klarnet, senior specialist in Christie's books and manuscripts department; Brian Greene, professor of physics and mathematics at Columbia University; Tania Lombrozo, professor of psychology at Princeton University; Rabbi Geoffrey Mitelman, founding director of Sinai and Synapses, an organization that bridges science and religion; and Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, philosopher, novelist, and winner of the Richard Dawkins Award from the Atheist Alliance of America. Thanks to Lukas Krohn-Grimberghe for reading excerpts of the letter in the original German.

Einstein, God Are Prime Movers of Conversation At Local Cocktail Party

This New Jersey Dreamer's Struggle to Attend College

When New Jersey's governor signed a law in May giving undocumented immigrant students access to state financial aid for college, Gloria Rodriguez was prepared. The 22-year-old Orange resident had been working toward this moment for nearly a decade — about the same time it had taken the law's supporters to get the bill passed. Years of motivated, diligent schoolwork had enabled her to graduate as the valedictorian of her class at West Caldwell Tech High School in 2016. But without access to state or federal aid at the time, Gloria could only afford to attend a community college. It "was my only plan," she said. She attended Newark's Essex Community College and applied last spring to continue her studies at several four-year universities. But once again, although accepted to several, she had little hope of attending, given her family's finances. Her father, who migrated from Puebla, Mexico 18 years ago, supported Gloria, her mother and four siblings as a landscaper, earning roughly $30,000 a year. The new law, however, suddenly gave her new hope. She immediately gathered her parents' tax returns, proof of residency, and high school verification—all required for the application--and submitted them online in June. Then began a nervous wait. Gloria is one of 1,365 undocumented New Jerseyans who applied for the new aid by the first deadline of September 15. That's a tiny fraction of those who are likely eligible, owing partly to a bumpy roll-out that holds lessons for other states trying to expand access to higher education. Among the biggest challenges have been simply spreading the word and gaining the buy-in of students and families that often have little familiarity with an already labyrinth process of college admissions and financial aid, especially at a political moment when distrust of the government is running high, owing to high-profile roundups of undocumented workers across the country by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. "I think today's national climate makes things a little bit trickier," said Nicholas Ramjattan, assistant manager of financial aid at Rutgers University-Newark. "There are a lot more folks who are more fearful today than they were two years ago." Teachers and administrators say they have also received little to no information about the specifics of the new law, a task that has largely fallen to already besieged local immigrant groups and college representatives. "There's no mandatory training for [high school] counselors to have to know this stuff," said Nedia Morsy, lead organizer at Make the Road New Jersey, an immigrant advocacy organization. New Jersey is the tenth state in the country to provide both in-state tuition discounts and state financial aid for undocumented students. And although educators and immigrant advocates say the state should be applauded for how quickly it has tried to implement the program, more needs to be done if it is to expand access in the way the laws backers hoped. A decade-long battle The battle to provide this aid is partly a Newark story, beginning with Teresa Ruiz, a former pre-kindergarten teacher who grew up in Newark's North Ward and who in 2008 became New Jersey's first Hispanic woman elected to the state senate. In the years since, she has become a political power broker, fighting for Hispanic families. (Ruiz reportedly played a critical role, for example, ensuring that Roger Leon, a lifelong Newarker and the son of Cuban immigrants, would become Newark's first Hispanic schools superintendent and the first to oversee the district after decades of state oversight.) Three weeks after Ruiz was sworn into office, she and Democratic colleagues in the senate introduced a bill that would grant undocumented students access to in-state tuition rates. It also outlawed community colleges from barring undocumented students from enrolling. The bill fell short of the necessary votes. Five years later, Ruiz tried again with Chris Christie, the state's former Republican governor. Christie, however, was eyeing a Presidential run at the time and was leery of offering state aid for college, worrying in 2013 to one one radio station that he didn't want New Jersey becoming "a magnet state" for undocumented immigrants. But citing the economic benefits to the state, Christie did see room for compromise and agreed to back Ruiz's earlier bill, which now had the votes to pass. Starting in 2014, undocumented students in the state became eligible for in-state tuition levels, which lowered the cost of higher education for many families. Actual aid, however, remained off the table. "It definitely helped a lot more people be able to go to college, and it made it affordable—but not affordable enough," said Giancarlo Tello, co-founder of UndocuJersey, which provides educational resources for the state's undocumented students. A 2015 report from the College Board listed New Jersey as the fourth most expensive state for college in a state where undocumented families make just under $35,000 annually on average. After Christie left office, Ruiz found a new ally in newly-elected Democratic Governor Phil Murphy, who campaigned on a promise to support New Jersey's undocumented population. Legislation to provide state aid for college for undocumented students moved quickly after Murphy was sworn in last January, passing both the senate and assembly by April, and moving off Murphy's desk the next month as law. It had an immediate impact on Gloria Rodriguez. A journey from Mexico — and a father's "biggest blessing" Unlike some other states, under New Jersey's new law, students can use its financial aid at both its public and private universities within the state. As a result, Gloria was able to choose Bloomfield College, a private university in Bloomfield, New Jersey. She liked how close it was to her family's home, and the campus' verdant lawn surrounded by small bungalows. Most important, the college's education program was well ranked. As early as elementary school, Gloria had dreamed of becoming a special education teacher. "It's something that I know that I have the patience for," she says. "And I would do anything to help someone who needs my help." For years, Gloria's family has been on a personal mission to get at least one of the family's five siblings—all undocumented—into a four-year college. Her father, Constantino, a farm worker, emigrated on his own in 2000, hoping for better treatment for his severe asthma attacks. He quickly found work as a landscaper. His wife, Valentina, and oldest son, Sergio, joined him two years later. In 2004, Gloria, her two older sisters, and younger brother, Nestor, followed, reuniting the family. They traveled by car from Mexico. Gloria remembers very little about the trip other than it was long and uncomfortable. But the promise of seeing her family kept her spirits up. "We couldn't think of anything else other than the fact that we were going to see my dad and Sergio," she recalled. Her father, a devout Catholic, described having his family together in New Jersey his "biggest blessing." Sergio, the oldest Rodriguez son, had dreamed of attending university and studying to become an engineer or architect. But when he graduated from Newark's East Orange High School in 2012 near the top of his class, undocumented students were not yet eligible even for in-state tuition rates. Sergio, 25, says he did not get a welcoming reception from most of the community colleges and vocational programs he approached. They all asked if he had a green card or social security number. "I used to say no," Sergio said. "And they were like, 'Oh, well, you have no chance to study.'" Sergio decided to save for college by painting houses and doing other small jobs. But he quickly realized that paying tuition out-of-pocket wouldn't be feasible for years, if ever. "I gave up trying," he said. His two sisters, Rosa and Rufina, decided to go straight to work to contribute to the family's income. "An Ivy League School--or Essex County College" After graduating high school, Gloria picked up the baton, applying to half a dozen schools in the state, including Rutgers, Montclair State University and Fairleigh Dickinson. But she only received one scholarship offer, from Fairleigh Dickinson; at $10,000, it barely made a dent in the more than $30,000 tuition the school charged. So Gloria decided to scale back her ambitions and enrolled at Essex, where she could receive a small scholarship from an organization called The Dream.US that helps recipients of the Obama-era DACA program attend college. Jose Mercado, a guidance counselor at Science Park High School said that Gloria's case is far from unique, even at a top public magnet school like Science Park, with selective admissions. Before the new law, undocumented students with strong academic records in New Jersey typically had only two options: Get into an elite private school that could afford to offer a large scholarship — or community college. Such students "either went to an Ivy League school — or Essex County College," he said. "There was no middle ground." So when the new law was approved late in the spring, immigrant families and advocates were elated. But the timing left little time for recent graduates, like Nestor, to change course or benefit by the swiftly-approaching fall semester. "At this point, students are already wrapped up," said Brian Donovan, vice principal of the bilingual program at Newark's East Side. "For someone who's a senior and they're finding out this information at the end of the school year, it's kind of hectic." The confusion was evident at a June event at the school, where about 100 undocumented students and parents gathered to learn about the change from school staff, recalled Donovan. They lobbed question after question about who was eligible for the aid, how to apply, and the status of DACA, given President Trump's stated desire to rescind the program. Donovan said that at the time he struggled to enumerate the eligibility requirements and necessary documents—much less whether it was safe to apply at all. "It was like when a teacher needs to teach something and they're not prepared," he said. Like other teachers, Donovan noted that the school had never received guidance from the state—or anyone else—about how to communicate with students, a problem that has arise in other states with similar programs. Instead, the process is often left entirely to individual educators to research if they wish to share their states' laws regarding undocumented students and college access. (One undocumented student from New Jersey said that her high school counselor suggested she attend college in Canada because the counselor was unsure what options were available to her in New Jersey.) Even for those who did apply over the summer, uncertainty reigned. Nicole Romero, a 22-year-old undocumented student from Peru, said that although she applied in May as soon as the application appeared online, she didn't hear back until after the new school year had started in August. "I spent the whole summer stressing about whether or not I would get aid," she said. A scholarship offer declined Gloria Rodriguez was luckier. She heard in August that she would receive $12,000 from the state's Tuition Aid Grant program. But because she had already applied to four universities and been accepted that spring, she was in a position to take advantage of the aid. She was one of 665 students statewide who were approved for such assistance. As of November, 350 other applications were still pending, and 350 had been denied. College "was one of my biggest dreams, and now it's actually happening!" she said. But Gloria's brother, Nestor, the baby of the family, wasn't so fortunate. He was a high school senior last year and a soccer star. Not knowing that he was undocumented, the soccer coach at the College of St. Elizabeth last winter offered Nestor an athletic scholarship that would have covered part of his tuition. But it still wasn't enough to cover his costs. Given the uncertainty about whether additional aid would be available, Gloria encouraged him to focus his sights on community college—as she had done. "I told him go to Essex County College, make sure you do well in all your classes. And once you graduate, you might be able to transfer," she said. By the time Nestor learned he might qualify for more aid under the new law, Nestor, who loved nothing more than soccer, had declined the coach's offer and couldn't get it back. "Are they going to take my parents away?" The timing of the law has presented other challenges as well. Morsy, the lead organizer at Make the Road, says that with DACA in flux and a barrage of immigration-related dispatches from the federal government, it's been hard for schools to stay on top of laws and policies affecting their immigrant students—much less win their trust in deeply uncertain times. In 2017, President Trump signed an executive order stating that anyone living in the country illegally would be subject to arrest, detention and possible deportation. This, coupled with increased cooperation between law enforcement officials and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in New Jersey reignited a fear in undocumented families who had lived in the state for years. Yari Pares, a guidance counselor at Newark's East Side High School in Newark, says some of his immigrant students fear applying for the new aid could lead to deportation. "They asked, 'if I sign up for this, are they going to take my parents away? Are they going to come and get me?'" Other states with similar programs have seen the numbers of undocumented applicants shrink in recent years. In California undocumented students have qualified for state aid since 2013 but the number of applicants plummeted last winter. "The headlines about immigration make people feel like they're really in the spotlight, Jane Slater, a teacher at Sequoia High School in Redwood City, Calif., told the Los Angeles Times. "Kids are more afraid for their families than they are for themselves." Even for undocumented students in New Jersey who have the courage to apply, the specifics of the process can still prove daunting, said Natalia Morisseau, director of financial aid at Rutgers University-Newark. The Higher Education Assistance Authority, or HESAA, which administers the aid, often asks students to verify information, including tax forms, proof of income, or New Jersey residency. This can be difficult for students whose parents get paid under the table or live with relatives and don't have their names on apartment leases. "It's a population of people who've lived under the radar for many, many years," she said. "When you live undocumented it's just that, undocumented." "A pain in the butt" New Jersey adopted an ambitious timeline for rolling out the aid: making the application available online immediately after Murphy signed the bill on May 9. In several other states with similar laws, the legislation did not go into effect within the same academic year. David Socolow, executive director of HESAA, says his team had begun preparing months in advance out of a desire to serve as many students as possible as quickly as possible. "Their motives were good," said John Gunkel, vice chancellor for academic programs and strategic partnerships at Rutgers-Newark. "But it was a very short timeline...and I suspect it made it difficult to think through and communicate through the issues." Like California's, New Jersey's first iteration of the application form was an online PDF. Even officials from HESAA admit that this was inconvenient for both students and the agency because students could not easily save partially completed applications and the agency was likely to get multiple versions of the same application when students re-submitted if they made an error. "It would be easier if it were a computer system where people could do ten questions, take a break and come back a day later but we couldn't get that up and running in time," said Socolow. Romero, the student who spent the whole summer anxiously awaiting word, said the application process would have been "overwhelming and scary" without support from Make the Road. When she heard from the state in August, she learned she'd been approved her for $6,000 in aid, which she is now using to attend Montclair State University. Another student who attends New Jersey City University said that he was told the state had three applications under his name, which delayed his receipt of the funds. "That was my first experience with the application," said the student, who asked that his name not be used given his immigration status. "I said if it's going to be like this, that's going to be a pain in the butt." Delays are normal for any student receiving state aid, not just undocumented students, says Jennifer Azzarano, a spokesperson from HESAA. Students are often asked to submit additional tax and income forms and colleges have to certify that students are attending or registered to attend. "There could be delays and that's for anyone," she said. The renewal process is usually simpler, Azzarano added. On October 1, HESAA launched a new online application for the 2019 spring semester and the 2019-2020 academic year. So far, students and advocates say it's much more user-friendly. "It's way easier and more understandable," said the New Jersey City University student. A role model: "I see her study every day" In the meantime, in the absence of better guidance and support from schools, students have looked to immigrant organizations like Make the Road, which have worked to make up the slack by holding weekly workshops for students to work on their applications. But no matter how user friendly the process becomes, increasing undocumented students' access in New Jersey could benefit from broader changes. For example, undocumented students could be encouraged to apply for state aid as a matter of course, in the same way that other students routinely fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid, or FAFSA, (which is so ubiquitous that over 18,000,000 students applied in 2016-2017). "We need to normalize it the way we've normalized FAFSA," says Jennifer Ayala, director of the Center for Undocumented Students at St. Peter's University. The process went more smoothly for Gloria partly because she had practiced filling out the FAFSA as a high schooler. But even a sister's coaching and concern did not prove strong enough to propel her younger brother Nestor to college, at least not this school year. Four days before the start of the semester, Nestor decided not to enroll in community college because he wouldn't be able to play soccer. During the day, he works as a cashier at a pharmacy not far from his family's home in Orange; in the evenings, he practices the game. The entire family was devastated—especially Gloria. "It's unbelievable," she said. "There are other students who wish they could go to college and don't have the opportunities that he has right now." Even a brief detour from a college trajectory can be costly. Research shows that those who don't immediately go to college right after high school can lose "academic momentum" and are less likely to attend or earn a college diploma in the future. Rates of college attendance in Newark, for example, have risen in recent years. But many students, especially those from low-income households, have still struggled to complete college within six years or don't end up at more academically rigorous, four-year institutions. The prohibitive cost of tuition and the difficulty juggling necessary jobs and college coursework are among the potential barriers to completion. By contrast, when the path is smoothed even a little, a college degree becomes more likely. Gloria acclimated quickly to life at Bloomfield, where she's already a member of the honors college and her favorite class is Western literature. Ever prepared, she has already begun practicing to take a teaching certification exam called the Praxis, and plans to spend as much of her winter break as possible studying. At family dinners, she regales her siblings with tales from college and what she's reading; she works on homework late in the night in a small home office littered with building plans from her brother Sergio's construction work. "I see her study every day," said Sergio. This story was produced by the Teacher Project, an education reporting fellowship at Columbia Journalism School, in partnership with Chalkbeat and WNYC. Ashley Okwuosa is a reporting fellow with the Teacher Project.

Protest at the Whitney Museum: "Sage is Medicine. Tear Gas is Poison."

Protesters with the group "Decolonize This Place" staged a demonstration at the Whitney Museum on Sunday afternoon, calling for a museum board member to step down. They also sought to draw attention to the rights of asylum-seekers. In summation. #decolonizethisplace at the @whitneymuseum pic.twitter.com/E7SenqluM0 — William (@Powhida) December 9, 2018 Whitney vice chairman Warren B. Kanders owns Safariland, a company that manufactures tear gas. The art news site Hyperallergic first reported the connection between Kander's corporation and tear gas deployed against migrants at the border last month. Since then, more than 100 museum staffers signed a letter asking for Kanders' resignation and requesting a clear policy regarding moral qualifications for trustees. Museum director Adam Weinberg has responded to the letter saying the Whitney "cannot right all the ills of an unjust world, nor is that its role." The protest began outside the Whitney with a group of artists, community organizers, and advocates for asylum-seekers holding banners and passing out flyers. At around 1:00 p.m., the group bypassed museum staffers who manage the incoming line of visitors at the entrance and took their demonstration into the Whitney's lobby. Protesters at the Whitney Museum, December 9, 2018. (Shumita Basu/WNYC) Maria Garcia, a Queens resident and member of Comité Comadre, which advocates for the rights of people attempting to cross the US-Mexico border, said she wants to see the Whitney cut ties with Kanders. She said the connection between Kanders' corporation and tear gas recently deployed against migrants at the border exposes a blurred line between funding for cultural institutions and "the business of war." Rick Chavolla, a board member of the American Indian Community House and a member of the Kumiai tribe, led the group in a chant as they lit sage in the museum lobby. "Sage is medicine," said Chavolla, directing a call-and-response. "Tear gas is poison." Chavolla said it's painful knowing a museum board member owns Safariland, recalling the use of tear gas at Standing Rock. He explained his organization has worked with the Whitney in the past to host events for indigenous communities, and his group is now rethinking whether they want to move forward with a Whitney event planned for February of 2019. Rick Chavolla (left), a board member of the American Indian Community House, participating in a protest at the Whitney Museum, December 9, 2018. (Shumita Basu/WNYC) The Fire Department showed up at around 2:00 p.m. and informed the protesters they could not have an open fire in the lobby of the museum. The group was ushered outside, and a member confirmed in the evening that none had been arrested. The Whitney Museum has not responded to requests for comment.

Protest at the Whitney Museum: "Sage is Medicine. Tear Gas is Poison."

Review: Bryan Cranston Is 'Mad As Hell' in 'Network,' But Do We Care?

Even if you haven't seen the landmark 1976 film "Network," you've likely heard a famous line from this scene: "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore," says Howard Beale, a Walter Cronkite-type anchorman who falls apart on air after being told his ratings are so low that he's going to be fired. He threatens to commit suicide on the evening news and his ratings skyrocket. So young executive Diana Christensen keeps him on the air, even though he starts saying crazier and crazier things. Film critics at the time said the movie was "outrageously provocative," but now, this kind of opinionated newscasting is everywhere, from Rachel Maddow on the left to Sean Hannity on the right. Because of that, Ivo van Hove's production doesn't have much to say, though it's exciting to look at: It shows us the behind-the-scenes madness of a live TV show, with a bustling crew fixing makeup and lights at the last minute, producers barking orders from the glassed-in control room on the side, and technicians swirling cameras across the set and projecting the actors' faces on a giant screen. Bryan Cranston, as Beale, is the ideal actor for this dual role, simultaneously playing to the live audience (which includes people having dinner on the right hand side of the stage) and to the camera. His descent is rapid, explosive and transfixing — it's tough to look away. Van Hove used projected live video to great effect in last summer's Holocaust drama "The Damned" at Park Avenue Armory. There, it allowed us intimacy and a kind of horrific empathy with Nazi sympathizers and others who were facing their own deaths. But here, it is just chilly and distancing. Cranston's performance may be pitch-perfect performance, but his Howard Beale is still a cipher. He's basically a metaphor for the way decency, authority and truth are corrupted by money, fame, and a drive for ratings. Van Hove has a gift for creating sympathetic portraits of monsters (we also saw this in his Broadway productions of "View From the Bridge" and "The Crucible") but that talent is absent in "Network." Beale isn't someone we ever come to care about, and, unfortunately, that extends to all of the characters in the play. A secondary story, about Beale's best friend, the married producer Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn), and his affair with a career-obsessed executive played by Tatiana Maslany, is dull and simply puzzling, though perhaps it's just part of the overall moral decay that happens when people turn from seeking truth and toward inculcating populist rage. There are obvious parallels to our current media and politics in "Network," but van Hove ends with newscaster Beale delivering a monologue about the destructive power of absolute beliefs and then a montage of presidential inaugurations from Gerald Ford on. This ending explicitly panders to an anti-Trump crowd (indeed, on the night I attended, the Belasco echoed with boos when a clip appeared of the President taking the oath of office). It's an especially disappointing way to end, because it doesn't trust the audience to see what's right in front of their faces. "Network" by Lee Hall, based on a screenplay by Paddy Chayefsky and directed by Ivo van Hove. At the Belasco Theatre in an open run.

Review: Bryan Cranston Is 'Mad As Hell' in 'Network,' But Do We Care?

This Week in Politics: Where's Bill de Blasio?

William Neuman covers City Hall for the New York Times. His focus this week was on tracking an elusive creature — the city's top elected official. Mayor de Blasio has been harder to find in lower Manhattan lately. And as his visits to City Hall and interactions with commissioners have become much less frequent, Neuman argues he has become New York's "vanishing" mayor. William Neuman joins David Furst to talk about his reporting. According to Neuman, de Blasio is averaging just 10 visits per month this year, and the mayor was only there 5 times in July. De Blasio says he's been working more and more out of Gracie Mansion because there's less distraction there. On the Brian Lehrer Show, he called the article "horribly inaccurate." Neuman says the article is fair. "It actually does matter that the boss shows up," he said. "It creates a certain kind of environment and focus."

This Program Was Meant to Help the Mentally Ill. Instead, It's Hurt a Lot of Them.

Over the last four years, New York has moved hundreds of severely mentally ill people out of institutions and into private apartments in an attempt to improve their quality of life. But an investigation by media organizations ProPublica and Frontline found that many of those people were not prepared to live independently. ProPublica reporter Joaquin Sapien said one of those patients, Abraham Clemente, had been living in squalor and isolation after he was transferred to his own apartment. "He told us that he thought he could crush and smoke his anti-psychotic medication to achieve its intended effect," Sapien said in an interview with WNYC host Jami Floyd. "He was clearly in a really, really rough state, and the service providers seemed at a loss." Clemente eventually returned to a group home. But Sapien said the problems with how the state has run the system runs deep — namely that until recently, it didn't have a way to keep track of serious issues that arose with clients after they began living on their own. The New York Department of Health and Office of Mental Health says of the 764 people who have moved so far, 32 have died and another 39 have returned to group homes. But Sapien says those figures do not reflect a host of problems these clients could run into. "We don't have, for instance, the number of people that have become homeless," said Sapien. "Or the number of people who might be incarcerated. Or the number of people who have transitioned into a higher level of care." For the full interview, click "Listen."

This Program Was Meant to Help the Mentally Ill. Instead, It's Hurt a Lot of Them.

Undocumented Workers Describe Hostility at Trump Golf Course

A Guatemalan immigrant who has been employed at President Donald Trump's golf course in Bedminster, New Jersey, is risking deportation by speaking out about poor working conditions and disparagement at the resort. When she was hired in 2013, Victorina Morales says her managers knew she was not a U.S. citizen, and subsequently helped her avoid detection by immigration authorities. Morales and co-worker Sandra Diaz told The New York Times that many of the housekeeping and maintenance staff at the golf club were undocumented. They obtained their jobs by using face Social Security cards and permanent resident cards, although Diaz has since gained a genuine Social Security card and greed card. Morales came forward with her story after experiencing an increase in workplace abuse and discrimination, according to Times reporter Miriam Jordan. "As Mr. Trump entered politics and then became president, the mistreatment at the hands of her supervisor — the housekeeping supervisor, that is — worsened considerably," Jordan told WNYC's Jami Floyd. "She was taunted, called a 'dumb' or 'stupid' illegal immigrant, as she said other undocumented immigrants were referred to." Though Morales is worried about retaliation, Jordan says the Morales and her lawyer are considering a filing a discrimination lawsuit that could eventually protect her from deportation. The Trump Organization told the Times they had strict hiring practices at their properties. "If an employee submitted false documentation in an attempt to circumvent the law, they will be terminated immediately," the company said in a statement to the newspaper. Listen to the full interview with Miriam Jordan and Jami Floyd by clicking the 'Play' button above.

The XFL, A One-Season Failure, Is Being Rebooted By Vince McMahon

Back in 2001, pro wrestling mogul Vince McMahon introduced the country to the Extreme Football League—better known as the XFL. With teams like the New York/New Jersey Hitmen, players like Antonio "Big Cat" Anderson and Rod "He Hate Me" Smart, and hyper-sexualized cheerleaders, the football league was billed as a less polished, more outrageous alternative to the NFL. It failed after a single season. But after almost 20 years of being consigned to the dustbin of sports history, the XFL is making a comeback. Earlier this year, McMahon, who owns World Wrestling Entertainment, announced that he was planning to revive the XFL, and this week he announced its eight inaugural teams, including one that will make its home in New Jersey's MetLife Stadium. This time, instead of trying to be the wild heel to the NFL's babyface, McMahon is pitching the league as an option for people who want more football during the off-season. "We will present a shorter, faster-paced, family-friendly and easier to understand game," McMahon said during the launch announcement in January. "Don't get me wrong, it's still football. But it's professional football...reimagined." But according to Sports Illustrated writer Conor Orr, the rebooted league already has some big hurdles ahead: McMahon's pledge that players will be required to leave politics off the field, and the fact that the XFL still hasn't landed a television contract. "We've seen some leagues pop up and die very quickly over the last few years that have tried internet streaming partners," Orr told WNYC host Jami Floyd. "They're going to need a standard, television home if they're going to have any hope of pulling viewers away or at least keeping their attention on football beyond the NFL season." You can hear the full conversation by clicking "Listen," and read more at Gothamist.com.

New York, the Saw-Whet Owls Are Upon Us. Obey Them or Risk Their Wrath.

The Northern Saw-whet owl is, objectively speaking, a real cutie. At its peak size, this owl comes in at around eight inches long and only five ounces, around the same size as a robin. They're not normally found in the New York/New Jersey area, which is why a current rash of sightings this season has excited birders in our region. #birdcp, This is the Northern Saw-whet Owl that was in "warbler rock" (Ramble, Central Park) today. We have had three Northern Saw-whet Owls this week in the park! pic.twitter.com/In50DnwzKl — Felipe Pimentel (@Fpimentel14) November 30, 2018 But we wanted to know: is social media amplifying the presence of saw-whet owls in our area, or are there really more of them this year? Gabriel Willow, a naturalist and educator with New York City Audubon, says it's not just in our heads (and Twitter feeds). We're experiencing what's called an "irruption" of owls, which is a mass shift in migration patterns usually due to a lack of food up north. "Irruptive species are kind of exciting because it only happens every couple of years," explained Willow. "It's unpredictable." And Willow says it's not just saw-whets; we're also seeing an irruption of different types of finches this season, like purple finches, Pine Siskins and evening grosbeaks, which haven't been seen in our area in large numbers since 2012. Willow's educated guess is that seed crops in the boreal forests of Canada must have been low this year, which forced seed-eating birds like the finches to travel to our area in search of food and rodent-eating owls like the saw-whets to change migration paths in search of...seed-eating rodents. And what better place for a rodent-eater to end up than New York City? "For an owl, it's a pretty good place to be," admitted Willow. Another way of gauging whether a species is irrupting is to check with the Wild Bird Fund, a non-profit on the Upper West Side that takes care of injured birds. Director Rita McMahon said just this week, they received their sixth injured saw-whet of this season, an unusually high number considering the last time they received one of these owls was in 2014. "These are all window-strike victims," said McMahon, explaining that most bird injuries are crash-related. "It's rough on them when they come through New York. It's their ancient flyway but they're running into an obstacle course and it's hard." Four saw-whet owls recovering at the Wild Bird Fund in New York City. The organization has received 6 injured saw-whets so far in the 2018 season. (Wild Bird Fund/Catherine Quayle) The Wild Bird Fund has evaluated all six saw-whets and sent them to The Raptor Trust in New Jersey for further medical care and recovery. Those that recover will be released back into the wild with tracking bands. If any of them don't recover fully, they'll be sent to a rehab center as an educational bird. "They adjust well to being ambassadors of wildlife," said McMahon. Just a note: in the United States it's illegal to keep an owl or any other native bird as a pet. (McMahon says several people who've brought in injured owls have been disappointed to learn this.) A saw-whet owl at the Wild Bird Fund, recovering from a window collision. (Wild Bird Fund/Jenny Olsen) McMahon offered another theory for why we're seeing so many saw-whets this season: about five years ago, saw-whets who were migrating south from Canada and who usually take an inland route were pushed toward the coastlines due to an off-putting cold front. Perhaps something similar happened this year. If you come across one of these tiny owls in the wild, a few reminders from Willow: be quiet, don't disturb them, let them sleep if it's daytime, and please don't use flash photography. "There's actually a longstanding tradition among birdwatchers that they don't share the location of owls widely, because of concerns about disturbance," said Willow. "And now Twitter and other platforms are changing that. It remains to be seen what the impact will be on owls." Willow offered an offline tip for finding saw-whets: follow the alarm calls of other birds like blue jays. When small birds come across a sleeping predator owl during the day, they tend to freak out. If you keep your eyes and ears out for these instances, you might find yourself in the quiet, undisturbed presence of a sleeping saw-whet.

New York, the Saw-Whet Owls Are Upon Us. Obey Them or Risk Their Wrath.

Princeton Gerrymandering Project Finds Fault With NJ Redistricting

The Princeton Gerrymandering Project has released an analysis of a proposed amendment to the New Jersey constitution that finds serious problems with how legislators are proposing to draw political districts far into the future. "This formula which seems on its face to guarantee fair elections actually doesn't do anything to prevent partisan gerrymandering," said Will Adler, a computational research specialist with The Princeton Gerrymandering Project. Democratic leaders in the state legislature are trying to pass a bill that would put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot next November. It is written so that making legislative districts more "competitive" would be required. But making districts competitive, while it sounds like a fair system, actually helps the cause of gerrymandering, Adler said. That's because the key way politicians try to stack the deck for their party is to create districts where their candidate will win a narrow victory, Adler said. That way, the party is making the most of its statewide supporters by spreading them across more districts. Instead, the Princeton Gerrymandering Project suggests the rules for redistricting be based on not allowing either political party to dominate the process. Adler, and a long list of progressive organizations across New Jersey, are also concerned that the Democratic's plan would put four legislators on the redistricting commission, which they say is akin to the fox watching the henhouse.

Newark Forms Commission to Fight Gentrification

The mayor of Newark says every city in the country has tried and failed to protect the working class and poor from being displaced from their homes when big developers sweep in. "I don't want to say it hasn't been done, it just hasn't been successful," Mayor Ras Baraka said at Newark City Hall Thursday. So, with development in Newark booming, the city announced it's forming a commission aimed at preventing gentrification. "Economic growth for a lot of cities is not that difficult to do," said David Troutt, founding director of the Rutgers Center on Law in Metropolitan Equity. "Equitable growth is very difficult to do." Baraka approached Troutt more than year ago asking for recommendations on how to reduce displacement while attracting a middle class that could strengthen the tax-base. One of the main pieces of advice, Troutt said, was creating a commission of experts that made sure new development benefited residents by advising the city and serving as community liaison. The 15-member Equitable Growth Advisory Committee is expected be formed early next year, and will be made up of members of government, academia, community organizations and private developers. Baraka said the commission is one of many strategies aimed at curbing gentrification. Others have been copied from places like New York City, where tenants now have a right to an attorney in housing court. A 2017 Rutgers University study found that, adjusted for inflation, median rents in Newark have gone up 20 percent since 2000, while median household incomes have dropped by 10 percent. And more than 20,000 households in the city are spending over half their income in rent. Baraka said the city needs to protect its residents, but can't afford to "miss the boat" on growth. "We have to have some level of development, or you can't distribute wealth that you don't have," Baraka said. "So you have to bring wealth into the city and redistribute it in a way that most of us can benefit."

A South Jersey Farm Town with a Hidden History

Seabrook Farms is widely known for its frozen creamed spinach. Less known, though, is that the farm and its hometown, Seabrook, N.J., represents a mythic place to Japanese-Americans around the country. Many travel to the Buddhist temple that has been in the rural south Jersey community since it welcomed Japanese Americans who were interned during World War II. Seabrook holds a traditional Japanese Buddhist celebration, the Obon Festival, which honors the spirits of ancestors with a day spent eating Japanese food, listening to taiko drums and watching traditional dancing. "It's like, 'Are you going back to Seabrook this Obon?' It's not, 'Are you going back to Seabrook this Thanksgiving,'" said Dr. Sonny Yamasaki, who grew up in the town. "It's because people want to come back — Obon is the excuse to come back." Yamasaki's parents arrived at Seabrook when they were young. He lives in Florida now, but returns to see his family. "The sense I get is that Seabrook is known in the Japanese community across the country. The Japanese Americans have heard of Seabrook, and have never been there, right, because it's so small. But they've heard of it," he said. The farm was founded by Charles Seabrook and was a major food supplier for the U.S. military during the war. During the war, Seabrook had a labor shortage so the founder sent recruiters to Japanese American internment camps. He advertised in camp newspapers, and internees who could pass a "loyalty test" were able to move to the farm. "He provided them work. He provided them a place to live. A new life," explained Col. Michael Asada, Yamasaki's childhood friend. "And more than 2,500 Japanese Americans came to South Jersey." After growing up in Seabrook, Asada left to serve in the military for nearly 40 years. He eventually came back to New Jersey to take care of his aging parents The former internees worked in various aspects of Seabrook Farms — in the office, on the distribution lines or in the fields. Obon, which was once part of countless Japanese traditions observed in Seabrook, is now one of the temple's few remaining events. Some Japanese American activists are drawing parallels between Japanese internment and current deportations enacted by the Trump administration. The travel ban on Muslims from some countries has also dredged up old feelings. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban. But, Justice Sonya Sotomayor wrote in a dissenting opinion that the court was making the same mistake it had in Korematsu v. United States. In that case, the court ruled that internment was constitutional. Asada says he fears the country is making the same mistake. "I wake up every day thinking I'm in a — I wouldn't say dream — just a nightmare at times, because I'm thinking, cannot believe just the rhetoric that I hear, that goes around," he said.