Spencer Rumsey, the Long Island Press’ senior editor, has worked on dailies, weeklies and monthlies, including New York Newsday and the New York Post, the East Village Eye and the supermarket tabloid Star Magazine. Starting at the Press in 2010, he’s written award-winning stories on planning, politics and policy, to name a few topics, and he’s taken on a wide range of targets in his Press blog, Rumsey Punch.
In another fascinating installment of Hollywood comes to Huntington, acclaimed author, actress and editor Patricia Bosworth will be on hand at the Cinema Arts Centre on March 15 for a special big screening of the 1951 critically acclaimed masterpiece, A Place in the Sun.
The classic stars 18-year-old Elizabeth Taylor and Bosworth’s pal, Montgomery Clift, who was at the top of his game at age 29. Bosworth will be hosting the event in conjunction with the release of her new memoir, The Men in My Life, which just came out.
Bosworth’s father, Bartley Crum, a well-known lawyer who’d defended “The Hollywood Ten” after they were blacklisted in the McCarthy era, had introduced her to Clift while she was still a teenager.
“We’re thrilled to have Patricia Bosworth come to Cinema Arts Centre and put a marvelous film like A Place in the Sun into historical context, as well as the life of her friend, Montgomery Clift,” said Raj Tawney, director of publicity and promotions at CAC. “Bosworth has had a life of ups and downs like all of us, and she’s someone who has pursued her dreams with realistic results. It wasn’t all glamorous, but through her journey, she became one of the top Hollywood biographers. We’re looking forward to having Miss Bosworth share her life stories which are detailed in her new book.”
Tawney credits this unique evening to Jud Newborn, Cinema Arts Centre’s curator of special programs, who will be hosting the event.
“For year and years, Dr. Jud Newborn has brought Hollywood to Huntington,” said Tawney. “The list of guests is so long and legendary, an outsider would think they’re living on the wrong coast.”
Newborn said that he and Bosworth chose the 1951 movie because she not only knew the troubled star but she wrote his definitive biography, which became one of her biggest bestsellers.
“But there’s more,” Newborn told the Press, “because the film introduces the coming decade of repression and stultifying conformity which Bosworth covers in her acclaimed new memoir—along with the tremendous burst of wild creativity (and wild living) which that atmosphere unleashed. This was especially the case in Manhattan at the elite Actors Studio, where Patricia studied with such friends as Marlon Brando and Jane Fonda.”
She later wrote biographies about them, too.
“Clift—like Patricia’s beloved younger brother, whom she lost to suicide—was a closeted homosexual, tortured by the toxic climate of the era,” notes Newborn, “while other friends like Fonda shared Patricia’s struggle to burst free from the suffocating role women were supposed to conform to. A world where men dominated them and pressured them for sex, then punished them for some of the inevitable consequences, like the shame of having to endure abortions, which were illegal, humiliating and often botched procedures.”
Before she became an accomplished writer—she’s been a freelancer for the New York Times, a managing editor of Harper’s Bazaar and contributing editor for Vanity Fair—Bosworth acted with Helen Hayes, Audrey Hepburn and Paul Muni, and was directed by Arthur Penn and Elia Kazan.
“Patricia flourished,” said Newborn, “all the time fighting a secret numbness that she’s only now overcome, and brilliantly, in her liberating new memoir that reveals a life as dramatic as those of her most famous biographical subjects.”
Directed by the legendary George Stevens, A Place in the Sun paired Elizabeth Taylor in her first adult role with Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters in a griping, class-conscious tragic romance, based on Theodore Dreiser’s 1925 best-selling novel, An American Tragedy. This 1951 film, set in upstate New York, is actually a remake of Josef von Sternberg’s 1931 more somber version, which had kept the original title.
Nominated for nine Oscars (including Clift for Best Actor and Winters for Best Actress), this Hollywood classic won six: Best Director for Stevens, Best Screenplay for Michael Wilson and Harry Brown, Best Black/White Cinematography for William Mellor, Best B/W Costume Design for Edith Head, as well as Best Dramatic Score and Best Editing. It lost the Best Picture nod to An American in Paris.
The on-screen chemistry between Taylor and Cliff apparently worked for Hollywood, which later paired them in 1957’s Raintree County. At the time, Taylor had just finished making a movie with another closeted gay actor, Rock Hudson, in Giant.
In 1956, Clift left a dinner party at Taylor’s Beverly Hills house (her marriage to Michael Wilding was on the rocks), drove down the windy road and had a near-fatal car crash, his famous face a bloody pulp. Taylor came to his rescue and kept him alive before the ambulance could arrive. When it did, it was accompanied by a pack of Hollywood photographers, but she reportedly threatened them that if they took one photo of the disfigured actor, she’d never let them photograph her again. They relented.
Interestingly, Clift later starred with Marilyn Monroe in the 1961 film, The Misfits. Monroe said he was “the only person I know who is in worse shape than I am.” In 1966, Clift died in his Manhattan apartment, reportedly watching The Misfits on TV. He was 45. Monroe had died three years before in her L.A. home, reportedly an overdose. She was 36.
Bosworth knew them all. But tragedy had hounded her, too. Both her father and her brother committed suicide. She named her memoir to honor them.
This special evening begins at 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 15, at Cinema Arts Centere, 423 Park Ave., Huntington. The event includes a dessert and Prosecco reception featuring local jazz guitarist Mike Soloway. Tickets are $20 for CAC members, $25 for nonmembers. As a bonus, you get a 20 percent off when you buy a copy of Bosworth’s memoir. For information, call 631-423-7611 or visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.
Featured Photo: Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor, starring in A Place in the Sun, photo courtesy Cinema Arts Centre.
Congress doesn’t know how much the American Health Care Act will cost or what its impact will be on the federal deficit, but the Republicans’ plan to repeal and replace Obamacare passed two Congressional committees Thursday with President Donald Trump’s encouragement.
Those who’ve seen the details released so far say it would impose higher costs on some of those who gained insurance under Obamacare while putting millions of Americans at risk of losing their health insurance altogether. Here, it could strain Long Island’s hospitals that serve the most vulnerable population, put severe pressure on health insurance companies, and raise the tax burden on New Yorkers.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who could play a key role when the final bill comes up for a vote on the House floor, said he has serious concerns about the proposal.
“I have concerns about how many people are going to fall through the cracks and how big a fiscal impact it will have on New York,” he told the Press.
“I am certainly not convinced to vote for it,” he said. “It’s going to cost New York billions of dollars, mainly because of the cuts in Medicaid as we go forward.” He put the figure at $4 billion. But he didn’t expect the final version to be ready for passage for at least two weeks at the earliest.
“It’s still a work in progress,” the Congressman said.
His Republican colleague from Long Island, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), did not respond to repeated calls for comment although thousands of Suffolk residents in his district stand to lose their coverage.
“At first look, it appears that the House bill neither truly repeals nor meaningfully replaces the Affordable Care Act,” said Janine Logan, senior director of communications and population health at the Nassau-Suffolk Hospital Council, which represents all Long Island’s 23 hospitals including Northwell Health (formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System) and Catholic Health Services’ facilities.
“This is bad news for New York,” she said. “Capping Medicaid funding will be financially devastating to the state budget and to the thousands of New Yorkers with modest incomes, many of whom are elderly or disabled, who will no longer be guaranteed coverage. About 70 percent of the Medicaid spending is for the elderly and disabled of all ages. Continuing Medicare and Medicaid cuts to hospitals without reducing the number of uninsured patients they will have to serve is just as devastating.”
She explained that the House bill fundamentally alters the structure of Medicaid, shifting a greater burden from the federal government to the states. Under the ACA, New York State greatly expanded its Medicaid program. “It is how on Long Island the uninsured rate has gone from 10 percent to 5 percent in three years,” Logan explained.
According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, approximately 300,000 Long Islanders are at risk if Obamacare is repealed. The state could lose $2.4 billion annually. But part of the problem of assessing what the Republicans have approved so far in their rush to make President Trump’s campaign promise come true is that their alternative omits key details.
As Logan put it, “The House plan has not yet been scored for cost by the Congressional Budget Office, and it does not provide specifics on how its provisions would be paid for.”
What is known so far, she said, is that it would eliminate current tax credits and cost-sharing subsidies.
“The most generous assistance under the ACA has gone to those with low to modest incomes,” Logan said. “The plan instead offers limited tax credits based on age and not income.”
According to a recent study by S&P Global Ratings, up to 10 million Americans would lose the health insurance they gained through Obamacare. Insurers would be allowed to charge people between the ages of 50 and 64 insurance premiums at five times the rate charged to younger people—under the ACA it was three times. Tax credits would reportedly begin at $2,000 for people in their 20s, and gradually increase to $4,000 for people over age 60.
“If the intent here is to not only repeal but improve upon the Affordable Care Act, we don’t think the House bill meets that standard,” said Terry Lynam, a spokesman for Northwell Health. “There’s not a lot to like about it.”
Hospitals that rely on Medicaid funding to offset the cost of providing care to their population could be harmed by the new reform as it’s been rolled out so far, he noted.
“In New York you have a lot of hospitals that are barely breaking even or are in the red,” he said. As for Northwell Health, widely regarded as one of the most successful health care providers in the region, its operating margins are still thin, he said, so any additional impact could be damaging in the long run.
“We recognize that there are flaws in the Affordable Care Act, but we think it needs to be renovated, not demolished.”
Professor Debra Dwyer, a health economist at Stony Brook University in the College of Engineering who specializes in public policy, has been studying the health care issue for some time. She told the Press that she’s alarmed by the details she’s seen so far in the House Republicans’ new plan.
“It’s kind of amazing to me how they’re targeting the vulnerable populations,” she said. “They’re literally targeting older people and poorer people—those who are more likely to be sick—and their argument is that they cost us more. But the whole reason for having a social welfare network system is to protect the most vulnerable, which is why Medicare came about: to cover the aged and the disabled. Now they’re targeting the 50-64 year olds who are going to have to get less in tax credits and pay higher premiums.”
For Long Island’s health care system, the impact could be severe as well, she noted.
“We have some hospitals that are going to be hit pretty hard,” she said, singling out Stony Brook University Hospital and Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center in particular because they serve Suffolk County’s more vulnerable population and made investments in response to incentives from the Affordable Care Act.
“They took in a lot of the uninsured,” Dwyer said. “They did it in good faith that they would have these Medicaid expansions, and people are getting coverage.” But these hospitals could take a hit in reimbursements, she explained, and end up with uninsured people coming to their emergency rooms because they could not afford to see doctors regularly. She said that many insurance companies that serve Long Island also created Medicaid plans based on its expansion under the ACA, but if it’s retracted as proposed by the House bill, then these companies won’t get the return on their investment.
“There’s a lot of companies we have to worry about,” she said. “The hospitals are going to feel it. The health insurance companies are going to feel it. The hundreds of thousands of people that are going to lose coverage are going to feel it.”
She pointed out that the Republicans in Congress have specifically targeted funding for Planned Parenthood, which is the primary source of breast cancer screenings and maternal care for poor women. She said the cuts “will increase the number of unwanted babies because of birth control, and it’s also going to increase cancer.”
She was skeptical of the Republicans’ plan to offer health care savings accounts as a safety net.
“These vulnerable populations are living paycheck to paycheck,” Dwyer said. “They don’t have savings. They can’t afford to lay out the money for insurance and wait for a tax refund—and the tax refund they’d be getting back is not going to be big enough.”
The acknowledged highlight of President Trump’s Joint Address to Congress Tuesday night was the two-minute ovation given to the grieving widow of U.S. Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer William “Ryan” Owens, who died in a controversial raid on an al-Qaeda compound in Yemen on Jan. 29.
Lingering questions regarding the ill-fated mission—the first one in that country since 2014—have prompted calls for a congressional investigation into how the operation was planned and approved so early in the Trump administration’s tenure, rather than relying solely on a Pentagon inquiry, which is customary yet could take months and never be made public. Long Island’s congressional delegation is split over the issue. Meanwhile, the United States launched new airstrikes in Yemen Wednesday night.
Besides the death of Chief Owens in January, the Pentagon said three members of Navy SEALs Team 6 were wounded. In turn, they killed 14 militants but also 20 civilians, including an 8-year-old daughter of a radical US-born cleric who’d been killed previously by a U.S. drone strike. A $70 million MV-22 Osprey damaged during the assault was also destroyed during the mission to keep it from falling into al-Qaeda’s hands. Whether the mission got vital intelligence about the terrorist organization is still being debated, along with whether Trump should have even approved the raid at all, considering he’d barely been in the Oval Office a week.
Long Island’s senior member of the delegation, Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, is chairman of the Sub-Committee on [Counterterrorism and Intelligence], and gets briefed on these kinds of operations.
“I can’t go into details other than to say that this was many months in the planning,” King told the Press. “It was approved by every military official. It was encouraged by every military official, and certainly [Defense] Secretary Mattis endorsed it, and supported it.”
King says that after every operation, whether it’s successful or not, the Pentagon conducts an “after-action report.”
“Basically, what went wrong on this [Yemen mission] could have gone wrong at almost any time,” said King. “Without going into detail, there were no mistakes made. There’s always risks.”
According to Coleman Lamb, a spokesman for Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), who serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs, she supports further congressional action.
“Rep. Rice agrees that Congress has a role to play in answering serious questions about how this mission was planned and executed and what led to the death of Chief Owens and dozens of civilians,” Lamb told the Press. “She believes strongly that there should be nothing remotely political or partisan about this. Members of Congress from both parties should come together and get the facts.”
Her other Republican colleague from Long Island, Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), is content to leave Congress out of it, and let the Pentagon go through its normal protocols, according to his communications director, Jennifer DiSiena.
“The next step is for the military to complete a 15-6 investigation,” DiSiena told the Press in an email. “A 15-6 would take place within the Army and is intended to be a timely, thorough and legally sufficient investigation.”
Zeldin, a Major in the Army Reserves, serves on the House Foreign Affairs Committee and is a member of the Congressional Military Family Caucus.
Freshman Democratic Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), a minority member of the House Committee on Armed Services, as well as the Tactical Air and Land Forces Subcommittee and Subcommittee on Middle East and North Africa, was unavailable for comment, despite repeated requests to weigh in.
Chief Owens’ father Bill, a Navy veteran, was so angry about the raid that cost his 36-year-old son’s life that he refused to meet with President Trump at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware when his son’s body was returned to American soil on Feb. 1. According to the Miami Herald, the father criticized the special operation and the aftermath.
“The government owes my son an investigation,” Owens said. “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”
The morning of Trump’s address to Congress, the New York Timeseditorialized that “Mr. Owens deserves to know whether his son died in a worthwhile pursuit or a botched mission of dubious value.”
In Congress on Tuesday night for the president’s speech, Carryn Owens, Ryan Owens’ widow, sat with tears streaming down her face in the front row of the balcony next to Ivanka Trump. The president singled her out, saying:
“Ryan died as he lived: a warrior, and a hero—battling against terrorism and securing our nation.”
As for the point of the mission, Trump cited his Defense Secretary James Mattis.
“I just spoke to our great Gen. Mattis, just now, who reconfirmed that, and I quote, ‘Ryan was a part of a highly successful raid that generated large amounts of vital intelligence that will lead to many more victories in the future against our enemies.”
As Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona) told NBC News in early February, however:
“When you lose a $75 million airplane, and more importantly, an American life is lost…I don’t believe you can call it a success.”
In a talk with news anchors Tuesday before his speech, Trump blamed the generals “who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”
“I wouldn’t have said it that way,” King told the Press. “The fact is, ultimately the president is responsible.”
Asked to respond to what Bill Owens had said about his son’s death, King demurred.
“Listen, I can’t begin to understand the father’s grief, so I would respect whatever he says and understand his right to say it. I would never question him,” King replied. “But his main objection to it—which was ‘Why are we in Yemen?’—it was President Obama who decided last fall that we should carry out operations in Yemen.”
Recently, White House press secretary Sean Spicer claimed the mission was discussed in the White House under former president Barack Obama, though members of the former administration allege that is not quite true.
According to the Washington Post, Colin Kahl, a former Obama administration official with knowledge of what the Pentagon presented to the National Security Council on Dec. 19, said that the request had no specifics about the raid; instead it was a broader request from the military to carry out raids in the country. Kahl said the outgoing Obama administration decided to let Trump review the request once he occupied the White House after inauguration.
How many details were available then remains unclear, hence the doubts lingering over Owens’ death.
In its Tuesday editorial, the New York Times urged Congress to demand answers to serious questions that it claimed may not be answered in a timely enough fashion by a Pentagon inquiry, stating:
“The most important is whether national security officials in the Trump administration carefully considered the risks and potential benefits of the operation, and explained them to Mr. Trump before the president approved it just five days after taking office.”
It noted that Obama administration officials “did not sign off on it before” the president left office. “Mr. Trump was reportedly briefed on the plans over dinner with members of the national security team, his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his domestic policy counselor, Stephen Bannon.”
Congressman King became livid about the assertion that President Obama had rejected the mission.
“That’s a typical New York Times lie. It’s a lie,” King told the Press. “President Obama did not disapprove it in any way. There were reasons why it was put off for several weeks which had nothing to do with any president’s decisions.”
King said he was privy to those details, but he wouldn’t comment on the record.
So far the raid is under investigation by the Department of Defense, according to Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer. An officer in the Navy Reserve, Spicer told the White House press corps in his briefing the morning after Trump’s Joint Address that he’d been watching the State of the Unions for 30 years and he’d “never seen a sustained applause like that” for the widow Carryn Owens.
For over three hours, freshman Congressman Tom Suozzi took questions from an overwhelmingly supportive crowd gathered at the Mid-Island Y JCC in Plainview for his first town hall event since his taking office in January. The participants ranged from a 98-year-old former Congressman to an 89-year-old refugee who fled Hitler and a seven-year-old who thought the new president is “very bad.”
In the auditorium, it was standing room only as Suozzi set the ground rules for the evening. “I want to make it clear—this is not going to be a Trump rally, so nobody gets to lose their temper and punch somebody if they disagree with them!” He wanted “respectful behavior” and said that all comments should be directed only at him because “I can take it.”
To keep the evening moving, Suozzi suggested they tackle four issues, starting with saving the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), the “unusual relationship between the president of the United States and Putin,” the “discriminatory” anti-Muslim travel ban and the deportation of undocumented immigrants that is “destroying neighborhoods.” Then, responding to audience suggestions, he added the environment as well as preserving Medicaid and Social Security.
He even polled the crowd about how long they wanted the town hall to last—9:30 p.m. seemed to win the majority vote but Suozzi was still fielding questions from about a dozen constituents after 10 p.m. while the custodians packed up the chairs to clear out the auditorium.
Suozzi’s approach to meeting his constituents was quite different from the one taken by second-term Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), who held an hour-long teleconference from an undisclosed location on the East End. Across the country Republican Representatives who’ve dared to hold town halls during this recess have taken heat from constituents upset at the direction Congress and the White House are going.
Zeldin reportedly took about a dozen questions, touching on Obamacare, gun control, Trump’s conflicts of interest and the rise of anti-Semitism. A caller identified as Joe asked him: “As an American and as a Jew, how do you condone Donald Trump’s belated condemnation of the rise of anti-Semitism that has been going on throughout his campaign and now his presidency?”
Zeldin, who is Jewish, said he was critical of the president for not mentioning the plight of Jews in the administration’s recent Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.
“It’s important that our statements reflect and honor and never forget the loss of millions of other people who weren’t Jewish,” he said. “I also believe it’s very important to mention the fact that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis were trying to exterminate the entire Jewish religion.”
Zeldin also condemned the bomb threats against Jewish community centers across the country and the desecration of the Jewish cemetery near St. Louis. Then the same caller asked the Congressman why President Trump hadn’t visited the mosque in Texas that was firebombed on Jan. 28.
“Morally it’s the right thing to do to speak out when there is intimidation, physical threats, violence, destruction of personal property—sacred personal property—speaking out at those moments is a leadership opportunity,” Zeldin replied. “Not only to connect with the people who support you, but many others who maybe didn’t vote for you.”
In Plainview, the public’s outrage over President Trump’s policy pronouncements was palpable from the moment they sat down, waving anti-Trump signs, American flags, and little placards that read “Agree.” Early on, Suozzi asked the audience to raise their hands if they were Trump supporters—only one woman raised hers. Some participants were part of progressive groups like MoveOn and Indivisible, and they’d come from Queens, Nassau and Suffolk to hear him.
“We have to hold the president accountable,” said Suozzi. “Things are a little scary right now.” Indeed, Suozzi praised the Mid-Island Y JCC for holding the public event in light of the nation’s Jewish centers targeted with bomb threats—“67” so far, said a lady from her seat.
At several times during the evening, the town hall took on the air of a political pep rally, as Suozzi repeatedly urged the audience to go out and organize, which many Long Islanders have already done.
In particular he wanted their support for what he called “New York’s Third Will Be Heard,” a volunteer action campaign drawing upon 16 neighborhood regions of the 3rd Congressional District, as shown by two billboard-size maps on display at the front of the stage. The purpose, he said, is to “take all this energy that we’ve got, all this excitement that we’ve got, and use it in a constructive fashion to do the politics to win the battles. That means writing letters to the editor, attending issues meetings, that means going to other town hall meetings, that means running for office, that means supporting people for local office, because one of the reasons the country’s ended up the way it is right now is because the Democrats have not done a good enough job organizing locally throughout this country.”
He vowed to keep on pushing and fighting to get answers to the questions facing the nation as Trump settles into power.
“We can’t hate the Trump supporters,” he said. “The reality is that many of them are in desperate conditions as well. They don’t realize what they’ve gotten themselves into.”
He urged the activists in the audience not to underestimate their influence, referring to the Congressional Republicans’ inability to eliminate Obamacare without coming up with a valid replacement and the courts’ decision delaying Trump’s travel ban after nationwide protests sprung up against it.
In response to a questioner’s concern that Russia meddled with the November election, Suozzi said it’s time for “reasonable Americans” to put the love for their country before their party and help get bipartisan support to find out what’s going on between Putin and Trump. “If you care about your country, you want to know the answer to this question,” Suozzi said. Since the McCarthy era, he noted that the Republicans have tried to paint the Democrats as “the unpatriotic ones and the Republicans as the patriotic ones, which is not true at all!”
Suozzi admitted he has drawn some heat himself—even from his own political advisers—for joining a new bipartisan group of Congressmen called “the Problem Solvers Caucus,” consisting of 20 Democrats and 20 Republicans. He said working across the aisle to find common ground is going to be key in the coming years considering that the GOP controls the White House and Congress.
“Right now Chuck Schumer is probably the most powerful Democrat in the United States of America because he’s the bulwark” of the opposition against the conservatives’ agenda, Suozzi said, referring to New York’s senior U.S. Senator.
Perhaps the most combative moment came when a young man near the back of the auditorium demanded that Suozzi proclaim his support for Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota to be the next chairman of the Democratic National Committee, which will vote on Saturday in Atlanta. Suozzi refused, but he wouldn’t say who he preferred, either. “I don’t want to get into DNC politics,” he said. The contest seems to come down to Ellison, a liberal Muslim-American, and Thomas Perez, who was the secretary of Labor in the Obama administration. The majority of the audience at the JCC seemed eager to move on to other matters.
“This is so powerful that you are in this room and that there are so many of you like this in places like this all over the country!” Suozzi exclaimed. “Don’t blow it by fighting against ourselves!” That response drew loud support from the audience.
Among those on hand who weighed in on Obamacare were several cancer survivors and their spouses who made a passionate pitch for keeping the program in some form. One man whose wife has a pre-existing condition said that “we need to amend it, not end it.” Suozzi said he prefers single payer but “the problem is that the insurance companies and the pharmaceutical companies have much too much influence” in health care policy, which makes it harder to fix.
Health care was the top topic at Zeldin’s teleconference, according to his staff who conducted a survey of those on the line. The Shirley Congressman said, “No one wants to pull the rug out from anyone who is currently covered. That is an important focus of mine.” He noted that his fellow New York Republican Representatives are working to “mitigate” the effects of an “outright repeal” because the state would stand to lose billions of dollars in Medicaid. Nor does Zeldin support measures that would weaken Social Security or Medicare.
Addressing his Nassau audience’s concerns about health care, gun violence and climate change, Suozzi said the main stumbling block always boiled down to money “because if you’re not paying attention, money will always control the conversation.”
Occasionally, when someone would ask Suozzi about a certain bill, he had to admit he’d only been in office “50 days.” He conceded that he and his staff were feeling “overwhelmed” trying to deal with the myriad of important issues all pressing for their attention, and he’s had “very little free time.” But he promised he would get up to speed on the particulars. In Congress he’s serving on the foreign affairs and the armed services committees.
Seated in the front row across from Suozzi’s wife Helene was former Congressman Lester Wolff, 98, a Great Neck Democrat, who smiled broadly when Suozzi introduced him. Two hours later when he got up to leave, Suozzi gave him the microphone. Wolff said he was very happy to see that the seat he’d held on Long Island from 1964 to 1981 was in “good hands right now.”
On the immigration issue, Anu Raj, who was born in India near New Delhi, told Suozzi that too many Americans today misunderstand what extreme vetting is. Now a citizen, she came to the country when she was 15 years old and told the JCC audience about what she went through two decades ago to enter the United States. “I was put through the ringer,” she said, and she had a green card. At one point at JFK Airport, she felt that she’d been hung upside down. It was a grueling process then, and it’s only gotten stricter, as Suozzi observed. He noticed that she was with her husband and her twin daughters, both born in the U.S., and he posed with them, sparking a round of selfies with the crowd.
“One of the reasons that New York is much more understanding of immigrants and why the Muslim ban is a problem is because we’re surrounded by immigrants and Muslims!” Suozzi said. “If you go out to some places in the country where there are no immigrants and no Muslims, it’s like: ‘Get those people out of here!’ We’ve got a lot of work to do to educate people.”
He pledged to fight for tolerance. “We can’t give up who we are,” he said. “This ban not only makes us less safe—it’s not who we are; it’s not who the United States of America is.”
He recalled how his own father left Italy to come to America as a very young boy. “America is founded on two very fundamental principles,” he said. “All men and women are created equal. It’s not all men and women with green cards are created equal.”
Wearing an Army baseball cap and seated in the front row was Harry Arlin, 89, who was born in Czechoslovakia. “I had the privilege of living briefly under Hitler and I had to run,” said Arlin. “Then I lived under Mussolini and I was incarcerated. Then I lived briefly under Stalin, and I had to run again. Now I’m living briefly under Trump. I’m too old to run again!” The crowd roared with appreciation.
Despite all that’s been going on in Washington—as well as recounting his personal history (“I’ve won a lot and lost a few”)—Suozzi insisted that he believed politics was a noble profession—and he urged people to stay involved.
“You know, John Kennedy used to describe himself as an idealist without illusion,” the Congressman said. “I’m not a sucker. I’m not going to fall for stuff. But I still believe in the country. I still believe in this system. I believe this is a powerful group of people that can make change. The sooner you give up on that, the sooner this country is wrecked.”
Seven-year-old Zachary Aquino, a second grader at Floral Park JLC Elementary School, had to stand on his chair to make his point. Confidently taking the microphone, the youngster said, “I don’t think this is right. Having this president I think is really bad. I don’t know how this happened…It’s good that we’re here tonight. This is a really valuable time that we’ve got to get this stopped. We’ve got to do this. We cannot stop! My name is Zachary.”
Chalk up another amazing evening of entertainment coming to the Huntington Cinema Arts this Thursday night, when legendary Joel Grey hosts a rare “big screen” presentation of Bob Fosse’s Cabaret, the scintillatingly original musical drama about decadence in 1931 Berlin as the Weimar Republic was about to be swept away forever by Adolf Hitler’s rise to power in Germany.
The movie, which premiered in 1972, earned Grey an Oscar for his role as the leering, sneering Emcee of the seedy Kit Kat Club, where the vulnerable performer, Sally Bowles, was played by Liza Minnelli—Judy Garland’s daughter—who won an Oscar, too. The film, based on Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Stories, earned eight Oscars in total. When it came out on screen, Bob Fosse was already a leading American choreographer, dancer and director, who’d later go on to create “All That Jazz” (1979) and “Chicago” (2002). But nothing ever quite equaled the groundbreaking Cabaret, the movie version of the John Kander and Fred Ebb Broadway musical, where Grey had first created his role of the Emcee on stage in 1966.
As the New York Times reviewer Roger Greenspun wrote in 1972, the film is “not so much a movie musical as it is a movie with a lot of music in it.” He remarked that it had a “general theme of sick sexual ambiguity…as a kind of working motif. The master of sexual ambiguity, and the master of motifs, is again Joel Grey, master of ceremonies at the Kit Kat Klub, the cellar cabaret where Sally sings and dances, and where everything, even the rise of the Third Reich, is ‘beautiful.’”
“An appearance by Tony and Academy Award-winner Joel Grey—at the Cinema Arts Centre or anywhere else—is a major event,” said Dr. Jud Newborn, the Cinema Arts Centers’ special program curator. “This man is a legend, and a unique one at that. But ours is an exclusive for Long Island! And the timing is especially potent for our rare ‘big screen’ showing of Cabaret because the film, with the rise of Nazism as its backdrop, resonates with the crisis of democracy that is roiling America today. We all can’t wait to hear Joel Grey’s ideas on this connection.
“But, of course, the sheer entertainment value of this Oscar-sweeping film, no matter what your politics, cannot be exceeded,” said Newborn. “After all, Joel Grey is on all lists as among the most important Broadway stars of all time.”
He’s an Oscar, Tony and Golden Globe winner.
Grey has just published his new tell-all memoir, Master of Ceremonies, and he’ll be on hand to discuss that as well.
“Grey reveals the risks and excitement of his bisexual life while giving us an amazing inside history of theater from the Vaudeville era to today,” said Newborn. “And think of what he can tell us about Liza Minnelli, his co-star and friend, and so many other celebrated artists!”
A singer, dancer, producer, director and photographer, Grey has lived a fascinating life on and off screen, in the limelight, and in the shadows. In his memoir he reportedly recounts his “fraught but exuberant bisexual love life at a time when any sexual ambiguity was both difficult and dangerous.” From his childhood in Vaudeville acting with his father to performing in gangster-filled nightclubs and basking in the glamour of Hollywood, Grey is a living legend who’s seen it all—and probably done it, too.
As the Emcee would say, “Life is a cabaret, my friends.”
In a move that will have wide-ranging repercussions for our region, President Trump prevailed Friday afternoon when the Senate voted to confirm Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt as head of the Environmental Protection Agency in a 52-46 vote. Only one Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against him. But two Senate Democrats, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of South Dakota, voted for him.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer, Senate minority leader, could not get his fellow Democrats’ support despite his party’s holding the floor Thursday night and Friday morning to block the confirmation vote. They were hoping to delay the vote in time for thousands of Pruitt’s emails to oil, gas and coal companies to become part of the public record against this nominee—who many opponents have called a pawn of the fossil-fuel industry. Indeed, some of his biggest backers have been the Koch brothers, who run the Kansas-based oil-and-chemical conglomerate.
As Oklahoma’s attorney general, in 13 of his 14 lawsuits against the EPA, Pruitt reportedly joined corporations and trade associations that had given generously to his political campaign. In his Senate testimony, he was confronted with a letter that he sent against the EPA that was almost entirely copied from a legal memo crafted by well-funded opponents of environmental regulation. He smiled.
Before the vote, Schumer spoke out vehemently against Pruitt’s nomination on the Senate floor, saying the Oklahoman was “clouded by potential conflicts of interest” and his views are “almost antithetical to the very purpose of the agency” he will now run.
Pruitt is a “climate science denier,” added Schumer. “This is not an issue where you can be skeptical. Either you accept the overwhelming opinion of climate scientists and researchers, or you don’t.”
He said the impact could hit Long Island hard, where Superstorm Sandy rocked the region.
“None of those residents, the thousands who lost homes, the hundreds of thousands who suffered injury, damage, economic problems from the flood, they don’t debate it, nor should he,” blasted Schumer. “There was no debate about what happened there. Folks lost everything that ever belonged to them. There was no debate about that. Forty-eight people in my state died. There was no debate about that.
“There is no debate that we have to do something about climate change,” he added. “Scott Pruitt, as head of our nation’s environmental protection agency, likely wouldn’t lift a finger.”
“I believe clean air and clean water are essential rights all Americans deserve, and they should never be sacrificed, especially for corporate profits,” said New York’s junior Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand. “And I have seen firsthand the devastation caused by climate change after New York lived through Superstorm Sandy, Hurricane Irene, and Tropical Storm Lee. The EPA should be our first line of defense in protecting our air and water and combating global climate change. Unfortunately, in words and deeds, Mr. Pruitt has shown he does not share these values, and that is why I opposed his nomination to a department he has himself sued 14 times.”
On Long Island, the reaction from environmental activists was swift and to the point.
“Anyone who has described himself in his own biography as ‘a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda’ is singularly inappropriate to be America’s protector of air, land and water,” said Richard Amper, executive director of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society.
“Scott Pruitt’s record illustrates he’s more concerned with protecting corporate interest than protecting public interest,” said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment. “His record of pursuing over one dozen lawsuits attacking the EPA’s clean water and air regulations should be terrifying to every American. It took the environmental movement four decades to pass and implement the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Air Act. These landmark laws had bipartisan support.
“We’ve come too far to go back now,” she continued. “We cannot let the public’s air and water become polluted because of policies that favor corporate greed over public health. We will be vigilant about protecting our natural resources and the public’s health. It’s going to be a giant challenge.”
“Scott Pruitt’s history of suing the EPA to remove water and air quality protection in support of the oil and gas industry and his lack of environmental prosecution while attorney general for Oklahoma makes him the absolutely wrong person to be leading this country’s lead agency, which is entrusted with protecting the environment and human health,” he insisted. “With 43 Federal Superfund and RCRA sites on Long Island, each tainting our drinking water, we who get our water from a sole source aquifer cannot afford an administrator who has a history of siding with the polluters.”
Yet with Pruitt’s approval by the Senate, that’s exactly who President Trump has installed.
Long Island’s little known—to some people—blues scene gets the wide attention it deserves in Big Fish Blues, a new documentary directed by Leslye Abbey that will get its premiere at the Cinema Arts Centre in Huntington on Feb. 22.
To those in the know, Long Island’s nickname on the music circuit is “The Big Fish,” thanks to the twin forks, it’s been home to many of the top musicians in blues over the years, and Abbey believes that it’s well past time they got their due.
“They are a lot of very famous people in this movie—people that are known in Europe, all over the country,” said Abbey, a social worker, psychotherapist and filmmaker who lives in Bellmore.
She began her project in 2001 by filming performers at the Back Street club in Rockville Centre.
“I just started shooting, meeting people, and interviewing people and it went on and on year after year,” said Abbey. “Then I put it away. But now I’m finishing everything I started!”
The Cinema Arts Centre is proud to host the event, says Cindy Campbell, who is producing the evening event. After Campbell saw a rough cut of the film in November, she said it was a revelation to her.
“I didn’t know Long Island had a big blues following,” Campbell told the Press, “but there is a big blues circuit. These people’s lives revolve around the blues.”
This film delves deep into one of the greatest genres of American music, featuring a wide range of artists delivering unforgettable performances. Here’s a short list: Little Buster and The Soul Brothers, Bo Diddley, Jr., Sam Taylor, Doug “Harmonica” McLean, Stevie Cochran, Toby Walker, Sandra Taylor with “A Band Called Sam,” Kerry Kearney, Gail Storm, and many more.
Their lives make great stories too, as the film makes clear by documenting their musical journey from the club scene to the silver screen. Besides Abbey, many of the musicians will be on hand in Huntington to talk to the audience and share their love of the music that is their life’s work.
“It’s going to be a big party!” said Abbey. “It’s going to be a dynamite night.”
So forget about the south side of Chicago, sit back and dig the blues from “The Big Fish.”
The show starts at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 22. For more information, go to the Cinema Arts Centre’s website.
In the photo, Bo Diddley Jr. is performing. [Photo courtesy Cinema Arts Centre]
The surprising resignation Monday night of President Trump’s top National Security Advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, provoked outcries from Long Island’s Congressional delegation as his sudden departure raised more questions than answers.
Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford), who serves on the House Intelligence Committee, told the Press Tuesday afternoon, that he was worried that the resignation could be a serious distraction for the new Trump administration, less than a month old.
“We’ve got to get back on track as quickly as possible,” said Rep. King. “This is a dangerous world out there.”
King had worked with Flynn when he was head of the Defense Intelligence Agency. Flynn “did a great job,” the Congressman said, adding that he was “way ahead of the Obama administration in pointing out how dangerous ISIS was.”
Although Long Island’s senior congressman said he still had “great respect for what Gen. Flynn achieved,” he conceded that if Flynn had undermined the current Trump administration by withholding details about his secret phone conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador, on Dec. 29, they had to let him go.
“Obviously if he did not tell the truth, the full truth, to Vice President Pence, they had no choice,” King said. “You have to have total trust between the national security advisor and the president and the vice president.”
When news started to trickle out of Washington about the phone call—later it was revealed that a classified transcript of their conversation has been shared among high government officials—Flynn denied discussing any policy matters when he spoke with Vice President Mike Pence. It turns out he did. Flynn conceded on Monday that he misrepresented his supposedly secret conversations with the Russian ambassador.
But Congressman King raised another important issue.
“First of all, you’re never supposed to discuss publicly what foreign governments we’re recording,” said King, saying that he can neither confirm nor deny that it takes place. “For that to be leaked is wrong…but it’s out there.”
Flynn reportedly had discussed with Kislyak about lifting sanctions against Russia, which had been imposed in December by President Obama after our intelligence agencies concurred that Putin’s government had tried to interfere with the 2016 American election to help Trump win.
“General Flynn’s resignation is not the end of the story, it is merely a beginning,” said Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY). “It is not the last chapter of this saga, but only the first. His resignation raises more questions than it answers and the American people deserve to know the truth.”
Among the issues raised by Flynn’s actions, Schumer said: “Was General Flynn directed or authorized to do what he did? What was the extent of his conversations and contact with Russia? Who else from the Trump administration, transition or campaign, had contact with the Russians? And why wasn’t General Flynn fired? As soon as the administration found out, why did they act only when they were caught misleading the media?”
Schumer, New York’s senior senator and Senate minority leader, has asked that newly appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions recuse himself from leading any Justice Department inquiry into the matter because Sessions and Flynn were both early Trump supporters on his presidential campaign. Indeed, Flynn, who advised Trump on national security issues, was seen at one pro-Trump rally leading “lock her up” chants against the former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
In 2015, Flynn was shown on TV seated beside President Vladimir Putin at a Moscow anniversary for Russia Today, the Kremlin-controlled television network. Flynn was a paid guest. In his new role for the Trump administration, he’d given his son, Michael G. Flynn, his chief of staff, a security clearance. That became an issue when the son tweeted his belief of the “PizzaGate rumors,” the fake news started by alt-right media that Hillary Clinton was using Comet Ping Pong pizzeria in D.C. as a place for human trafficking and sex crimes. Flynn didn’t tell Vice President Pence what he’d done for his son, who’d gone on TV without knowing the truth.
Flynn’s resignation marks the third guy to fall from the Trump campaign—both before and after the November election. The first was Paul Manafort, Trump’s then-campaign manager, whose ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin and multi-million-dollar business dealings in Ukraine proved too hot on the campaign trail. Back on Aug. 17, Trump told the press that Manafort was there to stay—but two days later he was gone, ultimately replaced by Kellyanne Conway. Next to go was Carter Page, a Trump advisor who had a personal stake in Russia’s oil and gas industry. After the CIA began looking into Page’s ties to the Kremlin in September, he took leave from Trump’s campaign.
The fast-moving events culminating in Flynn’s resignation—what some are calling the Valentine’s Eve Massacre—commenced when Conway, Trump’s top aide, told NBC’s Today Show that Trump had “full confidence” in Flynn. But by Monday evening, Flynn had reportedly resigned. The turnaround came so fast that two members of the National Security Council staff told The New York Times they only learned about it from news reports.
Then at a Tuesday White House press conference, Trump’s communications director Sean Spicer said that Trump had asked for Flynn’s resignation because “the level of trust had eroded” too far. Spicer insisted that Flynn had not done anything illegal by talking with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador, before Trump took office.
The FBI has said it first began looking into the matter in December, and then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates alerted Trump about it in January. Trump’s press secretary Spicer was unclear Tuesday when Trump first learned about the phone call and the true nature of the conversation, insisting that it was only “a matter of trust.”
On Valentine’s Day Spicer told the White House press corps that Trump has been “incredibly tough on Russia,” citing the new president’s comments on Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Spicer said that national security information being leaked is “a real concern” for the president, and that’s the “real story,” echoing what Trump had tweeted earlier in the day. Interestingly, according to the Washington Post, top Russian lawmakers defended Flynn on Tuesday, saying that his forced resignation was due to a “dark campaign of Russophobia in Washington,” an attempt to undermine relations between the White House and the Kremlin.
Rep. King believes that maintaining contact is vital, but the question is a practical matter of how much is permissible.
“If you’re going to be our national security advisor, and Russia is probably our main adversary in the world,” said King, “you can’t come into office on Jan. 20 without them having some idea where we’re coming from, or us having some idea where they are. So it makes sense for Flynn to be talking.”
Added King, “The main sin that we know of right now is not telling Mike Pence the full story.”
His Democratic colleague, Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City), took a different view.
“The White House was informed weeks ago that General Flynn lied about discussing sanctions with the Russian ambassador, but did nothing about it until that lie became public,” she told the Press in an email. “President Trump knew that the Russians had compromising information about his National Security Advisor, but still let him have access to all of our most sensitive intelligence. And we’ve now seen three Trump campaign officials forced to resign because of their ties to Russia.
“We need to know what General Flynn and the Russian ambassador said on that call, what the White House knew and when they knew it, and what explains the many links between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. Until the American people have this information, we have plenty of reasons to suspect that President Trump is hiding something and no reason to trust that his administration is capable of keeping us safe.”
“There has been a nagging concern about the President’s relationship with Putin since day one,” said Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove). “General Flynn only resigned because his actions were brought to light. This is serious business, and we must continue to give the president the benefit of the doubt, but we must also continue to probe.”
Long Island’s most conservative Republican Congressman, Lee Zeldin, declined repeated requests for comments. Nor did his office release a statement about the resignation.
While supporters of the Trump administration were recoiling from Flynn’s ouster, the unexpected news was greeted warmly by Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who denounced Flynn’s history of anti-Muslim prejudice against a faith worshipped by billions of people around the globe. Flynn has called it a “cancer” and once claimed that “Islam is not a real religion but a political ideology masked behind a religion.”
“We welcome Michael Flynn’s resignation and hope it is followed by that of all the other anti-Muslim bigots currently formulating domestic and international policies in the White House, including Steve Bannon, Stephen Miller and Sebastian and Katharine Gorka,” said Awad in a press release. “Our nation is best served by those who base their policy recommendations on facts, not fear.”
New York’s Democratic Senators have joined in denouncing the late-Tuesday night actions by Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to steamroll over opposition to Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions, President Trump’s conservative nominee for Attorney General.
In front of a nearly empty chamber in an address broadcast on sparsely-watched C-SPAN 2, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren was reading a 1986 letter from Coretta Scott King that the widow of the late civil rights leader, Martin Luther King, Jr., had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Chairman Sen. Strom Thurmond when Sessions was then being considered for the federal bench.
Taking to the Senate floor, McConnell (R-KY) invoked an obscure Senate rule to silence Warren from any further debate on Sessions’ AG nomination. The Kentucky Republican said the Massachusetts Democrat had “impugned the motives and conduct of our colleague from Alabama.” Sessions has been a Senator for two decades.
Sen. Charles Schumer, the Democratic Senate minority leader, said Wednesday morning that McConnell had violated the Senate’s tradition of mutual respect and comity by using “the most selective enforcement of a rarely-used procedure to interrupt her…to silence her.” He accused his Republican colleagues of being “far too zealous” and that they were “guilty of the same thing they were trying to police.”
“Sen. Warren wasn’t hurling wild accusations,” said Schumer. “She was reading a thoughtful and considered letter from a leading civil rights figure.” New York’s senior senator pointed out that “anyone who watches the Senate floor on a daily basis could tell you that what happened last night was the most selective enforcement of Rule 19.”
He recalled how a Senator labeled the leadership of Democratic Sen. Harry Reid “cancerous” and said the Nevada senator “doesn’t care about the safety of our troops.” Those remarks weren’t seen as a Rule 19 violation. “But reading a letter from Coretta Scott King—that was too much,” said Schumer.
“Just last week I heard a friend from the other side accuse me of engaging in a ‘tear-jerking performance’ that belonged at the Screen Actors Guild awards,” continued Schumer. “It was only the second time that week I had been accused of fake tears on the floor of the Senate, but I didn’t run to the floor to invoke Rule 19.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has opposed every one of Trump’s cabinet nominees so far, shared Schumer’s sentiments and retweeted a hashtag in support of Sen. Warren that has gone viral: “This is absolutely outrageous. #LetLizSpeak.”
McConnell inadvertently launched a viral Twitter-ready soundbite that had legs when he defended his extraordinary action. “Sen. Warren was giving a lengthy speech,” the Senate majority leader said. “She had appeared to violate the rule. She was warned. She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” That last phrase has started showing up on pro-Warren T-shirts and hashtags.
Schumer said that McConnell and his fellow Republicans have “a shocking double standard” regarding free speech in the Senate chamber and at the Trump White House.
“While the Senator from Massachusetts has my Republican colleagues up in arms by simply reciting the words of a civil rights leader,” Schumer continued, “my Republican colleagues can hardly summon a note of disapproval for an Administration that insults a federal judge; tells the news media to ‘shut up’; offhandedly threatens a state legislator’s career; and seems to invent new dimensions of falsehood each and every day.”
Rebuked by the Senate majority leader, Warren wound up reading the 10-page letter outside the chamber on Facebook Live, which has been seen by more than 8 million people—exponentially more than routinely tune into C-SPAN 2.
In Coretta Scott King’s letter to South Carolina Sen. Thurmond—who had run for president in 1948 as the candidate from the pro-segregation States Rights Party—she said she opposed Sessions’ confirmation to the federal district court because, as the US Attorney in Alabama, he had used “the awesome powers of his office in a shabby attempt to intimidate and frighten elderly black voters. For this reprehensible conduct, he should not be rewarded with a federal judgeship.”
Back then, senators on both sides of the aisle joined in rejecting his nomination to the federal court. In 2017, only Democratic senators are expressing their opposition to Sessions’ nomination to become the most powerful law enforcement officer in the nation.
“Our country desperately needs an Attorney General who will reject discrimination in all forms,” said Gillibrand in a speech on the Senate floor Wednesday. “We need an Attorney General who will defend our civil rights and human rights, with no exception. We need an Attorney General who will not be afraid to challenge the president if an order is illegal or unconstitutional. Sen. Sessions has not made it clear that he will use his power as attorney general to stand up for the voiceless and the oppressed, or to stand up to the president when he’s wrong.”
As for the leading voice of the elected Democrats on Capitol Hill, Schumer admitted he was put in a hard spot for opposing Sessions’ nomination but he had to, because the Alabaman’s record is “clearly troubling.”
“I ride with him on the bike in the gym,” said Schumer in a speech he gave Tuesday, “but he is not, if you can say one thing about him, he’s not independent of Donald Trump. He’s supported Donald Trump from the very beginning—even when Donald Trump didn’t look like he was going to be much of a candidate.”
Schumer recalled what happened two weeks ago when Trump fired acting Attorney General Sally Yates for refusing to defend the president’s Muslim travel ban because she said it was unlawful.
“We just had an acting Attorney General stand up to the President,” said Schumer. “That’s going to be a real test in this Administration because there seems to little regard for an independent judiciary—even for the Constitution itself.”
Echoing Coretta Scott King’s opinion from decades ago, Schumer said Sessions’ record disqualified him.
“He would be wrong at any time because of his record on immigration, civil rights and voting rights,” Schumer said, “but particularly wrong now because we need someone who has some degree of independence from the President.”
Despite the heated opposition, Democrats did not have the votes in the Senate to block Sessions from becoming the country’s top law enforcement official. His nomination passed Wednesday night, 52-47.
When visionary producer Hal Roach created the Our Gang comedy series in 1922, he broke ground in more ways than one. First, he made a ragtag group of kids the stars, which was a novel idea in the silent film era. And he signed the first African-American performer to a Hollywood studio contract—a 7-year-old named Ernie Morrison, whose stage name was Sunshine Sammy.
Born in New Orleans, Morrison began his unlikely movie career with supporting roles in features starring Baby Marie Osborne (not a household name today, but certainly a box office draw in her time). Under Roach’s guidance, he began working with top comedians of his day, like Harold Lloyd, he of the horn-rim glasses, and Snub Pollard, a man in an animated mustache. In the first Our Gang incarnation, “Sunshine Sammy” was actually the gang leader, going on to appear in 28 films.
We get to enjoy Morrison’s stereotype-shattering work all over again thanks to a special program at the Cinema Arts Centre. Besides clips from his roles in several comedies featuring Harold Lloyd, one of the great American comedians of the 1920s, Morrison will cavort on screen again with his posse in Firefighters (1922), Champeen (1923) and Dogs of War (1923). Accompanying the show on live theater organ will be Ben Model, who’s been doing the honors of supplying the sound track on keyboards at the Museum of Modern Art as well as at the Cinema Arts Centre.
Roach’s short films—released as silent two-reelers lasting 13 minutes long or so—were light-weight at best, but they weren’t pretending to be anything but entertaining. Seeing them brings us back to the dawn of the Roaring Twenties, when little rich boys wore curls and kids hung around the dry goods store instead of the soda shop. In one of Morrison’s first films for Roach, we first see him wearing nothing but a wooden barrel strapped to his shoulders while his mom cleans his clothes—until a donkey gets in the way, his friends show up, and things soon get out of hand.
Morrison worked with Roach from 1921 to 1924, when he left the series to do vaudeville, where his comedic style took him far and wide, appearing with Abbott and Costello and Jack Benny when they were just starting out. Later he created the character “Scruno” in Sam Katzman’s “East Side Kids” series. In the twilight of his life, Morrison had a guest spot on Good Times. He died in 1989 in California.
But it was Morrison’s role as Sunshine Sammy that helped make Our Gang the most popular juvenile series ever filmed. Most of us today don’t remember the contributions made by the kids in the silent era because we mainly saw television broadcasts in the 1950s of The Little Rascals featuring Spanky, Alfalfa and Darla when they could speak for themselves after the studios were wired for sound beginning in 1929. But these earlier episodes are equally entertaining—and very revealing of a bygone era that our parents and grandparents knew well.
Roach set the scene with plot, structure and characterization, not just slapstick comedy and visual pranks—and those ingredients proved to be a winning formula. Critics say that the movies Roach produced in the silent era were some of the most sophisticated and personal short comedies to come out of Hollywood back then. Getting to see a few of them again along with child star Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison and Harold Lloyd, is a rare treat indeed. And listening to the ever-versatile Ben Model accompanying the action on screen makes the evening all the more special.
The program will be screening at Cinema Arts Centre, located at 423 Park Avenue in Huntington. For more information, visit cinemaartscentre.org Tickets range in price from $11-$16. The event is at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Feb. 7.
In the featured photo, Ernie “Sunshine Sammy” Morrison is on the far left with the cast of Hal Roach’s “Our Gang” comedy series at that time, including (l-r) Morrison, Mickey Daniels, Mary Kornman, Joe Cobb, Jackie Condon and Allen “Farina” Hoskins. (Courtesy: Cinema Arts Centre)