New York State update

As you may recall, I post occasionally on New York State government and politics, especially as it relates to the pandemic. This has necessarily led to some reference to the investigations into Governor Cuomo. Many New York politicians of both parties have called on the governor to resign, claiming he can’t govern effectively under a cloud of suspicion, while the majority of New York voters say in public opinion polls that he should remain in office while the investigations continue.

Given Governor Cuomo’s high profile nationally, both as a leader on pandemic policy and as the chair of the National Governors Association, there has been national coverage on the allegations and investigations, although this waxes and wanes depending on what else is happening. When there is a lot of coverage of a mass shooting or trial or a major piece of federal legislation, we don’t hear about Governor Cuomo for a few days until things calm down and we are back to the question of how can he govern under these circumstances.

Meanwhile, he has been governing. There have been numerous speaking engagements at vaccination sites, especially those in high-need neighborhoods, in the continuing efforts to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible without leaving any demographic groups behind. This week, there was the announcement of a monument dedicated to essential workers who continued to serve the public while most people were encouraged to stay safe at home. Updates to COVID policies have been rolled out as data and conditions warrant.

Most significantly from the political standpoint, our state budget has passed. Unlike most states, the New York fiscal year starts April first, so the budget was a few days late being passed. While the governor’s office is heavily involved in budget process, the delay was due more to timing of the American Rescue Plan passage in Washington, which established how much federal aid was coming to New York, and to COVID, which complicated the negotiation process which usually happens in person. Unfortunately, the Speaker of the Assembly, our lower house in the legislature, tested positive for COVID during the negotiation process but continued to serve from home.

So, our state government continues to function, which is good as we are facing yet another critical time period with the pandemic. While the overall infection rate is still quite low, cases on average are rising with sizeable presence of the B.1.1.7 variant and another variant that first appeared in New York City. We are giving out the vaccine as quickly as we can get doses. Thirty-five percent of NYers have received at least one vaccine dose, with twenty-two percent fully vaccinated. That still leaves millions of people, especially younger adults, teens, and children vulnerable to infection, so we have to continue to be cautious with masking, distancing, and gathering size and conditions.

The newly passed state budget has money to help with public health efforts, in addition to rent assistance, increase education aid, and small business programs to help everyone in our pandemic recovery. It will take time and effort, but we will build back better, a phrase that Governor Cuomo was using before President Biden and that others in the environmental and social justice movement were using before the governor took it up.

Political labels

The two political/ideological labels that one hears most frequently are liberal and conservative.

I think we should stop using them.

The Oxford Languages definition of liberal is “relating to or denoting a political and social philosophy that promotes individual rights, civil liberties, democracy, and free enterprise.” The definition of conservative is “(in a political context) favoring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially traditional ideas.”

It’s interesting to me that free enterprise appears in both definitions.

In the United States, the Democratic party is considered liberal and the Republican party is considered conservative but there are several ways in which the definitions above don’t apply. For example, the Republican party is very vocal on upholding certain individual rights, such as gun ownership, while opposing others, such as the right to make one’s own medical decisions.

In this last election cycle, the Republicans repeatedly accused Joe Biden and the Democrats of being “socialist,” thus frightening some people into voting for Republicans. For the record, the definition of socialism is “a political and economic theory of social organization which advocates that the means of production, distribution, and exchange should be owned or regulated by the community as a whole.” To be clear, President-elect Biden and the Democratic party as a whole are capitalists. No one needs to worry that the United States will not continue to be a capitalist country where businesses are owned by individuals, families, small groups of people, and/or stockholders, not buy the society as a whole or the government.

I admit that one of the things that confuses me about the Republican party is that they are inconsistent. They think that deficits and increases to the national debt are terrible when there is a Democratic president, but when there is a Republican one, they pass tax cuts that push the budget deficit and national debt higher.

These last four years have confused the identity of the Republican party further. A number of traditional conservatives have left the party altogether.

I have no idea what comes next for the Republicans as a party.

I don’t think that they do, either.

SoCS: RBG and MM

Last night, we received the sad news that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg passed away at the age of 87 from complications of pancreatic cancer. She was an amazing woman with a remarkable record of achievements, overcoming the discrimination she faced as a woman, a mother, and a Jewish person. As a lawyer, she argued landmark sex discrimination cases before the Supreme Court, winning five of the six cases she presented. One of her keys to success was that some of those cases were brought on behalf of men who suffered lack of access to careers or benefits that were ascribed to women, for example, allowing men to study nursing. This was able to reach the all-male justices in a way that a case brought on behalf of women did not. It was a way in to address the injustices of sexism.

As a judge and then in 27 years as a justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a strong voice for equal justice under the Constitution, regardless of race or gender. As the Court became more and more conservative, she was well-known for her well-reasoned, cogent, and accessible dissents, many of which may be the basis for reversals over time, as we have seen with some infamous Supreme Court decisions in the past.

Millions of people around the country are sad, but also terrified. The terror is that Ruth Bader Ginsburg will be replaced this year by the current president, even though the election is only six weeks away. This totally flies in the face of what Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell did in 2016, when conservative justice Antonin Scalia died unexpectedly ten months before the election and he refused to even have hearings to vote on Merrick Garland, who was nominated by President Obama. He said that the people should have a voice in the selection through their presidential choice. The Supreme Court had to operate for over 400 days with only eight justices. Even more scandalously, there was the threat that if Hillary Clinton had won, McConnell would still not have allowed a Court nominee to be voted on in the Senate. It’s such an abuse of power.

Which brings me to the “-tion” word that popped into my head, compunction. In the midst of the mourning that immediately followed the announcement of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s death, McConnell announced that Trump’s nominee would receive a vote in the Senate. That he had no compunction in doing so is appalling. The level of hypocrisy and the naked abuse of power is off the charts.

I am hoping that a significant number of Republican senators will stand up and say that they will not vote on a nominee under these rushed and suspect circumstances. Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said last night that she would not vote on a nominee, saying “fair is fair.”

I wish I could say that I am shocked that McConnell also had no compunction in releasing his statement on a replacement right after news of Justice Ginsburg’s death broke, but he acted similarly after Justice Scalia’s death. I hope that we can focus on RBG’s legacy and life in the coming days, not the political and partisan circus that McConnell has unleashed.

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Linda’s prompt for Stream of Consciousness Saturday this week was a word that ends with -tion. Join us! Find out more here: https://lindaghill.com/2020/09/18/the-friday-reminder-and-prompt-for-socs-sept-19-2020/

2019-2020 SoCS Badge by Shelley!

unprecedented

For decades, public opinion polls in the United States have asked how satisfied people are with the way things are going in the country, which is often referred to often as the country being on the right or wrong track. A Pew Research Center poll released on June 30th reveals that only 12% of respondents are satisfied with the direction of the country.

Twelve percent is a shockingly low number, but the number today could be even lower, given that the poll was conducted before the revelations about Russia paying bounties for the deaths of United States and coalition troops in Afghanistan, before the daily national number of new positive COVID tests reached 50,000+, and before 38 of 50 states reported rising numbers of cases on a 14-day rolling average.

The COVID numbers are going to get worse in the coming days because the seven-day rolling averages are already worse and because there are likely large numbers of people who are positive but not yet showing symptoms or being tested.

The rise in COVID cases is all the more upsetting because much of this precipitous spread was avoidable. I have written often, for example here, about the battle against the pandemic in New York State, where I live in its Southern Tier region. By following the science and metrics, our state went from having the worst infection rate in the country to the lowest. Mask-wearing, physical distancing, travel restrictions, and enhanced sanitation are part of daily life for nearly all people here. New York, which suffered the first wave of COVID cases coming in undetected from Europe, pioneered many ways to crush the coronavirus curve and keep infection rates low through robust testing, contact tracking and quarantine. It breaks my heart that other states and the country as a whole are not following a similar path to protect their residents and visitors. Governor Cuomo’s office has been in contact with governors’ offices around the country, offering assistance in fighting the virus, but it seems that few are willing to put the lessons we learned into practice in their states.

While we continue to methodically re-open different types of businesses and increase the size of (reasonable and still distanced) gatherings allowed, we keep constant watch on our testing numbers, ready to change plans immediately if the number of positive tests starts to rise. Our greatest threats at this point are complacency among people here leading them to get sloppy with our preventive measures and the risk of travellers bringing the virus with them from another state or country. New York does have quarantine rules in place for those entering the state from places with high infection rates, but we would be much better off with a national policy based on science and metrics.

I think the national polling numbers with which I began this post show that our ship of state is seriously off course and in danger of shipwreck. The vast majority of the country knows it, as does most of the rest of the world. Travel from the United States into the European Union is banned. Both our allies and our adversaries wonder how a strong and proud democracy could have a national government in such impotent disarray.

Long-time readers know that I occasionally indulge in political fantasy. I had one for a while that both DT and the VP were forced to resign due to corruption and that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi would become the first woman president of the United States. During the impeachment of the president, some argued that we should wait for an election to get DT out of office. I don’t think any of them imagined the dire mix of pandemic, attack by foreign adversaries, economic collapse, and cries for long-overdue justice and equity with which we are currently dealing. To avert more disaster and to safeguard lives and well-being, we need new leadership now, not on January 20, 2021.

I call on the president, the vice-president, and all appointed Cabinet and high-ranking officials of agencies who are not career professionals within their departments to resign, so that Pelosi, aided by experienced civil servants, can put in place national policies to stem the pandemic and to run a fair election in November, so that the newly elected president has a chance to inherit a country that isn’t a complete disaster area. Some problems could be addressed by executive order and, one hopes, others could be handled legislatively, if enough Republican senators step up to govern, instead of letting Majority Leader Mitch McConnell kill nearly every House-passed piece of legislation that lands on his desk.

2020 has been a year in which we hear the word unprecedented on a regular basis. My suggested course of action certainly would be unprecedented, but I think it offers hope of alleviating at least some of the suffering around us and averting more. It is also constitutionally valid.

Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures.

socialism?

In the film adaptation of William Goldman’s The Princess Bride, Inigo Montoya, played by Mandy Patinkin, says, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

I think of that quote every time I hear someone accuse Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Nancy Pelosi, or any other member of Congress of being a socialist.

Merriam-Webster defines socialism as “any of various economic and political theories advocating collective or governmental ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” The second definition is a) “a system of society or group living in which there is no private property” b) “a system or condition of society in which the means of production are owned and controlled by the state.”

No member of the United States Congress is calling for the abolition of private property or for government ownership of businesses. Capitalism continues, although with more legislation to ensure that workers are paid adequate wages, have safe work conditions, and are protected from discrimination or abuse.

Most proposals also call for higher taxes on the very wealthy. The top marginal tax rate in the United States was 70% or higher from 1936-1980. To be clear, the US income tax is a graduated tax. The first bracket of taxes is at a low rate; as income increases, the percentage of tax also increases. If someone is being paid millions of dollars a year, they still pay a low rate on the first bracket amount, paying a higher amount on each bracket. Only the amount of income above the starting level of the highest bracket is charged at the top marginal rate. For reference, the top marginal tax rate is currently 37% for income over $510,300/individual or $612,350/married couple.

None of the health care reform proposals is calling for “socialized medicine.” This system, which is currently used in the United Kingdom, is one in which the medical providers work directly for the government. All the proposals of the Democratic presidential candidates are either a combination of public and private health insurance or single-payer systems. Medical care providers continue to work for private practices, hospitals, etc. as they do now. In the single-payer system, the government acts as the insurer. This is the system in place in Canada. The current Medicare system is a form of single-payer, although many recipients also have a private supplemental plan. The “Medicare-for-all” proposals also expand Medicare to include dental, vision, and hearing care, while cutting premiums and co-pays to at or near zero.

What confuses things more is that a few members of Congress consider themselves “democratic socialists.” What they favor is what is generally called “social democracy” in Europe. Many European countries have a social-democratic party and use some of these principles in their governments. The Nordic countries are structured with a lot of social democracy principles. They have strong social safety nets and much lower levels of income inequality than the US, and their citizens rank among the happiest in the world. Yet, the vast majority of their workers still work for private companies.

So, the next time you hear “socialist” being thrown about as an epithet or a scare tactic, ask yourself if the speaker is using the word accurately. Chances are high that they are not.
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Join us for Linda’s Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/10/daily-prompt-jusjojan-the-10th-2020/

SoCS: How?

How am I supposed to plan for the future in our present world? Or maybe, how am I supposed to feel settled enough to think that planning is useful?

I don’t mean this in a personal sense. I learned a long time ago that things happen to ourselves and our loved ones in random and inexplicable ways.

I did you used to feel, though, that institutions, like the US government and the Catholic church and society in general, had certain rules and ways of being that lasted or that transformed over periods of time as knowledge advanced.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

Today, of course, there was a lot more news coverage on what the assassination of General Soleimani might mean for the future. United States citizens and businesses in the Middle East are considered most at risk, but there is the possibility of reprisals within the US or a cyberattack. It’s known that foreign entities have hacked into US infrastructure, such as the electrical grid. How does one plan for that? Should I wake up every morning thinking about what I would do if the electricity went down for weeks?

I don’t think I could sustain that level of alarm long-term…

How do I remain calm in the face of the political turmoil in the US? The upcoming impeachment trial and the legislative fallout from the Iran conflict and let’s not forget about North Korea’s threat to test a new weapon of some sort. And who will the Democrats nominate? What new rifts will develop among the already sadly fractured electorate?

Did all the people who hate someone because of their skin color, language, religion, gender, etc. always feel hateful, but we are just noticing it now because they aren’t afraid to express their hatred publicly?

Don’t even get me started on dealing with the maelstrom in the Catholic church.

As Greta Thunberg has reminded people so directly, how can we not treat the climate crisis as, well, a crisis that needs our concerted efforts every day? How do we not see the suffering from fires, floods, storms, droughts, sea level rise, deforestation, desertification, and ocean warming and acidification that is always present? Or how do we see it and still not act?

Wow, this stream of consciousness started out serious and just keeps getting more and more serious. For better or for worse, this is how JC’s mind works.

And I don’t know how to turn it off.
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The prompt for today was to use a word with “ow” in it. You are probably all sorry that I let my mind stream on the word “how.” Join us for Linda’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday and/or Just Jot It January! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2020/01/03/the-friday-reminder-for-socs-jusjojan-2020-daily-prompt-jan-4th/

Reading Michelle Obama’s memoir

Since she became a public figure during the first presidential campaign of her husband, I have felt an affinity with Michelle Robinson Obama. While on the surface it would seem that an African-American woman from the South Side of Chicago couldn’t have much in common with a European-American from a tiny New England town, there are a number of similarities. We are close in age, having been born in the last few years of the Baby Boom. I have long felt that we youngest of the Boomers, who were young adults during the Reagan recession when unemployment was high and mortgage rates even higher, are fundamentally different from the elder members of our cohort. Michelle and I are both mothers of two daughters and women who have been blessed with a close and long relationship with our own mothers. We have close women friends and mentors. We are both community-minded, and also recognize the importance of educational opportunity for ourselves and others. We each have a long, loving, and intact marriage. And we are both women of our time, which means we have experienced sexism and the challenge of tending to both our private and public lives.

Becoming, Michelle Obama’s memoir published late last year, reinforces my sense of her on all these points. She writes honestly and beautifully; I was especially impressed with the way she wrote about her feelings about what was happening and not just the events themselves. She also frequently gives context of what happens either before or later with a particular place or event, such as the changes over time in her South Side neighborhood.

I particularly enjoyed reading about Michelle’s childhood, teen, and college years, as the stories from that time before she was a public figure were mostly new to me. I also appreciated knowing how she felt about many events and causes during the campaigns and her eight years in the White House, as well as her take on the current president.

What was most enlightening to me was hearing how being a black female impacted her life at every stage and added to the pressure to excel and to be an exemplary person at all times. As the first African-American first family, it seemed that every move the Obamas made was scrutinized. I admire that Michelle and her mom, who was also in residence at the White House, were able to protect First Daughters Malia and Sasha from most of the intrusiveness of the press corps so that they could grow up (mostly) out of the public eye.

Many people share my admiration for Michelle Obama and her accomplishments. Her book tour includes venues that seat thousands of people and her book has sold over three million copies, making it the bestseller of 2018.

She can definitely add best-selling author to her already impressive resume.

One-Liner Wednesday: politics and democracy

“When we forget that politics is about weaving a fabric of compassion and justice on which everyone can depend, the first to suffer are the most vulnerable among us—our children, our elderly, our mentally ill, our poor, and our homeless. As they suffer, so does the integrity of our democracy.”
~~~ Parker Palmer
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Join us for Linda’s One-Liner Wednesday! Find out how here:  https://lindaghill.com/2018/11/28/one-liner-wednesday-meeeoow-%F0%9F%90%B1/

#1linerWeds badge by Cheryl, at https://dreamingreality646941880.wordpress.com/

still around

Contrary to appearances, I have not (quite) fallen off the face of the earth.

Since I last posted, I have spent quite a bit of time trying to take care of people who are sick and being sick myself. Luckily, both of my sisters have visited to help take care of Nana and Paco while I was sick.

This week, I need to do a ton of catching up on paperwork and poetry. Before the end of the month, I need to prepare comments on four manuscripts and get my own together to distribute to our group. Fingers crossed that I can get my brain in gear to manage it.

Of course, all of this is happening against the backdrop of the continuing maelstrom of the news. If a television show, novel, or movie followed a plot from the current political news in the US, everyone would dismiss it as too far-fetched. Yet, here we are in a continuing succession of situations that are accurately called unprecedented.

It’s enough to make one’s head spin.

Putin

Vladimir Putin lied for years about Russia’s practice of doping Olympic athletes and covering it up. He also says that Russia did not interfere in the United States’ election process, despite large amounts of evidence showing that Russia did. Why should anyone believe what Putin says?