New York State update

The first topic of my (hopefully brief) updates is the state of affairs in New York, where I live near Binghamton.

Governor Cuomo is resigning effective August 24th in the wake of an investigative report from the attorney general about allegations of sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. While the governor still contends that he did nothing criminal, he has decided to resign rather than face impeachment by the State Assembly and a trial in the State Senate.

Cuomo has almost no support from any Democrats in state or national office. He actually hasn’t had their support for months, as I alluded to in this post from March. Now, though, the outcry is even greater, so he decided he could no longer be effective as governor, and thus, resigned, giving two weeks notice, which allows time for Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul to prepare to take over the governorship.

In practical terms, the state is in a better time to transition to a new governor now than it was in March. The budget is in place and, while the delta variant has driven up case numbers in recent weeks, New York is in a much better position than many other states with lower vaccination rates. Lt. Gov. Hochul has been very actively involved in policy against the pandemic, particularly in her home region of western NY, and has long been “on the road” for the administration, visiting all sixty-two counties every year. She has often represented the governor’s office on economic development issues.

She will be the first woman to serve as New York’s governor and is known for her collaborative style of leadership, which will be a stark contrast to Gov. Cuomo. Unfortunately, she is taking over the governorship in the third year of a four-year term, so she will almost immediately face having to gear up a campaign for the Democratic primary next spring.

I wish her well with the New York State motto “Excelsior” which is usually translated as “ever upward.” Despite the challenges of 2021, I look forward to her tenure as governor and to her leadership as we continue to deal with the pandemic.

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.

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