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.

federal force

Here in the United States, we are facing such a crush of problems that it is hard to give each the attention it deserves.

I do want to highlight one especially dangerous and disturbing action by the president. He is deploying federal employees into US cities to act as law enforcement without the permission of the mayors and governors who have legal jurisdiction. By law, policing is a matter for local and state governments. The National Guard, which is a branch of the US Military though its roots go all the way back to 1660’s Massachusetts militias, is sometimes mobilized to deal with a disaster or civil unrest, but it is the governor of the state who usually orders it, not the president. As I have discussed before, the president can use the Insurrection Act to use federal forces over the objections of governors, but there is no basis to declare that an insurrection is underway.

Federal forces have been deployed to Portland, Oregon, ostensibly to protect federal buildings. Disturbingly, these federal officers have been on the streets without wearing insignia identifying them and have detained people who are not causing harm. They have also teargassed peaceful protestors. According to local officials, the presence of these federal forces has worsened the situation, not calmed it. The president is also sending or planning to send federal agents to other US cities.

While the president says he needs to establish “law and order” in these Democrat-led cities, the real motivation may be to project a “tough guy” image to shore up his base of supporters. His poll numbers have been dropping, even in states where he won by large margins in 2016.

I think it is possible that some of the president’s supporters are disturbed that he is using federal forces within US cities. The tenth amendment to the Constitution recognizes policing as a state function; many Trump supporters are not fans of the federal government and prefer state/local control as much as possible. Some would rather not have government involved in their lives at all.

There are already inspectors general investigations into the use of federal forces in Washington, DC and Portland. If there are deployments in other cities, there will surely be court cases brought, as well.

Meanwhile, voters need to remember that unidentified, armed federal personnel do not belong on the streets in US cities and towns. It’s the kind of authoritarian tactic that the United States has often decried in other countries.

New York’s reopening plan

I’ve posted several times about how my state is handling the pandemic. Unlike many other states, New York State has taken a methodical, metric-based approach.

The whole state has been under a program called PAUSE, which is a stay-at-home order for all but essential workers and shopping for necessities. Starting on May 15th, certain regions of the state that have met the criteria will be moving into phase one of four for re-opening certain businesses.

My region, the Southern Tier, is qualified to re-open companies with worker and customer safety plans in place in construction, manufacturing, delivery/curbside pick-up retail, wholesale, agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting. The region needs to continue to meet the criteria each week, including testing and having contact tracers available. If criteria continue to be met, other businesses will open in phases. If the statistics show an outbreak is developing, the phased-in businesses will close until all the criteria are again met.

The state has a website called New York Forward, which has up-to-date information about the plan and the current status of each region. There is more information about the phase-in of businesses here. For those who would like more detail, there are many different pages and sections available on different aspects of the plan from the New York Forward main page link above, as well as a 50 page book, which includes some history, the basics of the plan itself, and future goals.

While there are no certainties in dealing with the pandemic, I am reassured that there is a detailed plan with metrics based on science and the experiences of other places dealing with the virus. It’s also good to know that there is continuous monitoring of the situation so that we can adapt the implementation as needed.

For the good of our state and the health and well-being of our residents, I hope the plan works well. If it does, I hope other governments will be able to use it as a template for their own plans.

We are better off if we make thoughtful, science-based decisions. This pandemic has shown how connected the world is. We all need to cooperate if we are ever going to end this diesase.

New York State and plans

Every day, I listen to Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York give his daily coronavirus briefing and take questions from the press.

I am definitely not alone.

I often watch through Facebook Live, so there is a comment stream during the briefing. While some of the people are, like me, New York residents, many others tune in from other states and countries. While there are some trolls, many people thank Governor Cuomo for his candid, factual presentation and his compassion. There are always some calls for him to run for president. I admit to having the occasional, totally improbable political fantasy that both the nominating conventions decide to choose a governor who has handled the pandemic as well as possible to run for president, so that instead of Trump versus Biden, we would have, say, Hogan versus Cuomo. Not going to happen, but I, for one, would breathe easier if it did.

This is a big week for New York State. Our current stay-at-home order expires May 15 and it is expected that some regions, including the Southern Tier where I live, will qualify to enter phase one (of four) for expanding what businesses and services may be opened and under what circumstances. There are a number of criteria to meet before being eligible, including at least a two-week decline of new cases, hospital and intensive care unit availability, and testing and contact tracing capabilities. All the businesses have to have plans in place for safe working conditions and customer delivery protocols. If COVID-19 cases start to increase, the state will go back to its prior level of operations until conditions improve again. The New York plan is based on medical science and the experiences of other countries and cities around the world as they try to increase economic and social activities after outbreaks of the virus. For reference, businesses like hair salons and dine-in restaurants don’t re-open until phase three.

Because of the planning and vigilance of our state government, I feel relatively secure that New York will be able to protect public health while gradually opening more and more public and private entities. I remain very worried, however, about the majority of states who are re-opening without even having had a decline in the number of cases. Indeed, right now, if you take New York out of the national statistics, you find that while New York’s infection rate is on a steady decline, the rest of the country is still on the increase. In addition, some countries that had contained the outbreak, such as Germany and South Korea, are having to back off with some of their re-opening of businesses because their case numbers are rising again.

I am hopeful that our region and other New York State regions that qualify will be able to move forward with our slow and thoughtful plans while still protecting public health. If that happens, I hope other states and countries will study our approach and adapt it to their regions.

With over four million confirmed cases world-wide, we need the best practices devised and enacted as soon as possible around the world.

ACA anniversary

On today’s ninth anniversary, we are remembering all those who died or were injured in the shooting at the American Civic Association in Binghamton NY.

Although we have made some progress at the state level, I am saddened that there has been so little at the federal level, both on gun and immigration reform.

I so appreciate the Parkland students and their student and adult allies who are bringing gun violence issues to the forefront of the national conversation and motivating lawmakers to take steps to protect students and the public.

In light of the president declaring DACA dead, I hope that Congress will finally return to bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform with a path to citizenship for Dreamers, those under TPS, and other long-time residents.  If they pass such legislation with a veto-proof margin, we will confirm and honor our national identity as a diverse nation where everyone person’s human dignity is recognized and cherished.