Good Thursday morning, CivMixers, and Happy World Book Day!
This day, also known as World Book and Copyright Day, or International Day of the Book, is an annual event organized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to promote reading, publishing, and copyright. The first World Book Day was celebrated on this day in 1995.
Perhaps never before has reading been so fundamental (people of a certain age will see what I did there) as it is right now, when so many of us are more or less locked down without a lot of entertainment options. I don’t know about you, but in my mind, there’s only so much Netflix one can stand.
I’ve been breaking out some old favorites to occupy my mind – nothing too heavy, because I just can’t handle it. Right now, I’m working my way through the Harry Potter series for the umpteenth time.
BTW, the UN notes that today is “a symbolic date for world literature,” adding: “It is on this date in 1616 that Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso de la Vega all died. It is also the date of birth or death of other prominent authors, such as Maurice Druon, Haldor K.Laxness, Vladimir Nabokov, Josep Pla and Manuel Mejía Vallejo.”
We’re going to have sun in the morning and clouds in the afternoon today, according to The Weather Channel, with temperatures in the mid-to-low 50s. At least those crazy winds have died down.
In the headlines…
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell took a hard line against giving cash-short states more federal aid in future emergency pandemic relief legislation, saying that those suffering steep shortfalls amid the coronavirus crisis should instead consider bankruptcy.
The senator’s tough talk came a day after his chamber approved a $484 billion bill to help small businesses and hospitals respond to the coronavirus outbreak. The measure did not include funds for state and local governments, despite Democrats arguing they are hard hit by the disease and the corresponding economic fallout.
McConnell’s staffers highlighted the partisan cast of the senator’s comments in a news release circulated a short time later, in which his statement appeared under the heading “Stopping Blue State Bailouts.”
Joining his brother, Chris Cuomo, (who is out of quarantine), on CNN, Gov. Andrew Cuomo called McConnell’s comments “one of the dumbest statements of all time,” and questioning how states declaring bankruptcy will help the economy.
“What he’s saying is the blue states are the states that have the coronavirus problem,” Gov. Cuomo continued. “Why? Because the coronavirus problem is basically a function of density, and urban areas have more density, and those are cities and cities are blue. They are Democrats. So why should he bail out the blue areas. I mean, it really is offensive.”
Long Island Rep. Pete King, a Republican (like McConnell), called the majority leader’s remarks “shameful and indefensible,” adding on Twitter: “To say that it is ‘free money’ to provide funds for cops, firefighters and healthcare workers makes McConnell the Marie Antoinette of the Senate.”
Meanwhile, President Trump said on Twitter that he was ready to open discussions on help for “State/Local Governments for lost revenues from COVID 19, much needed Infrastructure Investments for Bridges, Tunnels, Broadband, Tax Incentives for Restaurants, Entertainment, Sports, and Payroll Tax Cuts to increase Economic Growth.”
State and local governments are warning of a wave of layoffs and pay cuts after getting left out of the federal coronavirus relief package expected to pass Congress this week. In many places, those painful reductions are already taking shape.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said he is sensitive to concerns about rising federal debt but emphasized that low interest rates and the urgency of helping the economy during the coronavirus outbreak cut in the other direction. “This is a war, and we need to win this war and we need to spend what it takes to win the war,” he said.
The economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic on New York’s finances will be felt for years to come, according to a report released by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli.
State leaders are anticipating as much as a $10 to $15 billion shortfall in this year’s budget, but the Citizens Budget Commission estimates New York may have to grapple with an even larger deficit — as high as $26 billion in future years.
A top official at the Department of Health and Human Services says he was ousted from his job this week for pushing back on demands that he sign off on a coronavirus treatment – the broad use of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine – promoted by the Administration as a panacea, but which clearly lack scientific merit.
“Sidelining me in the middle of this pandemic and placing politics and cronyism ahead of science puts lives at risk and stunts national efforts to safely and effectively address this urgent public health crisis,” Rick Bright said in a statement calling for an Inspector General’s investigation.
BARDA, the agency that Bright formerly headed, is a unit of the Department of Health and Human Services created to counter threats from bioterrorism and infectious diseases. It has recently been trying to jump-start work on a vaccine for the coronavirus.
In an about-face, Trump said he “strongly disagrees” with Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s decision to allow businesses like barbershops and nail salons to reopen, a day after he praised him during the White House briefing.
Trump told the American public yesterday that the virus “won’t be coming back in the form that it was” this fall or winter, suggesting it might not come back at all. The scientists flanking him at a White House briefing explicitly said otherwise.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said: “We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that because of the degree of transmissibility that it has, the global nature. What happens with that will depend on how we’re able to contain it when it occurs.”
HHS Secretary Alex Azar waited for weeks to brief the president and oversold his agency’s progress in the early days of the pandemic, and didn’t coordinate effectively across the health-care divisions under his purview.
The record surge in suddenly unemployed Americans likely grew by another 4 million last week to push the total to 25 million or more since the coronavirus pandemic shut down large parts of the U.S. economy a month and a half ago. (Official numbers from the Department of Labor will be released at 8:30 a.m.)
The median consensus estimate for weekly unemployment insurance claims is 4.5 million, according to Bloomberg data. The estimate is again below the 5.2 million Americans who filed for unemployment benefits in the previous week, marking the third report in a row to show a decline in claims.
A number of models predict that the country is currently past or near the peak number of deaths for this wave of the epidemic, assuming current restrictions aren’t relaxed. But they estimate a range of total deaths — 60,000 to 100,000 — through May 23.
The number of U.S. coronavirus-linked deaths in long-term care facilities including nursing homes has eclipsed 10,000, as nursing-home owners said they are still struggling to access the testing they need to detect and curb outbreaks.
Across New York, nursing homes and other adult facilities have reported more than 3,500 COVID-19 fatalities, roughly one of every four coronavirus deaths in the state. But family members insist the COVID-19 death rates are considerably higher.
The coronavirus has been allowed to run roughshod through nursing homes and rehabilitation centers statewide to hellish results, relatives of some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers say.
New York doctors are warning that the coronavirus may cause sudden strokes in adults in their 30s and 40s who are not severely sick.
Daily deaths from the coronavirus remained below 500 statewide for the third straight day, Cuomo said, yet he vowed not to cave in to political pressure to lift stay-at-home restrictions before he believes it is safe, saying: “Frankly, this is no time to act stupidly. Period.”
Outside the state Capitol in Albany, hundreds of people swarmed the streets for what they called “Operation Gridlock,” to protest the continued closures across New York, saying they want to get back to work.
“The illness is death,” Cuomo replied in response to the protestors. “How can the cure be worse than the illness if the illness is potential death?”
The governor said that the decision to reopen New York’s economy should be based on “facts” and not “political pressure,” adding: “I’m not going to have the political obituary of this era be, ‘well, they acted imprudently.'”
Cuomo also suggested that people who are protesting and have lost their jobs and are struggling to receive unemployment benefits should “go take the job as an essential worker, do it tomorrow.”
The governor explained on “The Daily Show” that his open-book style that has made his daily briefings must-see TV is crucial to getting New Yorkers to buy into the state’s strict mitigation efforts.
Cuomo said besides a “productive” Tuesday meeting with Trump, he also learned White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, is a big fan of his PowerPoint slides.
Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will provide more than $10 million to design and help set up a tracing program that would allow governments to track down whom infected people have come into contact with in New York City, as well as neighboring counties and states, Cuomo said.
The testing and tracing effort will require an “army,” Cuomo said. While planning is still in the works, he says about 35,000 SUNY and CUNY medical students will be called upon to help.
The White House is blocking tens of thousands of undocumented immigrants and DACA recipients from getting billions of dollars in aid earmarked for college students affected by COVID-19.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos ordered higher education institutions to dole out more than $6 billion in emergency relief only to students who are eligible for federal financial aid, including U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Harvard University said that it would not accept the federal funds allocated to it under the CARES Act Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, one day after declining to do so following Trump’s call for the university to return the funds.
Hospitals, clinics and surgery centers are moving tentatively to resume surgeries and other procedures that were halted when the coronavirus pandemic reached the U.S., a shift that could help stanch the sector’s financial losses but presents new risks to infection control and public health.
Some businesses that make up the richest clients of big banks and were seeking coronavirus loans got to avoid flaky online portals or backed-up queues. Many other small businesses couldn’t get their loan requests submitted before the money dried up.
Ai Weiwei, the renowned Beijing-born artist who now lives in England and had previously been arrested for his activism against the repressive Chinese government, claims the coronavirus lockdown is allowing the Asian nation to become more restrictive in providing crucially accurate health data.
Around the globe, the coronavirus pandemic has stilled the anti-establishment protests that erupted last year, bringing months of marches, rallies and riots to a sudden halt. Now, like everything else in the world, the protests face the unanswerable question of what happens next.
The coronavirus pandemic is boosting momentum for major broadband legislation, highlighting the widespread lack of high-speed internet in U.S. homes at a time when it has become more essential than ever.
After years of working almost exclusively on long-term projects and pushing day-to-day management to his deputies, Jeff Bezos, has turned back to the here-and-now problems facing Amazon.
The plan to sell Victoria’s Secret to a private equity investor appears to be in trouble, with the buyer saying it wanted to terminate the deal because of the retail chain’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
With the government doling out trillions of dollars to blunt the economic pain of the coronavirus pandemic, these are good times for thieves and dangerous times for those who actually need the money.
The 15-day waiting period for a public employee’s retirement to take effect was waived recently to ensure benefits can be accessed by families who may lose a relative to the coronavirus.
The Big Apple neared a painful milestone yesterday as the death toll from the coronavirus outbreak that has ravaged the five boroughs approached 15,000. The pandemic has claimed the lives of 14,996 New Yorkers, with new 569 fatalities reported in the most recent 24-hour period.
The NYC Council returned after an absence of five weeks to roll out a slate of measures aimed at protecting the most vulnerable New Yorkers from the coronavirus pandemic.
One bill, co-sponsored by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and Councilwoman Carlina Rivera, both Democrats from Manhattan, would require the city’s transportation department to close up to 75 miles of streets to cars in the five boroughs. It will provide more space for New Yorkers to keep social distance, they said.
A group of doctors and health professionals have joined criminal justice reform advocates to urge the NYPD to cut back on policing efforts, saying officers could wind up infecting the public with the coronavirus.
New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority approved a benefits program for workers who die of Covid-19-related causes as the death toll among its workforce rose to 83.
MTA Chairman Pat Foye declined to say whether he has any regrets over the agency’s response to the pandemic, which included a decision throughout the first four weeks of March to follow guidance from the CDC that said workers should not wear protective face masks.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan to “ultimately defeat” coronavirus in New York and enter a new phase of the pandemic relies on a dramatic increase in testing capacity that the city doesn’t have yet and massive effort to trace infections and isolate patients across huge swaths of the population.
City Hall officials defended the way that the de Blasio administration has balanced the need to keep the city running while protecting its workers.
New York City will create a strategic reserve of medical supplies and equipment to guard against future novel coronavirus outbreaks and other crises. As part of the initiative, companies based in the city that can manufacture such goods will be supported.
New York City has already cancelled most of the summer’s major attractions due to the coronavirus, but one thing is apparently still going to happen – the city’s annual 4th of July celebrations.
The COVID-19 pandemic threatens to set back New York’s campaign to make free, high-quality preschool available to all, according to a new report from the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER).
Siena College in Loudonville and Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs have joined a drumbeat of Capital Region institutions announcing faculty and staff furloughs and other cost-saving measures to address an immediate budget gap created by the COVID-19 pandemic and loss of room-and-board revenue since campuses have gone remote.
An outside investigator will look into Saratoga County’s controversial pandemic pay plan.
Rensselaer County Executive Steve McLauglin renewed his now daily request for the state to send the county 5,000 test kits for COVID-19 so his residents don’t have travel to Albany or perhaps out-of-state to Vermont and Massachusetts to get tested.
With state lawmakers unable as yet to take action because of the coronoavirus pandemic, a proposed moratorium on burning toxic PFAS chemicals, such as those that have been incinerated at the Norlite aggregate plant, will be tackled by the Cohoes Common Council next week.
One of Lake George’s biggest events of the year will not be cancelled but rather rescheduled. The 2020 Americade, which usually kicks off the first week of June, will now be set for July.
More big cats (four tigers and three lions) at the Bronx Zoo have tested positive for coronavirus, just weeks after a Malayan tiger named Nadia was found to have the disease that is ravaging New York.
A pair of house cats in New York have tested positive for COVID-19, officials said, a feline first that follows the discovery earlier this month that a tiger at the Bronx Zoo had contracted the virus. (They have mild symptoms and are expected to fully recover).
Cristina Cuomo says she has a “waitlist” of friends who want to date her brother-in-law, the governor.
In non-virus news…
A New Jersey adjunct professor charged with attempted arson after lugging gas cans and butane lighters inside St. Patrick’s Cathedral last year died after a suicide leap from the Verrazzano Bridge as he awaited psychiatric treatment, his lawyer said.
Schenectady school leaders are moving forward with plans for academic life after Larry Spring, whose last day on the payroll as school superintendent was yesterday, nearly a month after his sudden resignation.
A college student is suing Long Island University for a tuition refund after the campuses shut down and all classes moved online due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Photo credit: George Fazio.