Rise and Shine: Aug. 24, 2020

Monday, Monday. Good morning, CivMixers, and welcome to the workweek.

Here’s a bit of good news: It’s National Waffle Day!

Now, I don’t know why, but a waffle seems so much more special than a pancake – lighter and less doughy, too. The recipe is more or less the same, so that’s not why. Maybe it’s all those delicious nooks and crannies, perfect little buckets for holding melted butter, syrup, jam, peanut butter, ice cream, or whatever other toppings you might dream up.

Also maybe they’re sort of a special occasion food because they’re such a damn pain in the butt to make. Ever try to clean a waffle maker? Yeah. I rest my case. Also, is it me, or does the first one always fail?

According to the restaurant chain Waffle House, (which, by the way is a national treasure and if you’ve never visited you have no idea what you’re missing), approximately 145 waffles are sold at the eatery across the United States every minute. EVERY MINUTE.

And there’s a local angle to the waffle story, too. On Aug. 24, 1869, the U.S. Patent Office issued a patent to Cornelius Swartwout of Troy, NY for his design for an “Improvement in Waffle-Irons,” which looked a lot like the modern-day version, except his had to be heated in the fire because – no electricity back then.

Waffle-making made its way to America with Dutch colonists in the 1620s. The English language saw the appearance of the word “waffle” for the first time 100 years later in a book called “Robert Smith’s Court Cookery.”

The waffle actually dates all the way back to ancient Greece, where chefs roasted flat cakes between metal plates attached to long wooden handles. The Greeks called these cakes “obelios,” and they weren’t as sweet as modern waffles.

Similar unleavened wafers called “oublies” were made by the Catholic Church out of grain flour and water in Medieval Europe many years later. (Oublie, by the way, means “forget” in French, but I’m not entirely clear how that connects to waffles…maybe you’d like to forget how many calories you’ve consumed after you’ve eaten your fill of them?)

On this day in 1981, Mark David Chapman was sentenced to serve 20 years to life in prison for the murder of John Lennon on Dec. 8, 1980, in front of Lennon’s wife, Yoko Ono. Chapman has been denied parole 10 times, and reportedly was due to have his 11th parole hearing this month.

The Republican National Convention kicks off today – a largely, but not entirely virtual version of the event. The GOP this weekend released its list of speakers for the four-day extravaganza. Apparently, however, a lot was still up in the air in terms of what would be televised and the order of events etc. as of just a few days ago.

Some delegates – including members of a pared-down New York delegation – are still gathering in Charlotte, NC, (Jacksonville, FL was also considered, but the virus got in the way of that). The president will be speaking every night, which is very unusual, but the culmination of the convention will come when he delivers his acceptance speech from the Oval Office (also very unusual, and perhaps even illegal) on Thursday.

We’re looking at partly cloud skies today with the possibility of a stray shower or thunderstorm and temperatures in the high-80s.

In the headlines…

The Trump administration granted emergency authorization of convalescent plasma to treat hospitalized Covid-19 patients, despite concerns from some of the nation’s top health officials that data from clinical trials is too weak to support widespread application of the treatment at this time.

President Donald Trump cited the approval, which had been held up by concerns among top government scientists about the data behind it, as welcome news in fighting a disease that has led to 176,000 deaths in the United States and left the nation lagging far behind most others in the effectiveness of its response.

The White House is reportedly considering fast tracking an experimental coronavirus vaccine developed in the U.K. for use in the United States ahead of the nation’s upcoming presidential election.

Russian officials and scientists dismiss warnings about safety as Western jealousy and sour grapes. But only 24 percent of Russian doctors would take the vaccine, one survey shows.

The Trump administration tied billions of dollars in badly needed coronavirus medical funding this spring to hospitals’ cooperation with a private vendor collecting data for a new Covid-19 database that bypassed the CDC.

Trump’s longtime adviser Kellyanne Conway is stepping down from her role at the end of month, saying she and her husband, George, are going to spend time tending to their four kids.

In a statement, Conway said, “This is completely my choice and my voice. In time, I will announce future plans. For now, and for my beloved children, it will be less drama, more mama.”

In conversations recorded by her niece in 2018 and 2019, Marianne Trump Barry — a now-retired federal judge and Donald Trump’s older sister — comes across as aghast at her brother’s behavior in the Oval Office.

President Trump heads into this week’s Republican National Convention with national polls showing him trailing in his race for re-election. But surveys also identify strengths in his political standing, some of them not widely noted, that could help him close the gap by Election Day.

North Country Rep. Elise Stefanik will give a primetime speech at the Republican National Convention to defend Trump’s “record of results” and attack Democrat Joe Biden’s record as vice president and senator, the congresswoman announced.

Trump’s plan to sue Pennsylvania in federal court to determine how the state conducts mail-in voting has been effectively shut down by a US district court judge.

The American government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic is roughly split along partisan lines, with 57 percent of Republicans saying they consider the the U.S. death toll of 176,000 “acceptable,” according to a CBS News/YouGov poll.

Most antibody tests are useful only for large population surveys, diagnosis in certain children or when initial diagnostic testing fails, according to an expert panel.

The hugely popular short video app TikTok — recently the target of an executive order ban by Trump — says it will file a lawsuit against the president today.

U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said a newly created “Election Mail Committee” is expected to issue a report by Labor Day of USPS preparedness for the massive task of handling ballots cast by COVID-19 wary, stay-at-home voters.

The House approved legislation Saturday to allocate $25 billion to the U.S. Postal Service and ban operational changes that have slowed mail service around the country. The bill passed 257-150, largely along party lines, with Democrats supporting it.

The head of the union representing 4,000 New York State Police Troopers – a workforce overseen by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo — is backing Republican Trump’s re-election bid.

Covid-19 deaths worldwide passed 804,000 as cases rose to more than 23 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University and Bloomberg.

Expecting the virus to be under control by Labor Day, many employers had hoped to bring white-collar workers back to the office next month. But as cases rose in dozens of states throughout the summer, some employers have already scuttled plans to force office workers back so soon.

Following a growing season last year filled with battering rainfall and bitter trade wars, U.S. farmers hoped 2020 would provide them an opportunity to make up some ground. Instead, the situation has grown worse for many as prices remain depressed.

The rapid adoption of remote work and automation could accelerate inequalities in place for decades. Economists say the resulting “K” shaped recovery will be good for professionals, and bad for everyone else.

As gyms prepare to begin reopening today, the rate of New Yorkers testing positive for the coronavirus has remained less than 1 percent for 16 consecutive days, Cuomo said.

Also poised to reopen today: NYC museums, which are preparing to make do with fewer attendees in the short and potentially long term. They also are grappling with the loss of a significant chunk of income over the shutdown period.

Western New York’s Covid-19 daily infection rate climbed to nearly 2 percent on Saturday after hovering around 1 percent for most of the summer.

Cuomo said he would sign but temporarily tweak legislation that calls for notifying voters about any errors in their ballots.

Jim Malatras, president of SUNY Empire State College and longtime advisor to Cuomo, will take up the SUNY chancellorship Aug. 31. His appointment prompted the SUNY Faculty Senate to vote no confidence in the system’s board.

Merryl Tisch, the chairman of SUNY’s board, said Malatras is “someone who walks the halls of the academe with ease and knowledge” and said he is the first chancellor who is “a product of SUNY,” receiving his undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University at Albany.

Two days after being appointed chancellor, Malatras toured SUNY New Paltz yesterday, and announced the SUNY Prepare Innovation and Internship Program, designed to accelerate the production of PPE materials that are in great need during the coronavirus pandemic.

A couple postponed their upstate wedding with a guest list of 175 following an appeals court ruling Friday that would limit their nuptial celebration to just 50 people amid coronavirus pandemic rules.

A coronavirus outbreak tied to a Maine wedding has killed one person and infected dozens more, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said.

Following economic struggles during the COVID-19 crisis, New York State continues to report a poor unemployment recovery rate. According to a recent WalletHub study, the economy added only 1.8 million nonfarm payroll jobs in July, compared to 4.8 million in June of 2020.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has approved New York for a grant under the Lost Wages Assistance program, according to an announcement from the agency yesterday.

New York City faces a $9 billion deficit over the next two years, high levels of unemployment and the prospect of laying off 22,000 government workers if new revenue or savings aren’t found soon. The growing crisis has alarmed Cuomo so much that he recently asserted greater control over a panel overseeing the finances of the nation’s largest city.

New York City schools Chancellor Richard Carranza warned that the system might have to lay off 9,000 teachers and call off in-person instruction this year if the state forges ahead with threatened cuts to school aid and doesn’t let the city borrow more money.

A new state bill would block the de Blasio administration from selling overdue taxes owed by delinquent property owners for debt collection or foreclosure amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 300 anti-de Blasio protesters, more than attended many of the mayor’s presidential campaign events, gathered in front of City Hall Park on Saturday to demand he either fix things or step down.

Nearly 10,000 restaurants have set up outdoor seating in New York City. They are struggling to stay alive until indoor dining returns.

Smashed subway car windows have cost the MTA about $300,000 thus far, harkening back to a period of economic hardship in New York City and coming at a time when the transit agency is facing a staggering financial crisis.

The MTA is facing criticism for a plan to add hundreds of jobs — many of them at the Long Island Rail Road — while considering raising fares and laying off thousands of workers to fill a pandemic-related budget shortfall expected to reach more than $10 billion next year.

Students arriving at N.Y.U. and other campuses are flooding social media with complaints about meals they are given – or not given – as they isolate due to the pandemic.

The New York Police Department has begun ordering hundreds of civilian staffers to tow vehicles from crime scenes and accidents without first providing proper training and safety equipment, which a union says jeopardizes criminal investigations and puts its members at risk.

Five people were killed in New York City and 26 people were injured as the gun violence that has plagued the boroughs this summer continued over the weekend.

The line stretched a quarter-mile before the sun was barely up Saturday, snaking around corners like bread lines in the 1930s. But the hungry in Queens are today’s New Yorkers, left jobless by the coronavirus.

A looming lawsuit in California could shape the future of the e-hail companies Uber and Lyft in New York, transportation experts say.

State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli has made public a scathing audit of $2.2 billion in state spending on SUNY Polytechnic Institute that claims Cuomo’s economic development office did not properly oversee the school’s high-tech projects across the state.

The audit revealed that the Tesla project fell way short – way, way short, actually – of the state’s desired return on investment, and employment in the technology sector actually fell in Western New York between 2011 and 2017, despite the infusion of Buffalo Billion money.

The city of Danbury in Connecticut is facing a “serious outbreak” of the coronavirus, officials warned Friday as they urged residents to stay home.

Danbury Mayor Mark Boughton, who is feuding with “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver, said he is naming the town’s sewage plant after the comedian.

A serial demonstrator was busted yesterday for defacing the Black Lives Matter mural outside Trump Tower — for the third time, according to police.

A couple got married on the Black Lives Matter mural in Brooklyn.

Customers who ate ice cream at Jumpin’ Jack’s Drive-In in Scotia this past week are being asked to monitor for COVID-19 symptoms after a worker tested positive.

Rensselaer County announced yesterday it received no new positive tests for coronavirus – the first time that has happened in more than five weeks. The county said the last time there were no new cases to report was on July 13.

St. Peter’s Health Partners will lay off 76 employees this fall as part of a departmental restructuring that was planned prior to the coronavirus pandemic, the local health system said.

A Troy activist’s effort Friday morning to file a complaint about the removal of benches and chairs from Barker Park downtown ended with him facing charges and his arm in a sling for an injury he said he suffered when a police officer threw him down stairs in the station house.

Lake George is having a vacation boom as visitors take advantage of the outdoor activities that allow them to social distance.

Opposition to new cell towers over the years has left the East End of Long Island with large swaths of cellular dead zones that have worsened since people started flocking to the area from New York City in search of a safer haven from the coronavirus.

With new storms barreling toward the U.S. mainland, PSEG Long Island is hurrying fixes and considering new plans that could head off the overwhelmed communication and computer systems that dogged it during Isaias, including the “preliminary” idea of dissuading some customers from reporting outages.

Delivering a “much-needed moment of pure joy,” the National Zoo’s giant panda Mei Xiang gave birth to a wiggling cub Friday at a time of global pandemic and social unrest.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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