Rise and Shine: Aug. 4, 2020

Welcome to Tuesday, CivMixers. We are smack dab in the middle of the dog days of summer, which, technically speaking, last from July 22 to Aug. 22, though there’s some debate over that.

Traditionally, these are the hottest and sultriest days of the season. The saying, however, has nothing to do with dogs panting in the heat. Sad. I was kind of fond that that image.

Instead, “dog days” refers to the dog star, Sirius, and its position in the night sky.

To the Greeks and Romans, these days occurred around the time when Sirius appeared to rise just before the sun, which occurs in late July. Not only was this the hottest time of the year, but it was also believed to be a period that could bring fever, madness among both dogs AND people, or even catastrophe.

Catastrophe – which has the word “cat” in it, BTW, and so there you go, dog lovers – we’ve got that one covered these days.

Here’s something worrisome:

Sirius was described as a “bringer of drought and plague to frail mortals, rises and saddens the sky with sinister light” by the Roman poet Virgil.

A 2009 Finnish study tested the traditional claim that the rate of infections is higher during the dog days. The authors wrote: “This study was conducted in order to challenge the myth that the rate of infections is higher during the dog days. To our surprise, the myth was found to be true.”

On a more upbeat note: Today is National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. And, in case you were wondering, the chocolate chip cookie is the No. 1 cookie of choice among the majority of Americans, and it far and away beats the No. 2 most favorite cookie, which is peanut butter.

I ask you: Why choose? Peanut butter chocolate chip cookies for the win. YES! Someone start that hashtag trending.

Also, the chocolate chip cookie is the official cookie of Massachusetts, and has been since 1997. New York doesn’t have an official state cookie, though we have an official state muffin (apple), and an official state snack (yogurt). I remember the Senate floor debate over whether yogurt as a state snack should be approved, and it was wonderful – particularly when Sen. Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, mused over whether it was fair to lactose intolerant New Yorkers to make a milk-based product an official state food.

Ah, I miss those simpler times.

Oh, BTW, if you happen to run into the 44th president of the U.S. today – Barack Obama – be sure to wish him a happy 59th birthday. Also born today (in 1981): Meghan Markle, who is turning 39. And, it’s National Coast Guard Day. Since 1790, the U.S. Coast Guard has kept the nation’s waterways safe, playing a critical role in national security.

If you’re heading outside today, be sure to bring your umbrella, as tropical storm conditions are possible, compliments of Isaias. That means, rain and thunder and wind. We’re also looking at a significant drop in temperature, with the forecast predicting we’ll barely get out of the 70s.

Isaias is gaining speed and strength as it heads up the East Coast toward New York City. New Yorkers should prepare for up to 6 inches of rain and wind gusts as high as 70 mph between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. Tuesday. Average rainfall will be 2 to 4 inches with sustained winds of 35 to 50 mph, officials said.

In the headlines…

President Donald Trump claimed to have the authority to issue an executive order addressing the expected influx of mail-in voting in the November election and said he hadn’t ruled out doing so, in spite of the Constitution’s expressly giving states the right to run their elections.

A federal judge ordered election officials to count thousands of mail-in ballots throughout New York State that were declared invalid for not having a post-mark or arriving at offices shortly after the June 23 primary.

Trump called for a re-do in the tightly-contested Democratic primary for New York’s 12th congressional district, a razor-thin race beset by issues with thousands of mail-in ballots — hours before incumbent Rep. Carolyn Maloney was set to be named the victor.

Trump said that Maloney’s race was “a mess” and “a total disaster,” and suggested that it should be “rerun.”

Backing away from a threat he made just days earlier, Trump said he will wait until next month to take action on TikTok, giving time for Microsoft or some other company to purchase the video sharing app.

Trump said that it could be easier if Microsoft were to buy Chinese-owned TikTok in its entirety, rather than a small part of the social video app, because the name would be split across two companies, and suggested the company should pay the U.S. Treasury as part of the deal.

The Fed has long resisted becoming the world’s backup lender. But it shed reservations after the pandemic went global. During two critical mid-March weeks, it bought a record $450 billion in Treasurys from investors desperate to raise dollars.

Trump for the first time publicly criticized White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx after she broke from his line of positive messaging and delivered dire warnings about the coronavirus pandemic.

Trump derided Birx as “pathetic” in a tweet, frustrated that she hadn’t expressed more optimism while delivering a grim warning about “extraordinary widespread” contagion over the weekend.

Dr. Anthony Fauci came to the defense of Birx after Trump slammed her for acknowledging that the coronavirus is getting worse in the U.S.

Russia plans to launch a nationwide vaccination campaign in October with a coronavirus vaccine that has yet to complete clinical trials, raising international concern about the methods the country is using to compete in the global race to inoculate the public.

On the first day of the first full week when tens of millions of Americans went without the federal jobless aid that has cushioned them during the pandemic, Trump was not cajoling undecided lawmakers to embrace a critical stimulus bill. Instead, he hurled insults at the Democratic leaders whose support he needs to strike a deal.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo lambasted Trump, calling the president’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic “the worst government blunder in modern history,” and comparing the situation to the Vietnam War — the last time Americans turned on their televisions and saw a daily death count.

Vice President Mike Pence fired back at Cuomo after the Democrat claimed the federal response to the coronavirus pandemic needed a “reset” from the “top.”

Addressing the governor’s criticism of the administration, Pence said “unfortunately” 1 in 5 Americans lost to the pandemic have died in the state of New York for which he said Cuomo is “partially responsible.”

New York has hit record lows for coronavirus-related hospitalizations, Cuomo said. The state saw 536 people hospitalized with the bug on Sunday — a new low since Mar. 17 when the pandemic was still growing.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office suggested that it had been investigating Trump and his company for possible bank and insurance fraud, a significantly broader inquiry than the prosecutors have acknowledged in the past.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. is seeking eight years of the Republican president’s personal and corporate tax records, but has disclosed little about what prompted him to request the records, other than part of the investigation related to payoffs to two women to keep them quiet about alleged affairs with Trump.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has again become a victim of a doctored video that has gone viral, according to fact-checkers who said it was made to look like she was intoxicated.

A Trump administration official who once called the U.S. a “homo-empire” erupted in an anti-gay tweet spree yesterday, resulting in her termination.

Donald Trump Jr.’s girlfriend, Kimberly Guilfoyle, who tested positive for COVID-19 in July, is hosting events in the Hamptons over the weekend, including a $580,600-per-couple fund-raiser on Saturday that will be attended by Trump.

Cuomo still refuses to support taxes on the ultra-wealthy, because rich people already have one foot out of New York City, and he fears they’ll leave for good if their taxes go up.

Democratic and Republican state lawmakers grilled New York’s top health official, DOH Commissioner Howard Zucker, about the steep – though ultimately unknown – death toll at the state’s nursing homes amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At a joint hearing held virtually with Senate and Assembly committees, legislators from both parties also accused the Cuomo administration of failing to fully quantify the deaths in nursing homes. The administration has estimated more than 6,400 nursing home residents are among more than 25,000 New Yorkers who died of the virus.’

It perplexes me that an administration that prides itself on data driven policies” does not have this information, state Sen. James Skoufis said.

Zucker said he will not release the number of New Yorkers who became infected with COVID-19 in a nursing home and later died at a hospital until he can be sure the figures are accurate.

“I will not provide information that is not absolutely accurate. I will get you that number,” Zucker said at different points during the hearing, referring to deaths of nursing home residents in hospitals.

Warren County announced that it had its first resident death from COVID-19 since May 30. The person, who died Saturday, was a resident of an assisted living facility before being hospitalized.

Eli Lilly has started a study exploring whether its experimental Covid-19 drug can prevent infections among vulnerable residents and staff at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

As the United States and other countries anxiously consider how to reopen schools, Israel, one of the first countries to do so, illustrates the dangers of moving too precipitously.

Days after New York City and other school districts had to submit their plans for reopening, Cuomo promptly cast doubt on them.

Cuomo stressed that New York parents need to feel “comfortable” with schools’ reopening plans as he deemed them the “ultimate decision makers” on the matter.

Cuomo chided some districts for submitting reopening plans that are “indecipherable” and said parents — not city or state leaders — will ultimately decide whether schools are safe enough for their children. He urged school leaders to begin holding online community forums with parents to answer questions.

Families at some of New York City’s most prestigious public high schools want their schools to open with a fully remote approach this fall, without in-person classes.

Teachers brought along visual aids, including handmade coffins and a guillotine, while protesting Mayor Bill de Blasio’s schools reopening plan in Lower Manhattan yesterday afternoon.

Another teachers union group has come out swinging against a return to classrooms in September — and is calling for the resignation of Chancellor Richard Carranza.

De Blasio dug and defended his school reopening plan after critics — including Cuomo — blasted it as little more than an outline that left gaping questions about the new academic year unanswered.

Schools in New York submitted their reopening plans to the state on July 31, but none of the plans can be implemented until several financial and regulatory roadblocks are cleared.

The RPI athletic department unveiled its COVID-19 Return to Athletics Plan on the school’s website. The college has canceled games for its Division III teams through Dec. 31, but is still allowing athletes to gather in smaller groups for practice and workouts.

Cuomo signed a bill into law, sparked by a Newsday investigation, targeting real estate discrimination by allowing the state to suspend or revoke agents’ licenses.

The governor also signed a bill banning the importation of hazardous fracking waste into New York.

…Additionally, the state set some of the nation’s most stringent limits on a pair of common chemicals allowed in public drinking water supplies.

In a long-fought victory for sex abuse survivors and victims advocates, Cuomo signed a bill granting a one-year extension to the Child Victims Act’s “look-back window” allowing survivors of all ages to file previously time-barred claims against their alleged abusers.

As the Black Lives Matter movement picks up momentum, racial justice advocates say more must be done to address the mass incarceration of people of color in New York. Advocates and lawmakers say the criminal justice reforms passed in June were a great start, but some items were left unaddressed.

A bill introduced in February to widely permit liquor-infused ice cream was passed by the state Legislature but was not signed into law by Cuomo until yesterday.

New York City has doled out more than $48 million in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses hit by the coronavirus pandemic as well as looting that occurred after protests in June.

One East Village bar owner is so fed up with Cuomo’s recent ruling that bars have to serve a substantial amount of food with alcohol that she launched a petition last week to demand that the governor reverse the order. As of yesterday afternoon, the petition had received over 2,100 signatures.

New York City’s Open Restaurants initiative helped save more than 9,000 restaurants and 80,000 jobs, de Blasio said as he announced the outdoor dining program will return next year — even if the coronavirus pandemic is over by then.

Facebook agreed to lease all the office space in the mammoth 107-year-old James A. Farley Building in Midtown Manhattan, cementing New York City as a growing global technology hub and reaffirming a major corporation’s commitment to an office-centric urban culture despite the pandemic.

More than 2,800 businesses in New York City have permanently closed since March 1, according to data from Yelp, the business listing and review site, a higher number than in any other large American city. About half the closings have been in Manhattan.

Attorneys general from New York and California are partnering with the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Amazon.com Inc.’s online marketplace, according to people familiar with the matter, ratcheting up scrutiny of the world’s largest e-commerce company.

The New Elbo Room, a bar at 170 Delaware Ave., had its license to sell alcohol suspended over the weekend by the State Liquor Authority for numerous violations of emergency regulations put in place to combat the spread of the coronavirus at dining spots and watering holes, according to the state.

A meeting of governors from around the country that had been scheduled to take place in Maine has been moved online to reduce the risk of spreading the coronavirus.Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, is expected to transfer chairmanship of the association over to Cuomo.

The state Division of Consumer Protection says there has been a rise in consumer complaints over online shopping during the coronavirus pandemic.

After a three year halt due to financial problems, work resumed yesterday on a Greek Orthodox church being built to replace one destroyed in the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Diana Florence, a former top Manhattan prosecutor who resigned amid allegations she played hide-and-seek with key evidence in a major bribery case, announced that she’s joining the crowded race for Manhattan District Attorney.

This July saw nearly three times the number of shootings it did last year, new NYPD stats show. There were 244 shooting incidents for the month, compared to just 88 in July 2019 — an increase of 177 percent, data shows.

NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea’s highly public and pointed criticism of de Blasio – and the fact that he still has his job — speak to the fraught relationship that the mayor has maintained with the Police Department throughout his tenure.

Albany County Executive Dan McCoy told reporters he has antibodies from a bout of COVID-19 that he believes he contracted around the beginning of the year.

Columbia County is tracking 15 new cases of the coronavirus that have been traced back to golf outings in the county.

Nassau’s Republican legislative majority subpoenaed County Executive Laura Curran’s administration for financial documents GOP lawmakers say they need to analyze Curran’s plans to shrink Nassau’s ballooning deficit.

State police said at around 7 a.m. yesterday they found the body of a man believed to be the person who went missing while swimming in the Hudson River in Schaghticoke.

A federal judge in New Jersey is calling for tighter privacy protections for judges after her son was shot and killed by a gunman who tracked her family and compiled a dossier of personal information about them.

“Two weeks ago, my life as I knew it changed in an instant, and my family will never be the same,” Judge Esther Salas said in her video statement. “A madman, who I believe was targeting me because of my position as a federal judge, came to my house.”

Rep. Anthony Brindisi. D-Utica, says a survey on broadband access that garnered answers from across New York’s 22nd Congressional District shows the district has the slowest internet speeds in the state.

Photo credit: George Fazio.

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