Monday, March 8, 2021

In Cuomo We Trust?

Andrew Cuomo

(Illustrated Getty Image/iStock)

“Do not be wise in words. Be wise in deeds.”
-Jewish Proverbs


Just a few months ago, Andrew Cuomo, the three-term Governor of New York, was a folk hero and considered a future Presidential contenderThe New York Times asked “Can Andrew Cuomo be one of New York’s greatest governors?”. He was being celebrated as the perfect foil to President Trump. The media portrayed him as a beacon of light. A politician who took charge and guided us through a deadly pandemic by following the science, and listening to the advice of his health experts, unlike our former President.

The Governor became the darling of talk show and late-night hosts. Ellen DeGeneres, Trevor Noah and Stephen Colbert professed their love for him as self-confessed “Cuomosexuals”, which according to the urban dictionary is “someone who possesses a powerful urge to engage in various sexual behaviors with a member of the Cuomo family.” 

Major Hollywood celebrities like Spike Lee, Robert DeNiro, Rosie Perez and Ben Stiller were rushing to praise the wonderful Mr. Cuomo in a video tribute at the Emmy Awards, where he received a statuette for his Covid press briefings. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences issued a statement saying it was breaking a long-standing tradition in order to award a sitting politician an Emmy because, unlike most politicians, Mr. Cuomo was real.

He became a regular on CNN. His brother, Chris Como, routinely brought him on his show to heap praise for his handling of the pandemic. There were numerous puff pieces in the mainstream media and the New York Times that declared him “the politician of the moment.” Democratic activists were even pushing for Mr. Cuomo to become Joe Biden’s vice-presidential pick until Mr. Biden made it clear that he was going to pick a woman.

Riding high on all this adoration, Mr. Cuomo decided in the middle of the worst global pandemic in one hundred years to write a book praising his own handling of it. In the book he writes “It seems that every day I tell people not to get cocky about this pandemic, and every day they get cockier”. If only he had followed his own advice.

I am a Democrat, and I was watching this with shock and dismay because it was all happening in spite of the fact that New York was one of the worst hit cities in the country. At the time when Mr. Cuomo published his book and was taking a victory lap, more than 30,000 New Yorkers had died from COVID-19 - far more than any other state in the country.


The truth is that Mr. Cuomo botched the initial response to the crisis, by downplaying the virus and dragging his feet on implementing lockdown measures. As late as 13th March 2020, after California had instituted a ‘shelter in place’ order, the Governor was resisting, saying that “New York City will not be quarantined: It cannot happen”. This after weeks of playing a game of chicken with our Mayor, with whom he has a long history of animosity.

Throughout the crisis Mr. Cuomo continued needling Mr. DeBlasio. He repeatedly contradicted the mayor on school closuresMTA service changes and bickered over measures needed to bring Covid hotspots under control. Rather than rise above this petty rivalry, as a real leader might, Mr. Cuomo seemed to take pleasure in overriding the Mayor’s decisions, never once attempting to coordinate his responses with the Mayor’s to prevent unnecessary confusion for business owners, school parents and New Yorkers caught between the two men’s fragile egos.

In March last year, when it was clear that this virus spread like wildfire, and was more deadly for old and sick people, Governor Cuomo made the inexplicable decision of ordering nursing homes to accept hospital patients recovering from COVID-19, even if they were testing positive. At the same time, in true Trumpian style, he slipped in a little noticed provision into his annual budget that shielded corporate officials who run hospitals, nursing homes and other healthcare facilities from liability for Covid-related deaths and injuries.

Mr. Cuomo tried defending his inane directive, saying it was issued in ‘anticipation’ of a hospital bed shortage, which never transpired. But after widespread criticism he rescinded the order and then claimed “It never happened” – that sick patients were never sent to nursing homes.

In late May, an Associated Press investigation found that at least 4,500 recovering Covid patients were sent to vulnerable nursing homes, based on the Governor’s directive. In June, a medical professional organization claimed that the Cuomo administration was underreporting nursing home deaths, and the number of deaths was likely much higher than they were admitting.

In response to these allegations, Mr. Cuomo ordered his own Department of Health to conduct an investigation. On July 6, the New York State DOH issued a report absolving his administration of wrongdoing. The report concluded that the virus was introduced by nursing home staff, and not by sick patients returning from hospitals. A second AP investigation found that over 9,000 recovering patients had been sent back to nursing homes and long-term care facilities, concluding that this had “unquestionably” worsened the pandemic as it ripped through our elderly population.

In August, Empire Center, a government watchdog group, filed a Freedom of Information Law request for the full death tally in nursing homes. At the same time the Department of Justice launched an investigation to determine whether the state intentionally withheld data regarding deaths in nursing homes.

NY State’s legislature asked the State Health Commissioner, Howard Zucker, for a full accounting of deaths in nursing homes and pressed him on whether there had been an undercounting, he responded saying that there had been “unprecedented transparency” in the public information provided on the number of deaths.

Clearly, Mr. Cuomo believed he would escape scrutiny because it was President Trump’s justice department investigating him, and only right-leaning media seemed interested in pursuing the story. After all, the governor was still the darling of mainstream media, who remained obsessed with President Trump, and felt no need to devote time or resources to investigate the many troubling allegations against the Cuomo administration.

Then in August, as if to add insult to injury to all the New Yorkers who died, Mr. Cuomo announced he was writing a book, chronicling his experiences during the crisis and offering leadership advice. Never mind that we were still in the middle of the crisis and his administration was willfully ignoring the NY State Legislature’s request for an accounting of nursing home deaths.

The full truth only came to light after the NY State Attorney General launched an investigation at the end of January, in no small part thanks to continued pressure from Republican lawmakers and right-leaning media. The attorney general’s report said that Cuomo’s administration undercounted COVID-19 deaths in nursing homes, by as much as 50 percent. This means that the real number of nursing home deaths now accounts for about a third of New York State’s total deaths.

The damning report was followed by bombshell disclosure in the New York Post. They published details of a virtual private meeting between Melissa DeRosa, a top Cuomo aide, and several Democratic lawmakers. During the meeting she admitted to hiding nursing home data so the Feds would not find out. On the heels of this revelation we found out that in July last year, top advisors of Mr. Cuomo successfully pressured state health officials to rewrite a report that disclosed substantially higher nursing-home deaths than had been publicly acknowledged. This intervention from his aides occurred at the time that Mr. Cuomo was preparing to write his book.

Much like Mr. Trump, Mr. Cuomo has also repeatedly ignored the advice of health experts. Over the last six months as many as nine top officials have resigned after being sidelined and treated disrespectfully by the Governor. The Governor repeatedly flouted their advice and made changes to pandemic health policy on the fly, often announcing them at his Emmy award winning press conferences. The final straw came when state health officials were blindsided by the Governor’s announcement that the vaccine rollout plan would be coordinated by local private hospitals.

Mr. Cuomo had shelved the vaccine rollout plan designed by the public health experts. It was a plan built based on years of preparation at the local level to counter bioterrorism fears after Sept. 11, and from experience vaccinating people during the H1N1 pandemic. Mr. Cuomo made his own plan after consulting with hospital executives, external consultants and a top hospital lobbyist. In the end, he chose the Greater NY Hospital Association, a group with a multimillion-dollar lobbying arm and a major donor to his campaign, over the city’s own health department.

This explains why New York State’s early vaccination rollout was massively botched and has been plagued by chronic delays, cancelled appointments and vaccine vials being thrown away due to an inability to match patients precisely with the state’s strict guidelines. When asked recently at a press briefing about the mass resignations in the senior ranks of the health department, Mr. Cuomo replied “When I say ‘experts’ in air quotes, it sounds like I’m saying I don’t really trust the experts,” Because I don’t. Because I don’t”.

Now we have a whole new set of revelations showing that the Governor is not only an incompetent megalomaniac, drunk on power, but also a sexual harasser.

This is the same Democrat who a few years ago conveniently aligned himself with the #MeToo movement and launched a “Women's Justice Agenda”. In 2019, when he signed into law legislation to protect against workplace harassmenthe said at the time he was doing it to “honour the women who have had the courage to come forward and tell their story…”

Turns out that he is just another hypocrite. We are learning that Mr. Cuomo’s bad behavior led to a ‘hostile, toxic’ workplace culture, based on multiple accusations from former female staffers and aides. Many of the women were forced to abandon their careers because they no longer felt safe or comfortable being around the Governor.

Seems it was an open secret in Albany and within the media that Mr. Cuomo routinely delighted in humiliating employees, bullying and threatening people who challenged him, telling them they will be “subject to negative news stories or political challenges or, in one case, would be publicly likened to a “child rapist.” We saw the very same behaviour when he threatened to destroy the career of NY Assemblyman Ron Kim who had refused to cover for him in the nursing home scandal.

Now as the list of accusers grows, rather than resign, as any respectable person would do, he is doubling down and said this past Sunday, “I’m not going to resign because of allegations.” “There is no way I resign”. Instead, he is employing the Clinton defense and casting doubts on the accounts of the women and possibly attempting to destroy their reputation. He is also suggesting that he be entitled to due process. Mr. Cuomo believes that the public should wait for a full and thorough investigation into the allegations before any action should be taken.

This might be reasonable if Mr. Cuomo had applied the same standards for everyone accused of similar wrongdoing. In 2018, The New Yorker published an article detailing the accounts four women, accusing then Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, of abusive behaviour in their private relationships. Mr. Cuomo was among the first people to call on Mr. Schneiderman to resign, saying that he should do it “for the good of the office”.

In the same year, when Brett Kavanaugh was accused by Dr. Blasey Ford and two other women, Cuomo along with every Democrat chastised Republicans who cast doubt on the three women’s accounts, or argued that the women were exaggerating or misremembering things. At the time Mr. Cuomo tweeted that Mr. Kavanaugh should take a polygraph test. I wonder if Mr. Cuomo is willing to take one now?

Most disheartening to me, aside from the media’s reluctance to investigate the numerous red flags over the last year, is the clear hypocrisy that has been exposed with the Democrats, when it comes to one of their own being accused of wrongdoing.

If Democrats were to hold Mr. Cuomo to the same standards that they applied to President Trump for his abuses of power or to Brett Kavanaugh for the harassment accusations against him, then every Democrat in the land, starting with President Biden on down, should have been calling for Governor Cuomo to resign based on all the revelations thus far.

The silence of the party that claims to hold the moral high-ground is deafening.

 

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Republican’s Failure to Convict President Trump will Haunt the Party

“Courage is the most important of all the virtues because without courage, you can't practice any other virtue consistently.”
-Maya Angelou


The Republican Party had a choice to make and I hoped the party that abolished slavery and enabled the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, overriding a Democrat filibuster, would again rise to the occasion and do the right thing for their country.

Even though I support the Democratic party, I am one of their harshest critics. In fact, I have been critical of the way the Democrats behaved during the most of Trump years and said on numerous occasions that their constant hysteria and crying wolf were detrimental to winning over a majority of voters.

It was wrong for Democrats to publicly call for the President's head, days after he won the 2016 election. Democrats were misguided in the amount of time and taxpayer money they wasted on investigating every aspect of the President’s public and private life in a bid to remove him from office through any means possible.

Also, I did not agree with the Democrat’s first impeachment of President Trump, for his call with the Ukrainian President. On the call Mr. Trump clumsily tried to pressure President Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden’s son. What Mr. Trump did was wrong and reprehensible, but did not rise to the level of impeachment. President Zelensky himself stated that he never felt pressure from Mr. Trump, or his administration, to investigate Hunter Biden. Further, the absence of any evidence pointing to a broader conspiracy or direct orders from the President to members of his administration, is the reason Democrats failed to convince a majority of voters. 

Impeachment should not be used frivolously or as a tool for political vengeance. In this instance a whistleblower had come forward to alert Congress of the President’s inappropriate behaviour. So, one can argue that the checks and balances worked, making a partisan impeachment, unnecessary. It is also fair to ask that if the media and elected leaders had not been so fully consumed and distracted by the impeachment trial last January, would we have paid more attention to the coronavirus pandemic that was just starting?

In Trump’s defense, conservatives argue that the mainstream media has shown an open bias and complete lack of objectivity when covering Mr. Trump and his administration. A Harvard study concluded that the media set “a new standard for unfavorable press coverage of a president.”

Another double standard that is cited by conservatives is the fact that the media does not devote the same time and attention calling out Democrats like Rep. Maxine Waters, who urged people to seek out and harass Trump staffers. Or liberal protestors who menacingly confronted Republican lawmakers that voted to confirm Justice Kavanaugh. They also point out that there was no outcry when Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer publicly threatened Justices Gorsuch and Kavanagh over their views on abortion. Republican Senator Ben Sasse summed up this double standard saying; “Think about it: "If a Republican threatened Justice Sotomayor or Justice Ginsburg, it would be the biggest story not just in Washington but all across America.” 

To be clear, I am not defending Mr. Trump and have always said that he is a reprehensible conman and unprincipled charlatan. The point is that finding a president distasteful and his views vile does not mean we get to hold him to a different standard. We must never have a set of standards for people we like, and a different one for those we disdain. The health of our democracy relies on a doctrine of fairness and equal treatment for all.

Just as I will call out the mainstream media for their lack of fairness and Democrats for bad behavior, I refuse to absolve Mr. Trump’s reckless abdication of duty, leading up to and after the election. The facts in this case are strong.

For months Mr. Trump made it clear that he would refuse to accept the election results if he lost. As early as June last year he claimed that the election was going to be rigged and he tweeted: “RIGGED 2020 ELECTION: MILLIONS OF MAIL-IN BALLOTS WILL BE PRINTED BY FOREIGN COUNTRIES, AND OTHERS. IT WILL BE THE SCANDAL OF OUR TIMES!” and proceeded to use the word “rigged” more than 75 times in tweets between May and October. Based on this evidence alone it is hard to refute that the president was clearly laying the groundwork for his lies in the event that he lost the election.

After it became clear that he had lost, the President was within his rights to legally challenge the election results. In 2000, Mr. Gore refused to concede to Mr. Bush until December 13, after there had been a full recounting of votes in Florida and after weeks of legal battles.

Trump’s lawyers filed a record 62 lawsuits contesting the results, of which 61 were dismissed. Their lawsuits were thrown out for lack of evidence because Trump’s team based their allegations on a single person's account and offered no corroborating evidence. In other instances suits were dismissed for ‘lack of standing’. These dismissals were universal and came from 86 different judges, both Democratic and Republican-appointed, and included scathing rebukes from at least nine federal judges appointed by Trump.

Whether you agree with Mr. Trump’s legal challenges or think them frivolous, we cannot deny the president due process. However, what the former president does not have the right to do, and it amounts to abuse of office and dereliction of duty, is to perpetuate lies about the election being stolen and claiming widespread voter fraud, without offering a shred of evidence.

Trump and his legal team also spent weeks making false statements and spreading conspiracy theories on various media channels and in press briefings. The president’s statements were clearly designed to inflame passions. He repeatedly called on supporters to fight and refuse to give up. Not only did he urge them to “fight” but even told them when and where to show up, tweeting on December 19: “Big protest in D.C. on January 6th,” “Be there, will be wild!

The president cannot feign ignorance about the consequences of his rhetoric prior to the Capital riots. Leading up to January 6, there had been instances of armed protestors surrounding the homes of elected officials. Georgia’s Secretary of State, a Republican, received death threats, with people texting him saying that he deserved to face a firing squad. Numerous Republican officials also warned Mr. Trump that his rhetoric was dangerous and would lead to real violence, but he chose to ignore them and continued to fan the flames.

Not only did president Trump refuse to tone down his rhetoric but he proceeded to violate federal and state election laws by attempting to pressure Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Secretary of State, begging him to overturn the election results by finding him 11,870 votes.

Democratic impeachment managers did a good job making their case but one thing I didn’t agree with is that the evidence showed that president Trump directly incited a ransacking of the Capitol. He did however, direct an angry mob to march towards the Capitol building and encouraged them to put pressure on the Senate and the Vice President to overturn the election results.

Trump’s subsequent silence and refusal to take action after the assault was underway, and it was clear that lives were in danger, showed that he was willing to let the violence continue in a bid to up the ante. We know that desperate calls from lawmakers in his own party, urging the president to call off his supporters, fell on deaf ears. At one point, Mr. Trump told House minority leader Kevin McCarthy that rioters seemed more upset about the election than he was. Hours later, when he reluctantly issued a public statement, after being forced by advisors and family members, he still ended the day with a tweet praising the rioters and sending them love.

Some years ago, I explained why the party of Lincoln had come to reside in Donald Trump’s trousers. When the party started to welcome conspiracy theorists and extremists into their ranks, with the naïve belief they could control these forces, they began a process that lead to a hostile takeover by Mr. Trump and now by acquitting him they have sealed the fate of the Grand Old Party.

However, we must not forget the ten Republican congresswomen and men who voted to impeach despite grave personal and political risk. They have been censured by their party and are getting death threats. Seven Republican Senators also followed their conscience and put country before party. No Democrats have ever voted to convict a president from their own party.

So, while this may feel like a victory for president Trump it is not, because seventeen brave women and men made it clear that Mr. Trump no longer has an absolute hold on their party.