Category Archives: Elections

New C4SS Article on Dialectics

Today, Center for a Stateless Society published my newest essay: “It Really Does Depend on the Context: Ben Burgis and the Analytical Marxist Critique of Dialectics.” As I write:

The title of this essay recalls the Congressional hearing that took place on December 5, 2023, in which Claudine Gay, the president of Harvard University, seemed to dodge difficult questions by uttering the phrase “it depends on the context.” The phrase immediately became meme-able, even the butt of an opening “Saturday Night Live” skit. New York Times journalist A. O. Scott (2024) wrote that more than any other word, be it “plagiarism” or “genocide,” “Gay’s fate was sealed by a single word. … The word was ‘context’.” Scott’s larger point, of course, was that throughout the heated controversy, there was, in fact, a “rigorous avoidance of context” — the context of election-year politics, unending global conflicts, the crises in higher education, and so forth.

My purpose in this essay is not to relitigate that Congressional hearing. Rather, it is to focus on the method for which keeping context is primary. That method — dialectics — addresses societal problems by exploring their many overlapping and shifting contexts in a dynamic world.

Check out the “full context” here!

For discussion, see here, here, and here.

DWR (12): The NYC “Warzone”

As we move closer to the 2024 election, it is only natural that we are entering the Period of Hyperbole. That’s a polite way of saying the Period of Hypocrisy, Twisted Logic, and Outright Lies.

The Right-Wing Attack on New York

I’m one of those born and bred New Yorkers who finds it maddening to read the litany of familiar right-wing attacks on my hometown, which typically intensify during election cycles. It’s so predictable that I can practically check off all the right-wing talking points in my sleep. Anytime I hear the phrase “New York values”, for example, I know that it’s a code word. No, not for “rude”, “brash”, or “loud”. It’s hurled as an epithet and it’s meant to disparage New Yorker’s tolerance — nay, embrace — of difference. Most Gotham dwellers have a cosmopolitan ‘live and let live’ perspective on the world and for this, they are routinely excoriated.

But since the pandemic and the protests and riots that followed in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, right-wingers have been harping on New York’s ‘lawlessness’. Just turn on Fox News and you’ll hear that crime in NYC is “worse than the 90s”! This meme — an exercise in gallows humor that has been circulating on social media platforms — is not too far from the vision that Fox News presents to the world … even more hilarious because Fox is based in New York City!

The clear pattern is: Don’t just denigrate New York City. Make sure you blame the Democrats for the city’s collapse into “a hellscape of unchecked violence and chaos”. Donald Trump rails against the city of his birth as “one of the most dangerous and violent cities in the United States … where killings are taking place at a number like nobody’s ever seen.” Missouri Republican Josh Hawley asserts that “you can’t go out on the streets without being shot.” And GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley tweets: “Gov. Kathy Hochul has sat on the sidelines while liberal district attorneys like Alvin Bragg turn New York City into a war zone where innocent people are scared to take the subway and criminals get a free pass. Governors are supposed to protect their people. She can send a message to criminals by announcing her intent to pardon Daniel Penny. She can remove Alvin Bragg for endangering Manhattan residents. One thing is clear: doing nothing only continues the crime wave in New York.”

Alas, as James Peron points out: “These false perceptions about ‘out-of-control’ crime are used by Republicans routinely to terrify voters. Like politicians in general they are prone to use fear to rally the terrified.” Yes, all politicians, left and right, use fear as part of their arsenal of Machiavellian manipulation. And in this case, it’s the right wingers who need a history lesson. Any simple fact check would prove how debased their hyperbolic claims are.

History Lessons

Nothing compares to the crime rates of the late 1980s and early 1990s. There were over 2000+ murders per year between 1987 and 1994, reaching a peak of 2,262 murders in 1990. Despite an uptick in crime in the year after the pandemic, 2022 murders numbered 438. That’s about as far from Fox’s Grimm Fairytales as one can get. NYC remains the most densely populated city in the United States; with an estimated population of around 8 million, it is home to more people than the populations of 38 individual states. And if one counts the NYC metropolitan area, we’re talking nearly 19 million people — certainly the most populated metro area in the country and still among the most populated metro areas in the world. But “the NYPD’s historical CompStat figures show that the Five Boroughs [of NYC] are still far safer now than they were back in 2000.” Murders are down, shootings are down. And even though there has been an increase in robberies, burglaries, and grand larcenies, they don’t even remotely compare to the city’s historic heights in 1990.

How about a little dialectical context-keeping? Here’s the historical data:

Overall, crime in 2022 was 76% lower (and lower in every major category) than it was in the peak year of 1990. And, except for a few outliers, it is lower than it was in 1990, 1993, 1998, and 2001.

The city’s declining crime rates were part of a national trend. As Radley Balko explains, even though U.S. murder rates increased in 2020–2021, “they were still well below the rates of the early 1990s.” NPR reports that, currently, New York is experiencing “a downward trend … According to NYPD, in March 2023, New York City saw a 26.1% drop in shooting incidents compared to this time last year. And homicides fell by 11.4%.”

Why Target NYC?

So, the question remains: Why do right-wing politicians target NYC?

As my dear friend Ryan Neugebauer points out with characteristic bluntness:

There are so many cities to choose from in this country. And actually, for the largest city in the country, [New York City’s] crime is massively low, even compared to many U.S. cities pre-pandemic. Little Rock, Arkansas has been shit for a while, way worse than NYC. But no, we won’t talk about that. Houston, my neck of the woods (4th largest city), is also worse than NYC, and has been for a long time. No focus on that. You have to ask WHY a location is being uniquely focused on.

The right-wing focuses on its rise since the pandemic, while neglecting its performance in comparison to so many other cities in the country also dealing with a rise since the pandemic.

The whole issue speaks to right-wing disingenuousness and hypocrisy, as Ryan observes. Indeed, in claiming that the city’s crime rate is uniquely bad today, Nikki Haley, in her tweet above, focuses specifically on Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg — who, it just so happens, recently announced an indictment of her former boss, Donald Trump. It’s convenient to focus on the Demonic Democrats, whom Republicans blame for turning NYC into a “warzone” — and yet, they never look at the “warzone” in their own backyards. For example, if we compare Columbia, a city in Haley’s state (which isn’t even the most violent city in South Carolina) to the five boroughs that constitute New York City, here’s what we find:

As Ryan observes: “It’s potent to deconstruct a false narrative with facts, but it’s even more potent to show how that false narrative ignores facts about areas that go counter to your simplistic (in the right-wing case, ‘Democrat-run cities are bad’) narrative.” Current statistics show that red states have higher murder rates than blue states. Eight of the Top Ten “Murder” states are led by Republicans — Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Missouri, Arkansas, South Carolina, Georgia, and Tennessee. But these states also have higher poverty rates and greater economic decay, factors that have more nuanced relationships with crime than, say, the party affiliations of city and state politicians. And I’d say the same thing about New York City, which has seen dramatic declines in its crime rates under Republican, Independent, and Democratic mayoralties.

Still, Ryan adds:

If you are going to make the point that NYC is a warzone, you have to delineate what criteria counts for being a warzone. And comparison is not an unfair thing to use in that discussion. If South Carolina has worse stats in some of its cities, it’s fair to ask “what makes these places NOT warzones?” Why do they have worse statistics and aren’t the focus? What’s so unique about NYC that it has your attention?

I think most New Yorkers know the answer to that question. Save for the singular event of 9/11, New York City has always been the focal point of right-wing hostility. “Anti-New York sentiment is a longtime conservative shibboleth,” explains David Birdsell, Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs at Kean University. “It’s very popular and easy to demonize New York as fundamentally alien.”

This view of the “alien” nature of New York has been bolstered more so ever since its designation as a “Sanctuary City” in a 1989 executive order, signed by Democratic Mayor Ed Koch. But that policy protecting undocumented immigrants from deportation and prosecution has been upheld by Republicans and Democrats alike. In 1994, upon becoming Mayor, even Republican Rudy Giuliani embraced the policy (as did his successor, Mike Bloomberg). This town has always been a city of sanctuary, a city of immigrants. It is estimated that about 40% of the U.S. population can trace its lineage to Ellis Island, “the gateway to America”. Till this day, NYC is consistently ranked as the most cosmopolitan city in the world. And that makes it a target especially for those who want to close the borders to those troublesome “invaders”—or who seek to overwhelm the city’s sanctuary status by using migrants as political pawns.

The Historic Drop in NYC Crime

Let’s give some credit where credit is due. Crime rates began their decline under Democratic Mayor David Dinkins, but it was during the moderate Republican administration of Rudy Giuliani that New York’s crime rates began to decline precipitously. There has been a huge debate over the causal factors behind this decline. Some argue that this was a national trend and not exclusive to New York City. Others argue that while violent crime declined 28% nationally in the 1990s, New York City’s violent crime declined 56% in that same period, thereby driving those nationwide trends. Some cite better economic conditions as key, while others cite a combination of community policing and “Broken Windows” policies and an increase in the prison population. A Brennan Center Study argues persuasively, however, that mass incarceration had zero effect on crime rates, but that CompStat was responsible for a 5 to 15 percent decrease in crime in those cities that adopted it. CompStat, used to track crime trends, was the brainchild of NYPD deputy police commissioner Jack Maple. In New York City, this innovative tool guided more police and other resources to high-crime areas that most needed them.

Ironically, it was during this period — far closer to the “warzone” metaphor than anything one might find today — that Donald Trump forged his New York real estate deals. One would think that at a time when crime had hit historic heights in this city, a savvy businessman would be less inclined to do business here. But that wasn’t the case. Despite his notorious feuds with Mayor Koch, Trump used his family’s political clout with former Democratic Mayor Abe Beame to bolster his real estate ventures. At the time, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York was Rudy Giuliani, who implicated Trump at the center of a “cesspool of corruption” entailing “the buying and selling of public office” and extravagant real estate deals that clobbered New York taxpayers. Trump had cashed-in on his crony capitalist connections big time. He renovated, built and/or acquired such properties as the Grand Hyatt Hotel (1980), Trump Tower (1980), the Plaza Hotel (1988, which subsequently filed for bankruptcy 2 years later), the Trump Building (1996, of which he’s still, apparently, the landlord), and the 76 acres that constituted the Lincoln Square neighborhood, which, due to his own struggles with debt, were sold off to investors based in Hong Kong in 1997.

The Real Problems in New York City

And this, perhaps, is just a glimpse into what have been the real problems in New York City. Republicans and Democrats alike have done enormous damage to this city’s economy and its social infrastructure. From the days of those epic struggles between big developers like Robert Moses and decentralists like Jane Jacobs, this city has seen enormous changes to its landscape that have led to prohibitively high costs of living and draconian regulatory policies. Rents and housing prices remain high, as do taxes. Those taxes are used to support robust systems of public welfare and public education. The poor and working classes suffer disproportionately as affordable housing has been war-“zoned” out of existence, while wealthier landowners exploit rent stabilization laws for their own benefit. NYC remains one of the most expensive cities in the world in which to live.

It has also been battered by a historic drop in its population. New York State saw its steepest population decline in the last year alone. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that this city was hit hardest by the pandemic. Its population declined not only due to nearly 40,000 recorded deaths — “one of the deadliest disasters by death toll in the history of New York City” — but also to an exodus of 300,000 people during the period from April 2020 to June 2021. An additional 123,000+ people left the city in the July 2021-July 2022 period. And as many began working remotely during the pandemic, fewer people have returned to their offices in Manhattan. Even with hybrid work schedules, workers who are commuting to the city’s epicenter “are spending $12.4 billion less per year than they were before the pandemic.”

Ever the New Yorker, I’d like to think that that statue in the harbor, which lifts its lamp to the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”, is just as much a testament to this city’s resilience. But this is what makes the right-wing narrative on the New York City “warzone” so tragic. It shifts attention away from profoundly systemic problems and prevents us from tackling the much larger socioeconomic issues that need to be addressed fundamentally. That would require the kind of dialectical thinking that is anathema to ideological rigidity of any kind, right or left.

This article was also published on Medium.

NYC Mayoral Race (II): You Call This “Heating Up”?

The headline in the New York Daily News this week was: “Mayor Race is Heating Up”! Considering that I just recently expressed astonishment over the civility of the campaign thus far, I have been waiting for the heated attacks to begin!

Tim Balk writes: “Eric Adams and Curtis Sliwa are getting ready to do battle ahead of their first debate before the general election for mayor.”


Sliwa, the long-shot Republican nominee, issued a barrage of broadsides against his well-funded Democratic rival on Tuesday, suggesting Adams is beholden to special interests and is reckless for saying he’d carry a gun as mayor. …


“If he wants to participate in a circus, that’s fine,” Adams told reporters after surveying a newly planted urban farm in Brownsville, Brooklyn. “I’m just not buying the tickets.”


In a Tuesday morning stump speech in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, Sliwa leaned into his favorite criticisms of Adams, saying that real estate developers and “hedge-fund monsters” are lining up behind his opponent. The Republican, who founded the Guardian Angels patrol group and has long spurned firearms, thundered, “Eric Adams, shame on you, for always talking about how you’re going to carry a gun.” Adams, in turn, said Sliwa should focus on “people who are carrying guns illegally.” …


Adams also said Sliwa has been a “leading voice of being a racist.” Sliwa, who is white, bristled at the remark from Adams, who is Black and campaigned against police brutality in the NYPD. “Curtis may be many things,” said Sliwa, whose public safety groups are largely comprised of people of color. “But no one accuses him of being racist.” …

“The 1st NYC mayoral debate is October 20th,” Sliwa tweeted Monday. “So mark your calendar, stock up on popcorn, and call in sick to your niece’s dance recital because you’re not gonna wanna miss it.”

Well, gee, I hope so! I mean if this is what folks call “heating up”, we got a long way to go before the boiling point!

Honoring John Hospers

This Sunday, October 10, 2021, Jameson Books is publishing a wonderful collection in honor of philosopher John Hospers entitled Libertarianism: John Hospers, The Libertarian Party’s 50th Anniversary, and Beyond, edited by C. Ronald Kimberling and Stan Oliver. As Tom Palmer writes in his Foreword to the book:

John Hospers was a memorable man, with an influence far greater than his current renown. It’s thus an honor to advance this collection, as well as to contribute to it. His ideas, his encouragement of his students, his friendship, and his scholarship are explored by the numerous articles and essays in this volume, which also provides primary documents for those interested in the growth of the libertarian political movement in the United States. It’s a valuable resource for historians of ideas, for political junkies, and for anyone interested in the revival of libertarian thought in the United States—a revival in which John Hospers played an important role. That preference for liberty, for escaping the cages of “left” and “right” that have so warped and degraded American political practice, is now a part of the American political scene.

The 400-page book includes more than 30 essays by a wide variety of writers, including yours truly. In my own essay, “John Hospers: A Remembrance,” I reflect on my discovery of John’s work and my friendship with this gentle man with a remarkable intellect and wonderful sense of life. As I state in the essay:

I had heard of John Hospers years earlier, when I was twelve years old. He was, after all, the first presidential candidate of the newly formed Libertarian Party. In 1972, he received, along with Tonie Nathan, his vice presidential running mate, one electoral vote, which was one less for Richard M. Nixon. Nathan became the first woman and the first Jewish candidate to receive an electoral vote in any US presidential election.

But it wasn’t until years later, when I read “Libertarianism“, that I came to appreciate the true significance of John Hospers, philosopher. This work revealed the remarkable breadth of the libertarian vision. Within it, I found a logically arranged, eminently readable introduction to all of the core issues with regard to economic and political liberty, both at home and abroad, the dangers of the interventionist state, and even a discussion of the debate between the advocates of minimal government and the anarcho-capitalists. Hospers’s 1971 opus preceded Robert Nozick’s seminal “Anarchy, State, and Utopia” by three years and introduced a young generation to a genuine “philosophy for tomorrow.” It was, in fact, one of the founding “manifestos” of an
intellectual revolution in twentieth-century thought, deeply rooted in the ideals of classical liberalism adopted for a new age.

As the years passed, I made that new libertarian vision my guiding intellectual pursuit, and as I learned more, it seemed as if John Hospers was always a presence somewhere in that learning process. I discovered other works of his, and then, eventually, I had the courage to send him a copy of the working manuscript for my book, Ayn Rand: The Russian Radical, seeking his feedback. With grace, he accepted the task of a critical reading of the manuscript and provided me with meticulous, insightful, and thought-provoking comments; whenever critical, they were constructively so, whether they were conveyed on the phone or in correspondence. There is no doubt that his input immeasurably improved the final product, for which I remain eternally grateful. In the end, his support of my work on Rand led him to provide a generous blurb that appeared in the first printing of its first edition.

I finally met John at a Liberty conference in 1996, where I appeared on a panel with him and Barbara Branden to discuss the contributions of Ayn Rand. Three years later, he became one of the original founding advisory board members to The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. When he passed away on June 12, 2011, the world lost a marvelous thinker; I lost a dear friend. This book includes essays coming from a variety of perspectives—including some with which I disagree. But it remains an inspiring memorial to John’s humanity and legacy.

Celebrating John Hospers

Postscript – On Facebook, some folks, who disagreed with John Hospers on many issues, found it odd that anyone would contribute to a book that would deify him. I replied:

Let me make one thing clear: I contributed to this anthology not as a means of deifying the man, but as a means of recognizing his larger legacy, which has been underappreciated. I approach all learning the same way: I have drawn lessons from thinkers all over the intellectual map—from Aristotle to Hegel, from Ayn Rand to Karl Marx. I do not believe in the deification of any of these figures, but I give credit where credit is due, criticize that with which I disagree, and move on.

The Marxist scholar Bertell Ollman, my doctoral dissertation advisor and mentor, remains one of the most important influences on my intellectual development; I would contribute to any anthology recognizing his contributions in the same way I have done for John Hospers. Both men had an immense impact on my growth, in addition to being remarkably generous, kind souls.

By no means did I agree with John on issues like abortion or the Iraq war, but heck, I have had major disagreements with thinkers inside and outside of libertarianism my whole life on issues across the board. Still. I have learned from so many, and I think it is important to recognize this. We never stop learning—well, at least we never should stop learning—and it’s a good thing to be able to acknowledge those who have taught us. And I’d like to think that I pass this legacy onto those who have learned from me.

Another exchange on Facebook raised the issue of whether John Hospers would have supported civil disobedience, given his focus on the “rule of law”. I replied:

The problem you raise is one that all folks—who believe in any radical shift away from the status quo—must face. As Rand once said, it’s the problem of how to live a ‘rational’ life in an ‘irrational’ society. It is the problem of trying to change a society given the conditions that exist. In Libertarianism, the book published 50 years ago (in 1971), Hospers suggests that armed revolution against unjust laws would most likely lead to enormous loss of life and property and would not change things fundamentally. He also argued that the refusal to obey unjust laws could have a monumental effect—but only if “very large numbers of dissenters” joined in the civil disobedience, say “fifty million people” refusing to pay their taxes or to be subject to military conscription.

Hospers cites Albert Jay Nock, who wrote: “Inaction is better than wrong action or premature right action and effective right action can only follow right thinking” (quoted by Hospers on p. 462 of Libertarianism). So for Hospers, the surest way to affect a change in laws was by a cultural shift in ideas through an educational process.

Given some of the conversations I had with him, I suspect he would have still left it to individuals to engage in resistance to unjust laws; respecting the rule of law is not the same thing as respecting the rule of laws that by their very nature coerce and oppress.


NYC Mayoral Race: Where Are the Attack Ads?

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been paying very close attention to the tone, rather than the substance, of the New York City mayoral race. New York elections are typically a sewer filled with the sludge of toxic attack ads!

And yet, here we are, less than one month away from Election Day (November 2), where voters will select the next mayor of the city that never sleeps. The Democratic candidate, the former police officer and current Brooklyn Borough President, Eric Adams, won the nomination after a primary based on ranked-choice voting. He is up against the Republican nominee, founder of the Guardian Angels and Never Trumper Curtis Sliwa, who won over his primary opponent, Fernando Mateo, 72 to 28 percent. Adams is the odds-on favorite to take it all the way to City Hall, and, since winning the Democratic primary, has practically undergone a coronation.

So, it comes as no surprise that I’ve not seen a single ad for Adams on television. Not one.

On the other hand, I’ve seen tons of commercials from Sliwa. And given his rancorous, boisterous, loud presence as a WABC radio broadcaster, I’m shocked that not a single Sliwa commercial qualifies as a negative attack ad. Not one. Not even a single ad contrasting his positions to that of his opponent.

Instead, we’ve gotten commercials of Sliwa with his cat talking about no-kill animal shelters; his current wife is an attorney and animal advocate, and the two of them parent sixteen rescue cats! And then, there are commercials highlighting Sliwa’s poignant attention to the homeless [YouTube link].

What gives? I recently bemoaned the toxicity on social media and in our current political climate, and Adams and Sliwa seem not to have gotten with the program! Whoever wins … and I’m pretty sure it will be Adams … it’s actually, dare I say it: refreshing. This is quite beside the fact that I have major disagreements with both candidates!

NYC Board of Elections: Comic App!

The New York Democratic Party primary that will select that party’s candidate for the 2021 Mayoral Election this November has been in disarray due to all sorts of typical screw-ups by the Infamous “Board of Elections” here. “Ranked-choice voting” is starting to smell a bit, uh, rank.

When folks around here used to say that “the Board of Elections has its head up its ass,” I’ve always wondered exactly what that would look like. Bill Bramhall (of “Bramhall’s World“) has finally given us a pic!

Courtesy of the New York Daily News (July 1, 2021)

Coronavirus (30): “Cuomogate” and Systemic Crisis

Back on 5 May 2020, in the twenty-first installment of my ongoing Coronavirus series, “Lockdowns, Libertarians, and Liberation,” I wrote about the state of the COVID pandemic in New York:

Today, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in New York state are at a staggering 320,000+ and rising; the number of deaths attributed to the virus nears 25,000. And, of these, New York City accounts for nearly 19,000 deaths. New York state has a death rate of 126 per 100,000 people; the city itself has a death rate of 219 per 100,000. Even if some of my libertarian colleagues wish to dismiss 20% of these casualties because they are typically listed under the category of “probable” rather than “confirmed” deaths, that still means that in excess of 20,000 people in my home state are dead from this virus in two months. We need to put this in perspective because I’m tired of hearing how accidents kill more people in a year or how influenza and pneumonia kill more people in a year, and nobody talks about it. In a typical year, like, say, 2017, 7,687 people died in accidents and 4,517 people died from the flu and pneumonia in New York state. COVID-19 has now killed more than the annual total of these two leading causes of death combined in this state in just two months. It is therefore astonishing to me how any person would indict the state’s healthcare system as somehow to blame for the horrific death toll—whatever problems that are inherent in that system—especially when it has been stretched to its limits, and its doctors, nurses, and first responders have worked heroically to treat and save so many lives.

As a postscript to that installment (25 May 2020), I addressed the issue of  how state governors (such as NJ Governor Murphy and NY Governor Cuomo) were being blamed for having “spiked” deaths in their own states by returning recovering COVID-19 elderly patients to the nursing homes from which they came. I stated:

Well, if you listen to the folks at Fox News, Cuomo, Murphy, etc. purposely sent patients, who previously lived in nursing homes and were subsequently hospitalized for and designated as having recovered from COVID-19, back into the nursing homes from which they came. The Fox Folks claim that this was some diabolical plot to kill off the elderly population and/or to inflate the death tallies in NY and NJ, since many of those who were designated as “recovered” were still capable of infecting others.

But yes, aside from the Fox Folks, there are legitimate questions about the wisdom of the policy of sending these patients back to the nursing homes—though it is not at all clear that the infection rate within nursing homes was strictly a result of this policy. Indeed, it is entirely possible that the spike in nursing homes was as much the result of nursing home residents coming into contact with asymptomatic infected staff.

The initial policy was adopted because the hospitals in NY were being overrun and taxed to a catastrophic degree, and when the USS Comfort arrived, and the Javits Convention Center (along with four other centers in the outer boroughs) were set up, they were opened to take in patients who were not sick from Coronavirus; they were to be places where folks facing traumatic medical problems unrelated to the virus could be cared for under “virus-free” conditions. The private and public hospital network were to shoulder the burden of the growing population of sick and dying patients from the virus, while these other places (the Comfort, Javits, etc.) would provide medical care for those not infected with the virus, but in need of urgent medical care (so-called “elective” surgeries were all postponed, but, obviously, there are many other medical problems that people face, for which they require treatment, in medical facilities that are not death traps for those with underlying pre-existing conditions).

Though the official reversal came at the beginning of May, the policy actually started to change at the beginning of April. It was at that time that the Comfort and the Javits Center were finally opened up to care for the overflow of COVID-19 patients. … [I]t was a policy that was shaped by the exponential growths in hospitalizations and intubations that were happening in late March and early April, until the state hit a plateau of 800-1000 deaths per day. Once it became clear that the healthcare network, as taxed as it was, would not collapse, and that these other facilities could take in COVID-19 patients, the practice of sending recovering nursing home patients back into nursing homes started to change. And extra precautions were put into place at the beginning of May.

Clearly, mistakes have been made at every level of government; but it’s a huge leap to characterize something that was a tragic mistake to viewing it as a criminal act. I live in NY; I’ve lost neighbors, a cousin, friends, and even cherished local proprietors, to this horrific disease. There’s a lot of blame to go around; those most at fault, however, were the folks who denied that there was even a virus at work, that the whole thing was a hoax, and that one could just wash it away with a little detergent or by mainlining bleach.

On 16 July 2020, in the twenty-eighth installment of my Coronavirus Series, “Sweden is Not New York,” I pushed back against those who were comparing New York unfavorably to Sweden in its response to the pandemic. I wrote:

Jon Miltimore’s essay “Why Sweden Succeeded in ‘Flattening the Curve’ and New York Failed” is, sadly, an exercise in comparing apples and oranges. From the article:

If flattening the curve was the primary goal of policymakers, Sweden was largely a success. New York, on the other hand, was not, despite widespread closures and strict enforcement of social distancing policies. The reason New York failed and Sweden succeeded probably has relatively little to do with the fact that bars and restaurants were open in Sweden. Or that New York’s schools were closed while Sweden’s were open. As Weiss explains, the difference probably isn’t related to lockdowns at all. It probably has much more to do with the fact that New York failed to protect the most at-risk populations: the elderly and infirm.

The article goes on to discuss the debate between the implications of different public policy responses to the virus. In response, I wrote:

There is absolutely no comparison between the Swedish and NY cases, regardless of the public policies adopted by either government. First, in NY, the share of COVID-related deaths in long-term care facilities was 20% of the total number of deaths (about 6,500 of the total of 32,000+ deaths in the state of NY). That means that the vast majority of deaths did not occur in nursing homes. Moreover, though damage was done early on, by putting recovering COVID patients back into nursing homes, that policy was influenced by the huge surge in cases at a time when not even the Comfort or the Javits Center were open to COVID patients (a policy that changed at the beginning of April). Conditions were evolving swiftly. Moreover, unlike other states that are experiencing a surge now, therapies based on steroids, plasma, Remdesivir, etc. were not in widespread usage. It’s largely on the pile of bodies in NY that current medical advances have been made, sad to say.

Second, studies have shown that, at least in NYC, the highest transmission belt for the virus was its vast subway system, serving 5-6 million people per day prior to the city’s curtailment of “business as usual” in mid-March and most of the communities that were disproportionately affected by the impact of the virus were minority communities, many of whose members continued to work and crowd the subways and buses, becoming infected and bringing that infection back to their families and neighborhoods. There is no similar density in Sweden (the Stockholm Metro typically serves one fifth the number of people compared to the subways in NYC).

Of course, I got push-back from one commentator who claimed, without offering any evidence, that in New York “COVID-19 has killed at least 11,000 to 12,000 nursing-home and assisted-living residents in New York, nearly double what the state admits to. And as the deaths mount, so have the lies and cover-ups. States like New York exclude from their nursing home death tallies those who die in a hospital. Outside of New York, more than half of all deaths from COVID-19 are of residents in long-term care facilities., even if they were originally infected in an assisted living facility.” To which I replied: “Even if I accepted your statistic—which I don’t—it does not explain the other 20,000 deaths that occurred in this state. Or are those lies too?”

Well, recently, an investigation into the nursing home deaths, completed by New York Attorney General Lettia James, concluded that the state had indeed undercounted nursing home deaths.

I was wrong. There were not 6,500 nursing home-related deaths. Nor were there 11,000 to 12,000 deaths as my interlocutor claimed. In fact, the deaths were more than double the original estimate. Current statistics in an ongoing investigation, combining deaths in nursing homes and nursing home patients who died subsequently in hospitals, now place the total at 13,382, perhaps as high as 15,000, which accounts not for 20% but for around 30% of the nearly 47,000 deaths thus far recorded in the state of New York.

Which means, of course, that my central point stands: The vast majority of the deaths in this state were not nursing home-related; something horrible happened here precisely because it happened here first, in the New York metropolitan area—the densest population center in the United States. None of the newest, scandalous revelations alters this fact.

But these revelations do show that Governor Andrew Cuomo did indeed fail the public trust by withholding information and needlessly endangering lives. Cuomo should have acted differently and decisively in being fully transparent. In thinking about “Andrew’s Next Move,” New York Post writer Bob McManus makes an important point:

“A less fearful, more self-confident governor … would have admitted upfront that a fateful, though defensible, error had been made last March. That’s when the state Department of Health ordered nursing homes to accept COVID-infected patients to clear hospitals for an anticipated wave of new patients. That crisis never came, but that doesn’t make the policy evil or even unreasonable, just tragically mistaken. Cuomo should have owned it and moved on.”

I should state for the record that I am not one of those libertarians who believes that every politician is evil by nature of being a politician. Some do believe, honestly, that they have a calling to public service. And I have no doubt that many politicians, acting during the time of a serious public healthcare crisis, were flying blind and doing everything they could, given the ever-evolving conditions that existed, to meet the challenges before them.

But “flying blind” led to tragedies far beyond the deaths of nursing home patients.

This whole affair has revealed far more about the gaping holes in our healthcare system and in the insidious ways that our medical-science-state-corporate nexus works, often to the detriment of the very thing it is ostensibly supposed to protect: human lives.

Ultimately, what might be the worst legacy of the Cuomo administration’s handling of the pandemic is how the machinations of that nexus have become transparent in all their ugliness. As the Daily Poster reports: Cuomo’s political machine raked in “more than $2 million from the Greater New York Hospital Association (GNYHA), its executives and its lobbying firms,” which funneled more than $450,000 to New York legislators in 2020 alone. Moreover, the administration moved to shield “hospital and nursing home executives from legal consequences if their corporate decisions killed people during the pandemic.” This wasn’t merely protecting frontline health workers from lawsuits; it was a deliberate attempt to provide “liability protection to top corporate officials who make staffing and safety decisions.” Today, 27 states have adopted this policy, granting legal immunity to nursing home executives.

And let’s be clear: This is not a Cuomo conspiracy. It is a policy that has been fully embraced by top Republicans, who often decry Cuomo’s “murderous” response to the pandemic. By shielding from civil litigation (forget criminal prosecution!) politically connected hospital and nursing home executives (who heavily fund political campaigns), patients who have been put at serious risk and the next of kin of those who have lost their lives have no legal recourse for compensation, given a broken healthcare system that can’t provide basic health insurance for the vast majority of people in this country. Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has been calling for a national policy guaranteeing such immunity, especially for corporate executives who might be putting their workers at serious risk, as part of any relief package.

So, like everything else: While some public policies may lead to progress in combatting a serious health crisis, they are still filtered through a system that must, by necessity, corrupt.

From the very beginning of this nightmarish pandemic, governments at every level—city, state, and federal institutions—have played a part in this systemic corruption. This is not an exercise in “What-about-ism.” Let us not forget that Former President Donald Trump admitted to Bob Woodward that he wanted to downplay the seriousness of the pandemic so as not to cause a public “panic.” He claimed credit for a vaccine because of “Operation Warp-Speed,” giving billions of dollars to Big Pharma companies to fast-track vaccine development, fully socializing their risks, fully guaranteeing their profits in a public-private “partnership.” Little thought was given to how that vaccine was supposed to be delivered to the vast majority of Americans, stranding millions of people with no ability to even schedule an appointment. People are standing for endless hours in long lines outside stadiums or massive makeshift fields hoping to get vaccinated, and are often turned away. Big Box stores are being subsidized to participate in the massive effort, but serious shortages remain, even as this country reaches half-a-million fatalities from this pandemic.

Even a simple alteration of policy to allow primary care physicians to inoculate their own patients hasn’t been entertained.

I will take whatever vaccine is available to me whenever it becomes available because I’m a guy with plenty of pre-existing medical issues. But that doesn’t mean I have to like the politicized processes that have poisoned this country’s response to a crisis of such horrific magnitude.

To 2020 (1): Counting My Blessings — But Don’t Let the Door Hit You On the Way Out…

Clichés, by definition, are trite and lacking in originality. But you’ll find more than a few in the following post. This year didn’t lack for originality, but it helped to illustrate more than a few clichés.

This week, I’ll be featuring a few hilarious tidbits from my favorite comic strip, “Pearls Before Swine” (created by Stephan Pastis), all centered on a single theme: What a Miserable Year 2020 Was! Today, it’s best captured by yesterday’s featured strip in the New York Daily News:

Courtesy of The New York Daily News (27 December 2020)


So, before we start counting our blessings, let’s review our journey through the utter misery of 2020. I wrote 29 Notablog installments on the Coronavirus pandemic, not to mention umpteen entries on everything from racism and social injustice to civil unrest and a crazier-than-usual election year. (In-between, there were nearly 100 new songs added to my “Song of the Day” series—because music helped to ease the pain of a year like no other.)

Our social fabric has been drowned in so much sadness—in grief, in fear, in pain, in anger—but somehow, we seem to have made it through to the end of 2020. Then again, there are still a few days left to this miserable year, and if 2020 has taught us anything, it is the truth of that other cliché: “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch!” Or as that old poster for “Jaws 2” once declared: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water …” SLAM! The Great White Shark Shows Up Again!

For me, personally, I experienced more sorrow crunched into twelve months than I ever thought possible. I saw mass death and destruction in my hometown on a scale that, after living through 9/11 and Superstorm Sandy, I never could have imagined. I lost neighbors, friends, beloved local proprietors, colleagues, and even a cousin to a virus that hit New York City like a nuclear blast, with the fallout going on for months on end. I saw the ugliness of racial injustice give way to the agony of civil unrest. I saw political actors and political pundits incapable of dissecting, analyzing or helping to resolve complex social problems with intellectual scalpels, as they approached every issue with a sledgehammer, giving expression to yet another old cliché: “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

But there was another side to this tale that reveals how many blessings I truly have.

Professionally, I count my blessings to have been here to celebrate the twentieth anniversary volume of a scholarly periodical that I cofounded way back in 1999: The Journal of Ayn Rand Studies. I also helped to organize and moderate an illuminating four-month Facebook symposium with over 100 members, including nearly all of the contributors to The Dialectics of Liberty: Exploring the Context of Human Freedom (coedited with Roger E. Bissell and Edward W. Younkins; Lexington Books, 2019).

Personally, I count my blessings that I saw compassion manifest itself throughout 2020 as people came to each other’s assistance.

I count my blessings that I have family and even neighbors, who have become like an extended family, offering their love and support through it all.

I count my blessings that I have great doctors who were able to coordinate the squeezing of nearly six months of “elective” surgical procedures into a two-month period, completing (and recovering from) four surgeries by the first week of November.

I count my blessings that I was then able to summon the strength to face a dire medical crisis on November 13th, when I almost lost my sister (to a non-COVID-related illness). In the middle of this, we had to give up our cat Cali for adoption, but I count my blessings that she was adopted by a loving mommy—who had first given her to us!

I count my blessings that I have seen, for months on end, the heroism of first responders, saving the lives of countless people, including my own sister’s life, as EMS workers rushed her to the emergency room on that harrowing morning. After a month in the hospital, my sister returned home on December 12th, brought up the stairs in a wheelchair by a couple of other EMS workers who showed the same depth of care as those who first brought her down.

Through it all, we’ve never lost our sense of gallows humor. When my sister wondered how on earth she would get down the stairs to go for follow-up medical appointments, I told her: “If all else fails, there’s always the Richard Widmark Way!” (For those who haven’t seen the 1947 film, “Kiss of Death,” check it out [YouTube link]!) We have a tough road ahead, but we are here to talk—and to laugh—about it.

I count my blessings that when I wrote about my sister’s ordeal, I saw an outpouring of love and support on Facebook, on email, and elsewhere, attesting to how deeply she has affected the lives of so many people: her colleagues, her friends, and, most of all, those who were her former students.

I count my blessings that at the end of this challenging year, I am here, my sister is here, my brother and sister-in-law are here, my family and dear friends are still here. We are here to lift a glass to the promise of 2021, knowing full well that when we did so at the end of 2019, in the hopes that 2020 would bring greater health and happiness to all, we had no clue what we were getting ourselves into.

We don’t know what lies ahead, but we do know that this too shall pass. Or as my urologist’s office reminded me: “It may pass like a kidney stone. But it will pass.”

Count your blessings, folks. For there is no truer cliché than this one: Where there is life, there is hope. And where there is love, all things are possible.

NEWS FLASH: The World Didn’t End After All …

For seven days up to and including Election Day, I suggested that readers embrace the Nihilism of The Moment and celebrate the impending “End of the World” with seven Songs of the Day that included that phrase in the title. Who knew we’d have to wait a few extra days to find out if the world would still be standing!? I mean, this is 2020! Were you expecting anything less than a little craziness?

Still, as I predicted, the world wouldn’t end after all! And unless the Electors wig out on December 14, 2020, Joe Biden will be taking the oath of office on January 20, 2021.

Oh, I know, there will be court challenges, contested seats in both the House of Representatives and the Senate, charges of fraud and cover-ups and conspiracies. I don’t expect any Kumbaya moments anytime soon! But for those who really think the world ended today … just remember, you’ve still got lots to be thankful for!

Count Your Blessings! (H/T Jack Walsh!)