The Ball’s in Cuomo’s Court.

NYS Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

Just when I was beginning to think that Andrew Cuomo’s daily briefings had about run their course, that he was getting repetitive and sounding pedantic, his briefing from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange was a tour de force.

 The first five minutes of Cuomo’s briefings are always substantive, fact-based presentations with vital information about the virus and crucial updates. On the morning when the NYSE physically reopened, a surgically-masked Cuomo rang the opening bell and reported on a new low level of COVID hospitalizations, down to 200 , and a daily COVID death total down to 73–the lowest daily level of human lives lost since the pandemic began to pound New York State back in March.

Over the past week, as New York’s COVID numbers continued to trend down, NY’s Governor has filled the space before his Q & A and after his 5-minutes of facts, with stuff that was beginning to appear less urgent: a history of the Executive Mansion in Albany, a PSA competition coordinated by one of his daughters, and some replays of Rachel Maddow’s comments.

 Andrew’s stretching, I thought; maybe it’s time for someone on his staff to tell him the briefings need to be shortened, less repetitive and not frothy. We’ve accepted some of Andrew Cuomo’s personal detours of stories, family or phrases, because his presentations on the facts and actions to best combat the virus have been so damn powerful and effective. Grateful for his superb and straightforward leadership, at a time when none is coming from the national level, we’ve allowed Cuomo a few digressions. He may be repeating himself, we told ourselves, but he’s repeating the right, science-based messages and socially responsible behaviors.

However, Cuomo’s NYSE appearance was both symbolically AND substantively significant in a new and valuable way. He stressed, “how smart you are in reopening, determines how successful you are,’ and praised the leadership of the Stock Exchange for requiring people to wear masks and allowing fewer people on the NYSE floor. The market responded well to Cuomo’s intelligent optimism by closing up 500 points. It was a marked contrast to Trump’s dangerous “re-open, vaccine or no vaccine,” brainlessness, and the cruelness of the President’s “transition to greatness,” self-serving gruel.

The true brilliance in Cuomo’s COVID briefing at the Stock Exchange came in how he framed the call for building infrastructure, by coupling it with a strong case for stimulating the economy, and creating jobs, during this time of reduced use of airports, trains, and tunnels. “Now is the time to build,” Cuomo repeated. “There is no better time to build.”

It was a skilled turning of the infrastructure issue–called for by everyone and acted upon by no one–into a new WPA to help pull the country out of the worst economic tailspin since the Great Depression. Visions of FDR danced in my head, especially following Cuomo’s reference the previous week to FDR’s wheelchair kept at the Executive Mansion in Albany, and the swimming pool where a Governor Roosevelt, legs weakened by Polio, did his physical therapy.  These were visible reminders of another virus, another epidemic from earlier times, and strong symbols of the courageous way to fight back. 

Masterfully, Cuomo coupled his call to “Rebuild America” (a logical extension of the “Rebuild NY” campaign we did when his father was Governor) with his demand for Congress to repeal the limitation on the State and Local Tax (SALT) deductions which have cost NY and California billions of dollars in lost revenue—a “theft” he righteously called it.   Again, he pushed Washington to pass an urgent stimulus bill aimed directly at helping State and Local governments, and avoiding massive layoffs of First Responders, healthcare workers and teachers.

Cuomo was taking his case to the White House—at precisely the time when the number of COVID deaths in the country passed 100,000– and if Trump had any shred of hope to salvage his presidency, he would embrace Andrew’s “Rebuild America” campaign as his own, and announce he favored Cuomo’s push to repeal the limitation on SALT deductions.  

Would Andrew Cuomo force the issue? Would he repeat the winning slogan from his daughter’s PSA competition: “I wear a mask for you; you wear a mask for me,” and underscore it by wearing a mask on his visit to the White House? Or, would he allow Trump to take the lead, as long as it benefitted New York, and fill the State’s $13 billion budget gap? 

The ball is in Andrew Cuomo’s court. After his championship performance at the New York Stock Exchange, Cuomo can take a shot at the hoop from wherever he wants. Cuomo’s large, sure hands and vision for the future, coupled with his comfort in showing his compassion and love for people, remind us at each appearance, what this country has been missing, what we need, and what we want.  

Slaughterhouses 3.

Slaughterhouses 3—

Immigrant packing,

Old people stacking, 

Prisoner racking…

Slaughterhouses 3.

Viruses seeking hosts,

Humans, soon ghosts,

One breath from death

Gasping, while living,

For light, for hope.

Slaughterhouses 3—

Immigrant packing,

Old people stacking,

Prisoner racking…

Slaughterhouses 3.

Lacking air,

Stick them there,

To feed us,

To bleed for us,

To pay for…lacking air.

Slaughterhouses 3—

Immigrant packing,

Old people stacking,

Prisoner racking…

Slaughterhouses 3.

Surprise, surprise—

They fall like flies,

Flicked from rotting meat,

Or, urine soaked sheets.

Jacking, hacking in the dark.

Slaughterhouses 3

Immigrant packing,

Old people stacking,

Prisoner racking…

Slaughterhouses 3.

Tests for All in the “High Risk” Group Called Humanity.

Napa County Dept. of Public Health’s Invitation for all citizens to get tested for COVID 19.

So, we were tested for COVID-19 this week, not because we had any symptoms, but because we had the option which all should have.

The public health policy wonk in me, wanted to experience the testing process, the way I went through the HIV/AIDS testing process year after year, when I was running a national HIV/AIDS education organization, and fighting another epidemic. My mantra during my days of fighting AIDS, was “Take the Test,” the same message being used now. I took the test then, to learn what kind of fears and feelings people experienced who were being tested.

In the battle against the HIV virus, we knew that “education was our only vaccine,” and, sadly, 40 years later, it still is. Now, with testing finally available in Napa County thanks to a public health partnership with actor Sean Penn’s CORE non-profit– I needed to learn whether I was COVID positive: to discover if I was as “high risk” as my entire age group was being stereotyped. 

Additionally, the possibility exists that we can see our three granddaughters at the end of this month–the first time in 10 weeks. Sure, I know my status could change between today and tomorrow, but I felt compelled to know what my COVID status was now, and find out how high a risk I actually was.

On Monday, we called the Napa Department of Public Health to set up appointments for us to get tested. The Napa DOH worker took our pertinent info, and said we’d probably get an appointment in a few days. We did. The call came three days later, on Thursday, and Carol Villano and I were asked if we could come to the Napa Fairgrounds—where the mega-music festival BottleRock is usually held on Memorial Day weekend–within a few hours.  This year, Sean Penn’s CORE Public Health workers would be the only star attractions at the Napa Fairgrounds

We donned our masks, hopped in the car and, just a bit nervous, headed to get our COVID-19 tests. When we pulled into the Napa Fairgrounds with Carol driving, I started taking photos. The CORE worker waved at me and said “No Photos”, and I later saw the sign which prohibited photos for privacy reasons. Right next to it was another poster that read: “Take the Test,” and “Hagase el examen” in Spanish. We were the 14th car in line, and started waiting at 3:14 pm. We kept our windows up and our photo IDs on the dashboard, as we were instructed. “Hagase el examen.” It felt like the responsible thing to do.

Cars of all colors and sizes were in front of us, and adults of assorted ages were calmly waiting their turn. Not a bad wait, I thought, picturing the miles- long lines that fellow humans in desperate need of food had to endure at Food Banks across the country. Think about that the next time you hear someone complain about wearing a mask.

Car-by-car, we crawled up toward the drive-in testing tent, where four masked and heavily gowned nurses were waiting to provide free testing. Carol watched carefully to make certain the nurses changed their gloves after testing each person, and they did so methodically. Each of the nurses wore a plastic face shield, to protect them from anyone who might be carrying the virus.

The only male nurse of the group, a young volunteer named Ralph, asked us to roll our windows down, and patiently explained what he was going to do with the swabs, and how uncomfortable it might feel going up one nostril. He asked who wanted to go first. I volunteered. Getting tested was my idea, so it was the least I could do. 

Ralph asked me to keep my mask over my mouth, while he gently tried to maneuver the swab up my right nostril. He ran into my deviated septum, blocking his path, and tried the other side. It was uncomfortable, as Ralph warned it might be. I didn’t make it easy for him, scrunching up my nose and my face to help the swab slide in as smoothly as it could.

 Carol, who wasn’t so keen on getting tested in the first place, did far better. Ralph swept the swab swiftly up her nostril, and she took it without flinching. Women are so much tougher than men.

The entire COVID-19 testing trip took 50 minutes, from the moment we checked in at the drive-through site, until the moment we exited the testing tent. Like 3,000 other residents of Napa County–where 3 people have died of the virus–we were fortunate to be tested–thanks to a movie star with a conscience, not a President without one. 

Since we are asymptomatic, we were told we’d find out our COVID test results within 3 to 5 days.  Remarkably, we found out we tested “negative” within 24-hours, since the Napa County Department of Health processed all of the days’ tests immediately. I was so astounded by the speed with which the Napa County DOH gave us our test results, that I volunteered to do contract tracing for them—especially since it was not nearly as invasive as the contract tracing we did during the AIDS epidemic.

 The professionalism, outstanding quality and first rate service of the joint program between our County DOH and Sean’s Penn non-profit CORE organization, was the kind of public health service that’s a model for the country, and one which should be provided all people, regardless of symptoms, location or wealth.

Carol and I tell ourselves how fortunate we are each day; that we have food, enough money, a roof over our heads, good health, and each other. On top of all that–unlike 97% of our fellow US citizens– we had the option to be tested for this dreaded disease, which has ended the lives of nearly 90,000 people. With numbers like that, we’re all part of the same “high risk” group, called humanity.  And we know, from first-hand experience, that there’s something we can do about it.  

Biden’s Best VP Pick: It’s About Science & Humanity

Dr. Helene D. Gayle, MD, CEO.

Over the past three years, I posited a wide-range of potential Democratic national tickets that would be the strongest team to not only crush Donald Trump, but to sweep in a Democratic Senate and keep Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House.

Throughout 2017 and early 2018, I floated the idea of a Cuomo/Klobuchar ticket (in either order), before Andrew Cuomo became the proactive poster boy of COVID-19 public officials, and graced the cover of Rolling Stone.

Long a progressive, Warren Democrat, I favored the all female 2016 ticket of Clinton/Warren. With Warren declaring for President in 2020, I thought a Warren/Cory Booker ticket would be a powerhouse, especially since Hillary’s loss exposed the weakness of a Democratic National ticket without a strong, African American candidate.  

When neither Booker’s, nor Kamala Harris’ national campaigns took off, and Biden began to look like the practical alternative to defeat Trump, many Democratic activists began trading the names of VP picks, as if we were assembling fantasy baseball teams.  Biden’s announcement that he wanted a woman on the ticket, narrowed that field, even though we occasionally entertained the notion of a Biden/Booker, Biden/Cuomo or Biden/Barack Obama as a powerful one-two punch.

As Biden narrows down his Vice-Presidential field of dreams to a select group of women, I believe that it must be a woman of color, for many sound political reasons, particularly to energize voter turnout among the Democrats most reliable voting block—women, and specifically Black women.  While the first, and most politically potent, choice of many might be Michelle Obama, the former First Lady has repeatedly said she’s not interested.  Good, strong second choices abound, with Kamala Harris, Stacey Abrams, Val Demings, and even Senator Tammy Duckworth (an Asian/Pacific Islander) leading the field.

Yet, the calamitous consequences of the COVID-19 Pandemic may have picked the most powerful, and obvious, running mate of all for us. The best choice for Biden has been crusading for public health for decades, tackling epidemics like HIV/AIDS, TB, and health and economic inequality.   Her name is Dr. Helene D. Gayle.  Google Dr. Gayle, and you’ll be blown away.

Trained and board-certified in Pediatric Medicine  (her MD from University of Pennsylvania Medical School, and her Masters in Public Health from Johns Hopkins University’s School of Public Health), Dr. Gayle worked at the CDC for 20 years, directing the National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.  

Helene’s heroic work in HIV/AIDS was recognized by Bill & Melinda Gates, when they hired her away from the CDC to run their Foundation’s HIV, TB & Reproductive Health Program, which she did for 5 years, expanding her expertise to help those in greatest need globally.   There were still ‘mountains beyond mountains’ for Dr. Gayle to climb and in 2005, her talent was tapped by one of the world’s premier international relief and development organizations, CARE, USA, with programs that help more than 80 million people in 93 countries, and over 10,000 employees spread across the globe.  CARE is now dedicated to stopping the spread of the Corona Virus Emergency. (  

Dr. Gayle served as President and CEO of CARE, for 10 years, “helping millions of people recover from natural disasters and other acute emergencies, prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and gain access to healthcare, nutrition, education, economic opportunity, safe water and improved sanitation.”  A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, the American Public Health Association, and the National Academy of Medicine, Helene Gayle was named by Forbes Magazine as one of the most powerful women in the world, and by Foreign Policy as one of the top 100 “Global Thinkers.”  She has more high-level Administrative accomplishments than all other possible female candidates for VP, combined.

Dr.Helene D. Gayle, MD, CEO

Like Dr. Anthony Fauci, who has won over the American public through his straightforward, medical-science based information, Helene Gale was also born in New York State and has dedicated her professional life to improving public health.  One of five children raised in a Buffalo, N.Y, family that revered education, she was educated at Columbia University’s Barnard College, before attending Medical School.   Dr. Gayle has chaired President Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS, and launched a McKinsey Social Initiative (now, that builds public/private partnerships for social impact.  

Helene Gayle, articulate and charismatic, was among the very first global public health officials to recognize, early on, that the HIV/AIDS epidemic was taking a heavy toll upon the Black, Latino and poor communities in the United States.  When I served as CEO of Cable Positive, the AIDS action and education organization of the Cable & Telecommunications industry, I was fortunate to collaborate with Dr. Gayle on several HIV/AIDS education projects during the early 2000’s, including producing a series of Public Service Announcements and documentaries aimed at communities of color.  In 2008, the entire industry gave Helene Gayle the only Humanitarian Award it has ever bestowed upon any individual.  Extraordinary.

Three years ago, Dr. Gayle moved to Chicago to head one of nation’s oldest and largest community foundations, the Chicago Community Trust, focusing sharply on closing the racial and ethnic wealth gap in the Chicago area. The move extended her first hand experience and fact-based problem-solving approach into every region of the nation, from both coasts, to the South—where she lived for decades—and now to the nation’s heartland.  She is the personification of a global, caring, experienced and highly capable citizen.  Like Dr. Fauci, Dr. Gayle is a consummate medical and public health professional, not a politician. She has run vast national and international non-profit, public service organizations on the strength of science, fairness and humanity.

And, for Joe Biden, and all Americans, Dr. Helene Gayle is the most outstanding, highly qualified candidate for Vice-President, during the greatest public health crisis in over 100 years.  It’s all about the science, and humanity.

Tony Fauci: Margaret Heckler in Drag?

Former President Ronald Reagan (r.) and his HHS Secretary Margaret Heckler.

Is Tony Fauci just Margaret Heckler in drag?

At the only White House photo op this week in the Oval Office— strategically scheduled while the Stock Market was still open, unlike all the other Corona Virus briefings–I watched on TV as Dr. Anthony Fauci, sitting comfortably on a fancy couch and flanked by Dr. Deobrah Birx in her Hermes scarf–commanded the attention of the cameras in the room.

Fauci was pushed forward by his boss, Donald Trump, at precisely the very moment the number of deaths from COVID 19 passed 60,000 Americans in a less than 60 days, the GDP recorded the biggest quarterly plunge since the Great Recession of 2008, and the demand for widespread Corona Virus testing was exploding.   Fauci did a fancy flim-flam, announcing “ the early results of a federal trial (his own, at NIAID) with Remdesivir, an experimental anti-retroviral drug, “ as a potential treatment for COVID 19.

 With a COVID-crazed nation desperate for any shred of good news, Fauci, playing the role of Trump’s fluffer, called the preliminary, non-peer reviewed results of his findings a “very important proof of concept, that has proven a drug can block the virus.”  He added, almost sotto voce, that the new data needed to be further analyzed and subjected to the medical & scientific peer review process.   Fauci’s fandango had Trump’s desired effect upon the stock market, driving the Dow Jones Industrial Averages up over 500 points, overshadowing the gnarly GDP numbers, and knocking the gruesome and growing number of COVID deaths out of the headlines. 

“Some scientists were unsettled by the way in which the findings were reported,” Dr. Steven Nissen, of the Cleveland Clinic who has conducted dozens of clinical trials, told the New York Times.  “ The disclosure of trial results in a political setting before peer review or publication is highly unusual.  Where are the data?  This is too important to be handled in such a sloppy fashion.”

Additionally, as Gina Kolata—a renowned expert on pandemics– Peter Baker and Noah Weiland reported in their Times story, “Remdesivir Shows Modest Benefits in Corona Virus Trial,”  the Fauci announcement upstaged a more thorough, peer-reviewed, data-controlled study which found exactly the opposite result and was published in the highly respected Medical Journal The Lancet on the very same day.

To make matters worse, and to lean on his long-time involvement with HIV/ AIDS, a straight-faced Fauci compared the early results for Rendesivir to the early results for AZT as a first-step treatment for AIDS—without mentioning  AZT’s damage to many patients, along with the impossibility of acquiring the drug treatment for people without money or connections.

Fauci finished by abandoning his scientist’s seriousness, and went full-frontal Trump salesman: “ I can guarantee you, as more people, more companies, more investigators get involved, it is going to get better and better.”

Fauci’s breathless briefing looked familiar.  My mind darted back 36 years, to another day in late April, when, with trumpets blaring, Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of HHS, Margaret Heckler, held a press conference at her HHS Offices in Washington, DC to, as Laurie Garrett wrote in  The Coming Plague,  “announce discovery of the virus that caused AIDS.”   Reagan, in the final year of the first term of his Presidency, still had not mentioned the word AIDS, and wouldn’t do so for another 3 years.

Foreshadowing Fauci’s tap-dance for Trump on COVID-19, Heckler “declared victory for her agency’s National Cancer Institute, announcing, ‘Today we add another miracle to the long honor roll of American medicine and science…Today’s discovery represents the triumph of science over a dreadful disease.”  Then Heckler boldly forecast the “development of an AIDS vaccine within five years,” according to The Coming Plague.    That was in 1984; an AIDS vaccine has still not been discovered.

Sean Strub, writing in his book Body Counts, observed that “the (Heckler) press conference seemed contrived, like it was held to assuage the public’s fear.”  

The fear, or the “new wave of AIDS hysteria,” which Strub referred to was, ironically, stirred by Dr. Anthony Fauci , then with the NIH, who published an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association earlier in 1983, raising the possibility that “routine close contact, as within a family household, can spread the disease.”

“AIDS takes on an entirely new dimension (and if) the possibility that nonsexual, non-blood borne transmission is possible, the scope of the syndrome is enormous, “ wrote Dr. Fauci.     

Despite the CDC’s sternly rebuffing Fauci’s false findings, the public hysteria, Strub writes,  “pushed the government to do something about AIDS” with Congress authorizing $12 million for AIDS Research.  Fortuitously for Fauci, who started the whole brouhaha, he was appointed to head the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which he still heads to this day.

That’s why I found Fauci’s premature announcement in front of his fabulating boss, about another potential magic treatment for COVID-19 (not bleach, disinfectants or an anti-malarial drug) to be so odd, in addition to breaking every scientific protocol, as other researchers have observed.  Fauci had followed this road before.   He watched Margaret Heckler make a fool of herself in front of the world, when she promised an AIDS vaccine by the end of Reagan’s presidency.

Fauci knew what it was like to flack for the fact-denying, magical thinking Reagan Administration that overpromised on treatments for another virus in another epidemic.  To Fauci & Heckler’s credit, at least they didn’t call the quest for an AIDS Vaccine, “Operation Warp Speed,” a deceptive and dangerous way to brand the careful, methodical process of vaccine research, especially with anti-Vaxxers (many of whom are Trump supporters) eager to savage any process that’s less than airtight.   

 Dr. Fauci’s flimsy and suspiciously timed “findings” regarding Remdesivir as a potential treatment for COVID 19, revived the vision of Reagan’s HHS Secretary Maggie Heckler, dressed professionally and proper, casting aside her credibility to declare victory over a virus, newly identified,  that had barely begun to destroy millions of lives.