Gov. Cuomo: You fought COVID; Stop Trump from Killing Democracy.

NYS Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, New York Tough.

Dear Governor Cuomo:

Your powerful public service in never surrendering to the global catastrophe of COVID in New York State, and persistence in bringing NY’s infection rate down under one-percent, compels me to ask that you tackle another grave and immediate threat to all of us across this nation.

 In your capacity as Chair of the National Governor’s Association, I urge you to call upon the full power of the 50 States and 5 US Territories—who have the legal responsibility for conducting free, fair and unfettered elections– to ensure that this November 3rd’s Election will not be sabotaged by anyone, including the Russians, the President of the United States, or armed, private militias.

As the NGA has done with COVID in drafting and implementing your “Policy and Guidance Documents for COVID-19” I urgently request that you lead the Governors of this nation in establishing a protocol to guide each state in this year’s November elections, keeping them free from Foreign or Domestic interference or sabotage.  

Under your COVID guidelines, The National Governor’s Association says “several states have recently expanded vote-by-mail and absentee voting options due to the pandemic.”  It would be tragic to have the NGA’s pandemic protocols of “Vote-by-Mail,” be undermined by partisanship or a purposeful denigrating of the democratic process by either Vladimir Putin’s agents already sowing distrust in this election–as FBI Director Christopher Wray recently told Congress–or by the President of the United States repeating Russian talking points, and declaring at his Press Conference on September 23, 2020, that he wanted to “get rid of the ballots” to unconstitutionally retain power.

I understand that as Chairman of the NGA you must work collaboratively with Republicans and Democrats, and your work with Past Chair Larry Hogan of Maryland, a Republican, was a model of bipartisanship and the highest form of unbiased service to the American people, especially in dealing with the greatest public health crisis in a century.  

Similarly, we now face the greatest threat to the continuance of our Constitutional Republic in this country’s 244-year history.  Just as you and Governor Hogan performed in a brilliant, bi-partisan manner battling COVID, the future of our democracy depends upon your being  “New York tough” once again, demonstrating strong leadership on an imminent threat to our very existence—the protection of free and fair elections, conducted by State and local governments nationwide.

Since State Governments have full authority over their own National Guard, and 50+ Secretary of States (or Chief Election Officers) have responsibility to “oversee the conduct of elections, according to law,” I implore you through your leadership of the NGA, and your recognized excellence it taking command of the fight against COVID in New York State, to take every step necessary and guarantee that our upcoming elections will be fair and free from any outside, inappropriate or illegal interference.  

I consider it my civic duty as an American Citizen, concerned about the future of our Constitutional form of government and the sanctity of our elections as the repository of democracy, to urge you and your fellow Governors, in the strongest possible terms, to do your duty, and defend our democracy and our elections which are less than 6 weeks away.  The future of this democracy rests in your hands.

In light of the President’s direct threat to disregard election results if they don’t go his way, I recommend that as Chair of the National Governors Association, you immediately convene an emergency session of the NGA to strengthen election protocols—similar to the powerful protocols you put forward for fighting the spread of COVID—to protect our upcoming elections in every State and County, and defend our democracy from the deadly viruses of deceit, disinformation, potential violence, intimidation, and authoritarianism.

This urgent matter of our individual and States’ constitutional rights demands your immediate attention, and the clear, swift actions of State and Local governments across this nation to protect our fundamental right to vote.

Thank you for your life-saving leadership on COVID, and your consistent defense of our Constitutional and human rights.  

Yours in the continuing fight for a better, fairer democracy, and in the memory of a great New Yorker, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who devoted her life to justice and the law,

Steve Villano

Rosh Hashanah: Time to Sound the Shofar for Trump, And All of Us.

Sounding the Shofar.

When I converted to Judaism 40 years ago, the power and relevancy of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayers had an immediate and profound effect upon me.   They have an even more emotional hold over me today, with far, far greater urgency.

As I read and say them this year, I think of how they apply to Donald Trump, and all of us who have not done enough to protect and elevate humanity.    One of the magnificent attributes of the Judaism I love, is its encouragement of constant interpretation and meaning, and an unflinching focus on social and personal responsibility. 

Below, please find the Rosh Hashanah prayer said before the blowing of the Shofar.  The italics represent my own interpretations for this Rosh Hashanah, perhaps the most important one in my lifetime since 2001, the week after 9/11, when I could not get through the service without crying uncontrollably over the deaths of nearly 3,000 fellow humans during the World Trade Center attacks.  

This year, we recall the lives of 200,000 souls lost to COVID, including one in our own family, in our prayers.  Remember, the italics are my own thoughts: 

“On Rosh Hashanah it is written, 

On Yom Kippur it is sealed:

How many shall pass on, how many shall come to be?

Who shall live and who shall die? 

(Who could have prevented most of 200,000 COVID Deaths?)

Who shall see ripe age, and who shall not?

Who shall perish by fire and who by water?

(Who shall perish on the West Coast, besieged by fire & smoke?;

Who shall drown in the South & East by floods & rising seas?; 

Who dare remain silent while 3,000 Americans perished in Puerto Rico? 

Who shall deny dire warnings of death from climate change catastrophes?);

Who by sword, and who by beast?

(Who by White Supremacists chanting “Jews will not replace us?”;

Who by Nazi sympathizers turning Jim Crow laws into Nuremberg Laws?

Who by tearing children from their mother’s breasts,

And locking them away in cages of chain-links?

Who by hunger and who by thirst?

Who has forced families onto food-lines to wait 4 hours for food?

Who has increased the number of food insecure children, 

While offering the wealthy more and more bread and gold?

Who by earthquake and who by plague? 

Who by privately admitting the Plague was deadly,

While lying, and publicly calling the Plague a hoax?

Who by modeling dangerous behavior resulting in more COVID deaths?

Who by strangling and who by stoning?  

Who by denial of George Floyd’s murder by suffocation?

Who by Breonna Taylor’s being stoned to death by gunfire,

Or Jacob Blake, 7 bullets in his back, paralyzed, while his 3 children watched?

Who shall be secure and who shall be driven?

Who shall be tranquil and who shall be troubled?

Who shall be poor and who shall be rich?

Who shall be humbled, and who exalted?

But repentance, prayer and charity,

Temper judgement’s severe decree—

And refusal to repent, pray, or love,

Condemn one to eternal, internal, isolation & immolation.

You shall cause the Shofar to be sounded, and proclaim

Liberty throughout the earth to all its inhabitants…

Justice, justice shall you follow, that you may live.

Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream.

And, the great Shofar was sounded again, for all to listen to the “fierce urgency of now,” and awaken from our sleep.


The Fake’s Progress.

The Fake’s Progress

(Inspiration from Igor Stravinsky, and his Opera, “The Rake’s Progress)

He came to California,

With a Rake in his small hands;

Discovered his hermetic plane

Had just one place to land.

A field of Federal forest,

Turned to ash by flame;

The only spot without fire,

To show his Orange mane.

The Fake dismounted his steel steed,

No mask, no pussy he.

The towns, the people all did bleed,

Those that did not flee.

The Fake, a Shadow o’er his eyes,

Looked at his forest floor.

The Rake, held high above his head,

Was all they’d get — no more.

“Use your rakes,” the Fake did shout,

“The fires are but your fault. “

And when the wind heard this dumb lout,

It roared a new assault.

Fire-nadoes burst from the sky,

The Fake had a great scare.

Then 14,000 lightening strikes,

All set ablaze his hair.

The Shadow swept atop the Fake,

Averting certain death.

A devilish deal was there to make,

To spare the Fake’s last breath.

“Your soul is mine,” the Shadow said,

“To join your heart’s faint buzz.”

“Ha!,” the Fake laughed in his face,

“You forgot. It already was!”

The Fake’s flabby face forced a grin,

Swilling a false victory over his end.

Yet, Shadow would not be denied,

The Fake, no more his friend.

He dropped him into Bedlam,

No Stones to Bread would be.

Abandoned by his shrillest fans,

The Fake dissolved, you see.

And what about his Rakes?

What progress did they make?

They symbolized the fraudulence,

Of the fatuous, flatulent Fake.

Losers, Suckers & 9/11.

Napa, California’s special 9/11 Memorial.

Deep down, Donald Trump probably thinks that the nearly 3,000 people who died during the terrorist attacks on NYC’s World Trade Center on September 11, 2001 were “losers and suckers,” just like the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have fought and died in all our foreign wars, or the 190,000 men, women and children who have perished of COVID on his watch.

What else can explain Trump’s terrible, callous and unpatriotic actions shortly after the Twin Towers were toppled with thousands of New Yorkers crushed under the rubble, that made Trump see an opportunity to make both a financial and public relations killing. Instead of responding sympathetically to the human disaster, he made up stories of hundreds of non-existent “terrorist sympathizers,” cheering in the streets of Jersey City over the mass murder of thousands of people, and the destruction of the Towers. In fact, it was Trump who cashed in on the tragedy.

Following the establishment of a 9/11 Emergency Relief Fund for small businesses in lower Manhattan suffering from drastic financial losses in the aftermath of the attack, the unfeeling Trump took advantage of the special fund by sucking $150,000 out of it — despite the fact that the Trump Organization was neither a small business, nor suffered losses from the 9/11 attack. This unscrupulous theft of money by Trump from the 9/11 Emergency Relief Fund, came after the soul-less cipher bragged that his commercial building at 40 Wall Street was the tallest building in NYC, while the ruins of the Twin Towers were still smoldering. The cheering, it turned out, was coming from Trump, not “terrorists,” across the Hudson River.

To this day, Trump still has not apologized for his awful actions; never gave the money back he stole from those who suffered 9/11 losses; never apologized for his insensitive comments about having the tallest building in NYC; never offered to pay for the school costs, or mental-health counseling costs of the children of those damned to death in the two Towers that day. Keeping completely in character, Trump used that unfathomable tragedy to his own personal benefit in his typically grotesque way, by profiting from the hardships of others.

A human being, with the faintest heartbeat, would have expressed empathy, paid that money back and redoubled his efforts to comfort the families of those forever lost to us in the attack on 9/11. Fellow Americans across the country — even as far from the WTC site as Napa, California — were so moved by the events of that day they raised money to construct permanent memorials to honor those who lost their lives.

As a New Yorker who worked in World Trade Center Tower 2 for nearly 6 years and who lived in NYC during the terrorist attack, I recently recorded my remembrances of 9/11 with Bernie Narvaez, the Chair of the Napa Sunrise Rotary’s 9/11 Commemoration Committee and a candidate for Napa City Council.

Napa is one of the few cities West of the Mississippi with remnants of the rusted beams of the building in which I once worked, sculpted into one of the most moving 9/11 memorials I’ve ever experienced. Late in the afternoon, when the sun begins to sink behind downtown Napa trees and buildings, the steel girders rescued from the Trade Center cast long shadows near the large white plates bearing the full names of people who either could not be rescued, or died trying to save others.

Each time I walk past Napa’s 9/11 Memorial and read the names of my fellow New Yorkers whose lives were ended, and their families ripped apart, I am transported from Napa back in time, to the Wall of Death at St.Vincent’s Hospital in NYC. It’s the scene of my most tortuous night terrors of the days after the attack with the rubble of the Towers still simmering, bodies melted inside, when my partner Carol and I walked from our Manhattan apartment, to get near, what was now, a mass gravesite, and pay our respects.

We stopped at St. Vincent’s Hospital on W. 14th Street, then the closest hospital to the World Trade Center, which was prepared to receive hundreds of survivors. There were none. Instead, we witnessed thousands of 8 ½ x 11 “Missing” photos of peoples’ lovers and children lost in the attack; an entire wall of the hospital, covered with pictures of humanity, incinerated. Young faces smiled out at me from the photos, and in each bright smile, I saw my son’s face, and cried uncontrollably at the thought of losing him, and the unimaginable losses of the parents who lost their children, smiling at them forever, from the walls of St. Vincent’s Hospital, and the deepest crevices of their hearts.

And it’s why, everyday, but especially around 9/11, when I look at Trump’s smug, smirking, selfishly-satisfied face, I’m reminded of the photos of all the young, beautiful faces, full of life — photos that ripped my heart out 19 years ago. I think of their faces — bright lives I can never forget — and my fury at Trump’s inhumanity, is made even deeper by my despair for the victims of 9/11, which knows no end.