Former Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel once said "You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. And what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things that you think you could not do before."
It's becoming apparent that the coronavirus pandemic is a crisis that some politicians do not want to go to waste. Over the past week, progressive leaders in New York and Pennsylvania are seemingly operating under a cloak of virtue signaling when possible waste, fraud and abuse may be afoot in their coronavirus programs.
On Sunday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that his wife, Chirlane McCray would co-chair a "Coronavirus Racial Inequality Task Force" on Racial Inclusion and Equity. De Blasio stated that the group's goals will be "ensuring that the hardest-hit communities as well as minority- and women-owned businesses get their fair share of help as the city rebuilds from the pandemic."
As New York City still suffers from the roughly 160,000 coronavirus cases netting over 12,287 deaths, de Blasio is instead virtue signaling to justify a nepotistic appointment of his wife to a role within his administration. This problem is drastically compounded by the fact that this isn't the first time that de Blasio has appointed McCray to head an initiative that received municipal funding.
Worse, reports that McCray is exploring a run for Brooklyn borough president raises questions as to the legality of a conflict of interest when the mayor elevates his wife to lead initiatives in his administration that may raise her profile for a run for office.
Is the Virtue Signaling Being Used to Cover for What May Warrant Investigations and Media Scrutiny?
While it is true that certain coronavirus death tolls are higher among certain racial and ethnic groups, health officials cite that it's pre-existing health issues like high blood pressure, obesity, heart conditions and diabetes that make people more susceptible to the virus. Nationally, these prevalent conditions are not specific to the African American or Latino communities, but when compounded to a dense, travel-heavy urban environment the numbers multiply.
Meanwhile, in Pennsylvania, the official COVID-19 death count spiked twice last week, then plummeted on Thursday in a curious series of events that call the decision-making process of state Health Secretary, Dr. Rachel Levine into question. Over the last week, concern over how Levine, the state's first transgender cabinet secretary, was selected to run the state's health department emerged, considering her background is mainly in behavioral health and not epidemiology nor health system oversight.
Last week, Levine announced the decision to add these unconfirmed numbers to the state's death toll. Two days later, following mounting questions about the accuracy of the count, Levine removed more than 200 probable deaths from the tally, in what Levine said was "in an effort to be transparent."
This major confusion and possible "red flag" amid the accuracy of the coronavirus death toll in the battleground state in the same week that President Trump announced his reopening plans. This drew criticism the state's coroners, who are actually tasked with investigating deaths; they have grown increasingly frustrated by the health department's lack of collaboration with them, resulting in reports that state numbers do not match what coroners were seeing.
"There's a discrepancy in the numbers," said Lycoming County Coroner Charles E. Kiessling Jr., president of the Pennsylvania Coroners Association on Thursday to Spotlight PA. "I'm not saying there's something going on.... I'm not a conspiracy theory guy. But accuracy is important."
The confusion came when Pennsylvania raised its coronavirus death toll by 276 casualties on Sunday night alone, then another 360 deaths on Tuesday night. First, Levine blamed a computer glitch, then said the "significant increase" included "probable positive" COVID-19 deaths, as well as confirmed deaths. However, that same day, health department spokesperson Nate Wardle said "some probable deaths had been included in the count for at least a week or maybe longer," then tried to walk back his statement the next day saying that "although probable deaths had been added to the reporting systems as of April 13, the day before federal guidance changed, they weren't included in the state's official count until Tuesday."
So why hasn't there been widespread criticism and/or investigation into Levine's health department and why they seem to be resistant to communicating with the actual coroner's offices declaring deaths?
With current tribal politics and the increasing absence of an impartial media to report these issues, it may be virtually impossible to highlight concerns over Levine's suitability to lead the State Health Department through this crisis without being labeled as "transphobic." Worse, this is just another scandal in the administration of progressive Governor Tom Wolf, the millionaire cabinet heir who appointed Levine, who shared his reelection ticket with Lt. Gov. John Fetterman.
Fetterman, former Mayor of Braddock (pop. 2,400) who gained notoriety for his "hipster" look from a Levi's commercial; was recently admonished by legislators for ignoring the rules of the Senate.
It should also be noted that Pennsylvania isn't the only place seemingly "padding" their COVID-19 death toll, which takes us back to New York. In the same week where Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York would also count "probable" deaths, Sen. Charles Schumer and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared together in Ocasio-Cortez's district to ask the Federal Emergency Management Administration to approve disaster funeral assistance for their constituents. Despite the ethics and legality of this request, the negative optics of such a request for funding so closely timed with the "probable" tabulation method may raise questions for inspectors general, oversight committees and the political opposition.
The coronavirus outbreak should serve as a wakeup call to our national priorities. The Democratic shift to a more progressive base emphasizing social issues before government management has resulted in a wave of officials who may lack the experience needed to lead through major crises. Worse, by banging the almost constant drum of virtue signaling to social and identity issues, these officials have been insulated against important questions regarding an appearance of mismanagement and/or impropriety in their ranks.
To preserve both the rule of law and continuity of government; it's vital for oversight, media and the political opposition to have intestinal fortitude in challenging waste, fraud and abuse – regardless of the social beliefs, gender, race or sexual orientation of those in question.
A. Benjamin Mannes, MA, CPP, CESP, is a Subject Matter Expert in Security & Criminal Justice Reform based on his two and a half decade career and his own experiences on both sides the criminal justice system. Mannes has served in both federal and municipal law enforcement though the 9/11 attacks, DC-area sniper investigation, major homeland security exercises and natural disasters as well as having to face a charge for the later-ruled unconstitutional DC gun law. Thereafter, Mannes served for nearly 9 years as the Director, Office of Investigations for North America’s largest medical board, as a Chief Compliance Officer, consultant, expert witness, nonprofit board member and political adviser. Read A. Benjamin Mannes' Reports — More Here.
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