Terry Schwadron

Just what about Jan. 6 was ‘legitimate political discourse’?

That description was meant to sideswipe Representatives Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Adam Kitzinger (R-Ill.) for joining the select House committee to investigate who brought about “discourse” that saw thousands of Donald Trump fans breaking into the Capitol, threatening leaders, and resulting in deaths and injuries.

Politically, it is understandable, if disappointing, that the RNC wants to slap the pair for breaching what they see as a need to offer only unyielding defense of Trump’s continuing wails about losing the 2020 election. The rest of us see a kind of bravery in their decision to find out why Jan. 6 came about.

You might as well call Afghanistan an underrated tourist spot or suggest that North Korea is doing interesting engineering studies by launching test nuclear weapons.

But to call what is emerging and extensive coup plot as “legitimate political discourse” is just nuts. Apparently, even the RNC saw the need to clarify that language, saying it was never meant to apply to MAGA rioters who violently stormed the Capitol. But by omission, it was okay to call plotting to overthrow the Constitution and democratic elections “legitimate”? It was legit to plan and coordinate such a riot? It was okay to use the military to seize voting machines and file fake elector slates? It was all right to involve Republican congress members in a plan to overturn Electoral Votes?

Just what here is “legitimate political discourse”?

You might as well call Afghanistan an underrated tourist spot or suggest that North Korea is doing interesting engineering studies by launching test nuclear weapons.

I checked the right-leaning websites to see how they treated this formal arrival of doublespeak. Breitbart, Newsmax, OANN, which have all given extensive coverage to election-rigging claims and voice to those who decry investigation, all carried accounts of the voice vote to censure Cheney and Kinzinger but did not dwell on or explore the re-labeling of Jan. 6 as “legitimate.”

An Ever-Spreading Plot

There now are so many coup plot line investigations afoot that the public hearings planned by the House committee are being delayed another couple of months.

On Friday, we saw even former Vice President Mike Pence publicly rebuke Trump as “wrong” in asserting that Pence could have overturned the election result. We heard more partial reports from now multiple investigations that put Trump at the center of a web of plans to send fake electors to Congress, to illegally consider using the military or other federal agencies to grab voting machines, to demand National Security Administration actions to find election fraud.

Taken together, the picture emerging is that election fraud manufacture was the only business being done in the White House.

Friday’s vote was dramatically different in tone from a statement the Republican National Committee released the day of the attack, when it said, “these violent scenes we have witnessed do not represent acts of patriotism, but an attack on our country and its founding principles.”

But, as we all painfully know, Trump makes it his business every day to insist that we all need to justify any action that would put him back in the White House – even as polling is beginning to show some cracks in his political base.

It’s all so inside-out that we need to stop periodically to remind ourselves what we all witnessed after November 2020 and through to the violence of Jan. 6. Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol that day, smashing windows, assaulting police officers and sending lawmakers and then-Vice President Mike Pence running for their lives.

That has led to this summary from Ronna McDaniel, RNC chairwoman: “Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger crossed a line. They chose to join Nancy Pelosi in a Democrat-led persecution of ordinary citizens who engaged in legitimate political discourse that had nothing to do with violence at the Capitol.”

Say what?

What’s Important

Look, let the RNC eat its own and issue its self-serving censure, itself apparently the result of intra-party negotiation over whether to expel Cheney and Kinzinger from their congressional caucus altogether. Cheney already faces a problematic re-election, and Kinzinger won’t run again anyway.

What’s more important here is that this is an attempt to minimize what happened on Jan. 6 and to keep alive as legitimate the still-baseless claims of widespread election fraud. In pursuit of those claims, states with Republican-majority legislatures are flooding us with laws to restrict voting in one fashion or another, but always affecting Democratic areas with concentrations of voters of color.

Amid the issues stemming from Covid, economy, international war and peace, Republicans apparently want the top-line concern to be a replay of an election more than a year old. As The Times summarized, “In approving [the censure resolution] and opting to punish two of its own, Republicans seemed to embrace a position that many of them have only hinted at: that the assault and the actions that preceded it were acceptable.”

It meshes perfectly with new promises from Trump himself, that if re-elected in 2024, he would consider pardons for those convicted in the Jan. 6 attack.

No problem ever gets resolved without acknowledging what went wrong, nor can there be any effective solution. Censuring, expelling, slapping two Republicans for taking part in a committee to ask questions doesn’t dismiss the extraordinary plot that apparently was under way to overturn our government.

Suddenly calling an insurrection-fueled riot at the Capitol “legitimate political discourse” doesn’t make it so.

Florida’s snowflakes can’t handle the state’s vile racial history

We finally have a bill about feelings.

Set aside decisions about building infrastructure and fixing bridges or creating pre-kindergarten or considering sheltering the homeless or even preserving voting rights – things governments might do either federally or locally to deal with social problems.

This one is about the preservation of emotions.

A bill gained the approval of the Florida Senate Education Committee this week that seeks to bar public schools or workplaces from making people feel “discomfort” or “guilt” about their race during lessons or training focused on inequality.

The bill doesn’t really lay out what happens if a white Christian majority has teachings that prompt discomfort to Jews, Muslims, Blacks, Latinx, Asian Americans, LBGTQ or transgender students and parents.

It is unclear what exactly would happen if someone feels discomfort or guilt or how this bill’s effects would be measured or enforced.

As a columnist for MSNBC wrote: Senate Bill 148, “which should really be called the ‘sad white people bill.’ [would] effectively codify white fragility into law” though it never mentions individual races or backgrounds.

Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has endorsed the bill, which includes several provisions outlined in his Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act or Stop W.O.K.E., a purported ban on critical race theory that was introduced last month in the state legislature.

Of course, as has been pointed out repeatedly, Critical Race Theory is a college-level area of study not taught in K-12 schools. Nevertheless, the label has been adopted by conservative governors, school board members and parents who object to any teaching that suggests that racism and residual effects of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation are alive and well in these United States.

Funny, the bill doesn’t really lay out what happens if a white Christian majority has teachings that prompt discomfort to Jews, Muslims, Blacks, Latinx, Asian Americans, LBGTQ or transgender students and parents.

Reacting to Critical Race Theory

A historical marker about the Rosewood Massacre is located on State Road 24 in Rosewood, Fla.
The marker on the text reads as follows:

SIDE 1: “Racial violence erupted in the small and quiet Rosewood community January 1-7, 1923. Rosewood, a predominantly colored community, was home to the Bradley, Carrier, Carter, Goins, and Hall families, among others. Residents supported a school taught by Mahulda “Gussie” Brown Carrier, three churches, and a Masonic lodge. Many of them owned their homes, some were business owners, and others worked in nearby Sumner and at the Cummer Lumber Mill. This quiet life came to an end on January 1, 1923, when a white Sumner woman accused a black man of assaulting her. In the search for her alleged attacker, whites terrorized and killed Rosewood residents. In the days of fear and violence that followed, many Rosewood citizens sought refuge in the nearby woods. White merchant John M. Wright and other courageous whites sheltered some of the fleeing men, women and children. Whites burned Rosewood and looted livestock and property; two were killed while attacking a home. Five blacks also lost their lives: Sam Carter, who was tortured for information and shot to death on January 1; Sarah Carrier; Lexie Gordon; James Carrier; and Mingo Williams. Those who survived were forever scarred.”

Sponsored or placed by: The Real Rosewood Foundation, Inc. and the Florida Department of State

“Critical Race Theory” has become a rallying cry making the rounds in elections and politics, particularly since The New York Times published its 1619 Project last year aiming to reframe the country’s history by placing the consequences of slavery.

As Education Week explains, “The events of the last decade have increased public awareness about things like housing segregation, the impacts of criminal justice policy in the 1990s, and the legacy of enslavement on Black Americans. But there is much less consensus on what the government’s role should be in righting these past wrongs. Add children and schooling into the mix and the debate becomes especially volatile.”

Like similar efforts to block the specific teaching of critical race theory, now comes the Florida legislation to alter how history is taught, seeking to tamp down suggestions that current-day white majority populations have any responsibility for whatever slavery sins forebears committed.

What’s different here is that this is a bill about feelings: “An individual, by virtue of his or her race or sex, does not bear responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex,” the bill states. “An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race.”

Lessons about racism or sexism are allowed, but only if they meet the specific inclusions or deletions outlined in the bill – basically statements that the bill suggests will not offend anyone. School or professional instructors can use lesson plans “to address, in an age-appropriate manner, the topics of sexism, slavery, racial oppression, racial segregation, and racial discrimination,” according to the bill. But “classroom instruction and curriculum may not be used to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view inconsistent with the principles of this subsection or state academic standards,” it states.

The governor explains: “In Florida, we are taking a stand against the state-sanctioned racism that is critical race theory. We won’t allow Florida tax dollars to be spent teaching kids to hate our country or to hate each other. The WOKE Act extends similar means “to protect Florida workers against the hostile work environment that is created when large corporations force their employees to endure CRT-inspired ‘training’ and indoctrination.”

The Bill and Feelings

You can read through Senate Bill 148: It promotes teaching of history and content of the Declaration of Independence, equality of all persons, inalienable rights of life, liberty and property, the Federalist papers and flag education. It includes education about the Holocaust and about slavery, adding that teaching must include that no race is superior to others or inherently racist, sexist or oppressive.

Oddly, it strikes language about mental health from the list of health topics and retains the rights of parents to exempt students from some health topics touching on sex.

This particular bill does not address library books, as in some states, but does repeat the rights of parents to raise challenges.

The governor argues that this bill would build on existing rules that are part of the Florida administrative code. They specifically state that teachings based on CRT, saying, instruction on the required topics must be factual and objective, and may not suppress or distort significant historical events. He offered a curated list of incidents nationally in which he argues the spirit of critical race theory is coloring lessons in school and workplace trainings.

A much different reading is offered by a strident MSNBC columnist Ja’han Jones who argues, “Educating people about the inhumane ways white people positioned themselves atop America’s social hierarchy is a direct threat to the racist power structure. White people are most likely to feel discomforted by these lessons. . . it’s clear that the Florida bill is designed to coddle white people, even though it doesn’t mention them specifically.

The columnist adds, “So, to clarify: Florida conservatives are prioritizing white hypersensitivity over truthful teachings. They’re apparently saying lessons about America’s racist and sexist past are acceptable only if they don’t offend white people.”

A realistic snapshot of America today would reflect lots of race problems, and substantial frustration arising from them in multiple directions.

What I hadn’t really seen was a bill directed at feelings rather than acts. If feelings are the new measure, one might imagine a wholesale remake of our laws.

The Jan. 6 committee fillets the contemptuous Mark Meadows

It has never been clear how effective a chief of staff Mark Meadows proved to be for Donald Trump. Trump always has been too concerned with self over governing. But it was clear in hearing out the Jan. 6 committee that Meadows came across to that group as a willful buffoon.

The Jan. 6 Select Congressional Committee dramatically dispatched Meadows last night with a recommended 9-0 contempt of Congress vote. It was as dripping in scorn and disappointment for a former colleague’s disrespect to the House as it was filled with questions that go well beyond his failure to testify.

It seems certain that Meadows is headed for a full House contempt vote, which could come as early as Tuesday, and recommended prosecution for refusing to answer his subpoena, as with Trump adviser Steve Bannon. But the case against Meadows suggests actual criminal complicity in a conspiracy to overthrow the government through the subversion of electoral votes.

Republicans and Democrats on the panel made clear that the contempt they felt for a former colleague reflected personal contempt as well as the more official sort.

The committee, with seven Democrats and two Republicans, openly mocked Meadows’ claims of executive privilege clearly thrust upon him by Trump. Meadows already had turned over 9,000 emails, texts, phone calls and records to the panel; he has published and promoted a book purporting to discuss exact topics for which the committee has questions; he took part in television interviews in which he covered similar ground in political cover for his former boss.

Indeed, after the committee had disclosed that the documents included in a Jan. 5 email which, per the White House, said the National Guard was on standby to “protect pro-Trump people.” Anyone following the inquiries into the insurrection attempt would have serious questions about Meadows’ knowledge of events leading to it.

Meadows, Filleted

Before television cameras, the Republicans and Democrats on
the panel made clear that the contempt they felt for a former colleague reflected personal contempt as well as the more official sort. For years, Meadows, former ranking member of the Government and Operations Committee and leader of the House Freedom Caucus until taking over as Trump’s top counselor, was strident in calling out members of the Barack Obama administration who did not satisfy his own subpoenas and questions.

At this hearing, committee members placed Meadows in a central position in dealing with other unnamed Republican Congress members to derail the Jan. 6 election certification; in repeated meetings with conspiracists aiming to overthrow the election results; and as a go-between among Congress members under siege, Trump family members and Trump himself as the Jan. 6 violence continued to play out.

As The Times noted, according to dozens of text messages that members of the panel read aloud, Meadows fielded requests from terrified lawmakers and even members of Trump’s family begging for Meadows to persuade Trump to call off the rioters.

Others noted that he was neck-deep in attempts to overturn election results. He traveled to Georgia on Trump’s behalf before that phone call in which Trump asked the secretary of state to “find” sufficient votes to change the outcome. The committee report detailed communications showing that Meadows met with and coordinated information in a 38-page PowerPoint on how state delegations, Congress members and Vice President Mike Pence could stop the certification by ordering martial law and tossing votes; and he coordinated with Jan. 6 rally organizers.

Even at best, executive privilege is not a blank check to refuse a House subpoena particularly to answer a whole lot of questions that fall outside any direct advisory communications with Trump. For that matter, we’re seeing the same refusal attitude extending now to former trade representative Peter Navarro before a different committee looking at Covid policies.

Meadows, Absent

All there was on the other side was ordered silence – and a legal lawsuit that the subpoena was overly broad. But, to anyone listening to the hearing, the committee’s questions all sounded, well, reasonable.

Of course, the missing link here is Trump himself, who is stopping anyone from testifying whose recollections might show him in an unfavorable light. As I have argued previously, if Trump believes in his own legal cause, it is maddening that he doesn’t stand up and testify proudly about his actions before, during and since.

It all would be absurd if it were not so deadly serious.

Jan 6 was a symptom, not the disease itself. We’re watching our election and voting rights, our democracy itself under continuing attack by a populism that demands authoritarianism – and a Donald Trump who wants to return to don that monarchial crown.

Trump’s PowerPoint coup plotters were crackpots, argues Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank, who adds, “We may not be so lucky next time.”

The hearing itself was only 45 minutes, an effective round-robin of congressional outrage that left only one question: Where is the Justice Department’s parallel investigation of those who led and planned the overthrow of our government?

Breaking down the mangled history of mainstream media and the Steele dossier

Inevitably, this week, we started to see the news media backing off – even adjusting their files – over stories published about the so-called Steele dossier a couple of years ago. The effect is to force renewed thinking about links between Donald Trump and Russia.

The reason for reconsideration about what was said at the time is the recent indictment of Igor Danchenko, a Russian analyst facing charges of lying to the FBI over information he supplied for the dossier by former British intelligence Christopher Steele and the FBI that was used as justification for initial inquiries into the all-things-Russia links with the Donald Trump 2016 campaign.

The 39-page grand jury indictment of Danchenko for making false statements was the result of more than two years of investigation by a special counsel, John H. Durham. The indictment – there has been no trial yet – is being hailed among conservatives as definitive in defending Trump from any eventual conclusions about the degree to which The Former Guy colluded, cooperated or otherwise was open to arrangements with the Russians.

So, this week, just as the media herd had flocked to the story of the Steele dossier, now the media, herd-like, is taking a step back.

Nevertheless, besides any overreach by the FBI, there are two essential truths here: First, press outlets have been careful throughout to say that large portions of the dossier have remained unverified. And second, the case outlined by Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III outlined lots of contact and arrangements among the Trump campaign and transition team members and Russian operatives.

Adjusting Archived Articles

The Washington Post, Politico and others are adjusting stories in their electronic files to reflect yet more doubt on references to the Steele dossier, first published by BuzzFeed in January 2017. These include rewrites to show new questions or newly created omissions in already published stories to fit with new information.

The dossier contained a range of allegations about candidate Trump that were picked up and amplified in news reports, talk shows and social media.

Steele himself last month offered interviews defending his 17-memo compilation — paid for first by Republican, then-Democratic political opponents of Trump—as apolitical. Last year, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz found errors in the FBI review of data and its use in obtaining special wiretapping authority for a Trump associate. One FBI lawyer pleaded guilty to a criminal charge.

Former Attorney General William P. Barr appointed Durham to lead a wider investigation into the origins of the Russia connections. That inquiry has produced little until this recent indictment.

How the media acted in all this is now the new focus in articles in:

  • Politico, where press critic Jack Schafer discusses media transparency
  • The Washington Post, where media critic Eric Wemple has extensively looked at media coverage of the Steele dossier over time
  • The New York Times opinion essays, where Bill Grueskin, a Columbia journalism professor, considers the herd response of a too-believing media
  • Also, columnist Bret Stephens, an avowed conservative thinker, finds consistent fault with both the FBI and the media for lack of questions.

Most of the important claims in the dossier have not been proven, and some have been refuted.

But No Exoneration

Still, Wemple, among others, conclude that just because all that Steele gathered, including the notorious reports of a Trump pee tape, didn't pan out didn't mean that there wasn't plenty of fishy Russian business during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Despite all the Trump and Republican denials – containing lies and misstatements themselves, the Mueller Report detailed multiple instances of what would constitute bad, even potentially criminal behavior in that presidential campaign and the weeks following the 2016 election.

Trump has never disowned his special regard for Russian leader Vladimir Putin and went to great lengths to align U.S. policies with what have comported well with Russian outlooks over a weakened NATO, concessions in the Middle East and a view toward international chaos that has advanced Russian interests. The Trump position, simply stated, remains all about himself, about America First thinking and disowning leadership in international cooperation.

For the media, the questions raised in the various essays over the dossier are about this industry's responsibility toward rigor and about accountability when there are errors. As columnist Schafer notes, accountability requires journalists to show how their work was flawed if they choose to correct or retract. The current archive changes instead rely on rewriting historical articles to reflect more current doubt – an endless process for sure if applied to all errors with political overtones.

If Danchenko is convicted of lying to Steele and then to the FBI, we must accept that sourcing media stories to those lies creates problems over just what to believe went on in the past. But even without those lies, we should not forget that the Muller Report outlined serious abuses, whether called collusion or cooperation, between an election campaign and a foreign foe.

This is why a conservative Supreme Court is bad for America

The real disappointing impact of the Supreme Court decision upholding Arizona's voting restriction laws will be in the ripples, of course.

The two specific practices that the Supreme Court ruled as constitutional, overturning both the appeals court and district court that heard the challenge, will likely not change election outcomes in Arizona or other states, but the chill emanating from this case will encourage Republican-led states to crack down faster and harder on limits seen as aimed at minority, Democratic voters.

As The New York Times noted, "The decision suggested that the Supreme Court would not be inclined to strike down many of the measures" now spreading among states with Republican legislative majorities.

Legally, the importance of the decision is further eroding the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and shielding those seeking to make voting harder for minorities in the driver's seat.

Congratulations go to Donald Trump, proponents of the Big Steal, and a compliant Supreme Court bound either by its thinking of its conservative majority or over a reluctance to challenge states' rights. In any case, it has immediately become more difficult to put together challenges to any restrictive voting law.

From a racial viewpoint, the big hit to the Voting Rights Bill had come in 2013, in Shelby County v. Holder, which overturned the law's Section 5 requiring prior federal approval of changes to voting procedures in parts of the country with a history of racial discrimination. But Section 2 had still allowed challenges after the fact.

Narrowing the Focus

This decision involved two kinds of voting restrictions in Arizona. One required election officials to discard ballots cast at the wrong precinct. The other made it a crime for campaign workers, community activists and most other people to collect ballots for delivery to polling places, a practice critics call "ballot harvesting." The law made exceptions for family members, caregivers and election officials.

Lower courts found that there was evidence to show that limits would affect Black and Brown voters more than Whites. The Supreme Court decided the opposite way, 6-3, voted along its own conservative-liberal split. It can only be a signal to Republican legislatures that there is no legal way to support more challenges to suppression laws.

Now, Congress is making clear that it cannot pass a necessarily bipartisan bill to keep these voter restrictions from spreading. By defining the issue before it so literal and legally narrow, Supreme Court justices are making clear that had the Congress passed such a bill, they would have been open to challenging the law rather considering Republican bad campaign practices.

What the Court apparently did not consider is how voting restrictions affect living while Black in America.
The decision, written by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., argued that the system in Arizona offers ample opportunity for everyone to vote, even if it seems to fall heavier on some people, and concluded that the state's interest in preventing voter fraud outweighs whatever overall disparate impact the law has.

As a Washington Post columnist noted, "The fact that voter fraud is almost entirely fictional did not disturb the justice."

Building a Pattern

Instead, the Court is following a map of reducing laws meant to maintain voting by all.
In 2010, the justices said corporations have the right to use their billions to influence elections. Since 2010, the Court has killed a public financing law meant to allow candidates relying on small donations to compete with self-financed millionaires and billionaires, squashed the heart of the Voting Rights Act, claiming it was no longer necessary because racism is pretty much over, upheld voter purges that disenfranchise thousands of voters and ruled that partisan gerrymandering, no matter how clearly it disenfranchises people, is beyond the ability of the courts to do anything about.

It is now accepted Republican outlook that if elections were fair, they would lose, we need new laws that tilt those states that accept the challenge to tilt the rules to make "voting more cumbersome, inconvenient and difficult, all aimed directly at populations they believe are more likely to vote for Democrats," argued that Post columnist.

On the same day, the Supreme Court decided by the same 6-3 line-up that California legally could not require charities soliciting contributions in the state to report the identities of their major donors. That requirement had drawn a challenge by Americans for Prosperity Foundation, a group affiliated with the Koch family, and the Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian public-interest law firm. They said it violated the First Amendment's protection of the freedom of association by subjecting donors to possible harassment by making the information public.
Again, the court is protecting conservative Republicans seeking to influence public elections. And, again, the court is ignoring the role that dark money plays in elections.

Just curious that these are all rulings by justices labeled as conservative.

Noting originalist here.

Crime looms large in the race to run the Big Apple

New York City's mayoral election is a one of a kind, one that draws more than its share of identifying Democrats both as candidates and voters. Candidates want to run a city that has held what the nation would adjudge to be generally progressive social views.

In a city where a steady hand toward small business recovery, homelessness, public transit, education and housing availability ought to dominate the airwaves two weeks out from the end of voting, crime is the hot topic.

How the city assures public safety is more complicated and nuanced than slogans and sound bites allow. Crime may not be the real issue.

Arguments in commercials, debates and social media home in on crime along with coverage that tries to elevate local crime reports into national questions. Various politicians, parties and -isms are seeking to make this election a wider referendum, pitting "defund police" believers against Back the Blue supporters.

"Fear of crime is back as a political issue in New York City. For the first time in years it could be a prime factor in who voters pick as their next mayor," The Associated Press reported matter of factly.

The lead in this contest is difficult to assess because of the number of candidates and the first-time use of a multi-choice ballot. Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams seems to be ahead. He is a former NYPD captain, who spouts rhetoric about more targeted policing without a lot of specifics.

Several other candidates teeter in agreement to "get guns off the streets," while still trying to adhere to anti-stop-and-frisk thinking.

Of all of them, Maya Wiley, a former legal adviser to current mayor Bill de Blasio and once head of the civilian oversight police board, is most aggressive about looking anew at how police funds are spent.

It has become a slow-rolling sound-bite debate—as if there are only two choices and as if crime is the most important issue facing the city.

Without assured public safety, the general debate goes, we will not see the city fully rebounding from the pandemic.

How the city assures public safety is more complicated and nuanced than slogans and sound bites allow. Crime may not be the real issue.

Crime or Mental Health?

Yes, there is more crime in New York today than a year ago. Of course, a year ago, everyone was locked in at home. Comparisons, particularly when measured by percentages, are skewed.

Year after year, the number of shootings is up. There were 687 injured and 181 homicides as compared with the same period in 2019 (which is described as a whopping 50% increase). By comparison with the 1990s, however, those figures are way down.

Many of the most common types of crime in the city, including robberies, burglaries and grand larcenies, remain near historic lows, AP and others acknowledge.

A few very public shootings, including errant bullets injuring a toddler in Times Square and the fear of random misdoings in the subway, have boosted the public perception of rising crime. A plurality of voters surveyed in a recent NY1/Ipsos poll chose "crime or violence" as the biggest problem facing New York, with racial injustice and police reform also in the top 10.

Police and neighborhood groups are working together to respond to increased reports of guns being delivered into the city by vanloads.

At the same time, the increase of mass shootings nationwide keeps us from accepting that local situations may differ. Through the first five months of 2021, gunfire killed more than 8,100 people in the United States, about 54 lives lost per day, according to a Washington Post analysis of data from the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research organization. That's 14 more deaths per day than the average toll during the same period of the previous six years.

Of course, if we really accept that premise, it begs the question of why we don't do something about limiting guns.

In My Neighborhood

This week, my wife and I dialed into our lightly attended Harlem neighborhood Zoom conversation with two police officers assigned to community outreach. It reflected some of what is going on in a wider sense.

The complaints aired were not so much about crime, or violent crime, as they were about the effects of drugs and homelessness on the streets – incidents of public urination, a guy stripping down, people congregating under the myriad scaffolded areas and a specific corner near three methadone clinics where people from across the entire city seem to congregrate. There were issues of discomfort and feelings of fear, if not actual crime.

Police expressed willingness to respond but did point out that there may be no actual crime involved. There have been nearly 30 arrests at that particular corner for drug selling in recent weeks. But there is an experimental program rolling out in which emergency medical treatment officers are paired with mental health specialists to get those with emotional problems into treatment centers.

Reports of "crime" or bad acts generally have gotten worse with waning pandemic restrictions.

Indeed, the police note that their very presence prompts lingerers at the corner to move onto less-trafficked nearby streets – with further complaints from those residents.The targeted corner resulted from efforts a year ago to clean up a similar intersection a few blocks away.

On the city's Westside, there was a very public debate over the use of an underutilized hotel where the city had sent homeless men. The individuals did not stay inside all the time. Soon normally tolerant Westsiders were complaining mightily about ugly confrontations, thefts and public urination. The city moved the men involved.

Burden on Police

There are no NYPD-equivalent homelessness and mental illness counselors. None of the candidates for mayor is talking about adding thousands of trained personnel to deal with homeless and mental illness.

So the burden for dealing with the results is falling on police to respond or to add lighting or patrols. There is little talk about what to do to reduce the city's 8,900 scaffolds, which keep the homeless out of police view.

Instead, there is fear talk about crime and violence.

The Rev. Al Sharpton, civil rights leader and frequent speaker in the policing issues getting national attention, fully acknowledges that crime and homelessness are issues in the city. "It is not true that those of us that want police reform do not also at the same time want to deal with crime," he told reporters last week.

Candidate Wiley would cut the police budget by $1 billion annually "and invest those funds directly into the communities most impacted by gun violence." A Wiley campaign ad shows police driving into a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters last year. She says in the ad that it's "time the NYPD sees us as people who deserve to breathe," a reference to the deaths of Eric Garner and George Floyd.

Candidate Scott Stringer, who calls himself a liberal, says he would cut at least $1 billion over four years through measures such as transferring mental health response to non-police crisis teams and reducing police overtime. Kathryn Garcia skips talking about the police budget but says officers' minimum age should be increased from 21 to 25 and new recruits should be required to live in the city. Andrew Yang backs a police residency requirement as well as beefed-up oversight of the department but rejects calls to defund the police.

Adams, an NYPD officer for 22 years talks of having been a victim of police brutality as a teenager. He rejects all calls for budget changes and wants more recruitment of officers of color and less racial profiling.

It's a lively debate, but perhaps unresponsive to what is prompting it.

Trump’s Supreme Court pick has a serious problem with the Constitution

Nomination of conservative Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court makes us think about the role of government in our lives and the Republican majority view of winning vs. fairness.

That her lifetime confirmation will change the direction of the Supreme Court for many years is a given, and, as it happens a sop toward Donald Trump's re-election efforts.

But what is there to learn here?

Here's the good news about nominee Barrett: There will be no nonsense about a woman as the nominee, and minimal attention on her choices about religion, lifestyle and what she wears. She will get the same black robe as the rest.

It finally is a choice that is about ideas and about visions of what we want as a nation – even if it comes as forced march by a Senate that has no time to deal with coronavirus aid.

Her professed allegiance to "originalism" in the law, the mostly conservative but often libertarian view that the original words of the Constitution and the law should suffice for modern challenges—a view she shares with the other recently named justices — is something we need to understand to chart the Court's future.

We can expect that originalism, for example, will become the substantial legal argument that will lead her to vote to overturn the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, over narrow interpretations of tax law, or to eliminate legal abortion as having been argued previously under the "wrong" section of the Constitution. It's not her particular brand of Catholicism that will drive her anti-abortion decision-making – though she is seriously anti-abortion as a person – but her insistence on interpreting the Constitution literally that will lead to the same place.

Barrett's Record

In her record as clerk, law professor and judge, there is evidence of far more – a tendency to view the Bill of Rights as anything but generous for life choices. Mark Joseph Stern, who writes about law for Slate, noted that in reading through all of her written decisions, what comes across is not conservatism as much as a certain meanness about the fate of the individual against business, institutions and government.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg saw the Bill of Rights and civil rights acts as generous guarantees of human dignity that must be read expansively to achieve their purpose. By contrast, Barrett's view of the law is fundamentally cruel. During her three years on the 7thCircuit Court of Appeals, Barrett either has written or joined a remarkable number of opinions that harm unpopular and powerless individuals who rely on the judiciary to safeguard their rights.

"Faced with two plausible readings of a law, fact, or precedent, Barrett always seems to choose the harsher, stingier interpretation. Can job applicants sue employers whose policies have a disproportionately deleterious impact on older people? Barrett said no. Should courts halt the deportation of an immigrant who faced torture at home? Barrett said no. Should they protect refugees denied asylum on the basis of xenophobic prejudice? Barrett said no. Should they shield prisoners from unjustified violence by correctional officers? Barrett said no. Should minors be allowed to terminate a pregnancy without telling their parents if a judge has found that they're mature enough to make the decision? Barrett said no. Should women be permitted to obtain an abortion upon discovering a severe fetal abnormality? Barrett said no."

Per her record, If the case is about religion or guns, Barrett is for the individual; if it is about abortion or gender, Barrett seems to forget about the individual.

Barrett has criticized Chief Justice John Roberts' decisions to uphold narrowly Obamacare, presumably in part out of a belief that the Court is in no position to simply strip 20 million Americans of health care. So, health care rather than abortion undoubtedly will be the key question that Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee find for focus – because Barrett is on the record. There is no Republican legislative remedy for this, and we will have yet more chaos in the midst of a pandemic – for the right to uphold a strict interpretation of Constitutional law.

From past decisions, it is clear that she will uphold the Trump steamroller to obliterate environmental regulations and to monitor labor grievances or regulate Wall Street.

Futile Confirmation Hearings?

With the votes already lined up, the idea of confirmation hearings seems almost futile. Nevertheless, it is a chance for us to feel as if we know what we will be getting into.

My question for Barrett is this: We get the originalism idea, but how does that concept allow us to pick and choose its way about protection of the individual?

I want to know how she matches the specifics of the law – and its legal precedents – with the realities we face in our country.

Do we believe in justice that advances individual rights? If so, why is religion a shield, and consumerist legislation not? Why is legislation that enables government to decide what constitutes marriage OK, and individual rights to health treatments not OK? Why are Americans to be afforded the right to assault weapons but not clean air? What is the role of actions to balance centuries of racial unfairness?

There is a certain sense that the approach is more important than a sense of "justice." These confirmation hearings always are a bit of a crapshoot since the judges won't really talk about their views. But an examination of their records should tell us about how they approach the job.

There will be attempts to ask about her affiliation with People of Praise, a religious group that until recently referred to its female leaders as "handmaids" ― evoking comparisons to Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel "The Handmaid's Tale." I hope they are set aside quickly – other than establishing that personal beliefs are no substitute for creating a legal precedent.

The Court is about to launch a revolution in exact opposition to the majority of its citizenry. We need to understand how we deal with that.

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