THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Why the Queen mattered to us

BUT WAIT a minute!

The Queen of Great Britain has died. CNN and the networks were there 24/7 as the people of America tuned in to watch the Royals and everyone else mourn the Queen’s death and celebrate her family. Me too. I just couldn’t get away from the tube. It was as if I had a personal stake in the whole thing. My bet is that you were there with me.

I was sincerely touched and for no explicable reason wet around the eyes and I don’t usually cry at funerals. Go figure! I found myself comparing what goes on in this country with what is happening in Great Britain as America and the world watches. The UK and America are different. Different cultures, different histories, different leadership. If we look back on our histories, we’ve got Ike, they’ve got Churchill, but we have no royalty. We are, of course, proud of our “democracy.” We have a written Constitution, they do not. They have a Parliament; we have a genuinely corrupt Congress.

This is the same England that we fought for our independence and in the War of 1812. But we do have a lot of historical togetherness. Maybe it’s the common struggle during the two World Wars or maybe it’s just our shared history but whatever it is, the networks certainly got it right. CNN made the most of it. Apparently, we Americans just couldn’t get enough. I could not begin to imagine that British-styled salute to leadership happening in this country. Maybe when Lincoln or Roosevelt died we saw something comparable, but certainly not lately. I guess a 70+ year reign counts for something. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Crime? Yes, and punishment too?

THERE IS JUST TOO MUCH VIOLENCE in our cities and towns. How do we put a stop to the shootings, robberies and rapes that we read and hear about every day? If you have ever been the victim of violence, trust me—you will never forget it. Safety is very important to most people, but unfortunately, among some liberals, the concept of public safety doesn’t always make it to the top of the priority list. Some of my best friends think that what we might call retributive justice should not be part of our common ethos.

Most New Yorkers want to see the violence abated. If you’ve been robbed at gunpoint or hurt due to the commission of a serious crime, it is not hard to imagine that you would want the offender to be punished appropriately. That’s why so many people believe passionately in the death penalty. If your mother, sister or child is held up or beaten or killed, do you really think that the attacker should be allowed to live? If you don’t, what universe do you live in?

In the end, when we discuss this issue it almost always comes back to the subject of police. I’ve always believed that you have to be at least a little crazy to become a cop. It’s a very difficult job. Years ago, I taught cops at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. I really liked them as a group. Yeah, they had a universal approach to criminal justice. There were the good guys and there were the bad guys. When I worked with New York City Police Commissioner Patrick V. Murphy, I was sent out on patrol with two cops who were very nice to me. At one point, one of them turned around and said, “Hey, professor, see those guys under the lamppost? There’s a crime waiting to happen.” Cops often have an instinctual sense of who the bad actors are. Many people reading this will think that kind of profiling is very unhealthy and that it will almost always involve race and social class. I dare say that if you are familiar with the ways of police, what I have just written will ring true. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Here’s what The Times did

MANY, MANY YEARS AGO while teaching at the State University of New York at New Paltz I tried to capitalize on what I considered the insane competition for grades in a large political science class. I made a challenge to the group, to wit: if a student could get a letter into the nation’s greatest newspaper, The New York Times, I would give them an A in the class. The idea was to get the students to appreciate the fact that they were as good as anyone else and could compete in the intense intellectual marketplace.

It is not easy to get a letter into The New York Times and never has been. Well, unbelievably it happened. One student, who was of a fairly conservative nature, wrote a letter to that august institution making a modest proposal. As I recall, he took the position that if you caught someone stealing in our society, the quickest and most efficient way to get that person and others of his or her ilk to stop that behavior was to cut their hand off, a punishment some authoritarian societies have long enforced in order to minimize criminal behavior. It was simple and well written and, despite my reluctance to give the promised reward, I did. All these years later, I am not sure that I was right in making my offer but a deal is a deal and I consummated the agreement. In any case, my conservative, right wing student got his A by making his simple argument. He sent his letter in and sure enough, a representative of the world’s most important newspaper called me up to check on the credentials of the student. I told the caller what he wanted to hear and gave, let’s call him Joe, the promised A grade.

Over the many years since that time, I have thought about my intemperate offer. Naturally, I was giving credence to the fact that The New York Times is the world’s greatest newspaper and if not that, it is at the very least a hard paper to get a Letter to the Editor into. If you get a letter into the world’s greatest newspaper you have really made it. I have always posited that in order to do that you have to meet at least one of three conditions. If you are an ambassador or a member of Congress, your chances of achieving success are much better. If you are making a unique argument that is really cogent, the letters editor might choose your letter for print. Finally, if you wrote what one might call a “brilliant-stupid letter,” the editor might pick it up to prove that people who believe as you do are really stupid. In other words, it is just a good way of doing what a newspaper does in its editorials, making the point that we (the newspaper) are smarter than the letter writer but also benevolent in that they will print letters from people who might just be inferior. Then, too, there are good newspaper editors who print letters that might just bring forth new ideas. Let’s face it—when newspapers print controversial editorials, part of their thinking is that their words will get others to express their own opinions. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: Not his kind of mayor

SO WHAT’S UP with Rudy Giuliani? There is very little good that you can say about the guy. He was once viewed as the no-nonsense mayor of New York. Now, however, he has cast himself as hit man for Donald Trump. He has turned into a pathetic right-wing stooge who can be counted on to play backup for some of the most despicable politicians in the country. When he smiles for the TV cameras, he looks both ghoulish and foolish.

How could this have happened? How could the guy who made his political bones as a tough guy mayor end up looking like a jerk in front of Four Seasons Total Landscaping? People seemed to like and respect the guy, especially when he announced his opposition to “quality of life” crimes such as broken windows and street crime. People wanted to hear that. New York City is a juxtaposition of liberals and law and order types and people wanted a tough guy to protect them from the crooks and grifters. There was a time when Giuliani seemed to fit that bill. His great moment came along with 9-11, when he and fellow Republican George Pataki stood up to articulate what New York was all about.

Then something happened and somehow, some way, Giuliani became a Trump follower. When I ask people about him, they say they despise the guy. Giuliani has made himself persona non grata to people like me who see him as a political prostitute and decidedly a non-New Yorker. The guy who was formerly dubbed “America’s Mayor” is now a shill for the Trumpers, not for Americans who are politically mixed in their approach to politics. Read more…

THE CAPITOL CONNECTION: How safe is our democracy?

THE CHANGE OF SEASONS is upon us. There is that moment when we realize that the long days of summer are almost over. The heat wave has passed and one swims at one’s personal discomfort. You look at the massive clouds in the sky and you realize that we will soon be seeing snow and ice. Maybe you have a friend who has fallen on the ice and you remember how dangerous things can get. You proceed at some risk. There are potholes in the road and the sidewalk is buckling. If you trip on a hole in the road, you can reach out to try to break your fall and end up breaking three fingers in the process. That’s what I did, and it brought home the fact that as you age, the risk of breaking bones increases. Now we know why it is so important that the people to whom we pay taxes keep the roads in good condition.

It only takes seconds to change your life for many months. I’m talking about doctors and hospitals and a whole change in lifestyle. It’s all a matter of odds. If you put that left hand out to break your fall, you risk changing your life. That’s when it’s time to make new rules for self-preservation. My new rule is to always look down.

The change in seasons also makes you aware of other changes around you. It’s clear to all of us that the politics of our nation are also in flux. We may have once thought that our democracy would last forever but we know now how easily it can be put at risk. This Trump guy came along and was willing to subvert what we thought was a near permanent democracy. He surely represents a clear and present danger. Now the feds are after him big time because he appears to have played fast and loose with the rules and in doing so, put all of us in real danger. When he left the White House he is believed to have taken some very important, classified documents with him that could very well compromise our nation’s security. You could only wonder what he might have done had he been reelected. Read more…