Progressivism: What Is The Limiting Principle?

Yesterday’s semi-official launch of the Green New Deal has done a big favor for our national political debate: It has finally put squarely on the table the fundamental question that needs to be addressed, yet never is addressed, namely, what is the limiting principle of the progressive project? Or really, is there any limiting principle at all? Let me illustrate.

Always (or at least, always before now) the progressive proposals to make the world perfectly just and fair have been presented one by one. Wouldn’t the world be so much more fair if we only had free (government paid) college for all? Many people look at such a proposal and think, sure, that would make things a little more fair; I guess I could get on board with it. Then, wouldn’t the world be so much more fair if we had universal (government paid) health care for all. In isolation, same reaction. Separately, wouldn’t it be great to “save the planet” by getting carbon emissions under control (by some form of government subsidy and/or command)? Addressed separately, and with no context of what other proposals may be coming, many people find themselves nodding along. With your attention diverted from the big picture, any of these proposals might get your support. . . .

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The Difference Justice Gorsuch Has Made

Neil Gorsuch was confirmed to the Supreme Court on April 7 last year, and on April 9 I welcomed him with a post titled "A Few Places Where Justice Gorsuch Can Make A Difference."   That post took note of the remarkable fact that, while the "conservative" justices on the Supreme Court often disagreed with each other in high-profile cases, that was never the case for the "liberals."  In any case viewed as politically important to achievement of some policy outcome favored by the progressive movement, the "liberal" justices could always be counted on to vote as a unified bloc.  From that post:

The overriding philosophy of the "liberal" bloc has been discussed many times on this blog, and there is nothing complicated about it.  The basic concept is that the government consists of neutral, apolitical experts whose job it is to move us all towards greater and then perfect justice and fairness through the magic of more and more laws, rules and regulations.  The neutral experts must be given full authority and discretion to rule over the people in order to complete this project.  Obviously the government [and not the people] must run the country, because otherwise there would be chaos!  Or, even worse, unfairness!

Once you observe this unified voting for more bureaucratic power over the people enough times, you might even get the impression that perhaps these justices care little about upholding the Constitution, and mostly care about making sure that "our side" wins and the other side gets suppressed.

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In The Progressive Vision, Dictatorship Is Never Far Below The Surface

It seems that the favorite causes of the progressive left -- the two biggest at the moment being fighting "climate change" and establishing universal health "coverage" as a "human right" -- have been running into some roadblocks lately.  On the "climate" front (I put "climate" in quotes because none of this has much if anything to do with the actual climate) President Trump withdraws the U.S. from the Paris accords, appoints climate skeptics to key administration positions, and sets about dismantling various Obama-era regulatory restrictions on fossil fuels.  Abroad, China, India and others race to build coal plants, while the UN itself admits that even under its worst-case scare tactic models the implementation of the Paris accords would have little to no measurable effect on the climate.  On the universal health "coverage" front, Obamacare continues its slow inevitable decline, while multiple states (Colorado, Vermont, California, New York) that have flirted with "single payer" systems in the past couple of years have backed off when the enormous costs became evident.  What's a good progressive to do?

The answer is simple: dictatorship.  If these stupid plebes and Trumpers can't see the morality and the necessity of immediately establishing the progressive utopia, then this whole democracy thing just isn't going to work.  A few correct-thinking experts, armed with the full coercive powers of the state, can impose the needed progressive solutions in the blink of an eye.  What's to lose?

Often the advocacy for the dictatorship of supposed experts has proceeded by muted euphemisms.  I'm thinking, for example, of the statement by top UN climate bureaucrat (Executive Secretary of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change) Christina Figueres at a press conference in February 2015 that mankind must "intentionally . . . change the economic development model" in order to stop global warming:

This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution.  This will not happen overnight and it will not happen at a single conference on climate change…It is a process, because of the depth of the transformation.

See?  She never mentioned "dictatorship"; or, at least, she didn't use that exact word.  But more recently, the perceived need for soft euphemisms seems to have lessened.  Let's just go ahead and say it!  A couple of examples for today:

Over in Europe, prominent environmentalist Jørgen Randers (professor of "climate strategy" at BI Norwegian Business School) took to the pages of Svenska Dagblat yesterday to make an explicit call for dictatorship to solve the "climate crisis."  According to Randers, the call for dictatorship is supported by multiple "climate experts."  At his Cool It blog, Bjørn Lomborg (who fortunately seems to have the ability to read Swedish) covers the matter, and helpfully provides a translation of the key passages.  Here are the translated headline and sub headline from the Randers article:

Democracy must be suspended to solve the climate crisis.  An elite government is better than democracy -- at least if the world is to succeed in resolving the acute climate crisis, according to Professor Jørgen Randers.  Several climate experts highlight a clear model:  China's dictatorship.  

Lomborg is rather scathing in his commentary:

Look at the costs to achieve the sort of climate policies that Randers and many others are advocating. If the EU fulfills its promise of cutting emissions by 80% in 2050 (which is the most ambitious climate policy in the world today), the average of the best peer-reviewed models show that the cost would run to at least $3 trillion per year, and more likely double that – meaning $6,000 for each EU citizen per year. Of course, few will vote for that.  [MC note -- the cost could easily be a multiple of even the larger estimate.]  Moreover, asking for a dictatorship neglects one of the main reasons for democracy: how do you ensure that the dictator does what is good for you? . . .  Look at China, which unfortunately is held up by many environmentalists as a green ideal.  It gets 86% of its total primary energy demand from fossil fuels (International Energy Agency data, latest from 2014, extrapolated to 2017). How is that ultra-green?

Meanwhile, over in the healthcare arena, we have the premier British medical journal The Lancet publishing an opinion piece on November 4 by its head editor Richard Horton, making an explicit pitch for more Marxism in medicine.  The title of the piece is "Medicine and Marx."   Unlike Randers, Horton does not actually use the word "dictatorship"; but I wouldn't call his effort "euphemisms" either.  Rather, Horton writes in the old Soviet/Orwellian Newspeak, using the words those guys employed to mean (to anybody who was alive and awake) not just "dictatorship," but "totalitarian rule by jackbooted thugs."  Example:

21st-century health care [is] better investigated and interpreted through a Marxist lens. . . .   Marxism defends a set of values. The free self-determination of the individual, an equitable society, the end of exploitation, deepening possibilities for public participation in shaping collective choices, refusing to accept the fixity of human nature and believing in our capacity to change, and keeping a sense of the interdependence and indivisibility of our common humanity. . . .  Marxism is a call to engage, an invitation to join the struggle to protect the values we share.

Wow.  Could anybody alive possibly still buy this?  As to the reference in the last line to "the values we share," John Hinderaker at PowerLine comments:

What values are those? Mass murder? Totalitarianism? Rule by a criminal elite? A rigid class system in which a few ruthless and politically connected thugs prosper, and everyone else starves?

Come on, John!  Aren't those really minor quibbles when are so close to achieving the holy grail of universal health "coverage"?

Fidel Castro Roundup

They say never to speak ill of the dead, but every rule has exceptions.  Consider the case of the ultimate evil dictator, who enslaved and impoverished his people for decades, brutally suppressed all dissent, had thousands killed and tens of thousands imprisoned, forced hundreds of thousands to flee in boats and let them drown when the boats got in trouble, all while making his henchmen the richest people in the country and himself the single richest person.  Of course I'm talking about Fidel Castro.  Now that he's dead, say nothing about him if you wish; but for God's sake don't praise him, or even say something neutral. 

Yet Fidel was the master of playing to the favorite shibboleths of the progressive Left.  The United States is evil!  In Cuba we provide free health care for all!  Climate change caused by Americans is destroying the planet!  Five and ten and fifteen years after Castro took power, as it had become increasingly and painfully obvious that Castro was one of the most brutal and destructive strongmen on the planet, I was regularly amazed that he remained an icon and an idol for most progressives.  Could it really be that these people were so morally obtuse as to look away and forgive mass murder and torture and intentional impoverishment and starvation and oppression of the people because this guy put on some kind of a show of free health care (believe me, if you were not one of the elite, this was not any health care you would want) and periodically bashed the United States?  

And yes, 57 years after Castro first seized power in 1959, a huge chunk of the Left has still not let go of the dream; indeed, new generations of progressives have arisen to embrace it.  So in case you think that today's progressivism is just the innocent quest for a little more fairness and justice, I thought I'd collect a roundup of quotes from some of the bigger names and institutions who have embraced this brutal dictator.

Greg Grandin in The Nation:

In all his goodness and badness, Castro was a full man of the Enlightenment. It’s fitting, though depressing, that’s he’s left us on the cusp of a new darkness. But as he once said, the ideals of “Liberty, Fraternity, and Equality,” though routinely trampled, “will always sprout anew, everywhere.”

Presidential candidate Jill Stein:

Fidel Castro was a symbol of the struggle for justice in the shadow of empire. Presente!

Jesse Jackson:

In many ways, after 1959, the oppressed the world over joined Castro's cause of fighting for freedom & liberation-he changed the world. RIP

Jimmie Carter:

Rosalynn and I share our sympathies with the Castro family and the Cuban people on the death of Fidel Castro.  We remember fondly our visits with him in Cuba and his love of his country.

John Kerry:

We extend our condolences to the Cuban people today as they mourn the passing of Fidel Castro.

Actually, the Cubans who are able to speak freely -- the ones in Miami -- were dancing in the streets.

Justin Trudeau (Prime Minister of Canada):

A legendary revolutionary and orator, Mr. Castro made significant improvements to the education and health care of his island nation.  I know my father was very proud to call him a friend.

Jeremy Corbin (head of UK's Labour Party):

“Fidel Castro’s death marks the passing of a huge figure of modern history, national independence and 20th-century socialism,” said the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who claimed that “for all his flaws” Castro would be remembered as an “internationalist and a champion of social justice”.

Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission:

With the death of #FidelCastro, the world has lost a man who was a hero for many.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon:

He was a strong voice for social justice. . . .

California Congresswoman Barbara Lee:

My deepest condolences to Fidel Castro’s family and the Cuban people during this time. . . .  President Castro was a recognized world leader who was dedicated to the Cuban people.

Pope Francis:

Pope Francis said the death of Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro was "sad news" and that he was grieving and praying for his repose.

And of course let us not forget President Barack Obama:

At this time of Fidel Castro’s passing, we extend a hand of friendship to the Cuban people. . . . .  History will record and judge the enormous impact of this singular figure on the people and world around him. 

Pathetic.  Sorry, but it's not OK to leave it up to "history" to judge the crimes of this monster.  Barack Obama won't do it, because he is a man of the international Left, and ultimately a supporter of the program of Castro.

How about a few from the other side?  Here's an excerpt from the statement of our President Elect, Donald Trump:

Fidel Castro's legacy is one of firing squads, theft, unimaginable suffering, poverty and the denial of fundamental human rights.

Wow!  Do we finally have a President who will stand up to the nonsense that afflicts the world?  So far I'm liking what I'm seeing from this guy.

Marco Rubio:

History will remember Fidel Castro as an evil, murderous dictator who inflicted misery & suffering on his own people.

Ted Cruz:

There is more than enough evidence to judge the Castros’ legacy for what it is: the systematic exploitation and oppression of the Cuban people.

Andrew Roberts of Kings College, London:

Fidel Castro was a foul tyrant and his brother Raul is no better.

Perhaps the best have been some of the parodies of the left-wing dupes:

“While controversial, Darth Vader achieved great heights in space construction & played a formative role in his son’s life,” quipped Jason Markusoff, a correspondent for Canada’s Maclean’s magazine.

Canadian sports commentator Mike Hogan added: “Today we mourn the loss of Norman Bates, a family man who was truly defined by his devotion to his mother.”

Australian news columnist Rita Panahi wrote, “Although flawed, Hitler was a vegetarian who loved animals, was a contributor to the arts & proud advocate for Germany.”

Or this from Jonah Goldberg of National Review:

Controversy followed Jeffrey Dahmer but he helped cast a new light on the limits of low carb diets.

Of course, Castro easily fooled the credulous progressive press by refusing to put out any meaningful economic statistics on the Cuban economy.  To learn how bad it is down there, you need to read the reports from the occasional honest journalists who break free of their Cuban watchers and wander around the countryside.  As examples, see the October 2015 report from Scott Beyer in the National Review here, or the 2014 independent reporting of Michael Totten linked by me here.

UPDATE, November 28:  Brent Baker at MRC NewsBusters has this collection of statements from prominent American journalists:

On MSNBC, Andrea Mitchell insisted in a stock bio that Castro “gave his people better health care and education.” Appearing live by phone, she soon trumpted how Castro “will be revered” for “education and social services and medical care to all of his people.”

Along a similar theme, in an ABC Special Report during Nightline, Jim Avila maintained that “even Castro’s critics praised his advances in health care and in education.”

In a relatively tough report on Castro’s abuses, CNN’s Martin Savidge, in a pre-recorded bio piece, highlighted how “many saw positives, education and health care for all, racial integration.”

A meandering Brian Williams popped up by phone on MSNBC to ruminate and recalled how in his last visit to Cuba, in 2015: “You see the medicine system they are very proud of.”

ABC’s Avila went so far as to tout how Castro “was considered, even to this day, the George Washington of his country among those who remain in Cuba.”

Reminiscing about his high school years, via phone on MSNBC, Chris Matthews asserted that Castro was “a romantic figure when he came into power” and, Matthews wasn’t embarrassed to relay, “we rooted like mad for the guy” who “was almost like a folk hero to most of us.”

Hat tip:   Maggie's Farm.  Could it get more pathetic?


Annals Of Government Orwellianism

Back in the late 90s, for several years running, I wrote a series of articles titled "Top Ten Federal Government Efforts To Suppress Free Speech."  A couple of those articles are here and here.  And I must say there were plenty of good instances to choose from.  Well, things haven't gotten any better.

You may be thinking that the biggest threats to free speech today are on university campuses, where chalked words like "Trump 2016" can bring outraged cries from offended students for a crackdown, which cries then get a sympathetic ear from the university administration.  It's ugly, but there is no actual legal requirement that a private university give free rein to dissenting opinions.  

Governments are a different story.  Can a government in the United States, state or federal, actually seek to suppress speech that dissents from an official government line?  I mean, don't we have a First Amendment?  Government-backed speech suppression efforts are of course far more pernicious than any similar private efforts because they come backed by the government's coercive powers.  But, equally of course, such suppression is everywhere.  For today, I'll give just a couple of examples.   As always with the government, the speech sought to be suppressed contravenes the official government line on some subject.  And the official government line as always is part of the "main project" of the government, that is, the ongoing effort to use government resources to propagandize the people into supporting, or at least not opposing, the ongoing growth and expansion of the government and its powers.

Up in Westchester County (the first county immediately north of New York City) they have a long-running dispute with the federal housing bureaucracy (HUD) over whether and where to build subsidized low-income housing.  As readers here know, I have long characterized subsidized low-income housing in wealthy areas as "the worst possible public policy," because it costs enormous amounts of money for small numbers of "beneficiaries," and then traps those beneficiaries in poverty for life.  HUD's core business is foisting the "worst possible public policy" on more and more places in the U.S., and of course it needs more and more subsidized housing in more and more places in order to grow its mission and its budget.  In 2006 they sued Westchester to force it to provide more subsidized housing in wealthy areas, and in 2009 then-County Executive Andy Spano (a Democrat) settled that case with an agreement to do so.  Part of the settlement imposed a "monitor" on Westchester, supposedly to be sure it is complying with its obligations under the agreement.  The "monitor" is a guy named James Johnson, a partner of the Debevoise law firm who previously held various positions in the Clinton administration in the 90s.  After the settlement, Spano promptly lost the next election to a guy named Rob Astorino, a Republican, who then became County Executive in 2010 and continues in that job.  You won't be surprised to learn that Astorino has been in a continuous tussle with Johnson ever since.

A couple of weeks ago Johnson filed a 55 page "report" with the Judge supervising the case, who is Denise Cote.  Oh, she also held positions in the Clinton administration before being appointed to the bench by Clinton.  The gist of the "report" is that Astorino has been repeatedly speaking out in opposition to HUD and its agenda for Westchester, and this somehow constitutes a violation of the settlement; and therefore the court must order Astorino and Westchester to stop their opposition to HUD's agenda for Westchester and speak in accordance with the HUD party line. 

Stanley Kurtz of National Review has been all over this story, including a comprehensive recent article on March 30.  Here is Kurtz's take on the "monitor"'s latest gambit:

The Federal Monitor wants to force Astorino, the man who has led public resistance to Obama’s de facto takeover of local governments, to repudiate his own claims and parrot the administration’s line instead. In effect, they want a court to order Astorino to stop criticizing Obama’s HUD and start advertising HUD’s own views. This is truly Orwellian stuff, a frightening demonstration of how the expansionist regulatory state ultimately chokes off political speech itself.

HUD is upset that Astorino keeps saying that it is trying to override Westchester's zoning and force Westchester to build not just the 750 subsidized units that are part of the 2009 settlement, but thousands of additional units at a cost of a billion dollars and more.  As part of getting HUD grants (you should never have taken that money, Westchester!) the county has to submit a periodic report called the "AI."  In its reports, Westchester keeps saying that its zoning is not racially discriminatory.  And HUD keeps "rejecting" the reports, and demanding more and more "analysis" of a long list of additional factors.  Astorino believes that they will keep "rejecting" the reports until Westchester confesses that its zoning is discriminatory and agrees to build vast additional amounts of HUD housing.  So, should Astorino, an elected official, be allowed to express his views on what HUD is really trying to accomplish with this?  

Here is an excerpt from what the "monitor" proposes as the remedy that he wants the court to order:

[T]he Monitor recommends that the Court and County take steps to ensure that the public is accurately informed about the terms of the Settlement and that the public receives an education campaign that honors the letter and spirit of Paragraph 33(c) [of the settlement agreement].  Those steps include . . .  (e) hiring, within 30 days of the issuance of this report, a public communications consultant that will craft a message and implement a strategy sufficiently robust to provide information broadly to the public that describes the benefits of integration, as required by Paragraph 33(c). Within 30 days of the hiring of a public communications consultant, the County should submit a plan for a public education campaign to the Monitor for approval. 

Orwellian indeed!  You must conduct a public relations campaign in your name, and it must say what we want it to say, and you must submit what you plan to say to us, and we get to approve or disapprove.  Sorry, Westchester, but it's time to get away from this HUD thing entirely and stop taking their money.

In the whole affair, I do have one criticism of Astorino, which is over how he pitches his message. Rob, instead of focusing only on oppressive federal overreach and the overriding of local zoning, why don't you also point to your neighboring county Manhattan (just about 4 miles away at the closest point) and ask how HUD-supported public housing there is doing at promoting HUD's supposed goals of increasing integration and lessing income inequality.  If subsidized housing led to more racial integration, why are the HUD-supported projects in Manhattan islands of racial segregation?  Why is the private housing in Harlem today far more integrated than the HUD-supported projects?  And if subsidized housing led to lessening of income inequality, why does Manhattan, with far more than its share of public housing, have the highest income inequality in the country?  And why are the HUD-supported projects, 40 and 50 and 60 years after their construction, still islands of poverty in the midst of the wealthiest county in the country?  Rob, you are right on this and they are wrong.  Keep fighting!

And, if you think it would be hard to top that one in the annals of government Orwellianism, then consider the current efforts of the climate campaigners to silence any dissent from the orthodoxy that government must take over at least the entire energy sector of the economy, if not the whole economy, in order to "save the planet."  Back last spring, Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island embarked on a campaign to try to get the Justice Department to prosecute (criminally!) so-called "climate deniers" (dissenters from government-backed orthodoxy) under the RICO statute.  Then, at a Senate hearing last month, under questioning from the same Senator Whitehouse as to why the Justice Department hasn't done anything about "the climate denial scheme," AG Loretta Lynch responded that the matter had been "discussed" and referred to the FBI for consideration.  Meanwhile last week, even as the Manhattan Contrarian was pointing out that the government was relying on altered data in its brief to the DC Circuit seeking approval of an EPA plan to shut down the coal industry, AG Eric Schneiderman of New York was announcing the newfound support of 15 other AGs for his "investigation" of Exxon Mobil over insufficient obeisance to climate orthodoxy.   So where is this one going?  As far as I know, at least since the days of Eliot Spitzer, no company even remotely near the size of Exxon Mobil has ever been investigated for anything by the New York AG without paying at least $100 million in protection money and issuing a mea culpa.  There is no reason to think that this one will end any differently.

So welcome to the new world, where everyone must toe the government line, and say only what the government wants said.












Somehow Perfect Justice And Fairness Keep Eluding Our Grasp

Down in Venezuela a claimed majority of the population for some 16 years has bought into the line, sometimes going under the name of "socialism," that perfect justice and fairness between and among people could be achieved by the government ordering that it be so.  As payback for their foolishness, the Venezuelans have been rewarded with near complete loss of freedom and rights, plummeting GDP, sinking incomes, soaring real poverty, empty stores, endless waits in lines, plus a dictator's daughter who has stolen $4 billion from the people, and a former treasury secretary who somehow has over $11 billion is Swiss bank accounts.  With the recent election, the Venezuelans may now finally begin to extricate themselves from their self-inflicted predicament.  Then again, this was only a legislative election, and the ruling overlords who have been empowered by the "socialist" revolution are not about to give up their power easily. 

Here in New York City, our local political grandees thankfully don't have many of the powers that enabled the Venezuelan kleptocrats to wreak such complete economic destruction, like control over the currency, sway over the banks, and ownership of major businesses and oil reserves.  But New York's rulers do have the same mentality that perfect fairness and justice can be achieved by government order.  I've previously reported, for example here, on how that plays out in the "affordable housing" arena.  For today's lesson, let's consider the question of preventing people from learning who has a criminal record.

Perhaps you haven't been following this issue, but there has been a big push among "progressives" in recent years for something called "Ban the Box" legislation, that is, new laws that place restrictions on the ability of employers to ask an applicant about his or her criminal record.  The stated rationale of the legislation is to make sure that people with criminal records have a "fair chance" to work.  Hey, who could be against "fairness"?  For an example of one of many organizations advocating for this sort of legislation, see the website of the National Employment Law Project here.  Here is NELP's description of what one such law requires:

Under the Fair Chance Act, it is illegal to ask about criminal history on job applications and during initial job interviews. Only after a job offer is made may employers ask about criminal convictions and—with the applicant’s permission—run a background check. After reviewing the applicant’s conviction history, employers may withdraw the job offer only if the candidate’s criminal record is directly related to the job or if hiring the individual would pose an unreasonable risk.      

As you probably have guessed by now, uber-progressive New York City is in the forefront of the "Ban the Box" movement, and indeed the "Fair Chance Act" cited in the excerpt is New York City's brand new legislation, that took effect on October 27.  The law gives no direct answer to the question of whether this guy's five convictions for armed robbery are or are not "directly related" to the job he has applied for in your company's IT department.  What do you think?  What do you think the New York City "Human Rights" enforcers think?

Meanwhile, in other news that nobody but me seems to think is related, the New York City Department of Investigation came out with a report yesterday addressing the question of why it is that the crime rate in New York City Housing Authority projects is around four times the crime rate in the remainder of the City.  I can't seem to get the report itself to download, but there is a long article about it in today's New York Times, page A33 of the print edition.  And what is the principal reason given for the disparity?  You guessed it:  failure to identify the people who have criminal records and to exclude them from the projects.

In a report released on Tuesday, the Investigation Department found that, without explanation, the police in 2011 stopped sending reports about crime on public housing property to the Housing Authority as required under a 1996 agreement between the two agencies. In recent years, they found, the Police Department also frequently neglected to inform housing officials when its residents were arrested on accusations of serious offenses, hampering efforts to remove them from public housing apartments. . . .  Specifically, the agency has not effectively enforced an existing policy to exclude criminal offenders from apartments permanently, allowing those accused of crimes such as gun possession and drug dealing to continue living in public housing.

But wait -- shouldn't people with criminal records have a "fair chance" to live in subsidized public housing?  The DOI Report seems to dwell specifically on the case of one Tyrone Howard, who fatally shot a police officer on October 20.  Seems that Mr. Howard lived in one of the projects.  Here's an excellent question:  would Mr. Howard have been any less likely to kill a cop if he had lived somewhere else other than a NYCHA project?

Be that as it may, the DOI does seem to be admitting rather forcefully that a criminal record may have a lot to do with the likelihood of someone committing more crimes of a similar sort in the future.  Should anyone tell Mayor de Blasio and the City Council?  Something tells me that the effort to compel perfect fairness through the "Fair Chance Act" is not going to end well.