Fair and Unbalanced

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Mike Littwin

"The pump don't work 'cause the vandals took the handles."

Let’s be clear what happened here. According to the facts as we know them, a bullying Cub Scout leader kicked an 11-year-old boy out of his den because the boy, Ames Mayfield, asked a tough question of state Sen. Vicki Marble at a Cub Scout event.

Meanwhile, the Boy Scouts of America, including its Denver Area Council, have basically stood silent, refusing to address the issue directly other than to say they’re looking for a new den for Ames that would “allow him to continue his Scouting experience in a way that fits his and his family’s needs.”

I have no idea what that means, other than that they’re looking for a den that doesn’t routinely expel a child for asking a question. I called the Denver Area Council to ask under what authority the den leader had acted and what the Boy Scouts’ responsibility was in dealing with this issue, but the group failed to return my call, which could be interpreted as a failure to do their duty.

So, what should we infer from that silence? That the Boy Scouts condones the scout leader’s bullying behavior? Or that, in the name of privacy — the go-to excuse for most groups practicing damage control — they’re willing to stand by as the leader humiliates a fifth grader while also making a mockery of everything the Boy Scouts are supposed to stand for?

From everything we know — and that we don’t know more is directly on the Boy Scouts — the situation required at most a conversation between leader and parent. And, as far as I can tell, the only situation worth discussing is Ames’ punishment and whether the den leader should be, in fact, the one removed.

Drumming a kid out of his den would seem to be an extreme punishment under any circumstances. But what makes this story especially egregious was that the educational assignment for the Broomfield scouts was to research an issue in the news and then put questions to Marble, the invited guest.

Which is exactly what Ames did.

Ames came fully prepared, asking several questions. One was about Marble’s more-than-controversial statements at a 2013 legislative hearing on poverty in which she blamed high mortality rates in the black community on eating too much barbecue and chicken. If you don’t remember Marble’s trip down racial-stereotype lane, here’s the money quote from 2013: “When you look at life expectancy, there are problems in the black race. Sickle-cell anemia is something that comes up. Diabetes is something that’s prevalent in the genetic makeup, and you just can’t help it.”

And then she adds: “Although I’ve got to say, I’ve never had better barbecue and better chicken and ate better in my life than when you go down South and you, I mean, I love it. Everybody loves it.”

We’ve come to expect odd statements from Marble, a Fort Collins senator, on a variety of issues — I’m surprised she didn’t mention the health benefits of watermelon — but let’s just say that barbecue comments usually come at the top, or bottom, of anyone’s list.

When Ames asked her about the barbecue/chicken comments, Marble blamed it all on so-called fake news. “That was made up by the media,” she said, telling Ames he could believe if it he wanted to.

It wasn’t made up, of course. The full quote from that hearing is available for everyone to see, including by Ames when he was doing his research. And upon hearing Marble tell a bunch of kids that the media took her comments out of context that day, The Denver Post editorial board slammed her for telling a “finger-lickin’ lie.”

But that apparently was not the question that got Ames into trouble. He also asked Marble about gun control, a story that, sadly, is once again all over the news following the Las Vegas massacre. Marble is a strong defender of gun rights, and so Ames asked a long and tough question about her positions. It wasn’t the only tough question she got. Others asked about the border wall, about fossil fuels.

Here’s the heart of Ames’ question: “I was shocked that you co-sponsored a bill to allow domestic violence offenders to continue to own a gun. Why on earth would you want someone who beats their wife to have access to a gun?”

Ames went on for two minutes before the facilitator cut him off so Marble could answer. And five days later, the Cub Scout Pack leader asked for a meeting with Ames’ mother, Lori Mayfield, who says she was told that the den leader thought Ames’ question had been disrespectful. And that he wanted him out.

It was Ames’ mother who put his exchange with Marble on YouTube and who gave the video to Colorado Pols, which helpfully provided a transcript. And that’s almost certainly why we’re having this discussion. If you look on social media, where the story is raging, you’ll find some people ready to blame all this on the mother, as if Ames, a smart kid, couldn’t have come up with the questions himself. But more than that, even if the scouts thought the mother encouraged Ames — as if getting help from your parents were somehow a bad thing — how would that excuse expelling a fifth grader?

Even Gabby Giffords added her support for Ames, tweeting: “This is exactly the kind of courage we need in Congress. Ames, call me in 14 years. I’ll campaign for you.”

Ames has been in the Cub Scouts for years. He is months from moving on to the Boy Scouts, who have recently liberalized their views on gays and are even now accepting girls as participants. But asking a state senator a tough question is, for at least one leader, a step too far.

Ames says he may or may not join another den, although other dens have offered membership. You can understand any ambivalence. His mother says he is “heartbroken.” And that is the real crime here.

Photo of Ames Mayfield, courtesy of Lori Mayfield

This is not exactly a newsflash, but Tom Tancredo is threatening to run for governor. Again. And any establishment Republican politician in Colorado who doesn’t know enough to be scared witless by this possibility is in the wrong line of work.

It has taken a lifetime for Tancredo and Donald Trump to breathe the same political air, but that time is now, even if Trump (just guessing here) doesn’t have the slightest idea who Tancredo is.

But Trump ally Steve Bannon knows Tancredo. Among Tancredo’s, uh, credentials is that he’s a regular columnist for Bannon’s Breitbart News — a journalistic match made somewhere short of heaven. I can’t wait for Tancredo to cover himself. With a flag, of course. And, no doubt, with a big, beautiful wall — on Mexico’s tab, of course — in the background.

I always used to say that Tancredo columns wrote themselves. Now Tancredo columns can literally write themselves. And his bombast makes Trump look almost measured.  Trump may have made news by calling Mexican immigrants rapists. But Tancredo used to keep a fake-news list of illegal-immigrant murderers on his office door during his own slightly-hilarious-and-more-than-slightly-terrifying run for president.

What you need to know about Bannon, who made news by apparently sounding out Tancredo about a run, is that he cares far less about Trump than he does about Trumpism. And I don’t know who makes a better Trumpist than Tancredo, the sometimes-Republican bomb-thrower (and potential Mecca bomb-dropper) who was anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim and anti-Bush back when Trump was still a pro-choice Democrat.

Bannon has already threatened a “season of war” against Mitch McConnell, meaning a series of high-cost primaries against any Republican Senate incumbent who isn’t Trumpist enough. Tancredo is not running for the Senate, of course, but the call to revolution — particularly against his own party — is a siren Tancredo would never resist, whatever the office.

What I mean is, the way you’ll know whether Tancredo is running is to keep an eye out out for any balding septuagenarian setting up barricades.

If you missed the bizarre Trump-McConnell Rose Garden news conference Monday, in which Trump came down strongly on both sides of the Republican civil war, you know what I’m talking about. McConnell begged Republicans not to nominate people like Christine O’Donnell, Sharron Angle, Todd Akin and Richard Mourdock, who all ran for the Senate in 2010 during the Tea Party panic and lost.

“You have to nominate people who can actually win, because winners make policy and losers go home,” McConnell said to the press. But his real audience, of course, was Trump, who can’t seem to make policy even when he’s on the winning team.

Bannon, meanwhile, is scouring the country for Tancredo-style candidates who give hope to every Democrat thinking there’s a chance to take back the Senate. But what you have in the Colorado governor’s race is not only the chance to run against Republicans who back the McConnells and the Ryans, but to run against people who are, in fact, the Bushes (or their relative) and the Romneys (or their relative).

Before we go any further, I have to make a small confession. Whenever Tancredo says he’s running for anything, I’m all in. I know it’s wrong, but I can’t help it. I mean, there’s no other candidate who is sure to deliver a High Noon showdown against Dan Maes. What other Republican can brag about the time Karl Rove told him never to darken the White House steps again? This stuff is catnip for a political columnist.

But it’s not all selfish. It’s also one more opportunity for Colorado to reject the Tancredo brand — the carnival-barking demagogue who found his niche somewhere in the alt-right even before anyone knew the term. Twice he has run for governor, and twice he has lost.

So, he’s back, and his alleged reason for considering yet another run is perfect. In the post-Charlottesville Trumpworld, Tancredo seems worried that Colorado Republicans aren’t sufficiently white nationalist. No wonder Bannon is on his team. I’m sure there are many other fine people lining up to help.

Yes, Tancredo says he might have to run because none of the thousands of Republicans already in the race stood up for VDARE, the white nationalist group that had its scheduled Colorado Springs event canceled by the host resort hotel. Basically, Mayor John Suthers pushed VDARE out of town. And among those pushed was, of course, Tancredo, who had been scheduled to speak at the event.

And so he told The Denver Post, “Not one Republican in this state, no one elected or running for office, has the guts to say, ‘What the hell is going on?’ What ever happened with the First Amendment? Have we totally annihilated it in our rush to appease the left?”

Since then, Tancredo, the ultimate anti-appeaser, has been on a viability tour, asking Republican voters whether this is his time.

Well, I’ve got good news for him and bad news for Republicans.

He’s viable. In fact, the larger the field, the better chance Tancredo has to win while running as a unscripted Trump mini-me in a bad sports jacket. If the field were any larger, they’d need to borrow Mile High Stadium for debates. And, believe me, no one would kneel during the National Anthem.

Trancredo has his own solid base among Colorado Republicans. He would have no problem raising money. And, like Trump, he’s an expert at what we used to call earned media and what we now call the clown show.

The problem for Republicans is that this clown has no chance — as in none — to beat whoever wins the Democratic primary. He lost in the general election in 2010 and in the Republican primary in 2014. And, though he may be the Trumpiest guy around, let’s remember that Trump lost Colorado in 2016. If Trump can’t win as Trump, how could we expect Tancredo to?

And here’s what makes it worse for Republicans. Tancredo could care less if he loses. Seriously. Losing has become a habit for him by now. Besides, he’s not even running to become governor. He just wants to be back in the fight. And this time, with Steve Bannon in his corner, believe me, it’s going to be bloody.

Everyone in America is talking about the Trump-Corker-World-War-III feud. Except for those talking about the latest Trump-NFL-Jemele-Hill flare-up. And, yeah, those talking about the Trump-Tillerson-IQ-test throwdown. (Spoiler alert: If you’re the president and you challenge your Secretary of State to an IQ test, you are, by definition, a moron.)  And, sure, the latest on Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive Hollywood role as male predator, which Trump has said did not surprise him at all.

It’s not that there aren’t other things to discuss, like why the NRA isn’t calling for a ban of bump stocks after all. And why Trump has set up a string of barriers — including yet one more futile attempt to impose his freaking wall— to any agreement on protection for Dreamers. And why the only daycare anyone seems to be focusing on is the adult daycare in the White House.

Or maybe we can talk about the stripping of the Obama-era EPA rules. Or the moves toward decertifying the Iran nuke deal. Or the “one thing” that can stop North Korea. Or the catastrophic wildfires in Northern California, which, as of this writing, Trump hadn’t mentioned. Or why Trump is angry that he’s not getting enough credit (blame?) for the conditions in Puerto Rico. Or why he tried to take all the credit (blame?) for Mike Pence’s phony NFL walk-out stunt.

But if you’re starting to feel like the long-anticipated national crack-up has finally arrived — and, I know, it does feel that way — don’t fool yourself. It’s just another day in Trumpworld, in which Trump belittles while America burns.

There are websites that will give you by-the-second countdown until Trump’s four years are up. And if that doesn’t sufficiently discourage you, there are pundits who will tell you that Trump, despite his disastrous poll ratings, is well positioned to be re-elected.

Meanwhile, there’s the Trump-Corker feud to consume us. It began with Corker, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, saying the few adults in the White House were all that stood between the nation and “chaos.” Corker, who recently announced he would not seek re-election in 2018, found himself suddenly unburdened by any political imperative and did that rarest of things —he told the truth.

If there’s anything Trump dislikes more than a weekend at Camp David, it’s telling the truth. So he tweeted out a lie about Corker, saying the two-term conservative Tennessee senator had begged for Trump’s endorsement and that he didn’t run for reelection because he didn’t have the guts. It was such an obvious lie that no one took it seriously, except maybe Corker. He took it seriously enough to give an interview to The New York Times in which he made the world nervous with his take on Trump and the dangers of world war. And he made his Republican colleagues even more nervous by revealing that nearly all of them agreed with his assessment that Trump was a danger.

This was the essential truth — that Republican senators (see: Gardner, Cory) know how reckless and uninformed Trump is and yet they do nothing about it. Of course, there’s plenty that Corker himself could do, given his role as chair of the Foreign Relations Committee and given his past as a deficit hawk. We’ll see if actions match his words.

But what we do know is how Daycare Donald responded to these incredible charges from the normally low-key, but very influential, senator. Yes, he tweeted about Corker’s height.

He’s Liddle Bob Corker now, not to be confused with Li’l Marco Rubio, who once also told the truth about Trump, but that was long ago. And when Trump wasn’t hitting Corker for his 5-foot-7 frame, Trump was saying he was smarter than Rex Tillerson and wanted to go all Stanford-Binet on him. Now, tell me, who was the last president to have issued an IQ challenge?

It’s no wonder that Michael Bennet was moved recently to say he felt sorry for his Republican colleagues who wake up every day in fear of what Trump has done now and how they can possibly defend it. I’m sure Bennet was basically talking about Gardner, who is in an even tougher position than most Republicans as the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, meaning he is charged with getting, say, the homophobic, Islamaphobic Roy Moore elected senator in Alabama.

I’m not going to waste any tears on Gardner, who, we know, will dodge any question on whether he agrees with Corker’s assessment. Those few senators who have been caught and forced to say something have basically said that they have more important things to do than comment on a feud, but actually they don’t. Corker’s warning tells us as much about the cowardly GOP-led Senate as it does about the dangers of Trump’s impulsiveness.

This is on the Trump enablers who try to pretend that Trump’s presidency isn’t a disaster. And Corker, who supported Trump during the 2016 campaign, knows he has been one of them.

As Corker told The Times: “The vast majority of our caucus understands what we’re dealing with here. There will be some — if you write that, I’m sure there will be some that say, ‘No, no, no I don’t believe that,’ but of course they understand the volatility that we are dealing with and the tremendous amount of work that it takes from people around him to keep him in the middle of the road.”

It’s pretty clear that Trump’s undercutting of Rex Tillerson on North Korea is what moved Corker to speak out. It’s also pretty clear we should take the warning seriously. After all, if you’re a serious person, you don’t just toss out World War III warnings. We’re just left to hope that Corker is not a liddle too late.

Photo by David Bolton via Flickr: Creative Commons

Now that the White House, Congress and NRA are talking about guns and the Las Vegas massacre, I guess that means it’s officially no longer too soon for the rest of us to talk about them.

So, let’s talk bump stocks.

Before Stephen Paddock took 12 bump stocks to his Las Vegas hotel room, along with his legally purchased 23 guns, I had never heard of them. I’m guessing you hadn’t either. Most descriptions I see of bump stocks include the word “obscure.” They’re sold at places like the website stackingbodies.com (h/t Grand Junction Daily Sentinel).

They’re used in order to make semiautomatic rifles work more like automatic rifles. Paddock used them, of course, to make it easier to kill more people more quickly. Sadly, it seems they worked. As you know, he killed 58 and wounded nearly 500 before the cops got to his room and he killed himself.

In the wake of the massacre, Republican politicians are lining up in possible support of a ban — Cory Gardner is open to the idea, but, of course, first needs more information. Even the NRA, which never wants to ban anything related to guns, has said it might be time for closer regulation — although, as Wayne LaPierre has stressed, not for a ban — for the bump stocks.

So, should we ban them? Of course. It’s hard enough to justify them in any case, and the last thing anyone wants is a Las Vegas copycat. But the fact that the NRA is basically willing to dump bump stocks shows just how obscure they are and how minor a role they play in the greater gun-violence debate. But it shows something else, too — the NRA wants to ban bump stocks without, you know, making a big deal of it.

Here’s my guess. Donald Trump will follow the NRA’s advice and regulate the bump stocks out of commission — after all, machine guns are already illegal — and Republicans will move on, saying they have taken care of the problem.

But there’s at least one problem with that scenario as the NRA and its congressional allies know. Once you concede that you can pass a law, or change a regulation, to make the nation safer from gun violence, you have conceded that, yes, you can pass a law or change a regulation that will make the nation safer from gun violence. It’s the NRA’s long-feared slippery slope. It’s the reason the group never agrees to even the most sensible gun restrictions.

That’s why the NRA is ready to give bump stocks up without a fight, just so long as Congress doesn’t get in the way and start, well, debating the issue. Because, as the polls repeatedly tell us, people overwhelmingly support what gun-control people like to call “commonsense” gun laws. The fewer the facts, the fewer the questions, the better. That’s why there’s such a thing as the “Dickey Amendment,” which has prevented the Centers for Disease Control from even studying gun violence for fear of losing funding.

I mean, the dumbest thing you hear people say about guns — other than that we need them to prevent government tyranny, as if reducing magazine size reduces your chances in a brush-up with the U.S. Army — is that laws don’t work. Look at Chicago, they say. If gun laws worked, Chicago wouldn’t have such horrific gun violence. You could just as easily say the same about laws against murder. Look at Chicago, if laws against murder worked, it wouldn’t have such a horrific murder rate.

Of course laws work. That’s the NRA fear. If it’s shown that laws could reduce gun violence and gun deaths — according to the Gun Violence Archive, it takes 28 days in Chicago to match those 58 gun deaths; those victims, by the way, are overwhelmingly poor, black and male — people might insist that politicians try to do something about the issue.

If we start talking about guns, we then have to address the 11,815 gun deaths (not including suicides) so far this year. The New York Times has compiled a list of potential gun laws, their usefulness as seen by experts and their support in the general public. For example, 89 percent support universal background checks and the experts give it a 6.5 effectiveness rate on a 10-point scale. Seventy-three percent support checks for ammo buyers. Experts give that a 6.5 rating, too. The list is long and worth reading.

The NRA knows every one of these numbers. The Pew Research Center has polled gun owners, of whom, gulp, 54 percent support creating a federal database for tracking gun sales. Nearly half of gun owners want to ban assault rifles. The NRA knows these numbers, too.

I’m not naive. I wrote the other day that nothing would change after the Las Vegas massacre. Getting rid of bump stocks is a good idea, should it happen, but it’s hardly fundamental.

But the talking, that’s something different. If the NRA is now worried simply by having the conversation, that gives anyone concerned by the issue a way to contribute. Just by opening your mouth.

Photo by Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr:Creative Commons

 

But they never get a hearing. These  are laws, like the proposed banning of bump stocks, that don’t violate anyone’s Second Amendment rights.

 

It is another day of death and another day of despair. I offer up this column on the day following the mass murder in Las Vegas only as therapy — for me and maybe for some who read it — knowing nothing will come of writing it.

This is who we are. This is who we have decided to be. It is painful to consider, which must be why so many people are ready to ignore the fact. We are a nation where mass murder happens and happens and happens and happens and happens again — this time as 22,000 people come to watch a country-music concert.

This time, a 64-year-old man rains down death from the 32nd floor of a Vegas hotel. This time, police say the shooter, a man named Stephen Paddock, brought 18 rifles with him, two of them found on tripods facing the window through which he killed at least 58 and wounded more than 500. This time, the shooter killed himself before the police got to the room.

The pictures of chaos and death challenge our imagination, just as James Holmes’ rampage in the Aurora move theatre challenged our imagination or Omar Marteen’s killing spree at the Orlando nightclub challenged our imagination. But the challenges come and the challenges go and nothing changes and then the next one happens. We grieve again. And if we don’t quite forget, we don’t quite remember either.

From the White House, we get the expected this-is-not-the-time-to-discuss-guns argument. Of course, no one says exactly when the right time is to discuss gun violence. We must note, however, that history tells us the right time never seems to come around.

The Senate, meanwhile, observes a moment of silence for the victims. But silence is what we expect from Congress on mass murders and on the everyday tragedy of ordinary — far too ordinary — killings by guns.

As CNN showed the Vegas video of war-zone-like chaos, the editors had bleeped a curse word from someone in the crowd, presumably so as not to offend the sensibilities of the viewers. They didn’t bleep the sound of the rifle fire. Where do you think the real obscenity is?

This is where we are in America: There are web sites tracking mass shootings. There are web sites tracking all murders. They stay busy. According to the Brady Campaign, 11,564 Americans were murdered by guns last year. If that’s not shocking enough, there’s this: four children and teens are murdered each day by gun violence. Meanwhile, Gun Violence Archive lists 273 mass shootings (four or more people shot) so far in 2017.

These are not just numbers. As we listen to the stories of the survivors from Las Vegas, and as we wait for the stories of those killed and injured, and, later still, of all those affected by those deaths and injuries, we connect the human beings to the numbers.

For a while, anyway. And then we wait for the next time to reconnect.

Some of us naively thought at the time of Columbine, all those years ago, that maybe we had reached a point where we would be shocked to our senses, knowing something had to be done. Nothing was done. Instead we engaged in pointless battles about the 2nd Amendment and ignored the fact that the poisonous NRA is at least half right — it’s not about the guns. But what it is about is gun violence.

We knew the game was up after Newtown. There will be nothing worse than Newtown. There will be nothing worse than shooting 6-year-olds (and having to listen to Sandy Hook truthers like Alex Jones). There would be plenty of horror to follow. Charlotte. Orlando. Santa Barbara. But nothing worse.

We don’t know quite what to do with the kind of slaughter that took place in Vegas. I’m not the first to note that if it had been an Islamist terror attack — as ISIS has claimed — we would understand the drill. There’d be more calls to limit immigration, whether or not the shooter was an immigrant. We’d want to limit heavily-vetted refugees because they might bring jihad with them. There would be more senseless talk from a would-be Alabama senator about sharia law. There would be Tom Tancredo suggesting we bomb Mecca.

But this shooter was apparently a high-stakes gambler who lived, among other places, in a retirement village in Mesquite, Nev. His family says he had no connection to any political or religious beliefs. And, even if turns out he did, no one would presumably advocate bombing Mesquite.

But when it comes to guns, as Adam Gopnik notes in The New Yorker, it doesn’t matter whether it’s a terrorist or a guy from Mesquite. The reaction, or lack of reaction, is exactly the same. There is nothing to be done. And the despair grows deeper still.

Donald Trump, who has told the NRA that the “eight-year assault” on the 2nd Amendment ended with his election, didn’t mention guns in his brief remarks to the nation Monday. He did offer his “warmest condolences and sympathies” to those affected by the violence. He said he’ll go to Las Vegas on Wednesday.

It would take someone like Trump, whose most rabid followers seem ready to follow him anywhere, to state the obvious  — that we can’t in good conscience continue this way — to effect any kind of change. It would be a Nixon-to-China moment. It won’t happen, of course. Nothing will happen. You already know what we will inevitably decide to do about the fact of Paddock and his 18 rifles. Not a goddamn thing.

Photo by big-ashb via Flickr:Creative Commons