Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

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

Littwin: Ted Cruz’s humanitarian crisis

Children streaming to the border come from violent countries, desperate families. The humane solution is to send them home?


TED Cruz nearly had me. I went to see the Texas senator at the Western Conservative Summit because I have a soft spot for troublemakers, particularly smart ones, and Cruz is definitely both. He’s the guy hardly anyone likes who is considering running for president. No one has pulled that off since Nixon, and we know how that turned out. Sure I had to see him.

And there he was, saying that, like Barack Obama, he thinks the crisis on the border is a humanitarian crisis, and that the real victims are the tens of thousands of unaccompanied kids who have made the terrifying journey from Central America. And it’s worse, he says, than you think — that these kids have been traumatized, abused and more. He offers up terrifying detail.

But, of course, that was only the start for Cruz, who is doing all he can to stop any Senate compromise on Obama’s $3.7 billion request to address the crisis. This is the same Cruz who pushed the government to a shutdown. It’s the Cruz who looks at a crisis and sees a potential showdown.

Cruz talked about ‘reuniting’ children with their families, as if their families hadn’t just spent a year’s salary to try to get these kids to the United States.

And so, he gives a three-part critique:

One, he says the crisis is all Obama’s fault, except for the part of the blame that belongs to Harry Reid.

Two, he says that that if Obama and the Senate and the country would just give up on the DREAM Act and, of course, “amnesty,” that the crisis would resolve itself.

And three, he says the humane thing to do is to send the traumatized and abused kids back where they came from, now. Which isn’t all that different from what Obama is saying: To send back most of the kids — those who can’t prove refugee status — soon.

Still, try to work that one out. Trauma. Abuse. Deportation. No trial or hearing. Humane. Which one doesn’t belong?

It’s a tricky business, and Cruz doesn’t exactly pull it off. He blames Obama who, he says, “unilaterally granted amnesty to 800,000 who had entered here as children. It was specifically targeted at children.”

He says that’s what caused the spike in unaccompanied children at the border. And that “the only way to stop the problem is to stop the promise of amnesty.”

Unless it’s to finally pass the long-broken promise of immigration reform — which Cruz, the son of a Cuban immigrant, has strongly opposed — and to stop using the word “amnesty” in every other sentence, particularly when Obama hasn’t given amnesty to anyone.

In any case, Cruz makes a better case than Rick Perry, another Texan who’s probably running for president. Perry had just returned from another trip to Iowa in time to announce he’s sending 1,000 National Guard troops to the border. Even though no one has asked for them. And even though the Guard can’t legally detain anyone or physically move anyone back across the border or do much except support the Border Patrol, which hasn’t asked for their support.

“I will not stand idly by while our citizens are under assault and little children from Central America are detained in squalor,” said Perry, who had previously suggested that the Obama administration was part of a conspiracy to bring little Central American children to America where eventually they would escape the squalor and become Democrats.

And here’s the kicker: The state of Texas is sending in the troops, which no one has asked for, and plans to send the bill to Washington. The cost is around $12 million a month — for what Perry is calling “Operation Strong Safety,” which sounds like a football play. It would be almost funny, except for humanitarian-crisis part.

That’s the part Cruz wants to stress. He tells of going recently to Lackland Air Force Base, where 1,200 kids were being kept. He said senior officials there told him what happens after families give their children to the coyotes, who work for the drug cartels.

“Sometimes these drug cartels would keep these kids hostage,” Cruz is saying at a news conference following his Denver speech, “and try to extract ransoms from the families. And if the families won’t, or can’t, pay more, horrifically these drug cartels are severing body parts from these children and sending them to the families. And the same official at Lackland described to me how they would put a machine gun to the head of a little boy or girl and force that child to cut off a finger or an ear of other little boys or girls. And so on our end, we’re having children who have been … horribly maimed, others of whom who have serious psychological damage…”

And so, I ask him, how exactly can it be humane to just send back maimed and psychologically damaged children to someplace where they might be maimed and damaged again.

He didn’t answer the question. He talked instead about “reuniting” children with their families, as if their families hadn’t just spent a year’s salary to try to get these kids to the United States.

It’s a fair argument to ask what has caused the surge of children on the border. Is it the terrible violence in Honduras — now the world’s murder capital — as well as El Salvador and Guatemala that has turned these kids into refugees? Or is it the chance that what Cruz calls “amnesty” — Obama’s executive order to defer deportation of those who arrived here as children by 2007 — would include them in 2014?

The answer is obvious. It’s not one thing that caused the surge. It’s never one thing. Which is where Cruz’s argument finally falls apart. Does he really think parents would continue to send their kids off with drug cartels to be maimed, killed or worse for an oft-broken promise? I didn’t even have to watch him speak to promise that he doesn’t.

[ Honduran student by Katie Yaeger Rotramel ]

Littwin: The Great Colorado Fracking Wars

Drilling rig1


AS we head into the next stage of the Great Colorado Fracking Wars, one thing is becoming increasingly clear: Jared Polis has backed himself into a corner – and there may be no way out.

Even Polis seems to realize this. He’s suddenly very quiet. When asked about taking the initiatives to the polls, he says things like there still might be another way to get this done. Certainly the stakes have gotten really high – and the lineup of possible losers is as long as Dick Monfort’s email list.

Polis is an ambitious guy who hit upon an interesting idea — he would use his money (he always uses his money) to force all the parties in the fracking debate to the table, whereupon they’d work out a compromise (or else), and he’d be the hero or maybe the anti-hero, which, to Polis, is much the same thing.

The or-else, of course, would be putting fracking on the ballot, backed by Polis’ money, turning the issue into a $60 million smackdown, of which the only thing you could safely predict was that someone would, in fact, get smacked.

What could go wrong?

Well, the or-else could fail, and the chance for a special legislative session would die. The oil companies, who had to compromise, wouldn’t. The Republicans, who never figured to compromise, wouldn’t. And many Democrats, who would normally be lining up with the environmentalists, would be afraid that doing so could be a disaster for them. (The Democrats may be wrong on that. But, interestingly, there’s at least one group that agrees with them: Colorado Republicans).

And if the initiatives lose and the top Democrats lose, Polis could be remembered as the Democrat who lost Colorado, which can’t be a good look for a guy who has ambition for a Democratic leadership position in the House. I’d be looking for an off ramp, too.

So, here’s where we are.

Establishment Democrats are furious with Polis. John Hickenlooper was angry enough that he not only took an actual stand, he stood with the oil and gas industry, saying he would do everything in his power to defeat the “radical” initiatives. (OK, don’t panic. When asked what he meant by everything in his power, he said it was just a figure of speech and that, basically, he’d do what he could.) Meanwhile, you know the last place that Mark Udall wants to be is on the wrong side of the environmental crowd. And yet, he had to oppose the initiatives, too. Hickenlooper tried to talk Polis down. Ed Perlmutter tried to talk Polis down. National Democrats tried to talk Polis down. The plan was to say there was progress, and that they’d get ‘em next time. Polis stuck with this time.

As I mentioned, the people most likely to agree that this is bad for Democrats are Republicans, which is why Hickenlooper couldn’t get a single one to sign on to a compromise. Still, I wonder if you know of any single-issue-voter pro-frackers. Me neither. Of course, the oil companies will spend all that money on TV ads, which can’t be good for Democrats or for people who watch TV. The bigger danger for Democrats, though, is not about fracking, but about whether the election becomes about Democrats and business and jobs. Hickenlooper wins if he’s the pro-business governor. And if not? Let’s just say Republicans will gleefully add Polis to their list of bogeymen (bogeypeople?) alongside Michael Bloomberg, Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

And then there are the environmentalists, many of whom are also unhappy with Polis, even if they won’t say so out loud. But they didn’t really get a seat at the table. Many didn’t like the Polis legislative compromise that the Republicans rejected and about which they weren’t consulted. Some don’t think the initiatives go far enough.

And finally there are the oil and gas people, who are risking more than anyone – and for no good reason. They had to compromise – and didn’t. They apparently want this showdown, thinking that Colorado is a relatively inexpensive state in which to fight. But they should also know that Colorado is one of the greenest states in the country. If there’s any place that oil could lose, it’s right here – and particularly with Polis bankrolling the other side. If the initiatives win, and make into the Colorado constitution, it’s a huge setback for oil and gas. If the oil companies win, the fracktivists will be back in 2016 anyway. If there are more frack-quakes in Colorado, if there’s some environmental disaster — whether or not it has anything to do with fracking, whether or not it’s even in Colorado — oil could lose. A compromise should have been an easy call — aren’t these guys all about the bottom line? — but politics got in the way.

So, what happens next? No one really knows. This is interesting territory. I’ve talked to a lot of political people in the last few days, and the only consensus is that there isn’t any consensus.

There are some near-term possibilities, though.

The initiatives could draw so many signatures that the oil companies see the real risks involved – and back down. It wouldn’t be too late for a surprise special session.

The initiatives could fail to get enough signatures by Aug. 4 – particularly if Polis were to slow the money — and Polis could blame dysfunctional politics and politicians and vow to be back.

Or there could be a mysterious Plan B that I’ve heard discussed that would give Polis an out, although one Democratic insider put it to me this way: “We’d need a Plan C, D and E.”

[Photo by Skyler Leonard]

Littwin: A humanitarian crisis that brings out the worst-in us

Rushing to send children back to violence

building in Sula


There is a rush to send the children back. That’s the message we get from Washington.

There are 50,000 unaccompanied minors at the border now. The number may grow to as many as 90,000 by year’s end. It doesn’t seem to matter so much why they came here, just so long as they go.

We hear stories. We hear awful stories. Stories of rape and murder and even dismemberment. There is the now famously sad quote from the young boy to the Women’s Refugee Commission:
“In El Salvador, there is a wrong — it is being young. It is better to be old.”

The young are being targeted. They are forced to join gangs or they refuse to join gangs. It’s hard to know which is more dangerous. Young girls are taken and raped or worse.

And yet, what seems to matter most in Washington is that the children are dealt with, as quickly as possible. And then go.

We know they have come, in the main, to escape poor, gang-infested countries with weak, corrupt governments. We know they come from Honduras, which has the highest murder rate in the world, and from El Salvador and Guatemala, which also both rank among the leaders. We hear the stories, and we can’t really doubt they’re true.

It is definitely a true border crisis, but mostly a humanitarian crisis, and one that defies easy solution.

Some children come on their own, risking everything, often seeking a parent who has already made the trip. If their desperate parents in Central America have sent them, the voyage costs a year’s pay or more, which goes to the coyotes, who sometimes pass the children off to the Mexican drug cartels. The children come, and many are abused along the way and some even die. They come and when they cross the border, they turn themselves in to the nearest Border Patrol agent and hope for the best.

That’s not exactly an invasion, as some would call it. But what exactly is it, other than repeated tragedy?

The United Nations High Commission on Refugees released a study in which it interviewed 404 of the children, and 58 percent said they were fleeing violence. They flee just as refugees flee in Syria or Iraq or from any war zone. The numbers tell the story. The children who arrive in the United States – and in other countries in the region, too — come from cities where the violence is the most serious.

If the children reach America as refugees, they get a hearing. That’s part of the lure. But the law is different for Mexican (and Canadian) children, who can be sent home immediately if they can’t show they are endangered. And what we hear from many in Washington is that we need to change the laws so that children from Central America are treated the same way – quick hearings and quick work. Barack Obama is asking for $3.7 billion to get the necessary resources to the border, but the money, you can bet, will come with strings.

No one seriously doubts the level of violence or lawlessness. Statistics gathered by Vox say that civilians are twice as likely to be killed in those three countries today than Iraqi civilians were at the worst moments of the Iraq war.

And so you’d think, whatever else we do, our first priority would be to make sure the children were safe, to make sure that before we send anyone back, we know we are not sending them to their deaths.

We are a generous people. We care about children in far-away lands, kidnapped children with hashtags to know them by. But these children who have crossed our border are somehow seen differently. They’ve crossed our border illegally, and so they must go back.

To think otherwise, writes conservative wise man Charles Krauthammer, is “nonsense.” There has always been violence and poverty in Central America, he said. Why should now be different?

It’s hard to know what to make of this, other than a willful refusal to look. A story in the New York Times tells of 60 bodies stacked in a morgue, one night’s work in the violent streets of San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The story goes on to say that 2,200 children who crossed the border from January through May came from San Pedro Sula.

Still, in Washington the response – or at least the loudest response — comes with pointed fingers, most of them pointed at Obama for slowing deportations of so-called Dreamers. It’s an awful sight: in the face of a real crisis, not a fake Washington crisis, there are politicians waving the flag of dysfunction for the world to see.

Obviously, we have to do better. Yes, the issue is complicated. It’s complicated because we don’t want children making this dangerous trip. And it’s complicated by the politics of immigration, which rarely brings out the best in us and sometimes the worst — like those California protesters yelling at a busload of kids. But this is a humanitarian crisis, and these are children, and something must be done.

David Gergen — who wrote a piece for CNN comparing this crisis to a time 75 years ago when America turned away German Jews fleeing the Holocaust – suggests that we set up safe zones in Central America, where we can send the children back and ensure their safety. Others have proposed setting up places in Central America where people can seek asylum without the risk of leaving the country.

And then there are those who would tell desperate children that the only crisis is that they came here at all.

[Photo of buildings in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, by bergistheword via Flickr]

Littwin: Same-sex marriage on winning streak

photo (87)


Same-sex marriage has finally come to Denver. It may not last forever or even till death do them part, although I’m guessing it probably will.

As of now, the licenses come with a caveat — that if same-sex marriage falters on its way through the judicial system, the marriage may no longer be valid.

It’s a risk, but it seems to be a small risk. At this point, it’s hard to think anything else.

For the chance to test that theory, we can thank Hillary Hall, the Boulder clerk and recorder and hero of the piece. She began it all by deciding, pretty much on her own, to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. When the state tried to stop her by taking her to court, Boulder District Court Judge Andrew Hartman ruled that Hall was within her rights to practice this little act of civil disobedience, at least for now.

And within hours of Thursday’s ruling, word had moved down the Denver-Boulder Turnpike, and same-sex couples were being married in Denver as well.

If you’re surprised by any of this, you need to keep up.

It isn’t just liberal Boulder after all. Same-sex marriage is on a huge winning streak in courts across liberal and conservative America. There’s the look of inevitability on this issue wherever you turn, and that now includes turning toward Denver, Boulder, Pueblo and Colorado counties still to come.

It was the conservative 10th Circuit Court of Appeals that that got Hall going when it upheld a District Court ruling that Utah’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. The judges stayed their decision, pending a certain appeal to the Supreme Court, which will have to make the final call.

But Hall would have nothing to do with a stay. She just heard the unconstitutional part. And knowing that the 10th Circuit covered Colorado, she knew Colorado’s similar ban on same-sex marriage had to be similarly unconstitutional.

And so, she began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. More than a hundred of them.

Colorado Attorney General John Suthers sought an injunction. But the court said that Hall could continue, and Suthers, who keeps losing on this issue and keeps appealing, now understands the meaning of a futile gesture.

Not long after Hartman ruled, Denver Clerk and Recorder Debra Johnson got the word from city attorneys that it was OK for her to go ahead and issue licenses. Naturally, she went straight to Twitter. The media rushed to her office. A few couples trailed only slightly behind. And history was made.

Argue if you will with Hartman’s decision. But it’s much harder to argue with the central fact behind it.

Hartman dismissed Suthers’ call for a injunction, saying that no one had been harmed by Hall’s actions. That’s because no one has been. The state hasn’t been harmed. Your marriage hasn’t been harmed. Mine hasn’t.

The only people who have been harmed, as Adams County Judge C. Scott Crabtree ruled the other day in striking down Colorado’s same-sex marriage ban, are those in an excluded class who haven’t been allowed to marry like everyone else.

The state argued before Crabtree that a one-man, one-woman construct had to be sustained in order to protect “the nature of marriage” and the ability to produce children within the traditional parental arrangement.

The argument was a sure loser. Crabtree dismissed it as a “pretext for discrimination” and nothing more. Crabtree said that the concept of civil unions was not unlike the concept of separate but equal, noting that if civil unions were the same as marriage then there would be no need to have civil unions.

Crabtree also issued a stay, however, understanding that his words would not be the final words.

The arguments against same-sex marriage keep changing, as each one is rejected by the courts or by state legislatures. It seems like a series of lightning rounds with the same side always getting the answer right. When the Supreme Court ruled — in the all-too traditional 5-4 decision — that the federal Defense of Marriage Act “demeans” same-sex marriage and “humiliates” children raised by same-sex couples, that was pretty much the ballgame. Now we’re just waiting for the final score.

In Boulder, Judge Hartman rejected the state’s argument that if Hall issued licenses to same-sex couples despite the judicial stays, it would cause people to lose faith in the rule of law. It’s a strange argument coming so soon after so many of Colorado’s sheriffs determined that they weren’t going to enforce the gun laws produced by the state legislature.

“The State makes assertions that Clerk Hall’s disobedience irreparably harms the people by causing loss of faith in the rule of law,” Hartman wrote. “However, the State has made nothing but assertions. An alternate public response is that the people of Colorado laud Clerk Hall for her pluck and/or condemn the Attorney General for his tenaciousness.”

If Suthers had any sense of history, he’d rein in the tenacity and give up the fight. Who wants to be remembered as having been on the wrong end of a civil rights battle?

And Hartman had it exactly right on Hall. But her pluck will not only be lauded. If the court ruling holds up, that pluck will be the stuff of legend.

[Fran, left, and Anna Simon at the Denver County Clerk's office, where they were the first same-sex couple to get married, with their son Jeremy. Photo by Susan Greene] 

Correction: In an earlier version of this column, it said Colorado Attorney General John Suthers opposed same-sex marriage. Suthers says he has never publicly revealed his personal opinion on the issue. He does believe the Colorado ban on same-sex marriage is constitutional. The column has also been updated to reflect a correction in the amount of marriage licenses issued to same-sex couples by the Boulder County Clerk.

Littwin: We’ll be right with you, Mr. President


IF it’s true that 90 percent of life is showing up, then Mark Udall, John Hickenlooper and Andrew Romanoff have a problem.

Sometimes, there are just too many places to be.

As you may have heard, the president is coming to town. Barack Obama is giving a speech in Cheesman Park Wednesday morning before headlining a Udall fundraiser. I’ll be at Cheesman because when presidents from either party come to town, I try to stop by just in case something important actually happens.

But Udall won’t be attending the speech. And Hickenlooper won’t be attending the speech. And Romanoff won’t be attending the speech.

Does anyone really think that Obama, who twice carried Colorado, is going to hurt Udall simply by crossing the state line? What’s the logic — that undecided voters might have forgotten that Obama and Udall are both Democrats?

You know why.

Yes, they all have apparent scheduling conflicts. (What, you thought it was politics?) These scheduling problems happen to me all the time, but, as it turns out, I don’t have a scheduler. These guys do, but still their calendars are all full. If only Obama had given them sufficient warning, right?

Udall can’t get here in time from Washington for the speech because he’ll be up late the night before doing the hard work of the Senate. That’s what his spokesperson said.

Udall will be at the fundraiser, though, because the funds being raised are basically going to his campaign. It would be a little awkward for him not to be there. But the fundraiser is closed to the press — fundraisers always are — and there is no word of any photo-op, although (note to Hickenlooper) don’t you think there will be pictures taken anyway?

Hickenlooper won’t be at the speech or the fundraiser — after all, it’s not his fundraiser – although his spokesperson did say the governor may try to get in a chat with the president sometime. No mention of a joint public appearance, though, because … scheduling? Yes, he’s booked all day Tuesday and Wednesday.

I’m not sure of Romanoff’s plans. I am told (OK, I read it in the Post) his schedule doesn’t include Cheesman.

I know the cynical interpretation of all this, the one that can’t be missed – that it’s really about Obama’s approval ratings being underwater. And then there was that Udall quote a while back in which he couldn’t quite bring himself to commit to having the president campaign for him.

And now that Obama is coming, Udall is making news by looking like he’s not willing to fully commit himself again. Which is strange on at least two levels.

One, I hope this doesn’t surprise anyone, but Republicans already have photos of Udall with Obama. I’ve seen them. Hell, everyone has seen them. What’s Udall s going to say – that it’s a mixup and they’re really photos of Tom Udall?

And, two, does anyone really think that Obama, who twice carried Colorado, is going to hurt Udall simply by crossing the state line? What’s the logic — that undecided voters might have forgotten that Obama and Udall are both Democrats?

Whether or not Udall has his photo taken with Obama, Cory Gardner and his fellow Republicans will still say exactly the same thing. They don’t have much on Udall, who’s a likable guy with a famous name and a moderately liberal voting record. At this point, Republicans are reduced to jumping on him for procedural votes made against the Keystone XL pipeline, which isn’t going to cost him much support.

What they do have is Obama’s low approval ratings and Obamacare’s low approval ratings and Udall’s ties to both. You may have heard something along these lines before. I’m pretty sure you’ll hear them again, although here’s a bet: Obama’s numbers will be better in November than they are now. Of course, they’d pretty much have to be.

Which is why, if I were advising Udall — surprisingly he hasn’t asked — I’d tell him to cross everyone up and be there Wednesday morning. That’s how you make a headline.

Obama is going to talk about the new jobs report and the falling unemployment rate and any other good economic news for which he can take credit. Udall can take credit, too. Sure, he didn’t have anything to do with the improvement, but he didn’t have anything to do with the recession either.

Obama is going to talk about how Obamacare is actually working and how it isn’t the job killer that Republicans warned about. Or maybe he won’t talk about it. In any case, millions of people who didn’t have insurance now do. Those whose policies were “canceled” somehow seem to have gotten insurance. If you know of anyone who hasn’t, the Koch brothers want to hear from you.

Obama definitely will talk about Republican obstructionism on immigration reform and the effects of the shadow economy on the real economy. Doesn’t Udall want to jump on that poll-friendly issue?

OK, maybe this is not the perfect political moment for him, but what’s Udall’s message in not being there for the speech? It’s an unforced error that plays exactly into the Republican narrative. And it’s so easy to change.

All Udall has to do is get a new scheduler. Or, I know, maybe just catch an earlier flight.