Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

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

People escort an injured  person to an ambulance.

The only good news out of Colorado Springs is that the shocking news there still manages to shock.

The attack on Planned Parenthood — whatever the motive, which remains unclear at this writing — brings a different angle to the all-too-familiar story of a disturbed man with too-easy access to guns who goes on a killing spree and terrorizes a town.

With each killing, we point out just how often these shootings take place, and the gun-rights defenders take a firm stand against politicizing the epidemic of gun violence, as if there were any other way to respond to the unchecked horror.

A month ago, in the last such killing in Colorado Springs, a man walked around the neighborhood carrying an assault-style rifle. A nervous 911 caller was assured that open-carrying an assault-style rifle is perfectly legal in Colorado, unless he does something illegal with the gun. In this case, he killed three people.

This time, on Thanksgiving weekend, at a heavily protected Planned Parenthood building where protests are routine in the famously conservative city, where the “butcher” rhetoric has taken to the national political stage in the aftermath of the heavily edited sting tapes, when too many politicians seem unworried about the risk of violence, in a time when the FBI has issued warnings of possible attacks on Planned Parenthood, three are dead and nine injured and a city and state are once more left trying to recover from a tragedy. And in maybe the ultimate politicization, ThinkProgress reports that as of late Friday night, long after the 5-hour standoff had ended, none of the GOP candidates for president had issued any statement at all. Do the politics of Planned Parenthood trump ordinary sympathy?

But also, this time, Garrett Swasey, a University of Colorado-Colorado Springs cop who was also a longtime co-pastor in a conservative church which doesn’t believe in abortion, gave his life protecting those with whom he disagreed, a statement that goes far beyond ordinary sympathy.

In Washington, Barack Obama, who late in his tenure has become a leader on gun control, issued a statement saying, in part, “This is not normal. We can’t let it become normal. If we truly care about this — if we’re going to offer up our thoughts and prayers again, for God knows how many times, with a truly clean conscience — then we have to do something about the easy accessibility of weapons of war on our streets to people who have no business wielding them. Period. Enough is enough.”

Period. Enough is enough. But of course, there will be more. We have known since at least Sandy Hook that there is no shock great enough to change what is the new normal.

Still, the stories remind us of the human stakes involved. We watched for hours on television as the madness of the situation sunk in. The stories of police heroics. The stories of eyewitnesses who came, literally, face to face with the shooter. The stories of a frightened woman calling her brother. The stories of the cops risking all. We watched the standoff on television and maybe we wondered why such violence is all but routine.

Meanwhile, we know the name of the shooter, Robert Lewis Dear, but little else about him. It seems strange in this age of instant information that we don’t know more, but we will. Meanwhile, the arguments have begun over whether to call this domestic terrorism — like the arguments about whether those who launched the Paris attacks were “radical jihadis” or “radical Islamists.” But the semantics matter far less than the facts of a Black Friday that, unfortunately, earned the name.

What we know for sure is that a seemingly mad gunman shot and killed innocent people, adding these latest victims to an ever-expanding list of those killed by gun violence in America.


Photo credit: Marianne Goodland

Donald Trump

Once, not so long ago, it was great fun to mock the Donald. And it was so easy. He was the short-fingered vulgarian, as the late, great Spy Magazine had dubbed him.

There was the fake sneer. The naked narcissism. The 18-karat, gold-plated seat belts in his helicopter.

When he decided to actually run for president, it seemed like a Palin-sized gift to those of us who write about politics for a living. And when he shot up to the top of the polls, the joke, it seemed, had gone viral.

The one person in America who couldn’t be taken seriously was suddenly the leading GOP candidate for the most serious job in the world. And Republicans, who had welcomed Trump into the race as a novelty act, were shocked to discover that they had no idea how to get rid of him.

It was irony. Or payback. Or nativism run wild. Or something. Whatever it was, it was certainly politics at its most ugly and also most absurd, which is how Trump has come to lead in the polls for four months now. And no matter how many times Nate Silver insists that the polls tell us nothing about what will happen a few months from now, there’s still the fact that one-third of Republicans say that they would vote for him today.

And there’s this, too: Somewhere along the way, the joke just stopped being funny.

I’m not sure when the end date was, but the day that the terrorists attacked Paris, and the world really got serious, certainly fits. It was around the time that Trump extended his anti-Mexican-immigrant rhetoric to anti-Muslim rhetoric, one minority group apparently being as good to demagogue as the next. And it just gets worse.

In fact, when it comes to fear-mongering, Trump has had a few days that must be unmatched since the time of George Wallace. Here’s the short list: He condoned a crowd of supporters who had roughed up a protester, saying the man had probably deserved it. Trump’s campaign retweeted a fake Tweet citing a fake institute saying that most white murder victims were killed by African-Americans, when, of course, most white people are killed by white people. He said that Obama intends to take in as many as 250,000 Syrian refugees — Trump calls them “strong young men … tough cookies” — when Obama has put the number at 10,000, many of them, just guessing, women and children.

But what’s worse is that it’s not just Trump, who simply goes further — trashing much of the Bill of Rights along the way — than everyone else. It’s also the nearly 30 governors who say they don’t want Syrian refugees in their states. It’s Marco Rubio who goes old school to talk about “clash of civilizations.” It’s Ted Cruz who goes all crusader and says we should set a religious test — Christians only — when taking refugees from Syria. Trump, meanwhile, talks of Muslims having to register, just to be sure that no one could possibly top him. And it goes on and on, in what Michael Gerson calls a “raw and repugnant nativism.”

Trump may have hit his own personal low by taking us back to 9/11, back to a time when George W. Bush was warning against blaming Islam for the terrorist attack. Trump tells how, on that terrible day, he was watching TV as thousands of Jersey City Muslims celebrated when the towers were coming down. Were you watching TV that day? The fact-checkers say it never happened. Do you remember it happening?

Strangely, the only person who briefly remembered the celebrations was, yes, Ben Carson, who said he saw the newsreels. In other words, Trump’s top competitor in the polls said he saw the same thing that never happened that Trump had said he saw that never happened. And so the Carson campaign was once again forced into damage control, saying that Carson had been, well, confused, and noted that the candidate “doesn’t stand behind his comments.” OK, maybe that is funny.

What I did see on TV was George Stephanopoulos grilling Trump on the matter and Trump refusing to back down because the best way to tell a lie is to repeat it for as long as it takes to seem like the truth. But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Not when you’ve got the tough-talking, no-surrender, Jersey boy Chris Christie himself being asked about the Trump statement and you watched as he, uh, hedged. Man, did he hedge, saying he couldn’t remember Muslim celebrations in his state, and “I think if it had happened, I would remember it. But, you know, there could be things I forgot, too.”

Yeah, maybe. But when the history of this campaign is written, it won’t be any problem remembering who stood up and who stood silent. No joke. No joke at all.


Photo credit: Thierry Ehrmann, Creative Commons, Flickr

Littwin: Why is Jared Polis helping the anti-Islam right?


I know what Donald Trump is doing. And I know what Ben Carson is doing. And I know what Ted Cruz is doing.  And I know what Chris Christie is doing. And I know what all those GOP governors who aren’t running for president — at least not this time — are doing.

What I don’t understand is why Jared Polis, of all people, is helping them do it.

In no time at all, they’ve turned the horror of the ISIS attacks in Paris into a nasty piece of all-American fear-mongering, targeting Syrian refugees — themselves on the run from ISIS horrors — as potential terrorists. In its time of mourning, France has renewed its pledge to take in 30,000 more Syrian refugees. What is America’s responsibility after the disaster that was America’s role in the region, even in a time of heightened concern about terrorism?

It’s shameful, but utterly predictable.  At this point, no one is quite sure what to do about ISIS – only if your name is Bush do you think another war is a good option — and so the fight has become about the refugees, which, if you think about it, are very much like immigrants, meaning the xenophobic battle lines had already been set.

That’s how you come to see more than two dozen governors (one a Democrat) pledging to turn away Syrian refugees from their states. And you see presidential candidates threatening to force Muslims to sign onto a database with which to track them (Trump), comparing the potential threat of refugees to the potential threat of rabid dogs (Carson), calling for a religious test for refugees (Cruz), citing the risk of allowing 5-year-old orphan refugees into his state, asking who would take care of them, as if we routinely dump orphans to the side of the road (Christie).

You knew the House would soon join in on the fun, with new Speaker Paul Ryan bringing to a vote a bill that would “pause” the intake of refugees from Syria and Iraq, just to be on the safe side, even if the Paris attackers were mostly — or maybe entirely — from France and Belgium.

But the pause could be more like a full stop, which seems to be the point.

The bill would require each future refugee from Syria and Iraq to be certified as non-threatening by the FBI director, the head of homeland security and the director of national intelligence. Without this bill, it takes 18 to 24 months to vet a refugee. With three top officials having to personally sign off, well, the math just gets that much harder.

As expected, the bill passed, but not everyone expected it to pass so overwhelmingly, with 47 Democrats joining nearly all Republicans. It still has to get past the Senate and, if it gets that far, a threatened Obama veto. But what was really unexpected was that one of the Democrats to vote for the bill was Polis, who is strongly pro-refugee, strongly anti-xenophobe, and quite happy, he says, to have seen John Hickenlooper promise to welcome Syrian refugees to Colorado.

In other words, Polis voted for what is considered by nearly everyone to be an anti-Syrian-refugee bill as a pro-Syrian-refugee legislator.

If you’re confused, don’t expect any help from me, although I tried. Most of the Democrats who voted for the bill had election issues and weren’t expected to take a hit for Obama. But Polis is from a safe district, where his vote couldn’t have hurt him much either way. So why did he do it?

I read Polis’s statement, in which he said he supports bringing in more than the 10,000 Syrian refugees the Obama administration is promising, but that he voted for the bill because he wants to see improvement in an  “already-extensive vetting process.” It didn’t seem to clear anything up.

I texted with his press team, who said he didn’t believe that the bill, designed to slow down the process, would slow down the process much at all.

I got Polis on the phone and asked if he didn’t think that most of those voting for the bill were, in fact, opposed to bringing in more Syrian refugees.

He agreed.

I asked if he thought the refugee vetting system, which requires multiple background checks and doesn’t allow a prospective refugee to come to American until he or she is approved, wasn’t already rigorous.

He not only agreed, he also said if he’d been writing the bill, he’d have put the emphasis on those traveling here on passports that don’t need a visa and those traveling on a student visa.

I could have mentioned that according to the Migration Policy Institute, 780,000 refugees have resettled in America since 9/11 and that of the 780,000 only three — yes, three — had been arrested on terrorism charges, and two of those were for terrorism outside the country. But Polis was way ahead of me.  He texted me a copy of a letter he had signed last September asking Obama, who has been so cautious on Syrian refugees, to raise the Syrian refugee target to 100,000.

“If we’re going to ask the American public to accept a lot more refugees, we should also assure them we are doing everything to make the process as safe as possible,” Polis said, noting that congressional oversight was critical. “We have to show that Americans can have confidence in an already strong program.”

And so, against all logic, Polis insists he voted for a bill that nearly everyone believes is a not-so-subtle message that Americans think it is dangerous to allow more Syrian refugees (read: mostly Muslims) into the country as a way to convince Americans that we should allow more Syrian refugees into the country. And I’ll bet you thought this political season couldn’t get any stranger.

Littwin: What’s next in a post-Paris world?


We now live in a post-Paris world. And the question, after the unspeakable horror of the attacks, is just what that means.

It must be obvious to anyone paying attention that ISIS is hoping not just for a strong reaction but for an overreaction. That’s why the ISIS brand of terror is nearly always terror at its most intentionally provocative.

Overreaction brings recruits. Horror brings recruits. A beheading video demands a response. Destroying iconic pieces of past civilizations demands a response. As Harleen Gambhir, a counterterrorism analyst, wrote in The Washington Post, the attack on Paris was a trap for Europe and its right-wing anti-immigrant parties, with ISIS expecting a crackdown on innocent Muslims already living there and a movement that would make the current refugee crisis even worse.

In America, the most surprising takeaway from the Democratic debate Saturday night was that the ever-prepared Hillary Clinton did not have a sound-bite-ready plan for what to do about ISIS in the post-Paris world.

Instead, she stumbled on whether the Obama administration had been slow to recognize the danger of ISIS — of course it had – and allowed herself to get caught up in a discussion of her long-ago vote on the Iraq war and the semantical difference between “radical jihad” and “radical Islam.”

What it showed, as much as anything, is just how difficult the question is to answer. If there’s anything we should have learned in the post-9/11 world, it’s that nearly every response we’ve tried has had its own problems.

By Sunday, Clinton was back in form, saying it was America’s role to pull our allies “off the sidelines” on ISIS and into the fight. She was calling for American leadership, without fear of anyone asking the follow-up question of where that leadership might take us.

What Clinton did know, and from the start, was what not to say. Fortunately for her, if not for America, the many Republicans in the presidential field were all too ready to fill that gap, walking right into Gambhir’s trap.

We can start with the GOP co-leaders. Donald Trump, when not saying the attack was about gun control, was reiterating his blame-Obama-first, no-refugee positions. Ben Carson said that America needed to do a better job of creating a coalition to join the battle. But when asked three times by Chris Wallace whom he would call to help create the coalition, Carson seemed to have no idea. Finally, he offered “all of the Arab states” and “all of our traditional allies.” On Twitter, this was being called the Sarah Palin response.

Ted Cruz, meanwhile, said we were being too careful in our bombing and that we should worry less about killing innocent civilians. No, he really said that, and he didn’t stop there. He then went out of his way to make sure this was being interpreted as a Christian vs. Muslim battle. Cruz said that we should not allow any Muslim refugees from Syria into the country, no matter how deserving, saying the idea was “lunacy.” He said Christian refugees, on the other hand, presented no “meaningful” risk to America and should be welcome. He didn’t say how we would be able to tell the difference between Christian and Muslim, presumably because he’ll never have to actually make that choice.

From the serious candidates, Jeb Bush showed his original answer on his brother’s war in Iraq was his real answer. He is now saying it’s time to declare war on ISIS and if that means American troops, then that means American troops. He offered up a list of actions, including a no-fly zone, which could, of course, mean a possible confrontation with Russian planes, but I didn’t notice any exit strategies.

Bush also said that the ISIS attack was a part of an “organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.” Of course, ISIS has no ability to destroy Western civilization. It has the ability, sadly, to (apparently) blow up a Russian plane, ignite killing bombs in Beirut, and attack Parisians in nightclubs and restaurants.

Marco Rubio, meanwhile, took us back to pre-Iraq-war days and called the battle with ISIS a “clash of civilizations.” In The Atlantic, Peter Beinart takes apart that idea. ISIS, he points out, is not a civilization, but rather a self-declared and unrecognized state in parts of Iraq and Syria. You can extend the argument and say the war is against radical jihadists or radical Islamists – take your choice if you must — but they are not civilizations either.

Rubio goes on to make the old argument that they “hate us because of our values.” He says the attacks on the West are about freedom of speech and tolerance and diversity and women driving cars. He doesn’t say, Beinart points out again, why ISIS would then blow up a Russian plane and why it would be at war, say, against undemocratic Syria.

None of this is to say that there isn’t real urgency in taking on ISIS. The urgency may lead to real negotiations between the U.S. and Russia on how to end the Syrian civil war. France will take a leading role. The coalition, meantime, will grow. And the next president will almost certainly be faced with what to do next.


Photo credit: Klovovi, Creative Commons, Flickr


When the GOP debate was finally over and the Fox Business Network softballs were all put away, the last thing I expected to be thinking of was something that Jeb Bush had said.

But there it was.

The hottest topic of the debate turned out to be illegal immigration, and Jeb! had joined John Kasich in double-teaming The Donald. If Bush and Kasich both seemed a little desperate, it’s only because they were.

It may have been that each of them needed a signature debate to find a way back from single digits and into the GOP race. But I’d like to think – because, you know, I’m an optimist at heart — that it also could have been the future of their party, and maybe even of their country, that they had in mind.

Whatever the motive, Trump was going on about deporting 11 million undocumented immigrants because either we’re a country or we’re not, whatever that means. Someone had to say something. I mean, Trump had even brought Dwight Eisenhower into the debate, talking about how Ike had deported a million or more back in the ’50s. I guess that was supposed to counter the Reagan amnesty. Does Ike trump Reagan?

Well, Trump didn’t mention that likable Ike’s campaign was called Operation Wetback or that, during the operation, children would die in the desert or that, in any case, a million was probably a Ben Carson-like embellishment. It was a shameful chapter in the country’s history – one that, now, might make it into a Jeffco history book.

Kasich said Trump’s plan wasn’t a plan at all, that it was “silly,” that it “makes no sense,” that it wasn’t “adult.” He said to think of the children, which seemed like an obvious point, if one that Ike had apparently missed.

Bush, meanwhile, was begging for a chance to speak. When Trump said it was time to give Bush a turn, Bush said, “Thank you, Don­ald, for let­ting me speak at the de­bate. Really nice of you. I appreciate that. What a gen­er­ous man you are.”

The crowd laughed, maybe because it was silly or not adult.

But then Bush said of Trump’s non-plan that it represents the opposite of what America is supposed to be about: “It’s just not pos­sible … and even hav­ing this con­ver­sa­tion sends a power­ful sig­nal: They’re do­ing high fives in the Clin­ton cam­paign when they’re hear­ing this.”

He was right, and it wasn’t just because Trump’s hot rhetoric on immigration has probably chased away any Latino who might have considered voting Republican. It was also about the state of the race.

Once, when we were much younger, we might have thought that Trump’s exchange would be a disaster for … Trump. But, no. We know much better. Trump had put away the rapist card long ago. He still had the wall and he still had the country of laws and he still had the Trump swagger and he still had the best plan anyone had ever devised.

Does anyone think Trump lost that argument? Does anyone think that Trump is going anywhere in the polls?

For that matter, does anyone think Carson is going anywhere in the polls? His debate night was a minor disaster, or would have been in a normal world. He defended himself nicely on the embellishment front — thanking the moderators “for not asking me what I said in the 10th grade” — but then stumbled through a series of policy questions that left the sympathetic crowd rooting for him, a brain surgeon, to make it to the end of the sentence. I thought he’d never find his way home in trying to answer a question on ISIS and Syria and Afghanistan. And yet. And yet.

The smart money keeps saying Trump and Carson are bound to go away eventually, but, as The New Yorker’s Amy Davidson pointed out the other day, no one ever says how.

Jeb finally showed some life, but just a little. Can he possibly recover? Kasich showed a lot of life, but the focus groups found him aggressive and rude, which is quite a feat when you’re sharing a stage with Trump and Ted Cruz. The other establishment pick is Chris Christie, who dominated his debate – the kiddie table debate.

Two other things happened during the immigration discussion, by the way. Marco Rubio — who had helped write the comprehensive immigration bill that passed the Senate before he turned his back on it (the bill and the Senate) — didn’t say a word, and the much-praised moderators didn’t bother to call him on it. For him, that was a win-win. Meanwhile, getting the last word was Cruz, who spoke out against amnesty, the one word guaranteed to energize the base. That’s when he wasn’t talking about the gold standard or maybe privatizing Social Security.

Rubio and Cruz were the consensus winners of the debate because, it turns out, they’re the best debaters on the stage. They won the last debate, too. They’ve both moved into the low double digits in the polls, and the betting markets now have Rubio as the establishment favorite and certainly the one candidate most worrying to the Democrats. Cruz’s plan, meantime, is to capture the Trump/Carson vote when/if they implode.

We’re at halftime, more or less, in the GOP primary season. It’s five weeks before the next debate. It’s also, uh, holiday season. And we’re looking at what: If it’s not Rubio v. Cruz, is it Rubio v. Cruz v. Carson v. Trump?

I haven’t asked the Clinton people or the Bush people, but how many high fives do you think that’s worth?