Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

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

Littwin: Yes, send down the troops, Bob

los ninos

Bob Beauprez has done it again. He talked. And you know what happens whenever Beauprez opens his mouth.

That’s right. He reminds us why he lost by 17 points the last time he ran for governor.

This time, he went on the new, but not improved, Peter Boyles show (Latino-talk alert) and was asked what he’d do if Rick Perry asked him to send Colorado National Guard troops to stand alongside the Texas National Guard at the border, presumably to fight off the 9-year-old Guatemalans mustering there.

And channeling his inner Tom Tancredo, Beauprez said that, of course, he would send them right away.

But, of course, he wouldn’t. Because it would be about 30 steps above his pay grade. As Beauprez’s campaign staff quickly, uh, clarified, he would send in the troops only on a humanitarian mission, like, I don’t know, getting coffee for the Texans. Of course, Perry has already sent his troops to the border for no good reason — and at an estimated cost of $12 million a month. And he plans to send the bill to the feds — meaning us, the taxpayers — who have pointedly not asked for his assistance.

This is what Beauprez said when Boyles asked if he would send troops to the border: “If Rick Perry or another governor requested it, I would certainly step up and do my part.”

Beauprez fell right in line behind talk-radio host Peter Boyles, giving an absurd answer (the one Boyles wanted to hear) to an absurd question. That’s not exactly leadership.

This is what anyone else would say: These kids are risking their lives to get to the border and when they get there, they turn themselves in to the first agent they see. Why in the hell would anyone send troops there?

Here’s the funny part. Beauprez was on the show to talk about John Hickenlooper’s so-called leadership deficit and then he fell right in line behind Boyles, giving an absurd answer (the one Boyles wanted to hear) to an absurd question. That would not exactly be leadership.

The real question: Why is Beauprez taking this question at all? Maybe you haven’t noticed, but one of the reasons Republicans keep losing in Colorado — and they’ve lost every top-line election for 10 consecutive years — is that they keep losing the Latino vote, which is only growing larger. And now he’s encouraging Latinos — which went 75 to 23 in Colorado for Obama over Romney — to vote against him in a midterm election.

In sports, we call this an unforced error.

In Colorado politics, we call it a Beauprez.

Let’s go back to 2006 when Denver was engaged in tricky negotiations to get a cop killer extradited from Mexico and Beauprez stepped in to criticize the process, saying he’d visited Mexico and knew all about “Mexican time.” Some snarky columnist back then wondered if the room service at the Acapulco Ritz had been too slow for Beauprez, or if he had just decided that foreign policy should be dictated by his travel agent.

Actually we don’t have to go back that far. We just have to go back to last month when Beauprez told KOA radio host Doug Kellet that if he were governor, he’d join like-minded governors to force Washington to act on immigration.

And if they didn’t act quickly enough for him — you know, like if they were on Mexican time — what then?

“If they won’t do it,” he said of the feds, “governors ought to be allowed to do it, as Jan Brewer tried to do in Arizona.”

As Jan Brewer tried to do in Arizona. Bingo. Another Beauprez.

You remember what Jan Brewer tried to do in Arizona. That’s where they passed a law requiring police to check the immigration status of anyone who looked as if they might not be there legally. This was show-me-your-papers racial profiling at its worst, and the Supreme Court eventually ruled it unconstitutional. Even in Arizona, it can’t be illegal to be brown while walking.

And now Beauprez wants to bring Brewerism to Colorado? Can we get a clarification?

This is the gaffe-o-meter race for governor, and that’s one race in which Beauprez has to be the favorite. Personally, I can’t wait for the debates.

John Hickenlooper had his moment with the Aspen sheriffs caught on tape. Beauprez had his 47 percent moment on video.

Hickenlooper mangled his answer to a question about Nathan Dunlap and clemency. Beauprez approvingly noted that people in Pueblo told him they’d stop any buses bringing border children here to Colorado.

This is the same Beauprez who insisted he had learned his lesson from the trouncing he took in 2006 when it was all Mexican Time and black abortion rates. He certainly hadn’t learned that lesson during his Wilderness Years, when he desperately tried to stay in the news. That’s when he talked about “creeping Sharia” and the “coming civil war.”

And now he wants Colorado voters to know that he’s ready, if elected governor, to call out the troops, for a humanitarian mission, on our dime, to stop the children before any of them might possibly get on a bus headed — gasp — our way.

[ Photo: Shantytown Mexico by the BBC. ]

Littwin: Death penalty politics, gutsy and easy

hickenlooper warhol

THE death penalty story is back. John Hickenlooper and Complete Colorado joined forces — sort of — to once again put the issue front and center in the governor’s race.

Hickenlooper’s part was in giving a clumsy answer to a hypothetical question about Nathan Dunlap in a not-yet-aired CNN interview on capital punishment. And Complete Colorado — a conservative website — was the one that got hold of the unreleased audio featuring the clumsy answer.

The story is this: Hickenlooper was asked in an interview — before Bob Beauprez was nominated — what he’d do if the election came down to a Tancredo-like opponent running on an “elect me and we’ll kill this guy” platform and, in doing so, managed to win. Hickenlooper said it would be “unacceptable” to turn a human life — even Dunlap’s life — into “a political football” and that any candidate who tried it would fail. But he said if it did happen, one option would be to grant Dunlap “full clemency” before he left office.

The strangest part of this is that granting Dunlap a reprieve from the death penalty may have been the gutsiest thing Hickenlooper has done in his political life.

So it begins anew. And while there’s nothing funny about the death penalty, of course, there is some major irony here.

Hickenlooper has been hammered for granting Dunlap a temporary reprieve. The knock has been that he failed to be a “leader” (read: show some guts) by going the reprieve route — instead of granting clemency — and thereby leaving the final decision to some future governor. And now that Hickenlooper has said he might grant “full clemency”? Yeah, we’ll assume he has failed to show leadership again (read: show some guts) because, well, it’s not exactly clear why.

There are two things we can be sure of, though.

One, the governor’s race won’t be decided by Nathan Dunlap or the death penalty. That’s why when Beauprez talks about Dunlap, he always plays the Hickenlooper leadership card. And the angle on this story is that Hickenlooper has said he wouldn’t revisit the Dunlap decision.

Two, the strangest part of this is that granting Dunlap a reprieve from the death penalty may have been the gutsiest thing Hickenlooper has done in his political life.

The easiest course would have been to let Dunlap die. Only the diehard anti-death-penalty people — most of them Democratic-voting liberals anyway — would have objected. There is no Dunlap constituency. There is no doubt of his guilt or of the horror of his crimes. There would be no political cost for Hickenlooper to pay.

Hickenlooper had every out. He had said he was pro-death penalty when he ran for governor in 2010. He had helped quash a bill that would have ended capital punishment in Colorado. He must have realized if the bill had become law, it would have allowed him to share the responsibility with the legislature.

Instead, it was all on him. He called the victims’ family members to tell them his decision, knowing how disappointed, and angry, some of them would be. Then he called a news conference to explain his decision to everyone else.

He talked about how hard the decision was, but how, in the end, he felt he had no choice. He said the reason he chose a reprieve instead of clemency was that the decision was not about Dunlap, but about Hickenlooper’s growing doubts on the efficacy of capital punishment.

“Is it just and moral?” Hickenlooper asked that day. “We make a decision to take this person’s life. Is it a benefit to the world?”

Soon after, there would be botched executions in Oklahoma and Arizona, which could only have made the issue more difficult. And just weeks ago, Hickenlooper said in an interview on KDVR-TV that he is now opposed to the death penalty. Unlike Hickenlooper’s gun fiasco, this time he would own his decision.

It’s no problem to find real gutlessness on the death penalty issue. Go back to 1992 for a prime example when Bill Clinton was running for president and made his infamous decision, as governor of Arkansas, to go ahead with the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, who had turned the gun on himself after killing a police officer and blown away part of his brain.

The funny/ironic thing is that Hickenlooper is often too, uh, conciliatory. He has a weakness for wanting everyone to like him. The embarrassing talk with the sheriffs about the gun-control bills — that was Hickenlooper at his vacillating worst.

The Dunlap decision was nothing like that. If you’re looking for politicians taking the easy way out, you had only to watch any of the Republican gubernatorial debates and listen to all the candidate guarantee they would execute Dunlap as quickly as possible. You can only wonder if any of them had done the hard work of actually studying the case.

In any event, the timing is good for Beauprez. Hickenlooper has clearly made some real strides on the leadership front by pulling together the Great Fracking Wars Compromise. The economy is improving. Unemployment is down.

But Dunlap is still alive. And even though the Hickenlooper campaign would say nothing has changed on Dunlap, the CNN interview will soon be on the air. And just to get you primed, Beauprez has already released a 60-second Web video. It just may be political football season after all.

[ Image: Hickenlooper-Warhol by John Tomasic. Photo by Jason Karsh. ]

Littwin: Cruelty, shock escalate stakes in Iraq

Iraq in 2010 by Todd Morris via Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/alohateam/4247615684/in/photolist-7tm9ab-fKRvfi-bU5kk-66KsNP-yngWY-zzqsw-4FDDns-DJLDH-aAzXAo-4Q2xP-6toMLZ-5wjHmJ-Cjtjq-7JrWcR-8vQ2rs-8GfhDF-H7htV-yPMQs-5s1MrF-bey9BF-3JBt4h-aAzXs7-4yxSyY-7dSEuf-ddFUm2-uBEjH-vQWYv-2jW3yX-4Ba3gU-6ks5cY-5LCGw9-4ytBnv-53Zoqc-53ZoEk-544CUA-jv94J-7WKZ5P-4ztrbZ-jv8WQ-4FzqwZ-4Fzp1F-4FDBvJ-4FzoCn-4Fzr2r-4Fzpzk-4FzrpZ-4znLpx-72mWJN-7e3DVA-iiLnY

NOW we know what could go wrong in Iraq. What could go horribly, horribly wrong.

The beheading of journalist Jim Foley by the Islamic State (ISIS) and the cruel posting of the video — said to be in response to American bombing in Iraq — changed everything.

It’s as if ISIS leaders were trying to confirm that they are, in fact, what Charles Krauthammer calls the worst people on earth. Cruelty and shock were apparently the point. And the response has been exactly what you’d expect.

Barack Obama called ISIS a “cancer” that had no place in the 21st century. John Kerry called ISIS “the face of evil” and promised to confront the group “wherever it tries to spread its despicable hatred.”

It’s not clear whether ISIS leaders understood that Foley’s execution would make it more difficult for America to back away from Iraq, but I’m guessing they did.

Of course, that would mean Syria, where Obama has resisted all calls to join the fighting in a civil war that helped create ISIS as it’s constituted today. And Gen. Martin Dempsey, head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, now says that ISIS can’t be defeated without dealing with its presence in Syria.

“This is an organization that has an apocalyptic end-of-days strategic vision that will eventually have to be defeated,” Dempsey said. “Can they be defeated without addressing that part of the organization that resides in Syria? The answer is no.”

You can see what is happening here. It’s not clear whether ISIS leaders understood that Foley’s execution would make it more difficult for America to back away from Iraq, but I’m guessing they did. They have already threatened to kill more American hostages, and that’s obviously not an idle threat. Obama understood that. He didn’t pay off a ransom demand of $130 million, but he did send a rescue team to try to get the American hostages out of Syria. When the American commandos arrived at the site, the hostages were no longer there.

In any case, America’s role has already escalated, if just in the war of words. And even though Dempsey didn’t indicate that Obama was prepared to bomb any part of Syria, you can’t miss hearing the drumbeat.

When Obama announced the bombing missions, he vowed a “limited” war. There would be no American combat troops. But there are 300 so-called advisers. And if combat troops aren’t there, American planes and drones are. And already the rationale for American bombing — to protect minority groups from ISIS slaughter and to protect Americans in the Kurdish parts of Iraq — has changed.

ISIS isn’t simply an insurgent group that erased a border with Syria and overran the Iraqi army — while taking American military hardware that the Iraqis abandoned. It isn’t just an affront to civilized norms.

It is now the enemy.

When Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel was asked whether ISIL presented a “9/11-level threat,” he said, “This is beyond anything that we’ve seen. The sophistication of terrorism and ideology married with resources presents a whole new dynamic and paradigm of threats to this country.”

Once you say that a group is a dynamic threat to your country, it’s hard to do anything but address the threat. This is an enemy you don’t have to demonize. You don’t have to gin up the threat of weapons of mass destruction. They do the heavy lifting for you.

As the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson noted, once there were guerrillas and then there were terrorists and now, he writes, there are groups like ISIS that are “something like serial killers … trying to out-bad their enemies, to frighten them into submission, and to somehow draw themselves into an ugly cartoon of evil.”

There aren’t any easy answers in Iraq. There never have been. If you want, you can take this back to George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and the inevitable spawning of radical groups, but there isn’t much point. It was painful to watch Obama, who became president with the promise of getting the country out of Iraq, taking years and years to to make it happen.

It’s an understatement to say these things are complicated. It’s an understatement to say, with the Mosul dam captured and the Kurds in jeopardy of being overrun, that America didn’t bear some responsibility.

Despite what Dick Cheney would tell you, Obama has played his bad hand reasonably well. Yes, he overreached with his line in the sand in Syria, but he did resist getting involved in Syria’s civil war. He didn’t go into Iraq until it was clear that Nouri al-Maliki was actually ready to give up power.

But where does that leave us?

As any poll will tell you, Americans are tired of war in the Middle East. We’ve finally learned the lesson of Iraq. There will be no American combat troops there – of that much we can be pretty sure. After all, Obama knew the lesson of Iraq before America invaded.

Presumably, Obama will try to put together a coalition force composed of countries in the region to help Iraqi troops take on ISIS, supported by Western air power. But what if he can’t? What then? What else could go wrong?

[Photo of Iraq in 2010 by Todd Morris via Flickr/Creative Commons.]

Littwin: Making a Fallujah of Ferguson

freep ferguson

TEN days after Michael Brown, the unarmed black teen, was shot and killed by a white cop, the problem in Ferguson, Mo., is pretty clear. The people doing the protesting don’t trust the police. And the police seem intent on showing that the protesters are right — that there’s no reason at all anyone should trust them.

Every night the two sides meet in what eventually turns into a showdown. Tear gas gets fired. Stun grenades are tossed. Guns are leveled. The protesters eventually disperse.

Everyone remains angry. And the cycle repeats.

It can’t keep going this way, but it does. And we’re left to wonder how the dream — or is it the myth? — of post-racial America comes to a full stop at an obscure St. Louis suburb.

The Missouri governor has called in the National Guard, to little immediate effect. The Washington Post has a great look at the mostly peaceful protesters — and how so-called “militants” have arrived from out of town to join forces with the “peaceful,” the “elders” and the “looters.”

Meanwhile, when the cops are not breaking up protests, they have been intentionally targeting the press — three arrests to this point and three near-immediate releases — as if they’re trying to show they don’t have play by any rules, even those penned by James Madison.

Among those who haven’t made any impact is Barack Obama, who called for calm and restraint from all sides. If anyone was restrained, it was Obama, who has had unhappy experiences — and some mediocre beer — when he gets involved in issues of race.

In his remarks, Obama discussed the reasons for mistrust of the police in black communities. And he lamented the fact that young black men are often subjects of fear. Obama also said he was sending Eric Holder to the scene and avoided the question of whether he might go himself.

Let’s just say, none of it helped.

What Obama might have said was that it was on the cops to make this right — to get out all the information they can and as quickly as possible. We don’t know what happened the day Michael Brown was shot. What we do know is that the cops aren’t telling us what they know about that day.

And so …

We had a dramatic reading Monday night from CNN’s Jake Tapper, a Washington insider who is not exactly your wide-eyed radical, who was on the scene. If you were watching and waiting for the nightly confrontation, you saw the crowds taunting the cops, and you saw the cops were back in force with all their military hardware. The Ferguson curfew was no longer in effect — one more failed attempt at bringing calm — but the cops were telling everyone to leave anyway.

Which is how the showdown begins, as Tapper reports, via Mediate:

I want to show you this, okay? To give you an idea of what’s going on. The protesters have moved all the way down there… they’re all the way down there. Nobody is threatening anything. Nobody is doing anything. None of the stores here that I can see are being looted. There is no violence.

Now I want you to look at what is going on in Ferguson, Missouri, in downtown America, okay? These are armed police, with — not machine guns — semi-automatic rifles, with batons, with shields, many of them dressed for combat. Now why they’re doing this? I don’t know. Because there is no threat going on here. None that merits this. There is none, okay? Absolutely there have been looters, absolutely over the last nine days there’s been violence, but there is nothing going on on this street right now that merits this scene out of Bagram. Nothing.

So if people wonder why the people of Ferguson, Missouri are so upset, this is part of the reason. What is this? This doesn’t make any sense.

It doesn’t make any sense. And who knows when or how it will end

They tell us now that Ferguson was poised to explode. It’s an inner-ring suburb that has experienced dramatic demographic change — moving in just a few years from majority white to majority black. It’s an old story. Minorities move in, and whites move out.

But in Ferguson, the power structure has remained the same. Mostly white government. Nearly all white police force. And mostly blacks being arrested.

And when Michael Brown is walking in the center of the street with a friend, a white cop, Darren Wilson, tells them to get on the sidewalk. They refuse. And somehow from there, Brown ends up dead, having been shot six times. There have been two autopsies, and a third is coming, but the story doesn’t seem much clearer. The closest there is to an account from Wilson comes via an anonymous caller to a St. Louis talk-radio station.

It was only a few days ago that Capt. Ron Johnson, the state trooper brought in to replace the St. Louis County police chief, looked as if he might be the person calm the situation. And he did — for one night. Johnson, an African-American from the area, said all the right things about demilitarizing the area. He marched alongside the protesters.

And then the next day, the local cops — without telling Johnson, and maybe to sabotage him — named the officer who shot Brown and, as a bonus, released the video showing Brown strong-arming a store clerk while he stole some cigars. It was immediately seen for what it was — a Trayvon-Martin-like smear on Brown. Then came the leak of pot in Brown’s system.

Everyone is still angry. And whatever comes next, the cycle seems like a sure bet to repeat.

[ Image of Ferguson via Freep. ]

Littwin: A sudden calm in Ferguson

By Michael Calhoun

THE story isn’t over. A young man is still dead. We still don’t know what happened. A community is still outraged. The protests will no doubt continue until there are some answers in the questionable police shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown.

But even so, the story line has changed dramatically.

This doesn’t happen very often in real life. Real life, even when moving quickly, doesn’t move at this kind of pace.

One night in Ferguson, Mo., the world – or at least the world as we understood it — seemed to be coming apart. A police force in little Ferguson had morphed before our eyes into an army of occupation — and the enemy, this time, really was us. The police chief overseeing it all had conceded it didn’t look good, as if it were simply a matter of optics. He was right about it not looking good, though. It looked like Iraq. What it didn’t look like was America.

The very next night, a new guy was on the job. The overwhelmingly white St. Louis County police force was out, and the Missouri state troopers were in. Not only did the optics change, everything seemed to change. Instead of tear gas, there were hugs. Instead of cops marching on the protesters, Capt. Ron Johnson — an African-American who grew up in the area and who now heads the police operation — was marching alongside them.

The flash grenades were gone. The tear gas was gone. The smoke hanging over the town was gone. The mine-resistant ambush-protected armored vehicle — yes, really — was gone. Everything was tamped way down. Cops took off their gas masks, revealing their faces. Camo outfits were replaced by cop-on-the-corner blue. Reporters weren’t being arrested. Film crews far from the protests weren’t being gassed. The barricaded streets were open to traffic.

No one, finally, was pointing a gun at anyone.

And Wesley Lowery, the reporter from the Washington Post who had been arrested, would Tweet: “I do not recognized the Ferguson I am in currently.”

What happened was glaringly obvious. It was obvious as the nonstop coverage on your favorite cable network news channel.

It took a few days for people to understand what was actually happening. But in a sudden jolt of recognition — in a Bull Connor, firehoses on the kids moment — millions watched and saw the whole thing differently. The Kevlar-jacketed, gun-pointing, armored-vehicle-riding cops weren’t facing full-blown riots. As one Iraqi vet put it, this wasn’t crowd control; it was intimidation. The protesters were being faced down by an absurdly — in another time, it would be almost comically — overdone show of force.

And the question quickly became: How could this be the proper response in a community torn up by the fact that a white cop – as yet unnamed — had shot and killed an unarmed African-American teen?

The story of race is hardly a new one. But the story in which Rand Paul is way ahead of Barack Obama on race is a different one.

We got the jolt, and Obama called for peace and upbraided the cops. Obama is clearly unhappy with the lack of transparency and with the show of force. But it was Paul who got to the point, writing an op-ed in Time magazine decrying the militarization of police forces in general and noting that race was the obvious factor here. He blamed big government for the military-style response, which may be a stretch. But on race, he got it exactly right: “If I had been told to get out of the street as a teenager, there would have been a distinct possibility that I might have smarted off. But, I wouldn’t have expected to be shot.”

You don’t have to know much about modern policing, or much about crowd control, to know the cops in Ferguson were doing everything wrong in facing the protests. There was some looting and one store was burned, but the protests eventually became, as much as anything else, about not being able to protest. It was obviously a time for outreach, not for overreach.

And it was the overreach that shocked. And the fact that someplace like Ferguson has this kind of firepower at its disposal. The stories have been written for years, dating back to the ’70s and the emergence of SWAT teams, about the militarization of the police. But the change since 9/11, when the Pentagon ratcheted up it program of giving away excess firepower to police forces, has gone basically unnoticed until now.

But now that people are noticing, they can’t help but see that the numbers are shocking. According to an ACLU report, 63 police departments have taken on 500 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles in 2011 and 2012. That’s just for starters. Since 1997, the Pentagon has transferred something like $4 billion worth of equipment to the cops.

That’s how the streets of Ferguson came to look like the streets of Gaza. As someone put it, these guys give out traffic tickets by day and dress up in Kevlar by night. And that’s how a lot of suddenly outraged Americans came to understand that if this happens in suburban Ferguson, it can happen anywhere.

[Photo of Capt. Ron Johnson in Ferguson by Michael Calhoun via Twitter.]