Fair and Unbalanced

Mike Littwin

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

Littwin: Is the Colorado GOP afraid of its own base?

Republicans, who keep telling voters how terrible politicians are, have apparently convinced them that they’re right.

Screenshot from 2015-09-01 04:07:20

Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but in the year in which small-d democracy — for both good and ill — has taken over the presidential season, the Colorado Republican establishment has chosen to opt out of the process.

If there’s a fever out there — and there undoubtedly is — the typically anti-vax Republicans have gone full immunization protocol to combat it.

As you may have heard, the GOP executive committee members decided to do away with the popularity polls on caucus night in March because, we were told, they don’t want Colorado delegates to be locked in to any one candidate in the unlikely case of an open convention next summer.

In other words, they don’t want delegates to be tied to whatever candidate Colorado GOP caucus-goers might choose. Or to put it yet another way: The GOP committee members have rejected the chance for Colorado voters to play a key role in helping to determine the Republican nominee — in what has to be the wildest race in modern history — because that might mean having to, you know, follow the will of the people.

We know that the GOP strategy, followed closely in Colorado, is to keep the vote total as low as possible in November by making it as hard as possible to vote. And so we hear a lot about so-called voter fraud, even though — note to Scott Gessler — organized voter fraud in Colorado is basically a myth.

But, of course, the argument isn’t really about voter fraud, just as it’s not necessarily about Democrats being the champions of voter rights. Democrats generally do better when more people vote. And Republicans generally do better when they don’t.

But here’s what I didn’t figure — that Colorado Republicans may not want Republicans to vote either, at least not in the caucuses.

I learned about this possibility in a Denver Post editorial, which cited GOP chairman Steve House doing a radio interview with Craig Silverman. That’s the same Steve House who was elected to replace Ryan Call after Call’s successful run in the 2014 election. And the same House who was subject to a Cynthia Coffman-Tom Tancredo coup attempt. And the same House who survived the coup attempt because he went public with it and it became such a huge GOP embarrassment that the executive committee had to back down.

Anyway, here’s what House said to Silverman on KNUS, via the Post edit — that when you have a presidential poll on caucus night that “instead of having 50 people show up you have 500 people show up.”

And what exactly is the problem?

“When you add in the straw poll during that experience it inflates the number of people who come by a dramatic amount and all kinds of problems have ensued. And I think that’s part of the reason why the county chairs on the executive committee especially were very opposed to doing it this way because they believe it will disrupt the overall process and won’t gain us that much.”

Yes, he actually said that. That too many voters is a problem. That putting Colorado in a place to actually influence the GOP race presents is a problem. No wonder the Post editorial was subtly headlined: “Worst reason yet for Colorado Republican caucus fiasco.”

I mean, it’s almost as if the Colorado GOP is afraid that the will of the people might mean Donald Trump, who has successfully combined that small-d democracy with large-D demagoguery to turn the Republican summer into the Summer of the Donald and into widespread anarchy. He’s very, very rich, as you might have heard. And as Trump has emerged, the Super PAC billionaires have seen their candidates all but disappear, even as the Donald is starting to call for — get this — higher taxes for certain rich people.

Jeb! is cratering. Scott Walker is cratering, and now his latest strategy is to consider building a wall along the border with … Canada. Marco Rubio? John Kasich? Ted Cruz’s strategy – which might even work — is to hang out with Trump until he finally implodes and then pick up as many of the anti-establishment pieces as he can.

No one who studies these things seriously believes that Trump will win, but Republican establishment leaders are so panicked by the idea that you could almost confuse them with the panicked Democratic establishment, which has also watched the summer of Trump and seen front-runner Hillary Clinton — still the heavy favorite, despite the email problem — somehow fritter much of that advantage away. The Bern is drawing the big crowds, exciting the liberal wing and the millennial wing. Joe Biden is threatening to get in the race. If it all blows up, will Elizabeth Warren change her mind?

Meanwhile, Republicans, who keep telling voters how terrible politicians are, have apparently convinced them that they’re right. In the latest Monmouth poll out of Iowa, two of three said they wanted someone out of government as the nominee. And so the new challenger for Trump is, yes, mild-mannered neurosurgeon Ben Carson — who says Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery — who is actually tied with Trump in that Monmouth poll. Carly Fiorina is third. Cruz is fourth.

You get the idea. At this still-early-in-the-race point, to the surprise of nearly everyone, it’s all about the outsiders and the more outside the better.

Unless, I guess, you’re one of the insiders on the Colorado GOP executive committee.


Photo by DonkeyHotey, Creative Commons, via Flickr

Littwin: There are too few arguments left in favor of death penalty

Two juries in horrific mass murder trials have spoken: The death penalty doesn’t fly in Colorado


The death-penalty conversation we have been promised in Colorado may be over before it has had a chance to begin.

What else is there to think after a jury rejects the death penalty for convicted mass murderer Dexter Lewis only weeks after another death-qualified jury rejected the penalty for convicted mass murderer James Holmes?

If Lewis and Holmes don’t get death, who does? It’s with that question — and with the near-certain answer — that the conversation almost certainly has to end.

A jury decided that Holmes was too mentally ill for the state to execute. And a separate jury found that Lewis’s upbringing was so violent that the state couldn’t reasonably execute him for his own violent crimes.

Both juries had voted unanimously to convict. But neither jury could make the necessary unanimous decision to execute.

If you were surprised in either case — and many were stunned by the Holmes decision — you may not have weighed just how hard it is for a juror, a person not unlike you or me, to have to make a life-or-death judgment. Now think how much harder it is to get 12 people to agree.

What is increasingly clear is how few arguments are left to make in favor of the death penalty (and I say this, admittedly, as a long-time opponent). Colorado has executed one person in the past 48 years. It currently has three people on death row. There’s no deterrence argument left, if there ever was one. For that matter, it’s hard to see where there’s a justice argument left.

It’s a punishment that is used so rarely — with decades-long waits on death row for the few assigned there — that any execution now seems to be little more than random, an accident of time or place. And a random punishment, as Supreme Court Justice Steve Breyer recently wrote, can’t, by definition, be just. He called it “the antithesis of justice.”

We’re told that the ultimate penalty is reserved in Colorado for the ultimate crimes. Obviously, these cases qualify. There won’t be more horrifying crimes. The Aurora theater shootings unsettled not just our community, but an entire nation. Lewis, meanwhile, was convicted of stabbing to death five people in a robbery gone terribly wrong at Fero’s Bar and Grill in Denver. According to testimony from others in the gang, Lewis went down the line, stabbing the owner and four customers as they were held at gunpoint because he was afraid they would be witnesses against him. And then the robbery crew burned the place down to cover up their crime — one, we’re told, that netted $170.

The bar wasn’t far from my house. I must have passed it hundreds of times, and each time I looked at its boarded-up door and windows, I couldn’t help but imagine the horror of those deaths that took place inside.

But the jury was asked to weigh mitigating circumstances against the weight of the crimes. And so in the second phase of the sentencing procedure, the jurors were told by Lewis’ mother of how she beat him as a child, as a toddler, as an infant. Of how he was hit with a five-pound barbell.

It’s a strange thing to be asked to do — to measure the crimes Lewis committed against the crimes committed against him. At what point should abuse as a child translate into life in prison instead of the death penalty? What juror should be forced to make that decision? Which of us is even remotely qualified?

John Hickenlooper made that decision himself in the case of Nathan Dunlap, granting him a “temporary reprieve” rather than letting an execution go forward. He didn’t say that Dunlap deserved any form of mercy. He wouldn’t even bring himself to use Dunlap’s name. Hickenlooper said his problem was with the system of capital punishment and whether it delivers the justice that it promises. He said you can’t have an imperfect system and also have justice.

The imperfections are there for all to see, in matters of race, gender and class. It’s no wonder that only seven states executed anyone last year. The botched execution in Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett led the Nebraska legislature, of all places, to end the death penalty there, even overriding a governor’s veto to make it happen.

The arguments in Nebraska were familiar. The long, expensive appeals process. The DNA tests freeing those wrongly convicted decades ago. The stories of pharmaceutical companies getting out of the death business — leaving some states forced to buy the lethal-injection cocktail from a London middleman who shared space with a driving school.

We don’t know what arguments were made in those two Colorado jury rooms. We do know, though, where the arguments led. And we can now guess, after the two verdicts in two different jurisdictions in two very different cases, how the argument will end.


Photo by Andreia Bohner, Creative Commons, via Flickr

Littwin: Panic, politics and the global market sell-off

The Twitter panic machine and volatile Republican candidates don’t necessarily fit into the do-nothing, don’t-look, don’t-sell historical model about how to respond to a global-market crash.


For those who say the stock market sell-off was a wake-up call, I have to agree. I woke up, turned on the iPhone and saw this headline fairly shouting at me from The New York Times website: “Dow down 1,000 points!!! End Times Near!!!”

OK, that wasn’t the exact headline. The Times rarely uses exclamation points. But you get the idea.

The Dow was, in fact, down 1,000 points minutes after the opening bell. China’s stock market was continuing its slide/crash — they’re calling it the Great Fall of China on CNBC — and was off another 8 percent. Oil was trading briefly at $40 (wait, shouldn’t that be good news for consumers?). Donald Trump was saying this proves he should be the president because … China. Oh, and he’s really, really rich.

It was definitely a shock. It was so bad, in fact, that Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz sent an email to employees asking them to be “sensitive” to customers who might be under stress, although it’s unclear how a heavy dose of caffeine would help. You can see why Schultz might be sensitive. Starbucks stock went down 5 percent, and according to Fortune, that meant Schultz lost something like $86 million.

But the really peculiar thing about the Wall Street sell-off — in which the Dow rallied to regain 800 points by the early afternoon and then plummeted again to finish more than 500 points down for the second consecutive session — is the advice we were given in how to deal with a volatile market that had lost 9.5 percent of its value in a week:

Do nothing.

I know that sounds like something you would hear from Congress, but that was the exact advice in the Times. Take Some Deep Breaths, and Don’t Do a Thing.

Nate Silver, who is always right (or used to be), tweeted this link to his FiveThirtyEight site: Whatever you do, don’t sell.

The venerable Atlantic offered this advice: How to Deal With Market Instability: Don’t Watch.

(This advice was certainly followed by some readers. By midday the most popular story on The Washington Post website was about salad being overrated. Clearly people could not stand to even look at the front page.)

Do you find any of this remotely comforting? Of course you don’t. We’re told that the market was due a correction, which is a technical term for “dropping like the Rockies in the NL West.” We were told about Tobin’s Q ratio and we already knew about China and about the worries over how high and how quickly the Fed might raise interest rates. So, sure this correction had to happen, although I don’t remember my broker mentioning it to me, say, last week.

Panic is the big worry on Wall Street, which is why all the wise heads offered charts and history to prove their point about doing nothing, and noted, wisely enough, that trying to outguess the market is a fool’s game. The killer point was that if you hadn’t sold off your 401(k) in 2008, as the Great Recession began, you’d have made your money back in only a few years.

But there’s a hitch in counting on historical models. They didn’t have Twitter in 2008. Well, technically they did, but just barely. In 2008, there were 300 million tweets per quarter, which sounds like a lot except that, seven years later, there are now 500 million per day. In 2008, if you wanted to spread panic, you had to rely on the Drudge Report. Today you have tens of millions of Tweeters who don’t need anyone’s help. Global markets lost something like $3 trillion in three days. How many times can you Tweet that before breaking out in a sweat?

And, of course, there’s the presidential race, and with 17 Republicans trying to get noticed, some of them had to take a shot and get out there early on disaster alert, even if none of them — not even the billionaire – knows what comes next. But, with luck, it could be something really, really bad. Yahoo had a nice roundup of GOP reaction, any part of which you could have predicted.

Chris Christie, who is apparently still in the race, blamed Obama’s China policy and that Obama “doesn’t know how to say no to spending, doesn’t know how to say no to a bigger and more intrusive government.” Of course, the market has had one of its all-time great runs while Obama’s government was intruding, but it’s a thought.

Scott Walker, meanwhile, was saying that it’s time for Obama to develop some “backbone” and cancel the state visit scheduled next month by Chinese President Xi Jinping. Because that would certainly calm the markets.

And the Donald, who has no trouble getting noticed, was up early Tweeting that the “markets are crashing” and that “This could get very messy!” He ended with this advice: “Vote Trump.” But he wasn’t quite done. Later he would go on O’Reilly to out-Walker Walker, saying how he would deal with the Chinese president:

“I would not be throwing a dinner. I would get him a McDonald’s hamburger and say we’ve got to get down to work.”

I don’t know what a President Trump (did I really write those words?) would do for the suddenly-struggling Chinese economy and its impact on the U.S. economy. But he’d probably have some great ideas on what they could do with their wall.


Photo credit: Johan Larsson, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Littwin: Denver City Council’s “pause” on Chick-fil-A at DIA ignores free speech

Sure, Chick-fil-A has a disgraced history of opposing marriage equality. But that doesn’t give Denver City Council the right to trample the First Amendment.


There is so much wrong with the Denver City Council’s decision to “pause” in its consideration of granting Chick-fil-A a slot at DIA that it’s hard to know where to begin.

So, let’s start with the obvious.

According to Denver Post reporter Jon Murray, some council members said they were concerned about how a Chick-fil-A franchise would affect DIA’s reputation when — it turns out — the reputation we should be worried about is that of the Denver City Council and the city it represents.

Presumably, our elected officials have some vague idea about free-speech principles and the First Amendment and how they might intersect with a city government’s refusal to grant an airport concession because a company’s CEO once publicly opposed same-sex marriage.

But maybe they don’t have even a vague idea. Once again, we’ll go to the obvious: It’s controversial free speech or thought that needs protection, not that kind approved by you or me or somebody sitting on a city council.

When I first heard about the two-week delay, I assumed, like all right-thinking people, that it must be about the food. Or maybe it was about Chick-fil-A’s ad campaign that so ruthlessly exploits those spelling-impaired cows.

After all, you’d think that same-sex marriage is now, thankfully, pretty much a settled matter, at least according to the Supreme Court and most people other than that one county clerk in Kentucky. And then there’s also the fact that Chick-fil-A has very publicly given up the fight.

Talk about fighting the last war. And then we can talk about fighting it the wrong way.

You don’t have to go back too far to remember the war or how Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy foolishly put his growing franchise at risk by inserting his company in the middle of the battle. Cathy, whose franchise stores are closed on Sunday for religious purposes, came out strongly, and very publicly, against same-sex marriage on a religious basis. And the company’s charitable arms very publicly donated millions of dollars into the cause of fighting same-sex marriage.

“I think we are inviting God’s judgment on our nation when we shake our fist at him and say, ‘We know better than you as to what constitutes a marriage,’ ” Cathy once said. “I pray God’s mercy on our generation that has such a prideful, arrogant attitude to think that we have the audacity to define what marriage is about.”

I’d say the audacity is all Cathy’s. He basically invited the controversy and invited the boycotts that followed. People were offended by his statements because they were, well, offensive. His chain was bailed out, in part, because Chick-fil-A became the all-but-official fast-food restaurant of the Republican establishment. Yes, it was ugly. And I wouldn’t blame anyone who believes in gay rights for holding a grudge. Imagine if he had made a similar statement about blacks or Jews.

And yet, that was so 2012. Cathy has since said he made a mistake to get so publicly involved in the culture wars and promised he would never again. But that isn’t even the point. What if he did get involved again?

Is the Denver City Council prepared to vet the politics of all the companies it does business with? What would they do with, say, Hobby Lobby and its position on birth control? How about Coors (you know, like the beer or the field?) and its historic role in bankrolling much of the right-wing foundation world?

It would be different if this story were about those bakers who wouldn’t bake cakes for gay weddings. Those guys don’t get a slot of DIA. But if you want to keep Chick-fil-A out, there needs to be some evidence that they discriminate against their customers or discriminate in their hiring practices or … something. Do the city council members know something we don’t?

According to the Chick-fil-A web site, there are three restaurants in Denver and more than 40 in Colorado. In Colorado, we have laws against LGBT discrimination. Given all the furor around Chick-fil-A on gay issues, you’d figure people would be keeping a close eye on how the restaurants interact with the gay community.

There is possible evidence of at least one kind of discrimination — what they call in the legal trade viewpoint discrimination, in which a company executive’s point of view on same-sex marriage determines whether a fast-food restaurant gets a DIA concession.

But I’m pretty sure that won’t happen. The council’s Business Development Committee, which put the decision on a seven-year lease for Chick-fil-A on hold for two weeks, will soon be briefed on the legal issues it could face. And so it will end.

Soon enough, at a packed meeting, with all the cameras rolling, the council members will get the chance to discuss their concerns about same-sex discrimination — concerns that many of us share — and then warn that they’ll be watching the airport operation very closely. And then admit they have no choice but to vote the way they should have voted in the first place.

Photo credit: Mike Mozart, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Littwin: Donald Trump’s immigration bomb

Donald Trump’s new immigration plan is a threat to the GOP, the Donald himself and the limits of reality.


OK, I admit it it, I’m a silver-lining kind of guy. And so when I read Donald Trump’s round-up-the-illegals-and-ship-’em-out manifesto – a point-by-point policy paper to follow up on his illegal-immigrants-as-rapists commentary — I knew we were finally getting somewhere.

What it means is that the Donald, the leader in the GOP primary-polling clubhouse, is forcing Republicans to take a stand on what amounts to either immigration reform or low-grade insanity, or both. (Which do you think applies to Trump’s first principle: “A nation without borders is not a nation. There must be a wall on our southern border.” I kept looking for a nation without borders is still a nation without a wall on the northern border.)

There is a point to this: Upsetting the GOP establishment — as he knew his plan would – fits neatly with Trump’s strategy. For Trump, it’s a two-fer, in which, say, Lindsey Graham will bash Trump for trying “to kill my party,” and Trump will get to ask who exactly is Lindsey Graham and what is he polling?

But you can see Graham’s point, even if you can’t see his numbers.

Do Republican voters really want to round up 11 million illegal immigrants — just try to imagine the federal agents grabbing “illegal” kids hiding in the attic — send them to detention camps and then figure out where to ship them home? (Trump says the “good ones,” a Trump term of art, would quickly return, but without answering the question of why the “good ones” would then have to leave in the first place.)

Do they really want the feds raiding the Western Union offices to seize money the construction workers and itinerant farm workers and hotel domestics are sending home to the children that didn’t come to America?

Do they really want to repeal the 14th Amendment or whatever it would take to end citizenship for babies born in America to undocumented mothers?

That’s just the start. It seems that Trump may want to deport American-birthright children — you know, citizens — although it’s not exactly clear that he does even if it were constitutional, which it obviously isn’t. We’ll get to that later.

Anyone — or at least anyone other than Trump’s pal Ted Cruz — can tut-tut over the Trump rapist line and suggest that the Donald ought to stick to stuff he knows, like landing his helicopter at the Iowa State Fair and telling kids he’s Batman. But how do you react to a plan that, according to Trump, was put in place with advice from Sen. Jeff Sessions and that sounds like something you hear on talk radio every single day?

Jeb Bush has a plan. Marco Rubio had one until he decided it wasn’t exactly working out for him. But the Gang of 17 campaign is mostly about candidates using the words amnesty, security and wall in a single sentence.

But now a desperate Scott Walker, slipping in the polls, is semi-embracing the Trump plan, explaining that he had been talking about the wall long before Trump, saying that it worked for Israelis in keeping out Palestinians, which is something you may not have considered.

But the questions keep coming, and they get harder. When asked whether birthright citizenship should be ended, Walker put it this way: “Well, like I said, Harry Reid said it’s not right for this country. I think that’s something we should – yeah, absolutely going forward.” Reid said that about 25 years ago and hasn’t said it since. Walker’s path, meanwhile, has gone in exactly the opposite direction.

The polling on all this is clear. Most Americans, and a majority of Republicans, favor some path to citizenship for most of those here without documents. In Colorado, we have special insight, having seen Tom Tancredo go belly up in each statewide race to which he brought the issue.

But Trump sees that this is a winning play for him, and he might be right — figuring that in the huge GOP field that there are just enough Republican voters who are looking for a candidate who is prepared to blame China, “stupid” American politicians and Mexican rapists for stealing their jobs. You’ll get to hear it all in the next debate.

But even Trump can go too far. Or can he? In an interview with Chuck Todd on Meet the Press, he suggested that American-born children should be deported if their parents are illegal. Or did he?

Here’s the relevant part of the interview:

Todd: You’re going to deport children —

Trump: Chuck. No, no. We’re going to keep the families together. We have to keep the families together.

Todd: But you’re going to keep them together out —

Trump: But they have to go. They have to go.

So, which is it? If they have to go, how do you keep families together when there are 4 million American children — according to a 2008 Pew Hispanic Center study – with at least one undocumented parent? To keep the families together, you’d have to either let millions of illegal-immigrant parents stay or make millions of American-citizen children go.

Trump wouldn’t say which one he meant. But of course it doesn’t matter because none of it will ever happen, sort of like Mitt Romney’s plan for the 11 million to self-deport wouldn’t happen. It’s all fantasy.

He also didn’t say what it would cost, another part of the fantasy. A piece in The Washington Post led me to a study by the right-leaning American Action Forum, which set out to learn just that. A quick search on the Google, and I learned that the study said it would take 20 years — assuming that 2 million illegal immigrants would leave right away and that the government could reasonably deport 400,000 a year — at a cost of $400 billion to $600 billion, not to mention the hundreds of billions more it would cost in lost GDP.

Of course, as anyone following the campaign knows, that wouldn’t be a deal-breaker for the Donald. He’d make the Mexican government pay for it. And if they won’t, well, he’s really, really rich.


Photo credit: Eric White, Creative Commons, Flickr.