High Noon: Obama occupied the Capitol; Colorado selects a Holmes jury

Susan Greene: Confident or Cocky? You can pick either one, but the question was how Obama got that way for his State of the Union speech. We all remember what happened in November, how Mark Udall lost his Senate seat as the Obama surrogate in Colorado. Republicans won the Senate in a landslide, and they’ve got the biggest majority in the House since before World War II. Wasn’t this a shellacking, and why didn’t Obama acknowledge that? Instead, what he did, as one writer put it, was occupy the Capitol last night… Talk among yourselves.

Elliot Fladen: I just think this is his natural personality, coupled with his life experiences.  Look – the guy accomplished a lot BEFORE he got to the Presidency (Harvard Law Review, getting the state legislative seat, turning a contested US Senate seat into effectively an uncontested race), then derailed the unstoppable Hillary machine, passed his health reform bill, and won reelection in spite of the Tea Party in 2012.  Has he had setbacks?  Sure.  But who hasn’t?  If you look at the successes he has had, wouldn’t you be cocky too in the same situation?  And Obama just seems to have a natural predisposition to act that way even without these accomplishments.

Mike Littwin: He was definitely cocky. He was absolutely cocky. It was funny how stunned the Republicans were in the audience. They were waiting for Obama to offer up some compromise. And what he offered up instead was his ad-lib that he knows he’s not running anymore, because he’s already won twice. It was a very liberal agenda, which everyone knows has no chance of passing. That wasn’t the point. It was to lay down a marker. Maybe he was even drawing a line. He’s got a booming economy and he’s poll numbers and he’s got a fight on income inequality that he’s eager to fight.

Dan Haley: It really was remarkable when you put it in that context. He was literally looking at the fewest number of Democrats in the room since well before World War II. He could have sounded a bit conciliatory since they all of those shiny new Republican faces were largely there because of him … he could have given the Bill Clinton “the era of big government is over” speech … but instead he doubled down.

Instead of embracing the issues that voters cared about in November when they rejected his party mates, he boasted new government programs and tax hikes on the rich. No, I wouldn’t be cocky if the electorate told me they were unhappy with the direction I had taken the country.

Fladen: Not just tax hikes.  He wants to SEIZE assets.  Did you catch that he wanted a tax on wealth accumulation.  That isn’t really a tax. He’s advocating coming into rich people’s homes and taking stuff even if they didn’t earn anything that year.  Just for being rich.  

And people think calling Obama a socialist is a slur.

Haley: Mike is exactly right. He doesn’t plan on getting any of this through. This is about 2016. This is about creating a wedge in the country. It’s about telling the middle class that the 1 percent is ripping them off and living the high life, and it’s time to get your share. Sign up for free college. The fat cats are paying for it! Wait, did they just vote it down?? They’re voting against you, the little guy!! Why do they hate you!!

Littwin: He did. But the issues were really secondary. He was saying don’t pay attention to what I say, but how I say it. And how I say it is, there have been two recent elections, I won one of them, we’re co-equals and I’m not rolling over. This was not only to encourage Democrats. It was to discourage Republicans, which I guess, in our polarized age, is the exact same thing.

Also: I thought that was accumulated wealth that had been passed on after death. Am I wrong?

Haley: The president talked about moving past the partisan sniping of politics and then sniped like a politician: That’s because I won those two elections. It’s a great line, but you only like it if you love him. If you hate him, it’s cocky and un-presidential.

Fladen: He wasn’t exactly specific in his speech.  And perhaps that is the point.  Establish the rhetoric of “Eat the Rich” while having a narrow program.  It is a highly extremist agenda both for now and the future.

Littwin: That’s why Romney is now talking about income inequality. In the last election, he called it “envy” and “class warfare.” I think we all know there are a lot more little guys than big guys. And that if this is a referendum on who cares about the little guy, Republicans are in trouble. So how are they going to fix that? It can’t be with Mr. 47% as the point man, can it?

Haley: Yes. This was all strategy. He has no intentions on working with Republicans, and they have no intentions on working with him.  If he wanted to work with them, he wouldn’t have set the agenda that he did.

Fladen: I actually liked his part about a “better politics” and I want to believe he wants to believe in it, because he is at the legacy stage of his political career.  What I found funny though was right about when he started talking about it (and making fun of politicians who have to spend all of their time fundraising while demonizing the opposition), Ken Buck put up the following on facebook:

[blockquote] Republicans swept into office because the American people demanded a stop to the President’s harmful policies.

Why does this President insist on reviving policies from the 60s that didn’t work? Punishing successful job creators does not make anyone more successful. It limits innovation, it stifles creativity, and it harms those most in need of new jobs.

As your Representative, I work to promote the free market, individual achievement, strong communities, and new opportunity. Consider supporting our campaign so that we can stop the harmful policies of this President.

Donate $5, $15, or $25 to ensure that America remains a land of opportunity for all. The President’s attempt to punish success won’t help anyone.

Working for you,

Ken Buck [/blockquote]

Littwin: Actually it’s a mainstream liberal agenda, not much different from the one he ran on twice and not much different from the one that (presumably) Hillary Clinton will run on 2016. But I don’t want to get too far ahead on 2016 when there’s the Republican primary that I can’t wait to write about. 

Haley: It’s about setting up class warfare. The big bad rich guys are out to get you, and these nasty Republicans won’t pass these “free” programs to help you get ahead in life. Income inequality will again be the buzz in 2016. But what you won’t hear, much of anyway, is that income inequality has probably gotten worse on his watch. The jobs he boasts about adding to the economy aren’t paying as much as the jobs that were lost in the recession.

Fladen: Not just “class warfare” – cleverly repackaged class warfare with the title “Middle Class Economics.” I think what rubs so many on the right the wrong way about Obama’s policies is that they are aimed at creating rent seeking more than creating value.  Take the “free community college” thing.  Basically, in a time of increasing questions of the value of a college education relative to its price Obama is going to bail out bloated admin staffs that are driving the increase in college costs.  If the real goal was economic stimulation, why not simply offer a tax cut?  Why does every program Obama offers to stimulate the economy involve the creation of some dead weight loss?

Haley: The GOP nominee needs to point out the working class is under more stress under Obama, and needs to embrace ideas like more access to community colleges. They’re a tremendous value and can train the next generation of workers. They’re more nimble than big four year institutions, etc. But let’s be transparent in how we’re paying for it, and why. Propose solutions, not political set ups.

Littwin: Dan, this is the situation. Those who hate Obama …  hate Obama. That ain’t changing. Obama’s numbers are at or are close to 50 percent right now. That may not last more than the next polling period, but it’s reality now. And that was the point of the speech — that Obama isn’t accepting the 2014 results as determinative, any more than Republicans did in 2012. We’re divided, and divisions don’t get healed as you go into the next presidential cycle. Republicans, like Ken Buck did, will argue strongly against the big-government approach. It’s a solid argument. Obama had nothing else to offer but what government could do. But what can Republicans do to help the middle class end wage stagnation?

OK, I’m open to some solutions. What are the GOP solutions. Fire away in non-talking-point language.

Fladen: A novel idea to help the middle class and end wage stagnation: its called Capitalism.  The only way to drive up wage growth long term is through productivity growth.  How is subsidizing bloated admin staffs at community colleges increasing our long-term productivity growth?  It really isn’t, or if it is, there are better ways to do it.

Generally speaking, the greater the share of government on GDP, the slower the longterm growth in productivity of a country.  So the real question is how we either grow the economy faster than the government or shrink the government in a long term manner. 

A really good way of doing that would be entitlement reform.  But you haven’t heard anybody talk about that since 2010.  Why?  Because when the GOP ran on it and won, they decided instead to govern on social issues and immigrant/muslim bashing.

Littwin: I believe we have capitalism. That’s not really a policy. It’s like saying if we have sunshine, everything will be OK. Wage stagnation is a 30-year problem. There are charts galore that show this. There are lots of reasons, but if government is holding down the working man, it’s been doing it through a long series of Democratic and Republican administrations.

Haley: If you’re going to raise capital gains to 28 percent, cut middle class tax rates rather than propose more programs with that money. That’s what happened in the 80s. Don’t go after working families 529s, which allow them to save for college. Don’t attack industry that are actually creating jobs and wealth and try to shut them down.  

Fladen: If you think we have capitalism, look at our immigration laws.  You need to demonstrate that the workers you want to bring will not compete against anybody here (i.e steal “their” job).  Or take a look at the fact that even basic things like practicing “interior design” without a license can be illegal. http://www.ij.org/florida-interior-design-the-facts

Or maybe look at energy subsidies.  Or sugar subsidies.  Or taxes on nonconnected industries.  Or any number of things. 

Whatever our system is, it isn’t capitalism.  Not even close. 

Littwin: If the 2016 election is about middle class wage stagnation — which hits most people in America where they live — the Democrats have plans. They may not work. You could even say that many of them have failed. I’d say we’re avoiding the real issues. If this is going to be a debate, it has to be about more than get government out of way and watch us roar. The biggest grown in the last quarter century has been under Democrats. I’m not claiming those Democratic presidents were actually responsible for that. I’m saying that Republicans will have to show a plan that has worked since Reagan was in office.

Haley: We’ve talked about this before but we have a real problem in this country in that many of the good paying jobs of the past are gone and not being replaced by jobs with equal incomes. You can’t lose a manufacturing job and replace it with a cashier at Kohl’s. We’ve moved into more of a service economy.

Littwin: Elliot, you and the guys in think tanks must be the only people who think unfettered capitalism works. I’ll stick with the 40-hour work week guys. (And I’m certainly ready to dump most of the subsidies.) …

So, we throw up our hands? Are you saying there’s nothing to be done?

Fladen: Define: “works”.  If your goal is growth in incomes you need long term productivity growth.  All economists acknowledge that.  So the question is what increases long-term productivity growth.  Somehow I doubt is a more government bureaucrats ;-)

There is plenty to be done.  Its just that everybody disagrees on what to do.  So we get the current situation. 

How about this:  Every 2 years raise the Social Security retirement age 6 months, until it hits life expectancy for average american.  

Greene: You High Nooners are on fire. This is all much, much better, smarter, in-depth commentary than the same-old, same-olds like Cokie Roberts and the other talking heads droning on last night. Thanks for your thoughts on Obama’s speech. 

Taking things more local here, jury selection has started in the James Holmes/Aurora theater shooting case. And not just any jury selection. This is a pool of 9,000 potential jurors. That’s the size of a whole town. This selection process, and then the trial itself will take months and months if a plea agreement isn’t reached. How do you see this playing out for the jurors, for the victims and their families, for 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler and, ultimately, for James Holmes?

Haley: First, can I just thanks to those serve on juries, especially for trials that last as long as this one is expected to last. I can’t imagine putting my life — and livelihood — on hold for that long.

Littwin: The question I have is whether a trial is a good thing for the jurors, a good thing for the city, a good thing for the area, a good thing for anyone. If James Holmes is ready to plea out — and get life in prison without parole — what good does a trial do us. Is it that important to execute the guy to start with 9,000 people and not stop until everyone is put through this again?

Haley: I haven’t followed this case closely enough to comment about James Holmes’ mental state, and how that might affect the trial and the outcome but I can comment on George Brauchler. Prosecuting a high profile case can be good for his political aspirations, or bad, depending on the ultimate outcome, the professionalism of his office, its preparation, etc. How’s that for straddling the fence?

Littwin: That’s straddling all right, Dan. Here are some possible outcomes to a six-month trial. Holmes is convicted and the jurors reject the death penalty. The jurors decide that Holmes is too crazy and give him Hinkley answer. The jurors convict and go for death and there are appeals, given that the guy seems to be nuts, that last for decades.

Fladen: For the victims/survivors/families: I only knew one (she used to watch my daughter Dagny on occasion before she moved).  Not sure how she or the others would feel. 

For the DA – all press is good press!

For James Holmes – I haven’t followed it closely, but if he is going to a mental institution then he has a rough life ahead of him. 

Haley: The Social Security fix is so easy it’s laughable that we can’t even do that. But anyway, back to Holmes…

Fladen: I used to inspect mental health institutions when I was with DOJ.  I wouldn’t ever want to be a patient at one.  For Holmes it doesn’t really matter (as he’d otherwise get life in prison or the death penalty), but many people don’t realize if you are judged not guilty by reason of insanity you don’t go to the mental health institution to serve your term.  You go there until you are adjudged basically not a threat.  And that can be multiple times longer than your sentence. 

Haley: Will I get disowned if I say one more thing about the SOTU? How about his line on ISIS and terrorism?? We’re stopping them in their tracks and they’re on the run? Easy there, George W. I don’t think it’s been that successful. ISIS is on the run in the wrong direction. And this nonsense of needing some sort of resolution to authorize force? We’re blowing people up every day. Sometimes I feel I’m living in an alternate universe, where up is down, blah blah blah

Greene: We’ll never disown you, Dan. Then again, we’ll never own you, either. Thus the Independent in Colorado Independent….

Littwin: Dan, I won’t disown you either. In fact, I’ll agree with you. Why didn’t he just land on an aircraft carrier. I think he was trying to go so hard with the things-are-better meme that he got a little carried away. That’s the problem with page turning. On the next page, there’s always another problem/crisis. That’s how presidencies work, or don’t.

Fladen: If Obama does his next SOTU below a “Mission Accomplished” banner, I will give him huge props.

Haley: I want the aircraft carrier photo op. Please. He can land with Seth Rogen.


Fladen: Here is a serious question for you guys – why does Holmes’ psyche fascinate so many people?  Is there a fear many have that deep down they are a few slights from losing it like him?  I just don’t get the fascination with this case.  He did a heinous deed, he got caught, and I haven’t really paid that much attention since. 

Haley: Does Hick’s newfound opposition to the death penalty come in to play at all? If he’s convicted, does he go into Dunlap limbo? And why didn’t the Dems get rid of it when they had the chance?

Littwin: Of course Brauchler can seek it. Part of the problem with the death penalty is that it is sought so randomly. There are many heinous crimes where no one goes after death. It’s about geography. It’s about class. It’s about race. It’s about individual prosecutors. It’s about a system that does not work fairly in almost any way. And so, Brauchler chooses not to spare us, so that he can choose not to spare Holmes. I’m not worried about Holmes particularly. I’m worried about what the trial does to everyone else.

Fladen: I’m 99.9999% sure Mike that the trial does nothing to everyone else.  One week after the verdict people will be living their lives just as they had been living it before the verdict.

Littwin: To answer your question, because the Dems chickened out. I’d like to ask our resident criminal justice expert and moderator Susan Greene — she’s been in a lot of jails — what life without parole would look like for James Holmes.

Elliot, really? 

Greene: It would look like a gray box, a solitary confinement cell just a bit larger than a queen size mattress with the main human interaction happening through the food slot in his door. It would look like 23 hours a day in that cell, with the 24th in an indoor exercise room — also alone. It would be the most incessant, intense boredom you can imagine. There are an increasing number of mental health experts who now deem solitary confinement to be a form a torture. That’s why many states are limited its use.

Haley: Mental health remains a huge issue. Walk downtown for about five minutes and you’ll realize that. I don’t know that people are fascinated by the case, however. The media most certainly is, and that’s because of the high number of casualties, the very public space he did it in, the fear it created and the intrigue surrounding his mental state. Most people, I’m guessing, will tune in and out when something big happens.

Fladen: You can’t put him in general pop though.

Greene: In other words, lots of folks who’ve done time in prison say they’d prefer death to a life in solitary. It’s no cake walk, especially when you’re going in with the kind of extreme mental health issues Holmes has.

Littwin: The trial would change everything. It would become a daily story with national media and the whole JonBenet/Columbine media circus. Anyone who thinks a trial wouldn’t have a major impact is ignoring history.

Greene: That’s right. There’s an argument to be made that a guy like Holmes would would need solitary for his own protection. 

Fladen: How many trials of the centuries have we had since OJ?  And how have they changed things?  And no – an intermittent “if the glove don’t fit, you gotta acquit” inserting itself into movies does not count as “changing things”. 

People don’t want to admit this to themselves, but these trials are entertainment to many.  And that is kind of sick when you think about it. 

Haley: Nancy Grace has to be jacked, right?

Greene: It would be a disservice to High Nooner Haley not to give him a chance  to rant on Inflate-gate. I know he’s dying to. For the non-football fans, this the story of how the New England Cheaters have cheated again, this time by deflating footballs during their game with the Indianapolis Colts. The sports world is in an uproar. And so, I’m sure, is Haley.

Fladen: Can anything ever top this on the Patriots?

Haley: Deflategate. Why is it the Patriots have such a hard time keeping their noses clean. As I wrote on my Facebook page this morning, whenever I read about this story I can hear the guy in Casablanca saying “I’m shocked – shocked! – to learn of gambling at Rick’s café!” Or whatever the line is. To me, he’s Roger Goodell. Two seconds later a guy offers him his cut: Your winnings, sir. Oh, thank you.

The NFL looks the other way until they can no longer look the other way, ie., Ray Rice, wife-beating, etc. 

Littwin: I’m thinking that Belichick (if guilty) should be suspended for a year. Either that or George Brauchler should prosecute the case.

Haley: And I hate the Patriots anyway. And I liked to say who knows what Bellichik has up his sleeve next … but he doesn’t even have sleeves! Never trust a man in a hoodie without sleeves. If I can impart one thing to my daughters, that might be it.

Fladen: Final word on Belichick as a Browns fan: He is further proof that Cleveland sports fans are incompetent (as we called for his head repeatedly while he coached the Browns and finally got it)

Greene: Nice chat, cowboys. Obama’s confidence/cockiness. The rich eating the poor. James Holmes’s psyche. Nancy Grace. Mission Accomplished. And a football scandal. This was my kind of High Noon. It’s time to sign off for the week (our Chinese food was just delivered). Until next week, happy trails to you all.

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litwin hnMike Littwin has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow. A rapier wit.

dan haley Dan Haley is vice president of communications at EIS Solutions, a Colorado public relations firm and was Editorial Page Editor at the Denver Post, after being an editorial writer, assistant city editor and news reporter.

fladen hnElliot Fladen is a former Department of Justice trial attorney and a 2005 graduate of Stanford Law School. He specializes in commercial litigation, government transparency, and construction litigation. Besides testifying on major state ethics legislation before the Colorado State House, stories regarding his work have appeared in the Denver Post, the Colorado Springs Gazette, The Colorado Independent, the Colorado Observer, and the Colorado Statesman. He is also an occasional guest columnist and/or contributor to the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Colorado Independent.

sgreeneSusan Greene is moderator today, standing in for John Tomasic. (Thanks Susan!) She is a longtime Colorado journalist, a former Denver Post columnist and the editor of the Colorado Independent.

The Colorado Independent is a statewide online news source operating in a time when spin is plentiful, but factual, fair and unflinching news in the public interest is all too rare. Our award-winning team of veteran investigative and explanatory reporters and news columnists aims to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding and progress in this square, swing state we call home.