Susan Greene, moderator: Hello Colorado. Happy lunch hour. And hi to our High Noon guests today. Krista Kafer is cohost of Kelley and Co. on 710 KNUS (1-4 p.m. daily), Denver Post columnist and dog lover. Dan Haley is a government relations guru at EIS Solutions and our former colleague at The Denver Post, where he ran the editorial page. They’re here to shoot it out with our in-house news columnist Mike Littwin about the news of the week. Welcome, Krista and Dan. Thanks for joining us.
The planet is swelling with news this week, most notably the earthquake in Nepal and the rising death toll there. I’m pretty sure that even you three pugnacious High Nooners can agree there’s nothing to debate about what’s unfolding there. Pure heartbreak.
So let’s start closer to home with Baltimore. We’ve been scratching our heads wondering why Baltimore’s mayor and police department don’t end their silence about Freddie Gray’s death. It seems to me they could de-escalate tensions by coming out with what they know about how he died. Besides, the tax dollars they’d save protecting the city in a civil rights lawsuit pale compared to costs related to injuries, property damage and other costs of rioting. What do you make of their silence?
Krista Kafer: I used to live in Baltimore. Great city and I’m sad to see parts of it burn. We need to know what happened in Freddie Gray’s death. The community needs to know but given the prevalent false narrative of hands up, don’t shoot, it’s doubtful whether knowing the answer will have any impact.
Mike Littwin: I’d say they were the only ones who are silent. It’s strange – and sad — but when the protests turned to riots, there came this sudden urgency, and now everyone seems to be involved. Rand Paul went on the Laura Ingraham show to talk about the issue of absent fathers. Hillary Clinton is going to make the first major speech of her campaign tonight about cops and justice and transparency and drug sentencing and cop cameras. David Simon, of Wire fame, says that Martin O’Malley, who seems to be running for president, is much to blame for problematic policing in Baltimore.
Dan Haley: The silence is deafening. First, as much as I want to say this isn’t about Freddie Gray (it’s bigger than one person), it is pretty ridiculous that the Baltimore police, last I heard, had basically given no information to the public or his family about his death. If a man gets picked up by the cops and ends up dead, people deserve an answer. It’s pretty simple, really. It doesn’t take too many days to figure out what happened. Still, that information likely would not have changed anything.
Littwin: I think information could have changed things. It has been two weeks since Freddie Gray was arrested and somehow, inexplicably, died. It took most of those two weeks before the protests turned violent. Riots are basically self-destructive, but they get heard. I also lived in Baltimore. I love that city, and it makes me sad to see what’s happening there.
Greene: Why Baltimore? Why did the riots break out there? What do they say about race, or is the story more about poverty?
Kafer: I helped on a Habitat for Humanity build in Sandtown. Being from the Denver Metro Area, I’d never seen city blocks of forlorn windowless buildings, blowing trash, eerily quiet streets. Bleak. What a contrast to the Inner Harbor with its fashionable restaurants and fantastic aquarium. It isn’t material poverty but poverty of soul. There are children in Baltimore who will never know what it’s like to have a dad, see a parent work, see a parent pack a school lunch. I do blame white people, specifically the politicians an hour south by I-95 who enacted welfare programs that have destroyed the black family.
Littwin: Baltimore is not Ferguson. Baltimore has a black mayor and a black police chief and black officials. But the poverty there, in a city that has come back in ways that many old-line cities hae not, is deeply entrenched, and no one has much idea what to do about it. Anyone who has watched The Wire knows about Baltimore and violence and the drug trade. For years, cops have cracked down on the corner boys. And if they’re black cops, which they often are, that seems to make no difference. Tom Wolfe once wrote a great thing about cops – that, once they’re cops, they all become Irish. I don’t think he meant to offend Irish people, but rather to say that being a cop comes first, for better or worse.
Krista, I’m a little older than you. There was deep poverty in this country before there were welfare programs.
Haley: You’re right, Mike, in that some info from police or the city could have settled things down – depending on what the info was. I was inarticulately trying to make the broader point that our cities seem to be simmering like it’s the 1960s and we need to find out why. This isn’t just about one man. To me, and maybe this is too simplistic as well, but so much of it comes back to opportunity or lack thereof. People need jobs. They need jobs to keep them occupied. They need jobs to take care of themselves and their families. They need jobs to give themselves a feeling of self-worth and pride. You don’t burn down the house you built.
And then you layer on the injustices – perceived or real – that people feel have been leveled at their communities by police, and you’ve got riots.
Kafer: Baltimore is a fairly segregated city. Middle class blacks and whites live in a ring of suburbs and in the gentrified Inner Harbor, Fell’s Point, Johns Hopkins area, and center downtown. The rest of the Charm City is primarily black and poor.
Littwin: Dan, you’re exactly right. Or something close to exactly anyway. I think cities are simmering, too. I’d put it down, in part, to income inequality, and not as some economic theory taught in classrooms or put in charts on online news sites. It’s an inequality of opportunity. This is a failure of our political class. If you listen to Obama speak, or nearly any Democrat speak, it’s always about the middle class. The middle class has problems, but these aren’t the problems that put the torch to a city like Baltimore.
Kafer: Black America was making significant strides before the Great Society programs were enacted. The differences between white and black illegitimacy rates were not significant before the 1960s. Now some 70 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. Democrat Patrick Moyihan raised this concern. He said, “The issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it.”
And BTW you’re way older than me!
Littwin: Baltimore is an extremely segregated city. White flight in the ’60s and ’70s dropped the population within the city limits by around 400,000 people – most of them white. I lived in a beautiful neighborhood in the city, hard by one of the poorest neighborhoods in the city. There are lines drawn, and those lines are part of what keeps cities like Baltimore from progressing.
Littwin: We would be a far poorer country, in many ways, were it not for social welfare programs. The Great Society was not perfect. It was an attempt to address poverty, which was far more severe then than it is now, in white and black America. What programs have Republicans put forth that have changed poverty in this country?
Yes, Krista. Older. Much.
Greene: I’ve got to chime in here. Terms like “illegitimate” — when used about any children, anywhere — are a big part of the frustration.
Haley: One last Baltimore comment (which concerns other urban areas), this is why education reform is essential and why you see black Democrats, like Cory Booker as mayor, leading those reform movements.
Littwin: Dan, I’m all for education reform. I just wish reform as a way to take on the achievement gap didn’t get mixed up with public funds used to pay tuition at religious schools.
Haley: Mike, we absolutely need a safety net program in this country, but we also need roads to self-sufficiency for those who can get there. I worry that so many of the jobs available to those with high school diplomas, or less, in years past are gone and not sure what will replace them.
First, get over it. Second, think about the kids. Mike, I thought you were always about the children. (insert sarcastic smiley face)
Littwin: I am all about the kids. I don’t think any of them are on the DougCo school board.
Kafer: Maryland was slow in getting charter schools, but now has them. About half of the states now have a laws authorizing vouchers or tax credits for donations to private scholarship programs. Giving kids access to quality schools public or private would help Baltimore kids.
Greene: Here in Colorado, we’re in the last week of our legislative session. Questions about whether to create criminal charges for feticide are still percolating. Did Senate President Bill Cadman not realize that putting personhood in the bill was a poison pill? Are there compromises that might actually work to get a bill passed? Should there be a bill passed?
Kafer: Senator Cadman’s fetal homicide bill passed in the Senate. The bill, which exempts abortion, would make Colorado one of 30 or so states that have fetal homicide laws. Governor Hickenlooper has said he’d be open to signing such a law. If House Dems refuse to pass the bill, it is because they lack a conscience.
Littwin: Yep, you got it. House Dems are in favor of fetal homicide. As you know, Krista, there’s a poison pill in this bill — the personhood pill, the one that defines life as starting at conception. That will never pass the House. And Hickenlooper would not sign the bill, as written. In 2011, Mark Waller had a fetal homicide bill that took out the personhood language, and he had to abandon it because his fellow Republicans wouldn’t support the bill without it. Does that mean Republicans don’t have a conscience?
Haley: I haven’t read the bill but I have read The Denver Post (who really should pay me for all my mentions), and I agree with their editorial that said: “There ought to be a way to revise Colorado law so someone with ill intent who kills an unborn child can be charged with a crime equivalent to homicide without infringing on abortion rights. And abortion proponents, rather than merely complain about Cadman’s bill, should devise a plan that would accomplish this goal.”
Kafer: They have conscience but sometimes lack commonsense. If a bill will not pass, it will not become law and bring justice for at least some unborn children.
Littwin: There is a plan. All Cadman has to do is remove the personhood language and say explicitly that this has nothing to do with abortion and it would probably pass unanimously. Cadman wouldn’t allow any amendments. So here we are.
So, Krista, it’s only Dems who lack conscience? They’re in favor of cutting unborn babies from pregnant mothers? Let’s be serious.
Dan is right – whether or not he’s getting paid by the Post – in that if people are really interested in getting this bill put forward, make the compromises and just do it. But the issue quickly turned into an abortion issue. Again, and so here we are.
Kafer: Don’t hold your breath waiting for Democrats to write a law protecting unborn children, even those who are wanted by their moms. The most they can manage is a law with penalties against stopping a wanted pregnancy.
Littwin: Cadman put in a poison pill that he knew wouldn’t pass. So why did he do it?
Greene: Let me get this straight, Krista. You’re concerned about the legitimacy of unborn children. But kids born to unmarried parents lack “legitimacy”?
Haley: And maybe this is why people hate politics and politicians: A seven-month-old baby gets carved from her mother’s stomach and we can’t agree on what to do about it.
Kafer: The million children who die every year in this country from abortion are cut from their mothers wombs. I am serious. But you are right, House Democrats aren’t the only ones with a seared conscience, there are some Republicans, too.
Littwin: OK, Krista sees abortion as equivalent to the mother cutting an unborn baby out of an unwilling mother’s womb. I think that ends the argument.
Kafer: Perhaps illegitimacy is an old term whose time has come to enter the dictionary of dead words. All children are legitimate. Studies show that children born to unmarried parents are more likely to struggle with poverty, education, employment, health and so on. We need to encourage couples to marry and raise their children together. We should each support children of single parents through amazing programs like Boys and Girls clubs, Wiz Kids Tutoring, Camp Elim, etc, by volunteering and contributing.
Greene: All-righty then. The James Holmes trial has started. The evidence seems to be stronger than expected that Holmes knew right from wrong. Does that mean, despite his obvious mental illness, that his not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity plea shouldn’t work? If he’s legally sane because he knew right from wrong, but also clearly crazy, could — or should — that have any impact on whether the jury votes for death?
Haley: That’s the whole argument, right, whether he was legally sane because clearly he was crazy. Have I said how thankful I am that I don’t live in Arapco and I’m not on that jury??
Littwin: The trial has only just begun, but the chances of Holmes being declared not guilty because he’s insane seem remote to me. I thought that before we learned of the notebook showing the level of premeditation involved. But what we’re going to have is a long, traumatizing trial in which the verdict is foretold. What we don’t know is whether Holmes will get the death penalty. This case will help answer the question: How crazy does a vicious mass killer have to be before at least one member of the jury thinks he’s too crazy for the state to kill?
Kafer: The definition of insanity in Colorado is that individual suffer from a diseased mind that renders him/her incapable distinguishing right from wrong. It is likely that Holmes has a diseased mind. However, as George Brauchler’s powerful opening statement showed, Holmes did seem to understand that what he planned was evil, intentionally so. This wasn’t the case of a crazy person thinking they were shooting aliens or demons. He wanted to kill people.
Haley: The emotional load this jury has been asked to bear is immense. I’m grateful for them and their service.
Littwin: Krista, I agree that unless we learn something much different, it looks like Holmes would be legally sane. We know that now. We’ll know it in many months when the trial is finally over. The only question is the death penalty. Should the same definition apply in determining the death penalty. (Full disclosure: I’m against the death penalty in all cases. I think it says more about us than it does about the most heinous of killers.)
Kafer: This was fun, as always, I have to jet off to do radio. Love the opportunity to speed write, Mike and Susan. Nice to share ink with you Dan. Thank you again, everyone!!
Greene: So long, Krista. Thank you. And you, too, Dan.
We like to wrap up High Noon each week with a musical pick. Because we had the earthquake on our minds, we were thinking of honoring Nepal with Bob Seger and Cat Stevens’ songs, both titled, “Katmandu.” But, today’s conversation seems to call for a different kind of tune. Bill Withers’ classic, “Grandma’s Hands” speaks of the power and sweetness of non-traditional families. Listen up. And bye, for now.
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Mike 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 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.
Krista Kafer is an education-reform specialist for the Colorado free-market think tank Independence Institute. She did time in the nation’s capital working as a staffer on Capitol Hill and at the Heritage Foundation. She is the author of “School Choice 2003” and she has appeared at all kinds of media outlets.
Susan Greene is moderator today. She is a longtime Colorado journalist, a former Denver Post columnist and the editor of the Colorado Independent.