Friday, February 26, 2021

Morrissey and DNA Catch a Murderer

Mitch Morrissey
DNA and modern techniques using databases solved a 40-year-old murder case in Arapahoe County. Former Denver District Attorney, Mitch Morrissey, a nationally recognized expert in DNA with his company, United Data Connect, helped the Cherry Hills Village police to solve a 1981 murder of Sylvia Quayle. The DNA identified suspect David Anderson of Cozad, Nebraska, who has a long arrest and incarceration record during the 1980s. But, it was the DNA identification that led to the February 10, 2021 arrest.

Morrissey was the Denver DA from 2004 until 2017 and organized United Data Connect to use DNA techniques to assist local police solve cold cases. The firm has had several major successes, including recently solving of an even older case – a 1963 murder in Jefferson County.

See 9News story: DNA from Vanilla Coke can ties Nebraska man to Cherry Hills Village cold case

Jerry Bell is Back

After a month-long fight, Colorado’s leading news voice is out of the Presbyterian/St. Luke’s ICU and improving. He’s been KOA’s top breaking news voice for more than 40 ears. Go Jerry!

Jerry Bell | Photo via Vicky Collins Facebook post

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Republicans Catch a Break

The Democratic Party, after more than a decade of political dominance, is beginning to unravel. The party’s far-left social justice and environmental advocates are challenging the elected center-left establishment. Joe Salazar, an anti-fracking activist, has announced a possible challenge to incumbent U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, who’s up for reelection in 2022. Salazar lost a close race for state attorney general in 2018. Tay Anderson, Denver Public School’s social justice promoter, has hinted he may challenge Congressperson Diane DeGette, fresh from her lauded impeachment performance.

While the Republican Party has struggled to find a center among its many factions – Tea Party, anti-abortion, pro guns, etc. – that could appeal to a majority of Coloradans, Democrats promoted their centrists – John Hickenlooper, Michael Bennet and Jason Crow – into their top spots for competitive seats of governor, senate and Sixth Congressional. But as the state has drifted more Democratic and the party to the left, the discipline is breaking down.

So now both parties, Republicans with the “Big Lie” Boebert faction and Democrats Salazar-Anderson activists are headed for a wild 2022.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Trump and Turnover in National Security

Former President Trump had major conflicts with several of his cabinet members and senior staff. There were six people in four years as National Security Advisors. General Flynn had the shortest term in history (24 days) and will no doubt be one of the most famous (or infamous). Two were short-term acting and three survived at least a year: H.R. McMaster, John Bolton and Robert O’Brien, who handled the transition.

Among the seven people who held the title of Defense Secretary, only two had any longevity and were confirmed by the Senate – General Jim Mattis, Trump’s first, and Mark Esper, almost his final (fired shortly after the November election). Both had strained relationships that deteriorated after leaving office.

The national security jobs of Defense Secretary and National Security Adviser had to deal with both the President’s management style, for example, not caring for traditional briefings and communicating by tweets, but also major shifts in previous policy. Mattis’ final disagreement was about Syria. Esper’s relationship became strained as he resisted using the military for the law and order aspects of Trump’s re-election campaign.

Trump also had difficulty getting comfortable with a chief of staff. Not surprising since Trump was not someone who wanted orderly management. He reveled in the spontaneous, the casual and the chaotic. Reince Priebus, the head of the Republican National Committee, was his first, mostly as a nod to the Republican establishment. Priebus made it to July 2017. Former General John Kelly served for a year and a half, leaving as the relationship became increasingly strained. He departed a day after his friend and colleague General Mattis exited Defense. Trump then turned to the Freedom Caucus in Congress and selected Mick Mulvaney (moved out as COVID-19 and campaign became dominant) and finally Mark Meadows, who served during the campaign (started in March 2020) and transition. Staffing an administration and White House is never easy, but the Trump revolving door and general chaos was unprecedented in the modern era.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and White Nationalists Become America’s Greatest Threats

Americans believe the “greatest threats to U.S. security” today are U.S.-based violent white nationalists groups, eclipsing ISIS, al Qaeda and left-wing extremist groups. Only China, as a foreign power, ranks as a top threat primarily because Republicans name it as their primary threat to U.S. security.

Most recently, the militant far-right groups – the Proud Boys, made famous by former President Trump in his first debate (“stand back and stand by”), and the Oath Keepers – have been most visibly identified by the FBI and arrested as extremist groups that were significantly involved with the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. The President, Congress and the Justice Department (Merrick Garland) have all made violent extremism their top priority for law enforcement.

U.S. Adds 100,000 to Death Toll in 30 Days

In Joe Biden’s first 30 days in office, 100,000 more Americans have died from COVID-19. At the inaugural, the RealClearPolitics death toll was 411,000. Biden, of course, starting in his inaugural speech, has made the virus his top priority with more vaccines, vaccinations and regular reports of benchmarks. 

The worldwide toll continues to increase, up 450,000 in the last 30 days, with Mexico moving into third place, ahead of India and behind Brazil.

The recent surges in infections, hospitalizations and deaths are having effects on the economy and have pushed back the worldwide recovery in travel. The industry was hopeful that by the end of 2021 some recovery would be seen. But in a new poll, industry officials and experts in 20 countries now put significant recovery more likely in 2022 or later.

California Jumps Ahead of New York as the State With the Most Fatalities

California’s death toll (49,000) now exceeds historic leader, New York (47,000). Although the holiday surge appears over and vaccinations and immunity is up, most experts believe the virus and its variants will be a deadly threat throughout 2021.

It is already a political threat with the governor of California near a possible recall election over handling of the virus. Early hero in the fight, Andrew Cuomo in New York, is embedded in a major controversy about reporting nursing home deaths.

The political danger of the virus is not a surprise. Former President Trump’s defeat in November is significantly attributed to his subpar performance in handling the virus. Joe Biden designed his campaign of medical science and empathy to specifically offer a contrast.

Friday, February 19, 2021

American Democracy in Crisis – Video

Hear the “American Democracy in Crisis” webinar sponsored by the Boulder OLLI Speaker Series held on February 3. The insurrection on January 6, 2021 was a 9/11 event for democracy. The transition of power – a bedrock element of American democracy from George Washington through Barack Obama – was directly challenged by a mob motivated, assembled and inspired by President Donald Trump, his family and retainers.

The OLLI webinar describes the four years of damage to American democracy and the serious threats that lie ahead. 


See blog posts on the presentation:

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Video Now Available on “The First Week: Biden vs. Trump”

President Joe Biden has inherited a formidable set of challenges, from a pandemic still spreading, a crippled economy, a social justice crisis, an injured political system and a weakened position in a threatening world.

A February Crossley Center Zoom event on the transitions, the inaugurals, and President Trump’s and President Biden’s first weeks in office provided a perspective by former Ambassador Christopher Hill, now at Columbia University; Colorado College professor (retired) and Presidential Scholar Tom Cronin; and Crossley Center Director Floyd Ciruli.

Biden Has a Honeymoon

President Trump never had a honeymoon with the public as he took over in January 2017. But, most presidents begin with positive ratings, and a new CNBC economic survey shows Joe Biden starts his presidency with 62 percent approval, 18 points ahead of Trump (44%) at the same time in his presidency. CNBC compares the three most recent presidents’ post-inauguration polls and their December first year polls. The message is that approval can change dramatically. Interesting, Trump’s approval started and stayed low, but it seldom changed much. He had a low ceiling and high floor. By April of his first year, his disapproval jumped from the mid-40s percent to about 55 percent, where it tended to remain for four years. The following is commentary on four presidents’ approval ratings their first years.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Impeachment Vote Lines Up With Public Opinion

In the most recent Gallup poll (2-2-21), 52 percent of the American people favored conviction and 45 percent opposed, close to the Senate vote of 57 to 43 for acquittal. Of course, the conviction required two-thirds (66 votes). Post impeachment trial saw a spike in support for conviction. An ABC News/Ipsos poll showed 58 percent post trial favored conviction.

Even the Republican Senate vote roughly corresponded to the Gallup poll. Forty-three Republicans out of 50 voted for conviction, or 86 percent. The poll recorded 88 percent of Republicans identified favoring acquittal (14%, or 7 for conviction, the poll had 10%).

Impeachment Over, But Trump Still Burden for Republican Party

Although some Republican leadership is trying to get distance from Donald Trump, witness the votes of Senators Burr, Cassidy, Collins, Murkowski, Romney, Sasse and Tommey, and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s excoriating criticism of Trump’s behavior as being “practically and morally responsible for the riot,” the Republican rank and file still cling to Trump’s and the far-right wing conspiracy theories of what happened.

In a recent survey reported in the Washington Post, 66 percent of Republicans believe Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election was not legitimate and only 15 percent believe Trump was responsible for the riot, 50 percent believe Antifa “was mostly responsible for the violence” and 29 percent believe QAnon’s premise that Trump had been secretly fighting a group of child sex traffickers, including prominent Democratic and Hollywood elites.

See: After the ballots are counted: Conspiracies, political violence, and American exceptionalism

Friday, February 12, 2021

The Trump and Biden First Appointments

At the Crossley Center’s session comparing the Trump and Biden first weeks (February 9), Professor Chris Hill and Professor Tom Cronin opined on the top personnel of the respective administrations.

A comparison of the first teams of former President Trump and President Biden offer some dramatic contrasts, largely borne of the chaotic transition of Trump in 2016 and his impulsive methods of selection. As Tom Cronin said, “It is unlikely Trump had more than a brief familiarity of many of the selections. And, they are mostly outsiders.” Of the seven top positions shown below, only Steve Mnuchin made it all four years in his original position. Mike Pompeo went the distance, but switched to State after Rex Tillerson was unceremoniously removed by Tweet in March 2018.

Nikki Haley managed to leave without controversy and showed some modest independence from the White House, but was largely ineffectual due to Trump not actually believing in the UN’s purpose.

We all recall the travails of Jeff Sessions after he recused himself from the Russian investigation. He resigned under pressure (Nov. 2018). Trump then dedicated considerable attention to ending his political career.

Jim Mattis made it longer than most expected – longer than Tillerson and Sessions (Jan. 1, 2019), but it was clearly painful at the end. He joined nine other Defense Secretaries in January of this year declaring the election was decided and the threat to the transfer of power should stop.

The most infamous person on the team was Michael Flynn, who lasted slightly more than three weeks until he had to resign due to misleading about the nature and content of conversations with the Russian ambassador. From the shortest term in the job’s history, Flynn went on to a lengthy high-profile legal battle with the Justice Department, finally securing a pardon from Trump in November 2020. Flynn joined President Trump and his attorney, Sidney Powell, after the election for discussions on how to overturn the results, including using the military.

History will fill in the story on President Biden’s team, but selection was organized and the group mostly has strong backgrounds for their positions. As Chris Hill pointed out: “This is not a team of rivals, but rather friends and colleagues. It should increase coordination and reduce leaks.”

Inaugurals: Trump and Biden

Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama with spouses were present at the inaugurations of both Donald Trump and Joe Biden. When asked why attend the Trump inauguration given his treatment of them in the campaign. both the Clintons and Bush said it was to “honor the peaceful transition of power.” At the end of the short dystopian speech, George W. Bush was reported to have summed up the general reaction with: “That was some weird shit.”

Not surprising, since it was written by Steven Bannon and Steve Miller, Trump’s two leading proponents of populism and nationalism. The speech began with an attack on the Washington establishment sitting behind him and then described a vision of the country he labeled “American carnage.” It proposed a nationalism that closed borders and put "America first." He ended with a pledge that he was the singular leader to start the winning and would never let people down.

Shortly after the speech, a long-running argument raged around Trump’s claim that he had the largest crowed in inaugural history. It wasn’t – estimated at 600,000. President Obama had one million in 2012 and 1.8 million in 2008. The speech was quickly received by European populists, anti-globalists, Euroskeptics and others as an affirmation of their movements.

Biden’s subdued inauguration had little audience, but a record number of troops and everyone was masked. It was a longer speech and offered a much more hopeful vision of the country. Given the pandemic and recent transition culminating in a riot in the Capitol, he spoke more of unity and the relief democracy had survived the last four years. He focused his speech on the hardship the virus had caused and promised it would receive his full attention. Also, he pressed on the desire for racial justice and the need to defeat political extremism.

Donald Trump was not at the speech. The peaceful transfer of power was never something he intended to “honor.”

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Biden Defends Democracy

It is significant that Joe Biden’s first visit to a department was State. He wants to revive America’s diplomats and make diplomacy the centerpiece of the country’s foreign policy. Also, he spoke to the importance of supporting democracy worldwide.

“…American people are going to emerge from this moment stronger, more determined, and better equipped to unite the world in fighting to defend democracy…” and counter those “advocating authoritarianism.”

It is a timely shift. Democracy has been on the defensive for more than a decade. The list of smaller countries with fragile political cultures that have backslided on their modest democratic cultures is joined by major powers attempting to aggressively undermine democracy. The U.S. is not at the top of the list of democracies after recent deterioration.

Democracy today is not considered a yes or no condition, but rather a continuum. Many authoritarian countries hold elections, but they lack independent information and competition. The scale involves the examination of elements, like rule of law; pluralism; freedom of speech, assembly and religion; an independent judiciary; free press; and most important, the peaceful transfer of power.

Russia’s goal is to reduce the civic cohesion of the U.S. and Western Europe. China with its wealth, diplomacy and guile actively offers its technocratic authoritarianism as an alternative model for development. It is quashing democracy in Hong Kong and targeting Taiwan next.

Authoritarian countries use state power to silence critics and rivals. Russia has used security agents to poison critics in other countries and arrests rivals within the country. China applies its marketing power to coerce censorship in organizations that want access to its market, for example, the NBA.

American People Believe Democracy in Trouble

Only 16 percent of Americans believe democracy is working well. Nearly half (45%) believe it’s in trouble in a new AP-NORC poll.

Not surprising, a second presidential impeachment trial within a year is underway with the charge of insurrection to overturn the election.

Rep. Jason Crow (C) and other people shelter in the House gallery as a mob
of pro-Trump supporters try to break into the House Chamber
at the U.S. Capitol, Jan. 6, 2021 | Andrew Harnik/AP

Just to reinforce the trouble democracy is in, only 52 percent (Gallup 2021) of the public prior to the prosecution case believed former President Trump should be impeached and two-thirds of self-identified Republicans still adhered to the “big lie” that Trump won the election.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

America Right on the Move

In four years, Donald Trump has become nearly a cult leader of the American far right. An examination of his speeches, tweets and behavior is a textbook instruction on organizing a right-wing political movement. The effort weaves together three important political themes: populism, or defending ordinary people’s interests against the elite, which often needs a strong leader to successfully espouse; nationalism, loyalty to nation above other nations; and authoritarianism, submission to an authoritative, strong leader. Among the communication and organizing themes and tactics are:

Civilization Threatened
The anti-immigrant strategy was good politics in the 2016 Republican primaries and a key part of the general messaging that Western values and civilization are threatened by outsiders. Close the borders and keep out the “other.” (Populist slogans, nationalist themes)
In policy and numerous speeches, sovereignty is praised, especially at the UN, Trump declared that each country should serve its own interests. It led to opposition to multilateralism, including the UN, but also criticism of U.S. alliances like NATO. He believed alliances are costly constraints. The slogan “America First” sums it up. (Populist slogans, nationalist rhetoric, authoritarianism)

Beginning with the inaugural address references to Washington elites taking advantage of the people, anti-establishmentism continued through draining the swamp and the endless attacks on legacy media, Trump regularly used populist rhetoric to target institutions and individuals that constrained him and critics and opponents. He conducted generalized attacks on professionals, scientists, military leaders and legal institutions. He removed critical administrators, whistleblowers and inspector generals. (Populism, authoritarianism)
Macho Politics
Trump’s language and actions are ill-tempered and hostile. He’s a master in the attacks and weaponized social media. He favors rallies and revels in chants: “lock her up,’ and “build the wall.” Violence is often rationalized and even welcomed. (Populism, nationalism, authoritarianism)
Polarize Electorate
A key strategy is to divide the public and focus affection on that segment that supports him and his agenda. The outsiders are identified, disparaged and isolated, if possible. (Nationalism)

In the end, the movement blended some establishment Republicans, many average Americans, especially in the white working class, and some extremist groups. How long it lasts as a political movement may depend on Trump’s ability to inspire and manage it, but the elements of populism, nationalism and authoritarianism are always present.

Boebert – A Fluke or the Future?

Nick Riccardi in an AP story speculated on the possible takeover of even competitive congressional districts by the extreme wings of the respective parties. It was assumed the Marjorie Taylor-Greene’s would represent a safe district in which primaries are the entire battle. But Lauren Boebert’s district has a modest Republican edge in a state trending Democratic. It was last represented by a Democrat in 2010. And, a modest change due to redistricting could make it more competitive.

But the argument that the incumbency of Congressperson Tipton made the district safer for Republicans and that seniority is valuable had little sway with the Trump base in 2020. Boebert won the general election with the same margin in most counties as Trump – 51 percent.

My comment to Riccardi was that partisanship is so dominant today, even an extreme nominee is likely to receive the party vote, which in the Third Congressional District is enough.

“Are we so locked in, so partisan, that it overshadows everything, even in these close districts?” asked Floyd Ciruli, a veteran Colorado pollster. “Bringing out such controversial forces and taking out an incumbent were not dangerous, even in a district like that.”

Hence, my view is that with extreme polarization this may be the future of both parties. They can expect primary challenges from their respective wings in even “lean” districts.

Lauren Boebert (C) recites the Pledge of Allegiance with her mother, Shawn
Bentz (L), State Senator Ray Scott (C) and Senator Cory Gardner (R) during
 a get-out-the-vote-rally at Grand Junction Motor Speedway in Grand Junction,
 Nov. 2, 2020 | Barton Glasser, Special to The Colorado Sun

Reported in The Sun, Feb. 8, 2021:  A fluke or the future? Boebert shakes up Colorado district

Thursday, February 4, 2021

Presidential Abuse of Power

The upcoming impeachment trial for Donald Trump will focus on the events of January 6, but the overreaching topic will be the crisis of democracy that has been ongoing. Although American democracy always faces challenges, it has been under repeated assault during the last four years. In a presentation on Feb. 3 for Boulder OLLI, “American Democracy in Crisis,” one topic was a discussion of the claims that presidential power has been abused well outside of historic norms, with some actions possibly unconstitutional or illegal reflected in the charges in the Mueller report and two impeachments by the House of Representatives. A list used in the presentation follows.

The effort to disable the transition of power, culminating in the January 6, 2021 riot, was only the most recent and dramatic White House action. The list of presidential abuse of power is large and includes politicizing the Justice Department, the U.S. Military and various agencies of science; the obstruction of the Mueller investigation; and the firing of whistleblowers and inspector generals.

The frequent attacks on legacy media and the use of social media to spread false information, foment division, attack rivals and critics reduced accountability and undermined democratic governance. Mr. Trump weaponized the White House and all the instruments of presidential power for his reelection, from staging his national convention on the south lawn, to the repeated use of Air Force One as his campaign backdrop.

American democracy held, but it is damaged and the country’s international reputation in shambles. The authoritarian behavior and rhetoric had a high cost.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Voter Polarization Grows

The partisan gap has nearly doubled since the Nixon era. As measured by the difference in the parties’ positions on presidential approval, it is now a record high of 80 percentage points, a jump from 70 points, another record, reported during the Trump era. President Ronald Reagan, a polarizing president at the time, registered a more modest 52 point difference between Republicans and Democrats who approved of his job performance. Today with President Biden, the gap is sky-high due to the 91 percent of Democrats who approve of him and the 11 percent of Republicans who early in his term approve of his performance (several other early polls had different approval numbers, but the gap was consistently above 70 points).

This record spread between the parties measured by presidential approval is accompanied with an increase in the intense and negative feelings about the other party and its candidates. Most voters tell pollsters that they mainly voted for their party’s candidate not because of a positive impression, but because they disliked the opposition candidate and party more. So, that about two-thirds of each parties’ identifiers voted more against Trump or Biden than in favor of their respective party’s candidate.

That reflects polls showing party members’ viewpoints that the other party will cause existential damage if it comes to power. There will be “lasting harm” if it wins and that the other party has incompatible “core American values and goals.” In other words, they can’t be allowed to retain or gain power.

Finally, the latest presidential party differences are not only intense, but they have spread down the ballot to other races, so senate, congressional and even local state races are increasingly in near perfect party alignment. And, partisan differences have spread to relations between family members, work, media selection and across political topics, such as how people see economic conditions. We are in the age of intense, negative partisan polarization.

Monday, February 1, 2021

American Democracy in Crisis – OLLI Boulder

January 6, 2021 was a 9/11 event for democracy. The transition of power – a bedrock element of American democracy from George Washington through Barack Obama – was directly challenged by a mob motivated, assembled and inspired by President Donald Trump, his family and retainers. A webinar sponsored by the Boulder OLLI Speaker Series on February 3 will examine the crisis of democracy in America.

Although after four years of the Trump presidency, American democracy held, it is damaged and serious threats lie ahead. Strong, dramatic and collective action will be needed to repair it. 

The First Week: Biden vs. Trump – Crossley Center Zoom Event, Feb. 9, 2021

President Joe Biden has inherited a formidable set of challenges, from a pandemic still spreading, a crippled economy, a social justice crisis, an injured political system and a weakened position in a threatening world.

Providing a perspective on the transitions, the inaugurals, and President Trump’s and President Biden’s first weeks in office are former Ambassador Christopher Hill, now at Columbia University; Colorado College professor (retired) and Presidential Scholar Tom Cronin; and Crossley Center Director Floyd Ciruli.

Join us on Zoom February 9 at 11:00 am.