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Miller HudsonNovember 21, 20158min196

While there is satisfaction in Colorado’s hipness — the first state to retail legal marijuana, younger and healthier on average than our 49 compatriots and the No. 1 destination for migrating millennials — we tend to repress our history as the site of both the Columbine High School killings and the Aurora movie theater slaughter. The Columbine victims have a tasteful memorial, as may the Aurora dead one of these days. Discussion of these events is regarded as rather tasteless at chamber of commerce luncheons. The rest of the world has not forgotten, however. In the past month three very different publications, Mother Jones, The New Yorker and the London Review of Books, have published articles examining the germinal role that Columbine has played in subsequent assaults around the globe, aided and abetted by a social media fascination with Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris.

In “Inside the Race to Stop the Next Mass Shooter,” Mother Jones writer Mark Follman identifies 72 plots and attacks in 30 states “whose suspects and perpetrators claimed to have been inspired by the Columbine massacre.” Police averted 51 of these, while the 21 attacks that took place resulted in 89 deaths and 126 casualties, as well as nine perpetrators dead by their own hands. If we expand our focus to include non-school shootings, like James Holmes and the Aurora theater murders, the numbers climb to 486 dead and 557 wounded during the 15 years since Columbine in 1999. This carnage has prompted police departments, colleges and high schools to deploy “threat assessment” teams. Virginia, Illinois and Connecticut have passed laws mandating such teams for their universities and colleges. As Follman points out, “Virtually every one of these attacks, forensic investigation show, is a predatory crime, methodically planned and executed. The weeks, months, or even years when a would be killer is escalating towards violence are a window of opportunity in which he can be detected and thwarted.”

The story of Eric Ayala, who was identified as a threat at a California high school and smothered in “wrap around” counseling services for five years, is a sobering reminder that while a threat might be contained, it is not necessarily eliminated. Following high school, when his classmates were protected, Ayala moved away and eventually gunned down a group of teenagers at a dance club before killing himself. The shooters’ cultural meme has been embroidered some since Columbine. They often kill roommates or family members before launching out into the public square in order to push up their kill quotient.

Both Andrew O’Hagan in the London Review of Books and the bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker point out these shooters are virtually always male and, undoubtedly to the consternation of many parents, have usually been identified with Asperger’s syndrome or have exhibited behavior falling somewhere on the autism scale.

O’Hagan examines the growing pattern of shooters leaving behind manifestos outlining their grievances against the world. In the case of Christopher Harper-Mercer at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, earlier this year, he chose a single student, saying, “You’re the lucky one,” to hand-deliver his diatribe to police before proceeding to kill everyone else in the class.

It was Dylan Klebold who wrote, “Life is a punishment.” But whether it was Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, who killed nearly 100, mostly children, or Vester Flanagan, the Virginia newscaster, who filmed his murders and then posted them on the Internet, social media postings had evidenced their propensity for violence months before they acted.

Perhaps the most disturbing of these recent commentaries is Gladwell’s recent “Thresholds of Violence: How school shootings catch on.” Gladwell examines the findings of Stanford sociologist Mark Granovetter, who has spent his career attempting to explain how a person does things seemingly at odds with who they are or what they think is right. Granovetter’s research extends to the behavior of mobs and the decision to riot. What prompts people who aren’t inclined to destructive violence to join in looting, throwing rocks or worse? As Gladwell reports, Granovetter concluded, “A riot was a social process in which people did things in reaction to and in combination with those around them. Social processes are driven by thresholds — which he defined as the number of people doing some activity before we agree to join them.” Gladwell proceeds to hypothesize that the growing frequency of mass shootings in the United States might be a question of thresholds — that what we are actually witnessing is a slow-motion riot that could be acquiring greater momentum. Chew on that concept.

Earlier this month, an “open-carry” monster killed three bystanders in downtown Colorado Springs. Within a week, Colorado Springs police, who dismissed 911 calls regarding the initial assailant, shot down a mimic. Copycat or coincidence? If Gladwell is correct, we could soon find ourselves living in a garrison society, much like Israel. The terrorist attacks in Paris provide yet another reason for worry. The Colorado Legislature should consider mandating threat assessments for all public facilities. Several years ago, I was traveling on horseback through rural Ireland, when one of the riders asked our guide, “Why did they build so many castles?” The reply: “Because it was dangerous to remain outside the walls after dark!”

Gladwell’s closing admonition is chilling. “In the day of Eric Harris, we could try to console ourselves with the thought that there was nothing we could do, that no law or intervention or restriction on guns could make a difference in the face of someone so evil. But the riot has now engulfed the boys who were once content to play with chemistry sets in the basement. The problem is not that there is an endless supply of deeply disturbed young men who are willing to contemplate horrific acts. It’s worse. It’s that young men no longer need to be deeply disturbed to contemplate horrific acts.”

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. Reach him at mnhwriter@msn.com


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Miller HudsonNovember 10, 20157min235

Whenever an economic turf war breaks out at the Capitol — complete with appeals for change to state law purportedly intended to provide greater consumer convenience — the public interest is rarely at stake. Rather, the purpose is almost always to make it more convenient for one set of merchandisers to capture your discretionary dollars at the expense of others. It’s not quite picking winners and losers, but it involves a heavy finger on the competitive scales.

Nearly a century has elapsed since Prohibition was approved, and more than 80 years since it was repealed. The reauthorization of legal alcoholic beverage sales pursued a unique path in each state. A handful of counties remain “dry” to this day, while several states operate a government monopoly administered through state package stores that capture both sin taxes and profits from the industry.

Colorado’s regulation of liquor sales has several features whose original rationale has been lost over the decades. It is presumed that the restriction requiring that an individual or business, however many stores they might operate, can only hold a single liquor license was designed to prevent the emergence of powerful retail empires. Whatever the intention, it has prevented chain grocers from selling full-strength beer, wine and liquor in more than a single location. For the most part, Colorado liquor stores are genuine “mom and pop” enterprises. For as long as I can remember, our grocers, usually partnered with convenience stores, have wanted to overturn this constraint. The time they went before voters, however, with a 1982 measure to allow sales of wine in grocery stores, they lost at the ballot box.
Nonetheless, as transplants pour in from states where liquor sales are permitted in grocery stores, the hope returns that voters can be persuaded to overturn our current system. It appears we will have an opportunity to vote again on the question in 2016.

Convenience is a slippery concept, susceptible to multiple interpretations. When I was a kid, milk, eggs and butter were delivered to an insulated box on our front porch. Purchasing doesn’t get any more convenient than that. Dairies were actually competing against the same grocery stores that carried their products and earning a tidy profit in the process. In large metropolitan areas such as Denver, home delivery remains available, but only at a premium price. I have to acknowledge that when vacationing it is indisputably convenient to pick up beer and booze at the grocery store, eliminating the need to search for a liquor store. But the selection is often limited, and premium brands are rarely available — satisfactory for a long weekend, perhaps, but inconvenient as a general rule. Advocates argue that the larger purchasing power of chain stores will deliver savings to consumers. In the short term, this is likely to be true. But once the chains squeeze many small neighborhood liquor stores out of business, surveys indicate prices return to market rates.

I ran the Denver Department of Excise and Licenses for several years. Among other duties, we supervised all liquor license establishments, both retail stores and saloons. During my tenure, the grocery and convenience store lobbies placed the venue question on the ballot. This is a question that does not divide along partisan lines. It pits opposing views of capitalism against one another. The free marketeers usually line up behind the grocers. Using their volume purchasing power, it is argued that savings will be passed on to consumers. When a national retailer pulls a unit train into a brewery and hauls away millions of dollars of beer at a time, they can subsequently retail a six-pack for less than local stores can purchase it wholesale. For many “mom and pop” outlets, beer represents 60 percent of monthly revenues.

As proof of the fact that an economist can be found to justify virtually any outcome, it’s often argued that closing main street stores in response to competitive pressure from Wal-Mart actually raises the American standard of living by providing a greater range of products at reduced prices to small town consumers. Even if this is true at the margins, it ignores the social cost to families and communities, whose businesses are lost and whose middle-class incomes are snatched away. Colorado’s neighborhood liquor stores play both a social and economic role that is generally overlooked. Because they are privately owned, their ownership is readily transferred. Liquor stores also offer the first rung towards the American dream for many immigrant families. They pool resources for a purchase, work long hours, train relatives with shaky English skills and merge into their new community. They also serve as informal banking institutions, cashing checks for regular customers and stocking specialty items for those with discerning preferences.

I’m happy to pay an extra 50 cents per six-pack for these relationships. And I plan to vote “no” next year when the grocers try to persuade me one more time that I will be more conveniently served once half the neighborhood stores in Colorado are forced to close their doors. This isn’t competition, in my view, but predation. Where does it end? Why not a cannabis counter, as well? That should keep the proxy purchasers in the parking lot busy!

Miller Hudson is a public affairs consultant and a former state legislator. He can be reached at mnhwriter@msn.com

CORRECTION: A measure to allow grocers to see wine was rejected by voters in 1982. A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that similar measures have failed at least once a decade.


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Miller HudsonOctober 28, 20157min208
Most Coloradans continue to obtain medical insurance through health plans managed by their employers, thereby avoiding direct interaction with Connect for Health, Colorado’s Obamacare health insurance exchange. They also know next to nothing about Colorado HealthOP, the nonprofit, consumer-driven co-op created under provisions of the Affordable Care Act, which was just forced to close its […]

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Miller HudsonOctober 16, 20157min250
I celebrated my 70th birthday on Sept. 29 with my kids, grandkids, wife and friends. The good news is that I might not have to purchase any wine until after Christmas. At my 50th birthday, I reported the only two things I was absolutely certain had improved since 1945 were beer and sunscreen. I have […]

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Miller HudsonOctober 14, 20156min158
Polly Baca, Colorado’s first female Hispanic state Senator and Democratic National committeewoman, who later served for many years as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee, shoehorned 40 Clinton supporters into her downtown Denver condo for the first Democratic presidential debate of 2016. State Rep. Angela Williams, who’s running for a Denver Senate seat next […]

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Miller HudsonOctober 8, 20157min185
In the fall of 1957 I was enrolled in Algebra I with Mr. Grzeszkiewicz at Sherwood Junior-Senior High School in Montgomery County, Md., just outside Washington, D.C. (The first 10 points on every quiz was awarded for correctly spelling Mr. G’s name on the top of your exam.) That October the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, […]

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Miller HudsonOctober 2, 20157min159
Katy Lewis, later Katy Atkinson, was one of those citizen patriots who devoted virtually the whole of her adult life to political involvement. She died last week after a lengthy fight against brain cancer. When I arrived at the Capitol in 1979, Katy was just off the Sheriff Scotty congressional campaign, when Republican Ed Scott […]

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Miller HudsonSeptember 25, 20157min170
Denver Democrats assembled at the Irish Snug on East Colfax last Wednesday night to monitor round two of the Republican slugfest intended to help winnow its ample field of Presidential candidates. A handful of diehards arrived from home after viewing the four “one-percenters” who failed to qualify for the main event. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, […]

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Miller HudsonSeptember 18, 20157min175
Colorado WINS, the state employee labor union simulacrum created by Gov. Bill Ritter through an executive order, held its “third triennial constitutional member convention” this past weekend at the Crowne Plaza in Denver. After several years of struggle, Colorado WINS has been enjoying slow-but-steady growth in its membership. A not-so-coincidental leak of a March 2015 […]

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Miller HudsonSeptember 4, 20155min158
The Steamboat Institute, consciously conceived as a conservative counterbalance to the Aspen Institute’s annual conferences, met last weekend to examine the health of the conservative project. After travel, lodging and registration, the 350-plus delegates probably dropped a thousand dollars apiece for the privilege. If you harbor any doubts that Americans are well on their way […]

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