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State of the Union GOP Response -- Kiss of Death?; Raising the Minimum Wage; Lessons from Christopher Dorner

Aired February 13, 2013 - 10:30   ET



CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome to our new half hour show "Talk Balk". Three hot topics and great guests and of course, your comments.

First up, first "Talk Back" question: "Does the Dorner case teach us anything about guns?"

Christopher Dorner, self-justified killer and gun control advocate. Ironic, yes? Police believe Dorner had up to 30 guns while a fugitive. Yet in his Facebook manifesto Dorner wrote, quote, "In the end, I hope you will realize that the small arms I utilize should not be accessed with ease that I obtained them, whether by executive order or through a bipartisan Congress, an assault weapons ban needs to be reinstituted, period."

Now this comes from a man who hours before his apparent death sparked a gun battle that killed one deputy and wounded another.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes we have an officer down. Officer down.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Copy, officer down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Medic ships in the air. Medic ships in the air.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Another officer down?


COSTELLO: While the cabin burned, President Obama pleaded for stricter gun bills to be brought to the floor.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Gabby Giffords deserves a vote. The families of Newtown deserve a vote. The families of Aurora deserve a vote. The families of Oak Creek and Tucson and Blacksburg and the countless other communities ripped open by gun violence, they deserve a simple vote.


COSTELLO: A lot of you are probably saying, why should we care what a cold-blooded killer says? Should his words even be part of our conversation on guns? Or do they shed light on an issue that continues to divide and confuse many Americans?

I know it's a tough question and it's uncomfortable, but I'm going to ask it anyway this morning. "Talk Back" question: "Does the Dorner case teach us anything about guns?"

So let's start the conversation now. Joining me are Jason Johnson, chief political correspondent for Politic 365, and Hiram College political science professor and CNN contributor and "New York Times" op-ed columnist, Ross Douthat, and Van Jones, also a CNN contributor and former official in the Obama White House. Welcome to you all.




COSTELLO: Good morning. OK, we'll start with this very tough topic and I'll start with you, Jason, should we care what Dorner has to say about guns?

JOHNSON: Yes because he says -- he says a lot about more than just guns. He tells us a lot about how our urban police departments are working, he tells us a lot about corruption, he tells us a lot about institutionalized racism. His story is the kind of testimony that we need to take a look at how America operates in general.

Yes, it's too easy for people to get access to guns. Yes, we don't have enough proper health care, mental health care for people who come back and serve. And yes, we need to do a lot more work within our police departments and make sure corruption does not just permeate everything.

So I think this case is very telling and very important.

COSTELLO: Yes, but Ross this guy was so vile and so evil it's certainly easy to dismiss any thought he might have had.

DOUTHAT: I don't think we should dismiss his thoughts out of hand. I think crazy people and evil people can obviously make good points in the course of coming to evil conclusions, but I'm going to go out on a limb and give my liberal friends a lot of credit and say that they can probably come up with better arguments for gun control than the ranting of this guy in his Facebook manifesto.

And I also think it's a little bit extraordinary that we're having a conversation like this and compared to the conversation we had, say, after the Jared Lee Loughner shooting of Gabby Giffords where in a case where you had a guy who had no political motivations whatsoever there was this immediate discussion about how this was an indictment of the Tea Party and of Sarah Palin and of right-wing inciting the violence.

Now you have a psychotic killer who has published a manifesto that expresses basically left-wing ideas and the takeaway is supposed to be that we should enact left-wing policy proposals?

It just seems like there's a slight double standard in how the media reacts to these -- to these kind of rampages, don't you think?

COSTELLO: OK so well, I'd have to kind of agree with you, Ross.


DOUTHAT: You're right we'll go to Van. I'll ask -- I'll ask Van.

COSTELLO: Let's go to Van, let's go to Van and let him take this one on.

JONES: Well, first of all, I think, you know, we have a family that's grieving right now. It's very hard for me to kind of make the shift away from the death and destruction from yesterday.

Those men who were shot, the officer who lost his life, they were doing nothing but their job. They were trying to keep us safe. Those families are shocked and devastated. If they have any relatives or friends that are watching this, I think they would be a little disturbed to hear us, you know, going on talking about a Facebook manifesto.

There are many better spokespersons for the cause of racial justice than this murderer. There are many better spokespersons in Los Angeles who have been working for the reform of that police department through legal and lawful means and they are not being discussed. And I think we're going down a very dangerous road.

I think the people who deserve to be talked about today are the victims of this violence and the legitimate people who have been trying to make positive change in peaceful, lawful ways.

I don't want to reference him in any way except for what he was, which was someone very disturbed, as Ross said, maybe some good points on the way to a very, very despicable acts, my heart goes out to the families.

COSTELLO: OK so Jason, you're the odd man out.

JOHNSON: Yes, I'm sorry, I think sometimes the sort of extreme behavior of disturbed people, it can be telling. And it doesn't have to be an either/or. Just because he identifies the fact that the L.A. Police Department pretty much works like training day, it doesn't mean that there aren't local people who also should be given a voice.

But I do think when someone has, you know, pre-explained mental difficulties, when someone says, yes, I have problems, when they say that the stress and difficulty and the lack of feedback that I get in this position may have influenced me behaving in this way, I do think that's telling. It doesn't make him, you know, the roles of parks of gun violence, but I do think his story is telling and the kind of thing that we can learn from, it doesn't have to be an either/or.

COSTELLO: And -- and Ross, I would only say one more thing. We always wonder why killers kill, we want to know why. So what's the problem with figuring out what this man's thoughts were and trying to figure out how to stop violent actions from -- like this from happening again?


DOUTHAT: There is no, there is no --

JONES: Now that agree with, I agree with you 100 percent. The only thing I'm saying is to then go and pull his political ideas forward and polish those up, that's where I draw the line. I think it's a question of mental health as the questions of the other issues are perfectly fine. But I don't want to validate his political thinking while people are literally planning funerals for -- for --

COSTELLO: And Ross, button this up for us.

DOUTHAT: Right, I would -- I would just say that you know I'm -- I'm pro-life, for instance. And there are obviously cases where Americans who are opposed to abortion go nuts, take matters into their own hands, shoot abortion doctors, commit horrible crimes and I wouldn't think it was appropriate for me to come on CNN after something like that happened and said, well, this just shows that this person was driven to this crime by the evil of abortion. I think Van is absolutely right. In these kinds of moments, you know, you want to focus on the victims, you want to condemn the crime and you want to save the political points the person may have been inspired by for a more appropriate time.

COSTELLO: OK well, let's turn to our Facebook page because, of course, we care what our friends have to say about this, too.

"Talk Back" question again:"Does the Dorner case teach us anything about guns?"

This from Terry, "He was just trying to cause more confusion for those of us who enjoy guns especially law enforcement, obviously he cared less about the lives of others."

And from Amanda, "Dorner has a point about the ease in which a person can obtain a weapon. Gun control laws are just as useless as an umbrella in a monsoon."

Please keep the conversation going. Or tweet me at @CarolCNN.

Still to come on "Talk Back": "Should the minimum wage be raised?"


COSTELLO: Our second "Talk Back" topic of the day: "Should the minimum wage be raised?" President Obama says he wants to help more Americans make it into the middle-class. One way to do that, pay them more.


OBAMA: Tonight, let's declare that in the wealthiest nation on earth no one who works full time should have to live in poverty and raise the federal minimum wage to $9 an hour. We should be able to get that done.


COSTELLO: And link the minimum wage to inflation, it sounds good, right? 19 states have a higher minimum wage than the national one. Expect push back, though. We're already hearing complaints from small business owners who will be paying more for employee insurance under Obamacare and from Congress House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan says linking the minimum wage to inflation will only hurt, not help, the working poor.

So the "Talk Back" question: "Should the minimum wage be raised?" and I'm going to start with you, Ross, but just keep in mind when the President mentioned raising the minimum wage the Twitter verse went crazy, 24,000 tweets per minute. People are very into this topic, so I'll ask you, "Should the minimum wage be raised?"

DOUTHAT: Well, there are two problems with raising the minimum wage as policy -- as a policy to help low-income Americans. And the first is a possibility that you end up with businesses cutting back on hiring basically, saying, well, we aren't going to be able to hire that that extra worker obviously at a time of high unemployment and particularly high low-skilled unemployment.

And there's a lot of debate about this among economists, but there's at least some possibility that that's a real problem.

The other problem is you encourage off-the-books hiring, right? You encourage people to say, well, I'll hire you for $7 an hour but I'm not going to, you know, pay taxes on it, report it and so on. And this links up in certain ways to the debate over illegal immigration, where if we're trying to move people out of the shadows, if President Obama supports a path to citizenship and so on, policies that encourage a black market in labor could end up having the opposite effect.

That said it is a real problem, I think there are just other ways to boost incomes. Things like the payroll tax cut which both parties sort of allowed to expire during the last -- during the last budget debate, the earned income tax credit. Basically policies that end up increasing take-home pay without penalizing employers I think there are a better way to go about that.

COSTELLO: OK so -- so Van, even if you raised the minimum wage to $9 an hour people would still be living in poverty they only be making about $18,000 a year.

JONES: But they'd still be making a couple thousand more than they would have. Here's the thing, there's a -- this is almost like sort of an article of faith for the various parties. Luckily now there's actual statistical data. You've got five major studies, you've got 35 times now where states have raised the minimum wage, 21 times, those states actually beat the average and when it comes to economic performance. So the idea that this is some kind of going to tank the economy, hurt the economy is not true.

The other thing that I think is really important to point out is that on the one hand it may make it harder for that one more marginal hire at first, but more people will be walking around with money in their pockets and so that same store owner is going to have more customers.

The other thing you want to I think has not been talked about at all and I don't know why, we have now the top 500 companies in America have $1.5 trillion in cash that they're just sitting on. These are not companies that are being taxed to death, regulated to death, they can barely hold on. They are sitting -- the top 500 companies right now are sitting on $1.5 trillion in cash, if those companies are encouraged to pay their workers a little bit better that's more money into the economy and that's a good thing.

COSTELLO: Yes -- yes but Jason, you could encourage business owners all you want to pay people more, but they look at their bottom line, they're in it to make money.

JOHNSON: Right, right.

JONES: They're doing just fine.

JASON JOHNSON, POLITIC365: If you can pay somebody in India $2 that's what they're going to do unfortunately. Usually our members of Congress both on the right and left let them get away with it.

Look, here's the issue. If you're going to raise the minimum wage, there are going to be some businesses negatively affected. It also becomes more expensive. But here's the larger issue, $9 an hour, $18,000 a year, what people really need -- what the poor really need in this country is functional health care. What the poor really need in this country is halfway decent streets. What poor people actually need in this country is mass transportation that's affordable.

What is $9 an hour if I'm paying $3.50 a gallon for gas? So I think there are other things that we can do. Minimum wage, improving it is great, but there are other ways that people could be helped that Obama could get involved in that will also bolster the value of the minimum wage increase. I don't think this should be the beginning and end of the story.

COSTELLO: Ross, anything the President comes up with has to make its way through Congress and when he mentioned this minimum wage, there's already a rumor going through that Paul Ryan rolled his eyes.

DOUTHAT: Was it a rumor or can we confirm it on videotape? No, I think this is -- you know, the State of the Union included a few policies that might have some chance of actually passing, it included a number of things that the President intends to do by executive order. And then you had a lot of issues like the minimum wage where he's basically laying down a marker and trying to in certain ways you could say move the center left.

I think there's sort of a policy vacuum on the right, right now. Republicans still don't have a clear alternative agenda of their own and I think the President sees an opportunity even with bills that aren't necessarily going to pass to say here's what I want to do for the working class, here's what I want to do for the middle-class, and if Republicans say no, well, then, we'll go beat you in 2014.

COSTELLO: OK. Van, go ahead. Button it up for us.

JONES: Ross, this idea, you are saying it's a left-wing idea, this is the most popular idea in American politics. 85 percent of Americans agree that this was the most popular line in the speech even more so than guns. This is -- this is dead in the middle center. It's just that the right now's so far to the right that it's seen as a left-wing idea to do something that 85 percent of the country wants to do.


DOUTHAT: I just say something can be left wing and popular, right?

JOHNSON: Yes. And it's a good idea. I don't think we can agree with that.

COSTELLO: We have like Nirvana now. OK. We want to hear from the Facebook friends. The Talk Back question: "Should the minimum question be raised."

This from Bernicia, "You are doggone right it should be raised. Slavery ended years ago, supposedly. And hourly workers usually do the most work."

And this from David, "Only if you want the cost of everything sold in America to go up. Employers will have to pass the higher wage cost on to the consumers."

Please keep the conversation going. or tweet me @CarolcNN.

The last "Talk Back" question of the morning: "Is giving the State of the Union response, the political kiss of death?"


COSTELLO: Our final "Talk Back" question today -- is giving the State of the Union response like the kiss of death? They're calling it "the gulp". It happened when Senator Marco Rubio was responding to the President's State of the Union.


SEN. MARCO RUBIO (R), FLORIDA: In the short time that I've been here in Washington, nothing has frustrated me more than false choices like the one the President laid out tonight. The choice isn't just between big government or big business. What we need is an accountable, efficient and effective government. COSTELLO: That was just so unfortunate. You can bet the gulp and not Rubio's plea for smaller government is what most people are going to remember, but, hey, rebutting the president's ovation-filled speech is never easy. Others have flopped. Remember Bobby Jindal's awkward folksiness? And of course, there's Michele Bachmann's -- well, there's Bobby Jindal right there. And you do remember Michele Bachmann's sideways stare, nobody could figure out what the heck she was looking at.

But before speaking it really helps to know where your camera and your water are at all times. So the "Talk Back" question: "Is giving the State of the Union response the kiss of death?"

Jason, I'm going to start with you. I mean why bother with the Republican response? Why not do it the next day?

JOHNSON: Yes, I don't know why people don't do it the next day. I've said if you look at history over the last 30 years you've had dozens and dozens of people take on this role. Only three times has it actually led to somebody being on the ticket, Bill Clinton, Bob Dole, and Paul Ryan.

I think it's important for the out party to have a response, but I don't necessarily -- if Marco Rubio thinks that this is going to springboard him into being the Republican nominee, I think he's incredibly naive. But ultimately he just didn't do that good a job. I mean one he contradicted much of what his own party stands for and he tried to refight (ph) the 2012 election. So I don't think it was his best performance and it certainly isn't going to help him or harm him certainly when he's going for 2016.

COSTELLO: And Ross, I would posture that, you know, the President's speech ends at 10:00 at night, are people really going to stay awake and really listen to Marco Rubio's response?

DOUTHAT: Well, no, probably not. I mean, yes. Look, these kind of responses are the ultimate thankless job and yet they're a job that's often given to rising stars, potential leaders and so on, so you have a sort of collision of potential and possibility and the grim sort of competing with the president, you are speaking without an audience and so on.

I think, you know, the gulp aside, Rubio did -- probably did what he from his own political perspective wanted to accomplish. I think the -- if you look at sort of the immediate response among Republicans, which is really his real audience for that -- for those remarks, the response was pretty favorable. And I think that that's sort of -- this is a speech that won't be -- won't be remembered the way Jindal's and Bachmann's were --

COSTELLO: Thank God for that.

DOUTHAT: -- you know. And I think, look, I think Republicans want to like Marco Rubio, that's the story right now, that's why he was given the State of the Union response. I don't think the fact that he, you know, reached for a water bottle is going to change that. Because the party thinks that he's the man to rebrand them right now.

COSTELLO: Yes, but, Van, all I -- all I will remember -- stop that, Ross -- all I will remember is Rubio going for that water bottle. I won't remember anything he said.


JONES: Well --

JOHNSON: Most people won't.

JONES: Let me just say -- Let me say a couple things about this. First of all, I'm very glad he reached for that water bottle. Rubio is dangerous for Democrats. I'm so glad that we're talking about him and that we're joking about him, because right when he reached for that water bottle, he was reaching an emotional part of that speech when he stepped on and he found it again at the end of that speech. The last 90 seconds of that speech shows you the danger that he poses to Democrats.

He is to the heart what Paul Ryan is to the head. I'm not saying he's not also equally intelligent, but this man can connect emotionally, the Democrats dodged a bullet. We've not heard the last from Marco Rubio.

I want to talk about not what he -- what he was, you know, not able to say with the water bottle. Some of the stuff that he said is kind of scary. He voted against the violence against women act the day before, a few hours before. But -- so this guy has a very extreme record. He's very much like Paul -- Rand Paul, his record, so you got a guy with a very extreme record. And yet he can connect emotionally.

He's dangerous for Democrats. I think people can chuckle today. They're going to be worried about this guy tomorrow.

COSTELLO: Well, yes. Because -- and I know you want to jump in, Jason. I was just going to say Marco Rubio was on "Good Morning America", he said, hey, I was thirsty, what do you expect me to do? I mean he did show a very human side that made him very real to people.

JOHNSON: The fact that he can laugh about it really helps him out but, you know, reality is for most people who aren't heavily into news, all they're going to know is what "Saturday Night Live" says about this over the weekend so, again, it's not necessarily all that helpful for him but I also think this is important to remember, you know, Marco Rubio contradicted much of his own party. And I think it's telling.

You know watch Rand Paul and the tea party response right afterwards, he still represents a broken party. He still represents a Republican Party that still wants to fight the wars of the last 10 to 15 years and doesn't really have much of a future and I don't think he really helped coalesce the party at all with the speech. time may call him the Republican savior, I think we're still looking.

COSTELLO: OK. We're going to have to wrap this up because there's a live press conference coming your way at the top of the hour from the LAPD. Thanks to all of you. Thank you so much.

Facebook friends, I do want to read some your responses. The question is -- is giving the State of the Union response like the kiss of death?

This from Darlene, "Give the man a break. Even our pastor gets thirsty and grabs a drink. Don't make a mountain out of a molehill."

And this from Dan, "It may be the audition for the real thing if they want to run for president and the media will be a lot more picky than Simon Cowell ever will be."

Keep the conversation going:, or tweet me @CarolCNN.

Coming up at the top of the hour, the LAPD will be giving us the latest on the manhunt for Christopher Dorner. Actually they'll be giving us the latest whether the charred body in the burned-out cabin is indeed of that of Christopher Dorner.

We'll be right back.


COSTELLO: Thank you for joining me this morning. I'm Carol Costello. Newsroom continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.