Denver author Josiah Hesse launches debut coming-of-age horror novel ‘Carnality’

Jacob lives unhinged on an island in the middle of an Iowa lake, squatting a burned out motel, smoking weed, eating hunted animals and running around naked.

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Josiah Hesse’s first novel Carnality: Dancing on Red Lake is terrifying. Mixing childhood nostalgia, nightmarish surrealism, hallucinatory anxiety and pop and evangelical cultural history, this coming-of-age story pulls readers through three generations of religious abuse, mental illness and drug addiction.

The author, who will be reading from his novel tonight in Denver at Syntax Psychic Opera, was raised in Iowa, where he grew up in an evangelical family obsessed with demonic possession, the impending return of Christ and apocalyptic iconography.

As a kid, fully immersed in Jesus-land, Hesse was haunted by the idea that evil spirits were around him at all times. He was engaged in constant “spiritual warfare.” His parents, who were out of the house a lot, would leave him at home, where he suffered through panic attacks and feared his thoughts would open up a door for demons. It took him years to admit to himself that he had quit believing in God and even longer to take the Lord’s name in vain – something he now relishes doing.

His book’s protagonist, Jacob, is a monstrous creature born from Hesse’s childhood woes. Jacob narrates his own all-too-human memories of growing up with dysfunctional parents – unhappy people suffering an unfortunate, abusive marital collision between hippie liberation and doomsday Christianity – who mostly neglect their kids. Carnality also explores Jacob’s parents’ coming-of-age. Through their story, Hesse traces the lines between revolutionary, drug-addled 60s subculture and the rightwing, evangelical movement that has defined the last 50 years of political strife in the United States.

As Jacob tells his family’ story, he lives unhinged on an island in the middle of an Iowa lake, squatting a burned out motel, smoking weed, eating hunted animals and running around naked. He is the essential Christian-turned-skeptic, stripped of his spiritual defenses and suffering alone in his memories and self-obsession. He’s without God, without family and without community.

Great coming-of-age stories (think Stephen King’s novella The Body, which the movie Stand By Me is based on, or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird) merge all the hope that comes with being young with the realization that youthful optimism is doomed. Carnality has that tone. Because this book leaves a lot deliciously unresolved, readers are sure to get hooked and hope Hesse finishes the next five volumes of this series as soon as possible.

Hesse, who is releasing his novel the same way a punk band organizes its own bar show, has put together an impressive lineup of readers and musicians including A. Tom Collins’ lead singer Aaron Collins, Andy Thomas author of Hell is in New Jersey and Suspect Press editor Ken Arkind. Roger Green will play music while Hesse performs from his book. John Wenzel of The Denver Post will interview Hesse live. After the show, there will be a dance party at Lipgloss. The free show starts at 7 p.m. at 554 South Broadway. Copies of the book will be available for $12. For more information about Hesse’s writing, go to his website.

 

Photo credit: Francisco Goya, Witches’ Sabbath

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Rep. John Buckner, D-Aurora, passed away today after a brief respiratory illness that pulled him out of the legislature in the final weeks of the session. Fellow lawmakers responded on Twitter.

Buckner, a former educator of 40 years, was the chair of the House Education Committee and one of the early architects of this year’s standardized-testing-reduction grand compromise.

Buckner was a strong advocate for public education and civic life.

“Government should be an active participant in the creation of opportunities. I am wholly confident in the American system and … I believe that collectively, we are much better than we are individually,” Buckner said in his first 2012 bid for office, according to the Aurora Sentinel.

Buckner chats with school kids, as he did for decades. Image via Rep. Jessie Danielson. 

Fired breast-milk pumping mother settles with Big League Haircuts

“We hope that this settlement sends a clear message to all employers on the Western Slope and throughout Colorado that no mother can or should be forced to choose between breastfeeding her baby and keeping her job.”

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Big League Haircuts had a big problem with an employee, Ashley Provino, pumping breast milk at work. The Grand Junction-based barbershop canned her. But she fought back.

Provino and the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado joined forces and sued. Now, Big League Haircuts has settled, changing company policy to make sure employees have space and time to pump and compensating Provino with an undisclosed amount of money.

“We hope that this settlement sends a clear message to all employers on the Western Slope and throughout Colorado that no mother can or should be forced to choose between breastfeeding her baby and keeping her job,” staff attorney Rebecca Wallace said in a press release.

Since 2008, when the Workplace Accommodations for Nursing Mothers Act passed in Colorado, mothers have had the right to pump at work, though many employers have had a steep learning curve. The ACLU has worked with DISH Network and settled another suit with a Jefferson County charter school to improve conditions for nursing mothers.

 

Photo credit: planet_oleary, Creative Commons, Flickr.

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Minimal benefits

This is what the minimum wage means: There’s not a state in America in which a full-time worker making minimum wage could afford the average one-bedroom apartment. Not one. In Colorado, according to a report released by the Low Income Housing Coalition, a minimum wage worker would have to work 75 hours to afford that one-bedroom place. Via Vox.

Big dig

So far ISIS has not destroyed the storied ancient ruins of Palmyra in Syria. What they’ve done instead is fix the power station, turn on the water pumps and hand out free bread. They have also left dozens of bodies of dead Syrian soldiers in the streets. Via The New York Times.

Actually shocked

This time Washington actually is shocked by bad behavior. Everyone is confused by how former House speaker Dennis Hastert came to be indicted by the FBI for lying about payments made for what appears to be blackmail. Via The Daily Beast.

Impossible dream

Peggy Noonan explains why Hillary Clinton’s bid to become president is inevitable or impossible. Or neither. Or both. That’s why Noonan calls it a paradox. Via The Wall Street Journal.

Fishy science

So a “young-earth” creationist walks into a basement to find a fossil of a fish that is not exactly young. It’s 60 million years old, according to the scientists. The Canadian creationist who found it is an avid fossil hunter. He sees the 60 million year old fossil and believes it fits neatly into the belief that the earth is only 6,000 years old. Via The Washington Post.

Negative charge

It’s pretty clear that the dozens of Republican presidential candidates are pretty much united on one thing: that whatever Barack Obama is doing on Iraq, Iran and Syria is wrong. They’re also, though, pretty much united on not exactly having a plan of their own. Via Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post.

Left turn

Martin O’Malley is about to kick off his campaign for the Democratic nomination. So far he trails not just Hillary Clinton in the polls, but everyone else, including all the people who aren’t running. But that’s not his problem, writes Brian Beutler in The New Republic. The former Maryland governor’s problem is that he has to run to Clinton’s left, and whatever room there is to the left, Bernie Sanders seems to have already taken.

New technology

The latest from Google technology: They’re testing a way to buy your food at McDonald’s without taking out your wallet. Or without taking out your phone. Now if they could just figure out how to take the calories out of McDonald’s fries. Via Time.

 

Photo credit: Denis Bocquet, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Immigrants wait on backlogged courts for citizenship

These immigrants have spouses and children who are citizens. They have clean records. They have steady jobs. And they have taken the necessary steps to go before an immigration court and petition to become citizens. But still, they have to wait.

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Glenwood Springs immigration attorney Erin Richards has two clients who should be well on their way to becoming U.S. citizens. They have spouses and children who are citizens. They have clean records. They have steady jobs. And they have taken the necessary steps to go before an immigration court and petition to become citizens.

But their cases are on hold, meaning their lives are in limbo – for years. They can’t get their needed days in court because of a huge backlog of immigration cases. That backlog has been exacerbated by a federal policy that has pushed these types of cases to the bottom of the priority pile while cases of detained immigrants and those involving minors seeking legal status are moved to the top.

That means the Colorado immigrants who don’t fall into those categories have to continue to pay a fee every other year to have their quasi legal status extended. They can’t visit their home countries. They aren’t eligible for citizen benefits. They still live in fear of being removed from the United States.

It’s been really hard to tell our clients what the expectations are,” Richards said about the years-long wait time for court dates.

A glimmer of relief is now in sight for some of those immigrants in the 8,700 backlogged cases with wait times stretching into 2019 in the Denver Immigration Court.

The two Denver immigration judges who have been assigned to hear priority cases in other states via video for the past eight months, are being allowed by the Justice Department’s Executive Office for Immigration Review to take up their dockets in Denver again. That will begin June 1.

But Judges Donn Livingston and Eileen Trujillo won’t be back on the Denver bench full-time for a while. They are also helping part-time Judge John W. Davis and Judge Mimi Tsankov to whittle the pile-up of cases at the Aurora Detention Center where wait times that are not supposed to exceed 60 days have stretched to six months.

Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, which tracks immigration court statistics, currently reports 256 cases pending at that facility with an average wait time of 113 days.

In the downtown Denver court, the clearinghouse lists the average wait time at 811 days compared to a national average for the 56 U.S. Immigration courts at 598 days.

We have one of the smaller courts here in Denver, and I think we feel this a little more acutely,” said Denver immigration attorney Jennifer Casey, who also serves as an immigration-court liaison to the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

The Denver court covers a four-state area (Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming) with only three full-time judges. It is designated to have seven judges, but there have been several retirements in recent years. The appointment of more judges has languished in budgetary and political problems.

The situation in the Denver court has grown more acute since October, 2014, when two judges were directed to set aside their normal dockets and to hear only video cases for unaccompanied minors and mothers-with-children detained in Artesia, N.M and later Dilley, Texas. That was part of a national Justice Department shuffle designed to move these priority cases more quickly through a system staggering under a national backlog of more than 440,000 cases.

The numbers of cases considered priority shot up during a surge of unaccompanied minors and mothers with children who began crossing the southern border in 2013 in response to increasing gang violence in Central America. The U.S. government retrofitted a law enforcement training center in remote Artesia that year to house hundreds of these immigrants. Last year, Artesia was closed when a new detention center was built near Dilley.

Now that Colorado’s immigration judges are no longer having to hear Dilley cases, some attorneys and immigrants had hope that the wait times would begin to shrink. That hasn’t happened yet. And it likely won’t happen soon.

New judges aren’t expected to be appointed in Denver until 2016. In the meantime, several judges from other immigration courts may be assigned to hear Denver court cases for short periods. If that help comes through, the Denver court will be able to once again start setting dates for hearings sooner than November, 2019.

Denver immigration attorney David Kolko wrote in a recent blog posting that immigrants who aren’t in detention shouldn’t expect their court dates to be moved up quickly.

We continue to be hopeful that we will see Immigration Reform in 2015 and that this reform includes funding for additional immigration judges nationwide,” Kolko wrote. “Until then, many foreign nationals will continue their frustrating wait for consideration of their applications for immigration benefits before our Immigration Courts.”

Richards said, for one of her clients in particular, the wait could mean he will never earn U.S. citizenship. If he has to wait more than three years, his children will be over the age of 18 and his case will be weakened by the fact that his children will no longer be minors. If they turn 21 before he has his day in court, he will not be eligible at all.

He will no longer be able to ask the court for citizenship,” Richards said. “He will have been denied his due process.”

 

Photo credit: David Sadler, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Legislature warns Denver: Hands off marijuana pesticide regulation

“The goal is that pesticides are used properly and public health is protected.”

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Before they adjourned on May 6, the Colorado General Assembly sent a little warning to the city of Denver: Pesticide regulations are the purview of the state, not the city.

In March, the City of Denver’s Department of Environmental Health inspected 10 marijuana grow facilities. It required several growers to quarantine their plants based on pesticide use the department considered dangerous for human consumption. One grower had to quarantine 60,000 plants, which means they cannot be sold for people to consume. Losses for the growers could total in the millions, since some plants can be valued up to $1,000 each.

The pesticides at issue are Eagle 20EW and Avid. Neither is labeled for marijuana use, but that’s not surprising. No pesticide is labeled for marijuana use because the plant is still illegal under federal law.

The Colorado Department of Agriculture developed an 18-page list of pesticides that could be used for marijuana. If a pesticide isn’t listed, it’s better not to use it.

That’s the problem with Eagle 20EW and Avid. They don’t appear on that list. They don’t even appear on a one-page list, also from the Department of Agriculture, of pesticides not allowed for marijuana.

The Department of Environmental Health began doing inspections of marijuana grow facilities almost as soon as it was legalized, according to city spokesman Dan Rowland. The department’s authority regarding pesticides comes under its mission of public health and for consumer protection. It’s a fine line between that claim and that of the Department of Agriculture, which regulates pesticides under the state pesticide act and its mission of worker protection.

But at least one lawmaker isn’t buying that fine line. And he got the other 99 legislators to agree.

On the 119th day of the 2015 legislative session, the state Senate took up House Bill 15-1367. The bill as introduced would ask voters to allow the state to keep $58 million in marijuana tax revenue. Those dollars exceeded the TABOR (Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights) revenue limits and must be refunded unless voters say otherwise. That voter referendum would appear on the November ballot.

When the bill hit the Senate Appropriations Committee, its sponsor, Sen. Pat Steadman, D-Denver, added $314,000 to the Department of Agriculture’s budget.  Those dollars would come from the state’s marijuana-tax cash fund. Steadman said it would be spent on pesticide inspections for marijuana. It also allows the department to hire four people to conduct those inspections.

The bill came up for second reading in the Senate on May 5. That’s when Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, attached a short half-page amendment, buried in the 33-page bill, that stated pesticide regulations are the purview of the state, including those related to marijuana cultivation.

Under the amendment, local governments are barred from adopting or to “continue in effect” any ordinance, rule, resolution or statute regarding the use of pesticides for marijuana.

Sonnenberg told The Colorado Independent he felt Denver had overstepped its authority on pesticides and wanted to make sure other municipalities didn’t get the same idea. He had been working on the issue for several weeks and originally planned to run a separate bill. But he abandoned that idea in part because he wasn’t sure the bill would get all the way through the legislature. And when he saw HB 1367, Sonnenberg said he found it was a much easier way to deal with the problem.

The amendment was approved; the Senate passed the bill on May 6 and the House adopted the Senate amendments. HB 1367 now awaits signing by Gov. John Hickenlooper. He has until the end of next week to sign or veto it.

But it’s unlikely that the amendment will change those Department of Environmental Health inspections.

Rowland told The Colorado Independent the department has the authority to protect consumer health and safety. “It’s a consumer protection issue. [The Department} keeps food that may be harmful from being served” to consumers, and in this case, the pesticide use raises concerns about the safety of marijuana for consumers, he explained.

Rowland and others also pointed to the collaborative work between the department and the state Department of Agriculture. That agency can sample a plant and test it at the request of the city, another place where the lines of authority come into play. The Department of Environmental Health cannot tell a grower to stop using a particular pesticide, but it can order the plants into quarantine. A grower then must decide whether to wait for the testing results from the Department of Agriculture, or the grower can decide to destroy the plant. Rowland said some growers have already gotten rid of affected plants.

On the other hand, the Department of Agriculture can order a grower or pesticide applicator to discontinue use of a particular pesticide, according to John Scott, pesticides section chief at the Department of Agriculture. Scott also acknowledges the fine line between the city’s authority and that of his agency.

Scott believes that the HB 1367 amendment won’t change how pesticides are regulated. “It clarifies state uniformity standards,” he said. He believes the amendment simply says local governments cannot regulate pesticide use. “We commended Denver for bringing to our attention” the application of pesticides to marijuana, Scott said.

“There is a fine line, but everyone has stayed on their side of the fence with communication and cooperation between agencies. Where our authority stops, theirs picks up [and vice versa]. The goal is that pesticides are used properly and public health is protected,” Scott said.

The amendment may still cause problems, either for municipalities, growers or even the state. After the March action by the city, one of the growers, Organic Greens, sought a court order to lift the quarantine. Even though the law had not been signed, the amendment to HB 1367 became part of the discussion. But Judge John Madden disregarded it and sided with the city in his ruling last week.

Once signed, more challenges to Denver’s authority and other local governments may be on the horizon. And there’s also a possibility of a challenge to the law itself.

Kevin Bommer of the Colorado Municipal League told The Independent that while they don’t plan a challenge, they strongly feel the amendment should never have gone into the bill. The CML’s concerns are two-fold. Something that important shouldn’t have been added to a bill on the 119th day of the session, he said this week. There’s also the matter of the bill’s subject title, which dealt with retail taxes for marijuana. Bommer said it could be challenged under the state’s single-subject law. It wouldn’t necessarily affect the rest of the law regarding the referendum, since the amendment could be judged strictly on its own merits, he said.

“It doesn’t do the proponents any good to tack [the amendment] onto the bill when it can be challenged on single subject,” Bommer said. By doing it the wrong way, he added, the sponsors set themselves up should anyone want to challenge it.

Sonnenberg said this week that he believed the bill title was broad enough to allow for his amendment. But if there’s a challenge, he said this is as good a thing to challenge on, and he looks forward to defending it.

The governor’s office has not looked at the amendment from a single-subject perspective, according to Andrew Freedman, who handles the office’s marijuana coordination. “We saw [the amendment] as a reaffirmation of powers granted in the pesticide applicators act,” he said. As to the single-subject issue, “we leave that to the parliamentarians.”

 

Photo credit: Mike Lewinski, Creative Commons, Flickr.

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Arturo Hernandez Garcia, 42, has been waiting seven months in the basement of the First Unitarian Church of Denver for some shift in national immigration policy that will lift his final deportation order and allow him to return home to his wife and children in Thornton.

On Tuesday a federal appeals court upheld a Texas judge’s move to freeze Obama’s immigration executive actions during a 26-state legal challenge. That means Garcia and the 30,000-plus other Coloradans who could qualify for deportation relief under the actions will have to continue to wait.

“If he’s out in public, if he’s back home, ICE [Immigration Customs Enforcement] could pick him up at any point and immediately deport him,” said Jenn Piper of the Metro Denver Sanctuary Coalition. “He wouldn’t have a right to another hearing or to a stay… the consequence would be immediate deportation.”

Not so long ago, Garcia was leading a blessed life. He owned his own tiling company with half a dozen employees and a home for his wife and two daughters.

But in 2010, Garcia learned the hard way that his life, liberties and pursuit of happiness were threatened after a racially-charged argument with another contractor put Garcia before a judge and his undocumented status before ICE.

Though the judicial system found Garcia innocent of the assault he was charged with, the damage was done. He has been fighting deportation proceedings for five years.

Garcia with his family and supporters just weeks into his sanctuary at First Unitarian in Denver. Photo by Tessa Cheek.

Last November, in the midst of midterm elections, Garcia effectively ran out of time. Facing separation from his family and deportation to a country he has not called home for fifteen years, Garcia turned to the church, seeking sanctuary because ICE typically does not conduct immigration raids in schools and places of worship. His family tries to visit him every day.

Despite the political hit comprehensive immigration reform took in November, things appeared to be looking up for Garcia when news broke of President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

In addition to protecting child arrivals from deportation (DACA), Obama ordered that the parents of legal citizens or residents should be able to stay as well — so long as they arrived before 2010 and had a clean criminal record.

Garcia, whose 10-year old daughter was born in this country, could qualify for “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans” or DAPA, giving him a way out of the church basement and back to work and home.

At the same time, ICE issued new deportation priorities intended to focus proceedings first on those with criminal records and then on “immigration violators” who have resisted or refused deportation orders — as Arturo did in an effort to exercise his right to appeal his case.

Immigration activists say that the new ICE priorities, which were intended to shift the agency’s resources to “dangerous aliens,” have actually made things worse for immigrants like Garcia.

Piper pointed out that a single bureaucrat is often responsible for making the final, life-changing decision about whether to use discretion in a given deportation case. It’s also something of a “black box” in which discretion decisions are passed down without explanation, review or the possibility of appeal. The system is highly irregular, often producing opposite outcomes for nearly identical cases.

“I feel for them [these immigration officials],” said Piper. “The executive is telling them one thing, Congress is telling them another, and they have to figure out how to navigate all these conflating priorities and PR nightmares.”

ICE officials did not respond to request for comment.

The day after the courts agreed to freeze Obama’s immigration actions, Piper and other immigration activists protested at the Colorado state Capitol. They called for a quick resolution to the immigration relief delays. They also asked ICE to grant more discretion in cases like Garcia’s and to be more open with the community about how they make those decisions.

Garcia, who was unable to leave the church, issued the following statement rallying supporters to protest deportations and immigration-reform inaction with a nationwide strike:

“June 16th through the 18th we’re calling for a nationwide fast to make it clear we hold the national ICE office and DHS [Department of Homeland Security] responsible for a failure to implement policies and priorities that would protect families like mine,” Garcia wrote. “Members of the local [sanctuary movement] will travel to DC to lead the fast in front of ICE headquarters together with other national groups and call for discretion in my case and others. Will you join us in fasting either in DC or locally?”

The courts could decide on the the legality of Obama’s immigration actions as early as July, though whichever way the decision goes it is likely to be appealed.

 

Immigration activists from The American Friends Service Committee gather to protest a court ruling to freeze Obama’s immigration executive actions. Image via the AFSC. 

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Big splash

Many environmentalists are thrilled that the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Waters of the United States” conservation effort passed. Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton are calling the new rule a “federal intrusion,” arguing for local solutions, reports The Daily Sentinel.

Grande conservation

Speaking of local solutions, 25,000 acres along the Rio Grande have been conserved by The Rio Grande Headwaters Land Trust and the 4UR Ranch. “It’s rewarding to know that lynx, and elk and moose and all of the other wildlife that depend upon Goose Creek will continue to thrive there, and never know the difference,” said Nancy Butler, the land trust’s executive director, to The Chieftain.

Open book

Wondering what went on in James Holmes’ mind before the Aurora theater shooting? Read for yourself. Via The Gazette.

Fine times

Problems continue to surface for embattled Colorado Department of Human Services executive director Reggie Bicha. Now, the state is facing a $1 million federal sanction because of unreported changes to the state’s food-assistance program, reports The Denver Post.

License to snoop

Denver police are giddy about their successes recovering stolen cars using new license-plate scanners. But some critics are saying the scanners may violate basic privacy. “I’m sure there’s a certain amount of law enforcement benefit to finding stolen cars,” ACLU public policy director Denise Maes said to The Denver Post. “But we give up a lot of privacy for what we think is in the name of public safety, and I always wonder if that’s something of a false choice.”

Pink panther

Never fear, Denverites. The “Pink Thong Bandit” has been captured. Via The Denver Post.

Criminal justice

The MacArthur Foundation just gave Mesa County a $150,000 grant to cut back its jail population, reports The Daily Sentinel. It’s part of the foundation’s national effort to reform the criminal justice system.

 

Photo credit: Mark Byzewski, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Can more plumbing save Colorado’s water?

Colorado’s new water plan is in large part about whether and when there should be any new water diversions, where they will go, who will benefit and who will pay for them.

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When Colorado’s tourism marketing gurus wanted to show the world what the state is all about, they used television spots evoking the powerful call of wild rivers — hikers gazing at waterfalls, anglers wading in still, dawn-lit waters and kayakers and rafters paddling through whitewater. But are those images more myth or reality?

Most of the state’s water is private property, under lock and key.

Thousands of diversions – canals and pipelines — move water to where it’s needed for crops, factories and drinking water. This intricately engineered plumbing system has fundamentally reshaped Colorado’s landscape. Water diversions allow millions of people to live in the semi-desert rain-shadow east of the Rockies, and enable vast emerald alfalfa fields to thrive in the otherwise dry sagebrush steppe of the Western Slope.

Colorado’s new water plan is in large part about deciding whether and when there will be new diversions, who will benefit and who will pay for them.

Most of Colorado's water has been tamed by vast system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines, controlled not by nature, but by valves like this one, used to divert water from Straight Creek to the town of Dillon.

Most of Colorado’s water has been tamed by a vast system of dams, reservoirs and pipelines, controlled not by nature, but by valves like this one, used to divert water from Straight Creek to the town of Dillon.

Colorado, by law and policy, has actively promoted water development for more than 100 years. Thousands of miles of streams and rivers have been dammed, diverted and polluted to provide water for factories, farms, cities, mines and oil and gas operations. As a result, Colorado’s environment has suffered.

Water gushes through a concrete spillway at the base of Dillon Dam.

Water gushes through a concrete spillway at the base of Dillon Dam.

The evolving Colorado water plan talks about the importance of leaving waters in rivers, but finding the flexibility and “extra” water to account for environmental needs like native-Colorado-river fish won’t be easy.

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A state water commissioner checks an automated streamflow gage along Tenmile Creek. The readings help determine how much of the water flows to Denver via Dillon Reservoir and how much goes on into the Colorado River.

Colorado, of course, is not alone.  More than 30 percent of rivers in the United States are impaired or polluted. So much water is drawn from rivers that many no longer flow to the sea year-round. As a result, the extinction rate for freshwater animals like fish and mollusks is five time higher than for land animals.

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Denver Water’s  Moffat Tunnel diversion shunts water from the Fraser River, in Grand County, to the Front Range.

The first draft of the new Colorado water plan recognizes that leaving water in rivers and streams is important, but it’s not clear whether the final version of the plan, due by the end of this year, will include any specific goals for for maintaining healthy streams.

Below the

A water diversion on Jim Creek, tributary to the Fraser River in Grand County, reduces the flow to a sickly reddish trickle.

All over the mountains and Western Slope, residents worry more water will be taken from rivers and streams to the Front Range. Many communities have allied themselves with conservation groups to ensure that streams aren’t dried up.

Grand County resident Kirk Klancke (R) and Trout Unlimitie's Erica Stock discusss how taking water from the Fraser River affects the local economy and environment.

Grand County resident Kirk Klancke (R) and Trout Unlimited’s Erica Stock discuss how taking water from the Fraser River affects the local economy and environment.

The evolving water plan acknowledges the environment, but when it comes to specific actions, water planners generally defer to Colorado water law, which puts few limits on using water for farms and towns, but says that rivers and streams can only get protection to “a reasonable degree,” a standard that is a moving target often subject to interpretation by courts.

This is what water wonks call "infrastructure."

This is what water wonks call “infrastructure.”

Water development has enabled millions of Coloradans to water their lawns and golf courses, but at what cost? Conservation advocates decry calls for shipping more water from what’s left of mountain streams to irrigate grass in the dry plains of eastern Colorado, while Front Range cities, with more than 80 percent of the state’s population, seek to ensure sustainable water supplies for the future.

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In July 2012, during the peak of a ferocious drought, millions of gallons of water were used to irrigate acres of grassy medians and commercial property along Tower Road, in Denver.

How will Coloradans decide to use our state’s water? Read The Colorado Independent’s first few stories on the water plan here, and visit the Colorado Water Plan website to learn how you can get involved.

Wiretap: Sense and nonsense in Obamacare’s Supreme Court ride

…and more news debated around the world.

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Threat, no threat

Ezra Klein writes in Vox that The New York Times blows a major hole through the Obamacare case soon to be decided by the Supreme Court. The case, writes Klein, rests on two concepts. In one, the case makes some sense, but doesn’t pose any real threat to Obamacare. In another, it poses a real threat to Obamacare, but doesn’t, as the Times points out, make any sense at all.

Nothing new

Megan McCardle reads the same Times piece and, writing in Bloomberg View, says it doesn’t say anything new and that, in any case, if you read the law, you see that the Supreme Court should decide against Obamacare, because that’s how the law reads.

Primary source

Or you could just read the Times piece itself, in which Robert Pear interviews the people who actually wrote the law, and decide for yourself.

Angel of death

Meet Ernie Chambers, the Nebraska legislator who brought down the state’s death penalty. On his 36th try. Via The Guardian.

Trickle down

The arguments against immigration reform usually start these days with a case to secure the border and then comes, maybe, reform – if not amnesty. There’s one problem with the argument: The flow of illegal immigrants across the Mexican border is at its lowest point in two decades. Via The Washington Post.

Foul ball

The big news in the sports world is that the United States, rarely a player in world soccer, has brought a huge case against FIFA, the ruling body. There are at least two questions, other than how the world’s largest sport can be so crooked: Why is the United States bringing the case? And why does the sport’s leader remain basically unscathed? Via The New York Times.

Heads up

The soccer scandal doesn’t begin or end with rampant corruption, however. There is also a terrible human toll. Via The Washington Post.

Left turn

The conventional wisdom is that the ever-widening political gap in America is a result of the Republican Party going ever further to the right. Peter Wehner, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, argues that it’s actually the Democrats who have moved further to the left. Via The New York Times.

Chaos theory

John Nash’s game theory: The triumph and the failure in trying to impose some order on the chaos that is life. Via The New Yorker.

 

Photo credit: LaDawna Howard, Creative Commons, Flickr.

RTD will reach ‘revenue targets’ by charging the poor

“I know the Denver community is struggling with a lot of problems right now, but RTD can’t be the solution to all of them.”

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Regional Transportation District passed sweeping bus and light-rail fare changes, yesterday, including a bus-fare hike from $2.25 to $2.60 that some community members say would make it impossible for them to get to work, school and doctor’s appointments.

With the fare increase, RTD will lose 2 percent of its riders – about 2 million riders per year, according to staff who researched and designed the proposal. However, at the Tuesday Board Meeting, director Bill James said raising fares was “the only choice we really have” to meet revenue targets.

Over 45 community members spoke against the increase. Many of these people come from poor, working class communities, deal with disability, experience homelessness and/or do not speak English.

Some worried that their bus lines would get cut when riders couldn’t afford the new bus fares. When ridership goes down on a route, RTD cannot justify continuing to operate it.

That is exactly what happened to Route 4, that served the Westwood neighborhood, over a year ago.

After the bus line was shut down, community activist Maricruz Herrera led a major door-to-door campaign to inform and organize people in her neighborhood to flood RTD offices and ask the company to reinstate the bus line.

Eventually, she won the fight. And she was pleased.

Yesterday, she showed up to the meeting, somber, fearing RTD would once again cut her line if fares were raised and fewer passengers took the No. 4.

“My route is a lifeline to work, medical care and education for many,” she said. “Your actions are dramatically affecting the Hispanic community where I live.”

Other residents and community advocates stressed that the poor and disabled will be most affected by the fare hike.

As the board began to vote for the proposal, one activist from the economic justice organization 9to5 Colorado stood and shouted, “You are contributing to poverty issues in Denver… This is a direct violation of the public that sits here before you!”

She and others began to sing a slow song:

We need a way to get
We need a way to get
Here to there
From here to there.

Board Vice-Chair Tom Tobiasson ordered security to remove the activists.

The Vote

All but one of the 11 board members voted yes on the proposal. Paul Solano said it was “in direct conflict with the working people,” and that he could not vote for it.

“There’s no such thing as a free lunch,” said board member Kent Bagley.

Residents didn’t understand why fares are increasing if services are not being improved. Advocates said that the hike is not justified since more than 80 percent of RTD’s revenues is paid for by state sales tax and federal grants.

People were concerned that slow bus schedules would prevent riders from reaching destinations on time, resulting in lost wages, missed medical appointments and missed educational opportunities.

Others were concerned that the cash system on the bus wasn’t efficient. Buses and drivers aren’t equipped to give change back to customers, causing them to overpay.

Many residents explained that with the fare hike, it will be cheaper, overall, to have a car than to ride the bus.

“It’s humiliating, and it’s a class issue,” said a former nurse who now lives in transitional housing.

Some board members sympathized with the public explaining that they too had struggles in life, but had found ways around them.

“I rode the bus system as a kid, and I was poor,” said Jeff Walker, one of the two African American RTD board members. “But we got by with what we had. I believe people will be able to scrounge up what they have [to keep on riding the bus],” he said.

Board member Claudia Folska, who is legally blind, said she identified with the struggles of the disabled community. But she still voted for the increase.

“I know the Denver community is struggling with a lot of problems right now,” Folska said, “but RTD can’t be the solution to all of them.”

Lawsuit says public-school prayer circles, Christian concerts, Bible study violate law

“I don’t believe the Constitution was meant to keep God out of the schools.”

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“WE CAN DO THIS CHRISTIAN FOLKS!!!! BRING OUR GOD BACK INTO OUR SCHOOLS, OUR CITIES, COUNTIES, STATES AND OUR COUNTRY,” Pastor Randy Pfaff of The Cowboy Church at Crossroads blogged May 4, for the National Day of Prayer.

National Day of Prayer announcement at Florence High

The Cowboy Church meets every Sunday at the publicly funded Florence High School, part of the Fremont RE-2 School District. There, Pfaff organizes flagpole prayer sessions, Bible study classes, and The Fellowship of Christian Huskies – named after the school mascot.

Now, Robert Basevitz, a Jewish teacher, is suing the district for what he sees as the unconstitutional and illegal practice of religion in a public school.

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According to the suit, the principal, Brian Schipper, helps deliver evangelical flyers, and staff joins Pfaff and students for daily Christian prayers – sometimes so well attended the prayers block the building’s entrance. Basevitz says the faculty lounge has a prayer request box, and Schipper has introduced Christian rock concerts and a school assembly “based off the scripture Matthew 7:13.”

Cowboy Crossroads Church at Florence High School

When Basevitz was first hired, he had no idea the school had such a religious bent. When he discovered multiple Christian-sponsored events and the staff’s involvement, he complained. According to the suit, the administration largely ignored his grievances and informed the staff and students he was Jewish. They ostracized him.

With no other recourse, he sued, arguing religion in the schools was unconstitutional and illegal and demanding that the Court stop the defendants from “engaging in any further such activity.”

“We’re a school. We educate kids,” said Principal Brian Schipper to The Denver Post. “We educate kids in every academic area and social area and life area. Religion’s not in our curriculum anywhere.”

Christianity may not be in the curriculum, but it is in and around the building.

Here is evidence presented in the court document.

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Democrats’ ‘liberty-minded’ foe Sen. Laura Woods talks bills, kills and conundrums

“I shot a 100-round drum one day and it was the funnest thing ever, on a tommy gun. It was a blast.”

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“So we started this session with Dems saying they were going to take me out,” Republican Sen. Laura Woods said, opening a community meeting in a Westminster strip-mall donut shop. “I was their ticket to getting the majority back in the senate and they really hated not having the majority in the senate this year.”

With hot pink fingernails and toenails to match, Woods is the picture of a put-together suburban summer. But beneath a dark pixie cut, she’s all business.

Woods went from self-employed court reporter to politico by playing an instrumental role in the 2013 gun-control-motivated recall effort against Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak. Hudak ultimately resigned and was replaced by Democratic appointee Sen. Rachel Zenzinger.

Last fall, sensing vulnerability in Jefferson County’s Senate District 19, Woods hacked her way through a tough primary against the GOP establishment favorite, Lang Sias. Many in the party worried Woods was too conservative to win the swing district. She ultimately beat Zenzinger – by fewer than 1,000 votes.

Democrats have been aiming to topple Woods ever since. Her win in November at least temporarily tipped the scale and the Senate swung Republican. But although she won a general election, Woods will have to run again when Hudak’s original term expires in 2016.

“We came in knowing [Dems] were going to work against my bills,” said Woods to her constituents. “They tried to, they said they were going to, and they did.”

Indeed, many of Woods’ early bills were foiled by Democrats. They squashed her attempts to repeal the Colorado Civil Rights Act as it applies to small businesses and to repeal the background check requirement for private gun sales.

Some of her proposals were so libertarian that they earned a few no-votes from moderate Republicans, too. Such was the case for her bill to stop law enforcement from taking suspects’ property – a process called civil forfeiture.

Woods quickly bonded with “liberty-minded” members of the Senate GOP. She joined established leaders in the crusades not just for gun-control repeals but for election integrity and education reform. Ultimately only Sen. Vicki Marble, R-Fort Collins, voted against her own party’s leadership as much as Woods did.

Even so, Woods ultimately sponsored 13 successful bills in her freshman session. Every one of them had at least bipartisan co-sponsorship, as is virtually required for passage in a split-legislature.

Many of the constituents who showed up to the donut shop a week after the session wrapped bought into Woods’ brand back when it was pure gun-control repeals and recalls.

Her supporters are a tough, largely white-male crew, many of whom pitched in on her long-shot campaign last fall. They loathe the status quo, from education to mail balloting, and seem nearly as skeptical of both political parties as they are of big government.

Woods is at ease with this crowd.

Even so, most of their questions for her had to do with bills she wasn’t able to pass.

The Senator’s most-lamented measure was known as “the mom’s bill,” which would have removed Colorado from federal Common Core K-12 education standards by the fall of 2016.

“It’s garbage,” Woods said of the standards. “It’s debunking American exceptionalism. It’s a rewriting of history. They start American history at the Civil War. So we’re not even going to talk about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence.”

Woods vowed to carry the bill again with Marble, but she said the issue would ultimately be driven by elections.

“We’ve got to get more liberty-minded conservatives elected,” she said. “That’s what we have to do to get some real change on education.”

The same, Woods suggested, was more or less true for the the issue that put her in the senate to begin with — the grassroots movement to repeal several 2013 gun control measures, starting with a law that limits magazines to 15 rounds.

Short of winning more majorities, Woods’s constituents were curious about where she stands on a gun control compromise they’d heard had the Republican Party split. Faced with the current political impracticalities of repealing the 15-round magazine ban, should gunnies make a 30-round deal?

The conservative think tank, the Independence Institute, floated the idea last session when word got out that a 30-round compromise might persuade a few key Democrats and even Gov. John Hickenlooper himself to up the limit. Political heavyweight Rocky Mountain Gun Owners quickly rallied its troops against the idea.

“If I was on the farm, I’d say it caused a pissing match between the Independence Institute and the gun-owners groups,” Woods said to laughter. “We’re gonna be split on it if the issue comes back.”

“I shot a 100-round drum one day and it was the funnest thing ever, on a tommy gun. It was a blast,” Woods added. “Gun people realize it’s a slippery slope . You give them a 30-round limit. Why would they stop there? I’m not going to vote for a 30-round limit. I will vote for a full-out repeal.”

“Amen,” said a man in the group.

“I think it’s constitutional, and that’s what I stand by,” said Woods.

“You know what I will vote for?” the man continued. “I will vote for you, for senator.”

“You will?” Woods asked with a smile. “It will cost me some votes. I know some of the gun people will line up with the Independence Institute and think I should vote for less, and I just can’t. It’s gonna be tough.”

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Court ruling

United States courts v. Barack Obama. How the courts could do undo Obama’s legacy on, for starters, Obamacare, immigration, same-sex marriage and climate change. Some of the legal challenges may not end by the time Obama has left office in January 2017. Via The Washington Post.

Dried up

Looking for a way to exploit the California drought? Try immigrant bashing. Blaming immigrants for California’s water problems is the new thing, writes Michael Hiltzik in The Los Angeles Times. It’s wrong, he says, but that doesn’t mean it won’t work.

Uncertain shifts

Ruben Navarette writes in the San Diego Union-Tribune that the long history of Restrictionist Hillary makes him skeptical of what kind of follow through we could expect from Reform Hillary.

Second verse

Were you excited by Rand Paul’s last “filibuster”? Probably not. It got around one-tenth the Twitter traffic his first one did. And if you read his book, you may understand why. Dana Milbank says that it reads like a great campaign strategy — if he were running against Hillary Clinton for the Democratic nomination. It turns out, he isn’t. Via The Washington Post.

Two strikes

A Vox explainer: Why Secretary of Defense Ash Carter’s gaffe on ISIS and Iraq was even worse than you think. Not only was he wrong on the willingness of the Iraqi army to fight, writes Zach Beauchamp, but more than that, what he said was entirely counterproductive to American strategy.

Fox hole

Jack Shafer writes what liberals get wrong about Fox News, which, he insists, is just about everything. It’s not as powerful as they think. It’s not a GOP kingmaker. It doesn’t sway unsuspecting swing voters, who basically don’t watch. Self-described conservative Bruce Bartlett has written an influential paper saying Fox is bad for the GOP. Shafer says Bartlett has it wrong, too. Via Politico.

Death policy

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts vetoed the bill that would abolish the state’s death penalty, and now the unicameral legislature will hold an override vote. The bill passed, on third reading, by 32-15, with 30 votes needed for an override. Via The New York Times.

Drill bill

Will the latest oil spill off the coast of Santa Barbara finally convince the California assembly to ban drilling there? They tried in 2014 — and failed. Via The New Yorker.

 

Photo credit: Cliff, Creative Commons, Flickr.