Wiretap: Ten years after Hurricane Katrina, the blame-game rages on

… and other news bubbling up around the world.

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Wasn’t me

Brownie: Stop blaming me for Katrina. Via Politico.

Hindsight is 20-20

Seven essential facts about Katrina 10 years after – all of which point to governmental incompetence in the wake of the storm and the shoddy construction of the levees. Via Vox.

Correlation nation

Do gun laws really matter? According to The National Journal, those states with the most gun laws have the fewest gun-related deaths. There’s another question, though. Does that mean we’ll see more gun laws? (Hint: no way.)

Commute for Carter

By Saturday night, the cars in Plains, Ga., were lined up a half-mile deep to get in line to see Jimmy Carter teach his Sunday school class the next morning. There were rules for the pilgrims: Anyone could get a photo with Jimmy and Rosalyn, but the president did not do selfies. Via The Washington Post.

RIP

Oliver Sacks: From whom science became poetry. He died at age 82. Via The New York Times.

Wishful thinking

Robert Shiller writes in The New York Times that many people are worried that the cause of the volatile market is that stocks are overpriced.

The popular kids

The pros and cons of populism. In other words, the Bern and the Donald. Via The New Yorker.

Ready for the fall

OK, it was not a good summer for Hillary Clinton. But does that mean she’s really in trouble? Via The Washington Post.

Traitor

Douthat: How Donald Trump is like FDR. He’s a traitor to his class. Of course, it’s the only way he’s like FDR. Via The New York Times.

 

Photo by Lieut. Commander Mark Moran, NOAA Corps, public domain, via WikiMedia

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Wilburn Taylor has been criminalized for being poor by the city of Wheat Ridge, not once, but twice.

In March of 2014, a Wheat Ridge police officer encountered Taylor, who was in possession of a blank piece of cardboard and a pen. The officer cited Taylor for panhandling. Municipal Court Judge Christopher Randall then handed down a $100 fine — even though Taylor stated that he was jobless and could not pay.

After his deadline to pay the citation passed, a warrant was issued for his arrest. Taylor was brought back to court two more times, at which point the fines had increased to $275. Without further inquiry into his financial state, the same judge found Taylor in contempt of court for non-payment. He sentenced him to three days in jail — even though Colorado law prohibits sentencing people to jail time if they are unable to pay fines.

“It makes no sense to sentence someone to jail for failure to pay their fine when they had no ability to pay the fine,” said Mark Silverstein of the ACLU of Colorado to The Colorado Independent.  “It also violates the constitution. I don’t understand what public purpose is served by making Taylor spend several days in jail when he’s actually innocent of the crime of contempt of court. He did not have the ability to pay.”

In 2013, the ACLU of Colorado conducted a research study that found Wheat Ridge Municipal Court had issued at least 190 “pay-or-serve” warrants in a six-month period. “Pay-or-serve” warrants require a debtor to either pay the full amount of the fine or “serve time in jail to “pay down” that debt. In Wheat Ridge, debts are to be paid down at a rate of $50 per day spent in jail — despite the municipal court having no process set-up that can properly determine whether a person is financially fit to pay, which is required by state and federal law.

Overall, the ACLU sees these “pay-or-serve” warrants as a criminalization of the poor and ultimately, a cost to the city. “The city doesn’t get the fine money (when a debtor serves time in jail) and in fact, the city ends up spending $50 a day or more to lock someone up,” said Silverstein.

In 2014, House Bill 1061 was enacted, which made jailing a person for not paying their court fines illegal — if evidence showed a person’s financial situation made them unable to come up with the money. Taylor fell into this category, as he was jobless and destitute at the time of his citation and continued to be unemployed. When he was brought back to court several times for non-payment, Taylor was eventually thrown in jail for contempt of court.

The ACLU of Colorado filed a motion with the Wheat Ridge Municipal Court, stating that the court violated Colorado statute as well as Taylor’s constitutional rights. They are requesting that the court overturn Taylor’s conviction for contempt of court. The ACLU looks at Taylor’s case as one that will bring attention to the criminalization of the poor through arbitrary jail time.

“We’re hoping that this will help emphasize for that court and other municipal courts the need to comply with the new statute and the need to stop sending poor people to jail for failure to pay when they are too poor to pay their fines,” says Silverstein.

Debtor’s prisons were eliminated in the United States almost two centuries ago, but there has been a steady rise nationwide in imprisoning poor people for not paying their debts.

Colorado was the first state to enact a bill intended to halt this practice in 2014, but municipal courts across the state are still doing it illegally.

 

 

Photo credit: Joseph Kranack, Creative Commons, Flickr.

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In about two weeks, Congress is expected to vote on whether to back the deal regarding Iran’s nuclear weapons proposal. Congressional Democrats are beginning to announce their positions, while most Republicans, including those in Colorado, appear firmly against it.

Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-CO, announced yesterday he would support the Obama administration-backed deal with Iran over its nuclear weapons program. Perlmutter’s decision formalizes earlier comments that he was likely to support the deal announced by the Obama administration on July 14. Congress has 60 days from the President’s announcement to review the deal and to vote it up or down, which puts the vote at around September 14 or sooner.

In a statement issued this morning, Perlmutter said the United States and its international partners “have committed to a diplomatic solution that I believe reduces and limits Iran’s ability to develop or manufacture nuclear weapons and is in America’s best interests. This Agreement should also reduce nuclear tensions in the Middle East and will make our friend and ally, Israel, safer and less prone to nuclear conflict with Iran.”

Perlmutter said he reached his decision after reading and re-reading the agreement, discussing it with those who support and oppose it, and “listening to military and diplomatic experts, friends, family and constituents.”

The other two Democrats in Colorado’s congressional delegation have been slow to say where they stand on the issue. Rep. Diane DeGette told The Colorado Independent Wednesday that she would announce her position before the end of the summer recess.

Rep. Jared Polis said he still is evaluating the deal and taking technical advice on it. He told The Independent Wednesday that he is perhaps a week or two from announcing whether he will support the deal or not. Given its significance for national security, “it’s important that members of Congress and senators do their homework,” he said.

Republicans in the Colorado delegation appear to be unanimous in their opposition. Republican Rep. Ken Buck told The Independent Wednesday that “we’re giving the foremost state sponsor of terrorism $100 billion to $200 billion. It’s a huge mistake. We will see Iran with a nuclear weapon long before the deadlines said to be in the treaty and they will find reason to blame us and go ahead and make the weapon.”

Buck said that once Iran has the weapon, it will mean “catastrophic” proliferation throughout the Mideast, with countries such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan also gaining a nuclear weapon.

Rep. Mike Coffman, R-CO, also opposes the deal but did not comment on the record for The Independent. Rep. Doug Lamborn also is on record opposing the deal and Rep. Scott Tipton has said he would oppose any deal that “compromises the safety and security of the United States and our allies.”

The $100 billion that Iran would gain from the deal refers to the amount of Iranian assets tied up in international banks under economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. in 2012, according to the U.S. Treasury. The money comes from sales of Iranian oil; the country has been able to sell its oil but has been unable to get the revenue from those sales.

President Obama said the deal, known as a comprehensive joint operating action plan, would permanently prohibit Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. “It cuts off all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb,” he said, in a speech on August 5. “It contains the most comprehensive inspection and verification regime ever negotiated to monitor a nuclear program…it achieves one of our most critical security objectives.”

In exchange, Iran will eventually gain relief from United Nations Security Council economic sanctions that have been in place since 2006. The sanctions will not be lifted, according to the White House, until Iran completes key steps related to verification, steps that the White House estimate will take up to a year to complete. In addition, if Iran refuses to hold up its end of the deal, those sanctions can immediately be snapped back into place by the United States.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate are preparing a resolution to block the deal, and according to Politico, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-NV, may attempt a filibuster to prevent that vote. However, should the vote take place and pass, the President can veto it and it appears he has enough votes to prevent a veto override.

Sen. Cory Gardner, R-CO, is already on board as opposing the deal. He and 47 other Republican senators sent Iran a letter in March that stated they would oppose any agreement with Iran.

Colorado’s senior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, has not yet announced where he stands on the agreement. That has produced criticism from conservatives such as Jonathan Lockwood of Advancing Colorado, who said that Bennet was okay with Reid’s “playing politics” on the Senate vote.

“Sen. Michael Bennet will be a key vote on the disapproval of the Iran Deal, and he seems to have no problem with Sen. Harry Reid ‘playing politics,’ while he sits silently on the sidelines. Coloradans deserve to know where Bennet stands. Iran’s mission is to extend jihad across the face of the world and nothing could be more dangerous than empowering them and playing politics with this foolish, sinister deal.”

While Bennet’s official position on the deal has not been announced, he did criticize the 48 Republicans who signed the March letter, calling it “counterproductive.”

Jews in Colorado and nationwide are split over the deal.

A poll released Tuesday said that Colorado Jews strongly support the deal. According to Washington, DC-based J Street, 62 percent of the 400 Jewish voters polled supported the deal, with 33 percent opposed and the rest undecided.

“This poll provides yet more evidence that despite the $40 million being spent by the other side, Jewish voters continue to support the agreement and a diplomatic path to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami.

But Jeremy Shaver, assistant director for Mountain States Region of the Anti-Defamation League, said the ADL opposes the deal and is urging Congress to vote “no” on it.

The ADL has questions about the deal and “we don’t feel those questions have been satisfactorily answered,” Shaver said Thursday. One of them is whether the deal involves strategic partnerships for containing Iran within the region, which the deal doesn’t provide, he said. In addition, even with the deal, Iran will still be a nuclear threshold state.

A poll of 1,035 Jewish voters conducted in late July by Illinois-based McKeon & Associates showed they reject the deal by a 2:1 margin. The agreement also is opposed by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

 

Photo credit: Nicolas Raymond, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Wiretap: Iran deal almost sealed, but how will Senate stamp it?

… and other news sent across the world.

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Can’t touch this

Democrats are very close to getting a veto-override-proof number on the Iran nuclear deal in the Senate. Now they’re pushing for 41 votes, which would mean that the bill would never get to Obama’s desk. Via Politico.

Dead not gone

The lesson of Anwar al-Awaki: The U.S. killed him with a drone strike and now the radical cleric is more influential than ever. Was there a better way? Via The New York Times.

Control freaks

Those were the days — back in 1934 when the NRA president was in favor of gun control. It’s fair to say that things have changed. Via Vox.

Phantom candidate

The Democratic National Committee is preparing to meet and four presidential candidates will be there. But all the buzz is about the one Democrat who is staying as far away as possible. Via The National Journal.

Long way to fall

We keep hearing about Hillary’s problems, but the one-time front-runner with the real issues is Jeb! What in the world happened? (Hint: It’s not just the Donald.) Via The New Yorker.

Scandal(ish)

If you want the argument for why the Clinton email “scandal” isn’t really a scandal, read this piece in The Washington Post by David Ignatius.

Keep it up

The Trump-Cruz bromance goes on tour — bringing an anti-Iran-nuclear-deal rally to Washington sometime in September. No one could be happier about this than Obama. Via The Washington Post.

Deal with it

Let’s get past the partisan stuff and deal with the reality of the Iran deal. Here are 10 questions Obama needs to answer. Via The Atlantic.

 

Stampy Fun II by Ronald Lopez, Creative Commons, via Flickr

Littwin: There are too few arguments left in favor of death penalty

Two juries in horrific mass murder trials have spoken: The death penalty doesn’t fly in Colorado

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The death-penalty conversation we have been promised in Colorado may be over before it has had a chance to begin.

What else is there to think after a jury rejects the death penalty for convicted mass murderer Dexter Lewis only weeks after another death-qualified jury rejected the penalty for convicted mass murderer James Holmes?

If Lewis and Holmes don’t get death, who does? It’s with that question — and with the near-certain answer — that the conversation almost certainly has to end.

A jury decided that Holmes was too mentally ill for the state to execute. And a separate jury found that Lewis’s upbringing was so violent that the state couldn’t reasonably execute him for his own violent crimes.

Both juries had voted unanimously to convict. But neither jury could make the necessary unanimous decision to execute.

If you were surprised in either case — and many were stunned by the Holmes decision — you may not have weighed just how hard it is for a juror, a person not unlike you or me, to have to make a life-or-death judgment. Now think how much harder it is to get 12 people to agree.

What is increasingly clear is how few arguments are left to make in favor of the death penalty (and I say this, admittedly, as a long-time opponent). Colorado has executed one person in the past 48 years. It currently has three people on death row. There’s no deterrence argument left, if there ever was one. For that matter, it’s hard to see where there’s a justice argument left.

It’s a punishment that is used so rarely — with decades-long waits on death row for the few assigned there — that any execution now seems to be little more than random, an accident of time or place. And a random punishment, as Supreme Court Justice Steve Breyer recently wrote, can’t, by definition, be just. He called it “the antithesis of justice.”

We’re told that the ultimate penalty is reserved in Colorado for the ultimate crimes. Obviously, these cases qualify. There won’t be more horrifying crimes. The Aurora theater shootings unsettled not just our community, but an entire nation. Lewis, meanwhile, was convicted of stabbing to death five people in a robbery gone terribly wrong at Fero’s Bar and Grill in Denver. According to testimony from others in the gang, Lewis went down the line, stabbing the owner and four customers as they were held at gunpoint because he was afraid they would be witnesses against him. And then the robbery crew burned the place down to cover up their crime — one, we’re told, that netted $170.

The bar wasn’t far from my house. I must have passed it hundreds of times, and each time I looked at its boarded-up door and windows, I couldn’t help but imagine the horror of those deaths that took place inside.

But the jury was asked to weigh mitigating circumstances against the weight of the crimes. And so in the second phase of the sentencing procedure, the jurors were told by Lewis’ mother of how she beat him as a child, as a toddler, as an infant. Of how he was hit with a five-pound barbell.

It’s a strange thing to be asked to do — to measure the crimes Lewis committed against the crimes committed against him. At what point should abuse as a child translate into life in prison instead of the death penalty? What juror should be forced to make that decision? Which of us is even remotely qualified?

John Hickenlooper made that decision himself in the case of Nathan Dunlap, granting him a “temporary reprieve” rather than letting an execution go forward. He didn’t say that Dunlap deserved any form of mercy. He wouldn’t even bring himself to use Dunlap’s name. Hickenlooper said his problem was with the system of capital punishment and whether it delivers the justice that it promises. He said you can’t have an imperfect system and also have justice.

The imperfections are there for all to see, in matters of race, gender and class. It’s no wonder that only seven states executed anyone last year. The botched execution in Oklahoma of Clayton Lockett led the Nebraska legislature, of all places, to end the death penalty there, even overriding a governor’s veto to make it happen.

The arguments in Nebraska were familiar. The long, expensive appeals process. The DNA tests freeing those wrongly convicted decades ago. The stories of pharmaceutical companies getting out of the death business — leaving some states forced to buy the lethal-injection cocktail from a London middleman who shared space with a driving school.

We don’t know what arguments were made in those two Colorado jury rooms. We do know, though, where the arguments led. And we can now guess, after the two verdicts in two different jurisdictions in two very different cases, how the argument will end.

 

Photo by Andreia Bohner, Creative Commons, via Flickr

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The Colorado Independent has been following the story of Jeanette Vizguerra — an undocumented immigrant in Denver. There have been ups and downs in her six-year fight against deportation, and this week she’s on the up.

Late Tuesday afternoon, her attorney Hans Meyer got word from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that Vizguerra’s latest application for a stay of removal has been granted. The federal government no longer considers her a deportation priority — at least for the next six months.

Having a stay of removal is no guarantee she won’t be deported. But it’s a temporary reprieve, so Vizguerra’s feelings are mixed. “Honestly, I’m disappointed ICE did not approve my stay for a year as we requested. However, I’ve been through the anguish of short stays four times now, and I know February will come fast, and I intend to be ready.”

And there’s another layer to Vizguerra’s case now: She was recently the victim of a crime, qualifying her to apply for a U visa. Congress created the U visa in 2000 to offer protection for people who may be hesitant to report crimes to authorities, particularly undocumented women who experience domestic abuse or sexual assault. Part of the extensive application process is a certification from law enforcement saying the petitioner “has been helpful, is being helpful or is likely to be helpful” in the investigation or prosecution a crime.

The Denver Police Department has signed such a form for Vizguerra.

Scott Snow is director of the department’s Victims Assistance Unit, and is the sole arbiter of these certifications. He gets between 20 and 30 applications a month. Upwards of 90 percent are granted.

On the phone with The Colorado Independent, Snow laughed about jabs that he’s single-handedly turning Denver into a sanctuary city.

“This is not just a blank check,” he said. “It’s a tool that helps us build bridges with marginalized communities that may have a fear of working with police for fear of getting deported.”

Because signing a certificate of helpfulness is a matter of discretion, many agencies simply don’t do it and offer no reason why. Snow knows it’s a politicized issue, but he sees it as a matter of safety.

“When you get into immigration issues you start dividing red and blue and things start to get polarized. But this has nothing to do with that,” he said. “This is about looking at victims’ needs. Our agency wants to be responsive and inclusive of the entire community.”

The certification from DPD does not grant Vizguerra a U visa. It’s just one part of her application. U.S. Customs and Immigration Services will have the final word. If Vizguerra gets the U visa, she will be safe from deportation for four years, after which she can apply for a Green Card.

Of course being the victim of a crime is never a good thing, but Vizguerra’s attorney Hans Meyer is grateful to Denver police for signing the certificate of helpfulness.

“We thank the Denver Police Department for utilizing their discretion and signing Jeanette’s U visa certification,” he said. “It opens up a new avenue for Jeanette to seek protection under federal immigration law.”

This Saturday, Vizguerra and her supporters will celebrate at Ralston Central Park in Arvada. There will be homemade cupcakes and sugar cookies.

Local pastor Anne Dunlap said she’s honored to stand by Vizguerra. “She teaches us how not to give up fighting for a better world. I love Jeanette and love her children and want to live in a world without anguish or fear.”

Vizguerra is looking forward to Saturday at the park, “but then we’ll go back to work on what I need to do to keep my family together, here, in our home.

Photo by Nat Stein

No sparkly smiles for Denver’s anti-fluoride activists

Denver opts to keep fluoridating the water – a truth not everybody’s willing to swallow

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Libertarians, anti-communists and holistic dentists alike have formed an unlikely team to take a gulp at one of Denver’s lesser chewed on policy issues: fluoride in the water.

On Tuesday, the Denver Board of Water Commissioners voted in favor of upholding Denver Water’s long-running practice of community water fluoridation, enriching the level of fluoride in public water to the U.S. Public Health Service’s recommended 0.7 milligrams per liter.

In response to the vote’s outcome, many have taken to the Internet to voice their concerns about the potential harms of public water fluoridation. While some are strictly concerned with the chemical’s medical implications, others view water fluoridation as an issue of ethics, freedom of choice or environmental protection — and a few have even worried that municipal water fluoridation is a government conspiracy.

This pushback followed a July 29 public forum held by the Denver Water Board, in which presentations were given both for and against fluoridation.

The Denver Board of Water Commissioners vote for fluoride mirrored a statement from Gov. John Hickenlooper in July, who came out strongly in support of community water fluoridation.

The Governor’s stance is supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which states that fluoridation has been shown to reduce tooth decay by roughly 25 percent in both children and adults.

Similarly, a 2005 study cited by state dental director Katya Mauritson suggests that fluoridated water can reduce Colorado residents’ cavities by nearly 40 percent.

Much like the CDC, the United States Public Health Service has enthusiastically endorsed fluoridation of tap water since the 1950’s as a fair and affordable way to prevent tooth decay.

Several other organizations —  including the American Dental Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and World Health Organization —  also recommend community water fluoridation, citing it as a cost-effective way to promote oral health.

“Community water fluoridation provides dental health benefits across all socioeconomic communities in a predictable and uniform manner”, said Denver Water Commissioner Penfield Tate, another proponent of fluoridated tap water, in a release.

However, skeptics of community water fluoridation continue to voice their fears: Organizations like the Fluoride Action Network and Fluoride Free Colorado oppose Denver Water’s practice insisting that community fluoridation is a medical, ethical and environmental problem.

Take Alan Green, champion of what he calls “holistic dentistry.” Green thinks individuals should get to choose what drugs go into their bodies. Like many who challenge Denver Water’s policy, Green is concerned with both the medical and ethical repercussions of community water fluoridation.

In addition to being positively linked with bone cancer, said Green, fluoride in community water poses an ethical conundrum: “Here you are, in a sense, putting a medicine in the tap water… There is no informed consent.”

Several communities throughout the state, including Montrose, Colorado Springs, Palisade, and Delta currently reject water fluoridation. Around 72 percent of municipal Coloradans receive water with either natural or added fluoride.

In the meantime, Denver Water is on track to continue the practice in light of Tuesday’s vote, and anti-fluoride activists in Denver will just have to grin and bear it.

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On paper, the Colorado River is just fine.

In reality, maybe not.

It all has to do with the water levels in two reservoirs that draw their supplies from the Colorado River: Lake Powell, on the border between Utah and Arizona; and Lake Mead, which gets its water from Lake Powell.

Earlier this year, Lake Mead experienced, for the first time, a drop below a critical level. The drop lasted only about an hour, but it is a sign of things to come, and it’s raising concerns for everyone on the Colorado River.

At last week’s Colorado Water Congress, water experts discussed how changes in these two lakes will affect the Colorado River.

“It’s in our vested interests” as well as that of other Upper Colorado River states of Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico, to make sure Lake Powell stays full, according to James Eklund, director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board. Eklund is also the state representative to the Upper Colorado River Commission, an interstate administrative agency for the four states in the Upper Basin.

The problem: Lake Mead is running a “structural deficit” – it’s tapping about 2.5 million acre-feet of water per year more than it’s getting from Lake Powell. An acre-foot is the amount of water it takes to cover one acre of land by one foot, or about 325,000 gallons.

Eklund told The Colorado Independent that differences in legal interpretations of a 1922 interstate compact have led to a disagreement about just how much water the three Lower Basin states (Arizona, Nevada and California) should get.

The three Lower Basin states believe they are entitled to more water from Lake Mead, which gets its water from Powell. The Upper Basin states believe the Lower Basin states are getting exactly what they should. It’s a standoff, Eklund said this week. “Everyone’s agreed to disagree.”

That’s been okay in the past, because there was enough water in the system. But years of drought in the West have changed the situation from “more than enough” to “not enough,” according to Eklund.

Eklund pointed out that the Colorado River will send more than 9 million acre-feet to Lake Powell this year, and that happened last year, too. The compact requires only 7.5 million, on average, per year. But the Lower Basin states are still drawing about 2.5 million acre-feet more than Powell can supply. That’s put Mead below its critical levels.

The deficit has led to planning among the seven states along the Colorado to ward off potential critical low levels at Lake Powell. That plan calls for several actions, including moving water from several Upper Colorado River reservoirs to Lake Powell, and stronger conservation efforts.

There are dire consequences for everyone, Eklund told the audience at the Water Congress’ summer conference last week. Should Lake Powell drop below its critical levels, the Glen Canyon Dam could lose its ability to turn its turbines. That would result in less electrical generation, and force rural electric companies that rely on power from Glen Canyon to buy electricity elsewhere.

That leads to less money available for endangered species recovery and a system to control salt buildup where the Colorado River ends, in Mexico.

Since 1988, rural electric revenue has helped pay for species recovery for four endangered fish species on the Colorado: the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pike minnow and razorback sucker. “This has impacts for the health of the entire system,” according to Eklund.

Eklund told The Independent that all the stakeholders have seen the modeling for these scenarios.

“Everyone loses if we act in our own self-interest,” he said.

The Lower Basin states have been reluctant to talk about the deficit at Lake Mead, but that’s coming to an end, and everyone is now at the table, discussing how to manage the river system more cooperatively.

Eric Kuhn of the Colorado River Water Conservation District has been involved with the Colorado River since 1980. He pointed out during last week’s forum that 90 percent of the Colorado River water is in the Upper Basin while 90 percent of the people are in the Lower Basin, including Southern California.

Over the next few years, Kuhn said, they are looking for several solutions, including a “Godzilla El Niño” year in 2016, similar to what happened in 2011, that will help refill Mead and Powell. The El Niño in 2011 provided an additional 4 million acre-feet of water to the lakes.

Kuhn advocates for a solution among the seven states on the Colorado that keeps the parties out of court. That includes building up enough water in the lakes to create a buffer, which he said is essential.

The bottom line, according to Kuhn, is that in theory, the 2.5 million acre-feet deficit in Mead has no impact on the Colorado. Mead’s deficit has existed since the 1940s, he explained. But “in practice, the deficit has a major impact,” he said.

Could it lead to a “call” on the Colorado River? A call is when the Colorado can’t supply the amount of water required under the compact. It would require the Upper Basin states to send more water down the Colorado to Lake Powell, and it would mean less water for the Upper Basin states.

A call is years away, if ever, according to both Eklund and Kuhn. But both say it’s better to plan now when “we’re not in a crisis,” like California.

 

Photo credit: Britt Reints, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Wiretap: Roanoke shooter says he took “the ultimate selfie”

… and other news reverberating around the world.

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Meta-murder

In a Washington Post essay, Joel Achenbach calls the horror of the two journalists killed live on TV in Roanoke, Va., the “ultimate selfie” and the “new norm,” in which rage and a gun and two deaths left us with the killer’s murderous Tweet: “I filmed the shooting see Facebook.”

Copy cat

In a 23-page note the gunman sent to ABC News after the shootings, he blamed the Charleston killings for sending him “over the top.” But then he also praised the Columbine killers and the Virginia Tech shooter. Via ABC News.

Rough morning

In Southwest Virginia, viewers of TV station wake up to watch a nightmare. Via The New York Times.

Loaded promise

Following the killings, Hillary Clinton tells reporters, “We have got to do something about gun violence in America, and I will take it on.” Via Politico.

In it together

As China’s economy falters, the world economy has to figure out how to adjust. It’s tougher than you might think. Via The New York Times.

Pick a side

Who won the Trump v. Ramos showdown? It depends, of course, on whom you ask. The Washington Post’s Dave Weigel was in Spokane, Wash., for a Rand Paul rally. And everyone he asked had the same answer. Let’s just say you won’t be surprised to hear what it is.

Celebrity death match

Rich Lowry on Trump v. Jeb!: “It’s like watching a WWE wrestler get a stern talking to from Ned Flanders.” Via Politico.

Between the lines

If Joe Biden does actually get in the race, could that mean he knows something about Hillary Clinton’s emails that the rest of us don’t? Via The Atlantic.

Trouble in paradise

So apparently not everyone loves Bernie: Vermont columnist on Bernie Sanders’ anger issues. Via Seven Days.

 

Infinity mirror effect, Creative Commons, via WikiMedia

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When the Colorado Board of Health voted against adding Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana last month, a core group of advocates immediately gathered in the lobby to start plotting their next move. They had tried legislation. That failed. Then they turned to the executive branch. And that failed too. So the next step was obvious: Go to court.

Last week, five PTSD patients represented by attorneys Bob Hoban and Adam Foster sued, asking Denver District Court to reverse the state health board’s decision.

For plaintiff Matthew Kahl, access to cannabis isn’t about getting stoned. It’s about saving lives.

Kahl came back from his second deployment in Afghanistan this year with a traumatic brain injury, severe spine damage and a heavy psychological burden. Back home in North Carolina, he could barely reintegrate with his family, let alone the rest of society. A Veterans Affairs doctor prescribed Kahl a cocktail of 15-20 pills a day, but Kahl was still miserable. His liver shut down, his kidneys started to fail, and he lost the will to live.

“I was literally dying before everyone’s eyes.”

Picking at his fingernails at the Holban and Feola, LLC office in downtown Denver, Kahl told The Colorado Independent his motivation for joining the lawsuit comes from remembering what it was like to lie in a hospital bed after a suicide attempt and feel his three year old son’s hand in his.

“He’s been through too much. So I’m doing this for him and all the other kids whose parents can’t function.”

“22 veterans kill themselves every day. They need their medicine today.”

Kahl said cannabis was a revelation for him. He had tried it once or twice as a teenager, but never considered it as a medicine. Now, he said, he wouldn’t be here without it.

“I would’ve been dead and buried a long time ago.”

Attorney Adam Foster said that after hearing stories like Kahl’s the choice to take this case on pro bono was simple. He emphasized that the health board’s July 15 decision bucked the medical community and ignored readily available scientific evidence.

Both Colorado Department of Health chief medical officer Larry Wolk and the Medical Marijuana Scientific Advisory Council recommended the board add PTSD to the list of qualifying conditions. And those recommendations were based on a growing body of research showing cannabis treats PTSD without harmful side effects pharmaceuticals often carry.

At that July 15 meeting, leading marijuana researcher Sue Sisley testified about some of the peer reviewed, published studies already out there. One found a 75 percent reduction in CAPS scores — the gold standard for measuring PTSD severity — among patients using cannabis. But board members found that existing research isn’t rigorous enough. Only a randomized control trial using marijuana supplied by the federal government would do the trick. And without that kind of study, the board felt like proper scientific backing was lacking.

Dr. Sisley is working on precisely that kind of study. She was funded more than $2 million by this very board, but has been stonewalled at every turn. Because the study has an experimental design, rigorous, by health board standards, Sisley must use marijuana grown by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Right now, that’s her biggest obstacle.

Sisley wants to investigate the treatment potential of marijuana rich in cannabidiol. CBD is a non psychoactive compound that’s been shown to have anti-inflammatory and relaxing properties. CBD-rich cannabis is the drug that brought hundreds of families with seizure-prone children flocking to Colorado.

NIDA staff told her they’re growing a CBD-rich strain for her study, but not at the potency she requested. And she has no clue when that sub-par strain will even be available. She estimates it’ll be at least four years before she’ll have the kind of results the state health board said it needs.

“We just can’t wait that long,” she said. “22 veterans kill themselves every day. They need their medicine today.”

This lawsuit claims the state board of health established an unattainable standard by saying it needs Sisley’s results before PTSD can get added to the list of conditions that qualify a patient for medical marijuana.

“It’s as if they said, ‘You have to go to Mars to conduct this study,” said attorney Bob Hoban. It’s just not gonna happen.”

Hoban acknowledged that many PTSD patients do currently self-medicate. But they’re getting the CBD-rich strains either from the recreational market or by lying to get a medical card for some other condition. And both of those options, he said, are insufficient.

Cannabis products for the typical PTSD treatment regimen are nearly twice as expensive in the recreational market, and most dispensaries don’t even stock the CBD-rich strains that patients need. “The fact is, the rec market is made up of tourists coming to Colorado to get high just like anyone who goes to Amsterdam,” Hoban said. And they want the high potency strains with lots of THC. So that’s what’s on the shelves.”

Not only is it pricier to medicate with recreational products, it’s irresponsible.

“Patients need to be able to have open and honest conversations with their physicians. Expecting people to lie — especially people with anxiety — makes a sham of the system.”

Plaintiff Larisa Bolivar hopes that giving PTSD patients legitimate access to this kind of medicine will reduce stigma around both cannabis and trauma. She’s proud that society is more aware than ever before that soldiers suffer psychological wounds during war that need healing long after they’ve returned home. But Bolivar wants to call attention to another kind of trauma that all too often gets swept under the rug — domestic abuse.

“Women are the silent majority of PTSD sufferers,” she said. “And we need to recognize that.”

Molested as a child, Bolivar was the victim of abuse throughout her teenage and young adult life. It wasn’t until she moved to Colorado and started seeing a psychiatrist about her panic attacks that she was diagnosed with PTSD. At that point she weighed 89 lbs. When Bolivar went off all her prescription drugs and tried medicating with cannabis, her anxiety decreased and her appetite returned.

Then in her late-20s, Bolivar survived another harrowing trauma. She was held hostage by an abuser for seven months. After that, she took her advocacy to the next level, founding the nonprofit Cannabis Consumers Coalition that pushes for drug policy reform and consumers rights.

“Just to put it bluntly, cannabis saved my life,” she said. “And now my life is fighting to save others.”

The state health board has until September 10 to file a response to the complaint.

CDPHE spokesman Mark Salley said he can’t comment on pending litigation, and the Attorney General’s office didn’t respond to multiple inquiries about how the state will proceed.

Dr. Sue Sisley thinks the board’s decision was more political than it was scientific.

“Why is it that I can prescribe all these off-label drugs for PTSD, but not this natural treatment?”

There are two medications the FDA approves for PTSD treatment, Paxil and Zoloft, but they’re no more effective than placebos. So it’s common practice to prescribe a “combat cocktail” of other drugs, Sisley explained, rattling off a long list of SSRI’s, benzodiazephines and other anti-psychotics and anti-depressants. Recognizable among them are Prozac, Lithium, Klonopin and Xanax.

She’s concerned that policymakers won’t even consider alternatives to these drugs with the pharmaceutical industry as enshrined as it is.

“It reeks of political motivations,” Hoban agreed.

“From day one, the CDPHE has been like, ‘our hands are tied.’ And it’s like, ‘wah wah, boo hoo, you have to make tough decisions.’ Well that’s why you were put there.”

And this shouldn’t even be a tough decision, Hoban said. “They violate federal law every single day by regulating a federally illegal substance. And we’re talking about giving veterans access to medicine. What’s risky about that?”

If this lawsuit is successful, Colorado will be the twelfth state to let PTSD patients medicate with cannabis.

 

 

Depression, public domain, via Pixabay; 80mg Propanolol, public domain, via WikiMedia; Sativa, public domain, via Pixabay. Composite by Nat Stein

Sit on the curb, go to jail

Colorado Springs City Council is considering an ordinance that would criminalize sitting, kneeling and reclining in public spaces. Critics say it’s designed to push out the homeless. Supporters say it will make the city economically viable.

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Sit in the wrong place in downtown Colorado Springs, and you could find yourself arrested. At least, that would be the case if Mayor John Suthers and several city council members have their way.

After all, people sitting, kneeling, reclining and lying down threaten business, according to champions of a proposed ordinance in which people using public planters, sidewalks, and curbs to rest could be subjected to fines of up to $2,500, jail time up to 189 days or probation.

Along with Fort Collins — another Colorado city moving forward with a proposal to make it illegal to rest in public — Colorado Springs City Council, on Monday, discussed the ordinance critics say is designed to target the homeless.

“It’s an absurd government overreach to tell people that they can’t sit, lie down, kneel or lean or recline against planters, sitting on curbs,” said John Krieger of the ACLU of Colorado.

Krieger sees this kind of legislation as a gateway to legal profiling by police.

“These ordinances are tools of selective enforcement. They are designed to target, harass and ultimately displace people who are homeless. The idea is, rather than deal with the root causes of homelessness and poverty and try to address a homelessness problem, it’s much easier for a lot of cities to try to find ways to move away or hide the problem,” said Krieger.

Colorado Springs Council President Pro Tem Jill Gaebler agreed. “If they really want to solve something, they need to deal with the root causes and not just the symptoms. That’s all this (ordinance) is doing. I really support our downtown, and I really want our merchants to thrive. All cities have vagrants, and they are all dealing with it differently. I would rather figure out how we can support these individuals or give them alternative places to go than just move them into my parks where the kids are or move them to another bench.”

Gaebler considers day shelters for the homeless to be a better option than ordinances that make it illegal to rest in the city.

Krieger agrees, adding that the gap between those needing shelter and the number of shelters and beds available is wide, a clear indicator that the real problem lies in a lack of support — and a place to rest —  for those who need it most.

Some of the ban’s champions, spearheaded by Suthers, argue the ordinance would have nothing to do with homelessness.

“It’s just an issue of people having their right of way on sidewalks and to be able to walk without feeling some sort of stress. It has nothing to do with panhandling. It has nothing to do with the homeless,” said Tom Strand, the council member who brought the sit-lie ban to the table on Monday, working alongside council member Keith King.

Strand said the other concern those supporting the proposed sit-lie ban are raising is what he calls “economic viability.”

“The people who have put their lives into retail establishments in downtown areas want to have the opportunity to attract the most customers and clients that they possibly can,” said Strand. “If people don’t feel comfortable going to those places, they will find somewhere else to go.”

Krieger argues that there would be no way to properly inform people of where they can and cannot sit without littering the city with signage — which would likely steer customers away.

“One of the things we saw in the council’s work session is a complete confusion as to what is allowed and what’s not allowed — what pieces of street furniture can you sit on and can’t you sit on? Really, the only way to differentiate would be for the city to go around and put up a whole bunch of “Do Not Sit” signs all over different curbs and planters,” said Krieger. “How inviting is that to business and tourism to have a city that is covered in “Do Not Sit” signs?”

If the sit-lie ban is enacted, Colorado Springs will join cities like Denver, Boulder, Grand Junction, Telluride and Aspen, which have similar laws criminalizing panhandling and sleeping in public places.

 

Photo credit: Dean Hochman, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Aurora theater shooting prosecutor George Brauchler ready to mull Senate run

“I can’t imagine wanting to predicate any political endeavor on a case. That would just be outrageous.” – George Brauchler

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Today – if all goes as scheduled — is the last day of the James Holmes trial. It’s also the first day of the rest of George Brauchler’s political career.

Once the judge finalizes Holmes’ sentence and the crowd files out of Courtroom 201, the 18th Judicial District Attorney will be expected to answer the question that for months has loomed over him: Is he running for U.S. Senate?

Speculation arose this spring after Brauchler’s internationally headline-making opening arguments in the Aurora shooting trial. His was a fresh face among Colorado’s Republicans at a time when the party was spiraling into disarray. Holmes’ trial started shortly before GOP state party chairman Steve House accused GOP Attorney General Cynthia Coffman of blackmail in an attempt to oust him from party leadership.

Brauchler has dodged questions about whether he’ll vie to unseat Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet. And rightly so. For one thing, it would be unseemly to have publicly flirted with a campaign for higher office while prosecuting a death penalty case. Besides, what Brauchler calls “the trial of a lifetime” has been so consuming, he says, he hasn’t had time to fully contemplate an inevitably contentious Senate run.

“I can’t see beyond this. I’ve had pretty limited bandwidth and have been in no position to give it serious thought. That said, though, I haven’t dismissed it,” he told The Independent during his lunch break Monday.

First on Brauchler’s post-trial agenda is reconnecting with his wife and four kids, ages 12, 11, 7 and 5. A Disney Cruise is a possibility.

“I need a break,” he said. “I just need to sit down and figure out what my family’s expectations are of me. I need to figure out if I can be the father and husband I want to be and still be politically ambitious.”

The first-term DA and Iraq War veteran has said frequently over the past four-plus-months that he slept better in Iraq than he has during the trial.

“With my family, I’ve been like an apparition,” he said. “Even though I’ve physically been in the house, or at some of my kids’ events, and even though they’ve seen me, my head isn’t there. My head has been in my legal arguments or how to handle witnesses or what I’m doing day in and day out in the case.”

Brauchler makes a point not to sound whiney. Out of respect to Holmes’ victims and their families, he’s careful to note that, in comparison, what he and his family have endured is “so de minimis.”

“I get to go home and see my kids and my wife at night. So many of these people don’t have that luxury. It’s devastating. Devastating.”

Brauchler is a staunch capital punishment proponent who said during trial that “Justice means death” for Holmes, who killed 12 and injured 70 during a midnight The Dark Knight Rises screening at the Century 16 theater in Aurora.

Brauchler frames his inability to convince all the jurors to give Holmes death not as a loss, but as a “failure to achieve a just outcome in this case.” He stresses that he respects the outcome – twelve consecutive life sentences — and won’t disparage it. In any case, he said one juror’s decision not to mete out a death sentence will have no effect on whether he’ll run for Senate.

“I can’t imagine wanting to predicate any political endeavor on a case. That would just be outrageous,” he said.

Brauchler acknowledges there’s pressure to make up his mind before Labor Day, the traditional start of the campaign cycle.

“I don’t feel that pressure now. but I will when this (trial) is over,” he said. “But I’m not going to be goaded into making a decision, especially on something this big.”

 

Photo credit: Kevin Burkett, Creative Commons, Flickr.

Keefe: Smoke gets in the eyes of climate-change skeptics

This may be a record wildfire season, but that doesn’t mean climate-change deniers are warming up to reason.

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Wiretap: Will crashing markets hit U.S. economy?

…and more news coming home around the world

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Homeward bound

Now that the market has gotten hammered, the experts are saying (of course) that the evidence of an end to the bull market was there for all to see. Now the question is whether the bad news in the markets will apply to the U.S. economy. Via The New York Times.

Troubled times

What does trouble in the market mean for Hillary Clinton? Here’s the obvious guess: Nothing good. Via Politico.

Go free

Ferguson, Mo., municipal judge cancels all warrants issued before Dec. 31, 2014. According to court officials, that amounts to nearly 10,000 warrants. Via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Biden vs. Clinton?

Michael Tomasky imagines in the Daily Beast what it would be like if Joe Biden did get in the race against Hillary Clinton and did announce that Elizabeth Warren would be his running mate. Tomasky writes: It would get real ugly real fast.

Donald days

Another day in the life of the Donald. He continues his Twitter war with Megyn Kelly and Fox. He kicks TV’s most influential reporter out of a news conference – and later invites him back in. A Trump focus group leaves GOP pollster Frank Luntz with wobbly knees.

Slurred speech

How did Jeb Bush — in trying to defend his use of the term “anchor babies” — end up offending some from yet another minority group? Via Vox.

Off course

And now it’s a wine train in Napa Valley that has to apologize to the black women’s book group. Via The Washington Post.

Shutdown looming

House Republican leaders are still trying to figure out how to avoid a shutdown over Planned Parenthood. Via Politico.

Teen angst

Every teen’s parent should read this, not that it would do any good: Why teen-agers are the worst. Via The New Yorker.

 

Photo credit: Perpetual Tourist, Creative Commons, Flickr.

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The Town of Silverton and San Juan County plan to ask the federal government for quick-fix, disaster-relief funding to help counteract the impacts of the huge spill of acid mine drainage that turned the Animas River an alarming yellow earlier this month.

Town and county officials passed a joint resolution Monday and Tuesday that calls for teaming up with affected downstream parties in the Animas River Basin to ask for help from the same federal funding pot that has been used to mitigate impacts of other high-profile disasters like hurricanes Katrina and Sandy and the Gulf oil spill.

We recognize that this is a regional problem and that it starts in our neighborhood,” said San Juan County Commissioner Willy Tookey about the proposal that originated in the tiny, remote town of 655 residents.

Silverton and San Juan County propose using the funding to build and operate a water treatment facility in the area along Cement Creek above Silverton. That is where a tunnel blowout on Aug. 5 sent three million gallons of heavy metal-laced water gushing down the creek, into the Animas River, on to the San Juan River, and all the way to Lake Powell. The plug that was holding all that water back in a historic Gold King Mine split open when the Environmental Protection Agency ironically was working on lessening the amount of acid drainage already leaking from that, and neighboring, abandoned mines.

The proposal from Silverton offers the first concrete plan for action in the wake of a disaster that affected three states and everything from farming and recreation to Indian tribes and private well owners.

Along with building a water treatment plant and funding research for water treatment and leaking mine fixes, the resolution crafted in Silverton calls for paying for other mine remediation projects that have been languishing for decades and for identifying and addressing other mine portals that could potentially have catastrophic blowouts. It would also free up funding for economic and environmental recovery efforts along the polluted waterways.

This disaster funding request comes as the EPA has been focusing on containing the leakage in holding ponds and on testing downstream water for contaminants. The federal funding would be separate from what the EPA is spending on mitigation and testing.

Silverton and San Juan County, along with multiple other stakeholders in the Animas River Basin, have been working with the EPA for decades to come up with an acceptable method of dealing with the hundreds of historic leaking mines in the San Juan Mountains above Silverton. Silverton residents had been locked in disagreement over whether the EPA should seek a Superfund designation for the Silverton area as a way to fund cleanup.

Opponents of that designation feared it would stigmatize their tourist town and identify it as an environmental disaster zone. Supporters have called it the best way to clean up waterways that have been so heavily laced with heavy metals that fish have not been able to survive in upper portions of the drainage for decades.

Mark Eddy, who is acting as a spokesman for Silverton and San Juan County, said the disaster-relief resolution “doesn’t foreclose any options that have been hashed over for years.”

The conversations about Superfund – those are long conversations,” he said. “This is designed to get emergency funding up there quickly.”

 

Photo credit: Jeff Belmonte, Creative Commons, Flickr.