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An infringement of constitutional rights; stricter legal controls that criminals will break anyway; a registry that could make specific citizens vulnerable to a hostile government — these sound like the stock phrases used to ague for expanded gun rights, but on Thursday at the Colorado state legislature, they were arguments marshaled in support of expanding the right to use weed.

Designating a “caregiver” to grow your medical marijuana tax-free has been a Colorado constitutional right since Amendment 20 passed in 2000. The fight around how to regulate that process so that growers don’t double up on patients, exceed their allowed plant counts, or ship “extra” product out of state has been going on pretty much since then. That debate has heated up since Coloradans legalized recreational cannabis, largely because the recreational side of the industry feels that caregivers are getting a free ride when it comes to regulation and taxation.

After many stalled attempts to increase regulation, Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, has proposed SB 14, which made it out of the Senate health committee on Thursday. The measure is aimed at creating a caregiver registry that would allow law enforcement to instantly cross check caregiver status and maximum plant count. The measure also draws a “bright line” at 99 plants, requiring caregivers to have a special license for anything more.

Although the state doesn’t have the constitutional authority to require caregivers to register their address and plant counts, Aguilar said they’ve got an incentive to do so.

“If the police were to come and knock on your door you could show them you’re registered, they could verify that, and you wouldn’t get ticketed and dragged into court,” said Aguilar.

But many caregivers fear a comprehensive registry could be released if the political winds of the state and nation were to change. They also say that the protections courts have read into A20 — that police have to pay you back if they seize your allowed plants and let them die, for example — are enough protection.

What caregivers want is access to the same, or similar, state-funded laboratories where recreational marijuana growers test their buds. Aguilar said the state doesn’t have capacity to meet even the recreational testing requirements right now, but she added that a bill to create separate labs for medical marijuana will be hitting the legislature this session.

 

That time we changed our minds about ‘Palcohol’

Friday, after traveling all the way through the House and onto the Senate floor, lawmakers agreed that, having come to understand the actual nature of powdered alcohol, Coloradans must not ban, but embrace it.

House Bill 1031, which started as a ban on powdered alcohol, has ended as a proposed regulatory framework and a reason for lawmakers, left and right, to congratulate themselves on another great Colorado substance regulation experiment. Huzzah!

 

 

Lawmakers had so much fun with “palcohol,” they decided to delay the potentially harry debate about funding for immigrant driver’s licenses until Monday.  

 

Pretty Mysterious

There are some really great shots of rural Colorado in the basement rotunda suddenly but no visible indication of who took them. Very mysterious….

 

Image: “Plantacja” by A7nubis via WikCommons

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The Federal Communications Commission Thursday made an historic ruling in favor of “net neutrality,” which is shorthand for protecting web users from a two-tiered fast-slow internet that would deliver different content at different speeds to people with less and more money and that would force content providers to pay internet service providers for good or bad delivery of their products to more or less households.

Net neutrality has long been a thorny issue for lawmakers, mainly because some influential (content) corporations, like Google and Facebook, are for it and some influential (provider) corporations, like AT&T, Comcast and Verizon are against it. For a Congress where money shouts and the public whispers, it has been confusing. But at least for Republicans, once Pres. Obama came out for net neutrality, the matter was settled. As has become clear over the past 24 hours, Republicans like new Colorado U.S. Senator Cory Gardner, still marinating in the rhetoric of Obamacare, decided that the FCC ruling amounts to a secretive Obama “internet takeover” bound to decrease liberty, hobble business and diminish the role of the United States as leader among nations. Like most Republican positions, this one was expressed in near-caricature form by Colorado 5th District Congressman Doug Lamborn.

“The FCC, led by three Democrat bureaucrats hand-picked by President Obama, approved a secret plan to fundamentally undermine a free and open Internet,” the Colorado Springs Republican wrote to constituents. “This decision ushers in a new era of government micromanagement that will discourage private investment in new networks and stifle the innovation that has allowed the Internet to flourish. With the recent failures and mismanagement of Obamacare, it is astounding that anyone would think that heavy handed regulation by government bureaucrats can manage the Internet. This is a solution in search of a problem. I look forward to serious Congressional pushback against this secretive effort which threatens America’s continued leadership in the global Internet economy.”

Lamborn is sixty years old. He received a bachelors degree in journalism and a law degree from the University of Kansas in the age of the typewriter and then practiced real estate law for a decade until in 1994, when he was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives. He has served as a lawmaker at the state and federal level ever since.

The man behind Thursday’s FCC ruling is Tom Wheeler, the “Democrat bureaucrat” chairman of the commission. Wheeler is 68 years old. In the mid-seventies, he began establishing himself as a player in the communications technology industry. He eventually became head of the trade groups National Cable and Telecommunications Association and the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association. He also headed internet startups and worked at a communication technology investment firm. He was an internet industry entrepreneur.

The Tom Wheeler who Republicans like Lamborn are now assailing for doing the bidding of the president is the same Tom Wheeler previously derided by supporters of net neutrality who feared he would be doing the bidding of the telecommunications industry. In other words, Tom Wheeler seems to be his own man. He is also someone deeply familiar with the issue of net neutrality and how a “free and open internet” might be destroyed, private investment in new networks discouraged and internet business and culture as they so far have unfolded quashed.

In a piece published at Wired Magazine and at sites across the web earlier this month, Wheeler detailed some of the professional experience that shaped his thinking on the issue of net neutrality.

I personally learned the importance of open networks the hard way. In the mid-1980s I was president of a startup, NABU: The Home Computer Network. My company was using new technology to deliver high-speed data to home computers over cable television lines. Across town Steve Case was starting what became AOL. NABU was delivering service at the then-blazing speed of 1.5 megabits per second—hundreds of times faster than Case’s company. “We used to worry about you a lot,” Case told me years later.

But NABU went broke while AOL became very successful. Why that is highlights the fundamental problem with allowing networks to act as gatekeepers.

While delivering better service, NABU had to depend on cable television operators granting access to their systems. Steve Case was not only a brilliant entrepreneur, but he also had access to an unlimited number of customers nationwide who only had to attach a modem to their phone line to receive his service. The phone network was open whereas the cable networks were closed. End of story.

In fact, for months, Wheeler has made no secret of which way he intended to steer the commission. He was looking to find the best way to protect the internet from broadband providers who have been edging toward blocking or slowing content. The 317-page preview of the rule is posted at the FCC website for all the world to read. Members of Congress may feel they have been kept in the dark, but investors apparently do not feel that way. When Wheeler announced his plans to write strong net-neutrality rules at the beginning of the month, broadband stocks ticked up and stayed high. And, as Tim Wu writes at the New Yorker, “with full knowledge that the rules were coming, bidders in late January spent a record $44.9 billion on broadcast spectrum — exactly the kind of infrastructure investment that [net neutrality] laws would supposedly deter.”

In his statement on the ruling Thursday, Wheeler directly addressed critics like Lamborn: “This proposal has been described by one opponent as a ‘secret plan to regulate the internet.’ Nonsense! This is no more a plan to regulate the internet than the First Amendment is a plan to regulate free speech. They both stand for the same concept: Openness, expression, and an absence of gatekeepers telling people what they can do, where they can go and what they can think.”

Wheeler went on at length, speaking simply and with confidence to explain his decision, surely knowing that members of Congress would be plugging their ears:

The action that we take today is about the protection of internet openness.

Now let’s make no mistake about it, broadband access providers have the technical ability and the economic incentive to impose restrictions on the internet. As the D.C. circuit said in its decision remanding this matter to us, “broadband providers represent a threat to internet openness and could act in ways that would ultimately inhibit the speed and extent of future broadband deployment.”

Today, a majority of this commission establishes that that will not come to pass. Today is a red letter day for internet freedom… But, importantly, today is also a day that gives network operators what they require if they’re to continue to expand broadband service and competition.

The rules for a fair and open internet are not old style utility regulation but a 21st-century set of rules for a 21st-century service. Rate regulation, tarriffing and forced unbundling have been superseded by a modernized regulatory approach that has already been demonstrated to work in encouraging investment in wireless voice networks. It is important for consumers as for companies that nothing in today’s order alters the economic model for continued network expansion. The ISP’s revenue stream will be the same tomorrow as it was yesterday.

Before today, that revenue enabled companies to build ever faster networks. Nothing in what we do today changes that equation for consumer revenues to ISPs for tomorrow. And I believe that’s why Sprint, T-Mobile, Frontier Communications and Google Fiber along with hundreds of smaller phone-company ISPs are comfortable with the commission’s modern regulatory approach…

This is the FCC using all the tools in our tool box to protect innovators and consumers — to ban paid prioritization, the so-called fast lane, they will not divide the internet into haves and have-nots; to ban blocking, consumers will get what they paid for — unfettered access to any lawful content on the internet — and to ban throttling, because degrading access to legal content and services can have the same effect as blocking, and it will not be permitted to exist. These are the enforceable bright-line rules. They will allow consumers to go wherever they want, when they want. They will also protect the rights of the innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.

Wheeler is no bureaucratic dupe and there is no government takeover of the internet.

[ Flickr photo by Joseph Gruber.]

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The Clinton Foundation has raised a lot of money from a lot of major corporations to do a lot of good. Now, Amy Davidson writes in the New Yorker, Hillary Clinton is going to have to explain just what those corporations were looking for by picking the Clinton Foundation.

Rand Paul, this is not your father’s CPAC. At the heavily-libertarian convention, the attendees are much more concerned this year about the threat of radical Islam. Via the National Journal.

How a Kuwaiti-born Londoner became the face of the Islamic State. Via the Washington Post.

In an anti-ISIS summit in Mecca, Islamic leaders have a much harder time than Barack Obama in separating ISIS from Islam. Via the Atlantic.

Many Democrats can’t decide what to do about the Netanyahu speech to Congress. Should they stay or should they go? Via Bloomberg.

If you’re trying to sell bullets, all you have to do is get the Obama administration to recommend banning them. The ATF said it plans to restrict the armor-piercing 5.56-millimeter “M855 green tip” rifle bullet — used by the millions in AR-15 semiautomatic rifles — because of new handguns that use the ammunition and pose a greater threat to the police. If you want yours, you’d better get to your favorite gun shop now. Via the New York Times.

Lost in the debate over funding or defunding the Department of Homeland Security, there’s this: we might just be better off without it. Via the Daily Beast.

The dress, explained. Actually it’s not explained. Via Vox.

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When should the cops get to take your money? After a red-light camera catches your car mid-intersection? While they’re investigating your dad’s business? Lawmakers heard lengthy and often impassioned testimony on Wednesday on two controversial government “cash cows” — traffic cameras and civil forfeiture.

Senate Judiciary Committee members considered Sen. Laura Wood’s SB 6, which seeks to curtail civil forfeiture in Colorado. An eight-year-old girl testified that law enforcement effectively snagged her piggy bank as part of a forfeiture seizure at the family’s house that totaled some $30,000.

In the House transportation committee, a man testified that he has conducted a “honk poll” on the red-light camera ban proposed by Kevin Van Winkle, R- Highlands Ranch. The man said a few cops not only honked, but also pulled over to commiserate about the loathsome cameras.

Then came the district attorneys, the sheriffs and the chiefs of police, tasked with defending the camera programs. They argued that red-light cameras and automated speed traps catch lawbreakers and provide vital intel for other cases, like hit-and-runs, of which there are an average of 17 a day in Denver.

It was the same general line on civil forfeiture, where testimony in favor argued that seizing the “ill-gotten gains” of pimps and dealers helps fund national, and sometimes international, interventions in human and drug trafficking.

“It sounds like we’re desperately trying to find funds for the failed war on drugs,” said Sen. Michael Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs, before joining Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Loveland, in voting for the limits on civil forfeiture.

The other three members of Judiciary, Democrats and Republicans, went the other way. In many cases not because they support the war on drugs but because they want to win the war on human trafficking.

“I know some of my constituents may call me and email me and even not vote for me, but I feel good about my decision,” said Sen. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, who voted to keep Colorado’s civil forfeiture law as-is.

The red-light camera ban made it out of committee on a bipartisan vote.

“As Democrats we’re committed to expanding the middle class. You cant do that if you’re constantly on the backs of the middle class to fund projects in slightly subversive or nefarious ways,” said Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, who sponsored last year’s attempt at the ban. “On the Republican side I think they’re not necessarily in favor of big government and this is a way to scale that back. This is one of those rare opportunities where right and left meet for different reasons.”

 

In other news, this happened:

 And this:


In other other news, the live-stream audio out of the committee chambers continues to intermittently discontinue. Is it a violation of Colorado’s sunshine laws? Probably not. Is it (extremely) annoying and occasionally hilarious? Without a doubt.

[This traffic light photo is from Flickr. ]

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Firebrand conservative U.S. Senator and 2016 presidential hopeful Ted Cruz is not a fan of legal weed, he told Fox News host Sean Hannity at the Conservative Political Action Conference held in a suburb of Washington today, but he celebrated Colorado legalization as a laudable example of states’ rights and experimental democracy.

“Look, I actually think this is a great embodiment of what Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis called the ‘laboratories of democracy.’ If the citizens of Colorado decide they want to go down that road, that’s their prerogative. I don’t agree with it, but that’s their right.”

Cruz couldn’t resist prefacing the serious portion of his answer with dope jokes, leading Hannity through an impromptu, stiff routine that had the conservative audience guffawing.

“Well, I was told Colorado provided the brownies here today,” he said, pausing for effect.

“Uh-oh, I just ate them,” said Hannity.

“Look, your viewership is going to go up 20 percent.”

“It’s going to go up a lot.”

“The ‘Magical Mystery Hannity Hour.'”

“Ah, yeah.”

Click on the image to watch the video:

cruz hannity

Mason Tvert, spokesman in Denver at the Marijuana Policy Project, forwards comments by Don Murphy, the project’s federal policies analyst and also a former Republican state legislator from Maryland. He says it’s time for Republicans to embrace marijuana policy reform.

“[This] is, at its heart, a conservative issue. This is a matter of Federalism, the 10th Amendment, and state autonomy, which are core conservative priorities. Marijuana prohibition is a failed federal government policy, and rolling it back should be on the agenda of every principled Republican lawmaker. It’s encouraging to see so many Republican presidential hopefuls have embraced the position that the federal government has no business interfering in state marijuana laws.

“Licensed, state-legal marijuana businesses are being denied banking and other basic financial services because marijuana remains illegal under federal law. They are needlessly being forced to operate on an all-cash basis, creating public safety concerns that could easily be avoided. We hope to work with Sen. Cruz and his Republican colleagues in Congress to develop legislative solutions to the problems created by federal marijuana prohibition. We need to guarantee states have the freedom to adopt and implement the policies that work best for them.”

Cruz’s comments came in a brief question-and-answer session with Hannity after Cruz delivered a speech on how Republicans can win back the presidency in 2016. He blasted likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton as a corrupted creature of Washington and contrasted Washington’s interests with the interests of the people. He said Republicans had to run a populist campaign, one that sets out a program to “bring back the miracle of America” by rebuilding the coalition of “conservatives and libertarians and evangelicals and women and young people and hispanics and Reagan Democrats” that swept Reagan into office in 1980 and has proved increasingly fractured in recent years.

CPAC draws thousands of hardcore conservative voters from across the country and this year marks the unofficial kickoff of the presidential campaigns to win their votes. Cruz has become a favorite at the event.

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Pot is now legal in Washington, D.C. The Republican-controlled Congress, which has constitutional oversight over the District of Columbia, seems content not to do anything about it. Though the pot laws in Washington are still fairly restrictive — the city is not Amsterdam, or even Denver — the legalization revolution that began in Colorado seems to be spreading across the country. Via the Washington Post.

Barack Obama takes his immigration case to Miami, where the plan is to turn up pressure on John Boehner back in D.C. Via the New York Times.

Dana Milbank: This time it’s Boehner who’s leading from behind. Via the Washington Post.

Everyone knows that the House will have to pass a “clean” Homeland Security funding bill eventually. What no one seems to now is when eventually will come. Via Politico.

Former Boulder police chief Mark Beckner said officers mishandled the crime scene in the 1996 JonBenet Ramsey murder case. He made the comments in an “Ask Me Anything” session at Reddit. He told the Daily Camera he didn’t realize that what he said at the mega-internet-comment-thread site was actually connected to any of the rest of the world. He thought it was some kind of airlocked ante-chamber to the real media… or something, which is another way of saying he mishandled the Reddit scene?

For those who may be confused by columns in the New York Times or articles in the Atlantic, Robert Wright explains in the New Yorker why the “Clash of Civilizations” isn’t.

A longtime Denver police officer was arrested Tuesday afternoon on suspicion of domestic assault. Via the Denver Post. 

Our allies in Saudi Arabia have sentenced a man to death for tearing up the Koran. He was convicted of apostasy. Via Vox.

There’s a bipartisan movement growing to end mass incarceration. The question is whether the movement is growing quickly enough to do much good. Via the Atlantic.

If you’re eagerly anticipating diving into Netflix’s season three of House of Cards, New York Times TV critic Alessandra Stanley says there’s no rush.

Rags Over the Arkansas River (ROAR) — the group opposing artist Christo’s Over the River project — outlined their complaints about the planned two-week installation of fabric above the Arkansas River between Canon City and Salida in a recent filing to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. Via the Pueblo Chieftain. 

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This is how it figured to play out. Mitch McConnell caves in the Senate, offering up a so-called clean bill on Homeland Security and steering clear of any responsibility for a shutdown showdown. That puts Obama in the clear. And Democrats in the clear. And Senate Republicans in the clear. So, guess who’s left holding the shutdown bag? Via the National Journal.

John Boehner has taken the nation on this ride before. It ends like this:

Colorado lawmakers are considering a bill to ban “pray away the gay therapy” — the attempt by mostly religious organizations to steer gay and queer people straight through counseling. The “therapy” is anti-scientific and has caused great suffering to the mostly young people subjected to it. But this is Colorado, where evangelical empires thrive and where the science of immunization is pooh-poohed on the right and the left. The ban will pass in the Democratic-controlled House. It likely won’t pass in the Republican-controlled Senate.

John Cassidy writes in the New Yorker that Scott Walker’s so-called gaffes aren’t gaffes at all, but rather part of a grand strategy to win the Republican nomination for president.

Democrats died last year in the midterm elections. Now the autopsy is out. Guess what: Democrats say the patient is just fine, leading the Atlantic to ask: Are Democrats in denial?

Virtually everyone agrees we need to do something about our crumbling infrastructure. So, why won’t anything be done about it? Via Al Hunt at Bloomberg View.

Not yet officially running, Hillary Clinton goes to Silicon Valley to present the outline of her unofficial 2016 agenda. Via the New York Times.

What’s Elizabeth Warren’s next fight? You’d know if you turned on CSPAN to watch her grill Janet Yellen. Via Vox.

Barack Obama’s Keystone veto was so expected that it’s almost a non-story. But the real story is that there will be many, many more vetoes to come. Via Politico.

Paul Farhi writes in the Washington Post that Bill O’Reilly has decided that the best defense — against the accusations that he embellished some wartime stories of his own — is a good offense. Which is how O’Reilly comes to suggest that one of his critics be put in “the kill zone.”

Amid falling gold prices, South African mining company AngloGold Ashanti Ltd. says it might sell off all or part of the Cripple Creek gold mine west of Colorado Springs, which is in the midst of a $585 million expansion. Nobody knows for sure whether Cripple Creek will have to close up shop, so for now they’ll keep on drilling. Via the Gazette.

The 10 angriest reactions to things actors said at the Oscars. (Interestingly, most of the critics were liberals.) Via New York magazine.

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Powdered alcohol paying for the sins of pot 

Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee gave hesitant bipartisan support to HB 1031, a bill that once proposed to ban powdered alcohol but that now only proposes to make it temporarily illegal.

“Other states have just out and out banned it. What we’re doing is saying that we’re putting a temporary hold on it and at the same time working on regulation,” said sponsor Sen. Nancy Todd, D- Aurora, echoing the better-safe-than-sorry edict that has served Colorado in its efforts to regulate recreational cannabis.

Opponents of the powdered alcohol time-out bill said it seemed a little early to be legislating a product that’s not yet on the market.

 


“This seems a little knee-jerk,” said Sen. Kevin Lundberg, R-Berthoud, who voted against the measure. “If it’s legal to store alcohol in a personal flask, it seems to me it should be legal to store alcohol in granulated forms as well.”

“Prohibition has never really worked too well,” agreed Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango, who also voted against the bill.

The remaining two Democrats and a Republican on the committee gave the measure “reluctant OKs,” but promised further questions and “bipartisan shenanigans” on the floor.

 

State of frack

While the governor’s oil and gas task force met today to finalize its recommendations, the state legislature was in a state of frack.

On the Senate side, lawmakers passed SB 93, colloquially known as the “you ban it, you buy it,” bill, on a party-line vote. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, would require local governments to reimburse mineral owners for potential losses that result from stricter local controls over oil and gas development.

House Speaker Dicky Lee Hullinghorst was candid about the bill’s prospects in her chamber.

“Well that’s patently unconstitutional. The Fifth Amendment rights on takings don’t require legislation, they require a court action,” she said, adding that she believes mineral rights that diminish in value due to local regulations don’t rise to the level of governmental taking protected by the Fifth Amendment anyhow.

“This is such a draconian response to the issue [of local control] and doesn’t solve the problem,” she concluded.

Hullinghorst said she hopes to see workable compromises on the great local control debate in the recommendations the task force will present this week. She’s particularly interested in provisions that would allow local governments to adopt stricter regulations than current state regulations and that re-define the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission as a regulatory body instead of one designed to foster development.

“If you put some of those things together in a package, I do think it does address local control pretty well,” said Hullinghorst. “It might not go as far as some people would like, but it would be an adequate start. If they don’t do some basic things like that on local government… then I think it’s going to be difficult.”

The recommendations are expected to come out before the end of the week.

 

On kids in cuffs

As a part of a multi-session effort to reform the juvenile justice system, the House debated the practice of handcuffing youth who appear in juvenile court.

“For the first time, we have children as young as ten showing up before a judge in shackles with a presumption of guilt hanging over their head in a court that is set up to rehabilitate them and not shame them,” said Rep. Susan Lontine, D-Denver, advocating for her HB 1091. Her bill would require all judicial districts to define and narrow their protocol for shackling, with the goal of curbing its frequency.

Bill opponents argued that each courtroom and each court case was too different for one district-wide policy to be effective, a fear that lingered despite provisions in the bill that would allow charges to be a factor in the shackling protocol. Others simply argued that far from a presumption of guilt, the practice was an effective deterrent for juveniles at risk continuing criminal behavior into adulthood.

“I’ve seen and faced my own son in shackles in the courtroom. I can tell you that it was one of the most difficult things I ever dealt with in my life,” said Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton. “I can tell you that it was those physical chains that emotionally brought him to his knees, which is where he needed to be to reach out for help with an addiction that was ruining his life.”

The bill won approval and will come up for a final vote later this week.

 

Fracking in the Rockies. Image via WikiCommons.

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The summer of 1988 seared fire into both of our careers as journalists. Ted was the director of photography at the Jackson Hole News when a complex of drought-driven fires overran Yellowstone National Park. For two months, Ted and an army of journalists brought images of our first national park in flames into every American’s home. Nobody on the ground or watching television had ever seen anything like this before.

Dan was working as a cub reporter at the Sonora Union Democrat in California’s Gold Country, down the road from Yosemite National Park. When a fire broke out in the nearby Stanislaus National Forest, the editor sent Dan out with an admonition: “Don’t come back unless you have pictures of flames.”

That same year, 1988, was a pivotal point for both the science and the politics of climate change. A NASA scientist named James Hansen testified before a Senate committee and told them something most scientists weren’t prepared to say out loud back then: “Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming,” Dr. Hansen said. “It is already happening now.”

Neither Ted nor Dan made a career of covering fires, but Dr. Hansen has had a distinguished career as a prescient scientific maverick. Ted and Dan have spent their journalistic lives documenting humans’ increasingly problematic relationship with the natural world, writing and photographing for print publications like National Geographic, Smithsonian, Newsweek, Time, Rolling Stone, Audubon, and many others. In 2008, we formed The Story Group to respond to the changing media environment with multimedia approaches to storytelling.

More recently, Dan was tapped to be one of the editors of the 2014 National Climate Assessment, the most comprehensive look ever at climate change causes and impacts in the United States. While Dan was completing his work with the assessment, The Story Group independently began filming stories that personify the science detailed in the report. They produced two series: One, Americans on the Front Lines of Climate Change, features people from around the country who are already experiencing the impacts of climate change in their daily lives. The second, Scientists on the Front Lines of Climate Change, features chapter authors from the National Climate Assessment speaking about the key messages from their chapters.

Those key messages invariably echoed one of the key findings of the entire report: “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present.” It’s an eerie echo of Dr. Hansen’s words from 1988, but the warnings from the scientific community are being bolstered by the experiences of Americans around the country – and people around the world.

In our journalistic travels, we have witnessed how the climate change impacts in the U.S. are already affecting people’s lives and livelihoods: in farming and ranching communities in Iowa and Texas, struggling with weather extremes that are outside of anybody’s experience or family memory; in the livelihoods of commercial oyster growers in Washington state, who are dealing with the ocean’s continuing acidification; and in the lives of Colorado firefighters who are facing larger, more destructive fires and increasingly unpredictable fire behavior.

As these impacts spread, scientists are increasingly saying out loud what Dr. Hansen testified was happening more than a quarter century ago: the earth is warming, and human activities, chiefly the burning of fossil fuels, is driving that change. In turn, glaciers and Arctic ice are melting, sea levels are rising, and weather patterns are being disrupted around the globe, with profound implications for humanity.

This warming is hitting our Colorado home. Here, temperatures have climbed at a rate almost twice the national average since the 1970s. Among other things, this rise has exacerbated the drought conditions we’ve experienced this century, made our forests more susceptible to disease, and dried out forest fuels that have ignited with alarming regularity. We’ve seen it in the beetle kill forests of Grand County, in the disappearing streams in our favorite backcountry haunts, and most visibly, in the record-breaking fires that now have branded their names into all of our minds: Hayman, Fourmile, High Park, Waldo Canyon, and Black Forest.

When we decided to produce Unacceptable Risk, we knew that firefighters were not particularly inclined to get involved in political debates about whether cap and trade was better than a carbon tax, or if renewable energies could reliably compete with fossil fuels for our energy needs. What we hoped, however, was that these wildland firefighters could tell us what it was like to be, literally, on the front lines of climate change.

They could, indeed. When we sat down with the career firefighters who star in this film, they were forthright and articulate, not about any scientific studies they’d read about the human-causes of climate change, but about what they’d personally experienced during their careers. Firefighters hate being hailed as heroes, but we emerged from these interviews with a profound sense of awe, respect, and admiration for these people, who are increasingly being asked to be first responders to a slew of climate-related disasters, including hurricanes, floods, and, of course, wildfires.

When Ted started amassing footage for this film, he was awed by the unpredictable, unstoppable power of these new fires. Even his experiences in Yellowstone didn’t prepare him for seeing video of entire neighborhoods in flames, and firefighters retreating from subdivisions being swallowed by firestorms. In the dispatch tapes he could hear the fear and disbelief of commanders as they tried to keep their crews out of harm’s way — and how helpless they felt facing fire behavior they had never seen.

Any journalist hopes that their work will have an impact, and we certainly are no different. From the first fires we covered at the beginning of our careers until now, we’ve tried to communicate about the intricate relationship that humans have with the planet that sustains us. That relationship has become increasingly tenuous. We hope that with this film, we can add the voices of these firefighters – truly on the front lines of climate change – to the growing call to action for all of us to help alter the alarming course we’ve set. As the National Climate Assessment concludes, “there is still time to act to limit the amount of change and the extent of damaging impacts.”

*The film premieres Tuesday, February 24, in Boulder, at the Dairy Center for the Arts. There will be a town hall discussion with the filmmakers, firefighters, a climate scientist and a public policy expert after the screening. A reception will follow at the Dairy Center McMahon Gallery. The Story Group is based in Boulder. Reserve your ticket here. It will also screen Wednesday.

[Fire photo via Unacceptable Risk, the movie.]

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This may not surprise you, but a new study finds that pot is much, much safer than alcohol or tobacco. In fact, the study — published in the journal Scientific Reports, a subsidiary of Nature — shows that, given typical use, pot is 117 times safer than alcohol. The study does not say that pot is completely safe, but of all the drugs it studied, pot was the only one that posed a low mortality risk. Via the Washington Post.

There are only a few days to go, but Vox says Mitch McConnell may have finally figured a way out of the shutdown mess. Politico has a one-word explanation for McConnell’s escape route — punt.

Here’s a plot twist: Colorado Springs NAACP chapter president Henry Allen Jr. isn’t buying the story: The man arrested for leaving an incendiary device outside the building that houses a barbershop and offices that include a local chapter of the NAACP says he was targeting an accountant… who has been dead for years? It keeps getting crazier down there. Via the Gazette. 

Bill O’Reilly doubles down in defending his version of his Falklands reporting. And he warns a New York Times reporter to be careful with his reporting. If not, O’Reilly said, “I am coming after you with everything I have. You can take it as a threat.”

Meanwhile, Veteran Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald apologizes for embellishing his record. Via the New York Times.

“If I don’t get caught on the 16th Street Mall for a year, they’ll let me go back,” homeless 21-year-old Lucas Alejos said. “If I do, I’ll go to jail for a hundred days.” He’s one of wha may be hundreds who have been banned from the popular Denver downtown destination. Local law enforcement say it’s a way to cut down on shoplifting, drug dealing and general troublemaking. Civil rights advocates say the measure criminalizes homelessness. Via the Denver Post.

Fifteen of fifty-five officers in the Durango Police Department have flown the coop over the last 15 months, citing low morale and poor communication. City Manager Ron LeBlanc says he knows nothing about it. Via the Durango Herald.

He’s not Elizabeth Warren, but Jim Webb may be the best option for Democrats looking for a primary election challenger to Hillary Clinton. Via the National Journal.

MSNBC is moving away from “left-wing TV.” Could that really be true? The Atlantic explains that, if true, it’s not about politics, but about economics.

Tech and pot goes together like bees and honey (if honey is a $700 million industry). Via the Daily Camera.

If you can stand one more piece about the Oscars, try this: New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane says the last thing the Oscars needed was its white night.

[Photo via West Midlands Police.]

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This may not surprise you, but when governors are asked what they might do if the Supreme Court rules against Obamacare, most of them have no answer. At a meeting of the nation’s governors in Washington last weekend, Politico asked more than a dozen. Most, it was reported, shrugged — some in indifference, some in indecision. Florida Gov. Rick Scott said, “This is a federal program. It’s a federal problem.” What he didn’t say is that 1.6 million Floridians are covered under Obamacare and that 90 percent of those get subsidies.

Sam Baker does a little thought experiment in the National Journal. He writes the reasons that Obamacare will lose before the Supreme Court. And he writes another piece explaining why Obamacare will win.

Boulder tried on some Boston this weekend: Fifteen inches of snow buried the state’s favorite college-Buddha-yoga town. Flakes the size of fists landed outside the window and just sat there grinning, sticking their tongues out at you.

The Notorious R.B.G. — Ruth Bader Ginsburg tells columnist Gail Collins that she’s not going anywhere any time soon. Via the New York Times.

Rudy Giuliani writes in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal that his bluntness on Barack Obama not loving America overshadowed his message, which was — well, it’s not clear, but presumably that Obama does not love America. Meanwhile, Glenn Kessler does the Fact Checker thing in the Washington Post and gives Giuliani four Pinnochios.

And the beat goes on: Scott Walker says he doesn’t know whether Obama is a Christian. Via The Washington Post.

Nate Cohn writes that this time — unlike 2008 — Hillary Clinton really is inevitable (as Democratic nominee, anyway). Via the New York Times.

Amy Davidson asks in the New Yorker whether Oscar winner Citizenfour is actually worth celebrating.

John Legend’s Oscar-speech statistic that more men are currently under correctional control than were enslaved in 1850 is right, although it’s also a little misleading. Via Vox.

[ “Meh” by Quinn Dombrowski.]

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Roaming while sipping, sipping while roaming

If you have been to the Source in Denver, you will have noted the awkward chalk line scrawled around the Crooked Stave brewery. If you’re drinking or holding a drink, that’s your boundary line and you dare not stray beyond it to take a phone call or to ask that attractive person on the other side for their number. Current liquor licensing says that, although you’re still standing under the industrial roof of that multi-business hipster paradise, your fancy sour beer traps you behind the chalk. Same is true in Colorado Springs, at the too-cool-to-still-be-a-school Ivywild project, where patrons are regularly marooned in either the chic cocktail joint or in the Bristol Brewery. The hallway separating the two places does not have a liquor license, so it’s a no-go zone for people with drinks.

HB 1192, sponsored by Rep. KC Becker, D-Boulder, and Sen. Tim Neville, R-Littleton, would allow municipalities to license entire “entertainment districts” for liquor. Hallway beer for everyone!

In other booze news, Colorado distilleries, unlike breweries and wineries, are not allowed to serve food (which seems kind of silly and dangerous). Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, doesn’t think that’s acceptable. He has proposed HB 1204 in order to address the “no food while drinking Colorado-made spirits where they are being made” unacceptable inconvenience.

“Colorado is a world-class state and this bill will allow our distilleries to offer world-class food and drink options to their customers,” Pabon wrote in a release celebrating the bill’s unanimous passage out of the House business affairs committee Thursday.

 

To pay card or not to pay card? 

The Senate had interesting debate about Centennial Republican Sen. David Balmer’s SB 101 today — the measure would move private Colorado businesses onto a de facto “pay card” system, requiring that employees opt-in to direct deposit or paper check.

Pay cards are a lot like debit cards/ those gift cards that look like credit cards. The going argument is that having the card loaded with your wages each pay period is a lot easier than picking up a check and potentially cheaper, for employees without a bank account, than paying to cash that check.

Potentially cheaper that is, until the pay card usage fees come into play. How much are those fees? It would depend on your employer, or rather the pay card company they contract with. The bill does require that employers let you know what those fees will be and that they choose a pay card company that won’t charge a monthly “maintenance fee.” After an amendment, the measure also guarantees employees two fee-free withdrawals/ expenditures off the card per pay period.

The thing that’s sort of weird about this bill is that it’s very similar to one Visa, which operates a pay card company, proposed at an ALEC conference back in 2010. That leads some to question whether rolling Colorado employers over to a de facto pay card system isn’t sort of a credit card company gimme. On the other hand, if you’ve ever had to drop by work on your day off to pick up a paycheck, this bill sounds like a pretty good deal.

The measure got initial approval in the Senate on Friday and will likely pass to the House, where it has a bi-partisan co-sponsor in Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver. All of which is to say, more to come on this.

 

“You ban it, you buy it” approved by Senate 

The Senate gave initial approval to SB 93 today. The measure, known on Twitter as “you ban it, you buy it,” requires taxpayers to reimburse mineral owners for lost revenue/ value due to local regulations on oil and gas development.

Sponsor Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, argued that the policy would ensure fairness for folks who’ve had more than 40 percent of their property value “taken” by the government via regulation.

Opponents of the measure like Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, called it a “a step too far and a step too soon,” arguing that the legislature should hold off on fracking-related policy until the Governor’s oil and gas task force comes forward with recommendations next week.

 

Cyberbully bill heads to Senate

The debate about the line between harassment and free speech continued on the House floor today as lawmakers struggled with HB 1072, a bill that would update and expand existing anti-harassment law to keep up with the digital era, specifically social media. The measure has been named “Kiana’s Law” after a Colorado high school student who attempted suicide after being subjected to aggressive online bullying.

“Basically this bill updates our harassment codes by adding harassment through interactive electronic means. I’d like to say this is breakthrough, cutting-edge legislation, but it’s not. Colorado is not leading on this issue,” said sponsor Rep. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, before reading off the 13 other states which have already adopted similar legislation. “If not now, when?”

Several Republicans opposed the bill, not because of its general intent to curb cyber bullying, but out of fear that it would chill free speech.

“Cyber bullying is serious and one of the tools we need to challenge it is, in fact, a criminal prosecution,” said Rep. Terri Carver, R-Colorado Springs.

She pointed to legal complications this year with a similar statute in New York, where the courts decided that the provisions against online harassment had become too broad. Like others in her caucus, Carver said she supported the bill’s intent but couldn’t vote for the measure unless it applied only to “direct” harassment against minors.

“Are we going to start prosecuting rabid fans because they don’t like the play of a certain player?” asked Minority Leader Brian DelGrosso, R-Loveland. “We can see how this could go way beyond the sponsor’s intent, and that’s the rub for a lot of the folks opposing this bill — the directly or indirectly language– not the underlying move to add electronic media.”

Ultimately DelGrosso joined the handful of Republicans voting yes on the measure even without the narrowing amendments. The bill passed on a bipartisan 43-22 vote and is now headed to the Senate where the debate, no doubt, will continue.

The Source, via Facebook.

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It’s far from clear how much credit Obamacare should get for this, but Vox‘s Sarah Kliff writes that hospital prices always go up, but that this year they have fallen. She cites two trends which she thinks may account for the fall: private health insurance has seen a rise in “narrow-network” plans, and there has been a reduction in what Medicare pays for care.

Cass Sunstein: The Texas judge was on the right track in the immigration ruling, but he still managed to get everything wrong. Via Bloomberg View.

Rudy Giuliani has an answer for those who say his observation that Obama doesn’t love America is racist. It’s a strange answer, but it’s his answer. He told the New York Times: “Some people thought it was racist — I thought that was a joke, since he was brought up by a white mother, a white grandfather, went to white schools, and most of this he learned from white people. This isn’t racism. This is socialism or possibly anti-colonialism.”

From the growing for-profit education file: After a two-year investigation, the Colorado attorney general is suing CollegeAmerica, a for-profit college that has three campuses around the state. The lawsuit seeks to put an end to “ongoing deceptive trade practices and protect consumers from irreparable and immediate harm,” like making lofty promises of high-paying careers and saddling students with mounds of debt. Via the Denver Post

If Hillary Clinton wants to be president, writes Ron Fournier in the National Journal, the Clinton Foundation needs to stop accepting money from foreign countries.

Free trade agreement blues in Boulder: Nearly 30 protesters gathered outside U.S. Rep. Jared Polis’s office in Colorado’s main university town on Tuesday to urge him to oppose the Trans-Pacific partnership. “It’s a giveaway to the largest oil and gas, agro businesses and other corporate interests in the United States,” said Sam Schabacker, regional director of a D.C.-based group Food and Water Watch. Via the Daily Camera.

Note to Scott Walker: Adam Gopnik writes that evolution is not an ideology. It’s not something you believe in or don’t believe in. He says you might as well ask a politician, “Do you believe in an expanding universe with a strong inflationary instance in the first micro-seconds?” Via the New Yorker.

Linda Greenhouse says it’s Groundhog Day — again – at the Supreme Court. The University of Texas affirmative action case is back, and this time the Court might just go all the way. Via the New York Times.

How the oil boom brought diversity to North Dakota. The National Journal writes that the black and Hispanic population rose by more than 50 percent between 2010 and 2013.

Gail Collins writes of an uncheckable concealed-carry permit in every wallet, a gun on every corner. Via the New York Times.

Mother Jones says Bill O’Reilly may have Brian Williams disease. Was he really in a combat zone in Argentina?

And in Aspen, after initially letting his girlfriend take the blame, disgraced former cyclist Lance Armstrong pleaded guilty to careless driving after he hit two parked cars in December. Via FOX31.

[Photo by Steve Jurvetson.]

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Last fall, teachers rebelled and hundreds of students and parents staged protests when Jefferson County conservative school board Julie Williams announced a plan to rework the district’s Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum to include more god, rainbows and roses and less mass-murder, slavery and protest. She said the curriculum wasn’t patriotic enough. Her proposal made national news and became a source of ridicule across the internet.

Now the president of the board, Ken Witt, says that the controversial idea has been scrapped, according to a Thursday CBS 4 report. He said the board isn’t rewriting the curriculum but that, instead, it will re-make existing review committees to include students and parents.

#JeffCoSchoolBoardHistory Twitter feed Thursday 2:29 pm

#JeffCoSchoolBoardHistory Twitter feed Thursday 2:29 pm. Click to enlarge.

The news from Jefferson County comes as lawmakers in Oklahoma draw similar backlash for seeking to ban AP History courses there, which they said downplayed “American Exceptionalism.” The law introduced by state Rep. Dan Fisher, included new curriculum that would have required advanced U.S. history students to study the Ten Commandments, church sermons and speeches by Ronald Reagan.

After his bill made national news this week, Fisher, a member of the Christian “Black Robe Regiment,” said he would withdraw the bill and fix it, because he believed it had been misunderstood. “We’re very supportive of the AP program,” he told local reporters.

The Black Robe Regiment, according to its website, is a “resource and networking entity where church leaders and laypeople can network and educate themselves as to our biblical responsibility to stand up for our Lord and Savior and to protect the freedoms and liberties granted to a moral people in the divinely inspired US Constitution.”

Jefferson County, which stretches into the Rocky Mountain foothills just west of Denver, has been a main front this year in a larger ideological battle over education policy in the state. The county’s new conservative-majority school board has made news at a regular clip for green-lighting policies that are shaking up traditional teacher contracts and that seem to be leaning toward corporate-style administrative restructuring as well as more privatization of services, charter schools and school choice.

The national AP History program, run by the private-sector College Board with courses designed by teachers and professors, has come under fire around the country from conservatives who portray it as serving up an overarching liberal view of the country’s history that downplays the role of Christianity and plays up conflict and rebellion. They believe the courses paint a picture of a United States as less special or “exceptional” among other countries of the world, past and present.

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Deep breath. Here it is, a first Colorado poll story on the 2016 presidential race.

Quinnipiac has polled the Centennial State (along with Iowa and Virginia) on the 2016 presidential race. Hillary Clinton leads all of the Republican candidates included in the poll, but is within the margin of error against Scott Walker and Rand Paul (both 43-41). She leads Colorado-hater Chris Christie 43-34, Jeb Bush 44-36, and Mike Huckabee 44-39.

Mark that down right now in your 2016 presidential-polling notebook.

But wait, has anyone even officially declared their candidacy yet? Yes, but the list includes none of the people the pollsters or the people they polled care about.

For what it’s worth, Wikipedia lists these candidates as having officially filed with the FCC to run. If you’re a politics junky (you know you are), you will recognize some of their names:

Dems:
Jeff Boss, conspiracy theorist.
Vermin Supreme, performance artist.
Robby Wells, football coach.

GOPers:
Jack Fellure, engineer.

Indy:
Terry Jones, Florida pastor and would-be Koran burner.

[Top image by James Vaughn.]