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Colorado’s annual release of graduation data showed some metro area school districts making gains while others, like Denver’s district, posting decreases in on-time rates.

Statewide, four-year high school graduation rates inched up again, reaching a new high with 79 percent of all students graduating on time in 2017. Another 10.1 percent, or almost 6,500 students, are still enrolled in high school and could still graduate after five, six or seven years.

Numbers show that might be happening in some districts, including Denver Public Schools. The district, which has posted gains for several years, had a 66.6 percent graduation rate in 2017, a drop from 67.2 percent in 2016.

At the same time, the district’s five-year and six-year graduation rates went up. In 2017, the highest rate, of 76.7 percent, was among students graduating high school in six years, up from 74 percent the previous year.

Colorado ranks low compared to other states in graduation rates, but the annual improvements follow a similar national trend. In 2015, Colorado changed the minimum bar for graduation requirements, and school districts are in the process of changing their own requirements to match for the Class of 2020. School districts are free to set their own requirements for graduation, as long as they meet the state’s minimum bar.

Denver Superintendent Tom Boasberg said district officials are continuing to dig into the data, but said the district is balancing competing goals in helping students take their time to earn college or career experiences before graduation, while trying to raise the on-time graduation rate.

“I’m disappointed we didn’t show gains this year,” Boasberg said. “We do have a number of programs….where students will not graduate until their fifth or sixth year, so it is not surprising to see the slight dip in the 4-year rate. But we want to make sure all of our measures continue to increase.”

Graduation rates for Colorado’s five largest school districts

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

Aurora Public Schools, another large district, has shown increases in both on-time and five-year or six-year graduation rates. The district, which posted one of the highest increases among metro area districts in graduation rates last year, had a relatively large increase again in 2017.

In 2017, 67.6 percent of Aurora students graduated on-time, up from 65 percent that did the previous year. The district’s highest graduation rate, of 78.2 percent, is for students graduating after six years of high school.

Last year’s increase in Aurora was one of the factors that allowed the state to raise the quality rating for the district, moving it off the state’s watchlist for chronic low performance.

Other struggling districts that are already under state-ordered plans for improvement after years of low performance had mixed results. Westminster Public Schools, for instance, posted a slight increase in graduation rates with 57.8 percent of students in 2017 graduating on time.

But the Commerce City-based Adams 14 district, also on a state-ordered plan, saw a decrease in the number of students graduating on-time, as well as those who graduate in five or six years. The graduation rates are one factor in the state’s quality ratings each year. If the 2018 rating the state gives Adams 14 doesn’t improve from previous years, the state may consider further action against the district including merging it or turning over management to a third party.

The state on Thursday also released dropout rate numbers. Statewide, although a slightly higher percentage of students are graduating, the rate of students who are dropping out has remained the same.

In the metro area, many school districts were able to decrease the number of students who dropped out in 2017. Adams 14 had a 7.9 percent dropout rate in 2017, down from 8.2 percent in 2016. Aurora had a 2.5 percent dropout rate in 2017, down from 3.4 percent in 2016.

Denver schools had a slight increase in the number of students dropping out. In 2017, 4.2 percent of Denver students dropped out of school, up from 4 percent in 2016.

Statewide, district officials are also considering data as it breaks down by race. Gaps in Colorado narrowed as graduation rates improved for all groups of students of color, but they decreased slightly for white students, compared to 2016.

Statewide graduation rates for 2017 by race

(Sam Park | Chalkbeat)

Look up individual school graduation rates for 2017 and 2016 in the table below.


Look up district-level graduation rates for 2017 and 2016 in the table below.


 

Originally posted on Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

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1.

Black plastic bag, no tote, no backpack
One pair of shoes, no socks, no laces
Plenty of sunshine today, no raincoat
One glove, one cold, bare hand
Toothache, no aspirin
One quarter and three dimes,
No nickels, no ones, no fives
Cracks in the sidewalk, no looking up
Lest he fall and no one will help him

2.

Another man froze to death overnight
on a sidewalk in Boulder. Science says
a gentle way to die, with his old boots on,
homeless on a hard bed. He’d slept out before
and had reason to hope he might wake up
with the sun. Without a down-filled coat
hope had no feathers.

3.

Suffer the cold to come inside. Christ
and Allah never walked hard sidewalks.
Buddha sat under a tree in kinder weather.
There’s no chapter and verse for the lonely,
the scared, the claustrophobe who hates
walls. But their blood cools and organs fade
into a silent unholy night, no star, no wise men.

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In a meeting to discuss immigration policy with Democratic lawmakers, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly set the record straight on a few things — some of Trump’s immigration campaign promises were “uninformed,” there will be no wall built across the entirety of the Mexican border and that, however much of the wall is built, Mexico won’t be paying for it. And then there’s more. Via The Washington Post.

If it seemed a little strange for Lindsey Graham, of all Republicans, to suddenly be sucking up to Donald Trump, that’s because it was more than strange. But now that we understand why Graham did it — he was trying to make an ally of Trump in order to get a Dreamer bill passed — that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a spectacular failure.  Via The New Yorker.

From The National Review, Ben Shapiro writes that Trump may or may not be a racist, but asks whether there any journalistic justification for labeling him as one.

Trump’s fake news awards were pretty obviously a  bust (as nearly all journalistic enterprises gleefully reported), and Vox takes a look at the “winners.”  Meanwhile, here’s the CSPAN video of Jeff Flake’s speech condemning Trump’s attacks on the press (with a comparison to Stalin, no less). And John McCain’s op-ed on the topic in The Washington Post.

If you want to know how worried Republicans are about a wave election come November, suddenly they’re panicking about a special election for a House seat in Western Pennsylvania in a district that Trump carried by 19 points. Via The New York Times.

Some African countries might well be shitholes, writes Dayo Alopade in Foreign Policy, but that’s because they’re ruled by men like Donald Trump.

The Olympic detente, in which North Korea and South Korea will march under the same flag, would seem to complicate American policy on North Korea. Via The New York Times.

Trump has a long history of paying for silence, and in the Trump-pays-off-porn-star story, the ploy once again seems to have worked. (By the way, for what other president would this story barely cause a ripple? Hint: none.) Via The Atlantic. 

Gail Collins: Now we know directly from his doctor that Donald Trump can correctly identify a camel, does that mean he’s not a raging narcissist or that he knows anything about immigration reform? Via The New York Times.

Sarah Jones writes in The New Republic that the #metoo backlash now set in motion was as inevitable as it is familiarly depressing.

 

Photo by Herb Neufeld, via Flickr: Creative Commons

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A suburban Denver school district on a state-mandated improvement plan has cut recess time for elementary students in a bid to devote more time to instruction.

On a good day, elementary children in the Adams 14 district get about 15 minutes of recess at lunch time, but sometimes it’s as little as seven, according to teachers who’ve spoken out about the issue.

The change, instituted at the beginning of the school year, has angered both parents and teachers who say the lack of outside playtime is stressful and unhealthy for students and has led to more behavior problems in the classroom.

The reduction in recess is one of a series of controversial decisions this year in the 7,400-student district, where almost half the students are English language learners and 86 percent qualify for subsidized meals. Also contentious this year were decisions to end parent-teacher conferences and scale back a biliteracy program once envisioned as a model for other districts.

It’s not uncommon for students in high-poverty schools like the ones in Adams 14 to get less recess compared to their more affluent peers.

A 2006 report from the National Center for Education Statistics found that the students in the highest poverty elementary schools got 17 to 21 minutes of recess a day while those at schools with relatively few students from poor families got 28 to 32 minutes a day.

District spokeswoman Janelle Asmus said the recess changes came out of feedback from state education officials and a contractor charged with helping the district improve. They urged district leaders to use school time more effectively.

“We’re a district that’s on turnaround … and the state has told us, ‘We expect dramatic improvements from you,’” Asmus said. “What we keep hearing (is), ‘You’re not using every single minute to the maximum amount.’”

Last year, district elementary schools generally had around 45 minutes of recess a day, Asmus said. While there was some variation between schools and some of that time was spent donning jackets, lining up, and filing out of the building, most had a 15-minute morning recess, 15-minute afternoon recess, and a 30-minute midday break split between lunch and recess, she said.

This year, students have only the 30-minute lunch/recess break. At a school board meeting held a week into the school year, a string of parents and teachers complained about the lack of both recess time and eating time, and a few were moved nearly to tears as they described the consequences.

Some children were throwing most of their meals away because they didn’t have enough time to eat. Others, particularly special education students who required extra help going through the cafeteria line and feeding themselves, were getting little to no recess with their peers.

While Colorado law requires elementary schools to provide students with an average of 30 minutes of physical activity a day, many observers consider it a weak law because it allows so much flexibility in what counts as physical activity and no minimum minutes for any particular type of physical activity.

Critics of the recess cut in Adams 14 say it flies in the face of research showing that physical activity improves focus and helps students better absorb information.

But Asmus said district officials agree with the research and are simply integrating physical activity into the elementary school day outside of recess. This approach entails lessons that incorporate movement or “brain breaks” — short periods of exercise in the classroom.

But teachers like Derene Armelin have their doubts.

A first grade teacher at Dupont Elementary, she said this week that some children sit out during movement breaks because they’re embarrassed to follow the choreographed moves that popular brain break videos rely on — dance moves or pretend wall-climbing, for example.

Plus, she said, there’s no replacement for getting fresh air outside.

Asmus said ensuring kids get time outdoors is up to teachers.

“This is where we rely on our teachers’ professional judgement,” she said. “How are they using their lessons to address all the needs of the student?”

Asmus said teachers can take kids outside as part of lessons, say for a butterfly hunt or to count flowers in a garden.

Armelin sees signs that the daily schedule is hard on youngsters. Some act tired. Others ask repeatedly for bathroom breaks just to get up and move.

“They’re walking down the hallway. They’re getting a drink of water,” she said. “They’re doing whatever form of exercise they can come up with.”

Parent Elizabeth Vitela said her first-grade son and fourth-grade daughter mention the lack of recess almost every day.
“They say it’s too little,” she said. “It’s not a good amount.”

Vitela, whose children attend Dupont Elementary, said she’s upset that no one ever explained the recess cuts or the discontinuation of parent-teacher conferences to parents.

Parent Carolina Rosales, who has a kindergartner and third-grader at Hanson Elementary, said her 5-year-old son sometimes misses recess altogether because he prefers to use the allotted 30 minutes to eat. Her 9-year-old daughter is the opposite, often gulping down just fruit and milk before dashing outside.

Recess practices vary in Colorado districts, including those that face the same kinds of academic hurdles as Adams 14. In nearby Westminster Public Schools, which is also on a state-required improvement plan, most elementary students get a 10-minute morning recess, a 10-minute afternoon recess and 10 to 20 minutes during the lunch/recess period, said district spokesman Stephen Saunders.

In Pueblo City Schools, which improved just enough in 2016 to avoid a state improvement plan, elementary students get a 35-minute lunch/recess break plus 10 to 15 minutes of additional recess during other times of the day, said district spokesman R. Dalton Sprouse.

While the recess cuts in Adams 14, like other recent changes there, are intended to boost learning and raise test scores, some district teachers believe the plan will backfire.

“I honestly think it’s going to bring scores down,” said Hanson Elementary teacher Jodi Connelly, who teaches fourth- and fifth-graders.

“To tell them you’re going to have to sit in a chair all day long … and have things put in your head,” she said. “That’s not how they’re wired.”

Connelly, who is currently on a health-related leave of absence, said before she went on leave in late fall she was seeing more student conflicts and disruptions. One boy, who had gradually shed his previously defiant behavior, was regressing. He’d become mouthy and rude again, habits that were landing him in detention.

“We spend more time dealing with behaviors as a result of not having the time for kids to get out there and be kids,” she said.

 

Originally posted on Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo via Chalkbeat

‘Orphaned’ oil and gas wells are on the rise

Wells left behind by industry threaten to overwhelm Western states.

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In March 2015, Joe MacLaren, a state oil and gas inspector in Colorado, drove out to the Taylor 3 oil well near the tiny town of Hesperus, in the southwestern corner of the state. He found an entire checklist of violations. Atom Petroleum, a Texas-based company, had bought out more than 50 oil and gas wells after the company that drilled them went bankrupt. Now, Atom was pumping oil from those wells, but Taylor 3 was leaking crude, and it was missing required signage as well as screens on infrastructure to keep birds away from toxic gunk. Worse, the company had not performed safety tests to ensure the well wasn’t leaking fluids underground.

Over the following months, the state slapped Atom with fines, performed follow-up inspections, and demanded a $360,000 bond to cover the cost of shutting down the wells, just in case Atom — hardly proving itself to operate in a trustworthy manner — didn’t clean up its act.

Indeed, the list of violations MacLaren and others discovered kept growing, yet Atom kept on pumping oil and gas, and did not pay fines or put up the $360,000 bond. So in 2016, the state took a rare step: It revoked the company’s drilling permit. Atom’s business, it said, was no longer welcome in Colorado.

Atom didn’t bother to follow through on one last important obligation either. When companies cease production, they are supposed to plug wells with cement to reduce the risk of leaks, and to restore vegetation and wildlife habitat aboveground. They recoup their bonds if they do so, whereas if they don’t, the state cashes them. In this case, Atom flouted its responsibility to plug and reclaim its wells, leaving the state to clean up its mess. Colorado did claim a $60,000 bond Atom posted when it first started operating, but the cleanup could cost taxpayers 10 times that.

The 50 or so wells Atom left behind comprise Colorado’s largest-ever “orphaned well” case, according to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission. But it’s not an isolated problem. Companies that go out of business, become bankrupt, or, like Atom, simply ignore the rules, tend to skip out on cleanup and land restoration. And since bond amounts set by states and the federal government rarely if ever cover real-world cleanup costs, it can be cheaper for a company to forfeit a bond than to follow reclamation rules.

Orphaned wells are more likely than properly plugged “abandoned” wells to leak pollutants, including methane gas, which can contaminate groundwater and even trigger explosions. So it’s troubling that the number of such wells in the West has soared. A downturn in energy prices starting back in 2008 has led energy companies to orphan thousands of wells across Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. States are struggling even to tally them, let alone remediate them. Officially, Colorado has 244 orphaned wells on its books, but state officials estimate another 400 have yet to be located. And with a new drilling boom tapping deep shale formations along Colorado’s urban Front Range, some worry that the next bust will saddle the public with thousands more.

On state and private land, major energy corporations typically explore and drill for oil and gas across large fields and then sell parcels to smaller operators when production dips. The little guys can still turn profits, just not at the margins big corporations need to satisfy shareholders.

But small companies tend to have shakier financing and are therefore more vulnerable to market swings. When gas prices plunged starting in 2008, it bankrupted many small companies producing marginal amounts of methane from coal seams, and thousands of coalbed methane wells were orphaned.

In Wyoming, the problem reached epidemic proportions. In 2014, under Republican Gov. Matt Mead, the state implemented an aggressive strategy to identify and plug orphan wells. To hedge against future busts, the state also significantly hiked the bonds companies must put up before drilling. It based those increases partly on well depth, since the deeper shale oil and gas wells now being targeted are much more expensive to reclaim than conventional shallow wells. Wyoming has since reclaimed 1,700 sites on state and private lands, using taxes and royalties paid by industry to chip away at the backlog caused by the spike in orphaned wells and insufficient bond funds. But it has also identified nearly 4,600 more orphaned wells — and that’s just on state and private lands.

“Wyoming is more ahead of the game than other states,” says Jill Morrison, director of the Sheridan-based Powder River Basin Resource Council. Even so, the state “can’t keep up,” she says, and the higher bond rates still don’t fully cover reclamation costs when a company orphans its wells. Reclamation on federal lands in Wyoming, where there are thousands of additional orphaned wells, has been even slower.

In Colorado, the state currently uses bonds and revenue from fines to cover cleanup costs for orphans. But that generates less than $850,000 a year, so the state has only plugged and reclaimed 52 orphaned wells since 2013, at an average cost of $82,500 each. According to a recent state analysis, dealing with all 244 of its known orphans will cost an estimated $5.3 million annually over the next five years.

This August, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper proposed several tougher rules for monitoring and reclaiming both orphaned and properly plugged wells. The announcement followed a deadly house explosion in a north Denver suburb last April, which elevated concern about abandoned wells of all kinds since it was caused by a severed methane gas flow line from a properly plugged and sealed well. Hickenlooper’s reforms included creating a fund that would be used to eliminate the state’s orphaned-well backlog within a decade. It would be bankrolled by energy companies, possibly through a property-tax increase, and could also pay for services like in-home methane monitors for neighborhoods that are next to or even on top of old wells.

Tracee Bentley, executive director of the Colorado Petroleum Council, acknowledges the need to “get ahead of a potential problem,” but questions whether new taxes are the solution. Instead, she says, the state could direct existing tax revenues to the issue, or create a voluntary program for companies to help plug and reclaim wells. In Oklahoma, for instance, companies can choose to divert 1 cent for every $100 of oil and gas they produce to a program that restores orphaned wells. The state claims that 95 percent of operators participate and the program has restored 16,000 well sites since 1994.

State Rep. Mike Foote, a Boulder County Democrat, says he would like to see higher bond rates in Colorado, but he doesn’t expect much cooperation from state Republicans. In a letter to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, two state GOP leaders expressed concern over Hickenlooper’s proposal for an orphan-well fund and disagreed with his portrayal of the issue as a “vast” problem. But without more money and regulatory muscle, Foote says, the state is not just ducking the current problem; it’s inviting future calamity.

Since the deadly Denver house explosion last spring, watchdogs have documentedan alarming number of poorly monitored abandoned wells and flow lines beneath Front Range communities. Some of this potentially perilous infrastructure lies directly beneath neighborhoods. With several small companies, some already cited for violations, currently drilling and applying to drill for oil and gas in Boulder and neighboring counties, Foote and others fear the next price crash could create a hazardous landscape rife with orphaned wells. And dealing with those wells could be even more complicated than before, because industry is now tapping deep shale formations, where wells are much more difficult and expensive to plug, reclaim, and inspect.

According to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, there are currently 63 financially “distressed” operators in the state, who collectively own almost 4,000 wells. These companies have either missed required safety tests or aren’t producing much, signs that they may be running out of money and therefore more likely to abandon their sites. If even a fraction of those companies become deadbeats, the state’s problems will quickly multiply. Without broad action, says Foote, “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

 

This story originally appeared in High Country News.

 

Photo: Steve Labowskie, the southwest field inspector and project manager for orphan wells with the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission, walks around an abandoned oil well in Redmesa, Colorado. There are 244 known orphan wells in the state. (Jerry McBride/Durango Herald)

 

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The Republican plan for averting a government shutdown this Friday is to dare Democrats to vote against long-term funding of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. In other words, yes, they’re ready to use CHIP as a bargaining chip. Via The New York Times.

Lindsey Graham explains to Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen how a Dreamer compromise would work and says that if Trump is interested, he has his number. Via Real Clear Politics.

Dana Milbank: You can see just how much trouble a possible Dreamer compromise is in when the principals can’t even agree that Norway is largely populated by white people. Via The Washington Post.

From The National Review, Jim Gerhaghty writes that we shouldn’t blame Secretary Nielsen for Trump’s foul-mouthed comments. We should blame Trump.

The Pentagon is suggesting to the Trump administration a new reason to go nuclear — in response to a devastating cyber-security attack. Via The New York Times.

It was 50 years ago that Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, and the election of Donald Trump was the culmination of all those years of backlash against everything that King stood for. Via The Atlantic.

Come to Colorado, writes David Roberts in Vox, if you want a glimpse of renewable energy’s insanely cheap future. The costs of renewable energy are falling faster than anyone could have imagined.

The results from Donald Trump’s physical are in, and his doctor says he is perfectly healthy, which is more, writes Alan Burdick for The New Yorker, than you can say about the sorry state of the body politic.

It turns out that Margaret “Am I a Bad Feminist?” Atwood is a blood-drinking monster. Or something like that. Via the Toronto Globe and Mail.

Photo by Christopher Chappelear, via Flickr: Creative Commons
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Coincidentally — or, I’d like to think, providentially — I came to understand something critically important about racism in America on Martin Luther King weekend, and I don’t mean the supposed difference between shithole countries and shithouse countries.

And I don’t mean the not exactly revelation that our president is a racist, either. Come on, we’ve known that for, like, forever. It’s not groundbreaking at this point to say that among the key reasons Donald Trump was elected president was his appeal to those voters who were vulnerable to a dog-whistling (and worse) demagogue.

I am always hesitant to call people racists because who knows what people actually think or whether they even know what they actually think. Apparently, many people voted for Barack Obama and, four years later, for Donald Trump. There’s no explaining that.

But I do have to laugh when people talk about the difficulty of knowing what’s in someone’s heart. That’s certainly not a problem with Trump, a guy who thinks it’s funny to mock a disabled reporter.

The plain truth is that Trump is an ugly bully whose behavior is such that reports that he paid off porn stars to be quiet in the runup to the 2016 election barely even register. This isn’t a question of a charge of fake news, as Trump will tweet at us. It’s that this is Trump and everyone knows it’s Trump. He’s a bully. He’s a misogynist. He’s racist. These are all of a piece.

And no one can really believe that Trump didn’t use shithole or shithouse or some other scatalogical term to describe countries he’s never visited and about which he knows only that most people living there are black. (Which gives him a leg up, at least, on Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen who testified Tuesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee that she didn’t recall Trump saying shithole in the meeting. Nielsen also said — seriously — that she didn’t know Norway is predominantly white. I just wish someone had asked her if she knew polar bears are predominantly white.)

The real issue is acceptance of Trump’s racism by the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln. That acceptance is apparent in some Congress members’ willingness to lie about what Trump said or stay quiet about what he said or mildly criticize what he said but do absolutely nothing about it. Our own Cory Gardner is one of those to offer the most tepid of criticisms, which are as effective as the old duck-and-cover drills in Cold War days. They don’t mean, or accomplish, anything.

The defense of Trump here is more than enabling behavior. It is condoning behavior. It’s an assault on the essence of, to borrow a phrase, what, in fact, makes America great.

We’ve long known this problem in theory thanks to the cowardly Paul Ryan and the squirrelly Mitch McConnell and the many other congressional enablers. But never has it been so clear as it is in the case of Trump’s shithole-gate.

When Trump was elected, many worried that his behavior would soon be normalized. That hasn’t actually happened in the way I assumed. Most Americans — if you trust the polls — continue to be outraged by every single Trump outrage. But what has happened, in the Republican Congress, is the normalization of Trump’s bigoted behavior that recalls the very worst of America.

For making this absolutely clear, we can thank Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, who were surprise participants in the shithole meeting. Their last-minute presence was apparently required to buck up Trump so he wouldn’t be rolled by the Gang of Six, whose dreamers/immigration proposal Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin were set to present to the president. (The six-senator gang, by the way, includes Colorado’s Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner.)

When The Washington Post broke the shithole story, Cotton and Perdue penned a joint release saying they couldn’t recall Trump saying that word. The do-not-recall dodge is timeless, but, wait, it gets worse. Soon after, Durbin revealed that Trump did use shithole and that his words in general were vile and racist. Durbin also said that during the meeting Graham had bravely stood up to Trump for using the language that Cotton and Perdue couldn’t recall.

So, Cotton and Perdue, who on one day couldn’t recall what Trump had said, went on the Sunday shows to say that, magically, they had both not only simultaneously regained their memories but that Trump, it turned out, never said shithole. After which, The Washington Post revealed that, in Cotton’s and Perdue’s memory, what Trump actually said was shithouse.

Seriously. That was their defense. He didn’t say shithole countries. He said shithouse countries – an expression I’ve never heard.

Were they lying? What would you say?

Lindsey Graham — who had said the reports on Trump were “basically accurate” — had the line of the week, saying his recollection hadn’t, uh, “evolved” like those of his colleagues. Of course, Graham has been spending weeks futilely sucking up to Trump, presumably to get him to sign on to the immigration proposal. We can see how well that worked out. Meanwhile, Perdue and then Trump accused Durbin of totally “misrepresenting” what Trump said, meaning they were accusing Durbin of lying — and, of course, Graham, too.

That this happened on the Martin Luther King holiday weekend makes the shameful behavior even more shameful. That many of the same people who defended Trump, or who didn’t mention the shithole comments at all, were obligatorily praising King may be even more shameful yet.

There was a powerful cover on The New Yorker last week by Mark Ulriksen, in which King was imagined linking arms on a football field with protesting football players Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennett. There’s no question where King would be on such issues were he alive today.

There’s also no question that Trump would be attacking King were he alive today, just as he has attacked civil rights icon John Lewis.

Lewis had said that in light of the shithole comments, he won’t be attending Trump’s State of the Union speech. There will be a few other boycotters, too. But that’s no problem for Trump. As the cameras roll, the room will still be packed, and at least half those in the audience will no doubt jump to their feet to cheer him.

Flickr Creative Commons photo by Spencer Means.

Colorado governor’s race: Battle to the ballot begins

Some candidates are going through the grassroots meatgrinder and some are petitioning onto the ballot— here’s what that means

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Colorado voters are primed for the governor’s race of a generation.

With more than a dozen Democratic and Republican hopefuls crisscrossing the state and jockeying for position in the first wide-open gubernatorial election in as long as many can remember, there’s still no clear front-runner in either party in sight.

As they battle among one another to replace term-limited Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper their first challenge is to make the June primary ballot, and doing so is a byzantine bloodsport that involves strategy and risk. The process started in earnest this week as Jan. 16 was the day candidates could begin gathering petitions to try and get on the ballot. 

In Colorado, candidates for governor have multiple paths to the ballot, and each harbors potential pitfalls. A candidate can try and break through the risky gauntlet of the grassroots caucus-and-assembly process, or bypass it completely with a costly effort to go directly to the ballot via voter petitions. (They can also try to do both, but that’s even riskier, and we’ll get to why later.)

Whatever they choose— and candidates in this field have already chosen their routes— voters who are registered as Democrats and Republicans will get their first shot at the precinct caucuses on March 6 to shape the general election to come. 

Voters participating in the caucuses will learn more about some of the nine Democrats and nine Republicans who are running for governor. They will then choose the delegates who eventually will vote for the candidate they believe should represent their party in the big governor’s race in November.

Only registered party members can participate; the deadline to register as a member of a major party was Jan. 8. 

Thanks to new laws voters passed in 2016, those who are unaffiliated with a major political party can participate in the party primaries, but not the caucuses. Unaffiliated voters are, however, invited to observe the process, which could take place in thousands of living rooms, gymnasiums, barns and ballrooms in neighborhoods from the small towns of the Eastern Plains, up and down the bustling Front Range, and out on the Western Slope.

Ready to get involved? Here’s what you need to know.

Remind me again, what’s a caucus and how does it work?

You might typically hear more about the Colorado caucuses in the lead up to a presidential election. In 2016, more Democrats flooded the Colorado caucuses than ever before, largely in excitement for Bernie Sanders.

But these small neighborhood gatherings take place in the midterms, too. This March, the Democratic Party is expecting an unprecedented turnout for a non-presidential year, says party spokesman Eric Walker. “Democrats are fired up,” he says, “and I think you’re going to see that reflected in the enthusiasm for our caucuses.”

Republicans, on the other hand, are expecting typical turnout in a non-presidential year, says party spokesman Daniel Cole— about 6 to 7 percent of registered Republicans statewide.

Technically called precinct caucuses, these local events throw down in a building in your neighborhood. It can be a community center, a school, a church, or even someone’s home. There, registered Democrats and Republicans respectively spend an evening trying to persuade their neighbors to select them as delegates to county and state assemblies that take place weeks later. Those delegate hopefuls might try to win support by saying they will carry the banner for a particular candidate at the state assembly. But they are merely the first in a series of steps for candidates trying to get on the primary ballot. At the caucuses, party members select delegates to go to the county assemblies, and at the county assemblies they select delegates to go to the Big Show— the state assembly.

Already, some candidates for governor are urging their supporters to “commit to caucus” for them. Those candidates want as many of their supporters as they can to get selected as delegates to the party’s state assembly, which is held in April and can be a defining moment for a candidate for office.

All this sounds quaint and community-oriented, like a big neighborhood discussion where hearts and minds are changed through debate and discussion. Right?

Pretty much.

The point is persuasion: You’re going to hear a lot from people trying to get you to pull for their candidate, and you’re going to want to be able to talk them into why they should send a delegate on behalf of the candidate you support. You might be there for a few hours. In presidential years, some folks mark off a corner of the room for a candidate and try to lure neighbors over. “There’s definitely movement … it’s on the margins,” says Jim Matson, a former Democratic precinct captain in Colorado Springs who has participated in the process. “People can advocate, and if they can sell it, they can bring others to them.”

It’s familiar friends-and-neighbors politics and some might not be above saying “we have cookies,” to bring others over to their corner, Matson says. “It’s very retail, very personable, and kind of quirky.”

Caucuses are important, even in non-presidential years, because the number of party members who participate in the caucuses make up just a sliver of registered partisans statewide so those who participate have an outsized influence on who winds up on the primary ballot, says Cole, the state GOP spokesman. “Therefore,” he says, “there’s even more incentive to participate if you want your voice to be heard.” 

So what is the state assembly and how does it help determine the gubernatorial nominee?

In a presidential year, parties call this high-stakes gathering of state delegates a state convention. In non-presidential years, they call it a state assembly.

Each major party has one, and this is where all the delegates selected from those March caucuses and county assemblies meet all at once in one place and eventually cast their ballots for candidates for office.

The assembly is a way for a candidate to show he or she has a groundswell of support from the grassroots base of the party; the thousands of delegates who show up often make up the party’s most hardcore loyal members. But the risk is that a candidate can get knocked out of a race for good here by failing to win enough support.

Both the Democrats and Republicans are holding their assemblies this year on the same day—  Saturday, April 14. The Democratic state assembly will be at First Bank Center in Broomfield; the Republicans are still hammering out the location details for their assembly.

At these grassroots meatgrinders, candidates for governor who choose to participate will battle it for the support of all the delegates who attend. It’s like a circus for political junkies with booths for campaigns and organizations in the halls and a raucous floor where delegates wave banners and hear candidates speak from a stage. Each candidate for governor who chooses to participate in the assembly will get to give a speech, and candidates and their representatives will spend the day buttonholing delegates and trying to win the votes of the thousands of party poobahs who made their way from those neighborhood precinct caucuses, through the county assemblies, and on to the state assembly.

In the end, the delegates will all vote. And then the showdown.

Candidates need 30 percent of the vote to stay alive at the assembly, so that means only three of them can even possibly emerge in the most balanced scenario, but likely it will be just one or two. The candidate who wins the assembly gets rewarded for it in another way, too— he or she earns what is called “top line” status on the June primary ballot mailed to voters, meaning having their name printed atop all other candidates.

Do the candidates for governor have to go through the caucus-assembly process?

No. And not all of them will.

Candidates for governor who wish to skip the assembly and “petition on” to the ballot will need to gather 1,500 signatures from each of Colorado’s seven congressional districts. It can be costly for campaigns that hire companies to help gather petitions for them, especially in a year with so many candidates running. A registered voter who signs a petition for one candidate cannot do the same for another.

Candidates can start collecting petitions on Jan. 16, and they have to turn them in by March 20, according to the Secretary of State’s Office.

This year, more scrutiny will be on the process than in years past because of a petition-fraud scandal that erupted last year in the sprawling Republican U.S. Senate primary in which a signature collector for a candidate pled guilty to forgery. Now, the secretary of state’s office will be cross-checking names of those who sign petitions against a state database to try and ensure no similar shenanigans. That means campaigns must be super-diligent, and most competent campaigns try to gather many more signatures than necessary in case some are struck by the secretary of state.

Why would a candidate petition on instead of going through the state assembly?

Going through the state assembly can be risky for a campaign that has the money to run a statewide petition-gathering drive. It can also provide a masterstroke for a candidate who doesn’t.

Here’s why: If a candidate does not get 30 percent of the vote among delegates at the assembly, and the candidate hasn’t gathered and turned in the petitions necessary get directly on the ballot, that candidate gets bounced from the race entirely. So candidates who put all their chips on the assembly can see their whole campaign obliterated by April.

On the other hand, a candidate who has gathered and turned in enough petitions to get directly on the ballot, but also wants to go through the assembly, can do so, but that candidate better be confident of his or her ability to get more than 10 percent of the vote. Because if such a candidate doesn’t crack 10 percent at the assembly, that candidate’s name cannot appear on the primary ballot even if they gathered enough petitions.

Some hardcore Democrats and Republicans might get irked by candidates who choose not to go through the assembly, viewing such a move as a sign of potential weakness or skepticism with the base. Candidates petitioning on the ballot, however, can frame their move as bringing more Coloradans into the process than just the die-hards who go to the caucuses and assembly.  

Campaigns with the resources to pay an army of workers to gather petitions along with a grassroots volunteer effort— and who begin the petition process fast and early and flood the zone— also might be able to blunt the ability of campaigns with fewer resources to do the same. The number of Democrats in each congressional district willing to sign a petition to get a candidate on the ballot is finite after all, and if one campaign locks up enough of them early it could make it harder for others to find voters willing to sign.

So which candidates for governor are doing what this year?

On the Democratic side, former State Treasurer Cary Kennedy says she plans to go through the caucuses and state assembly. “This is really an extension of what Cary has been doing during this campaign: meeting one-on-one with Coloradans, in our neighborhoods and living rooms, listening to our concerns and making the case for her vision for Colorado,” said her campaign manager Aaron Bly in a statement.

Democratic tech entrepreneur Erik Underwood is also going the caucus-assembly route. Underwood is familiar to the process having gone through it in 2016 when he ran for the U.S. Senate— as a Republican— and earned six votes among a large field. (That year, a little-known county commissioner from El Paso named Darryl Glenn stunned political observers when he got 70 percent of the vote, knocking out six of his rivals.)

Democrats taking the other route are businessman Noel Ginsburg and Lt. Gov. Donna Lynne. Both are trying to petition directly onto the ballot for similar reasons. Lynne said her decision reflects her “commitment to inclusiveness” since she’ll have to earn buy-in from all across the state in gathering signatures to promote her candidacy. As for Ginsburg, “petitioning on to the ballot ensures that a signature from the Eastern Plains or the Western Slope is equal to one from the San Luis Valley or Front Range,” he told The Colorado Independent. “We want to give every Democrat the opportunity to express support for my candidacy.”

Former State Sen. Mike Johnston is working with the Secretary of State’s office on the petition process, but the campaign says it is “keeping all options open” and “will continue to evaluate which strategy best allows the campaign to maximize their grassroots support across Colorado, while at the same time securing a place on the primary ballot.”

The campaign of Boulder Democratic Congressman Jared Polis said he will “participate in the 2018 Democratic Caucuses and collect petition signatures to qualify for the primary ballot in the Colorado governor’s race.” Asked if that meant he would go to the assembly and appear on the ballot there for a vote, his campaign said yes.

On the Republican side, State Treasurer Walker Stapleton was coy when asked what he planned to do in early November, saying whatever he decides he guarantees he’ll be on the ballot. Stapleton did, however, notify the Secretary of State’s Office that he intends to gather petitions, and he was approved to do so on Jan. 5, according to a list of candidates who made similar requests. Retired investment banker Doug Robinson said on Jan. 2 he was considering both options and would make a decision soon. On Jan. 8, the Secretary of State’s Office approved his ability to gather petitions. Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s campaign announced on Jan. 17 she would petition onto the ballot. “The petitioning process will allow me to balance my time between the campaign trail and serving the people of Colorado in my current role as the state’s attorney general,” Coffman said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing my travel around the state and engaging with voters from urban, rural and suburban Colorado.”

Entrepreneur and onetime lawmaker Victor Mitchell is preparing to gather petitions. The campaign says it gives him “the best chance to meet the most grassroots voters all across the state” and to “touch many Republicans that won’t participate in the caucus process.”

On the flipside, former Parker mayor Greg Lopez will go through the assembly. “It’s like running the Triple Crown,” he says. “The first race is to get onto the ballot by convincing 30 percent of the delegates to give me the opportunity to become the Republican nominee by putting me onto the primary ballot— allow me to prove that I am electable, that my message can resonate.”

Steve Barlock, also running for governor, was one of the few delegates for Donald Trump at the 2016 Republican state convention. “So I know how hard it is,” he says, adding that he will go through the assembly process, hoping to gain support from newcomers who might have been inspired by Trump’s candidacy. Lately, when someone has offered to donate to his campaign, Barlock says, he’s told them to save it and instead caucus for him and use the money to pay the fee to attend the assembly if they become a delegate. Also, he said about his decision to go through the assembly, “It seems to me that the higher powers have locked up the petitioning companies.”

Larimer County Commissioner Lew Gaiter, who is running a low-key campaign for governor, says he, too, will try to appeal to the party’s grassroots base by going through the assembly in hopes of catching fire.

Also going through the state assembly is former Congressman Tom Tancredo. Speaking on a Dec. 23 talk radio show, he said he felt it would cost too much money to gather enough signatures statewide to petition on. He also said he believed a recent rules change meant candidates must gather petitions in all 35 Senate districts in order to get on the ballot. But that’s not correct. Voters did pass a law in 2016 in support of a campaign called Raise the Bar that made it more difficult to gather signatures to get statewide constitutional questions on the ballot, and that new law requires signatures be gathered in all 35 Senate districts, but it doesn’t apply to candidates trying to get their names on the ballot.

In an interview with The Colorado Independent, Tancredo said he still plans to go through the state assembly because he needs to establish grassroots support for his campaign. “My entire thing has got to be grassroots,” he said. “If we can’t make that work I can’t make any election work.”

But can a candidate for governor actually win anything in March 6 caucuses?

Not really. But there will be a record of support in at least one party.*

Unlike in presidential years (but not in 2016) when the Republican Party has held straw polls at the caucuses and tallied up the numbers statewide to see which candidate has the most support, the Republicans won’t be doing so this year for the governor’s race, says Cole, the state GOP spokesman. Some individual precinct caucuses might hold their own informal straw polls about the governor’s race just to gauge interest in candidates, but the party won’t be tallying those numbers up statewide.

On the other hand, the Democrats will be holding a preference poll for candidates in the governor’s race during the caucuses on March 6, says party spokesman Walker. The party will then release the numbers when they have complete information from each county. That means at some point following the caucuses we’ll be able to gauge which candidate racked up the most support in those far-flung neighborhood meetings all across the state.

OK, I’m an unaffiliated voter right now and I’m interested in the governor’s race but I missed the deadline to register with a party. Can I just go to a caucus and watch?

Yes. As stated above, you would have to change your party registration to Democrat or Republican by Jan. 8 if you want to participate.

If you missed the deadline to register by party, that doesn’t mean you can’t still go to a caucus location and observe. They’ll likely let you in, but you won’t be able to involve yourself in the discussions. In the Colorado Springs area, one woman who runs a caucus location is known for making observers keep their shoulders on a chalkboard. If you move your shoulders off the board you’re asked to leave.

Other locations might not be that strict.

This whole precinct caucus process in Colorado … is it good or bad?

That depends on whom you ask.

“Some critics say the party precinct caucus is a poor way to begin the party nominating process in Colorado,” write Colorado College political science professors Tom Cronin and Bob Loevy in their 2012 book Politics and & Policy in Colorado: Governing a Purple State. “Every registered member of a political party can attend his or her party precinct caucus, yet relatively few bother. In some cases, there can be lively discussion and competition between candidates for delegate to the county convention at precinct caucuses, but that is a rare occurrence.”

More from the book:

In many of the precincts, probably a majority, the same party stalwarts dutifully attend the precinct caucus, vote themselves and their friends a trip to the county convention, and adjourn, often without ever discussing which of the various candidates might make the better nominee for office.

“Those who like the current precinct caucus system point out that it places power right where it belongs, and that is in the hands of faithful party members who are sufficiently committed to the party to take the time to attend precinct caucuses, county conventions, and periodically, state conventions,” the authors write.

One unaffiliated voter who will be going to the caucuses to monitor them this year is John Wren, a community activist who came to the defense of the system when periodic efforts to abolish it have flared. 

He says he wants more newcomers to Colorado or those new to politics to get involved at this grassroots level because caucuses can sometimes be throttled by entrenched party loyalists who have run them for years and can put their thumbs on the scale.

“The caucus system is meant to magnify the voice of the grassroots not stifle it,” he says.

 

*CORRECTION: A previous version of this story stated both parties wouldn’t have a preference poll for governor at the caucuses. The Republicans won’t, but the Democrats will. 

Photo by Paul for Creative Commons on Flickr. 
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Coloradans have been marching in memory of Martin Luther King, Jr., for 35 years now.

Some “Marades” have been headier than others. Like in 1992 when skinheads and white supremists swore at and spit on marchers, prompting chaos in the streets. And in 2009, when Barack Obama was about to swear-in as the first black president. And in 2016, when Black Lives Matter commandeered an event its members said had become co-opted by corporate sponsors and elected officials who’ve forgotten their roots.

Today’s Marade was cold. Not just the snowy morning 19-degree chill. But cold in a deeper sense – the kind of chill that, five decades after Dr. King’s death, comes from frustration with a president whose words and policies many said has set the civil rights movement back – way back. A minion of elected officials tried to put a happy face on the situation.

“50 years later, it may seem dark today, but we are shining brighter,” Sen. Michael Bennet told the crowd, urging them to “stand up” to Trump’s administration.

“If we outlasted and survived slavery, we can outstand this man in the White House,” added former Mayor Wellington Webb.

Congresswoman Diana DeGette took another tact, calling upon the crowd to fight bigotry with love.

For some marchers, the platitudes fell flat.

“Words. Too many words. Let’s move,” grumbled Bud Thompson, a longtime civil rights activist who moved to Denver from Missouri earlier this month and wanted to march rather than listen. Thompson’s grumbles seemed to be shared by the crowd, which livened and lightened up once the speeches stopped and they were able to work their way from Denver’s City Park toward Civic Center downtown.

As the two-block long mass of people began working its way west, the sun broke through the morning clouds and many said they could finally start feeling their toes again.

Thompson, 63, was wearing the same pair of brown workboots he had worn to see Obama inaugurated nine years ago and to march against police after they killed Mike Brown in Ferguson in 2014.

“I don’t know what kind of comments you’re looking for,” he told The Independent. “I’m a guy who lets these boots do the talking.”

Photographer Kevin Mohatt took his camera to the event. Here are some of his best shots.

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All photos by Kevin Mohatt

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Denver district officials are proposing to cut as many as 50 central office jobs next year while increasing the funding schools get to educate the poorest students, as part of their effort to send more of the district’s billion-dollar budget directly to schools.

Most of the staff reductions would occur in the centrally funded special education department, which stands to lose about 30 positions that help schools serve students with disabilities, as well as several supervisors, according to a presentation of highlights of a preliminary budget.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said he met with some of the affected employees Thursday to let them know before the school hiring season starts next month. That would allow them, he said, to apply for similar positions at individual schools, though school principals ultimately have control over their budgets and who they hire.

The reductions are needed, officials said, because of rising costs, even as the district is expected to receive more state funding in 2018-19. State lawmakers are poised to consider several plans this year to shore up Colorado’s pension system, all of which would require Denver Public Schools to contribute millions more toward teacher retirement.

The district will also pay more in teacher salaries as a result of a new contract that includes raises for all teachers, and bonuses for those who teach in high-poverty schools.

In addition, the district is projected to lose students over the next several years as rising housing prices in the gentrifying city push out low-income families. Fewer students will mean less state funding, and fewer poor students will mean a reduction in federal money the district receives to help educate them. It is expected to get $600,000 less in so-called Title I funding next year.

The presentation given to the school board Thursday night included a breakdown of the proposed cuts and additions to the 2018-19 budget, which is estimated at $1.02 billion. Not all details or exact figures were available because the budget proposal won’t be finalized until April.

Superintendent Tom Boasberg said the changes reflect the priorities for the 92,600-student district, including spending more money on high-needs students, giving principals flexibility with their own budgets, and improving training for new teachers.

The proposed additions include:

  • $1.5 million to provide schools with between $80 and $180 extra per student to educate the district’s highest-needs students, including those who are homeless or living in foster care. Schools with higher concentrations of high-needs students would get more money per student. The district began doling out extra money for “direct certified” students this school year. But officials want to increase the amount next year, in part to account for undocumented students with high needs, who they suspect are being undercounted.
  • $1.5 million for pay raises for low-wage workers, such as bus drivers and custodians. Given the state’s booming economy, the district, like others in Colorado, has struggled to fill those positions. In 2015, the district raised its minimum wage to $12 an hour.
  • $1.47 million to provide every elementary school with the equivalent of at least one full-time social worker or psychologist, which some small schools now can’t afford. A tax increase passed by voters in 2016 included money for such positions. School principals could decide whether to spend it on one full-time person, for example, or two part-time people.
  • $408,000 to provide all elementary schools with “affective needs centers,” which are specialized programs for students with emotional needs, with the funding for an additional part-time paraprofessional, though principals could spend the money the way they want.
  • $600,000 for “tools to decrease out-of-school suspension, eliminate expulsions, and decrease habitually disruptive behaviors for our younger learners.” The presentation did not include specifics. The school board voted in June to revise its student discipline policy to limit suspensions and expulsions of preschool through third-grade students.
  • $293,000 to hire more eight more “behavior techs,” who are specially trained to help students with challenging behaviors. The district already has seven. They are “sent to schools for weeks at a time to help teachers and principals stabilize classroom environments.”
  • $232,000 for programs to train new teachers. One idea, Boasberg said, is to have teaching candidates spend a year in residency under a master teacher in a high-poverty school.

The proposed reductions include:

  • $2.47 million in cuts to the number of centrally budgeted “student equity and opportunity partners,” who are employees who help schools serve students with special needs.
  • $1.25 million in eliminating more than a dozen vacant positions in the student equity and opportunity office, which oversees special education, school health programs, and more.
  • $317,000 in reductions in supervisors in that same department.
  • $250,000 by eliminating contracts with an outside provider and instead serving a small number of the highest-needs students in a new district-run therapeutic day school.
  • $681,000 in staff cuts in the district’s curriculum and instruction department, which provides resources to schools. The presentation didn’t include specifics.

The district is also proposing some revenue-neutral changes. One of the most significant would allow struggling schools to better predict how much extra funding they will receive from the district to help improve student achievement. To do so, district officials are proposing to move several million dollars from the “budget assistance” fund to the “tiered supports” fund.

Low-performing schools designated to be closed and restarted would receive three years of consistent funding: $1.3 million over that time period for elementary schools, and $1.7 million for middle and high schools. If after three years a school’s performance had improved, it would be weaned off the highest funding tier over the course of an additional two years.

The school board is expected to vote on the final budget for 2018-19 in May.

Originally posted on Chalkbeat by Melanie Asmar on January 12, 2018. Chalkbeat is a nonprofit news site covering educational change in public schools.

Photo by Victor Björkund via Flickr:Creative Commons

KEEFE: The Border Wall

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Day 4 of shithole-gate: Trump denies he said shithole. What he does say, probably not meaning to invoke Nixon, is “I am not a racist.” Meanwhile, Republican Sens. Tom Cotton and David Perdue, who were at the meeting, initially said they couldn’t recall whether he said shithole. Days later, their memories refreshed, they affirm that Trump didn’t say shithole and basically accuse fellow Sen. Dick Durbin of lying about it.  Via The Washington Post.

On Meet the Press, Sen. Michael Bennet, one of the Gang of Six who wrote the proposed immigration that Trump rejected, said Trump’s shithole quotes were “racist” and “un-American.” On Face the Nation, Sen. Cory Gardner, also among the Gang of Six, said Trump’s words, if he said them, were “unacceptable,” but refused to say whether they meant he was a racist.

Trump’s shithole comments didn’t tell us he was a racist. We already knew that. What they do tell us is how far down he is dragging the country along with him. Via The New Yorker.

On the day before the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, African-Americans gathered in churches across the country to lament the words and deeds of Donald Trump. Via The New York Times.

From The National Review, the strange thing about the Trump/porn-star story is not the idea that Trump would have had sex with Stormy Daniels, but the idea that Trump would pay her $130,000 to be quiet about something he would normally want to see plastered on a billboard.

It looks like retiring Republican Sen. Jeff Flake is going all in on his criticism of Trump, In a planned speech, Flake will say that Trump’s attacks on the press echo the words of Stalin and that even Khrushchev wouldn’t say the press were the “enemy of the people.” Via The Washington Post.

In other news, Trump hints that he’s giving up on any kind of DACA compromise and is, of course, blaming Democrats for the impasse. The question now is whether that will lead us to a government shutdown. Via Vox.

How did it take 38 minutes to call off the mistaken alert that missiles were heading Hawaii’s way, sending its citizens into panic? It seems that most of the blame goes to Hawaii and its governor. Via The New York Times.

Caitlin Flanagan writes in The Atlantic that the allegations against comedian Aziz Ansari let us know that “women are angry, temporarily powerful—and very, very dangerous.”

Stu Rothenberg: Democrats won’t have Barack Obama as a unifying leader at the top of the ticket in 2020, but they’ll have someone nearly as good — Donald Trump. Via The Hill.

Photo By Tullio Sabo, via Flickr: Creative Commons. An angry Vice President Richard Nixon pokes at the chest of Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev during a confrontation. Translators and officials surround the men.
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Here’s a doozy.

“A pirate radio signal that first shot out across Longmont’s airwaves late last year has drawn an unusual, high-level scolding from the Federal Communications Commission — directed not at the illicit broadcasters, but to an online news outlet that wrote about their hijacking of an FM frequency,” reports The Boulder Daily Camera. “The letter from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly raised concerns about the Longmont Observer’s ‘tacit support’ of the pirate radio signal in a Dec. 6 article, then stated the ‘proper action’ would have been to alert the FCC’s Denver field office to its existence, ‘not suggest people listen while they can.'”

Oh, really? Because news-gathering operations should just act as an arm of the government whenever possible in that part of Colorado, apparently.

Here’s how the nonprofit Longmont Observer responded:

“The Longmont Observer generally doesn’t comment on letters to the editor, however, we do find it odd, and by what we can tell, unprecedented, that an FCC commissioner would write a tiny digital-only, locally focused news outlet in Longmont, Colo., and tell us what story we should write, and how to write it.”

Odd? These days? Pardon me while I go read more about simulation theory and rewatch Pump up the Volume.

That time Kyle Clark turned over his anchor’s chair

No, he wasn’t mad as hell and not going to take it anymore, and no he didn’t actually knock over the anchor’s chair. But he did do something you don’t see every day from a popular TV news anchor in a major metro market: He turned over his anchor chair to a reporter who not only doesn’t work at the station, but also isn’t even a news partner. But that’s what Kyle Clark of the KUSA 9News show “Next” did when he asked public radio reporter Bente Birkeland to sit in for him and moderate a panel for a segment about sexual harassment at the Colorado Capitol.

Why Birkeland? I mean, who else? She was the reporter who broke the story of a sexualized culture under Denver’s gold dome in early November and stuck on it like your kid’s tongue to a chairlift. “Bente has led the way reporting on allegations of sexual misconduct at the Capitol,” Clark told me. “I wanted her to lead the discussion, as opposed to being a guest panelist.”

When Clark first started “Next,” he gave an interview to Westword where he said this: “We are at a point where we can move past our traditional concept of competition. I would rather someone watch a competitor than not watch or read any news.” So kudos to him for walking the walk even when it means giving up his own throne. And he’s also still talking the talk. “Journalists shouldn’t be tearing each other down or ignoring scoops in the name of competition,” he told me. “If a viewer was introduced through Bente’s work on our program, I think that’s good for her news outlet, good for ours, and good for our community.”

Speaking of Bente…

Birkeland will be at The Denver Press Club on Tuesday, Jan. 16 at 6 p.m., where she and I will reprise the Q-and-A I did with her for Columbia Journalism Review’s United States Project, but in front of a live audience. She’ll also offer updates on the impact of her reporting and the mood at the Capitol now that the legislature is back in session.

Wow, did you see this Comcast ad?

Here’s an ad that was appearing in news stories this week at ColoradoPolitics.com, the politics website for Clarity Media, which owns The Gazette newspaper in Colorado Springs.

Behold some reactions when I posted the pic on Twitter:

“A bit on the nose.”

“This has definitely become some sort of Orwellian dystopian prophecy come true. Especially since Comcast could not even see the problem with this ad.”

“Who the fuck thought that was a good idea?”

“It sounds like a threat.”

h/t Gavin Dahl for the spot.

What you missed on the Sunday front pages

The Gazette reported how animal poop could threaten an Air Force rocket programThe Greeley Tribune wrote how stricter regulation of wells is causing a local water shortageThe Loveland Reporter-Herald profiled a local police K-9 retirement foundationThe Pueblo Chieftain reported how election-year politics could shape the legislative sessionThe Longmont Times-Call reported on local lawmakers suggesting a flurry of oil-and-gas bills this sessionThe Grand Junction Daily Sentinel focused on the plans of rural lawmakers for the session. The Steamboat Pilot looked at 2017 in reviewSummit Daily reported on traffic problems at KeystoneThe Boulder Daily Camera covered a lawsuit against the county by a substance abuse centerVail Daily reported the Eagle County real estate market topped $2 billion for the first time since 2008The Coloradoan in Fort Collins reported how sexual assault figures can be hard to quantifyThe Denver Post previewed the legislative session that began Jan. 10.

The Longmont Times-Call responds to calls for more local news by expanding staff

Here’s a man-bites-dog story from a Digital First Media-owned newspaper in Colorado.
“Readers, we hear you,” the paper reported this week. “Out in the community, on social media, even in this newspaper, you’ve been telling us you want more Longmont news. Starting Monday, you will have it. We’re adding two reporters to our staff who will be dedicated to covering general news and business.”

More from the LTC:

This era of shrinking newsroom staffs has not been easy on any newspaper, particularly the Times-Call. But that has not diminished the desire of our dedicated staff to work hard every day to deliver news to the community where most of us live, or of our management to give our readers a product worth what they’re paying for it.

So welcome new reporters Sam Lounsberry and Lucas High. (Lucas is another reporter from South Carolina who moved to Colorado. More than half a dozen have moved in and out of here from the Carolinas in the past four years if I recall correctly.)

Meanwhile, in Durango…

The alternative weekly newspaper DGO is hiring an editor and staff writer. “The jobs are great for people who love to write about off-beat topics, food, weed, beer, art, music and more. It’s not a mainstream weekly, so creativity is highly valued,” writes Amy Maestas, who is also editor of The Durango Herald. She adds, “To boot, we are a family-owned company that places a high premium on being locally owned and supports journalism first.”

Here are the job listings.

*This roundup appears a little differently as a published version of a weekly e-mailed newsletter about Colorado local news and media. If you’d like to add your e-mail address for the unabridged versions, please subscribe HERE.

Photo by Dave Dugdale for Creative Commons on Flickr. 

Colorado GOP lawmakers seek repeal of magazine ban despite New Year’s Eve mass shooting

Shooter who killed deputy owned 100-round magazine

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Republican advocates of the right to bear arms with high-capacity magazines aim to legalize them again despite Colorado’s latest mass shooting.

On New Year’s Eve, Matthew Riehl ambushed Douglas County sheriff’s deputies, killing Zackari Parrish, a father of two, and wounding six other people before he was shot and killed.

It was the second time in five years that Colorado has been traumatized by a lone madman wielding a military-style rifle and other guns. 

James Holmes took a heavier toll in 2012. He killed 12 people and wounded 58 others at an Aurora theater as moviegoers desperately tried to hide or flee.

Both men owned gun magazines capable of holding 100 rounds of ammunition. Colorado lawmakers banned such magazines after the Aurora shooting, but Riehl bought his in Wyoming legally along with a cache of other weapons from a gun store in Laramie.

He fired a barrage of bullets from his apartment bedroom when deputies arrived to talk to him at dawn. The sheriff’s office identified four guns used in the shooting and said that more than 100 rounds were fired, but it would not specify whether or how many rounds came from the high-capacity magazine. A spokesman for the department said the number of rounds fired from each gun is still under investigation. 

On Wednesday, the opening day of the 2018 legislative session, Republican Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs and Republican Reps. Lori Saine and Stephen Humphrey, both of Weld County, introduced bills that would overturn the ban. (Democratic leadership in the House immediately sent the bill to a kill committee.) Saine made headlines late last year after she was arrested at Denver International Airport for bringing a loaded gun through security. Prosecutors declined to file charges.  

State Sen. Tim Neville, a conservative Republican allied with the hard-line Rocky Mountain Gun Owners group, told The Colorado Independent that if Riehl did use a high-capacity magazine, his ambush demonstrated the uselessness of Colorado’s ban.

“Criminals will do what criminals will do,” he said.

Besides, he added, “no gun guy is going to use a 100-round magazine. They jam.”

Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert, who represents the district where Parrish was killed, previously sponsored legislation to overturn Colorado’s ban, which limits new gun magazines to 15 rounds. Holbert said he would vote to do so again.

“Punishing law-abiding citizens is not the solution,” he said.

Holbert added, however, that the shooting may have demonstrated flaws in a background check system that is supposed to identify mentally ill purchasers. “That’s something I’d like to understand better,” he said.

The Denver Post has reported that numerous warning signs preceded Riehl’s ambush, including an involuntary stay at a veterans’ hospital in Wyoming, recent threats to police and a failure to take medicine for a bipolar disorder.

Gun control advocates say those signs points to the need for legislation that would give family members a tool to temporarily disarm a loved one in crisis. That tool, an extreme risk protection order, would allow a civil court judge to order a respondent deemed dangerous to surrender his guns for up to one year.

Eileen McCarron, president of the gun control group Colorado CeaseFire, said the Douglas County situation was “screaming out” for crisis intervention.

“It’s awful that family members can’t deal with it when they know somebody is going dangerously off the rails,” she said.

Yet she is pessimistic about the prospects of change, especially during an election year when Republicans hold a slim majority in the Senate. She summed up her expectations of legislative responsiveness in a word: “Nothing.”

She is not giving up, however. She found two senators interested in sponsoring a Colorado extreme risk protection order and hopes Democratic leaders will support them. “It’s not out of the realm of possibility,” she said Wednesday. One of the senators is Aurora’s Rhonda Fields, whose son was gunned down with his fiancée before he could testify in a murder trial.

Ever since the Aurora shooting, Colorado legislators have waged yearly gun battles that typically end in standoffs. Senate Republicans vote to overturn the 15-round limit on gun magazines, only to see their bills die in the House. Gun control measures that make it through a Democratic-controlled House die in the Senate.

This year is shaping up as more of the same. Republicans expect House Democrats to kill efforts to broaden gun rights and contend that a restraining order law would violate constitutional rights to own guns and be protected against unreasonable seizures. Democrats are wary of offending gun owners in an election year that looks troublesome for Republicans nationwide.

In an office bedecked with plaques for championing conservative causes, Sen. Neville said he would worry about any proposal to allow gun seizures prior to a criminal act.

“You have a problem. You have an issue. You get a warrant,” he said.

The Aurora and Douglas County shootings bore some remarkable similarities. Both killers legally bought civilian versions of military rifles along with 100-round ammunition magazines. Both sprayed their victims with unrelenting gunfire. Both showed ample warning signs of impending psychological breakdowns. Yet neither was deemed to be mentally ill before the shootings and both still had access to their weapons at a time of acute psychological crisis.

Democrats responded forcefully to the movie theater massacre, pushing through laws in 2013 that banned new high-capacity magazines and required background checks on all gun sales.

An alliance of gun owners and Republicans rebelled, swiftly and successfully.

Senate President John Morse, a Democrat, was ousted in an expensive recall election. Sen. Angela Giron, a Pueblo Democrat who voted for the new laws, also was recalled. A third Democratic senator, Evie Hudak, stepped down to avoid a recall fight, enabling a Democrat to replace her.

Morse, who was narrowly defeated, blames Democrats in Colorado and nationally for their timidity during and after the recall elections.

“Democrats are afraid of their own shadows,” he said. “To this day, Democrats don’t talk much about guns, even though thousands of people die needlessly each year, including a deputy in Douglas County. This is the Aurora shooting again, but without the same number of casualties. And the casualties were in blue.”

Former House speaker Andrew Romanoff, now president of Mental Health Colorado, sees an opportunity to reduce gun deaths by enforcing existing laws that promise mentally ill Coloradans will not have to endure sometimes months-long waits for treatment. Many substance abusers are not getting help. Mental health professionals are paid less than those treating physical ailments. And the state Division of Insurance hasn’t penalized insurance companies that provide a smaller reimbursement for mental health treatment, Romanoff said. Those factors limit opportunities for intervention, leaving open the possibility that future shooters like Matthew Riehl or James Holmes will strike again.

Said Romanoff: “Those laws are almost entirely useless unless you enforce them.”

The Colorado Independent’s John Herrick contributed to this story.

Photo by Vlad Butsky via Flickr: Creative Commons. 
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So, before we get to the point of this column — that Donald Trump has once again revealed himself to the world as a racist — let’s get ”shithole” out of the way because 1) using it has been liberating for those of us who have spent a lifetime working for editors who would have fainted if someone had tried to get that word into a family newspaper and 2) we’re quoting the fu——ing president of the United States who used it to demean an entire continent and more.

The word itself is beside the point. I’ve said worse. Many presidents have undoubtedly said worse. We’ve got tapes of some of them saying worse. What does matter is which countries Trump considers shitholes — yes, countries with a lot of black people — and why he thinks America would be better off with Norwegian immigrants (read: white people) than Haitians (read: not white people).

Remarkably, as has been reported everywhere, Trump spent Thursday evening on the phone asking friends how his “shithole countries” comments on Africa were going over. One White House official described it to CNN as Trump taking a “victory lap.”

The next day, faced with the fact that his comments might not have been a success, Trump semi-denied the quotes, not that anyone would believe him. But if you’re still having doubts, there’s more.

I talked to Michael Bennet about Trump’s comments. Bennet — who along with Cory Gardner is a member of the Gang of 6 that wrote up the compromise immigration proposal Trump rejected — said he saw Sen. Dick Durbin soon after Durbin had left the meeting with Trump and before the Washington Post reported the story.

Bennet said Durbin “looked shaken.” And while Bennet wouldn’t reveal the details of his conversation, he did say that after talking to Durbin, “I have no doubt the president said exactly what he was quoted as saying.” Let’s just say Bennet did not mean that as a good thing.

And there’s this.

After Trump’s semi-denial — which followed White House non-denials — Durbin took to the microphones Friday morning to say that shithole was the least of it and that Trump’s comments were, in fact, “hate-filled, vile and racist.” He noted that he used those words “advisedly,” saying, “I understand how powerful they are. But I cannot believe in the history of the White House in that Oval Office that any president has spoken the words that I personally heard our president speak today.”

And this.

Durbin also said that Lindsey Graham, a Republican Gang of Sixer who made the presentation to Trump, called Trump out on his comments while sitting next to him, with Durbin noting that it took “extraordinary political courage” for Graham to have done so.

Graham, who has been going around saying unexpectedly nice things about Trump recently, wouldn’t comment directly on the meeting, but fellow South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott said that Graham told him the quotes were “basically accurate.” Which is not exactly courageous, but still.

No one should be surprised by Trump’s latest outrage, even though many continue to be. There’s a reason for that, I guess. Whatever Trump does or says, we still try to cling to a notion of normalcy — and that as abnormal as Trump might be, the office of the presidency must be respected.

And then we remember. That Trump said if Nigerians come to America, they’ll never go back to their huts. And that immigrating Haitians all have AIDS.

And then we remember everything else. The good people among the neo-Nazi marchers. The Muslim ban. The Mexicans-as-rapists trope. The American-born Indiana judge Trump called out for the great crime of having been born to Mexican-American parents. And on and on.

We also shouldn’t be surprised by how many Republicans refuse to call Trump out. Paul Ryan said Trump’s shithole comments were “unfortunate,” which isn’t the same as calling them “racist.” We’re waiting for Gardner, who was recently called a “model” for coming out strongly against Jeff Sessions’ anti-pot crusade, to say something about Trump’s comments regarding a proposal that Gardner helped write. Here’s what a model response would be: Are you bleeping kidding me?

It’s even less surprising that Trump’s ideas on immigration are so backward. First of all, Norwegians are basically happy where they are. They’ve got universal healthcare. They’ve got good schools. Sure, the weather is problematic, but in the last reading, they were named the happiest country in the world. So they’re not immigrating.

Of course people who do immigrate to America often come from poverty and come to make a better life. It’s right there on the Statue of Liberty. These were the people who, according to everything we learned in school, have made America great, and these were the people who, in 1924, America all but cut off from immigrating here because they weren’t white enough (including, at that point, Italians and Slavs) or Christian enough or something enough. It wasn’t until 1965 that Lyndon Johnson and Congress upended the bigoted law.

Meanwhile, this just in: Botswana summoned the U.S. ambassador to the country “to clarify whether Botswana is regarded as a ‘shithole’ country.”

But it’s interesting, maybe even ironic, that, according to a Washington Post story, when large numbers of Norwegians did immigrate to the United States in the late 19th century and early 20th century, they didn’t perform as well economically as most other immigrant groups.

Which is, of course, indicative of … nothing. Except that there are shitholes and then there are shitholes. As any stable genius would know.

Photo by Alex.m.Hayward, via Flickr: Creative Commons