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The economy-wrecking doom Obamacare was predicted to visit upon the nation has yet to arrive, but the National Center for Health Statistics reports that the rate of Americans without health insurance has dropped to 11.3 percent — which is “at or near the lowest levels ever recorded across the 50 years for which we have data,” notes the White House Council for Economic Advisers. That drop translates as roughly 9.7 million newly covered Americans.

The Affordable Care Act was passed primarily to address the country’s high rate of the uninsured, a problem that had been escalating for decades with no end in sight as insurance company profits climbed through the roof, consumer power drained away, preventive treatment dipped and emergency rooms filled with the chronically ill. All of those negative trends are being tempered or reversed as a result of the maligned law.

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And, as Time Magazine reports. the percentage of uninsured is sure to fall again next year.

The new data does not include the nearly 2.5 million who have newly selected or re-enrolled for coverage in the latest round of open enrollment which began last month. Nor does it include those who’ve gained coverage in Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program since the second quarter—including 400,000 from September to October, according to new data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services—as more states expand access to the program with federal money under the law.
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Spotify, the world’s cyborg DJ/jukebox, has run the numbers for Gregorian Calendar year 2014 and it has discovered that Planet Earth humans listened most to Ed Sheeran and Katy Perry, Cold Play and Alt-J. It also reports that this year, the year the Centennial State became the first in the Union to make recreational pot legal, the service’s “Chill Out Music” playlist “trended much higher than the national average on campuses across Colorado.”

The playlist has won more than 250,000 fans and features the work of airy-ambient-not-very-wordy bands like Thyra, Almein, John Hopkins, Kaledonias, Metropolis. Note: The list works to make you feel like you’re visiting a Colorado college campus even if you’re not really here, with a pal, sitting on a floor under a window open onto the Flat Irons, all tangerine hazed or lemon skunked and watching the universe spin free from a hairline crack on a wall.

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It’s like “The Producers” meets “Dr Strangelove.” The hacking of Sony computers began as a movie-studio embarrassment, turned into a gigantic data caper and is now an international affair. Todd Purdum writes in Politico about how a crude Hollywood comedy about assassinating North Korea leader Kim Jong-un turned into a national security issue.

Whatever else “The Interview” is, writes Adrian Hang in the Atlantic, it is not a courageous act of defiance against a dictator.

Fareed Zakaria writes in the Washington Post that America must respond to North Korea.

Colbert Report: The best musical finale ever. In gifs. Via Vox.

Gloria Borger explains the new forceful Obama — less Clark Kent, more Superman. Via CNN.

Krugman on Putin: Macho posturing may make certain Republicans swoon, but it makes for bad economics. Via the New York Times.

Rand Paul is not like everyone else in the potential Republican presidential field: He thinks Obama’s Cuba plan is probably a good idea. Via the National Journal.

Ayn Rand reviews children’s movies. (It’s just as funny as you’d guess.) Via the New Yorker.

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Benny Johnson is the viral politics editor-digital director guy fired from BuzzFeed now at the National Review who has a knack for making meme material. He’s also a plagiarist who gets things wrong, on accident and on purpose, because it’s the internet, so who cares (I guess)?

Colorado politics readers know Johnson as the BuzzFeed list-maker who identified Colorado Independent columnist Mike Littwin as a “vagrant lurker” in a blurb meant to mock politicians who might stumble into photographs where people who look like Mike somehow make it into the frame and are not later cropped out! (There are no vagrant lurkers or iconically hirsute columnists in the real America, that shining city on a hill!) Informed that his vagrant lurker was an award-winning journalist and a staple of the Colorado press corps, Johnson apologized and updated his post.

This week, Johnson is back in the news for starting a Bill-Clinton-is-still-a-lech meme. As Gawker points out, Johnson made opportunistic use of a recent Bill’s-night-out photo from a Clinton Foundation dinner to bait the right-wing mediasphere — and it worked. Johnson cropped the photo so the former president, Andrea Catsimatidis and her ostentatious cleavage remain and Andrea’s mom does not. The absence of the mom makes a difference. Blog-and-talk-radio world lit up, and typically got what is not-okay about the photo all wrong. The problem has nothing to do with sex. It has to do with ugly capitalism and money in politics.

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Gawker’s Andy Cush:

“The irony is that the photo is gross and incriminating, but it has nothing to do with Andrea Catsimatidis’ boobs. John Catsimatidis is a billionaire who failed to pay grocery store workersmillions of dollars worth of overtime wages, employed a mayoral campaign consultant who was arrested on bribery and corruption charges, and is really only valuable to Bill Clinton for having tons and tons of money and a private jet. In his advanced age, Clinton’s libido may be diminished, but his propensity for cozying up with the world’s worst rich people is alive and well.”

Benny Johnson: As viral as he is wrong, again.

[Top photo: Mike Littwin, left, Clinton and Catsimatidis.]

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has moved to ban fracking in New York, citing health problems. It’s a decision that will resonate across the country, and certainly in Colorado. New York’s state health director said, according to the New York Times, that it all came down to a simple question: Would he want his family to live in a community where fracking was taking place? The simple answer, he said, was: No.

Jeffrey Goldberg: Good riddance to our ridiculous Cuba policy. Via The Atlantic.

Nicholas Kristof: Is there any element of American foreign policy that has failed more abjectly than our embargo of Cuba? Via New York Times

Dana Milbank writes that Marco Rubio’s “senatorial infallibility” on Cuba shows why Obama’s dramatic Cuba move is both good policy and good politics.

Sony cancels “The Interview” because of North Korea’s not very credible threat. Remember when they were threatening to target Colorado Springs – but didn’t know where it was? Via Vox.

Andrew O’Hehir writes in Salon that “The Interview” may be a bad comedy, but the North Korean threat and the Sony cave is theater of the absurd.

Maybe Putin wasn’t playing chess and Obama marbles. Did Obama’s sanctions help tank the Russian economy? Via Politico.

What happened to Nigeria’s missing girls? At year’s end, a mass rescue is no longer possible. It probably never was. Via the New Yorker.

[Photo via CREDO.]

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The Pakistani Taliban tried to justify their horrendous school massacre — in which they killed more than 100 children — as an act of revenge. A Daily Beast reporter reached a Taliban commander, Jihad Yar Wazir, who said, “The parents of the army school are army soldiers and they are behind the massive killing of our kids and indiscriminate bombing in North and South Waziristan,” which are the Taliban strongholds. “To hurt them at their safe haven and homes — such an attack is perfect revenge.”

Vox tries to explain why the Taliban would attack a school and line up children to kill.

Who is trying to kill Net Neutrality for the benefit of telecom corporations? Who else, the oil billionaire “free marketer” Koch brothers. How are they doing it? How else, with a fake grassroots campaign spearheaded by another of their front groups, “American Commitment,” which has orchestrated a flood of comments to the FCC. Via the Sunlight Foundation.

Hillary Clinton gives a speech in which she praises Obama for ending torture and calls for Congress to pass laws to make it illegal. It was probably only a coincidence that Jeb Bush took major step in run for presidency on the same day. Via Politico.

Can Jeb Bush really win the nomination by dismissing the GOP base? Via the National Journal.

Looking for something new? If not, you’ve got the Jeb Bush, Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney nostalgia ballot. Via The Atlantic.

It was a political miracle that Dr. Vivek Murthy was approved by the Senate as surgeon general. You can credit — or blame — Ted Cruz. Via David Gergen and Jimmy Biblarz at CNN.

Jeffrey Toobin makes his top five picks for the Supreme Court rulings in 2015, but you can stop after the top two: 1. Court makes same-sex marriage legal. 2. Court slashes Obamacare. Via the New Yorker.

Margaret Carlson says we’re in the end-of-secrets era, which may not be an altogether bad thing. Think how much better people would behave if they knew all their secrets would become public. Via Bloomberg.

Julianne Moore may well win an Oscar for portraying a woman with early-onset Alzheimer’s. But when will our nation actually confront the disease? Via Frank Bruni at the New York Times.

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The Vatican has waded into the debate, frozen on Capitol Hill for six years, concerning the status of the men held in legal limbo at the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Church officials say Pope Francis wants to help find a way to close the controversial prison and help place the detainees in countries abroad.

The news of the pontiff’s offer was first reported by AFP. The proposal came during recent talks between Vatican Secretary of State Pietro Parolin and US Secretary of State John Kerry.

“The pope made clear his feelings on the kind of abuses associated with Guantanamo in October, when he railed against the ‘penal populism’ that led to countries facilitating torture, using the death penalty and incarcerating people without trial,” AFP wrote.

The news raises the awkward specter of Republican lawmakers seeking ways to stymie the efforts of the leader of the Catholic faith, which at 67 million adherents is the most popular of any faith denomination in the country. Most Congressional Republicans in the Bush-Obama years have simultaneously championed Christian values at home and human rights abuses in the War on Terror. They have been adamant in their opposition to the president’s efforts to shutter the Guantanamo facility.

The Gitmo facility has been condemned by human rights and international law organizations since it was first established by the Bush administration after the 9/11 attacks. U.S. personnel tortured the detainees and the military tribunals used to try the prisoners have been mocked as kangaroo courts, where in the early years defense lawyers enjoyed attorney-client privileges riven with holes and where evidence derived from torture was accepted at trial.

At one point 779 men were held at the facility, the vast majority never charged with crimes. Six detainees were transferred to Uruguay earlier this month, leaving 136 at the prison, according to AFP. Estimates put the cost of holding each prisoner at the facility at $2.7 million per year.

Pope Francis, an Argentinian and the first Latin American pope, has made a break, at least in tone and in mission priorities, from the conservative prelates who have headed the church for decades. He has given pains to conservative-politics Catholics in the United States by asking them to pivot from the social wars around abortion and gay marriage that have dominated church politics here since the 1970s and look instead to embrace members of minority groups and to serve the downtrodden — in part by opposing tax and trade policies that have led to growing inequalities and exploitation in the United States and around the world. Francis plans to make his first visit to the United States next September, just weeks ahead of a major policy meeting of Church leaders scheduled at the Vatican.

Wisconsin congressman and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, a Catholic, drew criticism among fellow Catholics after Francis became pope for the “supply-side” budget plans and “free market” ideological positions Ryan’s name has become synonymous with and that prioritize the interests of the wealthy and powerful, a fact which suddenly seemed out of step with his faith.

Like so many of his colleagues, Ryan has been a reliable opponent of efforts to shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay.

[Photo by Catholic Church England.]

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The reason presidents fail these days is that we want something that they can’t deliver. That’s because we can’t deliver it either. Living in a deeply polarized country, we desperately want a president who, to coin a phrase, can be a uniter and not a divider. But the country is divided. And it may be unreasonable to expect a mere president to change that. Via the New York Times.

On the other hand, Peter Beinart makes the case in the Atlantic that we should be prepared for an Obama boomlet.

In Sydney, a siege and a promise: #I’llRideWithYou. Via the New Yorker.

Byron York writes in the Washington Examiner that Congress could stop Obama’s immigration plan. He says the answer is right in the spending bill.

The question you’ve been asking yourself all day: Why do Republicans defend torture? Jonathan Chait has an answer in New York magazine.

You know who doesn’t seem to care much about the torture report? That’s right – most Americans.* Via the Washington Post.

*Then again, the poll never mentioned the word “torture,” failed to describe, much less detail, the CIA “methods” recently revealed in the Senate torture report and, although the survey authors put the questions in the context of fighting terrorism, they never mentioned that the CIA methods violated domestic and international human rights law. Survey in full here at Pew.

If you want to live longer, here’s the best medical advice you can get: You should make sure to be born white instead of black. Via Vox.

It’s not exactly a math test, but the Washington Post explains why Elizabeth Warren does not equal Ted Cruz.

[Photo by Neil Lee.]

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Colorado U.S. Senator-elect Cory Gardner’s office announced his committee assignments today. It will come as no surprise to politics watchers that Gardner has landed on the Energy and Natural Resources committee. A Representative of the Colorado Front Range gas patch for the last four years in the House, Gardner has been a reliable champion of oil and gas on Capitol Hill, and his election campaign coffers have been brimming with oil industry money for years.

Gardner was also appointed to Senate committees on Foreign Relations; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Small Business and Entrepreneurship.

“I am honored to serve the people of Colorado on these four committees in the United States Senate,” he was quoted in a release. “We have important work to do for Coloradans across the Four Corners — we find ourselves in the middle of an energy revolution, danger has increased significantly in the Middle East and beyond, and it is past time to ensure our telecommunications networks are able to continue to modernize and grow. In addition, my seat on the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee will be essential in ensuring our small businesses continue to play a critical role in growing our economy.

“It is a tremendous privilege to be selected to serve on each of these committees and I look forward to fighting for Colorado interests when the new Congress convenes in January.”

Last year, ramping up his run for the Senate, Gardner attended a retreat for lawmakers and campaign donors in Southern California hosted by the oil-billionaire Koch brothers. The Colorado chapter of Americans for Prosperity, one of the Kochs’ main political organizations, ultimately spent millions on Gardner’s campaign, spearheading a major get-out-the-vote effort on his behalf.

Gardner was a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee in the House of Representatives. One of the more recent orders of business that committee undertook came two weeks before Election Day, when Gardner, most of of the other Republicans on the committee and none of the Democrats signed a letter sent to President Obama asking for details on how the executive branch was “protecting the public health and safety of the American people” from the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

The gist:

“We are concerned …that projections reinforce the need to take further actions to limit the risk of Ebola-case importation to the U.S…”

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Screening tests that use human genome sequencing technology to detect the health of fetuses have been a booming business for years and have led pregnant women and their doctors to make some very difficult decisions. The tests are more accurate than traditional blood tests and ultrasounds, but they’re not as accurate as they have been billed, according to the New England Center for Investigative Reporting, which published the findings of a three-month investigation into the tests this weekend at the Boston Globe.

“There is a crucial difference between a test that can detect a potential problem and one reliable enough to diagnose a life-threatening condition for certain. The screening test only does the first,” wrote the Center’s Beth Daley in her report.

Daley says the manufacturers of the tests are overselling the accuracy of their product and “doing little to educate expecting parents or their doctors about the significant risks of false alarms.”

She continues:

Two recent industry-funded studies show that test results indicating a fetus is at high risk for a chromosomal condition can be a false alarm half of the time. And the rate of false alarms goes up the more rare the condition…

The [tests] are not subject to approval by the Food and Drug Administration. Because of a regulatory loophole, the companies operate free of agency oversight and the kind of independent analysis that would validate their accuracy claims. Doctors often get that information from salespeople

It’s another chilling tale of the power the medical-industrial complex exerts in shaping our most intimate decisions and the crucial role oversight plays in protecting the public interest.

A fight to boost regulation on the tests is ongoing. Meantime, doctors say patients should seek out counseling on the genetic prenatal screenings, how they work, what they mean and how to interpret the results.

Read the whole story at the New England Center for Investigative Reporting.

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Jane Mayer writes in the New Yorker in praise of Dianne Feinstein’s work to release the executive summary of the Senate torture report. But Mayer writes that nothing in the report guarantees that we won’t use torture again. Dick Cheney says he would do it again “in a minute.” And in his news conference, CIA Director John Brennan wouldn’t even use the word “torture.” Mayer quotes Reed College professor Darius Rejali, an expert on torture regimes, as saying, “Nothing predicts future behavior as much as past impunity.”

Georgetown law professor David Cole asks in a Washington Post op-ed: If the techniques used the CIA were legal, why did they lie about using them?

If you missed Dick Cheney’s spirited defense of torture on Meet the Press, you can read the transcript here. Via NBC News.

Wait, what? U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Jack Bauer “ticking time bomb” torture apologist Antonin Scalia just doesn’t see where the Constitution prohibits things like cruel and unusual punishment or forcing people to incriminate themselves.

They did it, kind of. Negotiators struck a “watered down” climate deal over the weekend in Peru. It’s something at least to work with in Paris next year.

Two years after Sandy Hook, a Pew poll shows, yes, growing support for gun rights. Via the Los Angeles Times.

The spending bill is done. But Ted Cruz’s feud with GOP leaders rages on. Via the National Journal.

Run, Liz, Run? Elizabeth Warren is getting hotter and hotter. Movement liberals want her to challenge Hillary Clinton in 2016. Will she? Via Politico.

Liberals love Warren. She drives many on the right crazy. Try this National Review piece by Kevin Williamson as a perfect example.

Krugman: Wall Street got its first cut out of Dodd Frank. Surprised? Via New York Times.

Ross Douthat writes that liberals believe working-class marriages would work better if they were more like liberals’ marriages. Or something like that. Via New York Times.

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The so-called Cromnibus government-funding bill passed in the House last night. It was a tight vote that saw hardline conservatives and progressives oppose an enormous bill that, on the one hand, did nothing to undercut President Obama’s executive order suspending deportations for undocumented immigrants and, on the other, included giveaways to the finance industry, the oil-and-gas industry and to big election campaign donors.

The bill was brought to the House floor by Republican leaders under closed rule, which meant lawmakers could not pose amendments before the vote.

Among the Colorado delegation, Democrat Ed Perlmutter voted to pass the bill, as did Republicans Mike Coffman, Cory Gardner and Scott Tipton.

Denver Democrat Diana Degette voted against the bill, as did Boulder Democrat Jared Polis and Colorado Springs Republican Doug Lamborn.

Polis and Lamborn sent out releases explaining their votes that tell the tale of their ying-and-yang liberal-conservative Colorado districts and of the divided House of Representatives more generally.

Lamborn:

“I cast my vote against the so-called Cromnibus package because it funded lawless executive amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants, and that is something I cannot support. I also introduced an amendment to the legislation that would have prohibited federal funds from being used to carry out amnesty. Unfortunately, the leadership rejected this common sense approach.
 
As with any large, omnibus legislation, there are good aspects to this bill. However, I must hold fast to my Constitutional oath and do everything in my power to stop and defund President Obama’s executive amnesty. This is a consistent vote as I have been on record supporting any practical legal steps to prevent this unlawful use of executive power.”

Polis:

“This spending bill is a perfect example of why Congress has such a low approval rating,” said Rep. Polis. “Members were shown this 1600 page bill for the first time less than 48 hours before voting on it. Those of us who took the time to read the legislation found that it was swollen with pork, back-room policy riders, and misplaced spending priorities. “
 
“I voted against the ‘CROmnibus’ because it does nothing to address our out of control deficit spending, funds wasteful defense projects at levels millions of dollars higher than the Defense Department or Administration requested, and includes policy riders that shred our campaign finance laws, trample on the will of DC voters, and increases subsidies for multi-national oil and gas companies.”
 
Rep. Polis sponsored or cosponsored a number of amendments at a Rules Committee hearing on Wednesday evening to try and rein in spending or eliminate harmful policy riders. These include:
 
– Sponsored an amendment to reduce federal spending on research and development for fossil fuels to the President’s requested amount.
 
– Sponsored an amendment to cut $120 million in unrequested and wasteful funding dedicated to upgrading the M1 Abrams Tank.

– Sponsored an amendment to defund the mid-life nuclear refueling overhaul of the aircraft carrier, the George Washington – potentially saving as much as $7 billion in taxpayer funds.

– Sponsored an amendment to bring H.R. 15 – a bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform bill – to the House floor for a vote.

– Cosponsored an amendment with Representatives Ted Deutch, Jim McGovern, Alcee Hastings, Donna Edwards, and John Sarbanes striking a rider buried on page 1,599 of the bill that would eviscerate limits on political contributions to political parties.

-Cosponsored Delegate Eleanor Holmes-Norton’s amendment to strike a backroom deal that added a provision to the bill in an attempt to override the will of D.C. voters by canceling the district’s new marijuana law.

The Lamborn position pinned the ability of the government to continue operations entirely on successful opposition to “amnesty” for law-abiding immigrants that would also get the best of President Obama. The Lamborn approach was shared by his far-right colleagues, but it’s uniquely Lamborn to characterize the approach as a matter of “common sense.” No Democrat in the Democratic-controlled U.S. Senate would have supported the bill that Lamborn would have sent to them and the Democratic president his bill would have targeted for humiliation would have certainly vetoed it. Lamborn’s “nay” vote, in effect, was a vote for government-shutdown brinksmanship. The opposite of a common sense proposal, you might say, given that he was bringing it just a year after Republicans tried and failed the same approach, which ended in a weeks-long shutdown that cost the economy billions.

Polis’s position was shared widely among Democrats on the left and in the middle, who were steamed that Republican leaders were using the must-pass government funding bill to push clearly controversial policy into law. His doomed amendments were meant to pushback against the Republican riders to the bill and spotlight generally liberal policy positions that are also supported by the majority of Americans, who would like to see Defense spending reined in, tax breaks for the enormously profitable oil and gas industry phased out, campaign finance laws tightened, and comprehensive immigration reform passed.

The bill is called the “Cromnibus” because it’s a long-term omnibus spending bill combined with a short-term continuing resolution. The omnibus portion of the bill would fund government agencies until next September and the continuing resolution would fund the Department of Homeland Security until roughly March.

There was much in the bill for progressives to dislike, but debate, led on the left by Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, centered on the Republican proposal to repeal restrictions on big banks that was imposed after the global financial crisis and recession.

As The Washington Post reported, “House aides said the language in the bill appeared to come directly from the pens of lobbyists at the nation’s biggest banks… The provision was so important to the profits at those companies that J.P.Morgan’s chief executive Jamie Dimon himself telephoned individual lawmakers to urge them to vote for it, according to a person familiar with the effort.”

In reporting the vote count, The Post cross-referenced House votes with campaign contribution data from the Center for Responsive Politics and found a telling if unsurprising pattern. On average, members of Congress who voted in support of the Cromnibus received twice the money for their election campaigns from the intertwined finance-insurance-real estate industries than did those who voted against the bill.

That analysis holds roughly true for the Colorado delegation. Here’s the breakdown in cash received by the lawmakers this year from the three industries:

Gardner: $1.49 Million
Perlmutter: $692,530
Coffman: $624,418
Tipton: $177,150

Polis: $156,330
Lamborn: $63,250
DeGette: $45,150

[Top photo: Doug Lamborn.]

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The vanishing male worker. Where he’s gone and what can be done about it. A New York Times/CBS/Kaiser family poll shows, according to a Times story, that many men “have decided that low-wage work will not improve their lives, in part because deep changes in American society have made it easier for them to live without working. These changes include the availability of federal disability benefits; the decline of marriage, which means fewer men provide for children; and the rise of the Internet, which has reduced the isolation of unemployment.”

Did Jack Bauer make us think that torture works? Via Matt Bai at Yahoo.

Nancy Pelosi may have lost on the spending bill vote. But she made her point. Via the Fix in the Washington Post.

How partisans have exploited race in the age of Obama. Via Norm Ornstein in the Atlantic.

In the aftermath of the Rolling Stone campus rape story, Tina Griego interviews Katie Hnida, who says that, even all these years later, there are people who still think she lied. Via the Washington Post.

Why some studies show campus rape is an epidemic and others show that campus rape is rare. Via Vox.

Mikhail Gorbachev blamed the United States for starting a “new Cold War” and says Putin shouldn’t back down. Via Time.

The real crisis in journalism, as seen by George Packer in the New Yorker.

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DENVER — Is the state constitutional provision that requires Colorado to educate its children ultimately about providing educational instruction or about providing tax money to pay for educational instruction?

It’s a question weighed during oral arguments in Taxpayers for Public Education v. Douglas County School District by Colorado’s Supreme Court justices on Wednesday. They were considering whether vouchers and other choice programs could fundamentally alter what public schooling means in Colorado.

Justice Nancy Rice asked attorneys for the district whether Douglas County’s Choice Scholarship Program represents a “paradigm shift” in public education, from funding schools that any child can attend for free, to collecting and allocating tax money that parents can direct to whatever educational option they choose.

“You’re saying that public education is almost a funding mechanism,” she said.

Four attorneys presented oral arguments and fielded questions from justices in a one-hour session. That exchange, plus findings from the lower courts and a blizzard of amicus briefs, will inform the court’s decision, expected sometime next year.

We’ll go from funding schools that any child can attend for free to collecting and allocating tax money that parents can direct to whatever educational option they choose — so public education becomes almost a funding mechanism…

“Watching the oral arguments in a Supreme Court case is like looking at the tip of an iceberg,” said Ben DeGrow, senior education policy analyst at the Independence Institute, a free-market think-tank.

“I thought the judges in this case asked both sides some tough and fair questions.”

At issue is a pilot program in Douglas County that courts suspended weeks before school began in the fall of 2011. The district proposed to give 500 students in the south metro county 75 percent of their per-pupil allotment, or $4,575, to pay for private school. A shell charter school was set up for these students, to allow the district to collect state funds.

Most, but not all, of the “private school partners” approved for the program were religious schools, each of which in its mission statement spelled out a commitment to a Christian or Jewish education.

Citizen groups and parents cried foul and filed suit. “We affirmatively support the right of parents to send their children to religious schools, but they can’t do it with taxpayer money,” said Mark Silverstein, legal director for the Colorado ACLU.

In August 2011, Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez issued an injunction that suspended the Choice Scholarship Program, citing the Colorado Constitution’s prohibition of state aid to religious institutions.

In February, the Colorado Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to reverse the District Court’s ruling, saying that the Choice Scholarship Program did not violate the Constitution’s prohibition against spending public money on religious activities.

The appeals court also said the plaintiffs in the case – Taxpayers for Public Education, a citizen group, along with Douglas County students and parents and other nonprofits – had no standing to make claims under the Public School Finance Act of 1994.

The state Supreme Court’s decision will have implications across the state, as newly conservative school boards in Jefferson and Larimer counties have made no secret of their intent to promote school choice.

“There’s a wait-and-see attitude” among districts, DeGrow said. A Supreme Court ruling favorable to school-choice proponents “may change the calculus” of which districts follow Douglas County’s lead and how they structure their programs.

Justice Gregory R. Hobbs asked how upholding the Douglas County program would square with school districts’ need to cover operating costs and the longstanding practice that parents “paid taxes to keep the public schools going” even if they chose to send their children to religious schools.

If large amounts of money are diverted away, “What happens to our free public school system?” Hobbs asked.

“There is not a nickel from this program that is being diverted from any other school district,” said attorney James Lyons, who represented Douglas County Schools. “This is money that parents choose to take with them.”

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a private educational choice made by families and benefiting students, rather than institutions, “breaks the link” between public money and religious entities, Lyons said.

Attorney Michael McCarthy, representing Taxpayers for Public Education, said the program’s structure violated both the state Constitution and the Public School Finance Act’s definition of a school.

“The invalidity of the charter school is key here,” he said. “It was an artifice. Without that artifice, Douglas County can’t claim that money.”

In effect, he argued, Choice Scholarship students would be in two places at once: enrolled in a Douglas County charter school in order to qualify for state money, while being educated at a private school that receives that per-pupil allotment.

The charter school has no classrooms, no textbooks, no principal, McCarthy said. “It is a mirage … a false front from an old Western movie.”

Michael Bindas, an attorney for the Virginia-based Institute for Justice, who argued for the Douglas County district, said, “Singling out religion for unfavorable treatment including excluding religious options from student aid programs is impermissible under the First Amendment.”

In throwing out the District Court order, Court of Appeals Judge Jerry Jones ruled that the Douglas County program was “neutral toward religion generally and religiously affiliated schools specifically.”

Lyons described the charter school as “an administrative convenience” that allows students in the Choice Scholarship Program to be managed by the District while collecting the full allocation of public funds.

“How is it even a school?” Rice asked.

Supreme Court decisions take as long as they take, Silverstein said, especially in split decisions in which dissenting jurists must wait until the majority opinion is in draft before they begin, “so they know what they’re dissenting against.”

Bindas’s organization represented three families whose children were enrolled in the Choice Scholarship Program. All of them opted to stay in private schools even after the court halted the program in August 2011, after the school year had begun. “The schools bent over backward” to accommodate families, he said.

To avoid this kind of disruption, Bindas said, the pro-voucher side hopes that a decision in their favor is rendered in time to re-start the program before school begins in August.

Correction: The original version of this story referred to the U.S. Constitution as mandating a public education. It is the Colorado Constitution we meant to cite.

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The Colorado Latino Forum made it clear today that they haven’t forgotten Gov. John Hickenlooper’s controversial statements on immigration reform last month, in which he suggested young latinos would prefer “a robust guest worker system” to a pathway to citizenship.

“We welcome the governor to our annual Statewide Policy Summit to hear directly from the Latino community about our views regarding the importance of citizenship as a means to fully participate in all aspects of society and daily life,” Julie Gonzales, the Board Chair of CLF, wrote today in a public invitation.

The governor’s office has not officially confirmed whether Hickenlooper will attend.

The CLF is also looking at other ways to localize major national issues next session, with a specific policy focus on responding to police-excessive force after events in Ferguson, Missouri; Staten Island, New York; and in Denver.

“In Colorado, Latinos comprise 20.7 percent of the general population yet 32.9 percent of the prison population,” CLF asserted in a declaration on human rights last week urging reform of Denver’s Public Safety Department. The group added that one in three black men will go to prison and one in six Latino men. This, compared to one in seventeen white men.

The CLF says they plan to “explore ways to build trust and confidence between police and minority communities nationwide and recommend ways the government can support accountability, transparency and trust in law enforcement.”

This policy platform comes as state lawmakers reportedly are discussing police reform bills that would require Colorado law enforcement to wear body cameras and that would change how excessive force cases are prosecuted.

[1,000 Denver East High School students walked out to protest events in Ferguson and New York on Dec 3. Image via DAM Collective.]