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DENVER — Speaking to a packed crowd of Democrats at a Colorado fundraiser, Hillary Clinton said while she prays for the family of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, who had died that afternoon, she’s also praying for the future of the country.

In strong language she tore into Senate Republicans, singling out their leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky who had said earlier in the day the Senate should wait to confirm a new justice until after the 2016 election. He said the American people should have a voice in the process.

Responding from a podium at a downtown Sheraton hotel ballroom, Clinton called it “outrageous” that Republicans in the Senate and on the campaign trail have already pledged to block any replacement nominated by President Barack Obama.

“Now, I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about this in the coming days, so let me just make one point,” she said. “Barack Obama is president of the United States until January 20, 2017.”

The former First Lady, U.S. Senator and Secretary of State indicated the American people have already had a voice in the process of selecting the next member of the high court.

“Elections have consequences,” she said, adding that the president has the responsibility to nominate a new Supreme Court justice. “And the U.S. Senate has a responsibility to vote.”

To the crowd of Colorado Democrats in the audience, she said the party has a responsibility to make sure a Republican doesn’t win the White House in the fall and roll back progress Democrats have made.

Clinton said she’d been thinking about something for the past few hours after news broke that Scalia had been found dead unexpectedly at a Texas ranch. Americans might hear, she said, that the confirmation process for a new Supreme Court justice might take too long for Obama to complete during his remaining days in office.

“Well,” Clinton said, “the longest successful confirmation process in the last four decades was Clarence Thomas— and that took roughly 100 days.”

Obama, she said, would have 340 days.

“Some might say, ‘Well, yes, but this is an election year,'” Clinton went on. “OK, but the confirmation for Justice Kennedy took place in 1988. That was an election year and he was confirmed 97 to nothing.”

The former Secretary said comments like McConnell’s are “totally out of step with our history and our Constitutional principles.”

Clinton wrapped up her take on the big news of the day: “Now just a few minutes ago, President Obama said he would nominate someone to the bench— and that’s exactly what he should be doing.”

Both Clinton and Bernie Sanders, her Democratic rival in the presidential race, were speaking back to back to what Colorado Democratic Party Chairman Rick Palacio said was a record-breaking number of attendees at the party’s 83rd annual Democratic Dinner.

When Clinton finished, Sanders took the podium fresh off a 45-minute speech and rally he held blocks away in a convention center where he said he was told 18,000 had shown up.

Sanders, too, noted Scalia’s death and a vacancy on the nation’s highest court.

“It appears that some of my Republican colleagues in the Senate have a very interesting view of the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “Apparently they believe that the Constitution does not allow a Democratic president to bring forth a nominee to replace Justice Scalia. I strongly disagree with that. And I very much hope that President Obama will bring forth a strong nominee and that we can get that nominee confirmed as soon as possible.”

The United States Supreme Court has nine members, not eight, he said. “We need that ninth member.”

 

[Photo credit: Roger H. Goun via Flickr]

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Denver’s Museo de las Americas unveiled its latest art installation, Detention Nation, at an open house Thursday night. The exhibit features works from Sin Huellas, a Texas/Mexico art collective, and seeks to show visitors the harsh realities of U.S. immigration detention facilities.

Housed in white rooms with high ceilings, the exhibit is separated from the rest of the museum by a tall, chain-link fence topped with barbed wire. There are security cameras and intermittent alarms.

Inside, a few bunk beds and floor mattresses belie the crowded conditions detainees often face. Indigo bedsheets with stark white silhouettes show bodies with arms outstretched, or huddled, or clutching children.

Atop the mattresses are haunting figures sculpted from mylar, a nod to the silver emergency blankets border patrol gives to those it captures.

Next to these figures, the things they carry: a Bible, a rosary, a pacifier.

Detention Nation, which will remain on display until May, puts a spotlight on what many consider to be an inhumane immigration policy: Each day, thousands of people are detained — and treated like criminals — for the act of crossing a political line.

The walls display letters from previous detainees, who describe their frustration. “Detainee Name is suppose (sic) to be el nombre del detenido not nombre del delincuente,” says one, protesting a form’s incorrect translation. Detenido means detained. Delincuente means criminal.

On Monday this week, the eve of Obama’s final budget announcement, dozens of activists, immigrants and community members gathered outside a detention facility in Aurora to protest the federally mandated detention bed quota.

Passed in 2009, the mandate requires that all detention facilities nationwide fill every bed, every night. That means 34,000 people are kept locked up each day, many for acts like speeding or driving without proof of insurance. The facility in Aurora is tasked with filling each of its 525 beds.

Plenty of people argue that the detention system is necessary to ensure deportations, and some urge even stricter enforcement. But immigration rights activists say detaining people based on an arbitrary quota is unconscionable.

Also unconscionable, they say, is that the majority of detention facilities are privately owned and operated. The GEO Group, which owns the Aurora facility and is the second largest for-profit prison operator in the U.S., doubled the number of facilities it operates after the quota was passed. Its net income in 2011 was more than $70 million.

Related: Feds call off pricey Lakewood immigrant children’s shelter

The effects of the quota-based, for-profit detention system sink in when one considers the Museo de las Americas’ latest challenge. The current exhibit is open through spring, which is high season for field trips. Korrine Salas Young, the museum’s education coordinator, is always looking to improve young visitors’ experiences, but this installation has made her particularly reflective.

Past exhibits, she says, have always focused on artists, or on social movements of the past.

When school children from the Denver area visit Detention Nation, there’s a good chance many of them will be revisiting an experience they’ve already lived.

Detention Nation runs through May 27 at the Museo de las Americas.

Photo credit: Kelsey Ray

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DENVER — Eager to understand what sets candidates apart in the crowded field of GOP contenders vying to unseat U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet this year?

We know the feeling. But, as the candidates signaled last night, it looks like we’ll have to wait.

Seven of the 13 Republicans seeking that party’s Senate nomination gathered for their first forum in that race. Yet, when it came to what differentiates each from the others on Thursday night’s stage at the University of Denver, it was tough to tell.

At this point in the race, it’s really a game of first impressions and get-to-know-ya. The candidates, many of whom are obscure, are introducing themselves to the electorate rather than drawing sharp contrasts.

Related: Why this U.S. Senate race is so unusual in Colorado

After their cursory “Hi-my-name-is X-and-I’m-a-Y-from-Z,” most in the pack took aim at Bennet, casting Colorado’s Senior Senator and the former chair of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee as an Obama drone and partisan extremist who has made America unsafe in a dangerous world. Indeed, hammering Bennet was the M.O. of the evening – a way to toss red meat into the crowd in hopes that the Republican DU students and local activists in attendance would remember a morsel or two about who each was and why he or she would be the party’s best pick to eject Bennet from office.

The issues were general, Obama-era GOP standbys: Scrapping the Affordable Care Act, defending the Second Amendment, defeating terrorists, killing Common Core, cutting taxes and denouncing abortion rights. 

On a stage before a packed crowd of students and older folks were Colorado Springs businessman Robert Blaha, computer programmer Charlie Ehler, Aurora County Commissioner Ryan Frazier, El Paso County commissioners Darryl Glenn and Peg Littleton, former state Rep. Jon Keyser and current state Sen. Tim Neville. 

At one point during the forum, Frazier jokingly thanked the moderator for putting “the two black guys with bald heads” next to each other. He was seated beside Glenn who, like Frazier, meets that description.

The forum largely revolved more around a general sense of who would help keep America safest than what each candidate would do specifically for Colorado in the U.S. Senate. Keyser, the youngest-looking of the bunch who dressed in a dark blazer, button-up and no tie, spoke early in the night about his many “capture-kill” missions in the special forces when he kicked down doors “hunting terrorists.” Bennet’s Senate vote on the Iran nuclear-arms deal was personal for Keyser, he said, because Iranian-backed insurgents killed his friends in Iraq and Afghanistan. When a question about the country’s debt came up, he quickly spun it into a national security issue.

“We need to elect a United States senator who has been to war” because people who have been to war know it’s a last resort, Keyser said.

Others tried to strike the delicate balance between sounding strong on national defense without coming off like a war monger.

“We don’t have to be the world’s policeman, but we have to be a deterrent to evil in this world,” said Frazier, a former Navy intelligence analyst.

Littleton said she’d only engage militarily if America’s vital interests were at stake. Neville spun a question about national security into a point about illegal immigration, saying he’d fight to secure the border and deport immigrants engaged in criminal activity.

“This is a foreign policy, national security election,” added Glenn, who emphasized that he was the only retired military officer on last night’s stage, having served on a team dealing with military base closures. “No one else can say that.”

Blaha — who, sporting a sweater over a collared shirt, was the only man on the stage not in a suit jacket — cast himself as the outsider and non-politician in the race. On the topic of national security, he rattled off a little jingle. “Instead of jeered,” he told the audience, he’d strive to create a country where “we’re feared, revered and we’re cheered.”

Out in the crowd, Blaha’s family members made up a block of orange, wearing matching shirts with the words “Succeed or leave” on the back, a nod to Blaha’s pledge that if he couldn’t meet his campaign promises to cut the deficit, secure the border and implement meaningful tax reform after one term, he’d give up his seat and return to Colorado Springs from Washington. He calls that pledge his “product guarantee.”

At times, the forum seemed like a contest about who loves guns the most. Littleton said she has to remember to take her firearm out of the car when visiting military bases around El Paso County.

“I own 43 guns. That’s no big deal,” said Ehler, adding he knows people who own thousands.

During their two hours on stage, the seven Republicans seemed at times to take more swipes at Bernie Sanders than Hillary Clinton. After a question about student loan debt, Neville and Littleton both attacked the Democratic Socialist’s plan for free college tuition.

If anything, the night was a way for the candidates to get their mugs out in front of voters and media and try to connect early with a Republican electorate that will be bombarded with mail, TV ads and media from many more candidates than they’re used to in a U.S. Senate primary in Colorado.

This election is already unusual by the state’s own standards. With so many candidates in the race — 13 in all — the field looks likely to split in half and run in two directions by the time voters cast their ballots in the June primary. One half will go through the GOP caucus-assembly process, while the other half will try to gather enough petitions to put their names directly on the ballot.

That point wasn’t lost on two of the candidates, Littleton and Neville, who threw some shade at their opponents going the petition-route by implying that technique is a scheme to bypass the caucus system and buy their way onto the ballot.

Then, as so often happens in Colorado, the conversation turned to pot.

Littleton said as a county commissioner she sees a problem with narcotics officers having to keep pot plants alive as evidence until illegal growers are convicted. “So here we found ourself as a county growing marijuana,” she said.

Keyser noted how he didn’t vote for Amendment 64, but he knows legalizing cannabis in Colorado is widely popular across plenty of demographics. He said the government should focus on making sure kids don’t get their hands on pot and on fixing the banking system so the industry isn’t a cash business in a shadow economy.

Neville said he trusts Colorado voters even though he doesn’t personally agree with legalized weed. “Colorado needs to control this experiment. We need to make sure we safeguard our children,” he said. “We have a business that is supposedly a legitimate business now. Let’s treat it accordingly.”

When it comes to pot, Glenn said Washington needs to clear up the conflict between federal and state laws.

Blaha, for his part, said Colorado’s decision to legalize recreational marijuana was “a little misguided.” But, he noted, even misguided ideas are protected by the 10th Amendment — states’ rights.

For Frazier, the people of Colorado have spoken on marijuana, and his job as a U.S. Senator would be to fight to make sure every Colorado business is treated fairly under the law.

Perhaps the most folksy of the group, Ehler, a mustachioed, straight-talker in boots and a cowboy hat, framed Colorado’s decision to legalize the sale of recreational marijuana as a punch in the nose to the federal government.

“I like that nullification idea,” he said. “I think we ought to do it more often. Hey, federal government, sod off. Just go away. We don’t want you here, and if you try to enforce your laws, we’ll throw you in jail. I love that idea. Hope you do, too.”  

Candidates going throughout the caucus system will come out of the state convention by April, where each will need 30 percent to stay viable. Those who petition on the ballot directly will join the others for a primary election June 28th.

The University of Denver Undergraduate & Law College Republicans organized the Feb. 11 forum. When they scheduled the event, the college Republican group sent invitations to candidates they were aware of, which was seven of the eventual 13, said a spokesman for the state GOP. They later reached out to the six other candidates as they became aware of their intentions to run, and offered them table space in the hallway outside the forum.

*The post has been updated.

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The federal government has cancelled its plans to convert a large warehouse in Lakewood into a temporary shelter for unaccompanied migrant children from Central America.

The facility, which would have had a capacity of 1,000, was planned in anticipation of a rise in the the number of unaccompanied minors seeking asylum in the U.S. Children from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador — a region known as the Northern Triangle — often enter the U.S. to escape violence in their home countries.

Unlike unaccompanied minors from Mexico, young Central American asylum seekers are given the opportunity to plead their cases in immigration court. But first they spend an average of 32 days in federal facilities while they wait to reunite with family members or sponsors.

The planned Lakewood facility has previously been referred to as a detention center, but that’s incorrect. It would actually have been a shelter, and would have been tasked with providing safe and humane care for immigrant children in transition. But some worried that the sheer size of the facility, much larger than other similar shelters nationwide, would have made such care difficult.

The proposed facility, which was expected to open in April, was ultimately deemed too expensive and time consuming to build. A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said converting the warehouse would have taken nearly a year and cost between $28 and $37 million.

Photo credit: Kelsey Ray

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The Democratic race made a dramatic turn in Debate VI Thursday night. After weeks and months of trying and failing, Hillary Clinton basically conceded that she couldn’t out-progressive Bernie Sanders, the self-styled socialist.

So if Clinton couldn’t out-progressive him — how could she, Sanders pointed out in the night’s strangest exchange, if she bragged about being pals with, yes, Henry Kissinger? — she decided she would out-Obama him.

And as Sanders was giving his many younger supporters a refresher course in Pol Pot and Cambodia and other various Kissinger outrages, Clinton was saying that her Obama friendship was the one that really mattered and that, she said, is where Sanders falls short.

It was a much easier lift, particularly if shamelessness is a guiding principle, as it is for nearly all politicians. Some of you may be old enough to remember the 2008 triple-overtime contest for the Democratic nomination, back when the race got so ugly that people wondered whether Clinton supporters would actually vote for Barack Obama in the general election.

They did, of course. When it came to it, the Clintons delivered for Obama as if nothing had happened between them, as if each hadn’t accused the other of playing the race card, as if no one had ever mentioned the words “fairy tale,” as if Obama were not seen in Hillaryland as the Great Usurper. And now Obama is delivering for Clinton, even if he’s winkingly neutral in the race.

From the beginning of the primary battle, Clinton has anointed herself the keeper of the Obama flame, but now she has gone further, accusing Sanders of making Republican-style attacks on Obama and then, in Clinton fashion, had all the damaging quotes ready for the audience and for the fact-checkers. Sanders called it a “low blow,” which it was, but, I’m guessing, an effective low blow.

It got even lower. From Clinton: “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our President I expect from Republicans. I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama.”

Sanders was flustered. Or flus-tehed. One of Sanders’ most appealing features is that he’s at once an idealist and an iconoclast. And like many liberals, he has felt, at times, that Obama was too willing to compromise, too flexible when he should have held firm and — like, say, Clinton — not consistently progressive enough. This is not a new thing. Liberals have criticized every Democratic president, just as conservatives routinely feel betrayed by Republican presidents. In my lifetime, LBJ was forced out of office by liberals over Vietnam. Ted Kennedy challenged President Jimmy Carter in a primary. Bill Clinton was the welfare-reform-era-of-big-government-is-over triangulation president.

But this case may be a little different. There’s no mystery here. For Clinton to win the nomination, she needs Obama-like numbers from minority voters, particularly African-Americans who make up about half the voters in the South Carolina primary. While Obama remains extremely popular among most Democrats — you can consult any poll — he is particularly popular among black voters, and particularly when they see Obama being attacked.

And so Clinton referenced a recent MSNBC interview in which Sanders said Obama had failed in bringing Congress closer to the will of the people and then, let’s say, stretched the point, nearly to breaking.

“Senator Sanders said that President Obama failed the Presidential leadership test,’’ Clinton said. “And this is not the first time that he has criticized President Obama. In the past he has called him weak. He has called him a disappointment.

“He wrote a foreword (actually a blurb) for a book that basically argued voters should have buyers’ remorse when it comes to President Obama’s leadership and legacy. And I just couldn’t disagree more with those kinds of comments.”

Clinton probably won the debate on points — she didn’t get loud when Sanders got loud; she used Obama, once again, as a life raft when she was accused, like Obama, she says, of being waist deep in the big money —  but the debate itself probably had little, if any, impact on the race. What Clinton wanted to accomplish after her New Hampshire shellacking was to show, as they say, a way forward. She hopes she’s found it. You’ll be hearing Sanders’ supposed hits on Obama again. And again.

And here’s the other shift in emphasis. Now that the race has left Iowa and New Hampshire for more, uh, diverse parts of the land, Clinton is saying the voters want a more, uh, diverse candidate. As Clinton said in her closing statement — the final words of the night — she’s all for making sure Wall Street would “never be allowed to wreck Main Street again.” But, she said, that’s not all she’s for. It’s not the only problem America faces.

“I’m not a single-issue candidate,” she said, “and I do not believe we live in a single-issue country.”

She then went on to name some other issues. Racism, racial justice, sexism, gay rights, workers’ rights, abortion rights, the right not to have lead in your drinking water. And as if to help out, Sanders went all single message in explaining that he would “absolutely” be better addressing racial issues than Obama — yes, he said this — because he won’t be giving “tax breaks to billionaires.”

OK, Sanders is mostly a single-message candidate. It’s his strength and his weakness. The intersection of Wall Street and income inequality has hit Democratic voters, especially young voters, especially voters in un-diverse Iowa and New Hampshire, exactly where they live. But now the race moves on, and the question is whether Clinton’s polling strengths among minority voters will change the race.

The Congressional Black Caucus leadership group just endorsed her. John Lewis, the icon of living civil rights icons, said he knew Hillary and Bill Clinton from civil rights days, but had never met Sanders back then. Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that Clinton’s Super PAC — I think you remember that Bernie doesn’t have one — is making a big cash buy that will attempt to tie Clinton ever closer to Obama.

So now Clinton seems to have found a message, if not a single message, of her own, for which Sanders has already fashioned his own singular reply: “One of us ran against President Obama. I was not that candidate.”

And this is how you’d expect it to go this year. You knew Obama would be central to the 2016 race. But who knew it’d be on the Democratic primary?

 

Photo credit: Creative Commons, Flickr. AFGE and Ted Eytan

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It’s no longer a secret: The CIA tortured suspects in the War on Terror. We know this, in part, because John Kiriakou, who worked in CIA counter-terrorism operations and blew the whistle on his agency and George W. Bush’s administration.

He told ABC News correspondent Brian Ross in 2007 the CIA had tortured prisoners as part of an official government policy given Bush’s stamp of approval.

Bush’s administration didn’t  press charges against Kiriakou. But, under Barack Obama’s administration, the FBI did. Kiriakou racked up $1 million in legal fees fighting multiple felony charges in court, served two years in prison, and lost his professional standing as one of the government’s top Middle East experts. He’s virtually unemployable.

But whistleblowing was worth it, he says. “I can sleep at night.”

Colorado Independent Managing Editor Kyle Harris recently spoke with him about torture, whistleblowing and the War on Terror in advance of lectures Kiriakou will be giving in Colorado.

He will speak in Denver, Friday, Feb. 12, at 6:30 pm, at the Alliance Center, 1536 Wynkoop, Suite 100, Denver; and in Boulder, Saturday, February 13, 6:00 pm, at the First United Methodist Church, 1421 Spruce St., Boulder.

Related: GOP forces Obama’s Gitmo shutdown plans into 2016 debate

Harris: What’s bringing you to Colorado?

Kiriakou: I’m going to speak to a couple of different peace groups about torture and about ethics in intelligence operations.

Harris: Your life has brought you deeply in touch with those questions.

Kiriakou: I spent almost 15 years with the CIA, the second half of my career in counter-terrorism operations. I spent a little more than two years on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. After I left the CIA — to make a long story short — I gave an interview to ABC News. I said three things. I said that the CIA was torturing its prisoners. I said torture was official U.S. government policy. And I said that policy had been approved by and signed by the President himself. And so that kind of made me something of a dissident.

The FBI began investigating me. At the very end of the Bush administration, they came to the decision that I had not violated the law by giving that interview.

Much to my surprise — and frankly everybody else’s — when the Obama administration came to office, they reopened the investigation and ended up charging me with five felonies,d including three counts of espionage and a count of violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act and a count of making a false statement. I was looking at 45 years.

I fought them for a year. I ran up a million dollars in legal bills. That’s kind of Uncle Sam’s plan. They know you can’t keep up this level of legal challenge. And so they offered me a deal — two and a half years in exchange for dropping all the other charges, and I took the deal. So, I served 23 months in the Federal Correctional Institute at Loretto, Pennsylvania. And I’ve been out since February 3rd last year. I’ve been speaking all around the country on issues related to torture, ethics, human rights, things like that. Prison reform has been a big thing for me. And so this trip brings me to Denver.

Harris: Does the United States still practice torture?

Kiriakou: That’s really a great question. And it’s the $64,000 dollar question, because I think that we don’t really know where we are in terms of torture. We didn’t know that the CIA had secret prisons all around the world until they were actually closed. And so, are we supposed to just take the CIA’s word for it that they’re not torturing prisoners? That’s kind of the position that we’re in right now. There’s the McCain-Feinstein ammendment that was passed into law last year that has formally banned torture. But I don’t know. Do we trust the CIA to respect the law? They haven’t in the past. So why would we expect them to abide by the law now?

My own personal opinion — my gut opinion — is that torture is probably temporarily stalled. But I wouldn’t put it past our intelligence services to bring it back to life again. With that said, the United Nations has deemed the situation in our prisons across the country, specifically solitary confinement, a form of torture. That is something we’ve not even begun to address.

Harris: On any level, somehow working out the 8th Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment, was torture ever legal?

Kiriakou: That’s another great question. The easy answer is no. We have a law in this country called the Federal Torture Act. It specifically defines torture and bans it. The definition is very clear. It’s really anything that causes or is meant to cause pain or lasting psychological suffering. So we’ve got not just a federal law, but we’re also signatories to the United Nations Convention Against Torture. Beyond that, we were the authors of that United Nations convention which also defines torture and specifically bans it. The answer is no.

Let me give you another little bit of background. In January of 1968, The Washington Post ran a front page photograph of an American soldier waterboarding a North Vietnamese prisoner. On the day that photo was published, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara ordered an investigation. The soldier was court martialed. He was tried and he was convicted of torture. He was sent to prison. So, the law hasn’t changed.

Why was torture illegal and punishable in 1968, but not in 2002 or in 2016? I don’t think that our government has ever answered that question.

Harris: When did waterboarding become government policy?

Kiriakou: The idea of waterboarding was revisited in October of 2001 in response to the September 11th attacks. It wasn’t until we caught Abu Zubaydah on March 28, 2002 that the plan kicked into high gear and a very specific plan was laid out to use waterboarding against Abu Zubaydah in order to get him to talk. The president approved the torture of Abu Zubaydah on August 1, 2002. He was waterboarded for the first of 83 times — 87 maybe — on August 4 of 2002. He was not the only one. Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded more than 140 times. It really began on August 4, 2002 .

Now George Tenet (former director of the CIA) maintains waterboarding ended around 2003 and that nobody’s been waterboarded since. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s what Tenet has always said.

Harris: Was waterboarding lumped into so-called enhanced interrogation techniques?

Kiriakou: Yeah. Waterboarding was supposed to be the last stop of the torture techniques. It was supposed to be the harshest, the most severe. I personally think there were a couple of techniques that were worse — like sleep deprivation. The Senate Select Committee on Intelligence investigators found that CIA interrogators kept prisoners awake — and I mean awake awake — for as long as 11 days. You begin to lose your mind around day seven. That’s exactly what happened to prisoners. They began to lose their minds after being kept awake so long. They’re handcuffed and shackled in uncomfortable positions from an eyebolt in the ceiling. They can’t sit. They can’t lay. They can’t rest. The lights are on all the time. Hard rock music is blasted into their cells 24 hours a day. You just can’t sleep.

The other one that I actually thought was worse than waterboarding was the cold cell, where again a prisoner is chained to an eyebolt in the ceiling. He is stripped naked and the cell is chilled to 50 degrees. Every hour a CIA officer will go into the cell and throw ice water on him. People died with that interrogation technique. There were deaths. And no one was ever prosecuted for those deaths. So I think those were actually worse than waterboarding. But waterboarding was supposed to be the most final and most severe.

Harris: The people who had been waterboarded had actually gone through these other techniques?

Kiriakou: Yes. Oh yes. Everything was done to them. The face slap, the belly slap, the walling. You name it. They had everything done to them.

Harris: The theory is that these techniques help get information. Is that right?

Kiriakou: That’s the theory of the likes of George Tenet and Jose Rodriguez and the other monsters who carried out this program. But the Senate Intelligence Committee found that it didn’t result in the collection of any actionable intelligence. No intelligence was collected. No American lives were saved. No attacks were disrupted. It simply doesn’t work. What happens is the prisoner will tell you anything and everything that he thinks you want to hear just so you’ll stop torturing him. So, the truth may be in that mishmash of information, but it’s going to take an army of analysts to go through it to figure out what’s true and what’s not. At the end of the day, the information is just worthless.

Harris: Do people running these programs actually believe they’ll get information that way or is there more of a punitive thing going on there?

Kiriakou: I always thought it was punitive. Detention Site Green, as it’s referred to in the Senate torture report, repeatedly cabled back to headquarters saying Abu Zubaydah just doesn’t have the information. Headquarters would say, “Waterboard him again.” This went on for months. In the end, they concluded he didn’t have the information, and headquarters said, “Alright, you’re right, he didn’t have the information.” But then they briefed the President and said, “We believe he’s still withholding the information. The reason he didn’t give it to us after waterboarding is that just proves how tough he is.” And that was just a lie.

Harris: So then the President would order more torture?

Kiriakou: Or at least not outlaw torture. And in fact, Bush did not outlaw torture, and neither did Obama, until 2015, after being president for six-and-a-half years.

Harris: Right now in Colorado there is this big hubbub among some politicians about Guantanamo Bay and Obama’s desire to close it down and possibly send detainees to the ADX Supermax in Florence. Can you speak to that? Can you speak to how Guantanamo Bay fits into the context of torture you’re describing?

Kiriakou: I think that whole argument is a red herring. We have terrorists in our prisons. We have some of the most dangerous people in the world in our prisons. We have the Blind Sheikh. We have the Unabomber. We have Terry Nichols. We’ve got people who are mass murders, cunning mass murderers, criminals on a grand scale. And we’re supposed to be afraid of a handful of Arabs from Guantanamo? That doesn’t make any sense to me.

But there’s a broader issue here. Nobody at Guantanamo has been charged with a crime. Now, we’ve got a constitution in this country. If these people at Guantanamo — there are 93 left there as of today — if the prisoners at Guantanamo are as horrible as our government wants us to believe they are, why don’t we charge them with a crime and give them their day in court?

Now, I can tell you from first-hand experience, and I can say that because I captured many of these people myself, they’re no more dangerous than any other criminal that we have in the criminal justice system. To say that we don’t want them in our states, we don’t want them in our system — that’s just nonsense. That’s either weakness or it’s a red herring.

Harris: A red herring for what exactly?

Kiriakou: Because there are certain politicians, mostly Republicans, who want to keep Guantanamo open. They don’t want people to have constitutional rights. They don’t want people to be protected by the Geneva Convention. That’s what happened. If we had them in American prisons, they would have constitutional rights — including the right of appeal.

Harris: Are they not being charged simply so they can be held indefinitely or are they not being charged because there’s no  evidence to prosecute?

Kiriakou: There was the idea that we would charge them before a military tribunal, and indeed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was charged before a military tribunal, but his tribunal was suspended and nobody else has been charged with a crime. It’s un-American.

Harris: Do you have advice for future whistleblowers?

Kiriakou: Yes. I do have some advice. It’s important advice. Hire an attorney who is skilled in whistleblowing law before you blow the whistle — not after. I did it after. That was a mistake, because I had to be reactive to everything. If you’re thinking about going public after seeing waste, fraud, abuse or illegality, you have to make sure that you’re protected. For whatever reason, in our culture, the knee-jerk reaction when somebody blows the whistle is to attack the whistleblower. So you have to protect yourself and you have to protect your legal rights. So hire an attorney first.

We have the Whistleblower Protection Law in this country that’s actually quite robust. Unfortunately, it exempts national security whistleblowers, who have no protection. What you should do is go through your chain of command. If you get no satisfaction with the chain of command, go public — whether it’s to go to elected representatives or to the press or to an oversight body — a regulatory body. Go public with it.

Be prepared to be painted as the bad guy. But in the end it’s worth it. I got into a Twitter dispute, in 2012, with Jose Rodriguez, who was the architect of the torture program and a former boss of mine at the CIA. He was mocking me because I was getting ready to go to prison. I tweeted him back and said, “Prison’s easy. You think prison is going to be any harder than Pakistan or Afghanistan or Yemen?” I said, “I’m on the right side of history on this issue Jose, and you’re not. And I’ll take that any day.”

Harris: Do you regret whistleblowing?

Kiriakou: I don’t. As crazy as it might sound. It bankrupted me. I still owe my attorneys $880,000 that I’ll never be able to repay. I was away from my family for two years. We’ve lost everything. I’m essentially unemployable. But, with that said, I can sleep at night. And I know in my heart that I did the right thing. And I would do it again.

 

Photo: johnkiriakou.com

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As Coloradans wait for an opinion from Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman over what’s become the biggest political debate in Colorado, two former executive branch lawyers are weighing in with their own conclusion.

At issue is whether it would be constitutional to reclassify a billion dollar hospital program so money generated from it will not push general fund revenue over mandated limits under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights. Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper and many Democrats in the legislature want a program called the hospital provider fee redesignated so there’s more money in the budget to fund roads, education and other programs.

In a legal review released today by former attorneys for past governors Bill Ritter, a Democrat, and Bill Owens, a Republican, they say the Hickenlooper plan would be “legally sound and fiscally responsible.”

Related: What is the hospital provider fee? What is an enterprise? CLICK HERE

The lawyers are Jon Anderson and Trey Rogers who worked for Owens and Ritter respectively. They did the legal analysis at the request of a coalition called Fix The Glitch, which is made up of business groups, higher education institutions, and other organizations whose interests stand to lose out.

Their new high-profile legal opinion likely will be used to try to politically neutralize a previous non-binding legal memo from lawyers for the legislature. That opinion, rendered by the nonpartisan Office of Legislative Legal Services, stated reclassifying the program would be unconstitutional. Republican Senate Leader Bill Cadman of Colorado Springs has held up that opinion as a reason not to do it. He and and other conservatives say reclassifying the program is a scheme to circumvent TABOR, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992. They’d rather see money refunded back to individual taxpayers when general fund revenue spills over its limits.

To clear up whether reclassifying the hospital provider fee into an enterprise is constitutional, Hickenlooper’s administration asked Attorney General Coffman to render her own opinion a month ago, and that opinion is pending. As they wait, nothing much happens when it comes to substantial debate, and legislative action on the hospital fee is on hold. Because of the state’s fiscal constraints, the issue has become is the most pressing debate this legislative session.

Related: Colorado’s biggest political battle hangs in legal limbo

The legal analysis released today is likely to provide counsel to some lawmakers as they consider whether or not to support the provider fee reclassification— a key plan in Hickenlooper’s budget strategy this session.

“The coalition will certainly be sharing this with lawmakers and I hope they find it useful,” Rogers told The Colorado Independent.

Democratic House Speaker Dickey Lee Hullinghorst and Democratic Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman are already championing the news.

“Attorneys who have worked for both Democratic and Republican governors, as well as a former Republican attorney general, confirmed what I’ve believed all along— that a hospital provider fee enterprise can be constructed in a constitutional way, and as a result we can avoid a budget disaster this year,” Hullinghorst said in a statement.

Guzman said there should be plenty of time for lawmakers to come together in a bipartisan manner “to fully fund our public education system, and to make sure we have safe roads and bridges across Colorado” with 90 days left in the session.

One of the lawyers, Rogers, who is now a partner with the Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie law firm, told The Independent his legal review was a direct response to the OLLS opinion Cadman has used to say the plan is unconstitutional. The only point on which he and Anderson differ with the OLLS opinion “is the question of whether a self-sufficient, state-owned provider fee business would qualify as an enterprise under TABOR. We believe it would,” he said in a statement. He said “TABOR is intended to limit the growth of government that is paid for by our tax dollars, but it is not intended to limit the growth of self-sufficient, government-owned businesses that receive no tax dollars.”

Meanwhile, former Republican Attorney General John Suthers, now the mayor of Colorado Springs, has also weighed in on the debate. What he brings is not only legal firepower, but also some political defense that could blunt some conservative attacks against this new legal analysis and the reclassification plan in general. 

“The way hospital provider fees are accounted in the state budget has created a serious problem,” Suthers said in a statement. “If this situation is not addressed soon, important state programs will be cut that negatively impact Colorado Springs and every other local community in Colorado.  Transportation funding, in particular, will continue to suffer. Based on my experience, I believe that some form of a hospital provider enterprise could be designed to be constitutional under state law.”

The legal review has been bouncing around the inboxes of those involved in the healthcare and business community since it came out before noon today.

“This isn’t about politics. It’s about what is best for moving Colorado forward, honoring TABOR and ensuring we can support the education and infrastructure we need to stay competitive,” says Kelly Brough, president and CEO, Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. “We’re encouraged by this latest legal memo and will continue to advocate for creating a hospital provider fee enterprise fund.”

Opposing the reclassification effort at the Capitol is the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity, the prime political arm of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers.

“There are obviously a lot of legal opinions that are going to be floated out there coming down on one side and coming down on the other, and I think there’s two different questions: can it legally be allowed, and should it happen? And we look at it as if it’s an end-run around TABOR,” AFP’s Colorado field director Michael Fields told The Independent. “Regardless of what happens with the hospital provider fee quote-unquote ‘fix,’ it doesn’t really address some of the long-term structural budget issues that we’re going to have to deal with.”

In regard to that last statement, Hickenlooper might agree.

In his Jan. 14 State of the State speech Hickenlooper said about the issue: “If we can’t make this very reasonable change — like many already allowed under TABOR — then what choice do we have but to re-examine TABOR?”

 

Photo credit: wistechcolleges via Ken Teegardin 

*This post has been updated. Typos briefly appearing in quoted text were made by the author and not the quoted source.

 

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Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Colorado Springs Republican, proposed a bill to give clergy and religious organizations the right to refuse to officiate services based on participants’ sexual orientation. Lucky for him, clergy already have that right to discriminate.

Klingenschmitt’s theory is that Colorado public accommodation law would force clergy to perform ceremonies that buck religious creed.

That’s plain wrong, said Rufina Hernandez, executive director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division. Clergy already have the right to say “no” to performing ceremonies that don’t square with their religious beliefs.

Agitated by the plight of bakers, florists and pizza shop owners who have been sued for refusing to cater same-sex weddings, Klingenschmitt and other socially conservative Christian pols have an angry movement of evangelicals behind them who say the LGBT community has flooded the nation with anti-Christian ideology and that Christians are the most persecuted people on the planet.

Their Colorado hobgoblin, the public accommodation law, requires any business that provides services to the public to offer them regardless of disability, race, creed, color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry.

The law gained national prominence in 2012, after Lakewood baker Jack Phillips — widely dubbed a martyr in evangelical circles — refused to provide a wedding cake to a same-sex couple. The couple later sued and won a judgment against the bakery. Phillips appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, which last year ruled in favor of the couple.

Public accommodations law has become a greater concern for clergy who oppose same-sex marriage in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court decision last summer that same-sex marriage should be legal.

That’s what inspired Klingenschmitt, himself a minister, to sponsor a bill at the Capitol this week. House Bill 16-1123 failed on a 3-2 party-line vote in the Democrat-majority State Affairs Committee. Last year, he proposed a similar bill that also tanked.

Brian Severin of Victory Christian Fellowship in Greeley said if someone demanded pastors violate their conscience, they would never comply, he told the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Monday.

His wife, Jocelyn, also a pastor, added that as ministers, they would never perform a same-sex wedding, even if the government forced them too.

“God has ordained marriage as between one man and one woman,” she said. Klingenschmitt’s bill would protect her refusal to wed same-sex couples, she said, ignoring that the Constitution would too.

Severin pointed out that her nephew is gay, and while she loves him, she wouldn’t perform a marriage ceremony for him, either.

“Nobody would play football with basketball rules,” she said.

Kathy Escobar of The Refuge in Broomfield, who is a member of the Interfaith Alliance, said the bill would open the door to discrimination.

Said Escobar: “It’s much more focused on discrimination than freedom.”

 

Photo credit: Gordon for Colorado

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When Gov. John Hickenlooper boasts about Colorado’s strong economy, rural lawmakers say that only applies to the I-25 corridor — not to rural communities where jobs have been slashed.

Republicans have long used the argument that urban lawmakers don’t have rural communities’ best interests in mind. The GOP has also played partisan politics, shooting down Democratic bills they say would bring jobs to small towns.

Take Sen. Kerry Donovan, a Democrat from Vail. She’s one year and one step closer to finding enough votes for an emergency grant program to help rural counties recover after an employer closes its doors.

Related: Buying and drying: Water lessons from Crowley County

She’s optimistic, even though this is her third attempt passing a rural economic grant program.

A similar measure was the first bill she sponsored last year. That measure died in the Senate’s State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. The defeat drew cries from Democrats that the bill was killed for political reasons, and even amid claims from Republicans that Democrats were waging war on rural Colorado.

Donovan’s second attempt, which started in the House and had bipartisan sponsorship, also died on a party-line vote in a Senate committee during the last week of the 2015 session.

The 2016 version would take $2 million in interest from the state’s unclaimed property tax trust fund. The grants would go to counties with populations of 50,000 or fewer. That’s all but 12 Front Range counties plus Donovan’s homebase, Eagle County. Grants would also be available to municipalities with 20,000 or fewer in population, so long as those cities are not adjacent to other cities with 20,000 or more.

According to Diane Criswell of Colorado Municipal League, that’s about 240 of the state’s 271 cities.

Job losses hit rural communities harder than urban areas, Donovan told the Senate Local Government Committee Tuesday. Someone who loses a job in a city need not look far to find more work. But someone out of work in the country may have to look for a job in another town, county or even state.

Job losses have a domino effect in small towns. They can hurt everything from hospitals and other health care providers to schools and Main Street businesses, she said.

“People have dedicated their lives to small towns. They deserve a fair shot at preserving those communities in the face of economic emergency,” Donovan said.

Even in sending the bill to a friendlier committee this year, it wasn’t a done deal for Donovan. Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, a Thornton Republican, pointed out several times in a Tuesday Local Government Committee hearing that even if the grant is successful in retraining unemployed workers, it wouldn’t do much to help communities that have no other employers.

Would the bill provide a good return on investment, she asked.

Donovan cited Delta County, which has had major job cuts from mine closures. There, an apple juice producer received a grant to buy dairy equipment from a closing business in another county. The juice company repurposed the equipment, brought it to Delta County, and was able to expand operations, including employing workers who lost their dairy jobs.

“All they needed was a little help,” Donovan told the committee, which voted in favor of the bill, sending it on to the Senate Appropriations Committee.  

Said Donovan: In rural areas, if Colorado can keep 10 or 15 jobs in a town, that’s 10 or 15 families who can stay in that community.

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Dirty politics

Welcome to South Carolina, where dirty tricks and brawling are how they play the game in Republican primary politics. As Lindsey Graham put it, “If you’re not ready to play, don’t come to South Carolina.” Katon Dawson, a former South Carolina GOP chair, takes it a little deeper: “People in Iowa expect the candidate to trudge through the snow, do small meetings in diners. In New Hampshire, they expect a candidate to come to their living room, sit on the sofa, have some coffee. In South Carolina, 700,000 people want to see how you take a punch.” And so it begins, with everyone swinging. Via The Washington Post.

Too late

The tragedy of the commons: The Republican establishment took too long to take on The Donald and now it may be too late. Via New York Magazine.

Donald’s Doomsday

The National Review takes the Trump win in New Hampshire a few steps further, calling it “Armageddon” for the GOP establishment.

History matters

Every Republican candidate who has a first place and second place in Iowa and New Hampshire has gone on to win the nomination. Trump now has joined Reagan, Bush Senior, W., Romney and Dole. Via The Weekly Standard.

Broken record

Looking back at Marco Rubio’s debate night disaster and how he ended up in fifth place in New Hampshire. Via The New York Times.

Who’s losing?

Jeb! makes his latest final stand against The Donald by, yes, becoming more like The Donald. Who’s the loser now? Via The Los Angeles Times.

Fade out

It’s not just the kids. How the Clintons have lost the white working-class vote. Via The New Yorker.

Black vote

Will the black vote rescue Hillary Clinton? We’ll see. But the Congressional Black Caucus is doing its part by endorsing her today. Via The Washington Post.

Big money

Only Bernie Sanders could raise $5.2 million for making a speech bashing money in politics. Via Vox.

Bad ruling

The Supreme Court makes a devastating decision on Obama’s climate change rules — if, that is, you think climate change is real. But it’s not only about climate change science, it’s also about the presidential election. Via The Atlantic.

 

Photo credit: Michael Vadon, Creative Commons, Flickr

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Check out Mike Keefe’s cartoons here.

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A legislative measure to make capital punishment easier in Colorado just got the ax.

In a committee Feb. 10, a bipartisan group of lawmakers deep-sixed the bill that would have made it so juries here wouldn’t have to be unanimous in handing down a death sentence.

Related: Colorado law would make it easier for juries to sentence someone to death

The bill had been introduced earlier this session by Sen. Kevin Lundberg of Berthoud. After two separate juries last summer couldn’t reach a unanimous verdict to put two convicted killers to death, Lundberg had a notion: Let’s scrap the whole unanimous thing.

The bill was his own idea, he told The Colorado Independent, and he didn’t ping the District Attorneys Council about it before he dropped it on the Senate floor last month. Nor did he talk it over with George Brauchler, the district attorney in the 18th Judicial District who prosecuted the Aurora Theater case and has become Colorado’s public face in support of capital punishment.

So while protestors outside the Capitol demonstrated against the measure, only one man showed up to speak in favor of it in the Senate Judiciary Committee Feb. 10 — the father of a victim in the Aurora theater shooting. No prosecutors or anyone from the attorney general’s office stepped up to support it. Members also heard testimony from witnesses who said the bill wouldn’t pass constitutional muster.

At the hearing, one Republican, Sen. Ellen Roberts of Durango, voted with two Democrats to kill the bill.

Related: Why death penalty abolitionists hit the snooze button in Colorado this year

“The committee, I believe, saw that we were taking a step backwards as a state,” says Doug Wilson, Colorado’s top public defender, about the vote. “We would be the ultimate outlier when it comes to doing less than unanimous when we’re talking about executing people.”

 

[Photo credit: Der Vollstrecker via Flickr]

Are Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris’s parents to blame for the Columbine shooting?

Dylan Klebold’s mother, Sue Klebold, tells her story this week after 17 years of silence.

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It must be the parents’ fault.

That’s what most of us assumed after the massacre at Columbine High School. In the absence of any other easy explanation, polls showed 85 percent of Americans figured bad parenting caused Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold to kill a dozen students and a teacher and wound 24 others before turning their guns on themselves.

For 17 years, all four parents have stayed silent about that widely held assumption. In fact, they’ve kept quiet about pretty much everything. This week, one of them, Sue Klebold — mother of shooter Dylan Klebold – breaks the silence with ABC’s Diane Sawyer. The interview is set to air on “20/20” this Friday, coinciding with the release of Klebold’s memoir.

Dave Cullen is a journalist who rushed to the JeffCo high school when news of gunfire broke the morning of April 20, 1999. He spent the next ten years researching the rampage for his book, “Columbine.” In painstaking detail, Cullen chronicled Eric Harris’s profile as a classic psychopath intent on killing as many people as possible. Cullen’s portrait of Dylan Klebold was more empathetic. His research showed Dylan as a depressed, suicidal follower — a sidekick who reminded Cullen of himself when he was a teen.

Researching “Eric was like examining a disease under a microscope. He didn’t get inside me,” Cullen writes in the epilogue of a new edition released this week.

“Dylan seeped in surreptitiously. His funeral scene was the second-hardest to write. I cried for his parents, and his brother… I realized later that I was grieving for Dylan, too. What a sweet, loving kid. Most of his life. That shocked me, but I didn’t grasp how it tormented me.”

Cullen conducted hundreds of interviews for his book, but never snagged the one he wanted most – a meeting with Sue Klebold to learn what she knew about the hole into which Dylan had spiraled. Although Sue Klebold still hasn’t granted Cullen an interview, she recently interviewed him about his research on her son. They spent many hours chatting last year in what Cullen lauds as her “search for the truth.”

Colorado Independent Editor Susan Greene recently spoke with Cullen about Sue and Dylan Klebold, about patterns he sees among school shooters and about what, in hindsight, Cullen calls “the real lessons” of Columbine. Here’s part of their conversation:

Greene: The Klebolds did interviews with David Brooks at The New York Times in 2004 and later with Andrew Solomon for his book, Far from the Tree. Sue Klebold also wrote an essay about Columbine for O Magazine in 2009. So, what’s newsworthy about her TV interview this week?

Cullen: We’ve only gotten glimpses. I am so ready for the full story. It can also be revelatory to hear a person like this, and watch her respond on camera. Print is ideal for complexity and breadth, but TV helps us get a sense of what she’s like.

To put these two sets of parents in context, they’ve lived pretty much invisibly since the shooting. The Harrises and Klebolds have gone on with their lives without anyone outside their circles knowing what they look like or sound like. From the public’s perspective, we’ve never heard their voices before. And, from their perspectives, they’ve been walking around all these years knowing most people blame them directly for what happened. These families have been living with that snap judgment all these years. Sue’s interview is a chance to see how accurate – or inaccurate – that snap judgment really was.

Greene: You’ve not met Sue Klebold in person, despite many requests. What do you know about her?

Cullen: From everything I’ve learned about Sue over the years, she’s educated, bright, and compassionate— and approaches the world with a hopeful view. She and her husband named their boys after famous Romantic poets – Dylan after Dylan Thomas – which projects that hopeful, aspirational view. I know she has been enormously concerned and protective of her surviving son, in the aftermath all these years. I know that, unlike her husband and Dylan, she’s an extrovert, which made it unsurprising after the shooting that she went right back to work at Arapahoe Community College, where she was counseling disabled kids. She wanted to be around people and she wanted to contribute. She has been active over the years in non-profit causes around mental health and depression. Those are the issues I bet she’ll be discussing Friday night.

Greene: Can you talk a bit about her son, Dylan Klebold’s motivations compared to fellow shooter Eric Harris’s?

Cullen: Eric was a psychopath. He wanted to kill people, plain and simple. If he had waited another year or two, his plan probably would have been bigger than just Columbine, bigger even than Oklahoma City. He would have taken down a skyscraper or two skyscrapers in downtown Denver, if he could have. For him, as with most psychopaths, being captured wasn’t an option, so dying was the price he knew he had to pay to get the killing done.

Dylan was totally different. While the most frequently used word in Eric’s journal is ‘hate’; the word used most in Dylan’s is ‘love.’ His journal is gushing with love — and hearts, entire pages filled with them — as well as feverish outbursts of rage. The primary target of his anger was himself. (Second most frequent target was God: for making a creature as pathetic and miserable as him.) This is classic depression — deep, suicidal depression. Even on the first pages of his journals written two years before the shooting, he was referring to suicide. He had been looking for a way out for a long time. Following the plan Eric was pushing to carry out the shooting was his way out.

Greene: How does Dylan Klebold’s story relate to other school shooters you’ve researched?

Cullen: Dylan is pretty much a classic case study. He had clinical depression, from which the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force estimates 6 percent of U.S. adolescents suffer. That’s two million kids, most undiagnosed. On top of that, he was suicidal. A study by the Secret Service showed that 61 percent of school shooters were “extremely depressed or desperate,” and 78 percent had a history of suicide attempts or thoughts. Depression is the biggest factor for these shooters – murder as a method to end their own lives. Teen depression and suicide are the real story behind the blight of school shootings in this country. And they were by far the biggest factors for Dylan. I get asked all the time about “lessons” of this tragedy. The great unlearned lesson of Columbine is dealing with teen depression.

Greene: Did Sue Klebold see what was happening with her son?

Cullen: That’s what will be really interesting about Sue’s book — how she missed the signs like so many parents miss the signs. Dylan was painfully shy. He was terrified of strangers. And he was alienated. From what I could tell, his shyness and fear were what his parents thought were his biggest problems. They thought his challenges were pretty much just about not having figured out how to speak out or be part of a group and adjust. There was an inability to see the bigger picture of depression. How many parents know how to spot depression, or how it’s fundamentally different from just being “sad”? Hopefully, that’s what Sue’s book will do — address why she missed it, and how other parents can learn from her, and put depression front and center on the radar screen where it should have been for the last 17 years.

Greene: But the Klebolds did have signs about Dylan. More than a year before Columbine, after he and Eric were arrested for breaking into a van, they were asked to fill out a questionnaire about her son and they wrote: “He is often angry or sullen, and behaviors seem disrespectful to others. He seems intolerant of those in authority and intolerant of others.” The phrase, “He seems intolerant of those in authority” had been crossed out. Doesn’t that show that Dylan’s parents had some pretty strong warning signs that they were ignoring?

Cullen: I’m glad you posed the question that way, because that’s the pervasive line of thinking, and I get where it comes from. But I think there’s a hidden assumption in there leading us astray. To answer your question directly: warning signs, yes — of a troubled teen — but the “ignoring” suggests us imagining Tom and Sue Klebold just shrugging it off. Why would we assume that? All the evidence suggests the opposite: including this answer on this form, where a negligent or denialist parent would have hid the problem or denied it. Tom and Sue bluntly admitted all sorts of distasteful things about Dylan in that answer. They said he was often angry, sullen and disrespectful, and then first wrote the phrase you quoted about authority figures, but then crossed it out to write “intolerant of others”— meaning everyone, a broader statement. So they were copping to the problem here because they were concerned about it, looking for help. And we know from everyone around them that they were on Dylan about it, disciplining him. But kids continue to misbehave. Why do we assume they were OK with it? Because it ended horribly. Did they see that coming? Definitely not. How many parents have sullen, angry, disrespectful boys? And how many of them foresee mass murder?

Greene: I’m interested in this notion of blame, especially because the vast majority of Americans were convinced the shooters’ parents were even more directly responsible for the massacre than the shooters themselves. Eighty-five percent is a huge number. How do you look at blame and responsibility – and the penchant to point the finger — in the context of Columbine?

Cullen: I think the Klebolds raised this sweet kid who befriended Eric – a bad-seed and really monstrous kid who wanted to kill off the entire species and the entire planet. They had the horrible bad luck of their son falling in with the wrong friend. If Dylan hadn’t been hanging out with Eric, he probably wouldn’t have been involved. That’s really the extent of what they did wrong. As for not detecting the extent of Dylan’s depression, I think that happens far more widely than we know. Teenagers’ brain chemistry changes and, so often, parents think it’s a blip rather than the start of a life of adolescent and adult mental illness. They don’t see that their kid needs help. This story plays out in families all over the place all the time. I’m not sure blame and culpability are as helpful as the need for public awareness and detection. And that’s why what Sue Klebold has to say is important.

Greene: How is Sue Klebold feeling about going public after 17 years?

Cullen: She said she’s terrified. She’s expecting this to be rough. Not that it hasn’t been rough for her. But the anonymity and invisibility she has walked around with will end – just like that — with that interview Friday night. People will recognize her at the grocery store or at Target. That’ll be a big change for her.

Greene: And what do you expect the public’s reaction will be?

Cullen: I think that some people, right off the bat, will assume motives of greed because Sue’s coming out with a book. But they should know that she’s donating all proceeds to charity. That dispenses with a huge elephant in the room – assumptions that she’s coming forward for some sort of personal gain. Because she isn’t.

That said, I have a feeling that the reaction won’t be as bad as her fears. For the people who watch the interview or read her book, I think maybe some will re-evaluate past judgments they made and maybe even grieve with her. Maybe.

At the very least, I think people will give her credit for having asked questions about what went wrong with her son and trying to piece it all together. She didn’t have to step out and risk this kind of public shaming. It takes guts. I hope people can see how much guts it really takes.

Colorado’s biggest political battle hangs in legal limbo

Leaders on both sides of a debate over the hospital provider fee wait for an opinion from the GOP AG.

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DENVER — More than a month has passed since the Democratic governor here asked the Republican attorney general to help clear up a legal question involving what’s become this year’s biggest political debate in Colorado.

At issue is whether it would be constitutional to reclassify a billion dollar hospital program so money generated from it will not push general fund revenue over mandated limits under the state’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

Governor John Hickenlooper and many Democrats in the legislature want a program called the hospital provider fee reclassified so there’s more money in the budget to fund roads, education and other programs.

The Republican Senate President, Bill Cadman, and other conservatives say reclassifying the program is a scheme to circumvent TABOR, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in 1992. They’d rather see money refunded back to individual taxpayers when general fund revenue spills over its limits.

Without a legal determination from Attorney General Cynthia Coffman, any action and substantial debate on the hospital provider fee remains on hold as the clock ticks on the 2016 legislative session, which ends in May.

Whether to reclassify the program isn’t a novel idea this year. Last year, the state’s Democratic House Speaker brought forward a bill, late in the session, and Republicans killed it. The hospital provider fee draws federal matching dollars, and hospitals use the money to expand Medicaid, provide indigent care, and other services. The fee is assessed based on how many patients hospitals see. Some hospitals pay a lot, and some pay nothing.

The program brings in so much money— more than $700 million last year— to state government that it pushes revenue up against TABOR limits. But the fee wouldn’t do that if the program were reclassified as an enterprise.

Related: What is the hospital provider fee? What is an enterprise? CLICK HERE

That’s the big fight, and as far as the Hickenlooper administration is concerned, the legal issues surrounding it have already been settled.

“We worked with the Attorney General’s office last year to ensure our proposal comports with TABOR,” says Jacki Cooper Melmed, Hickenlooper’s top lawyer. “The governor requested a formal opinion to reassure Coloradans on this point on January 7, 2016, and we are confident that the attorney general’s opinion will be consistent with the advice we received last year.”

Now, a month later, the AG’s office says its lawyers are still working on it. An attorney familiar with the process said a month isn’t out of the ordinary because a legal opinion on a question like this could typically take the office six to eight weeks to render.

“Obviously, as you can imagine, those are well thought out, well researched,” is the official response coming from Coffman’s spokesman Roger Hudson. He notes that once his office’s lawyers have formalized an opinion, it will be published on the attorney general’s website.

In the meantime, at least one lawmaker says a private law firm has been doing its own analysis of the proposed hospital provider fee enterprise question and assuring legislators the plan is legally sound.

“They said they looked at it and they said it was doable, that’s all they said,” says Alamosa Republican Sen. Larry Crowder, who spoke to an attorney working on it, but didn’t know the name of the firm.

Crowder illustrated just how important it is to clear up the legal issue in a previous interview with The Colorado Independent. He’s a self-described “staunch Republican” who represents a poor, rural district in southeastern Colorado with many hospitals that rely on the hospital provider fee. He says he has been lobbied heavily by hospitals about the importance of the program and said he’d be open to the idea of reclassifying the fee as an enterprise, but first, before anything else, he wants to know if doing so would be constitutional.

In a divided Capitol where Republicans control the Senate and Democrats control the House, gridlock isn’t uncommon. But until a legal opinion comes down from the state’s top law enforcement officer, the biggest political battle in Colorado will remain in a stalemate. The legislature is headed into its second month, and both sides of the hospital provider fee debate are able to say the issue is out of their hands until these legal questions are settled.

Since before the start of the legislative session, Hickenlooper made a big push for reclassifying the fee to keep it from TABOR restrictions. He toured the state giving talks about the plan, which is his administration’s key strategy to working around the knot of fiscal constraints that TABOR opponents say is holding Colorado back. Hickenlooper himself is not what status quo conservatives might call a “TABOR hater.” He’s more of a pragmatic technocrat who believes his state’s voters wouldn’t go for reclassifying the fee as an enterprise if they were asked that question on the 2016 ballot. And he has said that if the state’s political leaders can’t work out a way to free up money from the state’s fiscal straightjacket to pay for vital services, well, then it might be time to re-look at TABOR.

Hickenlooper’s foil in all this, the Senate’s GOP leader Cadman, has called restructuring the hospital provider fee unconstitutional. As proof, he has held up a non-binding legal opinion from the non-partisan Office of Legislative Legal Services that states just that.

“Frankly, the Constitution is pretty clear,” Cadman said on a recent public affairs TV show, Devil’s Advocate, with host Jon Caldara of the libertarian Independence Institute. “And last time I looked, we all swore to uphold it.”

When Cadman asked the legislature’s own lawyers about the constitutionality of the proposal, he’s said he got a response back in about 40 minutes. (The lawyers aren’t that quick, Cadman said at the time, so someone must have asked for such an opinion previously, and when he or she got it declined to make it public.)

The governor’s administration has countered that the legal memo Cadman is relying on missed key facts or was examining only a narrow part of the hospital provider plan.

The fight over whether to reclassify the hospital fee has, oddly, pitted Republicans against a near monolithic voice of the state’s business community that includes the Denver Chamber of Commerce, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Associated General Contractors, the state Wheat Growers Association and chambers from Aurora to Grand Junction, and others. 

Last year, when the hospital provider fee issue was being debated late in the legislative session, 307 lobbyists had signed up to work in support of reclassifying it. Only one group was opposed: Americans for Prosperity, the prime political arm of the billionaire industrialist Koch brothers.

This year in Colorado’s legislature, AFP has made its top priority defending TABOR and keeping revenue generated by the hospital provider fee inside the economic structure that can trigger TABOR refunds. The group has asked lawmakers to sign a pledge saying they won’t vote to reclassify the program. Last week, AFP organizers swarmed the Capitol, promoting the group’s agenda and holding news conferences with lawmakers. Cadman was one of them.

“AFP is a partner of ours…I don’t think I’d be the president of the Senate if it wasn’t for the efforts of you and yours in the previous elections,” Cadman said in appreciation of the group’s support of his rise to power in the state Senate.

Since a fight over the hospital prover fee emerged as a fulcrum point for a power struggle at the Capitol, neither side has been able to put any real points on the board while the question about reclassifying it hangs in legal limbo at the AG’s office.

One member of the state’s budget writing Joint Budget Committee, Democratic Sen. Pat Steadman, wonders whether leaders are playing this scene off stage.

“Closed-door conversations, shuttle diplomacy,” he mused. “Until there is a counter to the [Cadman] legal opinion, I doubt you hear many public statements on the issue.”

In a way, the longer the hospital provider fee question remains in a holding pattern, the stalemate could be playing right into the hands of those who say TABOR is to blame for dysfunction in state government. They can point to the impasse as a symptom of a broken tax system.

In his State of the State speech on Jan. 14, Hickenlooper underscored this point.

“If we can’t make this very reasonable change — like many already allowed under TABOR — then what choice do we have but to re-examine TABOR?” he asked. “Right now, no one can say with a straight face that our budget rules are working for us.”

Just this week, The Associated Press carried a story published in multiple media outlets about how the tax fight over TABOR will shape the future of this rapidly-growing state.

“By 2030, Colorado’s population will grow from 5 million to 7 million people, thanks in part to a strong and diverse economy, the state’s famed Rocky Mountain quality of life and its constitutionally mandated low taxes,” the article read. “And because of those voter-sanctioned tax limits, this fast-growing state could someday fall victim to its own success.”

Attorney General Coffman’s legal opinion on the hospital provider fee might be just a small piece of a puzzle that makes up the state’s complex tax system. But right now, the glaring lack of such an opinion and this current atmosphere of wait-and-see inaction says plenty about the state of contemporary Colorado politics.

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The Adams County Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to enact a six-week moratorium on new fracking development in high density urban areas.

Commissioner Eva Henry proposed the motion during a public hearing. For 45 days, the county will not issue new permits for wells or well pads within 1500 feet of homes, schools or public buildings inside Adams County urban growth boundaries.

The Board will use that time to consult with an attorney and consider revisions to its current county-industry extraction agreement, or memo of understanding. Drilling companies that sign MOU’s agree to more stringent regulations in exchange for an expedited permit process.

Commissioner Steve O’Dorisio, who supported the moratorium, cautioned against extreme MOU revisions. “If we have an MOU that industry doesn’t want to sign, then it ain’t worth anything,” he said.

Tuesday’s ruling comes two weeks after a contentious, well-attended public hearing which addressed a proposed 10-month countywide moratorium. At that hearing, industry leaders stressed the economic importance of natural gas development and community members voiced concerns about their health and safety.

Adams County is just the latest in a string of local governments contending with this issue. State law prohibits local bans on fracking, leaving municipalities with little power to oppose oil and gas development. Broomfield, Fort Collins, Lafayette and Longmont have all been sued by the Colorado Oil and Gas Association after they passed moratoriums.

Maria Orms, a resident of Adams County, remains frustrated at the lack of options. “Communities have chosen moratoriums because it is the only option given to them by the state. If the COGCC was true to their mission of protecting the health and safety of Colorado citizens, we would not be here.”

In a public Facebook post following the vote, Commissioner Erik Hanson called the vote “shameless and disingenuous political pandering during an election year.”

Before voting against the moratorium, Commissioner Jan Pawlowski said, “We’re going to be sued. This is not going to work out like you think.”

Photo credit: Kelsey Ray