High Noon: Obamacare goes to court, again; Bibi goes to Congress; Colorado chooses party heads

Susan Greene: Hi everyone. Happy March 4, the 226th anniversary of the day the Constitution went into effect. Welcome to our two guest High Nooners — Denver political analyst Eric Sondermann and Lone Tree Libertarian lawyer Elliot Fladen. Thanks both for joining us.

First let’s start with the newsmakers among us. Eric, you’ve been the subject up much email chatter since you posted a comment critical of Patricia Arquette’s equal wage comments during her Oscar speech. Colorado feminists aren’t super happy with you. Has the barrage of criticism changed your position, or not so much? We’re all familiar with the experience of attracting lots of online ire. How has it been?

Elliot Fladen: Eric please say that such feminists should study the basic statistical concept that “correlation does not demonstrate causation” — that would be pure awesomeness.

Eric Sondermann: Thanks so much for bringing that one up, Susan. What would I do without you. The answer is that I’m still here. It started with a real-time tweet and Facebook post on Oscar night as to Patricia Arquette’s remarks and Meryl Streeps demonstrative reaction. I guess I have three reactions now two weeks later.

1) Social media is not an optimal forum for nuanced discussion.

2) I did not – and do not – contest the fact that there is a gender-based pay gap. I simply believe the numbers are overblown and that what remains of that gap owes more to different genders being attracted to different sectors than to overt discrimination.

3) There is a very quick-trigger Listserv among some activists and it went into overdrive that night. So be it.

… And I think you just said that, Elliot.

Fladen: Yes – but it would be even better coming from you. Stoke the controversy!

Mike Littwin: The activist thing isn’t new, but it’s quick now and it’s persistent. And if there has to be a bad guy, I’m always thinking, well, at least it’s not me. This time.

Sondermann: Happy to get you off the hook, Mike. Just this once.

Fladen: Mike, with all the GOP infighting going on, who views you as the bad guy these days? The GOP is to busy shooting itself to care about another liberal journalist. ;-)

too busy

Littwin: There is no real controversy. Everyone understands that there is a pay gap. The number is used too often to represent too much. The story is much more nuanced, but it’s hard to get anyone moving around nuance. The cause is just.

Fladen: Elliot, I’m afraid that even with all the infighting, they still find the time to take shots at me. Read my Facebook page. It’s explosive, which is, by the way, the way I like it.

Sondermann: And if I have a point to add, it would be that while the Sony leaks clearly demonstrated some significant pay disparity among Hollywood types, and while that issue is fair game, it remains rather hard to cry crocodile tears for Hollywood mega-stars.

Year after year, the Oscars are a forum for political commentary and some inevitable controversy. Of the list of challenges facing our country, I was simply suggesting that this one might not make the “A” list. And that the oft-cited stats are less than accurate. Especially the frequently quoted 77% figure.

Fladen: I think the real issue is that the prototypical career path is designed to fit the biological clock of a man and not a woman. As the father of two daughters, one thing I think about often is what path will they take in life? Will they go to school and then start a family? Start a family then go to school? Do only one? Or maybe do neither?

There is some good book floating around that says modern women can have it all: family/career…just not at the same time. I think about that too for my daughters.

Littwin: I would say the 77 percent number is about 77 percent right. Which isn’t bad by political standards.

Fladen: Well, here is another point: what is the typical time period in which an A-list female star remains A-list vis-a-vis an A-list male star?

Sondermann: As to your Facebook page, mine is similar, Mike. And I, too, like it that way. Due to my media profile I have hundreds of “friends” from the activist left and an equal number from the very conservative base. Occasionally, it is fun and provocative to throw a topic out there as something of a jump-ball.

Littwin: I want to have it all. Job, family, High Noon debate.

Sondermann: I’m going to steal that line – “77% right”. I just happen to think that is not a very impressive number when it comes to accuracy. And perspective.

And as journalists (that’s what you at The Independent are, right?), I don’t think you should settle for not much more than three-quarters correct.

Littwin: Before Facebook, I had about 3 friends. On a good day. Now I have many thousands, and yet I’m not one bit friendlier. Go figure.

Fladen: Professional life is about choices. And unfortunately with the way our society is set up, a lot of risk on work/life choices is placed on women vis-a-vis men. It isn’t really even a pay-gap issue. It is more of an issue of when successful professional women are able to take time to find partners there is a high risk it can be too late…or that they will have to sacrifice too much in career terms to take time off to start families.

Littwin: As journalists, we insist on 100 percent accuracy 100 percent of the time. Which is why I settle for the joke, which doesn’t have to be accurate at all.

Sondermann: One other difference between us, Mike, is that I am a lot harder to typecast in terms of my viewpoint. On some issues, I come from a more conservative perspective. On others, from the left. And most of the time, I try to find a middle and more civil path.

I’m not suggesting one approach is better than the other. Or that there is a right and wrong between us. Just that you and I have different outlooks, different styles, and different philosophical roots.

Littwin: Elliot, you have to remember that for most people, those who have jobs and maybe not careers, the choices are much different. Step out from the bubble, my friend. Many women have no choice but to do both, and for them this is an entirely different issue.

Sondermann: Finally on this topic, I hope that you, Susan, are getting paid at least 77% of what Littwin makes.

Greene: Points taken on this very tender — and, as the only woman on today’s High Noon — very personal topic. This discussion motivates me to find more female High Nooners… but let’s move on for now, doing our best to make this “social media discussion” as “nuanced” as possible…

News-wise, yesterday was all-Bibi-all-the-time. Littwin’s Bibi posting generated an Internet whirl of its own that’s still whirling strongly today. What are your takes on the fallout and where things are heading with Israel and Iraq — and Congress — post-yesterday’s Bibi bombast?

Fladen: When you get past the rhetoric, Netanyahu/Israel now openly supports allowing (a) Iran to have a path to nuclear weapons so long as it isn’t an “easy” path; and (b) allowing ANY restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program to sunset in 10 years so long as Iran’s “aggression” “stops” (whatever the hell that means).

Sondermann: Bibi and Iran, etc.: Complicated issue obviously. I am simultaneously bothered by two things:

1) The process by which Netanyahu came to speak before Congress yesterday. I worry that it sets a dangerous precedent. And that we’re being used as a prop in an Israeli election campaign. It is just one more indication of the breakdown of Washington and the increasing, unyielding polarization between our two parties.

2) That said, he makes a strong case and I am also bothered by the negotiations and the seeming lack of resolve on the part of the administration in keeping nukes away from these fanatical tyrants.

… Now that is more nuanced. I would be welcome neither on FOX News or CNN. Because I am critical of the forum we provided Bibi but not completely in opposition to his viewpoint.

Littwin: In our strange world of politics, this was one of the strangest moments of them all. Who can remember the last time any head of state was invited to come to Congress to rip the president? I’m pretty sure it’s never happened. And American-first Republicans were fawning over the foreign guy, just like they were over Putin before people started getting murdered in the street. Why would Bibi risk making Israel a partisan issue?

Fladen: Was it really a partisan issue though? I was pretty sure I saw quite a few Dems in attendance and cheering Bibi on. I think the partisan angle on this is overblown.

Sondermann: Further, even if he was to speak to Congress, I could have done without some of the pomp and circumstance. He is a head of state – just not ours. He is neither a wartime Winston Churchill or a conquering Winston Churchill.

Republicans are projecting more onto him than is there – turning him into some kind of saintly counter-point to all they see lacking in Obama.

Littwin: Bibi made the case that Iran is dangerous. Everyone agrees. Bibi made an effective speech, but what he didn’t do was offer a plan. He says that Iran should give up all nuclear capability. It won’t. So, if you think that Iran represents an existential threat to Israel, there is only one alternative — to bomb away the bombs. And I promise you, if Israel bombs Iran, it will be a disaster, and one in which we will be held responsible, no matter how great or not so great our participation. I’m not applauding for that.

Fladen: Which is what I was saying earlier. Bibi’s point was that the rumored deal with Iran is a “bad” deal, but the deal he would offer them would still let them get nukes. It all seemed kind of silly.

Littwin: Eric is right. As for partisan, all you had to do was read Obama’s and Pelosi’s separate statements. They were both furious. Yeah, of course, it was partisan.

Sondermann: The impetus behind it was highly partisan. But partisanship can be effective. And in this case, Democrats were caught between cross-currents. Those there did not seem like very enthusiastic or happy campers. (See Pelosi, Nancy.)

Fladen: Those are statements of the leadership. The rank and file were still there clapping away.

I thought I saw Polis there clapping at one point. Maybe I was mistaken.

Littwin: I don’t think Bibi did any permanent damage. If Obama gets an Iranian deal, he will take it. And whatever the deal is, his critics will say he didn’t get enough and wasn’t tough enough (he’s only tough, apparently, when he’s being a domestic dictator). I’d say there is danger that Obama wants a deal so badly that he will give too much.

Littwin: Cory got a lot of crowd-TV time. It’s amazing how much Washington play he’s getting.

Greene: Speaking of Polis, who’s Jewish, I ask you — three Jewish men – your take on Bibi having represented himself as speaking not only for Israel, but for Jews as a whole. As we can see from this little lunch-hour debate, there’s no monolithic Jewish line of thought. Has Bibi overstepped?

Fladen: Technically I am agnostic with ultra-orthodox jewish and Mexican family. That said, where there are two jews there are three opinions.

Sondermann: I think it was a terrific political tactic. For Niccolo Macciavelli. Or Leonid Brezhnev.

Fladen: How could Bibi have overstepped with that pomp and circumstance? Only thing I worry about is that images of it will be used in the long run to kindle anti-semitism. But guess what – anti-semites would have just used something else anyway.

Sondermann: believe the Prime Minister of Israel – as the head of the “Jewish state” – has some latitude and deference in that regard. As to whether he over-stepped, the voters of Israel will deliver the first judgment on that in two weeks.

Littwin: As a Jew, I was disappointed Bibi didn’t talk more about Purim. Haman is one of my all time favorite goy villains (don’t blame me: this is what I was taught as a child).

Sondermann: Anti-semitism. As the first-born American son of two German-Jewish Holocaust refugees, that’s a topic I take seriously. And personally. And it’s one that deserves far more serious discussion than it is receiving these days. We take it as a given across the Muslim world. But the extent to which it is not permeating (or re-permeating) Europe is deeply concerning. Of course, some of the situation in Europe is a function of Muslim migration. But there are other factors at work as well.

Fladen: I think there is a really complicated relationship right now between Jews and evangelicals. For example, evangelicals are Israel’s biggest supporters. But they also do some really offensive stuff like demanding that Jews pray in “Jesus’s Name” in legislative sessions.

Fladen: If I am at a conservative political event with food served there is greater than a 50-50 chance I will be expected to pray in Jesus’ name.

Sondermann: Good point, Eliot. As with every other community, there are intelligent, enlightened, thoughtful evangelicals. And then there is……………….Gordon Klingenschmitt.

Fladen: Gordon is just an example. This happens all the time. Seriously – even at LPR events this has occurred on a regular basis.

Littwin: I admit, and I think many Jews would agree, that it’s confusing to see evangelicals as Israel’s biggest supporters, some of whom suggest that I, a Jew, shouldn’t be criticizing Israel. It’s great that Israel’s support isn’t so Jewish-centric, but it’s still a little strange.

Fladen: I think the fear is that throughout Jewish history in one generation a group that is very supportive of Jews turns around in a subsequent generation to persecute Jews. The fear is that the evangelicals who are supportive today could flip very quickly to be persecutors.

Sondermann: Mike, one person’s “strange” is another person’s “healthy” or “constructive” or “positive development.”

And I hear you, Eliot. But in terms of the existential threats to Israel (or the Jewish diaspora), I’d put evangelicals (this generation or next) rather low on the list.

Fladen: Agreed.

Greene: Because I know Eric won’t mention it, I’d like to call readers’ attention to a fabulous documentary about Eric’s dad, the late Colorado College professor Fred Sondermann. It was made by Colorado filmmaker Cyd Chartier-Cohn and it’s very well done and moving. Do see it if you haven’t.

We’re halfway through High Noon and need to move to Colorado news….

The lege is nearly halfway over, not much has been done (it’s early), but a lot of headlines have been made. I’m wondering whether it’s because split government doesn’t mean what it used to, or whether I’m being way too premature.

Sondermann: Thank you, Susan!! Any interested readers can Google “Return” by Moxy Films. Or just contact me.

Littwin: Eric, I’m ordering as soon as we get this finished.

I’m pretty sure there are many greater existential threats to Jews, like the number of latkes I consume this time of year. But on to the legislature.

Fladen: Well, if we can return to gender inequality — and Colorado… what do you think of Palacio’s power play to appoint 46 new voters on the basis of “gender imbalance” at the last minute to secure his Dem state chair election?

I want Mike and Susan to explain what happened with Palacio and the 46 new voters. I’ve been bugging them about the state chair race for multiple weeks and they need to give us the scoop.

Sondermann: To Eliot’s question, I haven’t followed it closely and am curious as to whether these 46 new voting members were the swing difference. Would Palacio have won without them?

Faden: Uncertain. He won on first ballot by 28 votes… about 28 votes actually, as I think he would have needed one more to get the majority.

Additionally, I think I remember reading that Sabados (his chief opponent) suggested that all the candidates have a role in appointing the new voters to avoid appearance of impropriety and Palacio refused.

So is my understanding right? What happened?

Come on Mike – I’ve been trying to get you and Susan to talk about the Dem chair race for weeks!

Greene: Easy, Elliot. You’ve been drooling over the Democratic Party story like a pit bull over a thick cut of raw sirloin. Wipe up after yourself, will you?

Rick Palacio seemed to have stacked the deck in getting re-elected Democratic state chair. The Republican race has issues of its own. As the stakes keep getting bigger .

Sondermann: This is the kind of stuff that can tear parties apart. By and large, Dems have been far more united over the last decade or longer than have Republicans. But that unity is always precarious. Hickenlooper, Bennet, et al can’t be very happy.

Fladen: The GOP race (for both chair AND vice chair) is very interesting. But neither of those races involves appointing a quantity of voters greater than the margin of victory in the week prior to the election. This is really scandalous stuff.

Sondermann: Did someone say “sirloin”? It’s lunchtime.

Fladen: This is why you need to eat before High Noon.

Littwin: I don’t know the inside story on the Palacio move, but the perception is already out there, and it will not go away. It looks like Palacio stacked the deck. Some are going to say he stole the election. I’m waiting — or maybe I just missed it – for someone to say Chicago-style politics. I don’t know how many people care who’s the chairman. But I’m pretty sure this will have intra-party repercussions.

Elliot (on eating before High Noon), spoken like a true High Noon professional.

Fladen: Not just intra-party. Say election integrity comes up again and Palacio/the Dems don’t do what the GOP wants. What do you think a ready response will be?

Littwin: We are at the halfway point with the legislature, and pretty much nothing has passed. I saw a story in the Post today about Hick is getting hands-on with the legislature, but, so far, I don’t see anything with anyone’s fingerprints on it. Split government is not unusual in Colorado, but it seems to me in the days of divide, that split government may just be another way to say nothing happens.

Sondermann: To the Legislature (yawn): Having the house split between the parties is not a new phenomenon. But a few things strikes me as different here.

1) The razor-thin majority which each party has in their house of dominance. A one-vote GOP margin in the Senate and a three-vote Dem margin in the House.

2) The receding influence of moderates in each party and the further drift of each toward their more ardent, polarized base.

3) The fact that Hick did not base his reelection campaign on any kind of substantive agenda for the next four years. Hence, he was reelected without any kind of issue mandate. And beyond economic development and some workforce training, he really hasn’t enunciated a comprehensive agenda in the interim. Also, the honeymoon he enjoyed four years ago (also with a split Legislature) is long over.

Fladen: Number two concerns me most of all and I think it is the result of gerrymandering.

Sondermnann: One more thought vis-à-vis the Legislature: Basically, I think the situation at the moment under the dome is one of nullification. The Democratic House nullifies anything coming out of the Republican Senate. And vice versa. Why don’t we just call the whole thing off and send them home?

Fladen: Last session the legislature passed an emergency bill based on a case I was working regarding the Open Meetings Act in an unanimous bipartisan fashion.

Littwin: Eric, you’ve got my vote. Except I want Dr. Chaps to stay there and possibly join him in a duet. Maybe “Bridge Over Troubled Waters.” Or maybe “I Am the Walrus” — Yellow matter custard dripping from a dead dog’s eye. Goo-goo-g’joob.

Greene: The clock is ticking and we don’t have nearly enough time to discuss a topic that, as Eric would put it, is especially nuanced. But, speaking of large steaks — and stakes — Obamacare was heard today by the Supreme Court. Chew on this, High Nooners…

Sondermann: I can’t keep up with you, Susan. I just moved to the Legislature and you’re moving to the Obamacare case in front of the Supreme Court. Talk about moving the goalposts.

Littwin: What I love is that covering the Supreme Court is so old school. No TV. No recording devices. The only people who have any idea what’s going on are the people inside the courtroom. And, of course, this time, no one really knows what the hell is going on even if we were allowed to watch. If Roberts is the swing vote, he had nothing to say during oral arguments that would possibly give away his position.

Sondermann: Roberts is indeed holding his cards close to his chest. I am not a lawyer (don’t even play one on television) and will not opine on the legal merits of the case. Though if the Court decides in favor of the plaintiffs, there would be a rich irony and poetic justice for Nancy Pelosi who famously said that, “we have to pass this bill to find out what’s in it.” Or words very close to that effect. Perhaps they should have vetted it a bit more before ramming it through.

Fladen: I think many people would be happy with repealing it and trying to get it right in a vetted fashion this time.

Sondermann: Yeah, but of course, there is no “this time”. Not with Republicans in control of both chambers. “This time” was a fleeting window when the Democrats controlled all the levers and were determined to enact their half-century commitment.

Littwin: And if the Supreme Court ends it on what many see as a bit of legalese, we will have lost not only Obamacare, but something else, too.

Fladen: Something else?

Sondermann: Granted, Mike. But isn’t “legalese” part of the Supreme court’s charge?

Further, it would leave Colorado looking rather good and far-sighted. The problems of our Connect for Health Exchange notwithstanding. (Perhaps the exchange managers could get some even further bonuses.)

Fladen: shhhhh…..

Littwin: Something else would be standing. Virtually every institution in Washington has terrible approval ratings. Institutions everywhere, in fact. But if the court makes what looks like a clear partisan ruling — another Bush v. Gore style ruling – the court is risking its credibility

Fladen: Partisan ruling? How is it the GOP’s fault that absolute Dem majorities at the time screwed up Obamacare’s drafting?

Sondermann: I don’t completely disagree, Mike. But it does bother me than when the five conservatives justices vote together, it is “partisan”. But then the four more liberal justices, vote as a block, that label is seldom used.

Just calling it like I see it.

Littwin: It’s an old story. Partisan goes one way. Judicial activism goes the other. And some courts do better than others in overcoming it. Roberts did a huge thing in saving Obamacare the first time in a case that most legal scholars thought should have had no chance. I’m guessing he or Kennedy or both will step up this time. But I could be wrong. It has, I’m told, happened before.

Sondermann: Have we succeeded in solving the world’s problems? Can I now go for that sirloin? (On The Independent’s dime, of course.) To be followed by a nap.

Greene: Well done (no pun intended), High Nooners. Thanks for that meaty debate. And thanks for spending your lunch hour with us. Please do grab a nosh…

Thank you readers. You’re our meat and potatoes. The Colorado Independent is, as you probably know, a non-profit. We rely on folks like you to keep our “small-media, big-news” movement growing. Please support our work by making a quick, easy, tax-dedictible donation here. Act now. Our “donate” page is waiting for your click. Contributions of $100 or more come with a first-edition, 100 percent cotton, Colorado-made Colorado Independent t-shirt, our free gift to you. It’s the only shirt you’ll ever need. Don’t settle for less.

All this hawking brings me to our High Noon musical selection of the week — “Step Right Up” by ever-grumpy and brilliant Tom Waits. Listen here. As Waits sings it…

Now you’ve heard it advertised, don’t hesitate
Don’t be caught with your drawers down,
Don’t be caught with your drawers down
You can step right up, step right up
That’s right, it filets, it chops, it dices, slices,
Never stops, lasts a lifetime, mows your lawn
And it mows your lawn and it picks up the kids from school
It gets rid of unwanted facial hair, it gets rid of embarrassing age spots,
It delivers a pizza, and it lengthens, and it strengthens
And it finds that slipper that’s been at large
under the chaise lounge for several weeks
And it plays a mean Rhythm Master,
It makes excuses for unwanted lipstick on your collar
And it’s only a dollar ($100, actually), step right up, it’s only a dollar, step right up

Thanks ya’ll see you next week for another edition of High Noon.


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litwin hnMike Littwin has covered Dr. J, four presidential inaugurations, six national conventions and countless brain-numbing speeches in the New Hampshire and Iowa snow. A rapier wit.


sonderman Eric Sondermann is an independent political commentator. He is a regular panelist on Channel 12’s “Colorado Inside Out” on Friday evenings and co-hosts the “Colorado Decides” political debate series co-sponsored by CPT-Channel 12 and CBS-Channel 4. Beyond these television roles, Eric is regularly called upon for his political insight by a laundry list of local and national publications. After nearly 30 years as a leading public relations and public policy consultant, Eric sold his ownership interest in SE2, the firm he founded, to his business partners this past summer.


fladen hnElliot Fladen is a former Department of Justice trial attorney and a 2005 graduate of Stanford Law School. He specializes in commercial litigation, government transparency, and construction litigation. Besides testifying on major state ethics legislation before the Colorado State House, stories regarding his work have appeared in the Denver Post, the Colorado Springs Gazette, The Colorado Independent, the Colorado Observer, and the Colorado Statesman. He is also an occasional guest columnist and/or contributor to the Colorado Springs Gazette and The Colorado Independent.


sgreeneSusan Greene is moderator today. She is a longtime Colorado journalist, a former Denver Post columnist and the editor of the Colorado Independent.

The Colorado Independent is a statewide online news source operating in a time when spin is plentiful, but factual, fair and unflinching news in the public interest is all too rare. Our award-winning team of veteran investigative and explanatory reporters and news columnists aims to amplify the voices of Coloradans whose stories are unheard, shine light on the relationships between people, power and policy, and hold public officials to account. We strive to report the news with context, social conscience, and soul, and to give Coloradans the insight they need to promote conversation, understanding and progress in this square, swing state we call home.