Former state representative will consider removing fake news from her Facebook page

July 21st, 2017

marsha looper posts fake news about muslim rape 7-17Former state Rep. Marsha Looper (R-Calhan) shared a fake news item on her Facebook page recently, with flat-out falsehoods and exaggerations about a rape that did not occur, as alleged, in Idaho

The Idaho Statesman reported:

The incident touched off months of turmoil in Twin Falls after the story was spun into a fake news account that exaggerated or flat-out falsified many of the details, including that a knife was present, the attack was perpetrated by a Syrian gang of adult men, that a rape had occurred and that the attack was celebrated by the perpetrators’ families as city officials orchestrated a cover-up.

Snopes also determined the item to be “mostly false.

See Looper’s post, from “SilenceIsConsent.net,” above.

Looper, who left office in 2012, told me today that she’d review the fact checks of the item and, if she agrees, remove it from her Facebook page.

Gardner: “If you repeal it now, with nothing in its place, what happens if you don’t find that replacement?”

July 18th, 2017

With U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky’s announcement that he’s dumped his bill to replace Obamacare and, instead, will push legislation to repeal the health care law without replacing it for up to two years, a comment by U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) sounds a ton more significant today than it did July 6 when Gardner uttered it on KNUS 710-AM’s Dan Caplis Show.

CAPLIS: And last question: as you know, Ben Sasse and some others have been talking about, now, “repeal and replace later, separately.” Where do you come down on that?

GARDNER: Look, I think that if you repeal it now, with nothing in its place, what happens if you don’t find that replacement? What happens if you don’t reach that agreement? And I think that we ought to move forward with an idea now, and put a solution forward to the American people. Look, this is something that Republicans and Democrats ought to find common ground with, because if Democrats refuse to find a solution to a failing Obamacare, shame on them!

CAPLIS: Right.

GARDNER: And that’s what we have to realize, is, the status quo isn’t good enough. And the alternative is a single-payer healthcare system. And look what happened in England, right now, with that child. The parents no longer have the ability to help — excuse me, no longer have the ability to determine their child’s state, because it’s in the hands of the government.

Gardner has yet to talk to journalists about the implosion of the senate healthcare legislation, so, for now, this looks like the only comment reporters have to go on from our senator, who’s a Republican leader in the U.S. Senate and who helped draft McConnell’s bill.

Listen to Gardner on KNUS-710-AM July 6:

Seven state lawmakers sign the Fake News Pledge

July 14th, 2017

Scott Nov. 6 Wikileaks fake newsThe Fake News Pledge has now been signed by seven state lawmakers, all Democrats: State Representatives Mike Foote of Lafayette, Susan Lontine of Denver, Michael Merrifield of Colorado Springs, and Michael Weissman of Aurora as well as State Sen. Irene Aguilar of Denver, State Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman of Denver, and State Sen. Dominick Moreno of Commerce City.

The Pledge is a promise not to spread fake news on Facebook. It defines fake news as a story “deemed false or inaccurate by Snopes, Politifact, Factcheck.org, or by a respected news outlet.” It also must be “packaged to look somehow like news.” Everyone who supports factual discourse, Dem or Republican, should support it.

Westword’s Michael Roberts’ post on this topic today shows why the Pledge isn’t an empty gesture: Colorado state lawmakers and candidates spread obvious fake news on their Facebook pages. Look at the Westword piece, take a step back for a moment, and you realize realize how unbelievably crazy it is for elected officials and candidates to post this kind of stuff.

As far as I know, this is the only tangible step by state lawmakers nationally to fight fake news.

So the signers deserve our thanks for having the guts to try to do something.

And please note those who wouldn’t sign: Sen. Kevin Lundberg (R-Berthoud) and Sen. Tim Neville (R-Littleton). Neville told me that “each individual has to be the arbiter of fake news. Lundberg said the term fake news “smacks of a new censorship.”

Overall, I’ve found six Colorado state legislators who posted fake news on their Facebook pages (See here and here). Two removed it (State Rep. Polly Lawrence and former State Rep. Kit Roupe). Two told me they would not remove it (former State Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt and State Sen. Tim Neville). Neville posted this: “Earth Is Nearly in Its 21st Year Without Global Warming.” And two lawmakers did not respond to my request that it be deleted (State Rep. Ray Scott, and former State Sen. Laura Woods).

After launching the Pledge, I was accused of being a “fake reporter” by former State Sen. Greg Brophy. And other conservatives attacked me, as if my being progressive somehow undermines the pledge. I am progressive, and I’m paid by progressives. I don’t hide it. But I’m committed to being factual in my writing–and we all can expect the same from our state lawmakers of any political stripe. So I’m hoping more of them sign the Pledge.

Questions for Gardner about the U.S. Senate’s health care bill

July 10th, 2017

Here’s my list of key questions for Gardner. Please add yours in the comment section.

  • What’s the highest number of people in Colorado who’d be projected to lose health insurance under the senate bill—and you’d still vote for it?
  • You’re not yet accepting the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) estimate that 22 million people would lose health insurance under the senate bill. If not the CBO, who will you trust to analyze the bill?
  • Your opponents accuse you of sabotaging Obamacare. Here’s one example they point to. Back in 2013, you and U.S. Sen Marco Rubio of Florida opposed “bailouts” of insurance companies as part of Obamacare. They were referred to as risk corridors. Is it fair to say that withholding those payments destabilized the marketplace? And now, experts say, Republican are proposing insurance-company bailouts for the same reason, to stabilize the marketplace. Are you okay with voting for the bailouts in the current bill?
  • You’ve said an Obamacare replacement should lower premiums. The nonpartisan Kaiser Foundation says that, under the current bill, premiums would rise faster than under Obamacare. Would you vote for a senate bill if the Kaiser Foundation found that under the senate bill, premiums would rise faster than under Obamacare.
  • Please talk about your roll in drafting the bill. People don’t understand how you were a drafter of the bill, especially the Medicaid part, but never saw drafts of it.
  • You’ve said that if the senate doesn’t pass a bill, the only alternative to Obamacare is a single-payer system. Why do you think this?
  • The nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute estimates that Colorado would lose at least $14 billion in federal Medicaid funds during the first 10 years after passage of the senate bill. How would you cut Colorado’s Medicaid program in future years as federal funds decrease and lawmakers will have to reduce services?
  • Should Colorado pick up the tab for lost Medicaid funding, or should the next governor and state legislature push people off the rolls or cut services?
  • Along these lines, if the senate bill passes, would you support a tax increase in Colorado, so that the state could afford to cover children, seniors, and people with disabilities?
  • Federal law mandates that hospitals accept sick people in emergency rooms. So are you okay with pushing people off Medicaid and, in effect, forcing hospitals to pick up the tab for emergency room by, at least, some of them?
  • You’ve said you want to make Medicaid sustainable. Are you saying you want to cut Medicaid to make it sustainable? If not, how else would you achieve your goal of making it sustainable?
  • You will not reveal if you’d vote for the senate legislation as drafted. But do you support the framework of the bill, which is to take health insurance away from Medicaid recipients and give a tax cut to wealthy Americans?
  • Your opponents are concerned that Republicans want to all insurance companies to sell so-called “junk” plans, which require lots of out-of-pocket payments. If the senate bill lowers premiums for some people, but raises out-of-pocket costs for most everybody, does that mean that insurance is less expensive or more expensive?
  • Will you vote for the senate bill if there are no hearings and regular order, as you’ve promised?
  • Rural hospitals depend on Medicaid funding. Are you willing to assure rural Coloradans that no rural hospital will close, if the the senate bill became law?
  • Will you hold a town hall meeting on health care, and if not, why not?

Unlike Koch gathering, Western Conservative Summit won’t try to muzzle journalists

July 7th, 2017

If you’re a progressive, you can criticize the ultra-conservative Centennial Institute for a lot of things, like being homophobic, Islamophobic, and more, but being scared of a open debate is one thing the organization is not.

Centennial Institute founder, John Andrews, began the tradition of inviting questions and discussion, and the current director, Jeff Hunt, is carrying it on.

For example, he’s enlisted a longtime Denver reporter Joey Bunch, now leading the political news site ColoradoPolitics, to ask questions of gubernatorial candidates at the July 21-23 Western Conservative Summit, billed as the “largest gathering of conservatives outside of Washington, D.C.

And Hunt has put no restrictions on his questions.

Contrast that with approach taken by the conservative billionaires, Charles and David Koch, when they held a big shindig in Colorado Springs last month of Republican politicians and donors associated with the Kochs’ Seminar Network.

As they’ve done in the past, the Kochs set ground rules for reporters, whom they invited to cover the event. One rule prohibited journalists from reporting on who was there, unless they were part of a formal program or the attendee gave permission to a reporter, according to Bunch. In other words, the presence of a person was off the record, unless permission was given or they were on the program.

Bunch said no thanks.

“A reporter’s most valuable asset is his independence,” Bunch told me via email. “It’s a tall order to tell a reporter he can’t report what he sees for the price of admission. I was very appreciative of the invitation, don’t get me wrong, and I knew I was risking losing some stories, maybe big stories, but it didn’t feel right at the gut level, so I asked and my editors backed me up. I was proud of that. A lot of editors would have said, ‘No. we want the scoops.'”

Judging from the reaction to similar, if not identical, restrictions imposed by the Kochs at other gatherings, journalists differ on whether the benefits of attending such events, even with the restrictions, outweighs the downsides.

I’d rather have a partially muzzled reporter in the room with the Kochs than none, but journalists who attend such events should inform us that restrictions were placed on their reporting, as outlets such as USA Today and the Washington Post have done in the past.

But I couldn’t find any reference to media restrictions in the coverage of last month’s Colorado Springs Koch event, including in reporting by the Associated Press, Denver Post, NBC News, Politico, and others.

Emails to the Associated Press, Denver Post, and Politico were not immediately returned. I’ll update this post if I they respond.

In any case, I wouldn’t expect the Centennial Institute to try to do this, especially at a gathering of 4,000 people, of course, but at any forum.  Hunt says there are not restrictions on journalists. They even let Samantha Bee loose at last year’s Summit.

And Hunt’s choice of a journalist to interview gubernatorial candidates at its upcoming Summit is along the same lines of openness to honest debate.

At the Summit, each Colorado gubernatorial candidate will be allowed a five-minute speech, and Bunch will ask ten minutes of questions to the group. Attendees will have the opportunity to vote on their favorite candidate, just as they did among vice presidential hopefuls last year, choosing former U.S. House Speaker Newt Gingrich. The results will be announced later.

Among the Republican candidates, 18th Judicial District Attorney George Brauchler and businessmen Victor Mitchell and Doug Robinson accepted invitations to attend so far. The only Democrat to respond is U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, who’s declined.

Why did Hunt pick Bunch to do the interview segment of the program?

“We’re doing the gubernatorial race,” replied Hunt. “Let’s get someone who really knows Colorado politics.  I’ve done a number of interviews with Joey, and he’s fair, and he knows Colorado really well. And he’s real entertaining. So let’s put him up there.”

But Hunt wouldn’t put just any journalist on the stage.

He said that some outlets like CNN, New York Times, and Washington Post “seem hell bent trying to delegitimize the President instead of reporting the news.”

That’s why he’s glad Trump is fighting reporters.

“Donald Trump is teaching conservatives again how fight against the media,” Hunt said, whose Centennial Institute is associated with Colorado Christian University. “Frankly, we need to learn how to fight those types of aggressive attacks against us.”

Hunt doesn’t accuse all journalists as being unfair. He said the Denver weekly Westword is one of the “fairest newspapers” he’s dealt with so far in Colorado. He also likes 9News anchor Kyle Clark, Denver Post Editor of the Editorial Pages Chuck Plunkett, and others.

Conservatives should give journalists (mainstream, left, or right) a chance and not initially look at media outlets as if they are “out to get me,” Hunt said.

As the media world implodes, that’s also good advice for progressives or anyone.

Gardner is mad about insurance costs, but they’d go up more under Obamacare replacement than under Obamacare

June 28th, 2017

On a national conservative radio show Tuesday, guest hosted by Denver’s Ross Kaminsky, Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) cited increased health-insurance costs and stated that the “most important thing we can do for this country is to make sure we have a replacement for Obamacare.”

But neither Kaminsky nor Gardner pointed out that under the U.S. Senate’s proposed Obamacare replacement, insurance rates are projected to go up more than they would if Obamacare remained in place, according to figures released by the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. .

Gardner must not be reading The Denver Post, because Kaiser’s Colorado-specific facts were presented there, in an article by John Ingold:

[Under the Senate bill,] for a 40-year-old making $50,000 a year, a mid-level “silver” plan on the state’s insurance exchange would cost:

$1,930 more per year in Mesa County.
$0 more per year in Denver.
$910 more per year in Yuma County.

For a 60-year-old making $30,000 a year, the same level plan would cost:

$3,230 more per year in Mesa County.
$2,710 more per year in Denver.
$2,820 more per year in Yuma County.

For a 27-year-old making $20,000 a year, the same level plan would cost:

$700 more per year in Mesa County
$550 more per year in Denver.
$580 more per year in Yuma County.

Overall, the Kaiser report projects marketplace enrollees to pay 74 percent more in insurance premiums.

Kaiser Family Foundation: “Overall, marketplace enrollees would pay on average 74 percent more towards the premium for a benchmark silver plan in 2020 under the BCRA [Senate bill] than under current law (Table 1). Younger enrollees would see modest increases on average (10 percent for those under age 18; 17 percent for those ages 18 to 34), while average premiums would more than double for enrollees ages 55 to 64.

On the radio, Gardner said insurance “executives” told him that the Senate bill will “bend the cost curve down,” and they will be able to “reduce rates.”

This is in line with what he told Denver Post reporter Mark Matthews Monday.

“Over the weekend I had conversations with CEOs (including at least one official at) Blue Cross Blue Shield, who said their support for the bill is robust,” Gardner said of the health insurance giant. “They believe that it would markedly help stabilize the market, so I’ve got to go through each and every one of those arguments and see whether or not this achieves that.”

Gardner’s DC office did not return my call seeking the names of the insurance executives he spoke with and an explanation of why he would believe them more than the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation.

This post was updated to include information about Gardner’s statement to The Denver Post Monday. 

Reporters should be clear about who’s backing the baker who discriminated against a gay couple

June 27th, 2017

In wide coverage of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a Colorado case in which a bakery refused to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple, reporters are almost universally failing to mention that the powerful legal organization backing the bakery has a long history of opposition to same-sex marriage, LGBT equality, abortion, and other rights that are under attack by the Christian right.

The organization, Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), has a stated mission to “to keep the doors open for the Gospel by advocating for religious liberty, the sanctity of life, and marriage and family,” as pointed out in an excellent Colorado Independent article yesterday.

But it’s actually more fair, in view of prevailing social norms and values, to label ADF as anti-LGBTQ organization that’s fundamentally opposed to the civil rights of gay people. That’s what the organization is about–and it should be described as such in the context of this case, especially because ADF is trying to present itself as defending the rights of the baker, Jack Phillips, to express himself as an artist and religious devotee.

“The government in Colorado is picking and choosing which messages they’ll support and which artistic messages they’ll protect,” Kristen Waggoner of the Alliance Defending Freedom, told The Denver Post yesterday. An ADF legal counsel, writing in today’s Denver Post, ludicrously referred to Phillips’ bakery as an “art gallery of cakes.”

ADF has no demonstrable interest in protecting artists. In fact, ADF has been on a crusade against homosexuality since its founding by Focus on the Family’s James Dobson and others in 1994. The organization’s anti-choice and anti-LGBT stances, including its efforts to overturn state laws banning discrimination against LGBT people, are widely documented, including the fact that ADF has backed efforts to criminalize homosexuality abroad. As illustrated here, ADF sits at the center of America’s network of Christian right groups.

In a 2015 handbook designed to help religious entities discriminate without facing legal repercussions, ADF equates bestiality and incest with being LGBTQ–or even with participating in adultery, and using pornography.

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female,” states the handbook. “These two distinct, complementary genders together reflect the image and nature of God. (Gen 1:26-27.) Rejection of one’s biological sex is a rejection of the image of God within that person.”

The handbook continues: “We believe that God intends sexual intimacy to occur only between a man and a woman who are married to each other. (1 Cor 6:18; 7:2-5; Heb 13:4.) We believe that God has commanded that no intimate sexual activity be engaged in outside of a marriage between a man and a woman. We believe that any form of sexual immorality (including adultery, fornication, homosexual behavior, bisexual conduct, bestiality, incest, and use of pornography) is sinful and offensive to God. (Matt 15:18-20; 1 Cor 6:9-10.)”

Here in Colorado, the face of ADF has long been Michael J. Norton, who left ADF recently to start the Colorado Freedom Institute, but he apparently continues to represent the group on occasion.

Norton, who drafted a 2006 amendment that voters added to the Colorado Constitution defining marriage as between a man and a woman, testified frequently at the state capitol and has been an outspoken advocate for anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ campaigns.

As I blogged previously, in Colorado, ADF was embraced by 33 Republican state legislators in 2015 to push for an investigation of Planned Parenthood. The lawmakers, who appeared to be led by State Rep. Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs, included State Sen. Larry Crowder of Alamosa and State Sen. Tim Neville of Littleton.

In the Post’s opinion piece today, ADF’s lawyer writes that Phillips should “have his cake and freedom too.” Actually, it’s gay people who should have their wedding cake and freedom too. But they won’t, if ADF succeeds in blocking their basic human rights.

 

Will Gardner slip by reporters again on Planned Parenthood?

June 22nd, 2017

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner built his political career in Colorado, and rallied grassroots Republican support, by opposing abortion, even for rape and incest. Part of that, of course, has meant that he’s opposed and vilified Planned Parenthood.

Now it appears that the Senate’s Obamacare-replacement legislation would remove federal funds for Planned Parenthood, just like the House version did.

And you’d expect Gardner to be fully on board with this.

After he voted to defund Planned Parenthood two years ago, Gardner said,

“We voted to take the money from Planned Parenthood and distribute it to the community health clinics around the state of Colorado,” Gardner told KNUS 710-AM’s Dan Caplis in 2015.

He said the move would provide “more access” to men and women across the state, even though many low-income woman want to go to Planned Parenthood clinics for specific and understandable reasons, like privacy, trust, and convenience.

And even though no federal funds are used for abortions at Planned Parenthood, the organization provides abortions. In contrast, community health centers don’t offer abortion services that many woman obviously want available at their clinic of choice in the year 2017.

But Gardner apparently doesn’t think women care. When confronted with his extreme anti-choice positions during the 2014 election, Gardner responded by saying Democrat Mark Udall was trying to “distract voters” from the real issues.

Now Gardner should face the same question from reporters. Does he think women in Colorado care about Planned Parenthood? About the U.S. Senate’s and the Republican Party’s assault on abortion rights?

Gardner may try to say his opposition to Planned Parenthood isn’t about opposition to Planned Parenthood, just like he tried to say, during his last election campaign, that his support of abortion-ban legislation wasn’t support for an abortion ban.

Despite heroic efforts by journalists to untangle Gardner’s wordpile on his support for an abortion ban, packaged at the time as “personhood,” Gardner got away with it. He’s Colorado’s Senator.

Will he slip by again on Planned Parenthood?

Key question for Gardner is, how many Coloradans would lose insurance under GOP Obamacare replacement?

June 19th, 2017

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner continues to talk about making Medicaid “sustainable” and stable, but the key question Gardner needs to answer is, Will Colorado Medicaid recipients lose health insurance under the GOP’s Obamacare replacement?” And if so, how many? And how long a “glide path” until they’re cut out?

That question cuts through Gardner’s vagaries about what will happen to Medicaid under the Senate’s Obamacare-replacement bill, which Gardner is helping to draft in secret. On this topic, Gardner has said:

Gardner June 15: “If you don’t have a sustainable Medicaid program, then you risk the Medicaid programs.”

Gardner June 14 (at 9 min 30 sec). “A health care plan that focuses on … making sure that we make Medicaid sustainable and allow a program that gives greater functionality and flexibility to the sates to manage that program in a way that the states know how to do better for their people than Washington does….”

Gardner also frequently says he wants to pass a law that’s “better than Obamacare.”

Great. But in the name of alleged improvement, sustainability, and stability, how many Coloradans will lose health insurance?

About 400,000 Coloradans gained insurance under Obamacare’s expansion of Medicaid to include adults, without children, who earn less than $16,000 per year. Under the Obamacare-replacement bill passed by the U.S. House, 14 million Medicaid recipients would lose coverage within a year, and 12 million more would be dropped within 10 years. Within five years, most of the 400,000 who gained insurance in Colorado are expected to lose it.

Back in March, Gardner was tagged as a defender or Medicaid when he signed a letter, along with Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, stating that “we will not support a [Obamacare replacement] plan that does not include stability for Medicaid expansion populations or flexibility for states.”

Again, the key question is, how many Coloradans will lose coverage in the name of stability?

Cutting through the spin: Gardner wants to end, not protect, insurance coverage for 400,000 Coloradans

June 13th, 2017

Back in March, Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner joined fellow Republican Senators Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Rob Portman of Ohio, in stating that “we will not support a [Obamacare replacement] plan that does not include stability for Medicaid expansion populations or flexibility for states.”

Since then, Portman and Capito have added a measure of definition to this vague statement by endorsing a seven-year phaseout of Obama’s Medicaid expansion, which provided over 400,00 Coloradans with health insurance. Portman called it a “glide path” that would gradually reduce federal Medicaid funding to the states beginning in 2020.

But Murkowski and Gardner are refusing to discuss their current thinking on the Medicaid expansion. The Hill asked Murkowski twice last week if she’d agree to a gradual phaseout, and she declined to say.

In May, Gardner declined to answer a direct question from The Denver Post’s Mark Matthews about whether he supports the plan, in the Obamacare replacement bill passed by the House, to begin the Medicaid-expansion phaseout in 2020.

But Gardner did tell Matthews,“We need to have a glide path that works for the states.”

In the absence of more details from Gardner, journalists are on solid ground reporting that Gardner is on board with ending the Obamacare Medicaid program that covers over 400,000 Coloradans. The only question is the time frame, the number of years in the glide path.

And journalists are also completely justified in reporting that Gardner’s phaseout doesn’t square Gardner’s promise to defend the Obamacare Medicaid expansion, as stated in the The Denver Post’s March 6 article headlined, “Sen. Cory Gardner defends Medicaid expansion as GOP reveals Obamacare replacement.”

During the 2014 campaign, and ever since the first Ryan budget introduced a partial privatization of Medicare, the often repeated message from Gardner was that making dramatic cuts to health programs was a way to protect them for future generations.

Now Gardner is talking about a “glide path.”

These sort of policy justifications can make sense within their own inverted logic, but the plain meaning of the words are likely lost on the average voter. Journalists have the burden of making sure the facts are presented alongside the spin.