Archive for March, 2011

Abortion didn’t matter in the last election? Take a look at Congress now

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011

I never heard Sen. Michael Bennet mention the directional purpose of the anus, like that grandma did at the state Capitol Mon., but that didn’t stop Ken Buck from telling Bennet last year to shut up about social issues, like abortion.

The GOP, and allied pundits, liked to say that the election wasn’t about abortion.

How could it be, they said, with a pro-choice president, two freshly appointed pro-choice judges on the Supreme Court, and Roe vs. Wade the law of the land.

The election was about jobs, they said, jobs, jobs, jobs. And to talk about abortion, or run advertisements on social issues, was a distraction from the real issues facing America, an insulting and cynical way to win the votes of unaffiliated voters.

Fast forward to Washington DC, March 9, 2011. Abortion issues, including the crusade to cut Planned Parenthood funds, are at the center of negotiations that could lead to a shutdown of the federal government.

And lives are at stake. House Republicans have cut funding not only for Planned Parenthood’s non-abortion-related services, like cancer screenings, but also for international organizations, like the United Nations Population Fund, that provide women’s health services and family planning, excluding abortion, in the world’s most impoverished nations.

The Population Fund’s backers say the loss of funding would result in millions of unwanted pregnancies and tens of thousands of deaths of women and children.

So clearly abortion matters a lot, and it matters a lot to congressmen like Rep. Cory Gardner (R-CO), who’s opposed to abortion even in the cases of rape and incest.

You recall Gardner also accused his pro-choice Democratic opponent, Betsy Markey, of distracting voters by discussing abortion issues during the last election.

Fortunately, the Ft. Collins Coloradoan pressed Gardner on the issues anyway, even though he didn’t want to talk about them.

And media outlets in Denver, despite Ken Buck’s wishes, did the same thing, and pressed Buck on them, particularly at the end of the campaign.

(I wrote a guest opinion in the Coloradoan today thanking the newspaper for asking Gardner about abortion anyway, and laying his views out there, even at a time when most people didn’t identify these issues as “top of mind” in polls.)

That’s what journalists are supposed to do, look at the big picture–because any person in his or her right mind, not to mention any professional reporter, knows that a U.S. Congressman will inevitably face votes on social issues, like abortion and gay marriage.

And that’s what’s come to pass today in the U.S. Congress.

Paonia radio host illuminates legislator’s shallow budget solution

Monday, March 7th, 2011

It’s been pointed out numerous times of late that those good protesters who dumped tea into Boston Harbor in 1773 weren’t against taxation. They wanted representation! Taxes, maybe, but let our elected leaders be the ones taxing us, please.

Fast forward about 238 years to Rep. Cheri Gerou Feb. 11, talking about taxes on KVNF community radio in Paonia.

Host Sally Kane asked Gerou about how Colorado will deal with its budget shortfall in the future, and whether tax increases could be “part of the picture.”

“It’s not my job,” answered Gerou, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee. “Tabor does not allow the Legislature to present tax increases. And it’s not my job.”

Not her job? That’s what the Boston Tea Party was all about, not to mention the American Revolution and the Egyptian one, etc.

Kane didn’t ask Gerou about the connection between taxation and representation, but she did present Gerou with a series of thoughtful questions illuminating the dual-track that reporting on the budget story should take.

First Kane asked about the current budget crisis and then about long-term solutions.

Asked about the future, Gerou said, “Way forward for me is to get through this budget cycle.”

Gerou added: “Nothing that they [the Fiscal Policy Institute] are talking about has anything to do with this budget cycle. We are required to cut the budget based on what the revenue forecasts are. We’re looking at a $1.2 billion deficit, and we have to do that. So, any other conversation about any other process is outside of the realm of what I have to deal with right now.”

Kane didn’t let Gerou, a Republican from Evergreen, deflect questions about tax increases with a simple, tax increases won’t solve our budget our problem now anyway.

Kane told Gerou: “I recognize that the current budget is on your plate at the moment, but there is a sense of where can we head beyond the short term, and that’s what I am trying to get at-.That was the point of my question, to find out what you personally can see ahead.”

“What I can see ahead is business is starting to recover,” Gerou said. “And what I can see ahead is companies are growing. And that’s the best thing because, quite honestly, business is what funds government. And I’m very heartened by the fact that the economy is going to improve and that we’re coming out of the recession, and that when the economy improves, revenue improves and government has more funding. So, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”

Kane let Gerou go, but earlier in the same interview, Gerou told Kane that the next Legislature will be looking at a $700 million shortfall:

“If you look forward to the year after next, we’re looking at a $700 million shortfall for K through 12, to backfill K through 12,” Gerou said. “So, when we’re looking at all these budget deficits, it has to do with the amount of revenue that’s coming into the state.”

So how does this square with Gerou’s proposed “what-I-see-ahead-is-companies-growing” solution to the budget crisis? And her “when-the-economy-improves,-revenue-improves-and-government-has more-funding” vision that she’s “looking forward to.”

Harsanyi leaving Post for career and personal reasons

Friday, March 4th, 2011

I asked Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi why he’s leaving the newspaper to become editorial manager at Glenn Beck’s publishing company.

He replied:

I’m leaving for a few reasons: To begin with, I was offered an exciting opportunity — by some very talented people — to do something new, to reach a large national audience and to keep my syndicate column. I couldn’t pass it up.

Also, though we love living in Denver, our family is on the East Coast and I wanted my children to be closer to them. That’s not to say it wasn’t a difficult decision. My time at the Post …• both as a metro columnist and on the editorial board …• was unbelievably rewarding both personally and professionally. More people read the Post’s content today than ever, and despite all the outside naysaying, I know it’s going to continue succeeding. So it’s bittersweet leaving.

I’m sorry Harsanyi is leaving. I’m not sure you could find a better conservative combo than him and Vince Carroll. I mostly disagree with both of them, but they’re usually fun and interesting.

My advice to Post Editorial Page Editor Dan Haley: do not fill Harsanyi’s conservative void with more Mike Rosen columns, which we may have read before anyway.

The Post’s opinion page is clearly trying to be fresh, like Carroll and Harsanyi try to be, not pedantic and recycled.

As activist, my approach was, let’s steal content until told not to

Friday, March 4th, 2011

As reported yesterday by Westword and the Denver Daily News, Reporters Without Borders makes a seemingly reasonable request of The Denver Post and its associated law firm, Righthaven: warn bloggers and activists before suing them for stealing your content.

Let me make a confession here: For years as an activist (now I’m a progressive journalist), I’d steal content (a song or an article or this or that) and use it under the assumption that I’d just take it down if I or my organization received a cease-and-desist letter. So I knew I was stealing stuff, but I didn’t care.

I know I’m not the only one who burgled in this manner.

Now let’s look at the current situation in the newspaper industry. Journalism is dying, especially big-city dailies. Politicians send reporters like Lynn Bartels at the Denver Post condolence gifts when their newspapers close, but they don’t do anything about it. In fact, few people care. The interest groups benefiting from journalism don’t seem to know who they are, and they are mostly silent.

So I don’t like a lot of what Righthaven is doing, and I don’t understand why the newspapers aren’t publicizing the lawsuits to educate the public, but I love to see newspapers fighting back aggressively.

That’s what this desperate situation calls for.

So here’s a legal strategy being tried by Righthaven that’s addressing what could turn out to be a central part of saving journalism: protection of online content. I admit that neither the revenue from online content, nor the strategy of suing to protect it, will likely work.

But it could be a part of saving journalism, and it’s worth it to try.

And sending “takedown” letters before suing will allow too many bad guys, like I myself was, to continue to be bad.

Rosen listens as Brophy says families in poverty should cut lotto and cigs to pay for kids’ health care

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Colorado State Sen. Greg Brophy had a long cozy chat with KOA’s Mike Rosen today.

Agreement flowed everywhere, even on the issue of dealing with the budget deficit by potentially taking health care away from Colorado kids in poverty.

Brophy told Rosen that co-pays and premiums will likely be required for kids who now get free care in Colorado.

Rosen asked if this meant poor kids would go untreated.

Brophy didn’t answer the question, and instead said:

Well, that’s what the opponents of charging people will say, but I think when you look at it what we’re doing as a matter of public policy is we are allowing people who have their kids on Medicaid to spend their money on other things. For instance, the average Medicaid recipient is four times more likely to smoke than the average Coloradoan. So we’re paying for their kids’ health care, and they’re buying cigarettes instead. And I think if you look at the statistics, you’ll see that they are also much more likely to play the lottery. So instead of paying for their kids’ health care, they are playing in the lottery and buying cigarettes. Oh, and by the way, most of them have air conditioning. So instead of paying for their kids’ health care, they are paying for their air conditioning bills, and it goes on and on and on. I think they should put a little bit of skin in the game.

I thought I could see Rosen nodding, but then I realized I was listening to him on the radio, and I couldn’t see him.

So, all I know for sure was that Rosen was silent, and didn’t ask for evidence that children would, in fact, not get treated if Colorado began charging their parents.

He didn’t question Brophy’s sources or assumptions.

Perhaps a more inquisitive questioner will take up the mantle.

At 18:00 minutes during hour 3

Brophy: We have grown the number of people getting free health care in Colorado. We’re up to 550,000 kids on Medicaid or SCHIP in Colorado, and they pay effectively nothing for their health care. And I don’t think that’s right. Everybody should have a little skin in this game, and I think what we’re going to end up doing, then, is seeking real copays and maybe even a little bit of a premium payment out of people who are on Medicaid or SCHIP.

Rosen: …Does that mean that poor kids are going to go untreated?

Brophy: Well, that’s what the opponents of charging people will say, but I think when you look at it what we’re doing as a matter of public policy is we are allowing people who have their kids on Medicaid to spend their money on other things. For instance, the average Medicaid recipient is four times more likely to smoke than the average Coloradoan. So we’re paying for their kids’ health care, and they’re buying cigarettes instead. And I think if you look at the statistics, you’ll see that they are also much more likely to play the lottery. So instead of paying for their kids’ health care, they are playing in the lottery and buying cigarettes. Oh, and by the way, most of them have air conditioning. So instead of paying for their kids’ health care, they are paying for their air conditioning bills, and it goes on and on and on. I think they should put a little bit of skin in the game.

How a small rally can look BIGGER in the news

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

If you’re a political activist, whether PETA or Tea Party or whatever, you spend a lot of time thinking about how to get media attention.

I’ve done a lot of this myself, and even wrote a book about it (hint), and I can tell you that activists love to steal media attention that rightfully belongs to their opponents. It ain’t right, but you see it all the time.

One way to do this is for a small group of Tea Party activists to attend a big rally of labor supporters, rallying in support of their Wisconsin brethren.

The small Tea group shows up without a permit, creates a conflict, and gets major media attention for doing almost nothing but showing up, chanting, and playing the flute.

Reporters flock down to the mini-rally-within-the-big-rally to hear the music and experience the manufactured tension of dueling “crowds.”

You want journalists to check out these Tea protesters and report on their stunt, and I don’t use “stunt” pejoratively. It’s admirable that the Tea people get out there, and it’s news.

But it’s up to journalists to represent the entire event, both rallies, accurately, without giving undue attention to the smaller protest. Last week, as you recall, “over a thousand” pro-union folks rallied at the State Capitol, as well as a few hundred Tea Partiers, according to Fox 31 estimates.

The Denver Post put the labor side at 500, but did not estimate the number of counter protesters at all, creating, to some degree, a false balance between the two rallies, especially when the lead paragraph stated:

“Hundreds of union workers in Colorado took aim Tuesday at Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, rallying on the steps of the state Capitol as anti-union counterprotesters gathered nearby.”

Asked about this, Post Political Editor Curtis Hubbard wrote me:

Placing the union supporters at the front of the lead gives greater emphasis to their cause and is a signal that they’re the primary news of the story. Careful readers will note that, further down, we estimated the number of union supporters at “more than 500” but never provided a measure of the counter protest. That was an oversight, for which I take responsibility.

In retrospect, it would have been advisable to give a crowd guesstimate for the counter-demonstration, or at least note that it was “smaller,” though I think it’s fair to say that the structure of the story leaves readers with an appropriate impression of the respective scopes.

Hubbard is right that the structure of the Post’s article about the protests, which mostly featured the labor people and issues, gives the impression that the union rally was larger, even without a number for the Tea protesters. But that assumes you read the story, of course.

And the size of the photos also proportionately and fairly represented the event.

As Damon Cain, The Post’s Assistant Managing Editor for Design, pointed out to me in an email:

“On the Denver & The West cover, the dominant photo of the pro-union forces was roughly seven times larger than the photo representing the pro-Gov. Walker side of the issue. Another photo on the jump page increases the proportional difference to about nine to one, union. (I’m measuring in square points.)

Fair, I agree. The union event was about 10 times larger than the Flea protest.

But I thought the headlines in the print edition contributed to the false balance that Post created, to some extent, between the two rallies.

The major headlines on the front page of The Post’s Denver & The West printed section were “United by passion,” with a smaller headline reading, “Colo. Protesters clash over Wis. Governor’s effort to weaken unions.”

The “clash” was insignificant, rightly reported as such at the very end of the article, and didn’t deserve a headline. Similarly, a photo of a flute-playing Tea Partier should have run in the interior of the section.

Cain disagreed with me on the headlines:

Words matter. The main headline reads “United by passion.” At first blush, I read “united” and I’m thinking “union” and “united with the protests in Wisconsin,” especially in combo with the dominant image of pro union forces.

So, the two largest graphic elements in this display are the pro-union photo and the “united” headline. The impression is clear to me.

Yes, the drop headline (clearly, a subordinate element which played an inferior visual role, similar in effect to the role of the secondary photo compared to the dominant) addresses the clash of opposing viewpoints — as well it should.

I don’t see a “false balance,” Jason, only a fair representation of what transpired.

Independence Institute spokesman says Associated Press got only a part of his point

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

If you were falling asleep while reading an Associated Press article Sunday about Colorado’s unions, this paragraph should have startled you into full consciousness:

“Ben DeGrow, an education analyst who studies teachers’ unions for the right-leaning Independence Institute in Golden, insists there is no organized movement to cripple unions in Colorado.”

Now hold on a minute, you’re thinking, DeGrow’s own organization has been leading an organized effort to cripple unions for years, especially by trying to cripple unions by stopping them from being able to automatically collect dues directly from state payrolls. (Recall Amendment 49 and similar potentially crippling efforts.)

Asked about this via email, DeGrow wrote:

“I don’t recall the AP reporter or anyone asking me about the existence of …an organized movement to cripple unions in Colorado.’ I told her that unions in general, and public employee unions in particular, are neither as strong nor as pervasive here in Colorado as they are in Wisconsin, and that for various reasons we’re not going to see the same kind of law as SB 11 proposed in Wisconsin (a bill that impacts a large share of public employee unions, and has nothing to do with private employee unions).”

I asked DeGrow if the AP misquoted him. He wrote:

“I’m not sure if it can be considered a misquote since there are no quotation marks, but as written it certainly misses the point of our discussion as I see it. The reporter and I primarily discussed public employee unions, a distinction I was careful to make, one that I elaborated on in a blog post last week for Ed News Colorado.

DeGrow told me that another sentence in the AP story, which was widely distributed, “captured a part” of his point. That sentence was:

“DeGrow pointed out that Colorado employees already contribute to their pension funds, a major area of contention in Wisconsin, and that Colorado’s 42 teachers’ unions bargain locally, not on a state level.”

As to whether the Independence Institute is an organized movement, trying to cripple unions, DeGrow wrote me:

“First, I don’t know who would consider the Independence Institute …an organized movement.’ Second, the I.I. has researched, written and advocated for greater accountability from public employee unions. Third, the I.I. always has upheld employees’ rights of free association and free speech, by attempting to protect people from having their money taken involuntarily and then used to support causes which they do not personally support. What would the implications be of equating that view with …crippling unions’?

Amendment 49 and related initiatives promoted by the I.I. were designed to create a level playing field by preventing any group, including public employee unions, from using government payroll systems as a means of dues collection. Nothing in these proposals would end the ability of a union or any other group to collect dues freely from supporting members.”