Thursday, April 27, 2006


ColoradoLib has jumped Colorado political blogging into the 21.06th century by launching the first of his Video-Blog segments.

He was at Drinking Liberally when gubenatorial candidate Bill Ritter, and his pick for Lt. Governor, Barbara O'Brien, came and discussed their platform.

I will brazenly swipe one of the images from his page, because the rights to the image of that luddite sitting with the notebook is something I deserve some say over.

Meanwhile, Lyn made use of a different sort of imaging device:

Drinking Liberally with Gubenatorial Candidate Bill Ritter

Because of your stance on abortion, because of your stance on gay marriage, because of your entire liberal laundry list of progressive issues, you should be working to get Bill Ritter elected Governor of Colorado.
In every race, in every district, we need to pull things farther to the left. In places where no seeds have been planted, we need to till the soil and get it ready. Campaigns like that of Keely Marrs in SD-9 break the first cracks into the pavement, and create space where other growth can follow. Candidates such as Bill Winter and Angie Paccione can bring their districts to the balancing point and perhaps even push us over to victories. And then when the time is ripe, candidates like Ed Perlmutter and Bill Ritter can bring in the new harvest, solidly winning the seats that our work has earned.

No precinct is blue enough. We will keep fighting to win back our Republic, and we will do it intelligently. We will replace an Owens with a Ritter, a Beauprez with a Perlmutter, and when the time comes an Allard with a Udall, and who knows? Maybe even eventually replace a Ritter with a Carroll. The important thing is that we establish the beginning of the upward spiral, and that rather than being divided because no single candidate meets all of our personal agenda issues, we unite behind the ones that move us another step closer towards an environment that supports our core values and common goals.

Bill Ritter moves us in the correct direction, but because he is not everything to every progressive voter, there is a very real chance that Denver will stay home on election day. If that happens what will become of your progressive agenda? The right to choose will be in radical Republican hands, homophobia will be made law, health care and education will be sacrificed on the altar of corporate profit.

The alternative is so bad, that I would be willing to accommodate someone a lot less appealing than the former U.S. Attorney, but tonight I found that Bill Ritter is a candidate I can feel quite comfortable supporting. He and his pick for Lt. Governor, Barbara O'Brien, were the featured guests at tonight's Denver Drinking Liberally.

In introducing Ms. O'Brien, Ritter quoted Dick Celeste, the former Governor of Ohio. It was a curious choice, as Ritter and Celeste seem to me to be of fairly different sensibilities on most issues. Perhaps there is some common ground in that Celeste was once Director of the Peace Corps, and Ritter spent three years managing a nutrition center in Zambia. But if there is little else I see in common between the two, there was certainly enough in common between Ritter and O'Brien so that the quote, "When you choose your running-mate you choose someone who shares your passions," was very apt.

Ritter and O'Brien both shared a commitment to providing better health care and stronger educational opportunities, and to reducing our countries dependence on foreign energy.

O'Brien helped create the Child Health Plan, and related a story about a child whose parents had no insurance, and who put off seeking medical attention for fear of establishing an impossible to pay for 'pre-existing condition.' Through O'Brien's initiative, they were able to identify and treat the benign tumor and save the child. In a theme that I think will be very successful for the Democrats, she did not end the story there as a tale of an act of charity towards a child, but helped the crowd understand it as an investment in a healthy and productive citizen of Colorado who will have an appreciation for the constructive possibility of appropriate government. The Republicans sell our children and future to their cronies, the Democrats invest in our citizens.

Ritter took on a question about gas prices, and called for Colorado to take a leadership position in the New Energy Economy. He spoke of the energy possibilities in wind and biofuels in terms much like those Angie Paccione used when she visited our group from her district on the Eastern Plains. He seemed more skeptical of the current efficiency of ethanol, but he felt that tax incentives should be used to encourage biofuel crops from our farmers. He spoke of how we are the ninth windiest and sixth sunniest state, and using words that echoed ones that I have heard from Ed Perlmutter, he explained how energy independence makes sense not just environmentally, but was equally good for our economy and important for our national defense.

It was one of several ideas that Ritter advanced for encouraging high technology jobs to come to our state. An important aspect of that plan was fleshed out for me by Colorado University Regent candidate, Steve Ludwig. The race for Regent is the sort that is easy to let slip beneath my radar, but consider how vital a strong university system is to draw high technology companies to our state. In fact every key issue in Ritter's platform, from public education through sensible health care, requires competent leadership at our Universities. As I said at the start, we have to build the party at all levels. Promoting a healthy CU system can easily produce results in the short term and far into the future. In fact hold on a second, I am going to go to his website and request they send me out a lawn sign... done.

Another way that technology investment can help our State was outlined by O'Brien who said that bringing the internet to small town Colorado will provide a way for their entrepreneurial spirit to flourish. She was preaching to the choir when it comes to me. I think that bringing the net to both our rural areas and to the schools and homes in our low income communities will tap into creativity and resources in powerful ways. I also look forward to getting invited to Drinking Liberally Poncha Springs.

Ritter was next asked a series of questions about the Electoral College, and stated his preference to keep it as it stands. Speaking to the Denver crowd, he defended Wyoming's right to a voice in our Federal system over a louder voice for the City of Denver. I appreciated getting an answer that was so clearly at odds with the political expediency of the moment. Paradoxically, not telling me what I want to hear is sometimes just the sort of thing I want to hear.

Ritter fielded a number of environmental questions, and answered them the ways that Colorado Democrats tend to. He supported tighter air and water quality controls, and spoke of preserving open space while allowing for 'wise growth'.

O'Brien and Ritter both answered questions about the No Child Left Behind act, without either giving a clear call for full Federal funding. O'Brien said we needed to keep a strong core of math and sciences in our schools, but also were "responsible for the whole being" of our students and had to meet the challenge of maintaining our Arts and Sports programs.

When asked where the future Governor planned on finding the funds for this and the other programs he was advocating, Ritter said he would begin with a top to bottom audit much like the ones that were carried out in Texas and other states. One place he saw room to trim was in the money the Department of Transportation was spending on environmental impact studies for the toll roads. As Ritter voiced several anti-toll statements, I assume he means to cut out the studies by curtailing the road plans themselves.

O'Brien also suggested that there may be funds already in the system that just were being tied up in red tape, such as the 2004 money from Amendment 35 that has just now started to find its way through the bureaucracy.

When asked by a self-described gay activist about GLBT issues, Ritter was somewhere between the middle of the road and the left curb. He supports same sex partnerships, opposes cluttering the constitution with anti-marriage amendments, and said he supported "starting a public policy conversation" about recognizing gay marriages.

The activist was interviewed by Valerie Richardson of the Washington Times about his feelings on Ritter, and while he would have preferred Hickenlooper, he said that he would ultimately vote for Ritter, but he was concerned that many of his circle would opt to stay home. Her story on the evening will probably be available on the web this weekend.

On the abortion issue, Ritter voiced his support for emergency contraception, his personal opposition to abortion, and his legislative stance for choice. He said that Roe v. Wade was the settled law of the land, and did not support Colorado making laws that conflicted with it, and certainly did not support South Dakota's laws that made no exception for rape or properly safeguarded the health of the mother. Ritter did not speculate as to what he would do if Roe v. Wade had been overturned on the Federal level.

He was asked about what policies he had in place to meet the needs of the African American community, and he broadened the question to consider all "communities of color." He pointed out that the central issues of his campaign, health care and education, were ones that spoke broadly to all of Colorado, but were also of direct interest to those least served by our current system. "This is a State with great promise that is not living up to it's promise."

In the end, I was left feeling that Ritter was a good candidate, and vastly superior to Holtzman or Beauprez. While some of his stances are more moderate than mine, I was glad to see that they stood where they did out of conviction and not out of weakness or timidity. Hopefully his reasoned positions will give more reason for the right wing to stay home than the left, but if we want to create change in this state, we better work very hard to get our voters to the polls this November. Guarding our Senate and House majorities will not mean much if we have Tom Delay's friend holding the veto pen.

Friday, April 21, 2006

"Inside the EPA Weekly Report" on O'Donnell and the EPA

Every paragraph in the story is gold, and there is no way to link to it, but I think copyright laws keep me from just posting the whole thing verbaitim.

You are just going to have to start subscribing to "Inside the EPA Weekly Report" to see Dawn Reeves' full story.

Johnson Campaign Appearance Bolsters Democrats In Key House Race

EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson's appearance at a controversial campaign fundraiser for a Colorado Republican congressional candidate last month may help Democrats in their effort to pick up the seat in what is considered one of the most competitive House races in the country.

We would do it again,” O’Donnell’s spokeswoman says, adding that Democrats will gain no traction because the complaints will be dismissed as groundless.

The fact that the event was held at the Denver office of Greenberg Traurig, the law firm where convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff worked, has helped Democrats keep their claims in play. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), for example, points to the Johnson controversy to show close Republican ties to industry.

In fact, when news of the event first broke, one GOP former appointee at EPA said that Johnson's appearance would help Democrats define O'Donnell. “Don't do anything that gives the other team grist for discussion," the source said.

As part of their effort to drive home their message, Democrats are calling for government investigations into the event. Earlier this month, Rep. John Conyers (D-MI), the ranking Democrat on the House Judiciary Committee, joined the Colorado Democratic Party in asking the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the Hatch Act, to investigate whether Johnson violated the law.

“The potential violations of the Act could lead one to draw an inference that a political campaign was attempting to provide access to a government officials for donors whose businesses are regulated by that official. . . . While it has been reported that Mr. Johnson never approved the e-mails, I would appreciate your independent review of the circumstances under which the invitations were sent,” Conyers' April 6 letter says. “It also may be possible that Mr. Johnson violated federal prohibitions on solicitation of political contribution or participation,” Conyers adds.

A spokesman from the Office of Special Counsel acknowledges that the office is looking into the complaints but would not provide any more information.


Herb Rubenstein, one of three Democratic candidates vying for the seat, says Democrats may also have been helped in their bid to keep the story alive because the O'Donnell campaign refused to release a list of those who attended the event, creating the impression that the campaign had something to hide. “All Rick had to do was give out the names and this story would be over,” he says.

But when EPA eventually released the list in response to Freedom of Information Act requests, it prompted new allegations from Democrats of close ties between Republicans and industry. It is “very bizarre that environmental lawyers were allowed an hour in a closed-door session with the EPA administrator,” a DCCC source says.


Roy Palmer, the top lobbyist for Xcel Energy, also attended, according to O'Donnell's spokeswoman and Federal Election Commission records. While Xcel Energy has a current lawsuit against the agency in an effort to get its West Texas facilities exempted from the clean air interstate rule, O'Donnell's spokeswoman says Palmer and O’Donnell have been friends for years and that Palmer came to support the candidate, not to lobby the EPA administrator.

O’Donnell’s spokeswoman says she refused to release the attendees in an effort to protect their privacy. “The intent was not to keep a secret.”


But O'Donnell does not appear to be distancing himself from the Bush administration. O’Donnell's spokeswoman says the campaign has invited Colorado reporters to a fundraiser next week that will be headlined by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, in an effort to demonstrate that no lobbying occurs at O'Donnell fundraisers.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Redistricting the Cancer Map

The good people over at Clean Air Watch have been doing what they can to educate me about the new national air quality standards for particle matter. About once every ten years or so, the EPA reviews the enforcement standards of the clean Air Act.

They say that it is the largest decision that EPA Administrator Johnson will be making this year, and he is under a court agreement to make the final decision by September 27.

The case for stronger clean air standards has been made by organizations like the American Lung Association, the American Medical Association, and even the EPA's own science advisors, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee (CASAC). In a letter sent to Stephen Johnson, the scientists officially asked Johnson to reconsider his plan to sell our air quality out to the Dirty Air lobby.

Dirty Air lobby? Who in the world would be for dirty air?

Let's ask Dirty O'Donnell, Republican candidate for Colorado's Seventh congressional district. O'Donnell invited Johnson to have drinks with him, the polluter's alliance, and member's of dirty lobbyist Jack Abramoff's old law firm.

This week was the close of the public comment period, and some of the fans of death and taxcuts sent the request to the EPA to keep the cancer rates as high as their profits.

  The case they made for more fine particle matter in the air, and a total exemption for mining companies, began with these comforting words:

While the EPA is correct that there is important new information in recent studies about the association between ambient fine PM and adverse health effects, the Agency has largely ignored the implications of this information. The results of epidemiological studies indicate clearly that the association between air pollution and adverse health effects is complex and that the health effects cannot be attributed to any single component of the generalized air pollution mixture.

Yes, yes, and while it is clear that the firing squad killed the prisoner, it is shown that the wound pattern was complex and it is difficult to say that any single bullet was fully responsible for doing him in, therefore the barrage was essentially harmless.

What a great argument. Who signed this document? Among the dirty industry groups listed are quite a few of the same names that appeared on the donor list for the night of O'Donnell's potentially illegal lobbypalooza featuring Admin. Johnson. Two examples of people who signed checks to O'Donnell and whose organizations were engaged in lobbying the EPA are Stuart Sanderson, whose Colorado Mining Association is a member of the National Mining Association, and Stan Dempsy whose Colorado Petroleum Association states on it's website  that it "is closely allied with the American Petroleum Institute." Both NMA and API were signatories.

And, of course, we can't forget our friends at Xcel, whose director of Governmental Affairs Roy Palmer was a suprise guest at the event. Xcel is a member of a group of utility companies that also sent in comment requesting continued weak soot standards.

Their argument was also fairly creative. It began by requesting that all the standards be based on current studies, and then requested criteria not covered by current studies. Having no data by which to measure their new criteria, they said their should be no real standards. Current regulations talk about how many bits of tiny junk in the air you are allowed. They insisted that we divide the tiny bits up into many groups, reasearch the toxicity of all of them, and then create new standards based on both size and toxicity. In science spin talk it sounds like this:

For example a January 2000 study by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria identified organic carbon particulates associated with vehicle emissions, especially diesel exhaust, as the major factor for adverse health effects. Acidic sulfates were identified, albiet to a lesser extent, as important factors related to health impacts.

Yes, yes, and while being shot with bullets is hurting the prisoner, we should not just say that using fewer bullets is the answer, but we first must consider the effects of the several different types of bullets we are using and decide which are the most deadly. Therefore we should just keep shooting him at our current rate for ten years, and then review the new literature to see which bullets need to be scaled back the farthest.

I love these people. Dirty Air. Dirty Companies. Dirty Money. Dirty O'Donnell

(And as a postscript, I have discovered that not all O'Donnells are dirty. I want to thank Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Watch for all of the help he gave me with this post.)

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Dirty O'Donnell

I am reeling in another fish.
Making a donation the night of the EPA lobbypalooza was Tipperary Corporation CEO David Bradshaw. Tipperary is an oil and gas exploration company. Any guess what I am going to find there?

The Denver Post did a great job on following up on the Xcel scandal that I first broke here.

"This just reeks of buying access to federal regulators," said Danielle Radovich Piper, spokeswoman for one of O'Donnell's Democratic opponents, Ed Perlmutter. "You are talking about letting people at a fundraiser have access to a federal regulator when their very business ... is about being regulated by this person."

O'Donnell spokeswoman K.C. Jones said Palmer "did not open his mouth during the event."

The campaign had refused to give details
about the meeting. But last month, in response to a public records request, the EPA released the names of 10 people who attended the fundraiser. Palmer's name was not on the list.
Jones said Palmer's name was not on the list because "he just popped in" and did not R.S.V.P. She said Monday that 14 people attended the event. She said she had been withholding donors' names to protect their privacy.

The Post reported "O'Donnell's campaign said it did nothing wrong. The invitation for the event used Johnson's name but not his title - making it above board according to the federal Hatch Act, the campaign says."

But wait a minute now...

Rocky Mountain News

The subject line of Benevento's e-mail and the attached invitation included Johnson's title.

"Subject: Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA Stephen L. Johnson for Rick O'Donnell this Thursday," the e-mail read.

"Fundraiser with Administrator of EPA," read the invitation's title.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

5 things you should know about ChoicePoint

"What in heaven's name are we doing allowing someone as careless as ChoicePoint to be in control of our data?"
"I consider them the poster child for lax security protection."

~Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT)

1) They stacked the Florida election for Bush.
In the leadup to the 2000 elections, ChoicePoint wrongfully purged the Florida voter rolls of thousands of African Americans.
The disenfrachisement of 8000 people was referred to as a "minor glitch" by Choicepoint VP, L. Martin Fagan.

2) John "Let the Eagle Soar" Ashcroft is their lobbyist.

When John Ashcroft took his leave of public service, he went to work as a lobbyist for ChoicePoint. They have been pals at least as far back as when ChoicePoint landed the deal to screen airport employees and help out with the no-fly list.

3) They sold the personal information of as many as 400,000 Americans to a criminal ring engaged in identity theft.

This crime, that was uncovered only by California laws that require the reporting of such breaches, resulted in a $10 million fine and the establishment of a $5 million dollar restitution fund.

4) Their response to the penalty was to support Representatives like Florida election fraud figure, Rep. Katherine Harris, and Ohio Rep. Steve LaTourette to enact a Federal law that would gut State laws like California's.

The "Data Protection Act" which has been called "the worst data security bill ever," is making its way through Congress, and if passed will not only soften the rules for reporting data theft to consumers, but will also only protect people after that stolen data has already been used to cause damages.

5) They would like to have Rick O'Donnell's vote in Congress.

The CEO, the Vice President, and the Chief Compliance Officer of ChoicePoint, have started a Political Action Committee called "Voice For Freedom"
According to his latest FEC disclosure Colorado CD-7 Republican Rick O'Donnell is the proud recipient of their checks.

While he is busy stuffing the bills in his pocket, Rubber Stamp Rick's website says...

Voters across this district are hungry for new blood, renewed energy and some fresh ideas in Congress.

Use the donation link on the right side of this page to support Democrat Ed Perlmutter, or go to ActBlue and send some money to the CD7 General Fund.

Help Herb, Ed, and Peggy raise what they need to fight Katherine Harris, John Ashcroft, and Rick O'Donnell.

And Bloggers, after you donate put a link to the fund on your page!

Thursday, April 13, 2006


If you are one of the Colorado readers, then you already know the latest on this story from Soapblox, but I would like to give a bit of background for those of you elsewhere.

Bill Owens, the Republican Governor is linked to a fairly shadowy organization called The Trailhead Group which funded a series of Robo-Calls that slandered targeted Democrats in their home districts.

The latest turn in the ugly story is that Attorney General John Suther's, an Owens appointee, has declined to investigate the matter. As ColoradoLib points out, it seems that Trailhead and Suthers both share a remarkably similar campaign donor list.

There are a lot of threads that the Colorado Blog community is chasing down on this one, and I am going to be jumping into the fray as well. Expect more to follow.

Drinking Liberally

More tomorrow, but tonight you get Lynnette's take on the evening.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

ACLU National Town Hall

Nothing changed on 9/11.

Redact history like a FOIA document. With crossed out names and places, each age looks much like the last.

Once again, there is a Republic under siege. The fear of outer enemies does coarser damage than the enemies themselves. People feel safer without freedom. They wrap themselves so tightly in the flag it becomes a blindfold, and then a gag, and then a noose. Cutting them free is the worst treason, so how do you convince them to save themselves? How do you save the Republic?

I spent tonight at the Colorado History Museum, a fitting venue to hear a discussion of the NSA surveillance controversy by a panel well equipped to put it in a historical context.

Former Colorado First Lady, Dottie Lamm, moderated the second ACLU National Town Hall. The panel included Sen. Gary Hart, ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero, former Reagan Deputy Attorney General Bruce Fein, and ACLU Colorado Legal Director Mark Silverstein.

Sen. Hart talked from a perspective that included his service on the Church Committee (a Senate Committee set up after Watergate to investigate the abuses of power by the FBI and CIA) and his work on the Hart-Rudman Commission (which on Jan. 31, 2001 issued a report stating "Americans will die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.") He saw 9-11 more as an excuse than a turning point, and reminded the audience of how the Project for a New American Century had laid out the plan to seize the Iraqi oil fields long before a casus belli could be invented.

September 11 was a criminal act, he argued, and if we can put it into that context we should be able to curb some of the worst offenses of this administration. The problem began when Congress endorsed Bush's position that the hijacking was an act of war. By affixing that label, the President could claim emergency powers, and as this is an endless war the President can keep them forever.

Bruce Fein underlined this idea of 'permanent war', and the abdication of Congressional power. When he and I spoke, I used the term 'unitary executive' to describe the resulting situation, and he objected to the idea that vesting power in the Executive branch was what we were really observing. He felt that it was a collapse into a single undifferentiated branch of government that could be called the "monopoly of power."

Mr. Fein is a treat to listen to. He quotes Burke, Locke, and Rousseau, uses words like 'effete' and 'plucky' to describe things you wouldn't think of as either, and loves breaking into manic monologue. His style is energetic, condescending, and charming in a way you might expect if Matthew Lesko started channeling Lord Acton.

At the same time he was speaking in Denver, the Washington Post was running an Op Ed by him that could have been tonight's transcript.

He offered a number of ways we could reverse the damage caused by this President, but they all hinged on the US Congress stepping up and offering resistence. He did not give a lot of indications on how that would be possible; at least not in the near term. The problem, he felt, began with our failure to educate recent generations with a sense of civic duty. Hope for him lay on a horizon where people reclaimed their obligation to fight for a just and limited government. Still, when Anthony Remero referenced a future  twenty years out, Fein objected saying we did not have that much time to save our freedoms.

Romero was talking about the length of time it may take for us to know the extent of the Bush-Cheney wiretapping. He stated that the truth would inevitably be revealed, but he also conceded it might be slow in coming. One thing he indicated might influence the time table is how well we can communicate that Civil Liberties are a nonpartisan issue. He was looking for people on both sides of the political aisle who were concerned about discarding the rule of law. People who hated seeing, as Fein put it, "a coronation not a inauguration." Here, Senator Hart was also in alignment with them. He said that we had a Congress that did not think they had sworn an oath to defend the constitution, but instead thought they had sworn to defend the President. He criticized the Republicans who had no love for the Republic, and the Democrats who put career ahead of Democracy, and how they interacted to create a situation where things like the NSA spying could be tolerated.

When discussing the wiretapping, Mr. Silverstein brought a number of recent cases to my attention. The first, involving the Denver Police Department, illustrated the power of the Freedom of Information Act, and he outlined how tugging on threads in that case had led the ACLU to understand how ready the FBI and other federal bodies are to cast a broad net when looking for 'terrorists' in peaceful domestic groups. He also referred to a disclosure by an ATT Worldnet employee that ATT without warrant or cause has channeled massive amounts of emails and phone calls into NSA databases.

The extent of this sort of shotgun approach to intelligence was something that several panel members wanted to uncover. Director Romero summed it up when he said, "NSA is not about connecting dots. It is about collecting more dots." He urged the audience to make demands on their government to disclose the extent of the spying and to make demands on the companies whose services they use.

Senator Hart also stressed how this was not targeted investigating. This is a technological approach that sucks up "tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, or millions" of communications and then filters them for key words, and it is done by a government that cannot be trusted to choose its targets wisely. The former Senator told a story about when he was the least senior member of a commision looking into FBI surveillance and he suggested that all of the Senators on the commission should request to see their own FBI files. There was a pause, and then Barry Goldwater said, "Goddamnit, I don't want to know what they got on me." Ominously Hart added that their may be members of Congress whose timidity to confront this issue comes from being intimidated by the dangerous system itself.

This lack of courage reminds me of a story that Bruce Fein had told earlier in the evening. It was set in the moment when Benjamin Franklin had emerged from the Constitutional Convention of 1787, and he was asked, "Well, Doctor, what have we got? A Republic or a Monarchy?" Franklin replied, "A Republic, if you can keep it."

It makes me wonder if we will find the courage to make the demands we need to make to keep our constitution whole. As one good historian said tonight, "You can loose a Republic on the installment plan as easy as by a coup d'état."

Monday, April 10, 2006

The Apprentice has become the Master

Man, he learns quickly.

A few months ago, Ed Perlmutter was busy showing leadership in Colorado's seventh congressional district, but already he has started aiming higher and is taking over the internet as well.

In a move clearly designed to make me jealous, he gave a call to Jeralyn Merritt of TalkLeft and they sat down for a few hours in a coffee shop.

She wrote up the whole thing in a piece for 5280

Good stuff.

(Oh, and she added Ed to her ActBlue page. C'mon. All the cool kids are doing it. Click the happy link box on the right side of this page to join in the fun.)

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

And the blogrolls on

I have been staring at the Colorado Luis link in my blogroll for almost two weeks now. I couldn't bring myself to remove it. He is still around, and still a great contributor to the group sites, but I am going to miss his little personal place on the net where he could stretch out and have a beer.

Tonight I found a clever way to make the transition, and still feel like I am moving towards something instead of just watching something slip away.

By tossing some extra letters around the name LUIS, I replaced his link with the one to ePluribus Media. The site is a great site, and they have been kind enough to add Heading Left to their blogroll. I can think of nobody better to fill the hole in my reading rotation.

Denver Transit Strike, the Media, and far too much else

I was finishing up my shift at Scooter Joe’s coffee shop in Denver when Ric, a writer for Labor Notes came in with a request for a box of coffee. Members of the Amalgamated Transit Union were in their second day of a strike against the Denver Regional Transportation District ( RTD)
Ric wanted to show solidarity with the workers and had bought a box of donuts to take to the strikers. He asked my boss how much it would cost to bring a bunch of java out to the pickets, and she gave it for free. I grabbed a bag filled with cream and sugar and asked if I could tag along.

On the way to the site we picked up Ric’s friend Larry who was working on initiatives to arrange carpools for blue collar workers who were trapped by the strike. He explained how historically this was effective at keeping the community aligned behind the strikers.

There were about twenty bus drivers left at the site by the time I finally got to the offices of the RTD. They were in good spirits, but none of them wanted to be there. They all seemed to want to just get back to work, and felt that the impasse was squarely on the shoulders of the Department of Transportation.

A driver named Deb said…

They’re causing problems; friction in our families. We are on pins and needles to see if the public will support us. I am hopeful that Owens will see it… he has to see the safety issues. Look at that bus. It is full of people, and you know they are getting antsy in there. It’s frustrating for the Governor to be waiting for safety to be an issue. It already is.

I spoke to a driver named Carl…

TBTH: It sounds to me that nobody here really wanted a strike.

Carl: If they had come to us in the right way, none of this would have happened, but they came at us in the most degrading way possible.They acted like we had a sign on our heads that said, “I’m stupid. Kick me in the ass.”

TBTH: Still, you guys are being paid a lot more than I am.

Carl: These guys up here (points to RTD offices) who make the rules, they get paid a lot better than you too, a whole lot better than you or me, but think about what it is we do. I am in charge of people’s lives. I drive every day in the mountains. In rain. In fog. There are fifty people on my bus, and whether or not they like me, or whether or not they treat me well, I have to keep focused or I could run off the road, and these are people’s parents, people’s loved ones, and I have to take care of them and get them home, get them to work. If I want to go out one night and have some fun, I have to think first about what I am responsible for the next morning. It is stressful. People talk to you all day about religion, about politics, I mean these are topics that people die over, they are really important to people, but I have to keep my opinions in because I have to pay attention to what I am doing or people die or we all wind up on disability, and what is that going to do to their lives? What do you pay the man who when he gets spit on has to first think about your safety before anything else?

Just talking to me at all gave some of the driver’s reason to look over their shoulders. The RTD had just brought in ‘security’ from a company called IMAC; The International Management Assistance Corporation. I am told these guys had been hired when the supermarket chain King Soopers wanted to fire their striking workers and toss them off the property. I sat down with a couple of these rather large gentlemen and had this exchange…

TBTH: What’s that say, I.M.A.C.?
Goon: I-Mac, yeah.
TBTH: Is that a security company? I write a thing on the internet.
Goon: Security, yeah.
TBTH: That guy has a Wackenhut badge. I have heard of them. Are you guys part of that?
Goon: No, we’re a separate thing. They brought us in for this.
TBTH: Has there been trouble? Are they expecting trouble?
Goon: We’re here in case.
TBTH: So do you work mostly for the city, or all sorts of stuff?
Goon: Oh, we work everywhere.
TBTH: So how long do you think this is going to go?
Goon: (laughs)
TBTH: Yeah, I get that we aren’t the one’s making that decision but did they tell you to clear off a big block of time or is it a day to day thing?
Goon2: We never know.
Goon: They just tell us when it is time to go.
TBTH: Go to work? Or when the job is over?
Goon2: They let you know two hours before you fly.
TBTH: Before you fly? So you’re not from around here?
Goon: No, were from all over.
TBTH: Where you from?
Goon: I am from Miami.
TBTH: I am from Detroit.
Goon: He’s from there too.
Goon2: I’m from Flint.
TBTH: So they call you in from all over and you fly in and meet up and then they fly you back to wherever?
Goon: Yeah.
TBTH: That is a wild job you have. Is it a hassle?
Goon: No, it’s not a hassle. It depends on your lifestyle.

Goon and Goon2 were making $30 dollars an hour. I am told that IMAC has already charged the taxpayers $114,000 for whatever it is they have done so far. Inside at the RTD board meeting a proposal was being made to release a million dollars from the General Fund to pay the Goons for two months of work. This was pared back to a one month paycheck of $500,000. Reportedly, one of the selling points was that IMAC guards carried hand held video cameras to make it easier to find grounds upon which to fire the workers when the strike was over. None of the guards I saw had those cameras yet.

The money being paid sent a message to the workers, and they were hearing it. The RTD was willing to pay money to break the union that it was not willing to pay to keep wheels on the road. This baffled the drivers. They still thought that the other side might possibly be bargaining in good faith.

Inside, former Board Member, Jon Caldera had the floor. He was awarded the prize for Best Media Manipulator by Westword Magazine for his work on behalf of the Independence Institute. He came to the meeting to propose that with no contract in place and the workers on strike, now might be the perfect time to just privatize the whole thing. As it stands there is a law mandating that 50% of the routes must be outsourced to private contractors, and the board is permitted to raise that number right up to 100%. More than a few board members seemed happy to take that route. Sources told me that contractor, First Transit, has a top rate for its drivers around $15 or $16 an hour, which is several dollars lower than the union workers receive.

Labor had a few friends in the room, and one name that was mentioned very positively by the workers was that of Bill McMullen who repeatedly put public best interest ahead of other considerations. He tried to bring the RTD into arbitration, and he even announced he will be joining the pickets tomorrow.

On the other end of the spectrum was General Manager, Clarence “Cal” Marsella. He led the charge to replace budget for Denver bus drivers with budget for new luggage for out of town Rent-a-Goons with which to carry our tax dollars back to Miami.

The meeting went into closed executive session so that the board could discuss ‘strike preparedness strategy’ in private. During that time, I had a conversation with Jesse Brezzel who runs the private security firm BRT Investigations. He was in charge of people checking into the meeting, and when he is not doing security for RTD, he runs security for the local NBA team. He told me a number of things that had him looking over his shoulders and choosing his words carefully so as not to get himself into trouble with his very nervous clients.
Nothing he said was earth shaking. It was mostly about the debacle surrounding the RTD hiring Alvertis Simmons and how his company was brought in during the aftermath. Still, the fact he was talking to me at all was a source of concern for ‘the company’.

That sort of fear was pandemic tonight. I talked to a dozen people who shared with me very human and interesting stories, but if I write about them, bureaucratic over-reactions might get good people into bad situations. As a blogger, I have a unique position in the journalistic world. I don’t have to care what any editor or corporation wants me to write. I get to just tell my own truth. But in a way, by holding my loved ones hostage, the corporations are telling me what to write as well. I love the truth, and I love the human people behind the badges and picket signs and even the official board member name plates, but every last one of them is being held hostage and I do not want to cause them harm. It is a tough situation for me at times.

I was thinking about it while talking to Kevin Flynn of the Rocky Mountain News and Jeff Leib of the Denver Post. While impressing the hell out of me with their knowledge and ability, they also killed some time listening to me jabber about being a ‘citizen journalist’. “I forget; how do you make a living at that?” Yeah, bite me Leib.
I was talking to some journalists, maybe those two maybe not. It went something like this…

TBTH: You guys have a lot of access because of the power you have, but oddly I get a lot of access that you don’t precisely because I am ‘nobody’. It gives me some opportunities to do a different sort of writing.
Someone: And you can write about the rent-a-goons.
Someone else: You can even use the words rent-a-goons.
Someone: He can write about Ludlow.

Yes I can. I can write about the Ludlow Massacre where 20 Colorado coal miners were killed for striking in 1914. I can talk about the Baldwin-Felts detective agency, progenitor to firms like IMAC.

I can also write about how bright Someone and Someone Else are, but how both smart and hot AP writer Kim Ngyuen is. You see, they get paid. They are vastly talented. But I get to call people hot on the internet. Fair trade.

When the meeting came back into public session, the board looked like they were going to gavel things closed without any public comment from the union members. Dave Ruchman managed to keep the meeting open long enough so that one union member was allowed the floor. ATU officer, Tommy Mullins stepped to the microphone and asked that the Board empower their negotiators to bring the private security money to the table at tomorrow’s meeting with the Union. No motion was passed concerning that request and everybody was sent home.

Tomorrow the Union, the RTD and the Feds are going to sit down at a meeting ordered by the Federal Conciliation and Mediation Service. From tonight’s proceedings, I do not have very high hopes of this first meeting. It felt like the majority of the RTD Board has chosen a course for the next weeks, and are going to try intimidating the drivers into underplaying the union’s strong hand.

I started the long walk back to my car. The Sixteenth Street Mall was quiet with no ‘mall ride’ buses sliding by. It was just the pedestrians and the horse carriages. I lingered for a bit around the night time chess players, and arrived at Colfax and Broadway just in time to see the Fox News broadcast being taped. The reporter was practicing his lines, and I updated him on what I heard in the meeting. The lede for that segment was how Governor Owens had rejected a call for arbitration.

When an earlier contract negotiation was brought to arbitration, the union was granted 5 of the 7 points in dispute. Wanting to avoid a repeat of that, the State decided to open the doors to a strike rather than an arbitrated settlement. When the Union requested the Governor to intercede he told them to just accept the contract and get back to work.

I offered the reporter the information that there was a Federal mediation meeting in the morning. Now, while this is not the same as binding arbitration, it did mean that the workers and the RTD were not in a ‘take it or leave it’ situation and the Governor’s advice was unlikely to be heeded any time soon.

I talked for a long while with the reporter and his cameraman as people driving by shouted various nasty things. Both of them were genuinely decent people, and I would explain why but once again decent people who speak openly put themselves at great risk.

The cameraman, who was clearly more disenchanted with his employer than the reporter, did let me know that he was not worried about how the network might take his frankness, so I will quote at least part of what the techie said…

We can’t talk. That stuff you were saying is the reason a lot of us won’t be in this business for much longer. It’s just too fucking corporate. Too incorporated. Not just this network, but all over.

I was told that the local affiliate was not as biased as the parent company, but even at the local level things were not driven by what was important, but by media consultants who were being paid to tell the bosses what they wanted to hear. Things needed to be “Visual, compelling, and impactful” but somehow things like renewable energy were never going to be that, no matter how colorful the story's hook or how solid the research that showed monumental impact. It has gotten so bad that even local professional sports are considered to too pale to be of interest.

The reporter and I talked about his days in Democratic politics, before gerrymandering took him out of the game. He spoke of how hard it was communicating to people that their votes made an impact, and how eye opening and disappointing it was to see his community so disenfranchised.

Still, when a young man in a hoodie came up making the case to be put on the air to tell how when it came to the transit strike, “this shit is messing with my motion,” the reporter brushed him off and kept him disenfranchised. The reporter has my respect, but it was a bit disconcerting to hear a man of his integrity tell me that his victories consist of slipping in a code word here and there that let his listeners know that he too grew up “in the hood.”

They were kind enough to give me a lift in the FOX News van back to the coffee shop, and I spent the trip wondering about a world where the people in front of cameras can’t speak to their communities about the things that matter, where journalists with fantastic grasps of context and history have to just write about the ‘he said she said’ of the moment, where all sorts of government employees can see waste and corruption, but can only talk about it where it won’t be heard or repeated. I added it to my political experiences where people can only have an opinion until they take a job with the Party that tells them to keep their mouths officially shut. I took a look at this whole stupid ‘off the record’ world I have wandered into, where my decidedly ‘on the record’ outlook can do damage to decent people.

Meanwhile, there is a bus driver out there who just wants to do his job and feed his family. Of the millions of ways the government spends my tax dollars, there are few I appreciate as much as paying the guy who drives me to work. I just want to yell out a few truths in hopes it will help them.

But I am afraid.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Guest list to controversial meeting with EPA Admin

More today on the Hatch Act violating appearance by EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson at a small closed meeting with lobbyists and industry leaders that was also a political fundraiser for CO-7 Republican candidate Rick O'Donnell

I have recieved back FOIA information from the EPA including the guest list that was mentioned in the Denver Post :

Nine of the 10 people listed as attending the event have or could have business before the EPA. (One person on the list says she actually didn't attend.) Johnson's appearance in such a tight-knit political setting compromises his impartiality in presiding over such matters.

Was it a fundraiser? Were there actual guests? Nearly everyone on this preliminary list is a "host". It seems likely that this list was a preliminary roster of invitees, and not the real attendees, but let's take a look anyhow...

The 'Hosts' are all members of the Greenberg Traurig law firm. Greenberg Traurig is the massive lobbying operation that is the fourth largest employer of lawyers in the U.S.
They were behind Jack Abramoff's Indian Casino deals and they funded the Bush Florida recount battle in 2000 to the tune of $314k in free services.

Six of the ten guests were G-T lawyers.

1) Doug Benevento
2) Larry Hudson
3) Brian Duffy
4) Jim Prochnow
5) Dave Palmer
6) Chris Neumann

Several of the six have interesting ties to the Owens administration and to clients who clearly have matters pending or possible before the EPA.
Doug Benevento was the Director of the Colorado Department of Health and Environment until he stepped down a few months ago to take the private sector position at Greenberg & Traurig.
Chris Newmann was on the Hazardous Waste Commission and was just appointed by Owens to the Colorado Air Quality Commission.

3 of the remaining 4 were industry leaders who paid for the off-the-record session with EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson:

7) Stuart Sanderson, Colorado Mining Association
8) Craig Richardson, El Paso Gas
9) Stan Dempsy, Colorado Petroleum Association & Colorado Oil and Gas Association

And mystery guest number 10, who told the Post she did not attend?

10) Shayne Madsen of the law firm McKenna, Long, & Aldridge.

One of Ms. Madsen's biggest accomplishments to date?

She represented the Colorado Secretary of State before the Colorado Supreme Court in connection with the 2003 Congressional Redistricting challenge.

That was the redistricting issue that created the Seventh Congressional district, and that the Republicans still hope will disolve the district.
Their case is still winding through the courts, and it is interesting, if somewhat unsuprising, that Rick is closely allied with the people who want to erase the district he seeks to represent.