A sampling of recent editorials from Colorado newspapers:
The Durango Herald, Dec. 16, on NSA surveillance:
A Federal District Court judge said Monday that the National Security Agency's gathering of phone records is "likely unconstitutional." While a welcome win for privacy advocates and foes of invasive government, the ruling needs to be seen as a first step in what should be a fascinating and protracted process.
It is a good start, nonetheless. Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia granted a preliminary injunction against the government's collecting phone records of two men who had brought a legal challenge against the program, saying they "have a substantial likelihood" of demonstrating that their privacy outweighs the government's interest in gathering the data. His ruling was, in part, based on his contention that the data gathering is not effective in countering terrorism.
At the same time, however, the judge stayed his injunction to give time for the government to appeal it. In that, he pointed to "the significant national security interests at stake in this case and the novelty of the constitutional issues."
That is fair. Whether with this particular case or another, this issue is almost certain to go before the Supreme Court. And however the high court sees it, that could have consequences for generations.
For his part, Leon left no doubt how he sees things. Describing the NSA's technology as "almost Orwellian," he wrote he "cannot imagine a more `indiscriminate' and `arbitrary' invasion than this systemic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval."
At issue was the collection of "metadata," which includes numbers called, calls received, as well as dates, times and duration of calls - but not the content of calls. The government has argued that the gathering of such information is controlled by a 1979 Supreme Court case, Smith vs. Maryland. In that case, the court said there is no expectation of privacy for such data because telephone companies routinely keep that information as business records for purposes of billing.
Leon dismissed that with the simple and obvious observation that telephones have changed considerably through the years, as has how they are used.
"Put simply," the judge wrote, "people in 2013 have an entirely different relationship with phones than they did 34 years ago. Records that once would have revealed a few scattered tiles of information about a person now reveal an entire mosaic - a vibrant and constantly updating picture of the person's life."
Moreover, he added, the ability of "the government to store and analyze the phone metadata of every telephone user in the United States is unlike anything that could have been conceived of in 1979."
That is strong stuff. And it reflects an interesting political alignment. The NSA data-gathering program was revealed by former NSA analyst Edward Snowden. And while it has been widely condemned by civil libertarians on the left, Leon was appointed by President George W. Bush, and the most prominent plaintiff is a right-wing activist. It is the nominal center that supports the data gathering, both in the Obama administration and the national security apparatus.
But there, too, Judge Leon had something to say. Pointing to the fact that the government did not cite a single example where the program "actually stopped an imminent terrorist attack" he wrote, "I have serious doubts about the efficacy of the metadata collection program as a means of conducting time-sensitive investigations in cases involving imminent threats of terrorism." If true, that makes it hard to argue security trumps rights.
This is far from the last word. But how it unfolds should be fascinating.
The Denver Post, Dec. 17, on the Arapahoe High School shooting:
Karl Pierson was typical of school shooters in at least one important way: The Arapahoe High School senior did not act on impulse.
He purchased the shotgun he would use last Friday on Dec. 6, a full week before he stormed into the school. He also bought a large quantity of ammunition, and prepared three Molotov cocktails.
This behavior meshes with what the U.S. Secret Service recounted after a major study of school shootings it conducted a decade ago. Such shootings "are rarely impulsive acts," it said after examining data from 1974 to 2000 involving 41 attackers. "Rather, they are typically thought out and planned out in advance."
Several other conclusions in that study are also worth recalling in the wake of Friday's events.
"Prior to most shootings," the Secret Service report noted, "other kids knew the shooting was to occur - but did not alert an adult ... almost every attacker had engaged in behavior before the shooting that seriously concerned at least one adult - and for many had concerned three or more different adults."
It's too early to say whether this part of the typical scenario holds true at Arapahoe High. However, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson did say at a press conference Saturday that Pierson was disciplined in September by his speech and debate coach after the student made a threat against him to other students.
Whatever the nature of the threat, it was sufficiently worrisome that it was reported to authorizes, Robinson confirmed.
Don't get us wrong. We are not suggesting that this shooting was preventable had someone said or done something differently in the weeks and months prior to it. Who knows? But some school shootings may be preventable, the Secret Service concluded, which is why it's so important for parents, teachers and students everywhere to understand that they should not keep any apparent warning signs to themselves.
The process of delving into Pierson's motives and state of mind, as well as chronicling what he may have said to students and adults regarding his intentions, will take time. But it's an important task, not only to provide context for this case but also to help criminologists and other scholars better analyze such shootings in general.
At their most fundamental level, of course, such shootings will always defy understanding because they truly are senseless. Why would a young person with the apparent promise of Pierson - bright, articulate, engaged - throw his life away over a grudge or even an ongoing conflict, if that is what happened? Why shoot a fellow student he apparently didn't even know? No normal logic or reasoning leads to such an end. It is a plunge into the abyss.
Sheriff Robinson credited a deputy sheriff working in the school and an unarmed security guard with saving lives because of how they rushed from the cafeteria in the direction of Pierson while yelling for students to take cover.
"The shooter knew the deputy was coming," Robinson said, and presumably killed himself just 80 seconds after entering the school rather than face the likelihood of a shoot-out.
We join Robinson in praising those brave individuals, while also praising Littleton School District for the impressive safety procedures it had in place.
As bad as Friday was, after all, it could have been far worse.
The Greeley Tribune, Dec. 16, on oil and gas regulations:
Greeley City Council members last week seemed to wrinkle their noses at proposed new oil and gas regulations from city planners.
We understand the council's welcomed oil and gas drilling in the past. We know the revenue raised from that drilling has plumped Weld County's coffers and Greeley's, as well. We appreciate the extra money, as well and support the council's stance on oil and gas.
But we believe the stricter standards are worth a hard look.
The new regulations, which in fairness were presented during a work session, not for a vote just yet, include a sunset on oil and gas permits after three years, requiring the use of infrared cameras for detecting leaks and containment that catches 98 percent of volatile compounds.
We don't necessarily agree with all of the city staff's recommendations - there's quite a list, after all - but we appreciate the discussion on them.
What's more is we do think many of them are reasonable, and we worry about Mayor Tom Norton's comments in that work session.
"I don't want to regulate for the sake of regulating," Norton said.
We're OK with Greeley allowing drilling within city limits. But we believe city leaders should recognize that drilling next to a highly populated residential area or a school is different than drilling near Grover. We want Greeley to set the standard, not chase after it years later. These stricter regulations give us that chance. We can send the signal that we're open for business, as long as the industry follows some tough rules.
They may be viewed as a burden, but we believe stricter standards could benefit oil and gas operators and the council. A proposed drilling site in west Greeley, which was eventually approved by the council, was met with fierce opposition from nearby residents. We understand that residents tend to be wary of any development near their homes, but we believe that a set of strict, uncompromising standards may help quell future uprisings when oil and gas developers inevitably propose another drilling site.
In fact, Greeley's city planners met with a local group of residents who opposed some drill sites to help craft these proposed regulations. They also met with local oil and gas operators, the state commission and the state health department. No one, in other words, would be surprised by any of these proposals, and it seems to us that most support them, even oil and gas operators.
We encourage Greeley's open arms to oil and gas, but we agree with Councilman Randy Sleight, who, while he brought up a number of concerns about the regulations, said he supported the discussion.
The Gazette, Dec. 17, on state funding for the City for Champions:
Monday became the dawn of a new era in Colorado Springs when the Colorado Economic Development Commission voted to rebate an estimated $120.5 million in taxes the state government would otherwise keep.
The commission approved tax relief to help establish four City for Champions proposals because members believe the projects will benefit Colorado more than anything state politicians might do with the money. In essence, the commission said people of the Springs are better suited than Denver politicians to leverage designated tax revenues. It's a shift of capital from state to local interests, which may benefit all of Colorado.
Because of the commission's trust and belief in the future of Colorado Springs, our community can embark upon conversations to determine the path for proposals designed to leverage assets and restore the region as a world class destination for tourists.
"In my lifetime, this is the most exciting, most uplifting day in Colorado Springs," said Mayor Steve Bach, a proponent of the tax rebates. "It says to the world that Colorado Springs is now poised to reach full potential as America's Olympic city, not only in terms of jobs we so desperately need, but in terms of the spirit of our community and all the catalytic effects this will have in so many ways."
Bach said he looks forward to initiating, hosting and/or participating in a series of community conversations in which residents will determine more specifically how to make the rebates an asset for all.
"Today's decision just makes available to us an instrument of financing, and now we need to come together as a community and have major conversations about how to proceed," Bach said.
A handful of opponents criticized City for Champions advocates for not hosting town meetings and otherwise marketing their preparation of the tax relief proposal. Applicants were trying to avoid inspiring other communities to apply for the same rebates, which are limited under the state's Regional Tourism Act. Rationale for the strategy was apparent Monday. Given that City for Champions had no competition, the commission was able to designate for our community the entire amount requested.
Proposals that sold the commission on rebates include an Olympic museum near a downtown multi-use sports arena, a U.S. Air Force Academy visitors center and a state-of-the-art sports medicine clinic on North Nevada. The sports medicine center, expected to serve top athletes from around the world, will work in conjunction with a new branch of the University of Colorado's medical school, at the Colorado Springs campus.
The Gazette's editorial board applauds the Economic Development Commission for believing in Colorado Springs, a city so often in the shadows of Denver.
By helping bring these projects to fruition, the commission found a way to bring more tourists to Colorado while giving visitors more reasons to traverse the Front Range and linger longer, to the economic benefit of all Colorado residents.
We hope City for Champions projects become so successful even today's opponents will welcome them. The only victory for anyone will be an end to economic stagnation and a start to growth that will create new jobs.
The world's greatest economists know that lowering tax burdens spurs private-sector investment and economic growth. That's why Colorado's Regional Tourism Act was established to facilitate development of new attractions.
On Monday, City for Champions became more than just an idea. It received a jump-start that could take this region to higher ground, so it can flourish in the near term and for generations to come.