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The first Whole Foods mac and cheese bar: We tried 8 kinds in 1 night so you don’t have to

The Denver Post - 2 hours 21 min ago

There’s been a lot of hype surrounding the Union Station Whole Foods Market’s mac and cheese bar. During the first 36 hours that the store was open in November, hungry mac and cheese lovers devoured 1,500 pounds of the gooey goodness. After three weeks, 15,000 pounds had been sold.

We wondered how the bar is doing now, three months in, so we headed down to Union Station with a noble, ambitious mission: taste-test all eight of the selections at the mac and cheese bar to determine which ones deserve your valuable stomach (and credit card debt) space.

As we mulled over the selections, a fellow bar-goer volunteered tips: “Oh, that one was better last night,” she said of the vegan mac. (Yes, some of our fellow residents are so into the mac and cheese bar that they visit it nightly.) “But really, you can’t go wrong.”

Clearly, enthusiasm is high, and store representatives say that most Whole Foods in the region now run a variation of the bar, with just a couple of options or as many as eight. When we pulled up to the cashier with a cart full of generic Whole Foods to-go containers, she just assumed they were all mac and cheese because the bar has become such a customer favorite.

Because the bar at the Union Station Whole Foods has been such a hit, the folks at the Cherry Creek store decided to get in on the action. For Super Bowl weekend, prepared foods manager Nicole Donovan created a tacho bar full of blinged-out tater (and non-tater) tots like chicken shawarma millet tots, spicy buffalo sweet potato tots, and bacon mac and cheese tots.

The bar was so popular they couldn’t keep it stocked.

Those Whole Foods people are no fools — they’re going to ride this food bar craze for as long as it’s selling — and so the tacho bar will be available at the Creek store at least through March and probably in other Whole Foods stores, too.

But if it’s the much-ballyhooed mac and cheese bar you want, then you’re going to need a game plan. Here’s our guide to the 8-foot-long bar, so you know what to skip and what to load up on. And at $9.99 a pound, you need to be choosy.

Note: Whole Foods rotates the mac and cheese selection, so these are the eight choices that were available when we visited.

Regular mac and cheese

What it is: A cheddar/Romano blend that’s a little creamy, a little tangy and a little chalky.

Comments: “It feels cheesy. Like real cheese. The kind you’d get at Whole Foods.”

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Would we eat it again? Yes, but if only it had BBQ pork or Buffalo chicken or broccoli or hatch chiles or carnitas or bacon or ground beef placed in a neat line on top of it. But wait …

Mac and cheese with BBQ pork

What it is: The same cheddar/Romano blend as the regular mac, topped with a strip of pork and sweet BBQ sauce.

Comments: “It feels like an afterthought. Like, ‘We need eight, so go grab some BBQ pork and throw it on here.’ ”

Would we eat it again? Sure, why not?

Hatch chile mac and cheese

What it is: According to its ingredient list, this one is Romano-less, so just cheddar mac topped with hatch green chile peppers.

Comments: “The burn is too quick. It needs more hatch.”

Would we eat it again? Yes, but we’d be sure to snag all the green chile toppers, leaving everyone after us with plain mac. Sorry.

Vegan mac and cheese

What it is: Penne (the only macaroni-less mac) and “cheddar” sauce (which involves potatoes, cashews, carrots and onions).

Comments: “The penne is gooey. It’s a step away from soup, but not in a good way. Still, if I was a vegan, I wouldn’t be mad.”

Would we eat it again? Not unless we turn vegan.

Buffalo chicken mac and cheese

What it is: Again, it’s the same cheddar/Romano base, with chicken and a slightly kicky sauce on top.

Comments: “It may be the same mac and cheese, but because of the buffalo sauce you can’t tell. So that’s something.”

Would we eat it again? Yes. This is the one mac that we all agreed we’d fill up on again.

Bacon cheeseburger mac and cheese

What it is: A strictly cheddar mac and cheese with ground beef and miniscule amounts of bacon sprinkled on top.

Comments: “How do you even make the beef look like that? They took two good things — cheeseburgers and mac and cheese — and ruined them.”

Would we eat it again? Nope.

Broccoli cheddar mac and cheese

What it is: Cheddar, Romano and Monterey Jack cheeses. Broccoli is the last listed ingredient, so it doesn’t ruin it or anything.

Comments: “I would get this one to feel good about my life choices.”

Would we eat it again? There’s so little broccoli that there really wouldn’t be much point.

Carnitas and smoked mozzarella mac and cheese

What it is: It’s the exact mac and cheese in most of the others, but with carnitas, smoked mozzarella and crispy onions thrown on top.

Comments: “It’s pretty coy. I don’t know if these macs have the right to be coy.”

Would we eat it again? Not if the BBQ pork or Buffalo chicken are available.

Bottom line: At the risk of inciting the wrath of the WF mac and cheese devotees, we thought the offerings were pretty ho-hum. Nearly all of them involve the exact same base recipe crowned with a strip of toppings. Still, our favorites were the Buffalo chicken, green chile and BBQ pork variations.



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PHOTOS: Today in history — February 21

The Denver Post - 3 hours 55 min ago

A selection of photos from around the world of events that happened on February 21.

Editor’s note: Ad blockers can cause photos and captions to appear out of order or show information unrelated to the photo displayed.

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This is where the middle of nowhere is, according to the best data possible

The Denver Post - 4 hours 40 sec ago

By Andrew Van Dam, The Washington Post

In a triumph of data collection and analysis, a team of researchers based at Oxford University has built the tools necessary to calculate how far any dot on a map is from a city – or anything else.

The research, published in Nature last month, allows us to pin down a question that has long evaded serious answers: Where is the middle of nowhere?

To know, you’d have to catalogue and calculate the navigation challenges presented by the planet’s complex, varied terrain and the dirt tracks, roads, railroads and waterways that crisscross it. You’d then need to string those calculations together, testing every possible path from every point to every other point.

That is pretty much what the folks did at the Malaria Atlas Project, a group at Oxford’s Big Data Institute that studies the intersection of disease, geography and demographics. The huge team – 22 authors are credited – spent years building a globe-spanning map outlining just how long it takes to cross any spot on the planet based on its transportation types, vegetation, slope, elevation and more. Those spots, or pixels, represent about a square kilometer.

Armed with this data, and hours and hours of computer time, The Washington Post processed every pixel and every populated place in the contiguous United States to find the one that best represents the “middle of nowhere.”

Congratulations, Glasgow, Montana!

Of all towns with more than 1,000 residents, Glasgow, home to 3,363 people in the rolling prairie of northeastern Montana, is farthest – about 4.5 hours in any direction – from any metropolitan area of more than 75,000 people.

Below, we’ve mapped the 10 most isolated towns in the United States. Also marked are what the analysis shows to be the hardest-to-reach unpopulated parts of the contiguous 48 states: the heart of Idaho’s Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, and part of the Shoshone National Forest outside of Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming.

The Malaria Atlas Project’s research could shed light on global efforts to help the poor – because access to cities, the researchers have found, is associated with such issues as health, education and environmental protection.

The map above, based on The Post’s analysis, helps us understand the landscape of geographic isolation in the United States – not a geography with as giant implications as the Malaria Atlas Project’s, but still one that gives a deeper insight into a country that seems so defined by the cities and suburbs that all but about 2 percent of the population can reach in less than an hour.

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Glasgow is in a region of northern Montana – running from the Fort Belknap Indian Reservation to the west to the Fort Peck Indian Reservation in the east – that consistently ranks as the most isolated, but still settled, part of the country.

To the north, a border crossing and acres upon hectares of wheat and other grains lie between Glasgow and the nearest midsize Canadian city, Regina, in the province of Saskatchewan. To the south, both Glasgow and the waters of the Missouri River are pinned in by Fort Peck Dam, an icon of an era when New Deal feats of civil engineering earned a place in the inaugural edition of Life magazine.

The seven-year boom fueled by the dam’s construction ended in 1940, and the town didn’t get its second wind until Glasgow Air Force Base opened in 1957. Before it closed in 1976, more people living on the base than in the town itself, said Mark Dulaney, a longtime resident and a sales rep for a local office supply company.

Dulaney, 61, who moved to Glasgow from Iowa with his family in 1971, lives out by the reservoir and hunts pheasant and whatever game is in season. He said he enjoys the isolation in northeastern Montana, even if it means driving hours to sell printers and supplies across a sprawling sales territory or paying twice as much for wood pellets to heat his garage than he would in Billings, a metropolitan area of 164,496 people that’s about 4.5 hours away.

“It’s pretty slow moving here,” said Dulaney, who can travel all day on a hunting trip without seeing another car. “When we go to Billings, it seems like a big metropolis.”

Today, folks in Glasgow tend to work for the railroad, grow wheat, raise livestock, or provide goods and services for people in those industries. Last summer had the worst drought on record, Dulaney said, but there has been plenty of snow this winter, so 2018 is looking better.

“When the farmers and ranchers are happy, then everybody’s happy,” he said. The money they spend at restaurants and bars, and on farm equipment, buoys all of Glasgow.

Prior attempts to compare the solitude of the Glasgows of the world have been hamstrung by a lack of data. They tended to measure distance from roads – not travel times. Five miles on a dirt road in the Montana Rockies isn’t equivalent to five miles on a state highway in Illinois farm country.

The measurement is daunting enough in the United States, but it quickly becomes nearly impossible in the developing world.

It explains why Daniel Weiss, the Malaria Atlas Project’s director of global malaria epidemiology, and his team invested so much time acquiring data from satellites, Open Street Map, Google, shipping databases, surveys and other sources.

In the end, their data accounted for 4.8 times as much road coverage as a previous effort in 2000. With Google’s Earth Engine, they combined it with travel speeds for myriad transportation types, elevations and slopes. They estimated walking speeds through everything from open shrub lands (2.6 miles per hour) to croplands (1.55 mph) to snow and ice (1.01 mph).

When they were done, they had a Rosetta Stone for transportation. With the right algorithm, it can estimate transit times between any two points on the globe (although areas near the polar regions are a special case), and be modified to suit just about anyone’s needs. It excludes flight, and the final product doesn’t distinguish between transportation types, instead assuming travelers will take the fastest method available.

We focused our analysis on that previously impossible search for the most remote places in the contiguous United States, using a variant of the methodology the researchers used. Like them, we attempted to measure a place’s distance from any densely populated spot within a metro large enough to provide key goods and services.

When you take population out of the equation, the most remote place in the Lower 48 is a vast conglomeration of protected areas in Idaho that some locals call “The Frank.”

The Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area, the largest contiguous federal wilderness outside of Alaska, is named after the Idaho senator who did much to advance conservationism in the 1960s and the Salmon River, one of the most wild and scenic rivers on the continent.

The Salmon River Canyon, the Salmon River Gorge and the Salmon River mountains are at the heart of The Frank. They’re also where you’ll find the ultra-remote area pinpointed by our algorithm.

The runner up for most remote area lies southeast of the Wapiti Ranger Station in the Shoshone National Forest, part of the oldest federally protected forest in the country. The Shoshone abuts Yellowstone to the east, and was set aside along with the more famous and accessible national park as a timberland reserve in 1891, the year after Wyoming became a state.

All the above reckoning, however, still relies on distance from what might be a generous definition of “city.” Outlying metro areas such as Rapid City, South Dakota, and Helena, Montana, end up with a large influence on the outcome.

If you went to another extreme, and told the data set that you wanted to be as far away from a city of more than 1 million people as possible, it probably would suggest, well, pretty much all of Idaho, Montana and New Mexico.

For the most extreme case – finding the world’s hardest-to-access places regardless of population – we used a data set created by the researchers. It shows the number hours needed to travel from a city to almost any point on the globe.

When analyzing their data, we only considered contiguous groups of more than 20 pixels that were all in the top few percentiles of inaccessibility to reduce distortion from small and mountainous areas.

Greenland’s interior led the list. The world’s largest island’s never-ending ice pack, combined with its distance from the population centers of Maritime Canada and Western Europe, make its farthest reaches uniquely inaccessible, probably in part because the map assumes you’ll be making much of the overland journey on foot. Its neighbor to the west, Canada’s Ellesmere island, came in third for many of the same reasons.

The runners-up, the Pitcairn Islands, are a lonely Pacific island chain still populated by descendants of the Bounty mutineers. The parts of Greenland remote enough to make this list aren’t inhabited.

In the United States, being far from a major city means that it’s harder to access specialized types of health care, as well as things such as certain elite institutions of higher learning and international airports.

In the developing world, living in a remote location is measurably worse for your well-being. They’re not only harder to reach, but they also can host endemic diseases such as the malaria that Weiss and his colleagues are helping to eradicate.

In low-income and middle-income countries especially, the researchers write, the link between access to cities and well-being is “unequivocal.” The access itself also is harder to come by. In developed nations, they found, 90.7 percent of the population lives within an hour of a major city , while in low-income countries, only 50.9 percent does.

Western Kansas won’t be struck by a malaria outbreak. Tropical diseases aren’t festering within the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area. But the same data that gave us the power to determine what makes a speck on the Nevada map or a stretch of the Montana Badlands unique also will empower researchers worldwide.

The Washington Post’s Laris Karklis contributed to this report.

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Two people shot in southwest Denver; one suspect in custody, one at large

The Denver Post - 4 hours 28 min ago

Two people were shot in southwest Denver on Tuesday night. Police had one suspect in custody and were looking for a second suspect.

The double shooting happened at South Federal Boulevard and West Louisiana Avenue, police said at 9:15 p.m.

#DPD officers are at Louisiana & Federal Blvd investigating a shooting. Two victims were struck and transported. Unknown if injuries are life-threatening. 1 suspect is in custody: 2nd suspect at large. pic.twitter.com/uxW8Uy5xmi

— Denver Police Dept. (@DenverPolice) February 21, 2018

The two victims were taken to a hospital. Further details on their injuries were not released.

The identify of the suspect in custody, a description of the at-large suspect and a motive in the shooting were not released Tuesday night.

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Avalanche rallies from three-goals down, beats Vancouver in OT on Nathan MacKinnon’s goal

The Denver Post - 4 hours 29 min ago

VANCOUVER, British Columbia — It was a wild, wild game to begin a three-game western Canadian road trip for the Avalanche.

All-star center Nathan MacKinnon, in his second game back from a eight-game injury absence, scored Colorado’s fifth power-play goal of the game in overtime for a 5-4 come-from-behind victory against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. MacKinnon finished with a four-point game, adding three assists.

The Avs, who trailed 4-1 in a seven-goal second period, forced OT with Tyson Barrie’s power-play goal with 3:01 remaining — the only goal of the third period. Barrie had a hand in every power-play goal for a career-high five points (four assists).

Boxscore

Goalie Semyon Varlamov made five of his 24 saves in OT, including two kick-pad stops from the doorstep.

Colorado finished a remarkable 5-of-6 on the power play; and seven of the game’s eight goals in regulation were scored in the second period.

“Our power play was due,” MacKinnon said. “Last game against Edmonton we didn’t do a great job but we had a meeting on what we want to achieve and I think it paid off tonight — big time.”

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MacKinnon and both of his linemates scored, and the line combined for nine points. Left wing Gabe Landeksog had a goal and an assist and right winger Mikko Rantanen had three points (goal).

“I think 5-on-5 we were dominant, the three of us,” MacKinnon said. “We established ourselves and we do think we’re one of the best lines in the NHL.”

When MacKinnon was on the injured list for eight games, Landeskog and Rantanen combined for just one goal, and none in the first seven games of that stretch.

Colorado snapped a two-game losing streak, including a slumbering 4-2 loss to Edmonton on Sunday in Denver. Avs coach Jared Bednar wanted to see more urgency from his players, and he finally got that in the second period when his team trailed by three goals.

The Avs climbed to three points within Minnesota for the last Western Conference playoff spot.

“First time in a number of games now that we went out and tried to put the other team under pressure,” Bednar said. “We made some costly mistakes in the second, some individual mistakes that led to grade-A chances. They capitalized on their chances. We had to dig out of a hole but the power play came up huge. Those guys (MacKinnon’s line), they were good 5-on-5 and on the power play.

“We were talking about desperation and playing with urgency, right? We had lacked that a little bit in the last handful of games. We were determined to stick with it tonight and we got rewarded. We worked to earn some power plays. I mean, six power plays. We haven’t earned six power plays in the last three or four games combined.”

After a scoreless first period, the teams traded goals to begin the wild second frame. Vancouver scored on its first shift of the period — forward Darren Archibald went to the net and capitalized on soft defensive coverage in front — but Avs rookie forward Tyson Jost answered on the power play at 10:46, when he redirected Barrie’s wrist shot from the point past backup Vancouver goalie Anders Nilsson. Nilsson was making his second consecutive start in place of the ill Jacob Markstrom.

It was Jost’s seventh goal of the season, and fourth in his last eight games.

But then the Canucks scored three times in 2:41 to suddenly jump ahead 4-1. Nikolay Goldobin (wrist shot through traffic), Brandon Sutter (wrist shot left circle) and Bo Horvat (one-timer between circles) beat Varlamov and the Avalanche seemed out of it.

Vancouver, however, took two ensuing penalties and Colorado capitalized with power-play goals by Rantanen and Landeskog at 17:57 and 19:23. Rantanen buried a wrist shot from the right circle and Landeskog had an easy tap-in from the right post. MacKinnon assisted on both goals.

Barrie’s game-tying goal was a wrist shot from the point.

The Avs continue their three-game western Canadian trip Thursday at Edmonton, and it concludes Saturday at Calgary. Colorado then hosts four in a row, beginning with the Canucks on Monday in the last of three meetings between the teams. Vancouver won the first game of the series three weeks ago, 4-3 in overtime at Rogers Arena.

 

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After teenager’s arrest, liberal Vermont ponders gun safety

The Denver Post - 5 hours 39 min ago

By Wilson Ring, The Associated Press

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Last week’s deadly Florida high school shooting and a Vermont teenager’s arrest in what officials consider a near-miss on a high school shooting are giving a boost to gun control efforts in the state Legislature following years of the otherwise liberal state’s steadfast refusal to regulate gun ownership.

On Tuesday, several hundred gun control advocates rallied on the Statehouse steps in Montpelier. Inside, Republicans who had long resisted the idea of any form of gun restriction were rethinking that position.

Republican Rep. Don Turner, the House minority leader, said his caucus had recently formed a committee to look at possible ways to regulate guns and prevent violence. He said no one wanted to see another school child hurt or killed.

“We get that. It’s scary for us. It’s scary for parents. We need to at least open the dialogue,” said Turner, who noted that over the weekend he heard from constituents who did not want to see any gun law changes.

Vermont has a long history of gun ownership and low gun crime. Despite being considered one of the most liberal states, efforts in recent years to regulate gun ownership have failed.

There are a number of pieces of legislation pending in the Statehouse. One would prevent people from possessing firearms if courts ruled they posed threat to themselves or others. Another would require background checks for most gun transfers.

Last Thursday’s arrest of an 18-year-old former Fair Haven Union High School student who had bought a shotgun and ammunition and kept a journal called “Diary of An Active Shooter” prompted Republican Gov. Phil Scott to say it was time for Vermont to consider “gun safety” as part of a broader effort to reduce violence.

Scott’s comments on Friday came a day after he told a SevenDays weekly newspaper reporter who asked about gun legislation following the Parkland, Florida, shooting that he didn’t think changes to the state’s gun laws were needed.

Scott changed his mind after Vermont state police arrested Jack Sawyer, of Poultney, and charged him with attempted aggravated murder and other offenses that, if convicted, could send him to prison for life. Police determined Sawyer, a former Fair Haven student who had recently been released from a mental health facility in Maine, had bought a shotgun and four boxes of ammunition.

Police say Sawyer also read a book about the Columbine High School shooting in Colorado in 1999, in which two students killed 12 other students and a teacher before killing themselves.

Police were alerted to Sawyer’s case after some of his friends said he was making threats against his school. A girl in Poughkeepsie, New York, showed a school resource officer some of the threats Sawyer made via social media. The officer alerted Vermont police, and Sawyer was arrested.

Sawyer pleaded not guilty and was being held without bail.

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Vermont Defender General Matthew Valerio, whose office is defending Sawyer, said there are a lot of unproved allegations.

“I have a sense that this case is a lot different than initially portrayed,” Valerio said.

Democratic state Sen. Richard Sears, the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he felt the governor’s change in attitude toward gun laws was a big step toward the passage of gun legislation.

Seventeen people died in the Florida shooting. The teenage killer’s lawyer has said he is sad, mournful and remorseful and has called him “a broken human being.”

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Kiszla: Oly bronze medalist Lindsey Vonn beat the trolls, who can slink back in their internet holes now

The Denver Post - 5 hours 39 min ago

BUKPYEONG, South Korea — Hey, trolls. Lindsey Vonn beat you.

She won a bronze medal in the Olympic downhill. After crossing the finish line Wednesday, she looked to heaven and blew a kiss to her late grandfather.

And where were the internet trolls? All those ugly Americans that wished Vonn would fall on her face at the Winter Games, or maybe ski off a cliff and die? Forget them.

Was wrapping herself in the U.S. flag on the podium Vonn shared with downhill winner Sofia Goggia and silver medalist Ragnhild Mowinckel a celebration that was all-American enough for the internet hecklers hoping Vonn would lose because of her political opposition to president Donald Trump?

After finishing sixth in the super-G earlier in the Games, Vonn heard if from the haters on social media, many of whom took glee in her failure.

“It’s hard for me to understand the thought process of the savage abuse I’ve taken on the internet,” said Vonn, laughing in the face of the vitriol.

Here’s her bronze. She dedicated it to Don Kildow, the grandfather that taught Vonn how to ski.

You’ve got a problem with that, trolls? Well, Vonn has a message for you.

“Man, take a walk in my shoes,” Vonn said. “I will not be beaten.”

On an emotional day, her shoulders sagged at the finish line, when Vonn realized her time would not be good enough to best Sofia Goggia, an effervescent Italian that won the race in one minutes, 39.22 seconds. The obvious disappointment in Vonn’s body language was an involuntary reaction, the feisty competitor coming out, fighting against the timekeeper’s clock, which never changes its mind.

Vonn, who has won a record 81 times on the World Cup circuit, does not race to finish third. A bronze medal in the downhill? “It’s better than nothing,” said Chris Knight, her coach.

But rather than dwell on greater glory lost, Vonn bowed at the finish line, brought the fingers of both hands to her mouth, then looked toward heaven and blew a kiss to her late grandpa.

On a downhill track more technical than thrilling, even the slightest of mistakes was unforgiven, because there was no place to push the pedal to the medal and make up for lost time. Seven times on the course, the skis left the snow beneath the racers’ feet. The second time Vonn caught air, she landed with a slight bobble in excess of 60 mph. Her quest for gold was gone in that instant.

Downhill is where Vonn made her name as a world-class skier, since way back when she was a teenager named Kildow. And it’s fair to say this tomboy from Minnesota would not have grown up to become the baddest downhill racer on the planet if not for those 16-hour drives in the family car, with Lindsey sacked out in the backseat, drifting off to sleep as an Eric Clapton song played on a cassette tape.

Don Kildow built military service roads, sometimes behind enemy lines, in Korea during a war that never really ended, but has lived with an uneasy truce now threatened by Kim Jong-un for nearly 65 years after the ceasefire in July 1953. As a teenager in the 1940s, Kildow had worked in a General Motors plant to support a sickly mother, after his father died of a heart attack.

Don Kildow played football and boxed, but his true passion was the outdoors. There were deer to hunt in the woods and hills to schuss down on skis. This is the grandfather that instilled Lindsey’s need for speed on the snow. This is the feisty grandfather that died in November at age 88.

Vonn raced in PyeongChang to do him proud. And she did. Mission accomplished.

“This is my last Olympic downhill,” said Vonn, who now has a bronze to hang alongside the gold she won in the Olympic downhill at Vancouver in 2010, which was many ugly, painful injuries ago. “I’m going to miss the Olympics.”

Hey, trolls. Where are you now? Your silence is deafening.

“Social media can be used in a very positive way, if you’re a good person. I feel like recently, it’s just taken a different turn. And I hope it turns around,” Vonn said.

“Instead of tearing people down, we can build people up. Because that’s what sports is about. They’re supposed to be uplifting. This is the Olympics. We cheer for every country, instead of hoping someone falls or skis off a cliff and dies.”

Amen, sister.

In the darkest recesses of the internet, the trolls can type what they want about Vonn. I’m going to put more credence in the words of Goggia, who beat her American rival to the finish line by less than half a second.

“Lindsey Vonn,” Goggia said, “is the greatest skier of all time.”

 

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With new elections near, U.S. strains to curb Russia meddling

The Denver Post - 5 hours 43 min ago

WASHINGTON — The Russians are going to try it again. Even President Donald Trump’s intelligence chiefs say so. But with congressional primaries just two weeks away, the U.S. has done little to aggressively combat the kinds of Russian election meddling that was recently unmasked in federal court.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s surprise indictment last week in his wide-ranging Russia investigation sounded a fresh alarm to the U.S. government, social media companies and state election officials who are readying for the 2018 midterms. Here’s what’s being done — or not — in the wake of Mueller’s revelations:

IN CONGRESS

Mueller’s indictment charged 13 Russian individuals and three Russian companies in a plot to interfere in the 2016 presidential election through a social media propaganda effort that included online ad purchases using U.S. aliases and politicking on U.S. soil. Congressional committees held hearings on the social media attacks last fall, but legislation to require technology companies to enhance openness for online political ads has stalled amid GOP concerns of overregulation.

None of the congressional committees investigating the interference — both the social media efforts and attempted Russian hacking of state election systems — have yet proposed policy changes to prevent it in the future. Senate intelligence committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C., has said he wants to issue a report on security findings and legislative recommendations before the primaries begin, but it’s unclear if the panel will do so before Texas’ March 5 voting.

Leaders of the House intelligence committee have also said they will issue a report with recommendations on how to prevent foreign interference. But the Republican-led panel has been more focused in recent weeks on whether the FBI conspired against Trump.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Similarly, the White House has sent few signals on what should be done to combat the meddling as voters try to make sense of how it might affect them. Trump has said little on the severity of the threat or how it could be overcome, instead often focusing on whether he is a target of Mueller’s investigation or insisting that any meddling would not have changed the results of the election.

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White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended Trump on Tuesday, saying the president “hasn’t said that Russia didn’t meddle, what he’s saying is it didn’t have an impact, and it certainly wasn’t with help from the Trump campaign.”

Top Trump officials have been more open and firm in saying Russia interfered and needs to be stopped. But what might be happening behind the scenes is unclear. In a hearing on global threats this month, National Intelligence Director Dan Coats said, “There should be no doubt that Russia perceives that its past efforts have been successful and views the 2018 midterm US elections as a potential target for Russian influence operations.” He said, “We are behind the curve in coming to a policy” to penalize or stop those who interfere.

Trump has mixed signals on sanctions approved by Congress on Russian entities in the wake of the interference. He signed the legislation, but his administration has bucked a congressional deadline to impose the sanctions.

THE STATES

Efforts to increase election security have been slow amid tensions between the federal government and the states. The Department of Homeland Security offered assistance to state and local election officials after Russian agents targeted election systems in 21 states ahead of the 2016 general election, but records show only 14 states have requested risk assessments and 30 have asked for remote cyber scans of their networks.

Some state and local officials have expressed concerns about Homeland Security efforts to increase communication

and cooperation with states about election systems. They have complained that it took the federal government nearly a year to inform them whether their states had been targeted by Russian hackers.

“The way government is structured with locals, states and the federal government, it works against us a little bit in terms of trying to solve this problem quickly,” said Noah Praetz, elections director for Cook County, Illinois. He has been working with federal officials to help improve communication channels.

SOCIAL MEDIA COMPANIES

After an initial reluctance to acknowledge foreign interference in their platforms, social media companies have come forward in the past six months to pledge improvements in monitoring election-related advertisements and posts.

Still, it’s unclear if the companies are prepared to resist sophisticated efforts to get around their rules. Companies like Facebook have hired scores of new people to try and combat the meddling but still acknowledge that smart adversaries will try and find a way around whatever measures they put in place.

“People say, ‘Why don’t you just check the currency or the IP address?’ And as soon as you do that, literally that afternoon, they will change tactics,” Facebook Chief Technology Officer Mike Schroepfer told The Associated Press last week, before the indictment.

And while Facebook and Mueller’s indictment focus on the Russian Internet Research Agency, some in Congress have suggested there could be additional “troll farms” working to infiltrate U.S. social media.

THE UNKNOWN

Even with best efforts, many acknowledge there is no way to be fully prepared. The Russians or other foreign actors will find new ways to intervene.

But more can be done, says the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, Mark Warner of Virginia. He says many of the obstacles to preparedness are “institutional barriers.” Some state election officials are fiercely guarding their independence, while he says some of his congressional colleagues are reluctant to further regulate the electoral process. On social media, the former tech executive says, companies’ efforts to self-police “don’t pass the smell test.”

“I think we are more aware of the threat, but by no means fully prepared,” Warner says.

Associated Press writers Christina A. Cassidy in Atlanta, Deb Riechmann in Washington and Ryan Nakashima in Half Moon Bay, California, contributed to this report.

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PHOTOS: Colorado Rockies spring training – February 20, 2018

The Denver Post - 5 hours 45 min ago

The Colorado Rockies during the teams workout on Tuesday, February 20, 2018 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick in Scottsdale, Arizona.

Editor’s note: Ad blockers can cause photos and captions to appear out of order or show information unrelated to the photo displayed.



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MLS champions Toronto FC beat Rapids in frigid conditions

The Denver Post - 5 hours 49 min ago

COMMERCE CITY — Billed as the best team in MLS history coming into Tuesday’s match, Toronto FC backed up the hype with a 2-0 victory over the Colorado Rapids in bone-chilling conditions at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park.

Toronto, coming off the first ever domestic “treble” in 2017 after winning the MLS Cup, the Supporters’ Shield and the Canadian championship, got second-half goals from Jonathan Osorio and former MLS MVP Sebastian Giovinco to ease past the Rapids.

“We’re in a different place to Toronto,” Rapids coach Anthony Hudson said after his first competitive game as the team’s coach. “They’ve got a team that’s been together for quite a few years, they have no new players, they’ve been training in altitude for a long time. We have many new faces, six in the starting 11, first time at altitude, coming into the game I just wasn’t sure where we were at in three and a half weeks in preseason.

“Coming out of the game I’m so disappointed we haven’t won the game, but I’m incredibly encouraged about the performance.”

The loss puts Colorado in an enormous hole heading into the second leg of the home-and-away CONCACAF Champions League series, as they would need at least a 3-1 win in Toronto next Tuesday to advance on aggregate score in the tournament. Road goals are the tiebreaker.

Hudson downplayed the result and repeatedly mentioned his team was still progressing, learning a new system and focused on being prepared for the MLS season opener on March 10 in New England.

The temperature at kickoff was a frigid 3 degrees, with a “feels like” reading at -16, according to the National Weather Service, making it the coldest game between two MLS teams. The previous record was 19 degrees in a game last March in Minnesota. Tuesday’s game won’t count as an MLS record since the match was not a league game.

“It was the same for both teams,” midfielder Jack Price said of the weather conditions. “It wasn’t great was it? But we had to deal with it. We knew it was there, we knew it was coming. We trained for it, we were well prepared for it. It was no excuse.”

Despite conditions that were so cold the beer taps at the concession stands froze, the 2,673 hearty Rapids fans in attendance were in full voice.

“It was an amazing night,” Hudson said of the atmosphere at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. “The weather and it was a just kind of a weird occasion, but it was great to get out on match day here. I can’t wait for us to start the regular season and have a big crowd here.”

After a scoreless first half, Toronto got on the scoresheet in the 55th minute when Osorio headed home a cross from the right corner of the penalty area from Giovinco, past Rapids goalkeeper Tim Howard.

The defensive breakdown was in sharp contrast to the Rapids’ first-half performance. Colorado came out looking organized in the first half in Hudson’s first game, and the new coach praised the team’s performance in the first 45 minutes.

Toronto doubled their lead in the 73rd minute when Giovinco skillfully volleyed home a cross from Auro Junior.

“It’s a new team, we’re gelling,” said Rapids midfielder Jack Price. “I think we’ve just got to man-mark a bit better than we did on the goals. We’ll learn.”

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Center backs Deklan Wynne, Tommy Smith and Kortne Ford were compact in the back, with wing backs Edgar Castillo and Marlon Hairston dropping deep to form a five-man back line.

Toronto FC had the lion share of possession in the first half (65 percent to 35 percent), but Colorado had the best chance to score when striker Jack McBean’s pass in the 27th minute freed Dominique Badji for a 1-on-1 with Toronto goalkeeper Alex Bono, who made the save.

Colorado outshot TFC in the first half 7-6 with both teams putting three shots on target.

Toronto’s defense locked down the Rapids’ attack in the second half and did not allow a shot on target after the intermission.

“We wanted to tighten up the middle of the field a little bit (in the second half). We felt like they were opening up some big holes and they were able to play into the middle of the field and cause us some problems,” said Toronto FC center back Drew Moor, the former Rapids’ captain. “We were just kind of able to bring out outside midfielders in a little bit and fan our outside backs out a little bit and it just kind of clogged things up in the middle.”

Meanwhile, the Reds’ attack went to work, finishing the match with a 61-39 edge in possession and outshot Colorado 15-7. Toronto put seven shots on target during the match and Tim Howard made five saves.

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Coldilocks, the oldest captive polar bear in the U.S., dies

The Denver Post - 5 hours 50 min ago

By Anthony Izaguirre, The Associated Press

PHILADELPHIA — The oldest captive polar bear in the U.S. has died.

The Philadelphia Zoo on Tuesday said that the 37-year-old bear, Coldilocks, was in declining health and was euthanized.

Zoo officials said Coldilocks had a variety of age-related medical issues, including problems with her kidneys and eyesight, but that visitors wouldn’t have been able to tell as the bear pounced playfully on toys, pulling them deep into her pool during early morning dips.

“She was really a great animal,” said Dr. Keith Hinshaw, director of animal health at the zoo. It was “spectacular” for Coldilocks to far surpass the average 23-year lifespan of a polar bear, he said.

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The bear took “a sudden change for the worse” about a week ago when her appetite waned and her activity level decreased, Hinshaw said. Medical tests performed before Coldilocks was euthanized turned up potential liver and spinal problems as well, he said.

Dr. Andy Baker, the zoo’s chief operating officer, said Coldilocks brought attention to how climate change affects polar bears. She will be greatly missed, he said

Coldilocks was born Dec. 13, 1980 at Seneca Park Zoo in New York and arrived at the Philadelphia Zoo about a year later.

Her final birthday last year was celebrated with a party at the zoo. She was served a cake of peanut butter, honey, raisins and fish.

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Florida survivors, lawmakers on collision course over guns

The Denver Post - 5 hours 53 min ago

PARKLAND, Fla. — Students who survived the Florida school shooting began a journey Tuesday to the state Capitol to urge lawmakers to prevent another massacre, but within hours the gun-friendly Legislature had effectively halted any possibility of banning assault-style rifles like the one used in the attack.

The legislative action further energized the teens as they prepared to confront legislators who have quashed gun-control efforts for decades in a state where 1.3 million people have concealed carry permits.

“They’re voting to have shootings continually happen. These people who voted down the bill haven’t experienced what we did. I want to say to them, ‘It could be you,'” 16-year-old Noah Kaufman said as he made the 400-mile (640-kilometer) trip to Tallahassee.

Three buses carried 100 students who, in the aftermath of the attack that killed 17 people, want to revive the gun-control movement. The teens carried sleeping bags and pillows and hugged their parents as they departed, many wearing burgundy T-shirts in their school colors.

They spent the seven-hour ride checking their phones, watching videos and reading comments on social media about the shooting, some of which accused them of being liberal pawns.

About 500 Leon High School students and parents applauded as the students got off the bus from Broward County.

Stoneman Douglas senior Diego Pfeiffer thanked his Tallahassee counterparts as a group of Broward County students stood behind him on the school steps.

“This isn’t about school shootings. This isn’t about violence anymore. This is about hope. This is about moving forward,” Pfeiffer told the crowd.

As the grieving Florida students demanded action on guns, President Donald Trump on Tuesday directed the Justice Department to move to ban devices like the rapid-fire bump stocks used in last year’s Las Vegas massacre. It was a small sign of movement on the gun violence issue that has long tied Washington in knots.

“We must do more to protect our children,” said Trump, a strong and vocal supporter of gun rights. He added that his administration was working hard to respond to the Florida rampage.

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Meanwhile at the Florida Statehouse, a Democratic representative asked for a procedural move that would have allowed the Republican-controlled House to consider a ban on large-capacity magazines and assault-style rifles such as the AR-15 that was wielded by the suspect, Nikolas Cruz.

The bill had been assigned to three committees but was not scheduled for a hearing. The House quickly nixed the Democratic motion. The vote broke down along party lines, and Republicans criticized Democrats for forcing the vote.

Because the committees will not meet again before the legislative session ends March 9, the move essentially extinguishes hope that lawmakers would vote on any sweeping measures to restrict assault rifles, although other proposals could still be considered.

“No one in the world with the slightest little hint of a soul isn’t moved by this tragedy,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson said. “The discussion has to be a longer, bigger and broader discussion.”

Lizzie Eaton, a junior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, spent the day lobbying senators of both parties and concluded that lawmakers were “just not listening to us.”

The vote was “heartbreaking,” she said. “But we’re not going to stop.”

The students planned to hold a rally Wednesday to put more pressure on the Legislature.

“I really think they are going to hear us out,” said Chris Grady, a high school senior aboard the bus.

The Feb. 14 attack initially appeared to overcome the resistance of some in the state’s political leadership, which has rebuffed gun restrictions since Republicans took control of both the governor’s office and the Legislature in 1999. However, many members of the party still have strong resistance to any gun-control measures.

Republican leaders in the House and Senate say they will consider raising age restrictions for gun purchases and temporarily revoking someone’s guns if that person is deemed a threat to others. Gov. Rick Scott, also a Republican, convened groups assigned to propose measures for protecting schools from gun violence.

Lawmakers will probably say that getting a new bill passed is nearly impossible with only two and a half weeks left in the legislative session. Some lawmakers who are thinking of running on a statewide ticket are mindful of their sensitive positions, since gun owners make up huge voting blocs in some parts of the state, especially the Panhandle.

Wilson said he knows the students “want something to happen,” and they need “a moment to come and make their case.”

But, he said, “the thought that you get to wave a wand and change the law is something that is probably going to collide with reality.”

The Parkland students also plan to meet Wednesday with top legislative leaders, including House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron.

Florida has a reputation for expanding gun rights. Negron sponsored a 2011 bill that Scott signed into law that banned cities and counties from regulating gun and ammunition sales.

Authorities said Cruz, 19, had a string of run-ins with school authorities that ended with his expulsion. Police were repeatedly called to his house throughout his childhood. His lawyers said there were many warning signs that he was mentally unstable and potentially violent. Yet he legally purchased a semi-automatic rifle.

The Senate is also considering boosting spending on mental health programs for schools and giving law-enforcement greater power to involuntarily hold someone considered a danger to themselves. The chamber will also look at a proposal to deputize a teacher or someone else at school so they are authorized to have a gun.

Kyle Kashuv, a 16-year-old student at the high school, said he was pro-gun prior to the shooting.

“I had no issue with anyone having a gun of any caliber,” said Kashuv, as he rode in the bus to Tallahassee. “I was all for it. But after the situation, I realized we have some issues in our society and it has to be addressed.

The fact that someone who was so steadfast in support of gun rights now acknowledges the need for changes “really shows how important what we’re doing is,” he said.

 

Farrington reported from Tallahassee, Florida. Associated Press writers Gary Fineout in Tallahassee and Sadie Gurman in Washington contributed to this report.

 

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Trump plan: Less health insurance for lower premiums

The Denver Post - 6 hours 1 min ago

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration Tuesday spelled out a plan to lower the cost of health insurance: give consumers the option of buying less coverage in exchange for reduced premiums.

The proposed regulations would expand an alternative to the comprehensive medical plans required under former President Barack Obama’s health law. Individuals could buy so-called “short-term” policies for up to 12 months. But the coverage would omit key consumer protections and offer fewer benefits, making it unattractive for older people or those with health problems.

The plans would come with a disclaimer that they don’t meet the Affordable Care Act’s safeguards, such as guaranteed coverage, ten broad classes of benefits, and limits on how much older adults have to pay. Insurers could also charge more if a consumer’s medical history discloses health problems.

Nonetheless, administration officials said they believe the short-term option will be welcomed by people who need an individual health insurance policy but don’t qualify for the ACA’s income-based subsidies.

Those in this largely middle-class crowd make too much for subsidies and have absorbed years of price hikes. Some say they now face monthly, mortgage-size payments of well over $1,000 for health insurance. Then they usually have to pay a deductible of several thousand dollars. Research indicates the uninsured rate among these customers is growing.

“If you are not subsidized, the options can be really unaffordable for folks,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters. The administration estimates monthly premiums for a short-term plan could be about than one-third of what a comprehensive policy costs.

Democrats swiftly branded it a return to “junk insurance,” and the main insurance industry lobbying group said it was concerned the Trump plan could divide the healthy from the sick in the market and make it more expensive to cover those with health problems.

Democrats say the solution is to increase government subsidies, so that more middle-class people will be eligible for taxpayer assistance to buy comprehensive coverage. The Obama administration had limited short-term plans to periods of no longer than three months, making them impractical for many consumers.

“We shouldn’t be in the business of providing people with worse care,” said Sam Berger, a former Obama aide now with the liberal Center for American Progress. “What we should be focusing on is finding ways of reducing the cost of high-quality care.”

Trump administration officials reject the notion that they’re trying to undermine the ACA. Instead, they say they are trying to make things more workable for people who are not being helped by the health law.

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The administration estimates that only about 100,000 to 200,000 people will drop coverage they now have under the ACA and switch to cheaper short-term policies. They also say they expect short-term plans could attract many people among the estimated 28 million who remain uninsured.

“What we see right now is that there are healthy people sitting on the sidelines without coverage, and this is an opportunity to provide them with coverage,” said Seema Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which also administers the Obama-era health law.

A government economic analysis that accompanied the proposal forecast a moderate increase in premiums among customers sticking with their ACA plans through HealthCare.gov. Because subsidies are tied to the cost of premiums, taxpayers would end up spending more.

Administration officials said there’s no final decision on whether consumers will have a legal right to renew coverage under one of the new short-term plans.

One major health insurance company, United Healthcare, is already positioning itself to market short-term plans.

But others in the industry see them as a niche product for people in life transitions, like being in-between jobs, moving to another state, or retiring before Medicare kicks in.

“I certainly wouldn’t recommend them to someone receiving a significant subsidy or who has ongoing health issues, but there are certain times and certain places where it makes sense,” said Jeff Smedsrud, an insurance entrepreneur whose companies sell short-term plans.

Consumer advocates say customers should read the fine print carefully to make sure the plan will cover their expected bills.

The administration’s proposal will be open for public comment for 60 days. Plans would be on the market later this year.

However, short-term coverage won’t count as qualifying coverage under the Obama health law for 2018. That means consumers with such plans would legally be considered uninsured, putting them at risk of fines. That wouldn’t be a problem next year, when repeal of the ACA requirement that most Americans have coverage takes effect.

Tuesday’s proposal follows another administration regulation that would allow groups to offer “association” health plans also exempt from ACA requirements to small businesses and sole proprietors. Having failed to repeal “Obamacare,” Trump is now chipping away at it through regulations and waivers.

The plan doesn’t affect people with job-based coverage, still the mainstay for workers and their families.

Associated Press Health Writer Tom Murphy contributed to this report.

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Denver’s five-year housing plan for $15 million-a-year fund is now official; disagreements persist on details

The Denver Post - 6 hours 6 min ago

The Denver City Council approved a long-debated affordable housing strategy plan Tuesday, but lingering disagreements over its details will influence budget debates in coming years.

Setting its sights on the next five years, the plan — called “Housing an Inclusive Denver” — expands on existing approaches and lays out potential new strategies to spend a new $150 million local housing fund that will be raised over the course of a decade via property taxes and development impact fees. That money is on top of longstanding, but dwindling, streams from federal programs and other sources that, combined with the fund, will provide a total of $31.3 million this year.

But key decisions will be made through annual housing action plans, which the council doesn’t approve but can influence, and the city budget, which faces final council approval. Those will give council members outlets to apply pressure if they disagree with Mayor Michael Hancock’s administration on the proper programs to fund.

The council adopted the plan 11-1, with Kevin Flynn, the sole vote against it, citing concerns it would not provide much help to his southwest Denver district.

“I first want to say a great big thank-you to the people who helped put this plan together,” Councilwoman Debbie Ortega said, referring to administration officials and the city’s Housing Advisory Committee. “I think it’s vitally important that we move forward (and) adopt this plan, but I’m anxiously awaiting the chance to see the details in the one-year action plan.”

The uncertainty over year-to-year program spending comes amid a shakeup in the administration on housing policy, with the mayor’s chief housing policy coordinator departing after a year in the job.

Aside from program funding preferences, the largest lingering question remains whether Hancock and the council will find ways to expand the size of the local fund significantly, as housing activists and some council members have called for.

Hancock’s administration recently added a pledge to examine various options, including borrowing or new fees, to the final version of the plan.

The five-year housing plan outlines assistance and stabilization programs for low-income renters, homeowners and the homeless. It calls for experimental initiatives to encourage a greater supply of apartments and other housing that’s affordable to people of low and moderate incomes. And it calls for more subsidies for private developers’ projects when they include income-qualified units.

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By 2023, the plan says, city programs can help 30,000 households either obtain or stay in housing they can afford.

But whether such an impact will be enough in fast-growing Denver is a matter of dispute. Critics, meanwhile, have contended that subsidizing affordable housing is likely to accelerate rising costs for market-rate units.

On Tuesday night, though, the bulk of speakers during a public hearing, including several who work for organizations that support affordable housing, favored an expansion of the city’s efforts. Some also urged city officials to place longer-term affordability restrictions on properties that receive subsidies than the city does now.

“I will tell you, you have made a huge step forward as a community,” said Aaron Miripol, president and CEO of the Urban Land Conservancy. “(But) despite the work we’ve done … the affordable issue has only gotten worse.”

Here is Denver’s approved five-year housing plan:

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Two snowboarders buried in avalanche near Telluride rescued by fellow riders

The Denver Post - February 20, 2018 - 9:57pm

Two people buried in an avalanche Tuesday near Telluride were rescued by fellow snowboarders who dug the pair out.

The boarder-triggered avalanche happened near the Last Dollar Hut, according to the San Miguel County Sheriff’s Office. One boarder was completely buried, and the other was buried up to the neck. The partially buried boarder suffered a leg injury and was flown out.

San Miguel Search and Rescue and Telluride EMS responded to the incident.

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Slowing online sales send Walmart’s stock tumbling nearly 10 percent

The Denver Post - February 20, 2018 - 9:49pm

For months now, Wall Street has rewarded Walmart for engineering the kind of e-commerce turnaround that has eluded so many traditional retailers. But when the merchandising giant reported Tuesday that online growth had slowed during the critical holiday season, investors showed little patience, knocking down Walmart’s stock nearly 10 percent.

Walmart on Tuesday posted mixed results for the final three months of 2017. Sales rose 4.1 percent to $136.3 billion, the company said, but profits fell to $2.4 billion from $3.9 billion a year earlier. More troubling to some, online sales grew 23 percent in the fourth quarter, down from 50 percent in the previous quarter.

Wall Street had expected more from the Bentonville, Arkansas-based giant, which has been investing heavily in recent years to compete with Amazon’s online prowess. Shares of Walmart stock tumbled to $94.84, their lowest level since October 2015.

But some analysts remained optimistic that Walmart was moving in the right direction. The company continued to attract more shoppers, they said, and got existing ones to spend more. And it continued to build its ecommerce business, albeit at a slower pace than investors had become accustomed to.

“Even in an era of stiff competition, Walmart is becoming more and not less relevant to the American consumer,” Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail, wrote in a note to investors. “It is following the same strategy as Amazon: taking less profit today, for the prospect of a stronger business tomorrow.” (Jeffrey P. Bezos, the founder and chief executive of Amazon, also owns The Washington Post.)

Walmart – which last year had $500 billion in annual revenue, nearly three times Amazon.com’s $178 billion – has spent billions building up its e-commerce operation in recent years. It purchased online retailer Jet.com for $3.3 billion in 2016, and has since gobbled up a number of other niche sites like Moosejaw, Bonobos and ModCloth, aimed at attracting younger, more affluent shoppers.

The strategy has worked, analysts said: More people are buying online on Walmart’s sites, and those who do tend to spend nearly double what in-store shoppers do. Walmart’s annual online sales rose 44 percent to $11.5 billion last year, and the company says it expects that figure to grow another 40 percent this year.

“The fact that Walmart is talking about 44 percent online growth for the year – that should be the focus,” said Charlie O’Shea, an analyst for Moody’s. “The results we’re seeing from the company are really pretty solid.”

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Walmart executives say they are doubling down on a two-part strategy to boost online sales, building up Jet.com in major cities, and promoting Walmart.com in other parts of the country.

“Walmart is just a really well-known brand for value throughout the country – when you get into Oklahoma, Texas and the middle of the country, it just makes a lot of sense to invest in that brand rather than investing to introduce a brand that’s less familiar,” Chief Executive Doug McMillon said in a Tuesday call with analysts. “On the other hand, if you take the New York metropolitan area as one example, the Jet brand is really well known, has a lot of traction, has appeal to urban, millennial, higher-income customers.”

Walmart, the country’s largest private employer, recently announced plans to raise starting wages from $9 to $11 an hour. It also handed out bonuses to some employees and expanded its parental-leave policies for hourly workers, which the company said it was able to do in large part because of savings from the newly-passed tax plan. On Tuesday, McMillon said a lower tax rate is likely to give the company a $2 billion cash benefit this year.

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Gas-tax increase would hit Trump states hardest, Koch groups say

The Denver Post - February 20, 2018 - 9:45pm

By John McCormick, Bloomberg

A federal gas tax increase to help pay for upgrading U.S. roads and bridges would fall hardest on states won by Donald Trump in 2016, according to a report released Tuesday by two groups tied to the billionaire Koch brothers that oppose the increase.

The impact of raising the gas tax by 25 cents per gallon, as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has suggested and Trump reportedly has offered to support, would vary widely from state to state because of differences in the current tax rate and fuel consumption, the report by Americans for Prosperity and by Freedom Partners shows. Of the top 10 states identified by the groups as facing the highest percentage increase in total gas tax liability, Trump won nine.

“Every American stands to lose under this proposal, but some would be more heavily impacted than others,” says the report from the two organizations, part of the political network led by Charles and David Koch.

Raising the gas tax is likely to face hurdles in Congress, where many Republicans have expressed reservations. Opposition to the tax increase puts the Koch political network at odds with the Chamber of Commerce — the nation’s largest business lobby — which supports the move as the fairest and most efficient way to raise more money for U.S. infrastructure needs.

Opposition to the tax increase proposal also potentially puts the Koch affiliated groups in conflict with Trump, who previously has said he’s open to raising the levy and last week unveiled a long-awaited plan to generate at least $1.5 trillion in new infrastructure spending.

Proposals to hike the gas tax come as questions grow about where funding for upgrading infrastructure will come from after the Trump administration rolled out a plan that envisions federal funds mostly as seed money to spur states, localities and the private sector to spend the balance of the promised investment.

Trump surprised a bipartisan group of House and Senate committee leaders during a Feb. 14 White House meeting by offering to support a 25-cent increase in the tax on gas and diesel fuel, according to Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Republicans on Capitol Hill quickly expressed opposition and said prospects for the first boost of the tax in a quarter century appear slim.

The Koch-affiliated groups used data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, American Petroleum Institute and other sources to make their calculations. Their rankings for percent change were based on the state’s current total gas levy, including state and federal taxes, compared with the total under the proposed hike.

In raw dollars, the report found that Mississippi would face the largest increase in annual new gas tax burden per household ($391), followed by Wyoming ($380) and South Carolina ($377). Trump won all three.

The report doesn’t specifically identify the hardest-hit states as having been won by Trump. But their findings illustrate the impact of a gas tax increase on areas where the president dominated in the 2016 vote.

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These are the states facing largest potential percentage increase over current gas tax proposal, according to the two groups: Alaska, 81 percent; Oklahoma, 71 percent; Missouri, 70 percent; Mississippi, New Mexico and Arizona, 67 percent; Texas and Louisiana, 65 percent; and South Carolina and Alabama, 64 percent.

Those with the lowest state taxes would see the largest bump because they’re starting from a smaller base. The only state among the top 10 that Trump didn’t win is New Mexico.

The chamber has recommended increasing the federal gas tax 5 cents per year during the next five years and indexing it to inflation — to raise $394 billion over 10 years. The bump would cost an average American about $9 a month more in gas taxes, the chamber said.

The federal per-gallon taxes of 18.4 cents on gasoline and 24.4 cents on diesel were last raised in 1993. Since then, the revenue they generate has declined as inflation has reduced their purchasing power and the average fuel economy of passenger vehicles has increased.

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Man sentenced to 15 years in prison for fatal DUI crash in Jefferson County

The Denver Post - February 20, 2018 - 9:28pm
First Judicial District AttorneyAh Jung

A 26-year-old man has been sentenced to 15 years in prison for vehicular homicide involving a DUI crash in Jefferson County that killed an 85-year-old man.

Ah Jung also will serve five years of probation when his prison sentence is completed, according to the district attorney’s office. Jung was sentenced Feb. 16 after being convicted in December of vehicular homicide-DUI, four counts of vehicular assault-DUI, and DUI, according to a news release.

On Dec. 13, 2015, Jung was driving west on U.S. 6 in Clear Creek Canyon when he lost control. His vehicle slid into oncoming traffic. Jung and three other friends in the vehicle had been drinking at a home in Aurora and were on their way to Black Hawk. Jung’s blood-alcohol content was .22, almost three times the legal limit, according to the news release.

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Jung’s vehicle collided with an eastbound car driven by 78-year-old Karen Hanson. Hanson, husband Howard and three passengers in Jung’s vehicle were injured seriously.

Howard Hanson, who suffered numerous rib fractures and a fractured sternum, died of his injuries on Jan. 12, 2016.

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“Top Chef” Colorado headed to Telluride for episode 11 (spoiler alert!)

The Denver Post - February 20, 2018 - 9:09pm

Because we’re determined to stay on top of all things “Top Chef” while the Bravo show is in our own backyard, we’re offering recaps of all episodes. Here’s the rundown on Episode 11, which took place in Telluride.

Local places highlighted in this episode: This was probably the most beautiful episode yet, given it was shot in Telluride and all. The chefs stayed at the Madeline Hotel and headed down the mountain to the New Sheridan bar for the Quickfire challenge.

Then they cooked outside in the street, right smack in the middle of downtown Telluride. Interesting strategy for trying to keep the finalists under wraps, but hey, Bravo knows best.

The Elimination Challenge took place at Alpino Vino, North America’s highest restaurant at 12,000 feet. Cooking at such high altitude threw everyone for a loop, especially as the challenge required them to include a baked element on the plate.

How our Colorado chef did: Carrie Baird (Bar Dough) won the Quickfire challenge with another toast dish, which upset Mustache Joe.

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In spite of making a tasty ribeye and cornbread dish, Baird was in the bottom two of the Elimination Challenge. The judges thought she played it too safe. “Carrie’s dish doesn’t have a distinct point of view,” host Padma Lakshmi said.

Drama: The remaining chefs are super excited about being down to the final four, but wait! The winner of Last Chance Kitchen comes back! And it’s…Joe Flamm!

Challenge-winning dish: Mustache Joe won again. This time with duck and puffs.

Eliminated contestant: Chris Scott (Butterfunk Kitchen in Brooklyn, NY)

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Man who fired gun at exotic dancer, Lakewood police is convicted of felonies

The Denver Post - February 20, 2018 - 9:04pm
First Judicial District AttorneyEric James St. George

A man who fired shots at Lakewood police has been convicted of multiple felonies, including two counts of attempted murder.

Eric James St. George, 40, was found guilty this month by a Jefferson County jury after a seven-day trial, according to the district attorney’s office.

St. George also was convicted of two counts of first-degree assault (threat to a peace officer), three counts of menacing, illegal discharge of a firearm and unlawful sexual contact.

On July 31, 2016,  a woman called 911 saying she had just left St. George’s house, in the 8100 block of West Eastman Place, and he followed her outside and fired a gun at her. The woman, an exotic dancer, said St. George paid her to dance for him at his home, but during the session he started groping her. She protested and left the home, according to the district attorney’s office, then shots were fired.

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When officers arrived, they unsuccessfully tried to contact St. George by telephone. Police set up a perimeter around the home, St. George came out and fired a shotgun, three times, at an officer who took cover behind a vehicle. The officer, who was not hit, fired at St. George, hitting him. During the incident St. George fired three weapons at police, the release said.

St. George is scheduled to be sentenced April 4.

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