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Updated: 11 min 28 sec ago

Aaden Valdez falls short in improbable pursuit of 4A title but inspires statewide wrestling community

24 min 29 sec ago

Aaden Valdez leaned against the brick wall in a quiet, dark corner of the Pepsi Center, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“The last couple seconds just keep replaying in my head right now,” said the Class 4A 132-pound sophomore from Pueblo East. “There’s a lot of emotions that are hard to explain.”

That Valdez would be wrestling Saturday night for a state championship seemed an improbable — if not impossible — outcome just seven months ago. A devastating fireworks accident on July 4th robbed Valdez of his left eye and all but the pinkie finger on his left hand.

Yet, there he was, clinging to a 1-0 lead over Air Academy senior Jason Hanenberg with the final seconds ticking down in the third period. Since recording the match’s first point on an escape midway through the second period, Valdez had spilled every last ounce of energy in an unforgettable season as he attempted to keep the lanky Hanenberg at bay.

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As the final whistle approached, East coach Pat Laughlin rose from his folding chair at the end of the mat, his pounding heart bringing him to his feet. He was inching toward the sweetest of embraces.

Then, in a flash, it was gone.

A stunning reversal just as the period ended gave Hanenberg a 2-1 victory. The cinderella story of the young kid who showed up to the gym in Pueblo seven days after the devastating accident closed with a cruel twist.

“I’m just heartbroken for him,” said Laughlin, his voice cracking. “He’s an inspiration to all of us. To come back from his injury and to be where he’s at, that’s a statement right there.”

The coach pleaded for an explanation from the referee after the match. Laughlin believed his wrestler was still in control as the final second ticked away.

“It was a poor call,” he said. “Call it what it is.”

“I feel anger. I feel sad,” said Valdez, who said he was stunned by the match’s closing moments.

In the immediate aftermath of the match, as Valdez grappled with a wave of emotions, others were quick to provide prospective on all his season had meant. Not just to Valdez or his East teammates or the city of Pueblo, but to everyone touched by his story.

Hanenberg and Valdez first met 10 years ago when they competed on an elite youth traveling team together. They hadn’t kept in touch much as they began high school in separate towns, but the Colorado wrestling community is a tight-knit one. So when Hanenberg first heard what had happened to Valdez, he thought back to battles they had all those years earlier.

“To see him push through it how he is, it inspires me to do better,” said Hanenberg, whose own grit was on display after an unsuccessful escape attempts mounted earlier in the match. “It shows us how far you can go, even with limitations.”

 

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Colorado Buffaloes come up short against Washington Huskies

28 min 30 sec ago

SEATTLE — Matisse Thybulle scored a career-high 26 points and Noah Dickerson added 14 as Washington snapped a three-game losing skid by pulling away for an 82-59 victory over Colorado in a Pac-12 Conference game on Saturday night.

Dominic Green added 11 points for the Huskies (18-9, 8-6). Tyler Bey scored 11 points and McKinley Wright IV had 10 for Colorado (15-12, 7-8).

Washington, which let an eight-point halftime lead evaporate in a 70-58 home court loss to Utah on Thursday, maintained its second-half composure against the Buffaloes.

The Huskies led 39-34 at the break and then outscored Colorado 21-6 to open the second half. Two free throws by Thybulle put Washington up 60-40 with 11:56 remaining.

Boxscore

The Buffaloes pulled within 66-50, but Thybulle sandwiched a pair of 3-pointers around a steal and breakaway dunk to extend the advantage to 74-52 with 4:16 remaining.

Thybulle, a 6-5 junior guard from nearby Issaquah, Washington, made 8 of 11 shots, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc, and was 6 of 6 from the free-throw line. His previous career high was 20 against Yale last season.

BIG PICTURE

Washington: The Huskies appeared headed toward an NCAA Tournament berth after consecutive home victories over ranked Arizona State and Arizona. Three consecutive losses that followed have them back on the bubble. Their final two regular season games are at home, where they are 14-3.

Colorado: The Buffaloes had won three straight before a costly loss on Thursday at last-place Washington State. Next up are USC and UCLA at home, where Colorado is 11-2. The Buffs finish the regular season at Utah.

THOMAS’ JERSEY RETIRED

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Former Washington standout Isaiah Thomas, now a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, had his No. 2 jersey retired at halftime. Thomas becomes the third UW player to have his number retired, joining Bob Houbregs (No. 25) and Brandon Roy (No. 3).

UP NEXT

Washington is at Stanford on Thursday.

Colorado hosts USC on Wednesday.



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CU Boulder grapples with plummeting support of higher education among conservatives

54 min 1 sec ago
Jeremy Papasso, Daily CameraUniversity of Colorado law students and CU Black Law Students Association members April Connally, left, Aisha May, Ariel Amaru, Arethra Frazier and Bria May silently protested as Wall Street Journal Columnist and Fox News Contributor Jason Riley spoke inside the Wolf Law Building on the University of Colorado campus in Boulder on Wednesday.

The University of Colorado leadership is grappling with how to address a nationwide nosedive in the favorability of higher education — particularly, among conservatives — as CU’s own representatives and decision-makers disagree on what’s behind the downturn.

Thirty-six percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents said colleges and universities had a positive effect on the way things are going in the country, with 58 percent saying higher education had a negative impact on the nation, according to a 2017 Pew Research study. The Republicans’ now minority support for higher education dropped 18 points in the past two years.

Among Democrats and those who lean left, 72 percent viewed universities as having a positive impact on the U.S., with 19 percent thinking the opposite.

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CU administration is well-aware of the study’s findings and agrees the results are a troubling sign of the times that shouldn’t be ignored.

Collective agreements on the matter end there.

CU Board of Regents Chair Sue Sharkey, R- Castle Rock, attributed the decline to a snowballing shift on college campuses making them increasingly uninviting to conservative viewpoints.

Read the full story at dailycamera.com.

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Colorado jury finds caregiver guilty for neglecting cousin

1 hour 4 min ago

PUEBLO — A man has been found guilty on felony neglect charges in Colorado after authorities said he let a disabled cousin with Down syndrome wither to a mere 60 pounds.

The Pueblo Chieftain reports a jury convicted 52-year-old Michael Esquibel Thursday on charges of neglect and serious bodily injury to an at-risk adult, which could send him to prison for up to six years.

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Esquibel was the caregiver for his 47-year-old cousin, Karl Martinez, who died in December 2010 after being hospitalized for more than year.

In November 2009, medical crews were reportedly called to Esquibel’s home after neighbors witnessed him carrying Martinez to a vehicle. The victim was found to have a broken femur and severe bedsores and weighed only 60 pounds.

Information from: The Pueblo Chieftain

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Suspect killed by deputy in shootout on Colorado-Utah border

1 hour 9 min ago

CORTEZ — A suspect was killed during a shootout with a sheriff’s deputy following a high-speed pursuit that ended near the Colorado-Utah border.

Montezuma County Sheriff Steve Nowlin told the Cortez Journal that the shootout occurred Thursay afternoon near Canyons of the Ancients National Monument, about 30 miles west of Cortez, Colorado.

Nowlin says a deputy had pulled over a car with three occupants but the vehicle pulled away when the deputy approached.

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During a subsequent 10-mile, high-speed pursuit, the deputy was reportedly fired up on by someone in the vehicle. After the suspects’ vehicle got a flat tire and came to a stop, Nowlin said one of the occupants shot at the deputy who returned fire and killed the suspect.

Names of the suspects and deputy were not released.

Information from: Cortez Journal

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Colorado State basketball continues to struggle with loss to Fresno State

1 hour 15 min ago

FRESNO, Calif. — Bryson Williams scored 19 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, leading six players in double-figure scoring and Fresno State downed Colorado State 86-65 on Saturday night.

Deshon Taylor added 13 points for the Bulldogs (19-8, 9-5 Mountain West) who have won four straight. Jaron Hopkins had 12 points, seven rebounds and six assists, Terrell Carter II had 11 points and Ray Bowles Jr. and Jahmel Taylor had 10 points apiece. The Fresno State bench contributed 32 points.

The Bulldogs shot 55 percent from the field compared to 43 percent for Colorado State.

Fresno State led 37-26 at the break and a Bowles 3-pointer early in the second half made it 50-37 with 14:40 to play. Colorado State pulled as close as 60-45 on a Nico Carvacho layup with 8:42 remaining before the Bulldogs stretched it out again and cruised to the win.

Che Bob scored 15 points for the Rams (11-17, 4-11). Carvacho added 14 points and led the team with 11 rebounds.

Boxscore

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New, tougher municipal code results in hefty fines for four skiing in closed areas at Snowmass

1 hour 21 min ago

Four people caught skiing in a closed area at Snowmass on Friday paid a steep price for their brief indulgence, police said.

The four skiers became the first people fined $250 each for violating the Snowmass Village municipal code forbidding people from skiing closed areas, said Snowmass Village Sgt. Dave Heivly. In addition, ski patrollers yanked ski passes from each offender, he said.

The first two — a 15-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy both from Silt — were caught entering the KT Gully area in Snowmass about 10 a.m., around the same time ski patrol was using explosives for avalanche control, Heivly said. KT Gully was roped off and closed at the time because of the avalanche work, he said.

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About 45 minutes later, two Brazilian men in their mid-30s entered the same area and were nabbed by ski patrollers, Heivly said.

Snowmass Village police officers volunteer one day a week to work at the Snowmass Village Ski Area as security officers, he said. Ski patrol brought the four men to Heivly, who wrote them tickets, he said.

Read the full story at aspentimes.com.

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Boulder County 4-H leaders cancel new gun display at annual event

1 hour 57 min ago
Matthew Jonas, Times-CallThe annual tack show will be held Feb. 24 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds. The Boulder County Shooting Sports Council was approved to host a table exhibiting guns, but officials decided to prohibit firearms at the event.

Boulder County 4-H officials prohibited a gun display as an addition to this year’s annual tack show Feb. 24 at the Boulder County Fairgrounds just hours before 15-year-old 4-H member Tegan Brown told leaders she would not attend the event if firearms were present.

When Brown’s mom, Candice Brown, president of the Boulder County 4-H adult advisory committee, learned that the 4-H-led Boulder County Shooting Sports Council was approved to host a tack show table exhibiting .22 caliber rifles and pistols as well as shotguns and archery equipment, she worried about the message the new display would send to youth.

The tack show gives a sales and trading platform to vendors of new and used saddles, reins and other livestock equipment, and is open to the general public as well as 4-H members.

4-H is a youth agricultural program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture operating through a network of 110 public universities and includes nearly 6 million participants nationwide, according to 4-H.org.

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Sam Lowry, a specialist with the Colorado State University 4-H extension office in charge of animal science and shooting sports programs, originally said in an interview that he was still unsure of the role firearms would play at the upcoming tack show, but sent an email late Friday night saying officials had decided Wednesday morning to cancel the gun display that was planned.

A 4-H member and annual attendee of the tack show since 2010, Tegan Brown said the event has never included firearm displays in her experience.

Read the full story at dailycamera.com.

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Trump administration assault on bipartisan immigration plan ensured its demise

2 hours 8 min ago

WASHINGTON – As much of the country was gripped Wednesday by horrific images from the mass shooting at a Florida high school, two dozen senior Trump administration officials worked frantically into the night to thwart what they considered a different national security threat.

The looming danger on the minds of the officials was a piece of legislation scheduled for a vote the next day in the Senate. It was designed to spare hundreds of thousands of young immigrants known as “dreamers” from deportation – but to the men and women huddled in a makeshift war room in a Department of Homeland Security facility, the measure would blow open U.S. borders to lawless intruders.

“We’re going to bury it,” one senior administration official told a reporter about 10:30 that evening.

The assault was relentless – a flurry of attacks on the bill from DHS officials and the Justice Department, and a veto threat from the White House – and hours later, the measure died on the Senate floor.

The Trump administration’s extraordinary 11th-hour strategy to sabotage the bill showed how, after weeks of intense bipartisan negotiations on Capitol Hill, it was the White House that emerged as a key obstacle preventing a deal to help the dreamers.

The episode reflected President Donald Trump’s inability – or lack of desire – to cut a deal with his adversaries even when doing so could have yielded a signature domestic policy achievement and delivered the U.S.-Mexico border wall he repeatedly promised during the campaign.

Along the way, Trump demonstrated the sort of unpredictable behavior that has come to define his topsy-turvy tenure, frequently sending mixed signals that kept leaders in both parties guessing.

Trump told lawmakers last month he would sign any immigration bill that made it to his desk. At one point in the fall, to the chagrin of some in the GOP, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., thought they had a deal, giving Trump billions of dollars for the wall in exchange for a “dreamer” fix. Immigration advocates recalled that Trump, last year, had told the dreamers they could “rest easy.”

In the end, Trump remained loyal to restrictionist advisers and allies, who have pressed the president to be true to his hard-line rhetoric on the issue. And Democrats and some GOP centrists are asking whether Trump ever really wanted to reach a deal in the fall when he terminated the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, placing in limbo the lives of nearly 700,000 young undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

“People will begin to question the president’s credibility over his statements that he feels empathy for these young people,” said Enrique Gonzalez, a Miami-based immigration attorney who previously served as a policy adviser to Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.

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Up against legislation that was gaining steam in the Senate, the administration executed its attack with military precision.

Shortly before 1 a.m. Thursday, DHS blasted out a blistering three-page statement warning that the bipartisan bill would create “a Sanctuary Nation where ignoring the rule of law is encouraged.” Hours later, Attorney General Jeff Sessions declared the bill would “invite a mad rush of illegality across our borders.” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders issued a veto threat.

The plan did not stand a chance.

The bill’s demise, along with the failure of three alternative immigration measures, has left the Senate talks in tatters and convinced many on Capitol Hill that nothing will be done in an election year.

A Democratic Senate aide involved in the negotiations said Trump “allowed himself to be pulled 20 times” by his senior advisers after he had tiptoed toward a deal with Democrats. A number of Senate Republicans were on the fence, and “as soon as the president came out against it, we knew they would not go for it,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “To his credit, he leveraged his DACA position to get Democrats to vote for his wall – and yet he still turned it down. He’s not going to get another shot this clean to get a wall. He tossed that away for good.”

Some on Capitol Hill pointed to Trump’s rejection of a different bipartisan proposal last month from Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill., and to the president’s use of a vulgar term to describe African countries, Haiti and El Salvador during a bipartisan immigration meeting – an outburst that made it politically impossible for Democrats to accede to Trump’s demands to terminate a diversity visa lottery program.

In the end, a president who promised to build a border wall paid for by Mexico balked over an immigration deal that would have given him a $25 billion down payment from U.S. taxpayers. A president who last year advised dreamers to “rest easy” and told lawmakers last month at the White House that he wanted a “bill of love” torpedoed an effort backed by 16 senators on Valentine’s Day.

White House aides and Trump allies in Congress fiercely rejected the idea that the president was not operating on the level. In their view, the president moved as close to the middle as possible in the Senate talks – given that any bill with a reasonable chance at becoming law would have to pass the more conservative House.

Trump’s immigration framework, sent to the Hill late last month, included a path to citizenship for 1.8 million dreamers – more than twice as many as enrolled in DACA.

For Republicans, Trump’s willingness to offer a path to citizenship to a much larger group of dreamers meant any Democratic concessions had to go well beyond a border wall.

The president’s demands for large cuts to legal family immigration programs and the elimination of the diversity visa lottery were intended to balance out the legalization of the dreamers, the aides said.

Thanks to a push from Trump’s hard-line advisers and key lawmakers – and conservative media outlets that amplified threats from “chain migration” and the visa lottery – curbs to legal immigration became a central part of the GOP demands.

“If you would have said at the beginning of President Trump’s administration that one year in he is willing to grant a pathway to citizenship for 1.8 million currently illegal immigrants, your jaw would have hit the floor, right? I mean, that is not a concession that is commensurate with a wall,” said Josh Holmes, a Republican consultant who is close to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “The opportunity here was to do something further than the bare minimum.”

The bipartisan plan from the Senate’s self-styled “Common Sense Coalition” did not touch the diversity visa program and made relatively minor changes to family immigration rules. But as the “war room” of administration lawyers and policy experts examined the 64-page text on Wednesday, it was a handwritten note on the final page that set off the loudest alarm bells.

That section dealt with setting in law DHS’s priorities for enforcement. Under the proposal, the agency would focus its powers on immigrants with felonies or multiple misdemeanors, who were national security threats and who had arrived in the country after a certain date.

Scribbled in the margins was a date: June 30, 2018.

The administration team was dumbstruck: In addition to making it harder for DHS to deport all of those already here illegally, lawmakers were opening the door to a surge of new unauthorized immigrants by setting an effective “amnesty” date four months in the future.

“No one who has worked on immigration issues in the administration or on the Hill was aware of any legislation that had ever been proposed and scheduled to receive a vote on the floor of the Senate that created an amnesty program effectively for those who arrive in the future,” said a DHS official who helped lead the review. “That would clearly and unequivocally encourage a massive wave of illegal immigration and visa overstays.”

Democrats later explained that the date was an estimate of when key provisions in the bill would begin to take effect after an implementation period. The Trump administration had other objections, but officials said it was that provision that persuaded them to ramp up the coordinated effort to sink the bill.

A Republican Senate aide, whose office worked closely with the White House, agreed that the bill was flawed but expressed surprise at the ferocity of DHS’s opposition.

“If anything, I would have preferred the DHS statement to be a little ratcheted back,” said the aide, who was not authorized to speak on the record. “But I appreciated the clarity of the statement.”

Republican moderates were apoplectic at the administration’s assault on the bill. Graham accused DHS of “acting more like a political organization intent on poisoning the well.” He laid blame at the feet of White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller and a former Republican congressional aide who now works at DHS – both considered immigration hard-liners.

The same senior official who spoke to The Washington Post on Wednesday night disputed Graham’s account, emphasizing that it was the DHS team, which included a number of career officials who are not political appointees, that led the way in opposing the bipartisan proposal. Given the condensed timetable for the Senate’s floor votes, administration officials said they had no choice but to respond quickly and forcefully.

“This was a pretty dangerous situation,” the official said. “Saying that we had 24 hours to prevent one of the greatest enforcement catastrophes in modern times but somehow we should have calibrated that statement more is ridiculous Monday-morning quarterbacking.”

Trump threw his support behind an alternative bill from Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, that more closely hewed to his immigration framework. That bill got the least support – 39 votes in favor and 60 against – of any of the plans the Senate considered.

By Friday morning, the political blame game was underway. “Cannot believe how BADLY DACA recipients have been treated by the Democrats . . . totally abandoned!” Trump wrote on Twitter. “Republicans are still working hard.”

Allies of the White House said the president feels emboldened, given that Senate Democrats had caved in three days into a partial government shutdown last month, giving up their initial demand to tie an immigration deal to a must-pass spending bill. Also, Trump’s success in obtaining the concession for the $25 billion for his border wall has now become a starting point in any future talks, they said.

“He’s been very consistent and firm in supporting a four-pillar approach, and I expect him to remain that way,” said Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., head of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which is pushing Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., to support a more restrictive immigration bill.

But Trump’s rivals said Republicans will be tagged as the anti-immigration party in a nation in which the fastest-growing voting blocs are Latinos and Asian Americans.

“He ended the program,” the Democratic Senate aide said of Trump. “He’s the one who repeatedly said no to bipartisan efforts to fix it.”

The Washington Post’s Ed O’Keefe contributed to this story.

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Romney, favored in Senate bid, could take on outsized role

2 hours 17 min ago

WASHINGTON — Mitt Romney’s extensive resume has many Republicans looking to him to take on a role in the Senate as a political and moral counterweight to a president many in the GOP see as divisive and undignified.

First he has to get elected.

The 2012 GOP nominee for president announced Friday he is running for the Utah Senate seat being vacated by GOP Sen. Orrin Hatch.

Romney, 70, is among the best-known names in U.S. politics. He has been a successful businessman, governor of heavily Democratic Massachusetts, Olympics rescuer and, more recently, one of his party’s fiercest critics of President Donald Trump.

Arizona Sen. John McCain, who often has taken on Trump, was quick to welcome Romney, his rival in the 2008 White House race.

In a tweet Friday shortly after Romney announced his Senate bid, McCain said Romney “has shown the country what it means to lead with honor, integrity and civility. The people of #Utah and the nation need his strong voice, resolve and service now more than ever.”

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said Romney would bring the prestige of his previous roles to the Senate.

“I think he will be a plus-plus in the Senate,” Shelby said, calling Romney “a thoughtful man” and a leader who at 70 is senior enough to be an elder statesman.

Shelby, 83, has had his differences with Trump. He publicly opposed a GOP nominee backed by Trump in Alabama’s closely watched Senate race last year, declaring before the election that “the state of Alabama deserves better” than Roy Moore, a former judge accused of sexual contact with teenage girls decades ago.

Romney has the stature to make similar declarations when — or if — they are needed, Shelby said. “I know the governor and I think he would support good ideas,” Shelby said.

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Romney, a heavy favorite to win the Senate seat, will step in “immediately” as a leader in the Senate, said Idaho Sen. Jim Risch, who got to know Romney when both served as governors and when he co-chaired Romney’s presidential campaigns in Idaho.

“He has broad experience, he has the prestige. He’ll jump right in,” Risch said.

Those expectations are based largely on Romney’s record, rather than recent accomplishments. Romney has not served in elected office in more than a decade and lost bids for president in 2008 and 2012.

Trump has seized on Romney’s failed presidential bids, saying in 2016 that Romney “choked like a dog.”

It’s not clear how Romney will relate to the president as a candidate or as a senator, should he win. While he denounced Trump during the 2016 presidential campaign, Romney softened his stance after the election and put himself forward as a candidate for secretary of state before Trump looked elsewhere.

Since then, Romney has spoken up from afar. He called out Trump after a deadly white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, and lashed out again last month when Trump used an obscenity to describe African countries during a White House meeting on immigration.

“The poverty of an aspiring immigrant’s nation of origin is as irrelevant as their race,” Romney tweeted, adding that comments attributed to the president were inconsistent with “America’s history and antithetical to American values.”

Despite those criticisms, Democrats say Romney and Trump are not all that different.

“While Mitt Romney desperately wants to separate himself from the extremism of the current administration, the basic policies of Trump’s GOP were his before they were Donald Trump’s,” said DNC spokesman Vedant Patel, citing the recently enacted GOP tax cuts and efforts to repeal former President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Patel called Romney “another multimillionaire looking out for himself, his rich neighbors and the special interests.”

If he does go after Trump, Romney will find himself among a dwindling breed in Congress. McCain, who is suffering from brain cancer, has not appeared in the Senate since before Christmas, while fellow Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake is retiring at the end of the year. Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., also has had public disputes with Trump, but has not criticized Trump in months and is reportedly reconsidering plans to retire.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, Romney’s 2012 running mate, said Romney’s “unparalleled experience, conservative leadership and lifetime of service” will serve him and Utah well in the Senate.

Romney “has my unwavering support, and the people of Utah will be getting an accomplished and decent man when they make him their next senator,” Ryan said.

Kirk Jowers, the former chairman and general counsel of Romney’s leadership PACs, said Romney “will always be a straight shooter” and will support the president when he takes actions that are good for America.

“If President Trump says or does something that he finds offensive or divisive, unnecessarily divisive, then I think you will continue to hear Romney as the voice of reason and conscience in the Republican Party,” Jowers said.

 

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What does a bear do in the Alaska woods? Disperse seeds

2 hours 23 min ago

ANCHORAGE, Alaska — Does a bear leave scat in the woods? The answer is obvious but the effects on an ecosystem may not be.

A study by Oregon State University researchers concludes that brown and black bears, and not birds, as commonly thought, are primary distributers of small fruit seeds in southeast Alaska, spreading the seeds through their excrement.

“Bears are essentially like farmers,” said Taal Levi, an Oregon State assistant professor. “By planting seeds everywhere, they promote a vegetation community that feeds them.”

Seed dispersal is a key component in the understanding of any ecosystem, Levi said. The study is the first instance of a temperate plant being primarily dispersed by mammals through their gut, Levi said. The finding suggests repercussions for plant life when bears are removed.

Brown bears, or grizzlies, flourish in size and numbers in the Tongass National Forest, America’s largest, because they gorge on spawning salmon. As they wait for fish to enter streams, they eat berries.

Levi and graduate student Laurie Harrer, the study’s primary author, set up motion-triggered video cameras to detect what was eating berries. The collected bear DNA from saliva left on plants after berries disappeared. They recorded birds picking off a few berries at a time but bears gulping them by the hundreds.

When brown bears shift to eating fish, black bears move into berry patches.

Both bears, through their scat, disperse fruit seeds by the thousands, profoundly affecting what grows in the forest, according to the researchers.

Rodents that find bear scat further disperse seeds, burying them in caches a few millimeters deep, Levi said. If rodents lose track of caches, there’s a chance for new plant growth.

It’s an intricate system starting with salmon attracting bears, Levi said.

Laura Gough, an ecologist at Towson University who has conducted research for more than 20 years on how plants interact with other organisms in Alaska’s tundra, said a lot of ecology research focuses on uncovering those relationships and how whole systems change if they’re disrupted.

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“When you think about that, if the species is an important food source, then if that plant should diminish in abundance, there could be a whole suite of changes to that ecosystem,” she said.

When she read the study, she said, she thought of the dodo bird stories she tells to students in biology classes. The extinct birds spread seeds of certain plants.

“When dodos went extinct, those plants basically went extinct as well,” she said. “So, this link between animals that eat plant seeds and disperses them — that can maintain both populations.”

The Oregon State study concludes that if bears are removed, the seeds they move would simply fall to the ground. A decline in bear density, even if only brown bears, likely leads to a reduction in seed dispersal with consequences for plants.

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Joe Biden, in public and private, tiptoes toward a 2020 run

2 hours 40 min ago

WASHINGTON — Former Vice President Joe Biden is tiptoeing toward a potential run in 2020, even broaching the possibility during a recent gathering of longtime foreign policy aides.

Huddled in his newly opened office steps from the U.S. Capitol, Biden began a planning meeting for his new diplomacy center by addressing the elephant in the room. He said he was keeping his 2020 options open, considering it a real possibility. He insisted he had made no decision, and didn’t need to yet, according to five people who either attended the meeting or were briefed on it by those who did.

Biden also expressed interest in bringing those in the room onto his team if he decides to launch a campaign. At the same time, he gave them an out: There would be no hard feelings if they decided they were content in their current roles outside of government, said the people, who demanded anonymity to discuss a private meeting.

The political world has long tried to game out Biden’s plans for 2020. After all, he came close to running last time only to see President Donald Trump pull off a victory that many Democrats openly suggest wouldn’t have happened had he, not Hillary Clinton, been their nominee. Several people came away from the meeting with the impression that if no strong Democratic candidate emerges in the next year or so, Biden would feel strongly compelled to run.

A presidential candidate twice before, Biden would be 78 on Inauguration Day if elected in 2020, a concerning prospect for some Democrats even though he’s only a few years older than Trump. One possibility that Biden’s longtime advisers have discussed privately is that he could announce his intention to serve only one term, clearing the path for his running mate to take over in 2024 and potentially setting up Democrats for a 12-year White House stretch.

Biden’s brief discussion about his 2020 deliberations came as he brought foreign policy staffers together to set the 2018 agenda for the newly opened Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement — where many of them are now working, including Colin Kahl, his vice presidential national security adviser, and Steve Ricchetti, his former chief of staff. Eli Ratner, his former deputy national security adviser, and Mike Carpenter, the former Pentagon and State Department official who’s now the center’s senior director, also attended, as did Julianne Smith, a Biden adviser in the Obama administration’s first term who now works at the Center for a New American Security, a Washington think tank.

A Biden spokesman declined to comment. But in a recent NBC News interview, Biden said he’d decide on running in 2020 based on whether it was “the right thing to do.”

“I’m focused on one thing: electing a Democratic Congress to stop this erosion of the core of who we are,” Biden said. “I’ll look at that a year from now. I have plenty of time to consider whether or not to run.”

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The meeting was one of several signs that Biden is beginning to position himself as an alternative to Trump. Biden has started denouncing the current president’s leadership more frequently in public, as he crisscrosses the United States and beyond to promote his new book, his cancer initiative, his new domestic policy institute in Delaware, the diplomacy center and his new political action committee, American Possibilities.

He’s also been gearing up to play a major role campaigning for Democrats seeking to retake the House and Senate in the 2018 midterms.

“Donald Trump’s looking out for Donald Trump. Republicans are looking out for Donald Trump. Who’s looking out for everyone else? Democrats,” Biden wrote in a recent fundraising pitch to the PAC’s supporters. He said in 2018, he would “beat a path all across this country to stand up for leaders who will stand up for all of us.”

In 2015, Biden’s face was plastered across cable news channels and newspaper front pages for months as he carried out a lengthy deliberation about whether to challenge Clinton for the nomination. Ultimately, he decided he and his family weren’t in position to run so soon after his son, former Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden, died from brain cancer earlier that year. Yet many Democrats have argued that his “everyman” brand and blue-collar appeal would make him particularly well-suited to challenge Trump.

 

Categories: All Denver News.

Helicopter on earthquake mission flips in Mexico, kills 13 on ground

2 hours 42 min ago

MEXICO CITY — A military helicopter carrying officials who were assessing damage from a powerful earthquake flipped as it was attempting to land in southern Mexico, crashing on top of people who had fled their homes and were spending the night outside. Thirteen people were killed — the only known fatalities related to the quake — and 16 were injured.

No one aboard the helicopter, including Interior Secretary Alfonso Navarrete and Oaxaca Gov. Alejandro Murat, was seriously hurt. Jorge Morales, a local reporter who was aboard the helicopter when it crashed Friday night, described harrowing moments as the pilot lost control and the helicopter attempted to touch down in a swirl of dust in Jamiltepec, a city in Oaxaca state close to the epicenter of the earthquake that struck earlier Friday.

“The moment the helicopter touched down it lost control, it slid — like it skidded — and it hit some vehicles that were parked alongside the area that had been defined for the landing,” Morales told a Mexican television news program. “In that moment, you couldn’t see anything, nothing else was heard beside the sound that iron makes when it scrapes the earth.”

Navarrete told local media that “as the army helicopter we were travelling in tried to land, the pilot lost control, the helicopter fell and flipped.”

A state government official who was not authorized to be quoted by name said the chopper crashed into a group of people who had been spending the night outside after the 7.2 magnitude earthquake hit the area. Aftershocks, including one of 5.8 magnitude that struck about an hour after the first, had caused people to flee their homes for fear they would collapse.

The Oaxaca state prosecutor’s office said in a statement that five women, four men and three children were killed at the crash site and another person died later at a hospital.

The Defense Department said the Blackhawk helicopter crashed as it was preparing to land in a vacant lot. The department said the victims had been waiting for the helicopter, but did not provide more details.

Navarrete and the defense department said they regretted the loss of life.

The quake damaged about 50 homes in Jamiltepec, as well as the town hall and church, according to the Interior Department. It also rocked buildings in Mexico City, about 240 miles northwest, and many other parts of the country.

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But the damage was minimal compared to a massive 8.2 quake that struck in the same general area on Sept. 7 and a 7.1 magnitude quake on Sept. 19, which killed a total of 471 people between the two of them and damaged over 180,000 houses in eight states, including Mexico City.

The U.S. Geological Survey said Friday’s quake was centered 33 miles (53 kilometers) northeast of Pinotepa in southern Oaxaca state and had a depth of 15 miles (24 kilometers).

Two people suffered fractures caused by the quake and were treated in Pinotepa Nacional. Their lives were not in danger.

Navarrete has led the Interior Department, which oversees most political and security issues, for little over a month. Earlier this month, an intelligence agent from an agency overseen by Navarrete’s department was caught tailing an opposition presidential candidate.

Categories: All Denver News.

Can a Happy Meal ever really be “healthy”? McDonald’s is trying its best

3 hours 41 min ago

McDonald’s Happy Meal is about to get a makeover. On Thursday, the fast-food chain announced new nutrition standards for its kids’ meals and a series of upcoming menu swaps designed to make options for children healthier.

By June 2018, all of its U.S. Happy Meals will contain less than 600 calories — and most will contain less than 650 milligrams of salt. The chain is shrinking the size of the fries that come with kids’ McChicken Nuggets and reformulating its chocolate milk to make it less sugary.

Bottled water will soon become a default Happy Meal option. Cheeseburgers will drop off entirely. The chain has also promised to continue promoting fresh fruits and vegetables as a Happy Meal side, building on the success of its baby carrots and “Cutie” tangerines.

Taken together, the changes do not transform burgers or chicken nuggets into health foods. But McDonald’s and public health experts who have reviewed the chain’s plans say they have the potential to incrementally improve the diets of millions of children.

One third of U.S. kids eat fast food each day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We think McDonald’s is raising the bar,” said Howell Wechsler, the chief executive of the national public health nonprofit Alliance for a Healthier Generation, which advised McDonald’s on the menu changes. “It’s a challenge to other companies in the field to get out there and do what’s right for kids.”

In addition to the calorie and sodium goals, the chain’s new “nutrition criteria” aim to get meals below 10 percent of calories from saturated fat, and 10 percent of calories from added sugar.

McDonald’s says all menu-listed Happy Meals in the U.S. will meet these goals by June, with the exception of the sodium reduction. (Kids can also still special-request items like cheeseburgers and sodas.) In the other 120 countries where McDonald’s operates, the chain hopes to have half its meals compliant by the end of 2022.

To make that happen, the restaurant is introducing new menu options – such as a grilled chicken sandwich for kids, available in Italy – as well as tweaking the recipes and serving sizes of old ones. McDonald’s six-piece Chicken McNugget meal will now come with a 110-calorie serving of fries, instead of the standard, 230-calorie small order.

The chain is also dropping kids’ cheeseburgers, which have an extra 50 calories and 200 milligrams of sodium over regular burgers.

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This is the latest in a series of improvements that McDonald’s has made to its childrens’ menu over the past seven years, some of them in partnership with the Alliance, which works with corporations and schools to improve the food environment.

In 2011, McDonald’s announced plans to reduce added sugar and sodium in several of its Happy Meal recipes. It also added apple slices to its Happy Meals and shrunk the serving size of fries to 1.1 ounces.

Two years later, the chain agreed to drop soda as a default option in kids’ meals and to more aggressively advertise fruits and vegetables as side-dish options.

And just last November, McDonald’s swapped out the apple juice in its Happy Meals, trading Minute Maid for a lower sugar, organic juice from the brand Just Kids.

“We’ve really focused our efforts on families and children,” said Julia Braun, McDonald’s Director of Nutrition.

By most accounts, those efforts have been successful. In a report on the restaurant’s sales in 13 countries, commissioned by the Alliance last year, public policy consulting firm Keybridge found that milk, water and juice sales at McDonald’s had ticked up 9 percentage points between 2013 and 2016. Better-for-you sides have also begun to encroach on the classic red sleeve of French fries: Between 2014 and 2016, McDonald’s sold 406.2 million low-fat yogurts, and 38 million clementines.

Other restaurants have also overhauled their kids’ menus. After McDonald’s removed soda as a default option for kids, Burger King, Wendy’s, Dairy Queen and Jack in the Box followed suit.

A 2017 report by the Center for Science in the Public Interest found that the percentage of top-50 chain restaurants with sugary drinks on their kids’ menus fell from 93 percent to 74 percent over the preceding 10-year period.

“Improving beverage options on children’s menus is good for kids now and for years to come,” CSPI’s vice president for nutrition, Margo Wootan, said at the time in a statement.

Of course, some experts caution that, even with these improvements, parents shouldn’t make fast-food meals a regular part of their children’s diets. The national nonprofit Corporate Accountability, a frequent critic of McDonald’s, points out that a 600-calorie meal is still excessive for some young and less active children, according to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

Others have observed that food science can only go so far in the quest to make “junk food” nutritious. A 2014 study, published in the journal Public Health Nutrition, found that even the healthiest options at fast-food chains were so-so at best.

“McDonald’s is faced with consumer demand for healthier kids’ foods, but it’s hard to convert junk foods to health foods in any meaningful way,” said Marion Nestle, a professor of food studies and nutrition at New York University. “The approach here is tweaking.”

Still, argues Wechsler, it would be a mistake to “let perfect be the enemy of good.” He acknowledges he would like to see more changes at McDonald’s — such as offering customers in the U.S. the full array of fruits and vegetables that it sells in other parts of the world.

Until then, however, Wechsler said the improvements to McDonald’s Happy Meals constitute “real change”: a small shift that, at scale, could make a big difference in what many people eat.

“This is going to lead to a reduction in the calories, sodium, sugar and saturated fat that countless kids around the world consume,” he said. “Is there more room for improvement? Sure. But this is important progress.”

Categories: All Denver News.

Dating danger? Businesses rethink workplace romance policies

3 hours 42 min ago

NEW YORK — It happens in so many workplaces — two colleagues begin a romantic relationship. But a heightened awareness about sexual harassment means small business owners can get more anxious when employees start dating.

Many owners have consulted with employment attorneys or human resources professionals since the accusations against movie executive Harvey Weinstein in November. Some owners have created or updated their policies on dating and sexual harassment, and they’re making sure staffers know the rules and to speak up if they feel harassed.

Bosses who in the past just watched with interest as a relationship blossomed are being proactive, telling couples that if the romance sours, both people are expected to behave appropriately. And some owners are even asking couples to sign statements acknowledging that their relationship is consensual.

Sammy Musovic has seen many romances — and breakups — at his three Manhattan restaurants. After the reports about Weinstein and others, Musovic consulted with an attorney to understand what his legal liability could be if an employee relationship led to harassment charges. He decided against changing his policy that allows dating, but he’s keeping a closer eye on interactions between employees.

“When I know staffers are dating, I speak to each of them in private and just try to understand the situation,” says Musovic, who owns Sojourn, Vero Bar and Selena Rosa.

A few years ago, a manager at one of his restaurants dated a hostess, and became jealous when he saw her chatting with customers.

“I told them, ‘You guys have to stop this or someone’s going to have to find another job,'” Musovic recalls. The manager quit. On another occasion, Musovic fired an employee who wrote unwanted love letters to a co-worker.

Jacqueline Breslin, an executive with HR provider TriNet, is fielding more questions from businesses that want to know how to handle employees dating. The first step is often to determine whether companies have policies on dating and sexual harassment; if not, they need to be written.

Dating policies should set expectations for staffers’ behavior, such as that emotions should not be displayed at work. Policies must also address issues like relationships between supervisors and subordinates. Some owners might be tempted to ban employee relationships altogether. But people attracted to one another may still date on the sly. And strict policies can backfire — talented employees may choose love over a job and leave.

Problems can also arise when employees want to date clients or vendors. Those relationships have the potential for conflicts-of-interest as well as harassment issues. Ashley Hunter’s dating policy rules out relationships between her eight staffers and vendors of HM Risk Group, an insurance company based in Austin, Texas.

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“If you’re in a billion-dollar business, you can weather those problems, but I can’t,” she says.

Hunter is especially sensitive to issues around dating co-workers, having been in a romantic relationship with her chief financial officer for three years. He’s worked at the company for nine months, and everyone at the company knows of their relationship.

One option for owners is to have dating staffers sign what’s called a relationship contract, stating they’re in a consensual relationship and that they’ve read and will abide by the company’s written policy on sexual harassment.

Kate and Doug Hickey had two employees at Honolulu-based coffee grower Sunshower Farms — a supervisor and subordinate — who began a relationship in 2013. They had the couple sign a contract saying if the relationship ended and they couldn’t work together comfortably, one would have to resign.

“We did this mainly to protect ourselves” in the event of a breakup, says Kate Hickey, who was an attorney and drafted the contract. The couple eventually married and moved away. If a similar situation arises again, Hickey says she would probably consult an attorney who has more expertise about sexual harassment and draft a “more detailed” contract.

Many bosses may not even be aware of a relationship until someone mentions it. HR professionals say an owner should approach the couple, discuss the situation, and if the company requires a relationship contract, have them sign it. More complicated is when an owner suspects there’s an attraction or budding relationship — when’s the right time to step in? There’s no one answer, but a boss should certainly talk to the employees when it’s clear there’s a romantic connection.

A greater concern is what to do if the romance ends. As long as there’s no sign of a problem, the boss should respect everyone’s privacy. But if one person keeps pursuing another, an owner needs to be on alert.

“The person who’s repeatedly asking for an unwanted date needs to be told, ‘This is against company policy and we don’t tolerate this kind of harassment,'” says Michael Schmidt, an employment attorney with Cozen O’Connor in New York.

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Even if unwanted contacts take place off the company’s premises or on social media, a boss needs to intervene, Schmidt says. Businesses can be liable if they don’t address potential harassment because employees might feel they’re in a hostile working environment, Schmidt says.

Even business owners who have been part of workplace romances say they’re warier now.

Marianne Bertuna was an intern and then an associate in Arthur Aidala’s small New York law firm, starting in 1997. Aidala was attracted to her, but told himself, “This is a work person and nothing is going to happen.” He married someone else.

Meanwhile, two attorneys who were dating joined the firm and eventually married. But now, Aidala says that if any employees start a relationship, he would tell them, “You need to proceed with caution because there are a lot of lives on the line here.”

And Aidala himself? He got divorced, and he and Bertuna became a couple. In 2016, they got married.

 

Categories: All Denver News.

Kiszla: Red scare! After loss to Russia, U.S. men’s hockey team looks unworthy of gold, sliver or bronze.

4 hours 2 min ago

GANGNEUNG, South Korea – Coach Tony Granato saw red. He stood on the bench, fuming as Russia sent its top scorers back on the ice for a power play late in an embarrassing loss for the U.S. hockey team.

“I didn’t like it,” Granato said Saturday.

But the question is: Do the Americans have the strength to earn anyone’s respect, much less a medal, in the Olympic tournament?

If the Winter Games are supposed to be all about bringing the world closer together through sports, this testy night was a reminder that nothing can fuel a rivalry like a little meddling in a presidential election. There is no debate: The hockey teams from Russia and the United States don’t particularly like each other.

“It was intense. It was intense right from the puck drop,” American defenseman Jonathon Blum said.

Russia hit the United States with two goals by Ilya Kovalchuk within 33 seconds on either side of the end of the second period, and bullied the United States from start to finish in a 4-0 victory.

For every shout of “ROSS-I-YA!” that rattled the arena roof, there was a loud-and-proud chant of “U-S-A!”

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But that was the only thing about the game that was even. It got chippy, with Jordan Greenway and Nikolai Prokhorkin coming about as close to an old-time hockey fight as you’ll ever see on Olympic ice.

It was so lopsided I swear you could hear Vladimir Putin laughing from 4,000 miles away. I believe the Russian word for it is pronounced “unichtozheniye.” Annihilation.

Harvard star Ryan Donato has been the best player wearing a red, white and blue sweater, one of the few consistently dangerous scoring threats. Donato clanged the crossbar behind Russian goalie Vasily Koshechkin late in the first period. And that was about as much noise as the Americans made on offense.

“There is no bigger venue than the Olympics. And there’s no bigger rivalry than Russia-USA,” said Donato, who has scored half of the Americans’ four goals in the tournament.

Donato skates on a line with University of Denver star Troy Terry. They have been aggressive. But the U.S. attack has been too timid. What’s the answer?

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“Getting in front of the net. Getting shots on it,” Donato said. “I think there were a lot of times (against Russia) where we had the shot, but decided not to take it and tried to make a backdoor pass. I think we’ve just got to get as many shots on net as we can.”

Before the Olympic tournament began, Granato insisted his team would not require a miracle to win the championship. After winning only one of three times in its group, the United States has been forced into the qualification round on Tuesday, which will require no fewer than three victories in its next four games to claim  a medal of any color.

So I asked Granato if he still believes there’s no need for a miracle?

“Yes, I still feel that way,” replied Granato, itching to get another shot at Russia. “I’d like to play this team again sometime.”



Categories: All Denver News.

Kickin’ it with Kiz: Here’s an innovative idea to get Broncos safety Steve Atwater into the Pro Football Hall of Fame

4 hours 12 min ago

Too many deserving NFL players are not getting in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, while voters are busy inducting contributors (Washington Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard, for example). The Hall needs to create a very special “catch-up” year for players only. Maybe once a decade? The induction process is honored more than worthy players left on the outside looking in.

Gary, Broncos fan

Kiz: Like many august American institutions, the Pro Football Hall of Fame takes itself a wee bit too seriously. It’s a party. The more the merrier. So, if once a decade, Hall passes are given to players that have been overlooked, what would the harm be? It might be the only way to get Steve Atwater a much-deserved gold jacket.

I am an honorably discharged military veteran and an American sports fan that cheered for snowboarder Shaun White winning gold in the halfpipe, then watched in horror as this clueless hero dragged the United States flag around like it was some rag. White owes us all an apology. Should the U.S. Olympic Committee include some training on how to handle the flag?

Ric, Centennial

Kiz: White did apologize for letting the flag drag in the snow, when I asked him about it. We want the Olympics to stick to sports, until a U.S. athlete wins gold.  Then, the first thing we want to do is wrap the happy medalist in the flag. The ritual has reduced the flag so many hold sacred into a mere prop for a photo opportunity.

Kiz, your columns on EagleVail skier Mikaela Shiffrin have been especially great. You are, without a doubt, the best sports writer ever! Your insights and writing skills are amazing, and you are able to capture our hearts and souls with the finest prose. May you keep writing forever.

Paul, world-traveling scientist

Kiz: Aw, shucks.

Kiz, I’ve read enough of your columns to assimilate the fact that you don’t know much about sports. We the American people deserve better than Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. Would you want to comment on that? Maybe you know more about politics than sports.

Steve, Denver

Kiz: I know nothing about anything, as Broncos general manager John Elway be glad to tell you.

Do the Nuggets regret not holding onto Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell, after taking him in the first round, then promptly trading him away?

Jon, amateur general manager

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Kiz: Denver drafted Mitchell for the singular purpose of working a trade with Utah. So he was never going to wear a Nuggets uniform. With Gary Harris at guard, one could argue Denver didn’t need Mitchell. But here’s my draft philosophy: Take talent every time, and need will take care of itself.

And today’s parting shot advocates on behalf of a new television analyst for skiing at the Olympics.

Kiz, could you find Bode Miller, bind him and toss him in a closet, then take over commentating on the alpine events? Please. Miller is harshing my mellow big time! His every comment is negative. He would probably say Mikaela Shiffrin even vomits incorrectly.

Shantay, Brighton

Categories: All Denver News.

Martin Truex Jr.’s chance at a Cup repeat has another obstacle. NASCAR’s new inspection system is worrying them.

4 hours 18 min ago

Martin Truex Jr. will start in the back half of the pack when drivers line up for the Daytona 500 on Sunday.  But NASCAR’s defending champion is concerned more with millimeters.

Only two drivers in the past two decades have won back-to-back titles. But if the 78’s grind to the top of the racing’s heap was difficult, and defending that championship even harder, then the new rules implemented by NASCAR in the winter could make it a steep slog.

A set of 12 major rules changes includes one that will involve a three-dimensional modeling system for inspecting the body of cars. In the past, NASCAR used a “claw” template — a thin frame lowered on top of the car — to determine if cars meet size and height specifications. Now they will use the same multi-camera set-up used in tennis, called the “Hawk-Eye’ to measure car bodies within 3.6 millimeters.

The devil is in the details. And Denver’s 78 team is biting their nails.

“It’s going to change things a lot,” Truex said. “Problem is, we don’t really know exactly how. The hard part is knowing exactly where it will end up. There are a lot of question marks.”

Truex and Denver’s Furniture Row Racing team will enter NASCAR’s season-opening race, the biggest date on the slate, trying to hold off a field of traditional challengers looking to chop down the sitting champ. Just three months ago, Truex completed an astounding rise to the top of stock car racing, winning his first Cup title and the first for a racing team based outside of the Carolinas.

There was significant concern, though, from Truex and his crew chief, Cole Pearn, that the demanding new nature of NASCAR’s inspection system could be a distraction. The Daytona 500, the so-called “Super Bowl of stock car racing,” is NASCAR’s premier event. But teams are having to adapt to the rules changes on the fly.

The Hawk-Eye system is the same technology used in professional tennis, the kind you might see on a Wimbledon broadcast showing if a serve landed inside the white lines or out, a 3-D modeling system that uses multiple cameras to track arcs and movement.

NASCAR inspections are a constant source of hassle for teams. The 78 was penalized in September for mis-measurements in four passes through inspection before a race at Chicagoland Speedway. NASCAR took away 30 minutes from their practice time. And Pearn was put on probation in 2015 after a rear quarter panel on the 78 flared out beyond specs.

“From what we’ve heard, they’re going to be hard-line about it from the get-go,” Pearn said.

Truex’s rise last year rode a wave of Toyota teams near the top of the field. That left Ford and Chevrolet teams playing catchup. So the inspection system, some of them hope, will bring Truex and others back to earth.

“I think we will see a very level playing field in 2018 and we are capable of winning,” said Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Ford.

Pearn and FRR spent their offseason testing the new procedures. But they largely experimented in a garage in Denver. Because the new inspection system is so exact, down to the millimeter, small variations in heat and humidity could alter those measurements. Metal takes on a different shape in 32-degree Denver weather than it does at 75 degrees in Florida.

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That is especially concerning for the only Denver-based team in the Cup Series.

“It will be a learning curve for all of us,” Pearn said. “There was always a bit of discretion in each officials’ hand as far as what would pass or fail in any given week. The idea of going to a scan system should alleviate that. There should be less judgment in that. If it works, we will know every week where the limit is. We used to guess what we could get away with.”

The fear, though, is that unfolding a major rule change before the biggest race of the season could end up with a flood of penalties.

Truex, for his part, said, “I’ll let Cole deal with that.” He added, “Most of it would happen pre-race. Post-race, it won’t be an issue. Heck, only 10 cars are gonna finish that race anyway.”

Categories: All Denver News.

Truex talks Daytona 500: It’s time for the Great American Race

4 hours 22 min ago

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – All the guessing, predictions and everything in between will be answered soon as we get closer to what is known as the Great American Race.

From our Furniture Row Racing perspective our approach to the Daytona 500 is that we came here to go for the win. We’re not worried about points or stage wins. It’s all about winning. After Daytona we have 35 races remaining to figure it out and make up the points if we don’t have the day we are planning to have in the 500.

To have a shot at winning the Daytona 500, the formula is simple. You need to have a fast car, a lot of luck and make the right moves in the end.

Though our superspeedway record at the four restrictor-plate races (Daytona and Talladega) has not been that great, we were in contention right to the end in the last two Daytona 500s.

Two years ago we came in second to Denny Hamlin by a mere one-hundredth of a second and last year we were leading with two laps to go before running out of fuel.

When I get asked if that close finish to Hamlin two years ago still stings, my answer is, “only when I see the replay.”

We’ve been tweaking and tweaking our No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/5-hour Energy Toyota to find more speed and better handling. We made some good adjustments and it was decided on Saturday morning not to take part in the final practice.

The decision to not practice the day before the 500 might sound odd to some fans, but in reality it was the right call. The last thing we wanted is to go out there and get involved in a wreck, which would have forced us to a backup car. Even in practice at a superspeedway the chance of getting in an accident is much greater than at a downforce track.

Winning the Daytona 500 would be one more thing to check off the list. We have won a season championship, which is the ultimate in the NASCAR Cup Series. We also have scored victories at two of NASCAR’s triple crown races – Southern 500 in Darlington, S.C. and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte.

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Who has the best chance of winning?  Since it’s a superspeedway any of the 40 cars has a shot at winning. You just need to stay out of trouble and put yourself in position at the end.

As always the season-opening Daytona 500 will be a festive day. The Thunderbirds will do a flyover, which is always spectacular. And it appears that two future NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks will be attendance. Former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning will drive the pace car and I am hearing that Green Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers might also attend.

I’ll have some sponsor commitments Sunday morning then get a little rest and wait for the green flag to drop. No matter how many times you compete in the Daytona 500, the adrenalin still kicks up a few notches.

Furniture Row Racing’s Martin Truex Jr., driver of Denver’s No. 78 car, is keeping a daily diary for The Post through the Daytona 500 on Sunday.



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4 ways Taco Bell’s CEO could improve Chipotle

4 hours 33 min ago

It’s been a rough few years for Chipotle. The chain’s woes, which began in 2015 with a widespread E. coli outbreak, have led to multiple health scares and plummeting sales.

But this week the fast-casual company finally gave customers — and investors — something to cheer about this week when it announced Brian Niccol of Taco Bell would take over as its new chief executive. Shares of Chipotle stock soared 12 percent following Tuesday’s announcement, amid hopes of a turnaround for the struggling chain.

It was a telling moment for the industry, analysts said, bringing together two rivals that at one time seemed to have nothing in common. Chipotle, founded in 1993, has long marketed itself as the anti-Taco Bell, emphasizing fresh ingredients and antibiotic-free meat. It was an approach that worked for years, until a series of foodborne illnesses, changing tastes and growing competition knocked the one-time darling off its game. Shares of the company’s stock have fallen nearly 60 percent in the last three years.

But analysts say they are hopeful that Niccol, who has led Taco Bell for three years, can help address some of the chain’s most pressing problems. Here are four things the 43-year-old fast-food executive could bring to Chipotle.

1. Efficiency and organization.

First things first, analysts say: Chipotle needs to slow down.

The company has been expanding rapidly in recent years, adding dozens of new stores but not enough infrastructure to support them, says Howard Penney, an analyst for for Hedgeye Risk Management.

“Chipotle has been growing too quickly, and without a game plan,” he said. “This is a company that desperately needs leadership.”

One of the easiest ways to simplify operations and offer faster service, analysts said, would be to wash and prep food in a central location and send it out to nearby stores. Currently, each of Chipotle’s 2,408 restaurants do their own prep work, such as washing lettuce and chopping tomatoes, said Ivan Feinseth, an analyst for Tigress Financial Partners in New York.

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“They have to keep to their core values — organic produce and antibiotic-free meat — but need to find a way to be more consistent and efficient,” he said. “That’s been one of their biggest challenges.”

Niccol’s experience at Taco Bell, where he oversaw a company twice the size of Chipotle with 6,849 locations and $10.1 billion in annual sales, makes him a good fit, analysts said. He also helped oversee the fast food chain’s mobile ordering technology, which analysts say makes for quicker and more efficient service.

“He has figured out to make fast-food faster,” Feinseth said, “and that’s something Chipotle could really use.”

2. More menu items.

Among the biggest problems at Chipotle: is menu.

With few exceptions, the chain’s lineup has remained largely the same for 25 years: Tacos, burritos, bowls. And while some customers like that consistency, analysts say many others are bored.

“Their menu is stale,” Feinseth said. “Chipotle need something other than queso to spice things up.”

That lack of imagination, analysts say, has become a growing problem for Chipotle as a number of fast-casual eateries — offering everything from poke to customizable pizza — give customers new alternatives for the same price.

“If you look at spending patterns, pretty much everybody who walks into Chipotle is buying just a burrito or a burrito bowl — and maybe guacamole,” Schloetzer said. “There is a huge opportunity to add to their sales, whether that’s by offering combo meals or new items” like nachos.

At Taco Bell, Niccol had a track record of ushering in new novelties and limited-time deals, like Doritos Locos tacos, nacho fries and “chocoladillas,” which are grilled flour tortillas filled with Kit Kats.

“Chipotle has lost its way and needs to be taken to the next level,” Feinseth said.

Does that mean Doritos-shelled tacos may be on the horizon for the fast-casual chain? “No, no, no,” Feinseth said. “They don’t have to do that. There are ways to improve the process without going to the Taco Bell extreme.

3. Breakfast.

Another obvious way Niccol could expand Chipotle’s menu, analysts say, is by adding breakfast.

“There is still a shortage of protein-based breakfasts available in the quick-casual space,” Feinseth said. “Most quick breakfasts are things like muffins and bagels. People want more protein, and Chipotle has an easy solution.”

At Taco Bell, Niccol helped launch the company’s fast-growing $1 breakfast menu, and analysts say a similar approach at Chipotle could help the company reach new customers.

“They have grills, they have tortillas: All they have to do is add cage-free eggs and nitrate-free bacon,” Feinseth said. “Add some coffee, maybe oatmeal, and you’ve got a full breakfast offering.”

4. Social media savvy.

Taco Bell in recent years has emerged as an unlikely social media darling, using a mix of humor, cheesy jokes (“What do you call fries that aren’t yours? #NachoFries”) and viral memes to win over millennials.

“Boyfriend has denied me @tacobell this evening,” a user named Brandi Omega tweeted on Tuesday. “Time to find a new boyfriend,” Taco Bell tweeted back to its 1.9 million followers. (Chipotle, by comparison, has 882,000 Twitter followers.)

“Whichever public relations intern or team of meticulous, well-trained professionals is in charge of @TacoBell is doing a bang-up job with a clever combination of retweets, sassy comebacks, hashtags and whimsical life advice,” wrote HuffPost. ” We kind of, a little bit, maybe want Taco Bell to be our best friend.”

That strategy has paid off, analysts said, by getting younger consumers to think of Taco Bell as a hip alternative to its rivals. And, they said, it’s a strategy Chipotle could use.

“That younger demographic used to be Chipotle’s bread-and-butter customer — you could walk into Chipotle and it’d be filled with college-age kids,” Schloetzer said. “But you walk in now and it’s empty. They’ve lost that connection.”

Categories: All Denver News.