AirTalk for January 6, 2011

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Blue Shield of California hikes rates up to 59%

Individual health policyholders with Blue Shield of California got some sobering news this morning. Looks like their rates might be going up by a whopping 59%. The company cites higher medical costs and expenses related to the healthcare overhaul as reasons for the increases. It was less than a year ago that Anthem Blue Cross sparked national outrage by trying to raise its rates by over 30%. Ultimately, they were forced to accept a 20% increase. Will Blue Shield be able to justify this round of rate hikes? Why do premiums keep going up? What impact is the healthcare bill having?
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Freedom of information fosters liberal democracy, right? Not so fast, argues Evgeny Morozov in his new book "The Net Delusion." Yes, the Internet has proven itself to be a powerful tool for promoting change. Just look back at all those blog posts about Myanmar's 2007 Saffron Revolution and the tweets from Iran during the protests in June 2009. But for all the talk about the liberalizing force of the Internet, these regimes are as stable and repressive as ever. Why? Because, Morozov writes, the Internet doesn’t just give power to the people. It’s also extremely useful to dictators, some of whom are exploiting it to tighten their grips. Consider the photos of protesters posted online by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard that led directly to their arrests or the Russian “Movement Against Illegal Immigration,” which used Google to create maps of minorities’ homes, urging people to find and harass them. So what’s a dissident to do? Are we overlooking the advantages the Internet bestows on dictators? How else are authoritarian governments using the Internet to suppress free speech, spy on and pacify their populations?
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Redevelopment funds on chopping block

To the dismay of city officials throughout the state, it looks like redevelopment may get axed in the new Jerry Brown budget for California. Redevelopment projects have helped California’s cites – revitalizing blighted downtowns and creating affordable housing and new shopping centers. But Governor Brown is looking for creative ways to resolve the $28 billion shortfall and something’s gotta go. California currently diverts $5.5 billion in annual property tax revenue to redevelopment, which is why supporters argue this would be a huge windfall for a very needy state. Many city officials, however, argue the statewide elimination of redevelopment projects would crush their ability to attract new business. Would cutting redevelopment funding hinder cities’ ability to attract business? Or is this the right place to find money to fill the substantial budget gap?
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The Broad museum design unveiled with major changes

The Broad Art Foundation is unveiling architectural designs today for the eagerly anticipated Broad Museum, which will be located in downtown Los Angeles near the Walt Disney Concert Hall. The museum’s contemporary art collection will be housed in a dramatic honeycomb design. Lead architect Elizabeth Diller calls it “the veil,” because the white porous structure will provide slots for views to and from Grand Avenue. A number of changes were made to the original design. Integral elements, including a lobby that created juxtaposition between pedestrian and vehicular traffic and a series of exterior digital billboards originally slated to display images of virtual art are no longer part of the design. The 33,000-square-foot exhibition space is set to open in 2013 and will include works by Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, and Andy Warhol. Will the $130-billion building be the thriving cultural center Eli Broad hopes it will be?
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There’s a battle being waged between science and fear. And, according to Dr. Paul Offit, cooler heads are not prevailing. Since the first inoculation of an eight year old boy at the end of the 18th Century, vaccines have saved countless lives. They had virtually eliminated measles, mumps, bacterial meningitis, whooping cough and other diseases - until recently. Now, there’s a growing movement in the U.S. against vaccination, driven by parents who believe vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they prevent. As a result, we’re seeing a resurgence of once-preventable illnesses. Take California, for example, where a recent outbreak of whooping cough killed at least nine children, despite an effective vaccine that’s been around since the 1940s. In his new book, Deadly Choices, Offit, vigorously defends the importance of vaccines and boldly states that they do not cause autism or any of the conditions that have been blamed on them. Yesterday, an influential British study that linked autism to childhood vaccines was exposed as an “elaborate fraud.” But are committed anti-vaxxers like Jenny McCarthy listening? Who’s putting us more at risk – doctors with needles or parents skipping shots?
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NPR news executive resigns over Williams firing

NPR just released two statements. The first announces the completion of an independent review of the controversial firing of news analyst Juan Williams. The second is about the surprise resignation of Ellen Weiss, NPR’s long-time Senior Vice President for News. Weiss was the NPR editor who fired Williams after he told Fox News host Bill O'Reilly that he became "nervous" flying with people dressed in "Muslim garb." What NPR issues does the review reveal? Will this usher in a new era for NPR?
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