Patt Morrison for March 17, 2010

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The Senate passed the first in what they hope will be a series of jobs bills aimed at putting Americans back to work. The bill passed 68 to 29 with bipartisan support (11 Republican votes). It gives employers an exemption from payroll taxes if they hire workers who have been unemployed for at least two months and encourages them to keep workers employed for one year by offering a $1,000 tax credit. All totaled, the tax breaks amount to $15 million dollars. That price tag has some Republicans calling it “debt bill”. Will this first jobs bill help create jobs or just more debt?
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The DHS announced this morning that it is halting construction on the Secure Border Initiative “virtual fence” along the U.S.-Mexican border. Started by President George W. Bush in 2006, the virtual fence is made up of a series of networked cameras, radar, and communication gear that was designed to help speed the response by U.S. Border Patrol officers to catch illegal immigrants and smugglers crossing the border. The only problem is that it was extremely expensive and utterly ineffective. The Department of Homeland Security spent $3.4 billion to complete 640 of a planned 652 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers. The tech component of that—about 50 camera and radio towers on a 28-mile segment south of Tucson and a 30-mile stretch near Ajo, Arizona, contracted out to Boeing—originally cost $700 million but was recently re-estimated at $6.7 billion. The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) audit arm will release a report tomorrow finding that the government rushed to use off-the-shelf equipment without adequate testing. In addition, this type of technology has a bad track record—between 1998 and 2005, DHS spent $429 million on surveillance initiatives so unreliable that only 1% of alarms led to arrests. Most security experts agree technology is integral to any future security system, but at what cost?
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New voice “On Language”

The New York Times Magazine’s “On Language” column has a new voice, lexicographer and linguist Ben Zimmer. Zimmer, who also serves as executive producer of the Visual Thesaurus and Vocabulary.com, has a big sentence structure to fill. He’ll succeed the late wordsmith William Safire, who founded the column in 1979 and was the regular columnist until he died last fall. Will the column change… we’ll find out this weekend when Ben Zimmer takes over.
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The “Compton Cookout” party at an off-campus UC San Diego fraternity was clearly a doomed idea from the start—meant to be a prank that played up African American stereotypes, in the middle of Black History Month no less, the party touched off a firestorm of troubled race relations across the UC system. In the wake of the “Compton Cookout” two more racially-motivated incidents were reported at UCSD and several more took place at other UC campuses, including a large picture of a noose drawn in a UC Santa Cruz bathroom. Are race relations at the University of California really strained or are a small group of isolated antagonists to blame for bringing so much negative publicity upon the entire system? UC leadership wasted no time in appointing the dean of UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall law school to investigate racial tensions, and he stops by Patt’s program to give his first impressions.
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It was one of the first lightening rod issues of the Bush Administration and remains a source of huge controversy to this day, 9 years after it was first enacted: The No Child Left Behind law, designed to measure the success rates of schools while holding them accountable in the process, resulted in one in three American schools being labeled as failing. This week the Obama Administration begins its effort to remake NCLB in its image, retaining some of the Bush requirements for annual reading and math tests but instituting a different set of measurement standards. There are also more carrots included, rewarding top performing schools and minimizing government interference in the reasonably well-run schools in the middle. Just like the original NCLB, the Obama plan is also proving controversial—will it receive a passing grade in the eyes of the nation’s educators?
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