Patt Morrison for July 27, 2010

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This morning, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan named California one of the 19 finalists in the second round of his controversial Race to the Top plan, which offers states incentive to reform their public education systems in order to compete for $3.4 billion in federal education funds. The Department of Education snubbed California by choosing not to select it as a finalist in the first round, but not everyone is happy about the most recent achievement. From teachers’ unions to civil rights groups, critics say Duncan’s agenda pushes untested methods, such as lifting a cap on charter schools and tying teacher evaluations to student performance, and does little to address long-standing inequities in public education. Education experts also point out there could be backlash from states that take significant political risks to reform, only to be eliminated in a final round; some states already chose to opt out of the second round of competition and only two states, Tennessee and Delaware, were awarded first-round grants. Leading up to the final interview round, to take place in D.C. the week of August 9th, Patt looks at California’s chances and what stakeholders are saying on all sides of the debate.
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They saved the top fifth of American income earners $5,800/year in taxes and cost the federal government approximately $2 trillion in revenue from 2001 – 2010; they carry tremendous symbolic weight and could influence the weak economic recovery and the growing federal budget deficits; they are immensely complicated for both political parties. “They” are the infamous Bush tax cuts approved between 2001 – 2003 that were cheered by conservatives, reviled by liberals and grudgingly accepted by moderates, and that are now set to expire at the end of this year. The expiration of the tax cuts has set off the very beginnings of a heated political debate, made more intense by the looming Congressional midterm elections—Democrats, who were never fan of the tax cuts, are wary of supporting an expiration of any of them but are leaning toward ending tax cuts for the richest Americans; and while Republicans talk about the importance of cutting the deficits, they are staying true to their tax cutting philosophy. What will be the outcome of this volatile mix of politics and economics?
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Navigating L.A.’s food deserts: solutions from the bottom up

Changing the options available at local corner markets and liquor stores—of which there are tens of thousands of in LA—is one way around complicated zoning and economic challenges that make it difficult to build large, full-service supermarkets in underserved areas. These corner store conversions, or “market makeovers,” as they’re sometimes called, have high success rates because they work within the community and with its resources to improve access to healthy foods. Sometimes it’s as easy as moving the junk food to the back of the store and ensuring that there’s at least some access to fruit and vegetables. In a similar effort, community gardens equip neighborhoods with the tools and skills they need to make a small and immediate difference themselves. While urban gardens and farmers’ markets will never take the place of full-service grocery stores, they are an important and growing step toward food independence. Made hip again by the likes of First Lady Michelle Obama, there are many programs that encourage and incentivize new urban gardens. The gardens act both as a source for fresh produce and a classroom for children who learn the importance of eating healthy. While supplemental to households at the very least, could the urban garden movement actually ease the pressing demand for market options?
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The fear that settles in after you’re diagnosed with cancer is rarely of misdiagnosis and more of the cancer spreading, the chemo and radiation, and the thought of dying. But for women diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ, or D.C.I.S., their mastectomy or radiation treatment may have been treating a non-existent cancer. According to a 2006 study by Susan G. Komen for the Cure, over 90,000 patients diagnosed with D.C.I.S. may have been misdiagnosed. It’s an absolutely terrifying finding, but why exactly are doctors making this mistake? Some cite the small amount of breast cases doctors actually read, which has prompted the College of American Pathologists to require pathologists to read over 250 breast cases a year. And what about all the women diagnosed with D.C.I.S., who opted for double mastectomy out of fear? Were these people wrongfully suffering deep psychological stress and surgery because of a misdiagnosis?
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A garage sale picker in Fresno found an unexpected treasure when he paid $45 dollars for a box of glass negatives in the spring of 2000. After years of examination, the negatives have been determined by authentication experts to be Ansel Adams images believed to have been lost in a studio fire in 1937. The world is richer for the find, as well might be the finder, as the value of the negatives is placed at $200 million.
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While the periodic table may evoke groans from high school chemistry students, there’s a whole other side to the 118 elements that’s not going to burn your skin. “Alice in Wonderland’s” Mad Hatter and many milliners were truly crazy from their overexposure to mercury. That pesky cadmium that’s in McDonald’s toys and Miley Cyrus jewelry can make your bones as fragile as peanut brittle. Sam Kean lays out all the unknown history of the periodic table in his book The Disappearing Spoon, such as the origins of the elements’ names and the curious lifestyles of the scientists who discovered them. With these 118 elements, there’s more than meets the eye than exploding Mentos and Diet Coke.
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