Patt Morrison for July 29, 2010

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When Arizona’s controversial SB 1070 law was passed a few months ago California’s governments, from the state to counties and cities, were quick with retribution. On the state level a resolution was proposed in the Legislature that called for California to boycott all state business with Arizona; similar efforts were followed up in Los Angeles and elsewhere. After yesterday’s ruling by a federal judge that, at least temporarily, ripped the guts out of SB1070—namely the provisions that empowers local law enforcement to question and arrest suspected illegal immigrants—there is now a question of whether California should go forward with its boycott of Arizona. True, the popular sentiment in Arizona remains firmly behind SB1070 and it has never been the friendliest state toward immigrants, but is California being too punitive? And was this boycott ever a wise use of the state’s time and energy?
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A federal judge wants the US Forest Service to revise its plan for the use of fire retardant, because it fails to take into account the impact the toxic chemicals have on the environment, and specifically on endangered species. Fire retardant is dropped from airplanes and helicopters to help put out fires, but when the chemicals miss their mark, the environment can pay a hefty price--in some cases huge populations of fish have died as a result. The Forest Service’s plan dictates that pilots refrain from dropping chemicals within 300 feet of a body of water, but the plan allows for exceptions if flying conditions are dangerous or if people’s lives or property are at risk. Judge Molloy wants the Forest Service to go back to the drawing board, more rigorously examine the environmental impacts the chemicals pose, and severely curtail its use. What impact does the ruling have here in California? It’s fire season. Will the Forest Service be hampered by this ruling, and are there any safer alternatives?
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“If marriage is so sacred, why do half of them end in divorce?” and “How is my gay marriage affecting the health of your heterosexual one?” are common refrains from those in the anti-Prop 8 camp. John Marcotte is gearing up to put an end to that argument. The founder of rescuemarriage.org is collecting signatures to get a new initiative on the November ballot—one that would amend the California constitution to ban divorces throughout the state. According to the proposed ballot language, the initiative “changes the California Constitution to eliminate the ability of married couples to get divorced in California” and while doing so, “preserves the ability of married couples to seek an annulment.” A Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance’s summary both predict it will result in “savings to the state of up to hundreds of millions of dollars annually for support of the court system due to the elimination of divorce proceedings.” Marcotte’s point might be tongue-in-cheek, but his efforts are sincere. How will it frame the next wave of gay marriage arguments and what does it say about the current state of political discourse in the golden state?
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Should the federal government lend women and minorities some muscle to break Wall Street’s glass ceiling? That’s what a section of last week’s financial overhaul bill aims to do, by granting the federal government authority to end contracts with financial firms that fail to ensure “fair inclusion” of women and minorities. Opponents say the provision’s vague language make it tantamount to quotas, while proponents see it as an overdue wake-up call to a heavily white and male industry with a reputation for elitism. The section sets not quotas, or even goals, but it does establish at least 20 new Offices of Minority and Women Inclusion across the Treasury Department, which already has three such offices. Advocates of the provision say the current offices have no teeth and that minority and women-owned businesses didn’t receive an adequate share of the contracts awarded through the $700 billion bank bailout, while the collapse of the sub prime mortgage market disproportionately hit African-American and Latino homeowners. Should the federal government take means to correct for this and if so, does this measure go far enough?
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Mandatory minimums on crack cocaine to be shortened

One of the most criticized laws in America is about to get reformed. Congress passed a bill Wednesday that would reduce the disparities between mandatory minimum sentences for crack and powdered cocaine violations, a law some have considered blatantly racist and unfairly harsh punishments imposed, mainly on blacks. Even the Obama administration has called the disparity “fundamentally unfair,” and who could argue with that? The law, which was adopted in 1986, states that someone convicted of possession of 5 grams of crack must be sentenced to 5 years in prison, compared to powdered cocaine, the amount for those mandatory sentences are as 100 times as high. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that under the new law the federal prison system would save about $42 million over the next five years. So if this is a positive financially and in terms of race relations, why would anyone be against it?
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