Patt Morrison for August 2, 2010

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We have entered a time period where elected officials are picking up charges of ethics violations as often as updating their twitter. The newest case is that of Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters, who is accused of setting up a $12 million dollar handout to a bank that her husband formerly held a seat on the board of directors. The 10-term lawmaker is not the only one recently who has run up against trouble; in-fact there is plenty of controversy to distract you from the quickly approaching mid-term elections. But instead of wondering who will win, maybe the more poignant thought should be wondering if they can keep their hands clean.
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We aren’t very far removed from historic legislation banning certain billing practices and credit card issuers have already conjured up new ways to take your money. The Card Act was designed to help the customer in many ways, forcing card issuers to give customers more notice about interest-rate increases and restricting some of the more corrupt billing practices. Well it seems like that all could be for nothing. Card companies are quickly replacing all of the old fees, with new ones… literally creating a hellish race between regulators and credit-card companies called “let’s find the loopholes.” The Card Act was set to wipe out $390 million in fee revenue, so don’t think the banks we’re going to sit back quietly. No, they decided to increase the marketing for their “Professional Cards”, similar to corporate cards but with the terms of regular consumer cards. So you can have a credit line like a corporation has, with all of the lack of protection that a consumer card has. At the end of the day will we ever get the banks to play fair?
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California may be a finalist in Obama’s Race to the Top program and eligible for $700 million for struggling schools, but it looks like that money might not be going anywhere. After touting themselves as the silver bullets necessary to save our failing public education system, dozens of the state’s 850-plus charter schools may be on the chopping board, as recent standardized test scores show them scoring in the bottom 10% of schools statewide. The California Board of Education will decide in September on the criteria for shuttering failing Charter schools, but what does it say about the charter school idea? But are the criteria fair and should the Board of Education be pushing for better teachers and reforming the curriculum before sending these schools and students packing? On the other hand, could these failing hybrid charter schools hurt California’s chances at winning a piece of that $4.35 billion in Race to the Top stimulus funds?
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Did money win out over privacy at Microsoft?

Greed and corporate interest score again! When faced with the choice between protecting consumers or maximizing profits, Microsoft chose profits. Back in 2008, Product planners at Microsoft proposed implementing software on Internet Explorer that would automatically block common tracking tools and protect web surfers’ data, but Microsoft executives decided that giving users automatic privacy would make it tougher for the company to profit from selling ads. Instead users are automatically open to tracking tools unless they specify otherwise on their browser. So what’s more important? Customer privacy or advertising revenue?
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In 2007 Los Angeles County started up a new program with the goal of taking a different look and a different approach to the persistent problem of chronic homelessness in Southern California. The program was “Project 50,” which would identify the 50 most vulnerable and needy members of L.A.’s homeless population through a series of extensive surveys on the streets. The 50 have been identified, reviewed and provided with housing, services and support—but has it helped to keep them off the streets and brought stability back into their lives? The programs results have been mixed and they offer a tortured view into the complex problem of homelessness. Patt partners up with her colleagues at the L.A. Times who have spent the past two years following Project 50 with the hopes of creatively conquering homelessness.
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