Patt Morrison for August 3, 2010

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Poor Latinos in San Bernardino are in a tough spot—they are a growing population, both in numbers and in influence, yet they fall dramatically short of their fellow County residents in voter registration and election day turnout. An obvious solution is a ramped up effort to sign up Latinos to vote and turn them out for elections, but who should take the lead in contacting and working with these groups? That is the central question over a growing debate in San Bernardino, where groups are pressuring the County Registrar’s office to increase outreach efforts to potential Latino voters, while Republicans pressure the Registrar to stay out of it. Targeting voter outreach to Latinos, argues the San Bernardino County Republican Party, shows bias towards Democrats since those Latinos are more likely to lean liberal. The Registrar seems inclined to agree with the Republican Party, much to the chagrin of Latino activists who argue that Latino voters are underserved. How can more Latinos be encouraged to register to vote without igniting a political fight?
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Despite last week’s second-quarter reports, showing corporate profits are up and big business has recovered almost 90% of what it lost in the recession, American corporations aren’t increasing their hiring. Economist Robert Reich says it’s for three reasons: companies are moving production overseas; they’re investing in labor-saving technologies; and they’re spending their impressive profits to buy back their stock from American taxpayers, all the while pushing up share prices. Bottom line: maybe we’re in an era where higher corporate profits don’t correlate with higher employment. A lack of new jobs means a lack of consumer confidence and all this sets the backdrop for the Obama administration’s very public debate over who should lead the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), charged with writing and enforcing consumer-protection rules on products ranging from mortgages to credit cards. Liberal Democrats are pushing for Harvard Law professor Elizabeth Warren, who opponents see as too activist-y, while Republicans want someone they see as more neutral, like FDIC Chairman Sheila Bair. What can the CFPB do to bolster consumer confidence if higher profits no longer mean higher employment? And how much will that be determined by who leads it?
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As the number of Toyotas being pulled apart by investigators and trial attorneys increases, more theories are arising about what, exactly, caused the runaway Toyota phenomenon of the past several years. Last month, Patt reported on leaked documents from the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration that showed federal auto experts could not recreate stuck accelerators in Toyotas, suggesting that driver error was the main cause for Toyotas careening out of control down the nation’s highways. Now, there are documents emerging from lawsuits filed against Toyota that show the company’s own engineers informed executives of sudden acceleration incidents at least six times dating back to 2003. Toyota technicians even reported that they themselves had experienced sudden acceleration. So who is ultimately to blame for Toyota’s problems, and will we ever have a definitive answer?
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It makes perfect sense--residents of working class cities with median household incomes below $50,000 should pay their elected officials six figure salaries and shell out more in property taxes. Take the city of Bell, for example, their city manager gets an annual salary of $800,000, and the residents pay the second-highest property tax rate in the county. Well it may be counterintuitive but a new L.A. County audit finds that it’s true. The report shows that residents of Compton, El Monte and Inglewood pay some of the highest property taxes in the county, while people who live in Manhattan Beach, Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills pay some of the lowest. How are property rates set and what do residents in some of the poorest cities in the county get for their money?
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The arrest of the Grim Sleeper, the serial killer who prayed on prostitutes in South L.A. for most of the 1980’s, brought back bad memories for a part of L.A. that had been plagued with drug-fueled lawlessness in the darkest days of the 80’s. Plagued by the crack cocaine epidemic, witness to the rise of powerful streets gangs and mired in joblessness, South L.A. in the 1980’s was a bad place to live—on top of all of that it is also thought that there were at least five serial killers working the South L.A. streets for most of that decade. We take a look back at a dark chapter of Los Angeles history and see if things have changed since the Grim Sleeper committed his first murder to when he was arrested last month.
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