Patt Morrison for January 20, 2011

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It started with a tragic and preventable accident at Gardena High School, where a student brought a loaded gun to school in his backpack that discharged when the bag was dropped, shooting two students with one bullet. Then yesterday, outside of El Camino Real High School, a would-be car thief shot a LAUSD police officer in the chest, touching off a massive dragnet and 9,000 students being locked down in place while the search for the gunman was underway—he still has not been found. A few hours after that, outside of Bell High School, a 16-year-old student leaving school was shot in a drive-by attack that left the victim in serious condition. It’s a confluence of events that has left students, parents and teachers on edge. While LAUSD campuses have seen their fair share of violence over the years, as a whole the schools have been relatively safe and secure. The shooting at Gardena High, in particular, has renewed the call for more extensive safety measures, including the expanded use of metal detectors and more aggressive random searches. While these incidents are scary, are they at all indicative about a breakdown of safety at LAUSD schools?
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The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts, Amtrak, Title X Family Planning programs and USAID foreign aid programs—House Republicans wants them all eliminated. It’s part of the proposal put forth today by a group of 165 House Republicans dubbing themselves the Republican Study Committee to slash more than $2.5 trillion from the federal budget over the next decade. In addition to those agency eliminations, the RSC wants to fire 15% of the federal workforce; cut $80 billion from an upcoming resolution to keep the government running through September; and privatize housing insurance giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Congressional Budget analysts say the RSC is getting ahead of itself with savings estimates; for example, the RSC proposal estimates that cutting off unspent funds from the 2009 economic stimulus package could save $45 billion but the CBO says a more accurate figure is probably closer to $4 billion. House leaders are unlikely to adopt such radical cuts but with a commitment to a minimum of $55 billion in cuts, what will make it on the chopping block and if this is hot air, how will a serious deficit conversation go once the dust has settled?
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To say it’s been a rough couple of years for the University of California system is an understatement—already staggering from hundreds of millions of dollars in budget cuts, UC is preparing for an estimated $500 million reduction in state funding and a total budget gap of $1 billion for next year. The affects are already being felt on UC campuses, as 20,000 to 30,000 qualified students are estimated to have been turned away because of enrollment cuts. Mark Yudof, president of the UC system, has a bleak prediction for the university’s ability to take on California students: “The moment is fast approaching when the university will no longer be able to guarantee admission to all California applicants who meet eligibility criteria…a bleak milestone, not just for the university, but for all of California.” As the UC Regents meeting wraps up in San Diego the system is going into survival mode, proposing deep cuts and describing the UC’s declining fortunes as “scary,” “tragic,” and “disappointing. Can the University of California retain its place as the nation’s premiere public higher education system?
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Is the government controlling us or, as stated in the film Dr. Strangelove, controlling “our precious bodily fluids,” by putting fluoride in our drinking water? In the 1950s and 60s, the John Birch Society shouted yes—that fluoridation of water was evidence of Communist control. Would you be surprised if we said this was relevant again? Well, not the Communist part, but the Department of Health and Human Services did just recommend a lower level of fluoride in drinking water—the first time it’s done so in 50 years. Studies now show that people are getting more fluoride than they need because of toothpaste, mouthwash, and brushing three times a day. While fluoride has brought down cavity levels immensely since it was put into our water, studies now also relate it to increased spotting and streaking on children and adolescents’ teeth, brittle bones, thyroid damage, and increased risk of bone cancer. There’s still debate on the topic—with some thinking the limit should remain as is, some thinking the limit should be decreased, some thinking there should be no fluoride in our water, and some thinking there shouldn’t even be fluoride in toothpaste! Do you appreciate the favor of fluoridation of your water from your government?
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States grappling with huge budget deficits are making tough decisions about cuts to social services, pensions, and health care spending while at the same deciding whether to continue giving tax cuts to subsidize Hollywood’s film making machine. Before the economic downturn, states were competing for the attention of Hollywood and the jobs and economic stimulus big production crews brought with them. Today, many are taking a second look. Arizona, Iowa and Kansas have either dropped or scaled back their programs, and Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Mexico are also rethinking their love affair with Hollywood. Some speculate that the cut backs may create a mass exodus to countries like New Zealand where the country is helping to underwrite a $500 million production of J.R.R Tolkien’s The Hobbit. Studies on the economic impact of Hollywood coming to town have rendered very mixed results. One found that film subsidies were costing a state $88,000 a job while another found that the state made $2,000 with each job created. Here in California tax credits for Hollywood are safe…at least for now.
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It’s been considered before and has failed each time: placing a California state sales tax on online purchases made through internet retailers that are based outside of the state. Last time, in 2009, a bill made it through the legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Schwarzenegger. This year there is a new and improved budget deficit and a real push in Sacramento to both cut from the budget and fine new sources of revenue where ever possible. Enter the latest incarnation of an online sales tax, the “E-Fairness Legislation” that would force major online retailers, like Amazon and Overstock, to collect sales taxes on California purchases. Supporters of the bill estimate that it could generate between $250 - $500 million for the state. Perhaps not coincidentally, brick-and-mortar retailers like Barnes & Noble (a big competitor to Amazon) are supporting the online sales tax. Given the depressing budget situation that the state faces, is it time to end the internet’s the tax-free status in California?
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