Patt Morrison for January 27, 2011

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In their classic song “My Generation” The Who sang, “I hope I die before I get old.” The news from the Congressional Budget Office that projects Social Security will be completely broke by 2037 shouldn’t lead young people to be as extreme as The Who in their outlooks on aging, but it is depressing. Social Security’s finances have looked bleak for a while, but three years of a strong recession have tipped the balances into annual structural deficits—this year alone Social Security is expected to collect $45 billion less in payroll taxes than it pays out in retirement. Younger generations will have to absorb most of the blows necessary for fixing Social Security, whether it’s raising the retirement age further, means testing benefits payments, or increasing payroll taxes to fill in the shortfall. But the reality is that most young people aren’t planning on Social Security playing any kind of a major role in their retirement, possibly ending the prominence of what will be a century-old national pension program. Can Social Security be fixed, and do younger generations even care?
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In the last hours of his life, President Abraham Lincoln signed an order pardoning a mentally incompetent Army private from the death penalty for desertion. False! It turns out the famous document discovered by amateur historian Thomas Lowry in 1998 was also altered by the very same historian. The National Archives and Records Administration revealed that the date on the document had been erased and changed from 1864 to 1865 probably to make it appear as if it was one of Lincoln's last acts and therefore a historic one. Dr. Lowry published a book the year after the find and was up until now credited with one of the most significant finds of Lincoln artifacts in the 20th Century. Luckily for Lowry, who has allegedly confessed, the statute of limitations on the case has passed, so the government cannot press charges. NARA will remove the document from circulation for the time being, and is looking into reversing the alteration - preservation officials say it will most definitely cause more damage. So even if Lincoln signed the pardon a year earlier, does it take away from the compassion displayed in the act?
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John Lithgow’s Stories By Heart

John Lithgow, an actor’s actor if ever there ever was one, can be funny, poignant or seriously scary. And in every role he’s completely convincing – see his very different performances as transsexual Roberta/Robert Muldoon in the 1982 film, The World According to Garp, and as the Trinity serial killer on Dexter. And now this Tony and Emmy Award winning actor offers reflections on storytelling through memories of his father and two great stories that were ready to him and his siblings when they were young. Lithgow has brought his one-man theatrical memoir, Stories by Heart, from New York and London to the Mark Taper Forum in a tour de force performance. *John Lithgow’s Stories by Heart continues at the Center Theatre Group/Mark Taper Forum through February 13, 2011. It is conceived, written and performed by Mr. Lithgow and features the works of P.G. Wodehouse and Ring Lardner
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Does America really want democracy in the Middle East?

Be careful what you wish for—the call for democracy in traditionally autocratic regimes across the Middle East has been boiler plate rhetoric of most American presidents dating back to World War II. President George W. Bush, in particular, pushed the idea of democratic movements, from Iran to Libya, holding up Iraq as an example of what an elected, representative government could look like. Of course, while President Bush (and other presidents of both parties) spoke eloquently of democracy they also supported and relied upon trusted authoritarian Arab regimes in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Yemen and beyond. Last week protesters in Tunisia did what was thought to be nearly impossible, pushing out a long standing dictator with street demonstrations that reflected a true grass roots democracy movement. Empowered by their fellow Arabs, and perhaps with a psychological barrier having been broken by Tunisians who exposed the weakness of an entrenched dictatorship, Egyptians have taken to the streets this week to protest the long, cruel rule of Hosni Mubarack, another reliable American ally. Democracy in the Middle East might usher in governments that are decidedly unfriendly to the U.S. and our interests. Do we really want democracy in the Middle East?
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Down and out (and depressed about it) in LA County

Diagnosed cases of depression rose by almost 50% over the last decade in LA County. Is the traffic, smog, isolation, lack of health care and jobs to blame? We don’t know what accounted for the sharp increase, but a new study by the LA County Department of Public Health showed that cases of depression rose from 9 percent in 1999 to 14 percent in 2007. The study didn’t account for undiagnosed cases of depression—which may make the actual number of people suffering from depression much higher. The study spotlighted one glaring fact: “women consistently reported higher rates of depression than men.” 11 percent of the women surveyed were diagnosed with depression in 1999, in 2007 that number rose to 17 percent. Are people finding life a little less tolerable in Los Angeles, or is it just being reported more?
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