Patt Morrison for January 31, 2011

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On the ground in Egypt’s revolution

Egypt’s communication systems are slowly coming back to life after a weekend-long blackout of email and cell phone networks. Even with the shutdown of communication lines images and reports flowed out of Egypt since Friday as the popular movement against the regime of Hosni Mubarak, a movement that seems to transcend class, religious and political distinctions, grows in size and scope. There are tons of unanswered questions: what will the leadership of the protesters look like, as it’s still unclear on who, if anyone, is calling the shots; will Hosni Mubarak ever relinquish power voluntarily or will he have to be forced out; what role does the military play, as they are assumed to be loyal to the Egyptian president but they have not yet cracked down on protesters; and what will Egypt’s next government look like? We take a look at the uncertain future of Egypt from the middle of the action in Cairo.
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The marijuana legalizing Proposition 19 went down to defeat by less than ten percentage points in 2010, which was disappointing to marijuana advocates but was a promising sign of how far the legalization effort has come. Looking to keep the momentum alive, Prop. 19’s organizers and more marijuana activists gathered this weekend to plot the next step in the legalization effort and it won’t be long until California voters have another crack at making pot legal. Organizers are aiming for a better-written law and a much more focused campaign for November of 2012. The next time around they might have partners in other states—there’s an early indication that marijuana legalization laws might go before voters in dozens of states. If that does develop then the marijuana legalization debate becomes national in scope, which could lead to all kinds of unforeseen factors in California. Will two years make the difference in legalizing marijuana?
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For decades community redevelopment agencies (CRAs) acted largely in the shadows of state politics, helping to fund some of the biggest construction projects in some of the most neglected areas of California’s cities. From San Diego’s “Gaslamp” district to Old Town Pasadena and the Americana mall in Glendale, money from the state’s community redevelopment agencies have fueled basic public improvement projects, affordable housing units and massive commercial ventures, all with little insight or input from the public. Once Gov. Jerry Brown targeted CRAs for elimination in his tough budget proposal, part of his effort to close a $28 billion deficit, the work of CRAs moved out of the shadows and into the spotlight, and the debate was ignited. Critics of CRAs argue that they forge inappropriate, and potentially corrupting, relationships between elected officials and developers, and that the claims of CRA projects creating jobs are way overblown. CRA supporters call them the biggest single source of new jobs in California. What is the real story and are CRAs worth saving?
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In his State of the Union address on Tuesday, President Obama said we need to replace No Child Left Behind with a law that’s “more flexible and focused on what’s best for our kids. “ Part of this call for flexibility is in response to the high number of schools who have received failing grades because of the law. Perhaps, then, Senator Tom Harkin’s suggested new name for the law, “Every Child Counts,” is more appropriate. The question of flexibility leads to the crux of the education debate in this country—how hands-on the federal government should be versus leaving it up to states and cities. Despite a five-year freeze on government spending, President Obama plans to rewrite No Child Left Behind, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are ready to join him in this reform. But there will surely be debate about what the details will look like, including national standards, Race to the Top and how states receive funding, standardized testing, emphasis on Math and English at the expense of other subjects, performance pay, and more. Did No Child Left Behind have standards that were too high or is its goal of having “no child left behind’ feasible by 2014?
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A Florida federal judge, citing the illegality of mandatory purchase of medical insurance, ruled that the universal health care law is unconstitutional. This is the fourth federal court ruling on the constitutionality of the law, and the second time that it’s been ruled unconstitutional. The first ruling against the law’s constitutionality came from a Republican appointee, followed by two rulings in favor of the mandate from Democratic appointees who ruled consistently in favor of the Obama administration. This latest ruling, by a Republican judge appointed by President Reagan, continues the partisan divide, leading many to speculate that the Supreme Court will ultimately make a decision on the constitutional provisions of what has become known as “Obamacare.” Proponents of universal health care argue that Congress has the constitutional right - Article I, Section 8 - to regulate interstate commerce, which includes health care insurance from state-to-state. What will these court rulings mean for the millions of uninsured Americans, including children who are already feeling the impact of the reform law?
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Is Facebook making us unhappy?

In a virtual world where you can filter and sculpt your public persona, sociologists are increasingly finding that hours spent viewing our peers’ polished lives—their awesome vacations; their nights out partying; their above-average-children—is making us unhappy. Are they Just Like Us? Or are they happier and framed in better lighting? Recent studies say Facebook makes us underestimate how unhappy and lonely others are; it leads us to believe that our friends and family are all happier than us. Does Facebook make us less happy? Or at least force us to project a happy image with all those “Like” and no “Hate” buttons?
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