Patt Morrison for February 16, 2011

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A U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, now identified as Jaime J. Zapata, was shot and killed yesterday while driving from Mexico City toward Monterrey. Zapata was traveling with another agent who was wounded in the shooting but is reported by the Department of Homeland Security to be in stable condition. Reports indicated that the agents were stopped at a fake roadblock, or “narco-blockade,” popularly set up by drug-traffickers and cartels to halt law enforcement and other enemies. It’s unclear who exactly is responsible for the shooting, but clues point to the notorious Zetas gang who has been ramping up activity in the state of San Luis Potosi where the attack occurred. Though cartels have killed more than 34,000 people in four years, violence against American officials has been extremely rare – two consular employees were shot and killed last March, but this is the first American law enforcement agent to be killed in Mexico since 1985. It is still unclear whether or not Zapata and his partner were deliberately targeted or if they happened to be the unfortunate victims in a case of mistaken identity.
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The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is having its problems—airlines want to water down pilot training regulations they consider ill-informed; reported air traffic controller mistakes have doubled since 2008; and a report out last week from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) finds that the FAA is far outspending its pocketbook, which is primarily funded by excise taxes and fees paid by you, the consumer. It’s a near perfect storm that could result in less safe, more expensive flights in the U.S. What’s being done to address the problems, both in Congress and throughout the airline industry? Could the solution be even higher fees for airline travelers? Patt checks in with experts in all concerned sectors.
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Losing the News

In his critically acclaimed book, Losing the News, published this month in paperback, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Alex S. Jones examines the transition of the news industry from a provider of fact and evidence to a network of opinion and advocacy. "We are on the brink of living in a world in which the vast majority of news is in such bite-size pieces that serious, nuanced reporting may disappear," writes Mr. Jones during the immediate aftermath of the financial crisis. "It is apparent when you pick up a thick, advertising-heavy Sunday newspaper in most American cities and can make your way through its substantive news in about five minutes." The author also takes aim at the infotainment cable news channels, at the blogosphere, and at the heart of democracy itself. Although he does acknowledge that the ultimate role of a free press is to serve as a watchdog against the abuses of government, Mr. Jones disagrees with the Wikileaks notion of an absolutely free press. When we give "license to publish military secrets, to libel anyone, or to invade anyone’s privacy" this is called "anarchy," according to Jones. Does our 24-hour-news-spin-cycle serve to confuse rather than clarify the truth? Will cable-providers and satellite companies allow us to watch Al Jazeera? Is Glenn Beck an anomaly or a harbinger of things to come? Alex Jones thinks he has the answers.
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Ethnic crime in Southern California isn’t new, but it certainly is getting diverse and complex. This morning federal and local law enforcement agents targeted members of Armenian Power, an Armenian organized crime group concentrated in Glendale and East Los Angeles, arresting and charging almost 100 member with crimes including racketeering, extortion, kidnapping, white-collar fraud and drug sales. Armenian gangs are becoming increasingly powerful and have at times worked with Russian, Israeli and Vietnamese gangs, along with the African American and Latino street gangs that have dominated the Los Angeles area for decades. But running street corners and the local drug trade has become only a part of what these ethnic criminal groups are involved in, branching off into more complicated crimes of identity theft and financial fraud. What is the criminal landscape of Southern California and what ethnic gangs have become most prominent?
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What is Los Angeles doing to address its 40,000 homeless?

With over 40,000 people in its ranks, Los Angeles is considered by many to be the homeless capital of the country. For a variety of factors, including climate, competing policy and an overtaxed system, Los Angeles country has lagged far behind cities like Denver, New York and San Francisco, all of which have dramatically reduced their homeless populations with permanent housing built over the last decade. But here, homelessness has grown faster than the national rate and remained a singularly intractable issue. Now, there may be hope with the first-ever federal homeless program, President Obama’s Opening Doors, and coordinated local plans such as Home for Good—a plan that combines the social service knowledge of the nonprofit sector with the private business, and Project 50 and now Project 60—Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky’s pilot programs to get the most vulnerable homeless off the streets and into supportive housing. The plans share a new approach: get people into housing before you require them to seek treatment for any potential drug or mental health problems. Critics say it’s too little too late and these programs focus too exclusively on the most chronically homeless. With so many plans proposed and failed, what if anything sets these new ambitious models apart from the rest?
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The Price of Everything

Perhaps the best way to summarize the all-encompassing story, The Price of Everything, by Eduardo Porter, is to envision a married, middle-class couple in present-day America still in bed on Sunday morning. What price did they pay, monetarily, socially, biologically and otherwise, to earn the privilege of waking up side-by-side, or perhaps intertwined? How will they spend their precious hours of the day? Will they reflect in church with family and friends or will they celebrate with mimosas over brunch at a restaurant? Either way they have already paid something of real value for the decisions that have brought them together at this hypothetical moment in time. Their courtship cost money, their wedding ceremony cost money, and their life together continues to cost money. Their cars in the garage, their mortgage payment for the roof over their heads, the food in the refrigerator - the list goes on and on. The minute they open their eyes in the morning, they are surrounded by the results of their collective cost-benefit analysis. From their quid-pro-quo courtesies around the house to their remembered judgements and grudges, there are also relationship debts to pay that having nothing to do with hard currency. One way or another, we pay a price for everything, and Mr. Porter presents an exhaustive study full of everyday examples and historical references to prove it.
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