Patt Morrison for March 22, 2011

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Beyond Libya: Activity Across the Middle East

With the worlds eyes on Libya it might be easy to overlook a huge stir of activity in relatively the same area. Protestors have been cracked down upon in Bahrain stemming most hopes of reform. In Yemen the president answered calls to leave office by inferring that if he were to step down, the country would be thrown into bloody civil war. In Egypt a government in the midst of reform is struggling to secure a semblance of order. What is going on in the Middle East beyond Libya? What news have we missed from this volatile region?
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In 2005 Congress passed the Stolen Valor Act that would make it a crime punishable by up to a year in jail to falsely claim to have received high military decorations. In 2007 Xavier Alvarez made some bizarre proclamations at a public meeting of the Three Valleys Municipal Water District, including being awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor (he also talked about playing hockey for the Detroit Red Wings). Alvarez never served in the Marine Corps, as he boasted, and he never won the Medal of Honor, and as a result of his lies he was successfully prosecuted under the Stolen Valor Act. Last year the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Alvarez’s jail sentence and yesterday the court went further in refusing to reconsider its ruling and deem the Stolen Valor Act unconstitutional. The Chief Judge of the U.S. 9th Circuit, Judge Alex Kozinski, summed up his ruling this way: “Saints may always tell the truth, but for mortals living means lying.” Is lying a form of constitutionally protected free speech?
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Love it or hate it, as Starbucks goes so goes the world of coffee—so coffee drinkers took notice late last week when Starbucks announced it was raising the price of its packaged coffee by an average of 12 percent. Starbucks blamed the price increases on the speculation market, which is driving up the price of Arabica coffee beans, but speculators might have reason to worry about supplies. In the last few years coffee yields in Colombia and in many of Latin America’s other premier coffee regions have plummeted as a result of rising temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains. It’s debatable whether the weather phenomenon has a direct link to global warming but what is not up for argument is the finicky nature of coffee plants and the shrinking crop of quality coffee beans. There are some fears among purveyors that the Arabica coffee supply from Colombia may never rebound—that the world might have hit “peak coffee.” Should you fear for the future of your morning cup of joe?
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March marks morbid market for housing

As it turns out, any housing market recovery that’s been predicted is still a long way off, according to data out this week from the National Association of Realtors. They found that February broke a three month stretch of gains, plummeting sales of pre-owned U.S. homes by 9.6 percent. That was the single largest decline since July, with prices near a nine-year low, worse than even the most pessimistic economists’ predictions. Winter weather, tight credit conditions and lagging home appraisals all had a hand in the plunge. Economists say it’s difficult to predict what will happen from here on when you add a glut of homes on the market, fed by a flood of foreclosures, and rising crude oil prices that have forced many to scale-back spending. How do you fit into the housing market? Are you looking to sell but waiting for your home to regain its pre-plunge value or are you in threat of foreclosure? Are you looking to buy but waiting for the market to level out? Patt fields your housing questions and gets a better picture of the landscape out there.
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Conventional wisdom has long had it that boys’ and girls’ brains are significantly different, with girls developing faster than boys, putting the male sex at a disadvantage in school. Perceived disparities between the sexes also are said to be a function of puberty, when boys’ and girls’ brains grow more dissimilar. However, scientists at the National Institute of Mental Health have been mapping young people’s brains for twenty years and are debunking some of these long-held beliefs. They’ve found that their brains differ significantly at age nine, but by the time study participants reached age 22, their brains had grown much more alike, especially in areas of critical thinking. And so, the saying “Men are from Mars; women are from Venus” can go right out the window.
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Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Lisa Jackson is in Los Angeles today, after a month of defending the agency’s 2012 budget in Congressional hearings, and most recently from accompanying President Obama on his trip to Brazil. She talks with Patt about the battle for the agency’s funding—of which House Republicans still want to cut a third—and how that would impact the agency’s ability to enforce environmental protections in California and across the nation. How can the EPA do its job with an uncooperative Congress holding the purse strings? And what will be the future ability of states to decide their own regulation guidelines, as California has tried to do; and vice versa, when states shirk eco-friendliness?
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