Patt Morrison for March 23, 2011

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Don’t want to be an American idiot

As Newsweek so succinctly put it, “They’re the sort of scores that drive high-school teachers to drink.” A Newsweek experiment that asked 1,000 U.S. citizens to take the official American citizenship test returned abysmal results: nearly 30% of respondents couldn’t name the vice president (Joe Biden); 44% were unable to define the Bill of Rights (the first 10 amendments of the U.S. constitution); and 73% didn’t know why we fought the Cold War (to get warm!). Americans’ civic knowledge has historically never been anything to brag about—annual civic knowledge results have only shifted up or down by 1% since WWII—but there are a variety of changing reasons why. Political scientists argue the U.S. system is just too complex; Economists point out we have a lot of very poor people without access good education; Sociologists reference a large immigrant population who isn’t fluent in English; and others argue, still, that the U.S. has more market-driven programming and less public broadcasting (read: KPCC!) devoting attention to public affairs and news. Are these just excuses?
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The motto of the California State University system is Vox Veritas Vita, which means “voice truth life.” The truth facing the beleaguered CSU system is the lives its students, faculty, support employees and the life of the system itself will be challenged in the face of huge budget cuts. The CSU Board of Trustees put forth their budget plan yesterday, anticipating $500 million in cuts from state funding, which proposed cutting enrollment by 10,000 students next year, laying off Cal State employees and faculty and asking for additional cuts of almost $300 million from the individual campuses. As bad as the news was, it could still get worse—the $500 million cut in state funding could be much more if voters don’t approve an extension of tax increases put before them by Gov. Brown. CSU students already have trouble finishing a bachelor’s degree within five years and with further class and resource reductions it won’t get any easier. Can Cal State survive as a viable high education institution?
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It’s one of the many money saving gimmicks in Gov. Jerry Brown’s overarching budget plan: “nonviolent, nonsex-offender, nonserious” inmates and parolees will be moved out of the California prison system and into county jails and probation departments throughout the state. The legislature approved a bill last week that would give $5.9 billion to the counties to take these prisoners and ensure that most of them will never return to the state prison system, as parolees will now be going to county jails for parole violations. Critics of the plan charge that the end result will be a massive release of prisoners, as 34 of the 58 county jails in California are already overcrowded and simply have no room for prisoner transfers. Supporters contend that it will save the state desperately needed money and resources, and will impact inmates who are not threats to public safety. It’s a big piece of the plan to close the state’s $26 billion deficit, but is the potential hit on public safety worth the saved money?
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The National Healthcare Act: A shadow of itself?

It has been one year since Barack Obama and the Democratic run senate passed monumental reforms to America’s healthcare system. Since then, the reforms have been placed under well-publicized and unrelenting scrutiny from members of the Republican Party and have faced attempts at repeal from the House of Representatives. As a result: the healthcare reforms have fallen victim to several key alterations and have strayed in many ways from the intent of its drafters. The National Healthcare Act has, without question, been the most divisive issue among partisan politics during the Obama presidency. One year later, where is healthcare reform today? How has it changed in this past year and where do we go from here?
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No one understands the power of words like political pollster Frank Luntz. Coining euphemisms like "energy exploration" (for oil drilling) and popularizing phrases like the "death tax” (a.k.a the estate tax), Luntz has made a career of marketing, sloganeering and devising useful—albeit divisive—rhetoric for the Republican Party. Fast forward to the present day, and Republican hopeful Governor Tim Pawlenty is getting slammed for supporting seemingly liberal green energy initiatives in Minnesota, while Republican Governor Mitt Romney is pressured to distance himself from his universal healthcare reforms in Massachusetts, the kind that pre-dated and vaguely resembled “Obamacare.” In the post-Luntzian political landscape, is their room for moderation? Can you still cherry-pick your political views and be a gun-toting, solar energy-loving, universal healthcare-supporting pro-lifer? Or has American political rhetoric become too rigid?
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