Patt Morrison for June 22, 2011

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Warnings and alarms about the ill health of our oceans have been sounded for quite some time, from disappearing coral reefs to over fishing of several marine life species. But this latest report from the International Program on the State of the Ocean is dire and unflinching in its prediction: without major action to arrest the collapse of ocean ecosystems, massive extinctions of species within a generation is assured. The report concludes, “This examination of synergistic threats leads to the conclusion that we have underestimated the overall risks and that the whole of marine degradation is greater than the sum of its parts, and that degradation is now happening at a faster rate than predicted.” The three culprits in the disturbance of ocean ecology are global warming, ocean acidification and hypoxia, or reduced oxygen content in the seas. All of the world’s coral reefs could be gone in less than 100 years. What are the possible solutions and can this march toward extinction be stopped? The report calls for immediate action by global bodies like the United Nations and measures to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but the UN has been trying for an international agreement to curb greenhouse gas emissions for years. Can the ocean’s species be saved?
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The offending scene is actually in the background of an otherwise normal high school yearbook picture: a 17-year-old male student with his hands inside the dress of a 15-year-old female student at a school dance. The picture was unknowingly published and distributed in the Big Bear High School yearbook but as soon as the sexually charged image was discovered, the yearbooks were quickly rounded up and the San Bernardino sheriff’s office launched an investigation into a possible sex crime with a minor. Anyone who doesn’t return the unedited yearbook could face a charge of possession of child pornography, although there are only two yearbooks still unaccounted for. The larger question is the uproar on all sides and the desire to closely follow the letter of the law in a sexual abuse case—Big Bear High was obliged to contact the sheriff’s department about the picture and an investigation had to be subsequently launched, but many students at the high school are questioning whether all of this is necessary. When two minors are caught in a seemingly sexual act do authorities have no choice but to act decisively? Is the yearbook picture an example of ordinary teenage hormones or an opportunity to teach these kids a valuable lesson?
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Proposition 25 seemed to be pretty clear and direct in its message to California voters, who approved the initiative last fall: the two-thirds requirement for passage of a budget is eliminated and if the legislature doesn’t pass a balanced budget on time, they lose their pay. It was probably predictable that conflict over Prop 25 would develop rather quickly and sure enough this year’s budget cycle brought up an early test of whether legislators should be paid. The Democratically controlled state senate and assembly passed a budget last week that, on the surface at least, was balanced in that it closed the roughly $10 billion deficit. But Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed that budget, saying that it “will not stand the test of time,” opening up a complicated interpretation of Prop 25 that determines whether the legislature continues to get paid. Left to State Controller John Chiang to issue a ruling, he did that yesterday and cut off paychecks to legislators. Democratic lawmakers, in particular, were not happy with the decision and the statements issued in response were very personal in nature. Assemblymember Mike Gatto, in the Democratic leadership, criticized Chiang and the entire process, “It’s always been an easy move to bash the disliked—but the truth is that such demagoguery is rapidly becoming cliché, and does nothing to move the state forward….I halted a fulfilling private sector career path to enter public service. I now have to explain to my wife and daughter that we won’t be able to pay the bills because a politician chose to grandstand at our expense.” Do you have sympathy for Assemblymember Gatto and his colleagues? They did, after all, pass a “balanced” budget on time. Or is this just desserts for a legislature that has repeatedly failed to make the necessary tough decisions to right California’s broken fiscal ship?
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Right now, many pregnant women opt to have a prenatal screen that gives them the statistical chance that their baby will have Down syndrome.
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In a few hours, President Obama will announce how many troops he will withdraw from Afghanistan over the next 18 months. Reporting has been all over the map—CNN cites 30,000 “surge” troops home by the end of 2012; The Los Angeles Times is reporting a withdrawal of 10,000 troops by the end of this year; White House officials told Fox News that Obama has not made a final decision on a number. How will a troop withdrawal of any size change the mission in the country and is it a foregone conclusion that a long-term US troop presence, in the 15-25,000 range, will be necessary to train the Afghan National Army and continue special operations in the Pakistan border areas? Looking ahead in the region, how will the withdrawal affect reported peace negotiations between the U.S. and Taliban representatives; the tenuous balance of power in the region; and attempts to empower Afghanistan to realize its own economic potential?
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