Patt Morrison for June 23, 2011

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Negotiations over shrinking the $14+ trillion federal budget deficit will soon reach a fever pitch, as the deadline for increasing the debt ceiling looms in August and the search for a grand bargain between Democrats and Republicans intensifies. This morning Majority Leader Rep. Eric Cantor pulled out of negotiations with the White House citing differences over tax increases, which will certainly prove a political obstacle for any deal. How much of the budget balancing will come through spending cuts versus revenue (tax) increases? No matter what the outcome the message from multiple sources is clear: the time to act is now, before the budget deficit become so out of hand that it swallows up most American economic progress. The Congressional Budget Office late yesterday put out its budget projections and predicted that if the same policies persist—the Bush tax cuts are kept in place, spending on Social Security & Medicare continue at current paces, drastic spending cuts are not enacted—debt held by the public would balloon to nearly 190% of GDP by 2035. The CBO sums up these frightening numbers succinctly: “Such a path for federal borrowing would clearly be unsustainable.” The most compelling possibility laid out in the CBO projections is a scenario under which Congress does absolutely nothing: keeping spending at current levels, allowing tax cuts expire, allowing the alternative minimum tax to expand to half of all taxpayers & keeping Social Security & Medicare from any new growth. Under the “do-nothing” scenario the government would have a balanced budget by 2017. Of course taxes, as a percentage of the total economy, would rise to 23%. So how will Congress balance the budget, and would you approve if they did nothing at all?
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Chances are this bill is dead on arrival but in a national climate where attitudes toward marijuana are changing and desperation over finding new sources of revenue to close the huge national debt, anything is possible. Congressmen Barney Frank, a Democrat from Massachusetts, and Ron Paul, a libertarian Republican from Texas, have put forward a bill that remove the federal prohibition on marijuana—the bill would instead let states legalize, regulate and tax pot. The legislation is modeled after the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, which repealed the prohibition of alcohol and handed that responsibility to the states. This is, to the best of anyone’s knowledge, the first bill ever introduced in Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition. Last year California voters came within four percentage points of decriminalizing marijuana and the increasing acceptance of marijuana for medicinal purposes has resulted in dozens of states legalizing medical pot shops. Is there any chance that a law like this could pass Congress, or are Reps. Frank and Paul suffering from a contact high?
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The first “brain drain” we heard about was the most intelligent, skilled individuals of other countries leaving and coming to the United States. Foreign students would come to the U.S. for higher education and then stay (or try to) and use their degree to get a job here. This left developing countries, in particular, struggling to further develop and become competitive without their best and brightest. Now, we’re seeing a brain drain out of the U.S., leaving the U.S. in the same predicament, particularly in science and engineering. Foreign students—many from China and India—come to the U.S. for higher education and, now, take the degree to work back at home. U.S. policy has been: “get an education here and then leave.” So, because they don’t have visas and because China and India now have just as many—if not more—science and engineering jobs, the graduates take their talent to our competitors. To prevent this, CA Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren has introduced a bill to keep foreign-born workers in the country by increasing the number of H1B visas granted. Lofgren argues that the measure will bring money into the U.S. and make the country more competitive. Lofgren is responding to American companies, like Intel, Google, and Oracle, who say they face a serious shortage of talent and need to hire the very best to be competitive. The bill has been met by strong resistance from Republicans and others who point to statistics that the U.S. is producing more than enough American science and engineering grads, and we should be protecting jobs for American. In response, Lofgren and proponents say that even if we don’t increase the number of visas granted, American jobs will not be protected because the U.S. companies are following the U.S.-educated best and the brightest back to their home countries to set up shop. Should we increase the number of visas allowing foreigners to work here? Will such a measure make U.S. companies and/or the U.S. more competitive? Or, during this post-recession period of high unemployment, should we be protecting jobs for Americans?
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Here’s why your DWP bill is about to go up

Everybody loves renewable energy, who wouldn’t unless you’re an oil or coal executive? But green power comes with a price tag, and as had been promised for the past few years, customers of the Department of Water & Power are about to pay it. DWP’s new general manager is proposing annual rate increases of 5% for water and power services over the next three years, money they claim is needed to comply with new environmental regulations and protect its credit rating. While the additional revenue will cover mandates to move L.A.’s municipal power provider away from coal and deliver 33% clean energy by 2020, there is yet more money that needs to be spent in the next few years to upgrade aging utility infrastructure. More green—green in terms of the environment and in terms of the great expense—programs will also be implemented in the near future, such as moving away from the use of ocean water to cool power plants (resulting in big “dead zones” off the Southern California coast). All of which means that the 5% annual rate hike might just be the beginning. Debates over rate increases have proved contentious and this round might not be any different, with the unfilled job of ratepayer advocate looming over both the DWP and the L.A. City Council. Councilwoman Jan Perry said she would not approve rate hikes until the city hires the voter-mandated position of ratepayer advocate. DWP claims that its customers have had it good over the past 10 years, averaging much smaller rate increases as compared to other California utilities. We bring the general manager of the DWP to talk about the future of water and power in Los Angeles, and the future of your bill.
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Pressure from the Supreme Court to reduce inmate populations coupled with large state budget cuts are forcing prison officials to reduce the number of paroled gang members being monitored by GPS tracking devices from 950 to 400 by July 1st. The move follows similar surveillance cuts for criminals; decisions which the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) has acknowledged required “difficult choices.” The GPS devices, which enabled officers to hold suspect gang members accountable for crimes committed in any area, may be reinstated on a larger scale when finances are healthier. But is the $6 million dollars it will save worth the potential problems from 450 gang members under the radar? And what does this say about the state’s willingness to trade safety for financial stability?
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Govan’s LACMA will rock you…this November

Michael Govan has been called a visionary, an advocate for artists and is credited with transforming the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). LA County supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky says Govan is to LACMA what Dudamel is to the Philharmonic. He has boosted attendance by 40%, expanded the museum’s collection and completed two new exhibition halls. But to Govan, it’s not just about art hanging on a wall. He considers LACMA to be “multidisciplinary” and “multicultural” and capable of “encompass[ing] almost everything cultural. He is building bridges and has recruited dozens of new trustees including some of Hollywood’s biggest heavy weights. He has started a new weekly film series with Film Independent and is currently featuring an exhibition by Tim Burton (next year there are plans for a Stanley Kubrick exhibition). LACMA is helping to restore the Watts Towers and is working with the J. Paul Getty Trust to acquire the estate of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. What’s next? There is a whole lot of noise about “The Rock”, but you’ll have to listen to Patt to hear more about Govan’s rock art.
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