Patt Morrison for July 5, 2011

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After more 33 days of testimony and years in the public eye, the verdict was announced this morning in the Casey Anthony case. Anthony, on trial for the murder of her 2 year old daughter in 2008, faced charges of first-degree murder, second-degree murder, manslaughter, third-degree felony murder, aggravated manslaughter of a child, aggravated child abuse and four counts of providing false information to a law enforcement officer. She has been acquitted of all charges of murder but found guilty of the false information charge. The ruling frees Anthony from facing the death penalty that, until today, seemed like a possible sentence. With so many answers doled out, a question still remains. Why, among every murder trial, every news story, every issue in the world today… why did the Casey Anthony trial gather so much attention? The subject of dateline segments, 20/20 specials and more, Anthony’s case received an unprecedented amount of focus from the media. Especially given the circumstances, however grim or morose they may be, the story has managed to successfully captivate the media for the last three years. Has the Casey Anthony case deserved the amount of publicity it has received? Why is the public so fascinated with the drama of the courtroom?
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Does China own too much U.S. debt?

Our biggest creditor, China, holds at least $1.115 trillion in U.S. debt, and is a frequent presence at the Treasury’s weekly auctions, which sell between $13 billion and $35 billion of debt at each session. Reuters investigated the U.S. Department of the Treasury and found that a 2009 change in the procedure for debt auctions was made in response to suspicions that China was buying more debt than it reported. Officials were particularly worried when they discovered that Chinese entities were using “guaranteed bidding,” a method by which they arranged with dealers to place bids at auctions for them and then collected the bought debt afterward. This enabled China to remain anonymous in the transactions and to skirt the Treasury’s requirement that no single bidder purchase more than 35% of the bonds at a given auction. Worried that China had acquired a controlling interest multiple times, the Treasury accordingly changed its policy to exclude guaranteed bidding, though it publicly attributed the change to “technical modernization.” Was the Treasury aware that China was buying more debt than allowed? And if so, how long did they know it before they changed the rules? What economic impact, if any, could result from China's owning so much of U.S debt?
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Michele Bachmann is the most recent in a long line of mostly Republican candidates asked to refrain from using campaign theme songs written by mostly left-leaning artists. Case in point, Tom Petty asked Michele Bachmann to stop using his song “American Girl”, and as if that wasn’t bad enough Katrina and the Waves told her she can’t use “Walking on Sunshine” either. But Bachmann’s won’t back down she’s playing the song anyway. Experts say there is a bit of a gray area when it comes to whether a politician can continue to use a song once the artist has asked them to stop, but generally most candidates do. The controversy started when Bruce Springsteen told Ronald Regan to stop using his song “message of hope” (contrary to popular belief Regan never actually played “Born in the U.S.A”). Bachmann shouldn’t feel too bad for being turned down twice; George W. Bush was rejected four times. He was told to stop playing Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down”, John Mellencamp’s “R.O.C.K in the U.S.A”, Sting’s “Brand New Day” and “Still the One” by Orleans. Sen. John McCain took some flack for his running mate Sarah Palin’s use of the Heart song “Barracuda”. McCain had to settle out of court with Jackson Brown for using “Running on Empty” in a campaign ad without permission. While Republicans seem to have a hard time of it, Democratic candidates like Bill Clinton not only get the thumbs up, sometimes they can get a popular band to reunite, as was the case with Fleetwood Mac when Clinton used their song “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” for his campaign. So what is a Republican candidate to do? The safe bet? Play a country song.
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The Supreme Court’s recent term featured momentous decisions, with several verdicts relying on new applications of the First Amendment and others seeming to defend business interests. Free speech played a central role in Court rulings that allowed protesters to demonstrate at funerals, enabled generic drug companies to forgo warning labels, and protected politicians who opt for private financing, Other decisions resulted in narrowed criteria for class-action law suits, a validation of Arizona’s law dictating stricter penalties for businesses hiring illegal workers, and easier inmate access to DNA evidence that could help prove their innocence. The Court also rendered judgment on issues affecting us right here in California, finding that a ban on violent video games sold to minors violated the First Amendment’s right to free speech and that overcrowded state prisons infringed on the Eighth’s protection against “cruel and unusual punishment.” Four justices have joined the bench in the last five years, with strong convictions and sometimes controversial ways of reading the law. Much of the time, they are sharply divided along ideological lines—in fact, 12 out of recent 14 decisions saw this pattern. Conservative justices John Roberts, Samuel Alito, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia often voted together, as did liberal justices Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan; the moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy served as the “swing” vote on most decisions. It would seem that many of the recent rulings are in line traditionally rightist and leftist attitudes on business rights, consumer protection, inmate rights and immigration. How strong are their respective influences on the bench, and what historically has caused changes in that balance of power? What common beliefs do the justices share, and what are they unwilling to compromise on? And will Obama’s healthcare plan, affirmative action and Prop 8 be next on the Court’s agenda?
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It’s a decades-old mystery that, at times, has turned into a contentious debate: what are the causes of autism and why have the cases of autistic children skyrocketed within the past 30 years? The debate over the causes of autism has centered on whether genetic or environmental factors play the bigger roles, and opinions have shifted as the research has evolved. Genetic factors have been the focus of research for the past 15 years but yesterday the shift was on again, back toward the possibility of environmental conditions playing into the development of autism, from chemicals to medications. A study published yesterday in the Archives of General Psychiatry looked at 192 pairs of twins in California and, using a mathematical model, found that genetics account for about 38% of the risk of autism and environmental factors account for about 62%. Could prenatal conditions for fetuses, from the area in which mothers live to the kinds of prescription drugs they have taken over their lifetime, play an even bigger role than genetics in predicting autism? Another study, also published yesterday in the Archives of General Psychiatry, looked at the use of antidepressants in mothers, both before and during pregnancy, and the possible connection to autism. A two-fold increase in the risk of autism was found when mothers took antidepressants at some point in the year before giving birth. Is it the environment, your genetics or some combination of both that leads to autism in children, and will we ever have a definitive answer?
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