Patt Morrison for July 11, 2011

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Go big, go medium, go small - but don’t go home. Those seem to be the options facing President Obama, Democrats and Republicans in Congress as all three sides grapple with the idea of a grand bargain that will cut the federal budget deficit, by as much as $4 trillion, through a series of spending cuts, entitlement cuts and “revenue increases” (higher taxes). President Obama took to the microphone this morning to argue for the “go big” option, believing that now is as good as any time to make the series of hard choices that will be necessary to trim a $14 trillion deficit and structurally change the finances of a federal government that seem to be perpetually in flux. Speaker of the House John Boehner seemed to chose “go medium” when, late on Saturday, he announced that he was withdrawing from his direct negotiations with President Obama because Republicans would never agree to any new tax increases. “Go small” could become the only practical option left - trimming spending and still increasing the federal debt ceiling while putting off the politically difficult sacrifices that would have to be made by both parties and all Americans, including cuts to entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare and raising taxes. And still, there is the “go home” elements in both parties that are so entrenched in their positions—no changes to Medicare, no new taxes—that any kind of deal might prove impossible. Is the time ripe, as President Obama believes, for a sweeping deal that fundamentally alters the way the federal government does business? Or is it time to give up, take a deal, no matter the size, and kick the can a little further down the road?
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It has been a historically bad couple of years for the University of California and California State University systems. The state’s perennial budget deficits have forced several rounds of tuition increases for UC and CSU students. Both systems have had to cut back on faculty, staff, class offerings, extra curricular activities and events. This week, officials at both UC and CSU are meeting with expectations of further tuition increases and budget cuts, made necessary by a new state budget that slashes $150 million from each system.
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Polling data from the last 50 years suggests that California voters would reject a measure abolishing the state death penalty if it ever came to the ballot, and yet Senate Bill 490 is proposing just that. On Thursday, the bill cleared its first legislative hearing, and if passed in the Senate, voters may be able to decide the issue in the November 2012 elections. The U.S. 9th Court of Appeals estimated that an end to capital punishment could save California $5 billion over a 20 year period by substituting life sentences for state execution. The figure seems attractive to many in light of the $4 billion that have been spent on administering the death penalty here since 1978, as well as the difficulties of the current fiscal climate. Supporters say also that official revenge through capital punishment neither makes the state safer nor provides much comfort to victims’ families. Opponents of the measure vociferously dispute these points, and argue that criminals will be less inclined to avoid shooting cops and others if they know they cannot be executed for their actions. Governor Jerry Brown, who has long opposed the death penalty, has not yet announced whether he will sign such a bill if it reaches his desk. State politicians too are weighing the risks of supporting such a controversial measure, since elections are approaching, and they are expected to be highly competitive. Why or why not should we ban capital punishment here? And can life sentencing provide the same degree of punishment that execution can?
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With the closure of the 405 just 5 days away, commuters are bracing for record congestion and annoyance, though L.A. city, Metro and Caltrans officials are urging early preparation for the upcoming weekend from Hell. Ramps on the 10-mile stretch between the 101 and the 10 will begin closing as early as 7 pm this Friday, July 15th, and construction on half of the Mulholland Drive Bridge will continue until 5 am on the morning of the 18th, when the freeway will reopen. The demolition of the north half of the bridge is expected to cause a similar closure and will follow the completion of construction on the south half, which is slated to take 11 months. Caltrans has taken a variety of steps to limit the inevitable traffic jams, among them posting electronic freeway signs, informing GPS companies and arranging alternate routes for truckers, while Metro will expand bus services and allow people to ride the Red, Purple and Orange lines for free that weekend. However, they advise that everyone stay home, shop nearby and seek emergency assistance locally, while L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky urges Angelinos to "stay the heck out of here." Who will be most adversely affected by the closure? And how will emergency medics, firefighters and police officers get around? Join Patt for a discussion with “Dr. Roadmap,” David Rizzo, and find out how you can comfortably survive the closure.
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Since the Columbine shootings of 1999, educational institutions across the country have worked to reduce campus violence by introducing school site police officers, surveillance systems, drug testing and zero-tolerance policies. Many agree that the intention behind these measures is laudable, but extreme cases of rule enforcement—like the 2010 arrest of a twelve-year-old for doodling on her desk in class–have caused some to reappraise the educational system’s approach to safety. After visiting schools across the nation, journalist Annette Fuentes discovered the prevalence of prison-like security measures, harsh zero-tolerance policies, and the network of school officials interested in their perpetuation. In her new book, Lockdown High: When the Schoolhouse Becomes a Jailhouse, Fuentes describes the effect of this police atmosphere on children, especially those of ethnic minorities, while offering hopeful suggestions for change. But can conflict resolution programs and peer intervention really alleviate school problems? And are violent kids actually the foremost threat to children’s safety in a place more sheltered than some homes or neighborhoods?
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