Patt Morrison for July 26, 2011

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You’ve seen a lot of President Obama these past few weeks, more than you saw of him during the debates over his health care reform law or the economic stimulus measures. You’ve seen a statesman, compromising president, an angry & frustrated president, a hopeful president, but the message from the White House has been consistent: raise the debt ceiling and reach for a “grand bargain” that, through spending cuts and tax increases, trim the budget deficit by $4 trillion or more. After House Speaker John Boehner pulled out of direct negotiations with President Obama on Friday hope for any kind of far-reaching deal is waning and the new emphasis is on avoiding default on America’s loans next Tuesday, by any means necessary—but what happened to the ambitious grand bargain? After the partisan rancor of the debt ceiling fight, what the president characterized yesterday as a “partisan three-ring circus,” dies down, can the effort to reach a compromise to reduce the deficit be revisited? Can the president ever restore the faith of his liberal base, who feels that he has been far too quick to agree to cuts in Social Security, Medicare and other social safety net programs? According to a poll published by the Washington Post this morning more than a third of Americans believe that President Obama’s policies are hurting the economy; confidence in the ability of Congress and the president to reach a deal on the debt ceiling by next week is low on Wall Street and in foreign markets; all of the hopes of finding an opportunity in the debt crisis to make major changes seem to have drained from Washington and the country. Can President Obama, the man who ran on “hope” in 2008, restore any before next Tuesday?
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The Los Angeles City Council’s Budget and Finance Committee agreed yesterday: motorists who get tickets under the controversial red-light camera program can ignore them. The worst that will happen, said Councilman Bill Rosendahl, “is somebody calling you from one of these collection agencies and saying ‘pay up.’ And that’s it.” That’s because the tickets are part of a “voluntary payment program,” without any teeth to collect fines or go after those who fail to pay them. The recommendation is the latest iteration in a long and controversial life of the city’s red-light cameras. Last month, the Los Angeles Police Commission unanimously voted to ban the cameras, echoing controller Wendy Greuel’s audit last year, which found the camera program—budgeting $2.7 million a year—costs the city more than it makes in revenue. On the other side, the LAPD and a local coalition maintain that the cameras increase road safety. The City Council, which was deadlocked over the fate of the cameras last month, is expected to vote tomorrow on whether to end the program and remove the cameras from 32 intersections beginning Sunday.
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In an effort to increase organ donation in California, where only 28% of drivers choose to give up vital organs after death—compared with the national average of 40%—the state’s Department of Motor and Vehicles is taking a definitive stand. Starting this month, after years of being voluntary, answering that question on a California driver’s license application will become mandatory. Several donation advocacy groups support the move, which became law this year after State Senator Elaine Alquist (D-Santa Clara) pushed the bill through the legislature, unopposed. Still, some bio-ethicists are skeptical of the move; a similar change in Virginia law actually resulted in a decline in organ donors because being forced to answer the question drove more people to decline. Policy makers have proposed alternative plans—a default-to-donation policy that requires opponents opt-out; growing organs from stem cells; even paying for organs. All agree demand is greater than ever as Americans increasingly struggle with obesity-related illnesses and as deaths that leave organs in transplantable conditions, like car accidents, become more rare. Which method is most effective and why are donor rates so much lower in the golden state? Could it be that California’s transient population feels less connected to its neighbors or that cultural attitudes of the state’s diverse populations deter donors? Patt digs into some of the psychology behind the decision-making process. For example, why are people who register for a license online so much more likely to check the donor box than those who apply in-person at the DMV?
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Chore Wars: myth of the slacker dad debunked?

It’s an age-old domestic debate: who does more work, men or women? According to the latest research, it’s neither. Various surveys including statistics on professional duties, household chores and child-rearing responsibilities are turning up new evidence that men and women now have combined daily totals of paid and unpaid work that for the first time are almost exactly the same. According to the most recent data by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women are actually only putting in about 20 minutes more work (paid and unpaid) per day than their husbands. It's still true, however, that women with young children put in more hours around the house and with the kids, at the same time as their husbands are putting more time in at the office, where cutting back hours as a new dad is still stigmatized. Women may be working more, but it's not the extra 15 hours a week predicted by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her 1990 book “The Second Shift,” which argued that women liberated by the feminist revolution to work one shift in the workplace suddenly found themselves working a second shift with the kids when they arrived home because their husbands had not made a parallel cultural change. TIME editor Ruth Konigsberg says, quantitatively speaking, working mothers “have no grounds to stand on. And it’s time that women—myself included—admit it and move on.” So what about the pay gap? And is the conventional belief that working mothers have it the worst simply a myth?
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African Americans do not speak with one voice, but they do have an organization that for over 100 years has worked to have the many voices of blacks heard. This week that group, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is meeting in Los Angeles, highlighting the challenges and promise facing its members. As the nation pulls itself out of recession, slow economic growth and a disproportionately high unemployment rate for blacks continues to keep some families at risk for losing their homes and struggling to keep food on the table. On the political side, states are in the process of redistricting, threatening traditional boundaries that have protected minority voting blocks. The Voting Rights Act is threatened in several states as new restrictions are being put on voters, such as having to show photo I.D. before casting a ballot. And as the country looks to the coming election in 2012, are African Americans disappointed in our first president of color? Historically Democrat in their leanings, will they now look to the Republicans for support? The NAACP is fighting for parity in education and an equal voice in the nation’s policies, but what is the best way to accomplish this? And, as the organization reaches out to other people of color, can it really make a difference in these major areas of concern to all?
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