Patt Morrison for August 9, 2011

Mercer 20108
In response to Standard & Poor’s downgrading the U.S. credit rating from AAA to AA+ on Friday, the Dow lost 634 points yesterday and $3.8 trillion from investor wealth in stocks was lost globally. Investors are losing faith that the U.S. and Europe can get a rein on their debt and prevent a double-dip recession. To make matters worse, even Asian equity markets are pulling back, and it doesn’t look like China, which helped buffer the 2008 global recession with its stimulus package, will be in a position to help this time. Recent reports show that China’s industrial growth is slow and its annual inflation has unexpectedly jumped to 6.5%. Some financial players are calling on China to help global markets by stimulating its own domestic demand. Here at home, the Federal Reserve has announced that it will keep interest rates near zero until 2013—the record low they’ve been at since December 2008. This extension of low interest rates is meant to calm investors and halt panicked selling. Will the international community come together to create an international rescue plan? And will investors sit tight or pull out as much as they can and trust in their piggy banks instead?
Mercer 20124
A new investigation into the death of Kelly Thomas, a homeless man who was beaten by Fullerton police and later died, is being proposed. The Orange County district attorney announced Monday that there's no sign officers intended to kill Kelly, but his father is calling for a broad look into the conduct, hiring practices, and training at the city's police department.
Mercer 20109
The “2011 London Riots” have entered their fourth night and law enforcement there is stretched thin. The riots, which were first sparked by the police involved shooting death of 29-year-old Mark Duggan as he was a passenger in a cab in Tottenham in north London, have quickly spread to other cities in the United Kingdom and become a topic of international concern. In what started as a demonstration of solidarity and quickly became a violent mob action, looters have been roaming the streets, setting fires and pelting police officers with bottles and fireworks. In response to the violence, Prime Minister David Cameron returned from his vacation in Italy and recalled Parliament from its summer recess to deal with the crisis, and 16,000 police officers have been deployed into the street. Are these actions enough to stem this tide of anger and violence? And what’s behind the flash mob mentality – something deeper than anger at one citizen’s death at the hands of the policy?
Mercer 20103
In an effort to crack down on undocumented immigrants, Congress is debating the Legal Workforce Act, a bill that would require farm workers to use the federal E-Verify database to confirm an employee's legal status. The bill, introduced this summer by Rep. Lamar Smith, (R-Texas), has gained support from conservatives who say illegal immigrants take jobs from Americans. Not so, says the American Farm Bureau. Even with one of the highest unemployment rates in our history, they contend that farmers can't find enough documented workers willing to pick crops. They point to Georgia, which sent convicted criminals to work the fields after an anti-illegal immigrant law emptied the fields and orchards of its workers. The convicts refused to come back because the job was too hard and now the state’s farming is in jeopardy. Opponents of the law argue that using E-Verify would make it difficult, if not impossible, to farm and they want the bill to let them bring foreign guest workers into the U.S. Such a program would require employers to advertise the available jobs to legal residents and prove that no one here will take them. Employers also must pay the guest workers a government-regulated wage and provide free housing and transportation. Is that a fair compromise? And is it a myth that California’s agriculture can’t stay in business without illegal workers?
Mercer 20104
Parking tickets--just thinking about them can make almost anyone’s head (and wallet) hurt. Gone are the good old days when a quarter bought you an hour and if you didn’t make it back in time, the total amount of your fine had a two in front of it—as in 20 bucks, give or take. Now a quarter gets you about 15 minutes and the fine can amount to half a week’s worth of groceries (for some), give or take a few bucks. Wouldn’t it be great if we were penalized based on how many minutes late we were getting back to the meter (2 minutes costs you 2 percent of the total fine)? But alas, no such luck for the tardy. So most people shell pay the fine and try to be more cautious in the future. However, some drivers simply can’t afford to pay and for one reason or another they get ticket #2 and then ticket #3 and when they get ticket #5, the city loses patience. Enter tow trucks and impound lots. Yep, gone are the days of the orange “boot” that a driver with five or more unpaid parking tickets might find on his wheel. Now the entire car is gone with a hefty towing fee, a daily storage fee and a $115 fee from the city thrown in for good measure. Some of these folks who don’t pay are scofflaws who ignored their tickets and have to pay the price, but others are unemployed or poor and simply can’t afford to pay. Ultimately, if the tickets aren’t paid, the car is sold at auction. So how many cars are being towed each month (and was yours one of them?) and how much money is the city making from this policy? What do you think, is this a legitimate way for the city to make money or does it go too far?
Mercer 20094
Rosie, the golden retriever therapy dog named after civil rights heroine Rosa Parks, has an uncanny ability to comfort children in distress. For this reason, she was chosen to accompany a 15-year-old girl who needed to testify in court that her father had raped and impregnated her. While the girl was in the witness box, the dog sat at her feet and nudged her when she stumbled or came to a particularly difficult part in her testimony. The jury’s verdict: 25 years to life for the girl’s father. What has since followed is a fight over whether the dog—and dogs in future cases—should be allowed into the courtroom. The father’s public defenders have raised several objections, arguing that the cuteness of a dog could sway jurors to sympathize with the witness and that the dogs are trained to comfort people under stress—but that the stress could be coming from telling a true, traumatic account or from lying under oath—or just from the trial altogether. Prosecuting lawyers counter the argument by saying that without the support of a dog, traumatized children might not be able to take to the stand at all. Does the presence of a comforting dog help a witness tell the truth or simply make the process less scary? Is a dog-free courtroom unfair to a child who’s been through so much or is having a dog present unfair to a defendant facing a sentence that could mean the end of his or her life?
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