Patt Morrison for August 15, 2011

Mercer 20256
Legendary investor Warren Buffett sharply contradicted boilerplate Republican warnings against raising taxes on the wealthy today in a New York Times op-ed piece that called for Congress to “stop coddling the super-rich” and “get serious about shared sacrifice.” Buffett’s letter comes on the heels of recent party selections for the new congressional debt super committee, which is tasked with cutting $1.5 trillion from the budget over the next 10 years and was created in the aftermath of the disappointing debt ceiling compromise. Noting that Washington legislators doggedly protect the very rich “as if we were spotted owls or some other endangered species,” Buffett dismissed the prevalent conception that the taxation discourages big investment, and disputed claims that higher taxes prevent job creation with statistics from the 1980s and 1990s. Observing the financial burden already borne by the lower and middle classes, the “Oracle of Omaha” advocated tax increases for those earning more than $1 million annually, and higher tax rates for those earning more than $10 million. Will this financial advice from the third richest man in the world discredit GOP economic claims and soften its intractable position on new revenues? Or will lawmakers fight over the same old issues as they struggle to slash the nation’s massive budget deficit?
Mercer 20257
There’s one common denominator in the phenomena of relatively harmless flash mobs, massive national protests that upend authoritarian regimes and rioting in the streets of London: cell phone communication, whether it’s through calls, texts, message services, Twitter or Facebook, brought together huge numbers of people. This can be a force for good, destruction or goofy fun, but there’s little doubt that fast and reliable cell phone communication can rally thousands, or even millions, to action. This takes us to a conflict over the use of cell phones from San Francisco where First Amendment rights and public safety concerns have clashed. The Bay Area Rapid Transit police force—otherwise known as BART, the subway system connecting San Francisco to the rest of the Bay Area—has had a rough few years. First was the seemingly unprovoked killing of Oscar Grant on New Year’s morning in 2009 by a BART officer who was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter; then on July 3rd of this year another man was killed by BART police on a train platform as he was attempting to throw a knife at the officer. One protest over the actions of BART police already broke out on July 11, resulting in service interruptions to trains and several arrests, and another protest was scheduled for last Thursday. In order to squelch the protest before it could begin BART authorities decided to shut down cell phone signals at all BART stations, making it impossible for protesters to get organized at the underground stations. BART claims that public safety comes before the rights of protesters, and that nothing stopped protests from happening outside of BART stations. First Amendment advocates worry about the precedent of shutting down cell phones to quell free speech. Which side do you choose?
Mercer 20219
There’s little doubt that an NFL stadium and team are coming to downtown LA in the not-so-distant future, and while that pie is on the horizon everyone’s angling for a piece of it. The city of Los Angeles hopes to raise some revenue by hosting the NFL team at the Coliseum during the three or four years it will take to complete the proposed downtown football stadium. But USC could block those efforts and prevent the city from squeezing out something extra; the school’s lease gives the Trojans veto power over the NFL returning to the stadium. They’re using that as leverage to try to negotiate a long-sought new “master lease,” which would give the school near-total control over the stadium. The Coliseum commission is hesitant to turn a public stadium over to private university hands, but if USC doesn’t get their way and chooses to block the NFL from playing in the Coliseum, the team would likely go to the Pasadena Rose Bowl. Is USC being selfish? Who has civic responsibility here? Does Pasadena want 90,000 fans coming regularly to the Rose Bowl?
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Amidst a flood of bad economic news, there’s one piece of good news: mortgage rates are at a record low. Last week, 15-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 3.5%, a record low, while 30-year fixed-rate mortgages averaged 4.32%, the lowest in nine months. In response, refinance applications went up 30% as of the first week of August—the highest level this year. And yet, even with rates so low, people are not buying homes. What is it that’s keeping people from buying homes – high down payments, banks demanding restrictive qualifications, concern about the economy? And will the uptick in refinanced homes improve the situation? Is it a good idea to buy now, and why or why not?
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California Prison officials have agreed to let a handful of journalists tour Pelican Bay State Prison this week (WED) following an inmate hunger strike at maximum security prisons last month. Inmates refused to eat for three weeks to protest conditions inside security housing units, also called the SHU. Thousands of prisoners in California joined the strike at one point making it the largest prison hunger strike in California in a decade. Inmates in the SHU spend 23 hours a day inside their cells and one hour in a walled-in cement yard for “exercise.” Inmates earn indefinite terms in the solitary housing units by participating or being affiliated with one of the powerful prison gangs. The only way out of the SHU is for inmates to “debrief”-- renounce the gang and inform on other members. Inmates says the policy’s inhumane—and puts them and their families at risk of retaliation. Prison officials say the policy has undercut the power of prison gangs and reduced violence in the prisons. KPCC’s Julie Small will go inside the SHU, meeting with a gang investigator who debriefs inmates, as well as the warden of Pelican Bay.
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On March 18, 1990, a pair of thieves disguised as police officers entered Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum and stole thirteen works of art, including paintings by Vermeer, Degas, Manet, three by Rembrandt, and others. It is the largest single property theft in recorded history, with an estimated total value of $500 million. To this day, none of the works have been recovered, and the case remains a top priority of the FBI Art Recovery Squad. Of the $6 billion dollars worth of art that museums and collectors lose to theft annually, Rembrandt holds the record of the most stolen work of all time. With the “Takeaway Rembrandt,” Jacob de Gheyn (1932), having been stolen four times alone, why is it that Rembrandt is so popular among the thieves? Reporters Anthony Amore, who is also head of security and art investigative recovery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Tom Mashberg, who was taken by car to an undisclosed warehouse and shown what appeared to be Gardner’s stolen Rembrandt’s "The Storm on the Sea of Galilee," join Patt to describe the most shocking and intricately-worked out robberies of the world’s most tightly-guarded museums.
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