Patt Morrison for August 18, 2011

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Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: banks and financial institutions, saddled with bad loans and investments, set off a ripple-effect panic when it becomes clear that their toxic assets will cost billions of dollars in losses, leading to a financial crisis and ultimately a global recession. Sound familiar? The first time we heard this story was in 2008, when the toxic assets were mostly mortgage-backed securities that started to fall apart when the housing market bubble burst in dramatic fashion. Those assets, owned and subsequently insured by so many institutions who were eager to get a piece of the once lucrative pie, eventually led to the downfall of Lehman Brothers, AIG, Countrywide and many more. Today the stock market will close with losses of nearly 500 points, this time panicking about European banks holding bad assets that are often backed up by American banks. The interconnectivity of these investments—this time European bonds from troubled countries like Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy—threatens the same kind of domino effect that happened in 2008. Reports of an impending second recession and persistently high unemployment rates don’t help matters much, but one can’t help but feel some sense of déjà vu as global markets once again mash the sell button. Is this 2008 all over again and is a second recession all but inevitable?
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Job creation is all the rage, as the national unemployment rate hovers north of 9% and joblessness in certain pockets of the country are even higher—here in California unemployment is sitting at a painful 11.8%. While politicians are scrambling yet again to come up with ways to stimulate job growth, the reality is that there aren’t many tools left for governments to employ…in order to get people employed. On the national scene President Obama is readying fairly sizable jobs legislation for Congress in September that will include money for refurbishing schools, rebuilding infrastructure and tax credits for businesses that start hiring workers. The plan is ambitious, and the president has hinted that it will also include deficit reduction measures to revive his effort for a “grand bargain” on narrowing the federal debt—the measure is likely to include extensions on the payroll tax credit and extension of unemployment benefits. Does it have any chance at making it through a hostile GOP-controlled House of Representatives, and even if it does, can it work? Here in California Gov. Jerry Brown is getting in on the jobs fun, appointing a “jobs czar” who formerly worked at Bank of American and GMAC, with the mission of being a go-between for business, labor leaders and the state government. Regulation reform, legislation and executive actions are all on the table to stimulate job creation in California, but again, how much can realistically be done? It’s become a political necessity for our elected leaders to take on some kind of jobs platform but is this anything more than good intentions and scant options?
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According to Donald Trump, “the fact is, [Obama] takes more vacations than any human being I've ever seen…he's already exceeded George Bush and we're not even through the year.” Not quite—according to several news outlets—but still, with 14 million Americans out of work, a historic downgrade of the country’s credit rating and a volatile stock market, should President Obama be packing for a 10-day retreat at the 28-acre Blue Heron Farm compound on Martha’s Vineyard? Critics say the estimated $50,000 per week rental shows the hypocrisy of a president who has pledged not to rest “until every American looking for a job can find one.” And by the day, republicans like Mitt Romney are piling on, making a big show of appealing to the president to, please, not take his vacation. Of course, there’s nothing new to this story; from Madison after the War of 1812, to Carter during the energy crisis, it’s part of a long and hearty tradition of questioning the president’s past times. We take a quick look back in vacation history.
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“I think we’re seeing almost weekly, or even daily, scientists that are coming forward and questioning the original idea that manmade global warming is what is causing the climate to change,” said Republican presidential candidate Rick Perry at a meeting with business leaders in New Hampshire yesterday. The Texas governor, whose home state releases the most carbon dioxide in the country, went on describe global warming as an unproved theory that didn’t warrant huge financial expenditures, and in doing so affirmed his belief in an idea that has become an integral part of the GOP’s crusade against the Environmental Protection Agency. Many Republicans “think that the over-regulation from the EPA is at the heart of our stalled economy,” said Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), who helped to craft the controversial appropriations bill that will fund the EPA if passed in the coming weeks. As subcommittee chairman, Simpson has overseen the addition of 38 contentious riders to the bill that have included an end to the moratorium on uranium mining near the Grand Canyon, a delay in the agency’s ability to regulate green house gas emissions, and the unlimited discharge of pesticide particles into waterways. Democrats are up in arms about the additional provisions, and the White House has already threatened to veto bill, but many Republicans are preparing for battle against the mammoth environmental organization. With governmental spending at the top of many candidates’ agendas, the EPA’s funding and in particular its business-unfriendly green house gas emission initiatives are likely to come under fire. But do the agency’s regulations actually prevent job growth and undermine businesses? Will the EPA’s budget be slashed and what will that mean for the nation’s water and air quality?
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Meet Olivia. She was born in Los Angeles and taken to Mexico to live with extended family. At the age of three, Olivia was brought back to Los Angeles to live with her mother, who slept in a room just off the kitchen as a live-in maid for a wealthy family. Raised alongside the children of the wealthy family, Olivia goes to school with them, eats meals with them, and is taken shopping for clothes with them. One minute she feels like she’s living within the American dream—and the next, like she’s living outside of it. Told largely from Olivia’s voice, Olivia struggles to define her identities of race, class, and gender in a story that is all too familiar—yet often untold—in the United States.
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