Patt Morrison for August 19, 2011

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In the era of austerity, where spending on government programs from military to the education is being scaled back, giving out raises to public employees just doesn’t look very good. It also doesn’t look great to withhold the salaries of those employees from a public database that is meant to promote transparency. But the University of California has justification for both actions, both of which they have done in the past two days. Yesterday UC announced $140 million in raises for nonunion employees across the system, as part of routine annual merit increases that the UC argues is necessary to retain top notch university workers. This morning UC said they were opting-out of participating in a public database of salaries, organized by State Controller John Chiang in an effort to bring transparency to the pay of all public employees. The reasons UC won’t provide salary data to the controller: it can’t afford to arrange for detailed salary information in the way the controller wants it, plus the UC already maintains a list of salary employees. The controller’s database has participation from every other state agency, from cities to counties to irrigation districts and the California State University system; the UC system is the only state agency that has not complied. Are raises justifiable when students have been asked to pay several years of increasing tuitions; is opting-out of a salary database justifiable if UC says they can’t afford to pull it together?
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After all the debate over teacher evaluation, class size, reading & math fundamentals, special ed, etc., what actually works in public education? New test scores released Monday revealed surprising results: that the Los Angeles Unified School District not only held its own in math and English test scores, but in most cases outperformed schools run by four charter reform efforts. What’s more, the district achieved the feat without outside funding brought in by reform groups to their schools. LAUSD is championing the results but the charters say it’s not the whole picture. They claim the numbers alone leave out important elements, like the large number of students who greatly improved their scores but still did not meet proficiency standards, school safety, and student retention to list just a few. David leads a discussion with the LAUSD and heads of some of those reform efforts about what approach they take, what works—both in the long and short term—and what the goals of public education should be.
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In an era of relentless bank fees, it seemed the one sure bet to remain free for use were debit cards. The ATM cards that could be used like a credit card, they have become among the most used banking tools in the industry—easy, reliable and up until now, free. Like all good things it seems like the principle of free debit cards has come to an end: starting in October in five states, Wells Fargo will charge customers $3 per month if they use their debit card to make purchases. Customers can avoid the fee if they don’t use their card or by signing up for certain checking accounts; JP Morgan Chase has been testing out a $3 monthly charge for its debit card customers in Wisconsin, and other smaller banks are also starting to implement similar fees. This can all be traced back to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act, passed last year, that among other things capped the amount that banks can charge merchants in “swipe fees” for using debit cards. Those fees are capped at about 21 cents per transaction, down from an average of 44 cents per transaction. It’s natural for banks to go looking elsewhere to make up for that lost revenue and they have apparently turned to the pockets of their clients. Free debit cards aren’t the only unpleasant change for consumers, debit card rewards programs are being eliminated. If your bank eventually starts to charge you for using a debit card, will you close down the account or simply pay the $3/month to avoid the hassle?
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Former Delaware Senate candidate and self-identified Tea Party politician Christine O’Donnell walked out of an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan this week after a line of questioning she found “embarrassing” and later called “borderline sexual harassment.” She made the accusation on grounds that Morgan was asking her questions he wouldn’t have asked a man. "Imagine if Bill Clinton were there," O'Donnell said in an interview with NBC. "Would he ask him, 'Do you still hang out with Monica Lewinsky? C'mon, we talked about it in the '90s, c'mon, do you still have that fascination with cigars, Bill?'" O’Donnell’s litmus test, often referred to as the Gloria Steinem sexism test (would a man be treated this way?) was also cited in the media this week in connection to photos of Michelle Bachmann eating a corn dog. But did that argument lose clout when the media began posting similar corn dog-eating pictures of Texas governor and presidential hopeful Rick Perry? Does equal treatment mean it’s not harassment? Where do you draw the line?
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