Patt Morrison for August 23, 2011

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Did NATO help pave the way for Sharia law in Libya?

It’s just a few short lines in a draft of the new Libyan constitution that is circulating around on the internet but it’s enough to have some people worry about the shape and ideology of the new Libyan government that will ostensibly soon be taking over the country. The draft constitution says “Islam is the Religion of the State, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence,” and that’s enough to raise fears of Islamic law, or Sharia, being the foundation for a new Libyan government and legal system once Muammar Qaddafi’s regime falls. Before we all get carried away it’s worth noting that several Middle Eastern countries, with democratic governments, have similar language deferring to Islamic law principles in their constitutions—among them are Indonesia, Turkey and even Iraq. It’s also important to point out that there are no obviously Islamist elements in Libya’s transitional government, and indeed representatives of the rebel group have gone to great pains to play down any fears of a new religious theocracy taking over in Tripoli. But as street battles rage in the Libyan capital we should be looking ahead to the formation of a new government and the consideration challenges that government would face, from rebuilding a shattered economy to pulling together a very fractured country. What will a new Libyan government look like and will it have an Islamist bent to it?
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What passes for a mild trembler on the West Coast has certainly caught the attention of East Coasters after a 5.9 earthquake struck Virginia this afternoon, with the epicenter about 87 miles southwest of Washington D.C. It was enough to cause some damage in the D.C. area, including a partial collapse of a Department of Homeland Security building and some falling spires at the National Cathedral, and send office workers scurrying onto the streets. From the White House to Congress and the Pentagon, offices were evacuated and people poured out onto sidewalks, many of them having experienced their first earthquake. Truth is there are several major fault lines that run up the East Coast and also through the Midwest—one of the biggest earthquakes to strike in U.S. history actually hit on a fault under Missouri, a 8.0 quake along the New Madrid fault line in 1812. There’s a big fault running right under Manhattan, although the last earthquake there was in 1884. So while California likes to claim ownership over staring down earthquakes with steely-eyed determination there is obviously room for East Coasters to join in the shaking. Do you feel any new sympathy for our shaken colleagues in Washington?
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In recent years, politicians like Barack Obama and Jerry Brown have talked a lot about the potential of a “green economy” to create millions of jobs and reinvigorate the nation’s finances, but a new study by the Brookings Institution has found otherwise: clean-technology jobs only account for 2% of American employment. Though California leads the nation with its 320,000 “green jobs”—90,000 of which are concentrated in the L.A. Metropolitan area—Silicon Valley ranked only slightly above the nationwide average, with 2.2%. In fact, emerging employment figures indicate that efforts by federal and state governments to pump money into these jobs are proving dramatically unsuccessful. Two years ago, California was awarded $186 million in federal stimulus money to fix drafty homes, but so far about only half of the money has been spent, and only 538 full-time jobs have been created. The $59 million in federal, state and local money meant for green job training and apprenticeships has also yielded disappointing results, with 719 job placements. The number of green jobs has even declined in some areas, with a loss of 492 positions in the South Bay between 2003 and 2010. Though California’s own environmental legislation has helped create a business environment hospitable to a new green economy, nationwide declines in construction and demand have hurt the wide-spread growth of green jobs. Why have so many fewer jobs been created than originally promised? And have companies and the government overestimated how much the public really cares about energy efficiency?
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Vera Farmiga is an accomplished actress appearing in such critically acclaimed films as The Departed and Up in the Air, a role for which she received an Academy Award nomination. Now, because of a deep connection to a script, Farmiga can add director to her list of credits. The actress was cast as Corinne Walker in the film Higher Ground, the story of a woman who begins to question her faith (Christianity), but when the financing for the film hit a stumbling block, Farmiga stepped-in to direct. With her name attached, the movie was back on track and marked her directorial debut. Higher Ground walks us through the life of a passionate, intelligent and deeply religious woman (Corinne Walker played by Farmiga), who, locked inside the narrow boundaries of her spiritual world, starts to doubt herself, the people in her life and her religion. She utters a line to her husband (played by Joshua Leonard) in the film about his unease dealing with things that he can't understand like literature, God, or even how to satisfy a woman. How can some so readily accept while others question? Does the quest for a spiritual life and inner growth lead us to more questions than answers? One of the central questions of the film is, is it possible for faith and doubt to coexist? Patt talks to this ethereal actress about the script and her experience directing for this first time.
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The very notion of a private library flies in the face of a generations-old institution. Public libraries were once the cornerstones of a community, and even in the digital age of the internet and books on iPads, local libraries still act as education hubs for younger children. Still not the most common notion, the idea of library privatization is gaining steam in California. But many fear that privatization would destroy these iconic houses of knowledge. Others feel that, with a struggling economy, privatization is the only way to way to increase efficiency and cut costs. Assembly Bill 438 is seeking to place limitations on companies wanting to pick up library contracts. Among the contingencies listed in the bill are rules to ensure that no current library employee would lose their pay or benefits. Several cities and counties around the state have experimented with privatized libraries, including Camarillo and Moorpark in Ventura County, and in many of these smaller municipalities there is a clear choice between a privately run library or no library at all. California librarians are cheering AB 438 for making it more difficult to privatize libraries and have been making frequent trips to Sacramento to ask for more funds. How should California deal with its libraries? Do sacrifices need to be made?
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The American middle class was a hurting bunch before the “great recession” of 2008 struck—for decades the gap between the rich and poor in this country has been growing at a fairly steady pace and middle class incomes had been largely stagnant. An analysis from Citigroup back in 2005 found that all of the movement and spending in the American economy was among the top reaches of wealth: the richest 1 percent of households possessed as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent and with each passing year a greater share of the nation’s assets were flowing into their pockets. It’s not surprising that as the financial crisis spread out over the past three years the situation has become exacerbated: according to figures from Gallup, from May 2009 to May 2011 daily consumer spending rose by 16 percent among Americans earning more than $90,000 a year; among all other Americans, spending was completely flat. As politicians wrestle with job creation there is a real possibility that the slow erosion of the American middle class, once the strength of this country, will become a permanent trend that is now evidenced by persistent high unemployment among those middle income workers. The troubling trend is not just seen in the U.S. but in other developed countries as well. New research from the University of Oxford found that in the week of several recent financial crises the rich have usually strengthened their economic position while the middle class suffered depressed income for a long time after a crisis. We look at a growing body of research that paints a bleak picture for the middle class and what could be an economy that is forever changed.
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