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Despite global achievement of the greatest civilization in the history of the world – significantly led and developed by the American penchant for excellence, individual liberty, fairness and economic stability – there remain significant challenges that have not been effectively addressed.

Because these particular problems can have toxic effects on the economy and on the general well-being of the American people – it is of paramount importance that solutions be constructed and applied.

We present this website with the fervent hope that its content will stimulate a national discussion and, thereby, elicit thoughtful solutions to several of America’s most vexing problems.


Colleges Rattled as Obama Seeks Rating System


WASHINGTON — The college presidents were appalled. Not only had President Obama called for a government rating system for their schools, but now one of his top education officials was actually suggesting it would be as easy as evaluating a kitchen appliance.

“It’s like rating a blender,” Jamienne Studley, a deputy under secretary at the Education Department, said to the college presidents after a meeting in the department’s Washington headquarters in November, according to several who were present. “This is not so hard to get your mind around.”

The rating system is in fact a radical new effort by the federal government to hold America’s 7,000 colleges and universities accountable by injecting the executive branch into the business of helping prospective students weigh collegiate pros and cons. For years that task has been dominated by private companies like Barron’s and U.S. News & World Report.

Mr. Obama and his aides say colleges and universities that receive a total of $150 billion each year in federal loans and grants must prove they are worth it. The problem is acute, they insist: At too many schools, tuition is going up, graduation rates are going down, and students are leaving with enormous debt and little hope of high-paying jobs.

The idea that the government would try to rate the schools has rattled the entire higher education system, from elite private institutions to large state universities to community colleges.



Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers


WASHINGTON — The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict, a report published Tuesday by a leading government-funded military research organization concluded.

The CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.

In addition, the report predicted that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for American troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases.

In an interview, Secretary of State John Kerry signaled that the report’s findings would influence American foreign policy.

“Tribes are killing each other over water today,” Mr. Kerry said. “Think of what happens if you have massive dislocation, or the drying up of the waters of the Nile, of the major rivers in China and India. The intelligence community takes it seriously, and it’s translated into action.”



Scientists Warn of Rising Oceans From Polar Melt


A large section of the mighty West Antarctica ice sheet has begun falling apart and its continued melting now appears to be unstoppable, two groups of scientists reported on Monday. If the findings hold up, they suggest that the melting could destabilize neighboring parts of the ice sheet and a rise in sea level of 10 feet or more may be unavoidable in coming centuries.

Global warming caused by the human-driven release of greenhouse gases has helped to destabilize the ice sheet, though other factors may also be involved, the scientists said.

The rise of the sea is likely to continue to be relatively slow for the rest of the 21st century, the scientists added, but in the more distant future it may accelerate markedly, potentially throwing society into crisis.

“This is really happening,” Thomas P. Wagner, who runs NASA’s programs on polar ice and helped oversee some of the research, said in an interview. “There’s nothing to stop it now. But you are still limited by the physics of how fast the ice can flow.”

Two scientific papers released on Monday by the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters came to similar conclusions by different means. Both groups of scientists found that West Antarctic glaciers had retreated far enough to set off an inherent instability in the ice sheet, one that experts have feared for decades. NASA called a telephone news conference Monday to highlight the urgency of the findings.



One of the 6 Biggest Ecological Disasters in the last 4.5 Billion Years is Happening Right Now

BY JEFFREY MARLOW 05.08.14 | 10:08 AM | Wired

When a 10 km-wide meteorite slammed into the Earth roughly 65 million years ago, megatsunamis sloshed across the oceans and a front of superheated particles swept across the surface, outward from the impact site located in modern-day Mexico. Most significantly, a thick cloud of dust enshrouded much of the planet for years, leading to wild temperature swings and presenting crippling challenges to plants accustomed to clear skies.

By the time the iridium-rich dust had settled, as many as 75% of the planet’s species (the dinosaurs most famous among them) were spiraling toward extinction, never to be seen again. It was clearly a bad day for the biosphere – a stark, sudden event that was unequivocal in its destructive trajectory. The advent of human civilization may not seem as menacing as a fiery ball of death, but given our proclivity for global transportation systems, extraction and oxidation of hydrocarbons, and co-option of vast tracts of land, we may well be having an equally disastrous effect on the natural world.

This is the contention of The Sixth Extinction, the most recent environmental tour de force from New Yorker staff writer Elizabeth Kolbert. (Geologists and paleontologists have identified five “major” extinction events over the 4.5 billion year history of our planet, making the current convulsion the sixth.)

Quantifying humanity’s effect on the biosphere is an enormous tabulation challenge, with several moving targets. New species – and even entirely new biomes – continue to be discovered, even as our understanding of what species are and what diversity means constantly shifts. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to deny that things are changing. Many beloved species are on the ropes, while others, the “invasive species” humans have enabled, thrive.

Kolbert gives this epidemic of extinctions a face – fungus-covered as it may be – in her well-reported collection of case studies. “In my reporting, I kept bumping up against he fact that climate change was just a part of a larger global story of change,” Kolbert says. Viewing that change through a biological lens, she generated an account that’s part travelogue, part field journal; Kolbert’s presence and dry wit throughout the proceedings ground the narrative in a clear-eyed (read: depressing) account of ecological disaster. “You are taken along with me in these expeditions,” she explains, “so I hope that gives the book a sense that you’re discovering things as I’m discovering them. I wanted to give a sense of continuity through different time scales and different places.”



The War on Drugs

Bert McCracken Bert McCracken Huffington Post

Although Richard Nixon declared war on drugs in 1971, we must look to an economic and historic analysis of anti-drug laws in the U.S. to put the “war” into context. In the late 18th and well into the 19th century, before the drug-conviction craze, the issue of addiction was dealt with as a public-health issue and not as a criminal one. Addicts received help through treatment and were seen as deserving of empathy — or, at the very least, understanding and sympathy — instead of punishment. At the start of the 20th century, the introduction of drug-prohibition laws seemed almost undeniably linked with ethnic minorities: Asians were associated with opium or heroin; Latinos were tied to hemp or marijuana; and later, African Americans were linked to crack cocaine while low-income whites were associated with methamphetamine. But whatever the new drug of choice was at the moment, the propaganda and rhetoric stayed the same.

When exclusionary government programs (e.g., the Federal Housing Administration of the New Deal) segregate people from the economic centers of society, the segregated people will create their own economics. Prohibition laws make perfect sense if they decrease accessibility of illicit drugs, reduce crime rates, play a part in reduction of potency, or keep black-market economies from creating millionaires (even billionaires) out of criminals. But in the last 43 years, drugs have become more accessible and more potent, and drug rings have run amok, creating billions of tax-free dollars for dealers and suppliers. Meanwhile, drug-related crime has risen.

With over $51 billion spent per year, the United States will arrest over 1.5 million people for nonviolent crimes, and the ethnic discrepancies are atrocious. With the highest incarceration rate in the world, the United States puts one out of every 100 adults in prison. With law enforcement focusing on low-income and urban areas, the number of blacks and Latinos in American prisons far outweighs the number of whites. This in no way reflects the specific rates of drug use among these ethnic groups.



Troubling Student Loans


College students who borrow from private lenders often assume that private and federal student loans work the same way. The two could not be more different.

Federal loans, for example, have low, fixed rates and broad consumer protections that permit people who run into trouble to make lower, partial payments or to defer them altogether until they recover financially.

Private student loans from banks and other lenders typically come with variable interest rates, which means that borrowers who misunderstand the conditions of the loan can be shocked to find what they owe in the end. In addition, private loans offer limited consumer protections, leaving borrowers who get into trouble with few options other than default. This makes it difficult for them to get jobs, credit or to even rent apartments. The adverse consequences of a single default can last many years.

These drawbacks are bad enough, but the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau now finds other problems. Borrowers have been forced into default without warning. Borrowers with perfect credit histories can suddenly be required to pay the full amount of the loan if someone who co-signed on the loan dies. Some have received the bad news, accompanied by threats of legal action, even as they mourn the death of the parent or grandparent who co-signed their loan.

These unfair contracts date from the fiscal crisis, when investors were burned by securities backed by sloppily drawn student loans to borrowers who had not been properly vetted. The upshot was that more lenders began requiring co-signers who could be held accountable. That seemed reasonable. But the agency report shows that lenders are springing surprises not only on borrowers but on co-signers, keeping them tied to loans long after borrowers have proved their creditworthiness.



Economists Slam the War on Drugs in a New London School of Economics Report

Abby Haglage 05.05.14 Daily Beast

The ‘singular approach’ to fighting drug abuse isn’t working—and it’s time for a change, says a new report produced by the London School of Economics. What they suggest, in five steps.

In an 81-page report released Monday evening, the best and brightest minds in the economic drug policy world send the United Nations a loaded message about the drug war: Enough.

The individual analyses of the economists and drug policy experts, signed by five Nobel Prize winners in economics, expose the collateral damage of the drug war and offer suggestions on how the policies can—and should—change.

“Academics and economists have great insight into this issue—and for so long, they’ve been ignored,” said John Collins, the International Drug Policy Project Coordinator at the London School of Economics, which produced the report. “Evidenced-based data about the war on drugs has been lacking for too long. It’s time that something changes.”

Collins noted that the report, titled “Ending the Drug Wars,” is nowhere near a simple fix. “There is no single way to solve this issue,” he said. “It’s an extraordinarily complex issue. We’ve tried to fix it with a singular approach—the drug war—and that hasn’t worked.”

The LSE’s report joins a chorus of voices speaking out against the war on drugs in recent years. “We’re not saying, ‘In 30 years, this is what our drug policy landscape should look like,’” Collins said. “We’re saying, ‘This isn’t working. We need to start moving in a different direction.’”



U.S. Climate Has Already Changed, Study Finds, Citing Heat and Floods


The effects of human-induced climate change are being felt in every corner of the United States, scientists reported Tuesday, with water growing scarcer in dry regions, torrential rains increasing in wet regions, heat waves becoming more common and more severe, wildfires growing worse, and forests dying under assault from heat-loving insects.

Such sweeping changes have been caused by an average warming of less than 2 degrees Fahrenheit over most land areas of the country in the past century, the scientists found. If greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane continue to escalate at a rapid pace, they said, the warming could conceivably exceed 10 degrees by the end of this century.

“Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the scientists declared in a major new report assessing the situation in the United States.

Continue reading the main story

Pulse of the People: Americans Are Outliers in Views on Climate ChangeMAY 6, 2014
Using Weathercasters to Deliver a Climate Change MessageMAY 6, 2014
The campus of Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif. The decision by trustees to get rid of stock in coal-mining companies was a victory for a rapidly growing student-led divestment movement.Stanford to Purge $18 Billion Endowment of Coal StockMAY 6, 2014
“Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced,” the report continued. “Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighborhoods.”



The American Middle Class Is No Longer the World’s Richest

By David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy NYTimes APRIL 22, 2014

The American middle class, long the most affluent in the world, has lost that distinction.

While the wealthiest Americans are outpacing many of their global peers, a New York Times analysis shows that across the lower- and middle-income tiers, citizens of other advanced countries have received considerably larger raises over the last three decades.

After-tax middle-class incomes in Canada — substantially behind in 2000 — now appear to be higher than in the United States. The poor in much of Europe earn more than poor Americans.

The numbers, based on surveys conducted over the past 35 years, offer some of the most detailed publicly available comparisons for different income groups in different countries over time. They suggest that most American families are paying a steep price for high and rising income inequality.

Although economic growth in the United States continues to be as strong as in many other countries, or stronger, a small percentage of American households is fully benefiting from it. Median income in Canada pulled into a tie with median United States income in 2010 and has most likely surpassed it since then. Median incomes in Western European countries still trail those in the United States, but the gap in several — including Britain, the Netherlands and Sweden — is much smaller than it was a decade ago.



How One Michigan City Is Sending Kids To College Tuition-Free

by NPR STAFF April 16, 2014 3:41 AM ET

Paying for college presents a tremendous hurdle to many families, from wading through paperwork and navigating financial aid to understanding the long-term implications of college debt.

But what if the city you lived in footed the bill for college? That’s what Kalamazoo, Mich., has been doing for almost a decade. In 2005, a group of anonymous donors launched an ambitious program. They pledged enough money to pay the tuition of most students who graduate from the district’s public high schools to attend any of Michigan’s public universities or community colleges.

The effort, called the Kalamazoo Promise, has spent about $50 million assisting more than 3,000 students from the city.

One of them, Erica Adams, was a high school sophomore when the program launched. She’s since graduated from Michigan State University and is now a foster care specialist for the state of Michigan.

Adams and Kalamazoo resident Michelle Miller-Adams, author of a book about the program, The Power of a Promise: Education and Economic Renewal in Kalamazoo, both spoke with NPR’s Michel Martin about how the program has changed how students and educators think about opportunities beyond high school.