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Campaign Finance Reform
As the 2008 presidential contest approaches, the campaign-finance system is in upheaval. Six years after Congress passed the landmark Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act to help curb the influence of unregulated “soft” money in politics, the so-called McCain-Feingold law is facing court challenges and persistent claims that it infringes on free-speech rights. Meanwhile, the system of public funding for federal campaigns is teetering, and Democratic frontrunner Barack Obama is poised to be the first major-party presidential candidate to bypass it in a general election. The Federal Election Commission, charged with enforcing the nation’s campaign-finance laws, has been paralyzed because of partisan bickering. And spurred partly by the effects of McCain-Feingold and the shortcomings of the public-financing system, candidates have been turning more and more to small donors, who are responding in unprecedented ways.
By Thomas J. Billitteri

Digital Television
After years of delays, the nation’s full-power television stations are facing a deadline of Feb. 17, 2009, to switch from traditional analog broadcasting and go all digital. Digital TV promises viewers better-quality pictures and sound. The switch also frees up valuable room on the electromagnetic spectrum for wireless communications. Broadcasters will be able to offer more programming and to match the digital signals of subscription cable and satellite services. But viewers with older TV sets and no cable or satellite connection have to buy special converter boxes to continue receiving most over-the-air channels after the switch. The government is offering coupons to help viewers pay for the boxes, but many people are still confused. And some stations may have reduced coverage with digital signals. Meanwhile, public-interest groups complain that broadcasters are getting a financial windfall without any new public-interest obligations.
By Kenneth Jost

Global Food Crisis
Food prices have spiked around the world over the past year, bringing hunger and unrest to many developing countries, along with pain at the checkout counter for lower-income American families. In North Korea, for example, where 35 percent of the population is undernourished, the price of the major food staple, rice, soared 186 percent between 2007 and 2008, and overall food prices rose 70 percent. With 2.1 billion people living on less than $2 a day and 880 million living on less than $1 a day, such price increases may plunge hundreds of millions into malnutrition and starvation. Drought in food-exporting countries, high oil prices that make food transport pricey, and a growing diversion of corn for use as a biofuel all play roles in the price spike. The crisis has sparked international tensions, including disgruntlement over wealthy nations’ meat-heavy diets, which take many more resources to produce than grain- or legume-based diets.
By Marcia Clemmitt