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Protecting Wetlands
The nation’s millions of acres of wetlands provide vital protection to the environment. Ponds, lakes, swamps, bogs, bays and marine estuaries not only shelter countless fish, birds and animals but also filter pollutants from water and soak up floodwaters. Since the nation’s beginning, more than half of its wetlands have been lost, and crucial areas like Louisiana’s coast and the Florida Everglades are eroding daily. Although the U.S. actually has achieved small net gains in wetlands in recent years, scientists say the nation is still losing too many needed wetlands. For several decades national policy has called for protecting wetlands, but powerful industries such as construction, energy and agriculture say current regulations make projects more expensive. Conservationists, sportsmen and many state officials respond that regulation is still urgently needed. Meanwhile, recent Supreme Court decisions have intensified debate over how broadly the federal government can oversee activities affecting wetlands.
By Jennifer Weeks

Affirmative Action
Affirmative action has sunk deep roots in American higher education, government and business. But tension still runs strong between the ideal of choosing school and job candidate purely on merit, and requirements to factor in other criteria – including race. This November, ballot initiatives in at least two states would eliminate race, but not socioeconomic, preference. And big states including California, Florida and Texas are still struggling to reconcile legal mandates restricting the use of race in college admissions with the goal of increasing diversity. One stumbling block: Affirmative action didn’t lessen the stunning disparities that plague elementary and high school education, disparities that often follow the color line. Still, the open racial hostility that marked opposition to affirmative action decades ago has faded. Even some race-preference critics don’t want to eliminate it entirely. Instead, they’re exploring ways to keep diversity without eroding admission and hiring standards.
By Peter Katel

Financial System Bailout
In the wake of widespread failures on Wall Street – including the federal bailout of insurance giant American International Group and the bankruptcy of venerable investment bank Lehman Brothers – Congress was poised to approved a $700 billion bailout proposed by Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. But even as the plan was moving toward apparent approval, many were questioning whether the bailout would stem the financial crisis that grips not only the United States but the global banking system. They also were asking whether the costs of the bailout to U.S. taxpayers would be excessive, and whether Congress will have to take further action to correct the nation’s systemic financial problems.
By Thomas J. Billitteri