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Juvenile Justice
With juvenile crime on the decline, youth advocates are seizing the moment to push for major changes in iron-fisted juvenile justice systems nationwide. Above all, they want to roll back harsh state punishments – triggered by the crack cocaine-fueled crime wave of the late 1980s and early '90s – that diverted adolescents to adult courts and prisons. Today, as a result, an estimated 25 percent of all youth charged with crimes are now tried in adult courts, where judges tend to be tougher and sentences harsher. Many prosecutors say the get-tough approach offers society the best protection. But critics say young people often leave prison more bitter and dangerous than when they went in. Moreover, recent brain studies show weak impulse control in adolescents under age 18, prompting some states to reconsider their tough punishments. But youth advocates concede that any new uptick in juvenile crime could stop such efforts in their tracks.
By Peter Katel

The National Debt
With the national debt at around $12 trillion and the government running substantial annual budget deficits, the country faces a dire financial picture, some analysts argue. Over the past eight years, the Bush administration has begun running larger annual deficits, even when economic times are good, and most economists agree that the ever-rising debt load restricts the government’s ability to respond to a new crisis. Now the country is entering what could be a long economic slowdown, and the next president will be under pressure to use government fiscal policy – tax cuts and government spending – to bolster the economy, even though those policies will raise the debt further. Besides wrestling with that dilemma, the new president also must face the question of how to pay for Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid benefits for the large, soon-to-retire baby boom population.
By Marcia Clemmitt

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint

As climate change rises on the government’s policy agenda -- and an economic crisis looms -- more and more consumers are trying to change their behavior so they pollute and consume less. To reduce their individual so-called carbon footprints, many are cutting gasoline and home-heating consumption, choosing locally grown food and recycling. While such actions are important in curbing global warming, the extent to which consumers can reduce or reverse broad-scale environmental damage is open to debate. Corporate and government policy must lead the way, many environmental advocates say. And well-intentioned personal actions can have unintended consequences that cancel out positive effects.
By Thomas J. Billitteri