Weekly Roundup 8/20/2012

Richard K. Morse, Foreign Affairs, July/Aug. 2012

Synopsis: Coal contributes nearly as much total energy to the global economy as every other source – oil, natural gas and alternatives – combined. Increased use over the past decade has come mostly from the developing world, where it remains the cheapest and most reliable source of electricity. The rock that once fueled the Industrial Revolution is now remaking the global energy landscape. As the largest source of carbon dioxide emissions, however, it is also remaking the climate.

Takeaway: Instead of pursuing visions of a coal-free world, policymakers should support new technologies that reduce how much carbon coal emits.

For background see the CQ Researcher reports “Mine Safety,” June 24, 2011, and “Coal’s Comeback,” Oct. 5, 2007.

--Darrell Dela Rosa, Assistant Editor


Afghan Attacks Prompt NATO To Shift Policy 
Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Graham Bowley, The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2012

Synopsis: The escalating number of American and NATO troops killed by the Afghan forces serving with them has prompted a reappraisal of the war-fighting effort.

Takeaway: New policies include requiring American and NATO troops to carry loaded weapons, and assigning one or two soldiers to monitor Afghans during every mission.

For background see the CQ Researcher report “America at War,” Aug. 13, 2010.

--Thomas J. Colin, Contributing Editor

This Week’s Report: “Farm Policy”

As this year’s devastating drought in the Midwestern corn and soybean belt has shown, farmers can never count on success until their crops are harvested and safely stored or sold. Weather, insects, the global economy and consumer demand all help shape farmers’ destiny. Add to that list: politics.

This summer Congress has been wrestling with passage of a sprawling new farm bill that, over the next decade, will determine nearly $1 trillion in federal spending  for subsidies for farmers, food aid for the needy, land conservation, rural development and agriculture imports and exports. As writer Jennifer Weeks explains, conservatives argue that Washington spends too much on crop insurance and other agricultural subsidies and on food programs for the poor. Liberals oppose cuts to food aid for the needy and advocate more federal support for small family farms and for production of healthy crops such as fruits and vegetables.

Farm policy is extraordinarily complex and spans everything from biofuel production and cotton-farm subsidies to export policy and food stamps for the poor. Weeks’ report deconstructs the complexities and includes a spirited pro/con debate on whether U.S. farm policy promotes unhealthy eating.

--Thomas J. Billitteri, Managing Editor

Weekly Roundup 8/6/2012

Huffington Post, Aug. 1, 2012

Synopsis: Some school districts are using charter schools, many run by for-profit school-management companies, to replace public schools that haven't been able to pull up their lagging test scores. But one school in Minneapolis has reneged on a promise to accept special-needs students, casting doubt on whether the charter could succeed if it served the same student population the old public school did.

Takeaway: Diane Ravitch, an education historian at New York University who once supported charter schools and now questions them, says it's clear that the school is ousting the students to improve its test scores. "Is this what 'no child left behind' means? Does it mean pushing out the most vulnerable children to inflate the school’s scores?" she asks.

For related material, see our April 29, 2011, report “School Reform” and our Dec. 20, 2002, report on “Charter Schools”.

--Marcia Clemmitt, Staff Writer

Interview with Isobel Coleman, a senior fellow and director of the Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Initiative at the Council on Foreign Relations. Aug. 2, 2012

Synopsis:  The drought affecting about 80 percent of the U.S. corn crop and more than 10 percent of the soybean crop could trigger a rise in global food prices and political instability in developing countries, Coleman says. Emerging middle classes across the globe are increasingly demanding meat and protein in their diets, but meat producers in those countries have become dependent on "relatively inexpensive” corn and soybean feed stocks from the United States, she explains.

Takeaway: "When you see a crop failure of the magnitude you have seen this summer, it flows through the whole food chain," says Coleman. She recommends rescinding Congress’ mandate that corn-based ethanol make up at least 10 percent of U.S. transportation fuel and building "more resilience into the global food system."

For background, see CQ Global Researcher’s coverage in “Rising Food Prices,” Oct. 18, 2011, and “Farm Subsidies,” May 1, 2012.

--Kathy Koch, Managing Editor, CQ Global Researcher