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Opinion

It has been 30 years since the landmark report "A Nation At Risk" documented the failings of America's public-school system, and the past three decades have seen much promising reform on the local, state and federal levels, in legislatures, on school boards and in classrooms. Yet today, the trend lines again are moving in the wrong direction, with federal policy inviting states to back away from their duty to ensure that students receive the education they deserve.

Since 2011, the U.S. Department of Education has granted waivers to 34 states and the District of Columbia exempting them from some of the core accountability measures in the bipartisan 2001 No Child Left Behind law. Ten more states have waiver applications pending. Meanwhile, the Texas legislature is considering loosening public-school testing standards, and nine districts in California have independently moved to submit NCLB waiver requests.

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It's good to know that Elvis has not been implicated in a terrorist act, but he could have been. While events unfolded in the Boston Marathon Bombing, a lesser story played out concerning the sending of ricintainted letters to the President, a U.S. senator and a judge. Initially, Paul Kevin Curtis, a 45- year-old Elvis impersonator from Corinth, Mississippi was charged and arrested for the threatening act, with charges being dropped days later.

The arrest of Curtis was in part facilitated by statements made on social media, matching up with those contained in the ricin letters. Conveniently, images from Curtis' Facebook account were readily available for publication to go along with stories of his arrest. Along with accounts of an uneven mental-health history, Curtis hardly fits the description of a criminal mastermind.

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Caught up in the televised drama of a military-style manhunt for the suspects in the Boston Marathon explosion, most Americans fail to realize that the world around them has been suddenly and jarringly shifted off its axis, that axis being the U.S. Constitution.

For those like myself who have studied emerging police states, the sight of a city placed under martial law—its citizens under house arrest (officials used the Orwellian phrase “shelter in place” to describe the mandatory lockdown), military- style helicopters equipped with thermal imaging devices buzzing the skies, tanks and armored vehicles on the streets, and snipers perched on rooftops, while thousands of blackgarbed police swarmed the streets and SWAT teams carried out house-to-house searches in search of two young and seemingly unlikely bombing suspects—leaves us in a growing state of unease.

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The media is abuzz with stories of outrageous markups at many hospitals. One of the most eye-popping numbers making the rounds? A supposedly "non-profit" hospital charges $1.50 per pill for a generic version of Tylenol. That's about 100 times the retail price.

Obviously, health care takes too much out of our paychecks, too much from our bank accounts, and too many of our tax dollars. Spending in this sector accounts for almost 18 percent of the economy. And the rising cost of government health programs is the biggest long-term driver of our national debt. Medicare alone cost $551 billion in 2012 and is projected to cost more than $1 trillion in a decade.

The question is what we should do about it. One approach is simply to squeeze down costs, and there are certainly savings to be reaped this way. A better approach, however, is to look at what is driving these high levels of health care spending and see if we can intervene there.

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published: 10/18/2013
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