The Gap Between Spending and Results

This subject was discussed on December 23, 2013.

One of the key “talking points” used in the debate over the Affordable Care Act has been the fact that the U.S. spends substantially more than virtually any of our international “peers,” but has lagged those same peers in terms of health outcomes.  Similarly, the U.S. education system spends more per pupil than almost any other country, yet our students perform poorly on tests of reading, math and science skills. We could probably identify many similar situations…high spending, low outcomes…if we tried.

What is driving this enormous gap between financial commitment and results? To what degree does it have to do with:

  1. The role of Federal and local governments in education and, increasingly, in health care?
  2. Our expectations that, given our success of the last 50 years, we are somehow “entitled” to continued success?
  3. The changing roles and attitudes of our people, whether parents, children, healthy or infirm?
  4. In short, is this more a problem with the “system”…teachers, doctors, health care companies and administration…or with our “culture”?

Iran’s Nuclear Ambitions

This subject is scheduled to be discussed on December 9, 2013.

After years of an intensifying standoff between the U.N. Security Council and Iran, an agreement was recently announced to moderate the pace of Iran’s nuclear development and to provide a time frame for negotiating a more comprehensive agreement.

  • Does the agreement make war more or less likely? (On the face of it, many have argued that, while not perfect, the agreement makes military action much less likely. Others have taken the position that the six month time frame may severely narrow our options if the period elapses without significant progress toward a full agreement.)
  • Should Congress pass additional sanctions to bolster the pressure on Iran if they do not agree to severe limits on their nuclear activities?
  • What evidence is there that the Iranians are actually pursuing a nuclear weapon?
  • Israel and Saudi Arabia both seem to dislike this agreement…to what degree should that give the U.S. cause for concern?
  • How should we interpret the different ways the two sides characterize the agreement? The Iranians say the agreement recognizes their “right to enrich;” the US says they do not have any such right.)

Here are some recent Economist articles to read on the subject:

20131130 The Iran Deal (Economist)

20131130 Unlocking the Middle East (Economist)


The Senate Filibuster Rule

This topic was discussed on December 2, 2013.

The Democrat-controlled Senate has finally taken what both sides had previously referred to as the “nuclear option”…amending Senate procedural rules to prohibit filibusters of certain Presidential appointments. We should examine the role of the “filibuster rule” in the context of the rest of our governance:

  • Is it true that requiring a supermajority is part of the essential difference between the House and the Senate? (Others being longer terms and differences in the matters each house is empowered to consider.)
  • Are the recent Republican efforts to block Obama Administration appointees “beyond the pale,” effectively requiring the Democrats to make the change, or does it reflect polarization on both sides (with the Administration proposing candidates with more “extreme” (or “reliable”) views?
  • This is particularly important for lifetime appointments of Federal judges…should that policy be revisited?

Here are two recent Washington Post Op-Ed pieces on the subject:

20131124 Bipartisan Approval Lends a Sense of Balance to the Judiciary (WP)

20131125 A Nuclear End to Denial (WP)

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