Scaring Students For Their Own Good

“I thought he was going to shoot me.”

That’s the text message that a mother received from her terrified child at Jewett Middle Academy in Winter Haven, Florida. But the child wasn’t describing a psychotic school shooter. It was a drill. As the local CBS affiliate reported:

Students at Jewett Middle Academy said they were terrified when police officers burst in the doors for a planned active shooter drill – but students and teachers are irked they were not told ahead of time.

Seventh-grader Lauren Marionneaux told WTVT-TV that when the officers burst into her class with an AR-15, she was in fear for her life.

“We actually thought that someone was going to come in there and kill us,” the station quoted her as saying.

In the wake angry protests from parents, students, and teachers, school officials explained that the secrecy surrounding the drill was necessary for the students’ safety:

“Unfortunately, no one gets an advanced notice of real life emergencies,” Polk County Public Schools spokesman Jason Gearey said in an e-mailed statement to The Washington Post. “We don’t want students to be scared, but we need them to be safe.”

They don’t want students to be scared, but unannounced active shooter drill is guaranteed to scare kids. Moreover, as Lenore Skenazy points out, such drills could actually put people in danger:

Of course, the authorities neglected to notice that no one sets the school on fire to create more realistic fire drills. Nor do they drag in giant wind machines to replicate the feel of an impending tornado.

The fear that teachers might suffer heart attacks, that kids might experience psychotic breakdowns, that someone with his own weapon might shoot real bullets in defense—none of that seemed to occur to our peacekeepers. Nor did the notion that distraught parents might race frantically to the school, endangering anyone in their path.

No, these cops were so focused on the most horrific, least likely crime that nothing else mattered.

School shootings are every parent’s worst nightmare, but fortunately they are exceedingly rare. As I explained back in September, fewer than one in 10,000 schools have had a shooting in the last two years, and fewer than one out of every 2,273,000 students per year are killed at school including all types of violence, not just shootings. By contrast, according to National Geographic, the odds of being hit by lightning in a given year is one out of 700,000.

Some experts have also questioned the efficacy of unannounced active shooter drills. In the Wall Street Journal, a former SWAT officer who conducts seminars to teach civilians how to deal with mass-shooting scenarios panned the idea: “There ends up being zero learning going on because everyone is upset that you’ve scared the crap out of them.” The Journal also reported several other instances of drills gone awry. In one drill at a nursing home, a police officer posing as an armed intruder forced a nurse into an empty room at gunpoint where “she tearfully begged for her life.” She was so traumatized that she quit her job. Other drills also left civilians traumatized or even physically injured:

The confusion that sometimes ensues during drills also can have unintended consequences. In March, a teacher in Boardman, Ohio, filed a lawsuit against local police and school officials, claiming he was unexpectedly tackled by a police officer during a drill at a high school, seriously injuring his hip and shoulder.

Jesse McClain, 60 years old, had volunteered to participate and was playing the role of a “panicked parent” when the officer tackled him without warning, his lawyer, John O’Neil, said. Boardman Township’s police chief and the superintendent of the town’s school district declined to comment on the incident, citing the lawsuit.

In Florida, a woman filed a complaint in March with state officials on behalf of her sister, a Fort Walton Beach nurse, over a drill at an Okaloosa County Health Department office. According to the complaint, employees weren’t informed about the drill, which involved a police officer firing blanks, and many were “hysterical, crying and shouting.”

As with fires and other hazards, it is important for schools to be prepared for an emergency. But policymakers must keep things in perspective. Keeping kids safe does not require terrifying them.

Interpreting Obama’s Immigration Executive Action

President Obama will soon announce an executive action to defer the deportations of somewhere between 1 million and 4.5 million unauthorized immigrants. Those whose deportations are deferred will be eligible for a temporary work permit through a 1987 provision in the Code of Federal Regulations.

Those who support immigration reform note that any executive action by the President will poison the well for reform, making it impossible for Congress to move piecemeal bills to the President’s desk.  Last year, one of the most effective arguments against immigration reform was that President Obama would not enforce the law as written, a prediction that seems to be borne out with this executive action.  The Wall Street Journal editorial board said it the best:

If he does issue an executive order, we hope Republicans don’t fall for his political trap.  He and many Democrats want Republicans to appear to be anti-immigrant.  They want the GOP to dance to the Steve King-Jeff Sessions blow-a-gasket caucus.

To poison the well of reform there actually had to be water in the well to begin with. I’m not convinced there was.  If there was a serious Congressional effort to reform immigration in the immediate future, then the President’s actions here would totally derail it.

Today in Cato’s Online Forum on Growth

The Cato Institute’s special online forum on reviving growth (see here for more details) continues today with the following four essays:

1. Dean Baker argues for free trade in doctors and drugs – by eliminating immigration restrictions and patent protection.

2. Jim Manzi also calls for more high-skill immigration, as well as visionary investments in scientific research and technology projects.

3. Jonathan Rauch proposes a national apprenticeship system.

4. Philip K. Howard makes the case for radical simplification of law.

Supreme Court Should Remove Kafka-esque Burden to Vindicating Property Rights

In order to create better telecom infrastructure, New York state law gives private telecom firms the power to take private property in exchange for just compensation. Verizon used this power to build terminal boxes on thousands of pieces of private property, thus essentially permanently occupying a part of the properties. Verizon is one of a few companies that enjoy this extraordinary, state-granted privilege to build things on other people’s property without their permission.

Those companies, however, must compensate the owners (at least theoretically) for these sorts of takings of property. Kurtz v. Verizon New York, Inc. arises from a putative class action alleging that Verizon failed to compensate 30,000-50,000 property owners for building terminal boxes on their property. Although Verizon is required to give property owners their “full compensation rights,” the plaintiffs argue that the company continuously flouts this requirement “as a matter of corporate policy and practice,” thus violating both the plaintiffs’ rights to procedural due process—for example, by not even notifying them that their property was being taken—and their Fifth Amendment rights to not have their property taken for public use without just compensation.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, however, ruled that the plaintiffs couldn’t proceed with their claims because of a case called Williamson County Regional Planning Commission v. Hamilton Bank of Johnson City (1985), in which the Supreme Court ruled that plaintiffs with takings claims have to seek relief from state courts before proceeding with a federal claim. Otherwise, the case will be dismissed for being not “ripe”—not ready for a federal court to hear the case.

Although this may seem like a small hoop-jumping exercise, this procedural requirement creates an unnecessary and burdensome extra step that can prevent many plaintiffs from ever having their takings claims heard in federal court. No other enumerated constitutional right has a similar requirement. Plaintiffs claiming a First Amendment violation, for example, don’t first have to exhaust their case in state courts.

The plaintiffs are now petitioning the Supreme Court to review the continuing relevance of Williamson County. In a brief supporting the petition, Cato, joining the Pacific Legal Foundation, argues that takings claims are ripe when the taking occurs, not after a plaintiff has gone through the state courts. Moreover, we point out that Williamson County, when combined with other rules of civil procedure, has actually prevented many claimants from ever bringing a case.

After exhausting their claims in state courts, some plaintiffs find that federal courts will dismiss their case on the ground that the matter has already been decided (what lawyers call res judicata, or “judged matter”). Other times, defendants will ask the judge to move the case from state court to federal court and then, once the case is in federal court, will argue that the plaintiffs did not exhaust their claims in state court (which of course they couldn’t have done because the defendants removed the case).

This Kafka-esque system is not the way to properly vindicate constitutional rights, and it’s certainly not what the Supreme Court imagined when it decided Williamson County. The Court should take this case to remove an unnecessary and harmful barrier to the protection of private property. 

You Ought to Have a Look: U.S./China Agreement, Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, Natural Variability

You Ought to Have a Look is a feature from the Center for the Study of Science posted by Patrick J. Michaels and Paul C. (“Chip”) Knappenberger. While this section will feature all of the areas of interest that we are emphasizing, the prominence of the climate issue is driving a tremendous amount of web traffic. Here we post a few of the best in recent days, along with our color commentary.

The big news of the week was the “historic” (in President Obama’s words) climate agreement between the U.S. and China—but about the only “historic” thing about it was the hype the White House and environmental groups heaped upon it.  In actuality, there was very little new news. The emissions reduction pathway that Obama announced for the U.S. was not much different (actually a teense lower) than the one announced after the (failed) U.N. Copenhagen meeting in 2009, and China agreed to…well, it’s unclear to what they agreed. NBC News reported “China intends to begin to halt the rise in CO2 emissions by around the year 2030.” Try that line (inserting your own specific vice) on your significant other and see how it goes over.

A good article in Reuters by John Kemp nicely eschews the hype and looks more closely at the facts.  He opening paragraph reads:

Nov 12 (Reuters) - The joint statement by the United States and China on climate change, issued on Wednesday, is more important for its political and diplomatic symbolism than any practical effect it might have in reducing emissions.

Both Kemp’s article and our article on the announcement are worth having a look at to see what the agreement really entails, and its chances at success (spoiler alert: they aren’t good).

Another big news item this week—or at least it should have been—was the release of Alex Epstein’s remarkable book The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels. We can’t say enough good things about this book—and we try often! You may have seen our glowing review on these pages yesterday along with some provocative text provided by Alex that cuts to the basic premise of the book—that the societal pros of fossil fuel use far, far exceed the cons, and therefore, it is, well, immoral, to try to restrict their usage and further development. This week Alex also hosted a Reddit AMA (“ask me anything”) to allow internet savvy folks to interact with him directly as ask questions about his new book and his general way of thinking.  Alex entertained many interesting questions, for example:

Question:  What should be the role of government with respect to pollution? Should it ban pollution? Limit it? Tax it?

Answer: Good question, the subject of chapter 7 “Minimizing Risks and Side-Effects.” The basic principle is that we should think of it in terms of individual rights. At a certain threshold of emission someone is polluting your person or property and should be forbidden to do so. But certain threshold is important and contextual based on the state of technology. So in the 1800s people should have been allowed to use the coal plants they did but we shouldn’t today. If something is fundamentally necessary to human life it’s not pollution. There’s a lot of complexity in application but that’s the framework I use.

If you want to see all that transpired in this lively round of questioning is archived here.

And finally, our friend, the ever-informative Dr. Roy Spencer has a good post up over at his blog looking at what really are the biggest influences on the climate during the timescale of our lifetime. What does he find? Why natural variability, of course! He takes us through a couple of the most influential natural sources of variability and the possible drivers behind them. Here is some insight from Roy:

But statistics aren’t enough. Since we understand that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas, and should cause some warming, but we don’t understand natural climate cycles, scientists only look where the streetlight of government funding illuminates the problem: CO2.

What complicates policymaking even further is that what motivates public perceptions and thus decision makers the most are weather events. Hurricane Sandy. A snowy winter. We end up blaming these on the only thing we thing we think we understand — increasing CO2 should cause some change, so it must be responsible for all of the change we see…

To the extent that human-caused warming is occurring, I am increasingly convinced it is a largely benign — and possibly beneficial — needle lost in the haystack of Mother Nature’s natural climate gyrations.

You ought to have a look at the rest of Roy’s article, which can be found here.

Madison Officials Recommend Misguided Rideshare Regulations

Earlier this week, members of a Madison, Wisconsin city subcommittee recommended misguided rideshare regulations relating to insurance, surge pricing, and hours of service that reveal a confused understanding of how ridesharing works.

If the subcommittee’s recommended regulations are implemented, companies such as Uber and Lyft, both of which provide ridesharing services, will have to provide at least $1 million worth of insurance coverage once a rideshare driver is logged into their app, regardless of whether there is a passenger in the car. In Madison, taxis are required to be covered by auto liability policies worth at least $1 million per accident. 

The $1 million insurance requirement in place for Madison taxis is higher than the insurance requirements in many other cities. In New York and Los Angeles, regulations require taxis to have at least $300,000 of coverage per incident. In Washington, D.C., taxis must have at least $50,000 per incident in coverage. Chicago requires taxis to be covered up to a combined single limit of $350,000 per incident.

It should be noted that both Uber and Lyft already have a $1 million policy in place from when a driver accepts a ride request to when a passenger is dropped off. What ridesharing companies will almost certainly object to is the recommended $1 million of coverage for the time when a rideshare driver has a rideshare app open but has not accepted a ride request. As it stands, both Uber and Lyft offer coverage for this time period worth up to $50,000 per individual per incident, $100,000 per incident, and $25,000 per incident for property damage. This coverage is designed to kick in if a driver’s personal auto insurance declines a claim.

California and Colorado, which have both passed legislation related to ridesharing insurance, mandate coverage very similar to the coverage already offered by Uber and Lyft for the period when a driver is logged into a ridesharing app but has not accepted a ride request. The differences between Uber’s and Lyft’s policies and the California and Colorado legislation are that the laws in Colorado and California require that the coverage be primary and that the property coverage be $30,000 rather than $25,000. The laws’ requirements go into effect on January 15, 2015 in the case of Colorado and on July 1, 2015 for California. 

In addition to insurance requirements subcommittee officials have also recommended a ban on “surge pricing” at times of peak demand. Both Uber and Lyft change the price of rides at busy times such as holidays when demand is high. Uber’s surge pricing policy was in the news shortly after Halloween this year when it emerged that a few individuals had paid enormous fares after they took an Uber ride during a time of increased demand. While some might think that Uber fares during “peak demand” are excessive, it is worth keeping in mind that before an Uber passenger can request a ride while surge pricing is in effect she must input the amount of the surge in the Uber app. In addition, the Uber app allows for users to estimate their fare. Likewise, Lyft informs users “prime time” fares are in effect before they request a ride.

What the surge price ban proposal reveals is a misunderstanding of how ridesharing works. Ridesharing drivers are not professional drivers and drive whenever they want. During popular times of partying or celebration (such as New Year’s or Halloween), rideshare drivers may have to decide between partaking in the festivities and driving. Surge pricing helps incentivize rideshare drivers to meet demand during busy times by allowing for increased profit. If passengers do not like surge pricing, the market will reflect that very quickly, so there is no need for Madison officials to interfere with the surge pricing systems in place.

Another set of recommendations made by the Madison subcommittee relates to hours of service. According to the recommended regulations, ridesharing companies will have to ensure that drivers are available 24/7 after one year of licensed service in Madison. This requirement, like the surge pricing ban, reveals a misunderstanding of ridesharing. Uber and Lyft do not control when drivers turn on ridesharing apps, rideshare drivers drive when they want. Regulators ought to leave the issue of driver availability to market forces rather than concern themselves with when private car owners use an app.

The regulations proposed by the Madison subcommittee betray a misunderstanding of an industry officials ought to welcome rather than burden with unnecessary regulations. Let’s hope that when the recommendations are put before the Madison Transit and Parking Commission next month, its members will realize how misguided these recommendations are. 

Illegal “No Child” Waivers Should Raise Much Louder Alarms

If the outcry over unilateral executive moves we’ve seen over the last few years remains consistent, Obamacare and immigration are likely to keep sucking up most of Republicans’ attention and the media’s coverage. But just as sweeping have been executive waivers issued from the hated No Child Left Behind Act – really the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act – that have been instrumental in connecting numerous states to, among other things, the Common Core national curriculum standards. And yesterday, the Education Department issued guidance offering states the chance to obtain waivers – if they do the administration’s bidding, of course – lasting well into the term of the next president: the 2018-19 school year.

These waivers are almost certainly illegal – even a Congressional Research Service report often cited to suggest the opposite says they are unprecedented in scope and, hence, an untested case – and even if they are not deemed technically illegal, the reality is they still amount to the executive department unilaterally making law. NCLB does grant the Secretary of Education the authority to issue waivers from many parts of the Act, but it grants no authority to condition those waivers on states adopting administration-preferred policies. Indeed, as University of South Carolina law professor Derek W. Black writes in a recent analysis of waivers, not only does NCLB not authorize conditional waivers, even if a court were to read any waiver authorization as implicitly authorizing conditions, the actual conditions attached – “college- and career-ready standards,” new teacher evaluations, etc. – fundamentally change the law. In fact the changes, Black notes, are essentially what the administration proposed in its 2010 “blueprint” to reauthorize NCLB. And quite simply, the executive fundamentally changing a law is not constitutional.

The latest waiver guidance goes beyond even the toxic status quo. Not only is the President using his vaunted pen and phone to unilaterally make education law, but law that would continue well into his successor’s term. It is a very dangerous move that, quite frankly, deserves at least as much alarmed coverage as Obamacare waivers and immigration actions. If for no other reason, because the action is moving us swiftly toward a de facto federal curriculum. In other words, direct control over what the vast majority of the nation’s children learn.

Federal power can’t get much more invasive than that.