Category Archives: Government Incompetence

The Nanny State Strikes Again: School’s Implementation of Zero Tolerance Goes Too Far

In an effort to control perceived growing violence in schools, Congress passed the 1994 Gun Free Schools Act (GFSA) which required states to implement zero tolerance policies on school property as a prerequisite for receiving federal aid from the U.S. Department of Education. In 2002, Congress repealed this version but reauthorized the zero tolerance requirement under the No Child Left Behind Act. The revised bill expanded the school’s jurisdiction for such offenses from school property to any school-related function. So under the No Child Left Behind Act, school districts would not receive federal funding unless they implemented zero tolerance policies with a mandatory one year expulsion for any student who brings or possesses any firearm on school property or at any school function. School officials are also required to report these offenses to law enforcement agencies.

Have school boards taken these policies too far? Despite no duty or requirement to do so, most school districts have enacted strict zero tolerance policies for other offenses including possession of knives, drugs, alcohol, and tobacco. They have also enacted zero tolerance offenses for acts of violence and even expression of speech, all under the guise of protecting students. For example, an honor student in Dearborn, MI was suspended this month for a year because school officials found a small pocket knife in her bag at a football game.  From the Huffington Post:

A Detroit-area high school has suspended an honors student for the rest of the school year over a pocketknife the student says she had by accident.

Atiya Haynes, 17, was caught with the pocketknife at a homecoming football game in late September at Annapolis High School in Dearborn Heights, Michigan. School officials were searching the bags of female students exiting the restroom after a security guard claimed to have smelled marijuana nearby, according to local outlet WXYZ-TV. When officials searched Atiya’s bag, they found no marijuana, but did find a small knife.

Atiya says she did not realize the knife was in her bag. Her grandfather had given it to her over the summer, urging her to carry it for protection when riding her bike through dangerous neighborhoods to her lifeguarding job, according to MLive.

Atiya, an Advanced Placement student, was originally expelled from Annapolis High following the incident. However, on Monday, the school board rolled back her punishment, albeit slightly. Atiya is now suspended for the rest of the year, but will be allowed to take online classes and graduate with her class in 2015, reports local outlet WJBK-TV.

For starters, students do not lose their constitutional rights when they enter school property. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch Dist, 393 U.S. 503 (1969). The Supreme Court has further held that public school administrators are considered state actors for purposes of Fourth Amendment searches. New Jersey v. T.L.O., 469 U.S. 325 (1985). Students also have a reasonable expectation of privacy in items that they bring to school, even though this expectation is diminished. School officials do not need probable cause to search, like law enforcement would. They may search based on a reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing and most jurisdictions require that this reasonable suspicion is individualized. One US District Court has held that the scent of marijuana is insufficient to show an individualized reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing if the scent cannot be determined to come from any individual or confined group. Here, the security guard claimed that s/he detected the scent of marijuana “nearby”, but there is nothing to suggest that the scent could be confined to Atiya or anyone else in the immediate area. I would argue that this was an unreasonable search and the knife is just “fruit from the poisonous tree.”

Let’s say, for all intents and purposes, that the search was valid. The punishment still does not fit and is excessive. Miss Haynes is an honor roll student, enrolled in AP classes, and potentially college bound. I would imagine that this suspension will go on her permanent record, which could affect her ability to receive scholarships or even get into certain colleges. Furthermore, the evidence suggests that she didn’t even know that the knife was in her purse. Is this the type of protection that Congress had in mind when it passed No Child Left Behind? In this case, Atiya Haynes is the only child being left behind and she is not the only one. Here are some other examples of overreaching zero tolerance policies:

In 1998, a Colorado school expelled a ten year old student when her mother inadvertently packed a small paring knife in her lunch. Despite trying to do the right thing by turning it in, she was expelled under zero tolerance policies and school officials said they had no discretion. While the expulsion was eventually overturned, her family was forced to move after receiving harassing letters that her family was trying to destroy the school.

In 1999, a Florida high school student was suspended for one year for bringing nail clippers to school. This expulsion was also reduced to a ten day suspension. However, the principal of the school was quoted as saying that he “was not…ready to arm kids with more ammo, to bring more items on our campus and make it an unsafe place.” Forget the fact that the student never used the nail clippers herself. Did I mention that her “crime” was bringing nail clippers to school? Nail. Clippers. This is the kind of “dangerous” activity we are trying to protect students from? Let that one sink in.

In 2013, two Virginia middle school students were suspended for nine months for shooting airsoft guns (similar to BB guns) in their front yard. The school claimed jurisdiction because the bus stop was in front of their house.

In 2012, a six year old student in Maryland was suspended for pointing his finger in the shape of a gun and saying “pow.” The principal sent a letter home to the parents stating that the boy “threatened to shoot another student.” Yes, this will be on this boy’s permanent record.

Similarly, a seven year old Maryland student was suspended in 2013 when he bit his pop tart into the shape of a gun and said “bang bang.” These two events led Maryland State Senator J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore) to introduce the “Reasonable School Discipline Act of 2013″ to the Maryland Legislature, which would prohibit schools from suspending or expelling students who use any object that resembles a gun, but serves another purpose. In other words, the bill requires school administrators to use a little common sense. Has it really come to the point where we need such legislation?

In 1999, a Missouri high school junior was suspended for ten days when he responded “yes!” to an online message board asking whether students thought that a Columbine incident could happen at their school. As a result, he became ineligible for the National Honors Society and missed taking achievement tests which would have placed him in college level courses.

Finally, we saw the post made by Tom Knighton yesterday about the five year old student who was forced to undergo a psychological evaluation and sign an agreement to not harm anyone or herself because she drew a picture of a gun and held up a crayon, saying “pew pew.” She is five!

According to the National Association of School Psychologists, students who are suspended from school are more likely to suffer psychological disorders such as depression and anxiety from being ostracized. They are also much more likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system and therefore, the “playground to prison pipeline.” The American Psychological Association’s Zero Tolerance Task Force further found that zero tolerance policies had the opposite effect on preventing school violence. This is just another example of overreaching state power and the government, in its “infinite wisdom”, thinks it knows best. We would be better off to eliminate or reduce zero tolerance offenses. Our kids and future generations will thank us.

Rant: People Who Don’t Link To Source Material

Earlier today, my new co-contributor Matt wrote about the ridiculous Houston city council subpoena on a group who was against the transgender bathroom-rights law.

Where did the original story come from? Right here at The Washington Times.

It’s a busy article.

It comes complete with a picture from the San Francisco gay pride parade. What does San Francisco have to do with Houston bathrooms? I’m not quite sure.

It has a minute-long vapid video featuring a reading of the first two paragraphs of the article, because apparently 300 words is such a weighty article that it elicits “tl;dr” from typical readers of the Washington Times.

And of course it has a rather superficial 300-word article touching only ever-so-slightly on the merits of the case. The article which doesn’t even summarize the basic legal rationale for the group who is challenging the subpoena. The basic legal rationale that’s so simple that I’ll summarize it for you in two sentences:

The law states that subpoenas may only ask for evidence likely to result in admissable evidence on the merits of the case and doesn’t violate various legal privileges. ADF asserts that the subpoenas are overly-broad and violate the law by asking for such wide-ranging materials (some of which are Constitutionally-protected expression and others that are attorney-client privilege or protections against nonparties to lawsuits) that it cannot possibly be within the law.

You know what the Washington Times article is also lacking? ANY GODDAMN LINK TO THE ACTUAL SOURCE MATERIAL!!

It’s not like it was hard to find. A 10-second Google search led me to the ADF web site. A prominent link on the front page of the site got me to their press release in the first 10 seconds on their site. And ADF, to their credit, linked both the subpoena and their motion to quash in the first paragraph. And it’s not like links are expensive. Hyperlinks are free.

So I read them. I realize, this is ridiculous in the days of blogging when everyone has an opinion on Supreme court decisions despite the fact that none of them ever actually reads the opinions. When I read the subpoena and the motion to quash, it was pretty apparent that the subpoena was overly broad. When you dig into it, though, there are a lot of areas of the subpoena that are quite likely to result in admissible evidence. Hence why in the motion to quash, you’ll see this statement:

The Nonparty Pastors respectfully request that the Court issue an order quashing their subpoenas. Alternatively, the Nonparty Pastors request an order modifying the subpoenas to clarify that they do not include (or a protective order declaring that the Nonparty Pastors need not produce) the requested documents that are not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and the requested documents protected by the First Amendment privilege, the deliberative-process privilege, the attorney-client privilege, and the work-product doctrine.

In a lawsuit alleging that a city council unfairly determined that an insufficient number of petitions were gathered, the portions of the subpoena related to the records of petitioners are certainly likely to result in admissible evidence. The content of sermons discussing the Mayor, on the other hand, are clearly not. So if the city attorneys narrow the scope of their subpoena (as the WSJ–an entity which deserves kudos for actually linking the subpoena and motion!–reports they’re already backing away from), they’ll probably still be able to get the discovery information they need to prepare an adequate defense to the lawsuit.

Of course, IANAL, and it’s entirely possible that I got my legal analysis wrong. But what I do know is that I’ve already given you, the readers of The Liberty Papers, a more cogent (and more entertaining, I hope) analysis of the issues than Valerie Richardson of The Washington Times. And unlike Valerie Richardson, I actually gave you the links to go form you own opinion if you doubt my reporting in any way. Because frankly, my dear readers, you’re worth it!

Publications that give you opinion without linking to original source material are trying to keep you dumb. They either want you to keep coming directly to them for analysis (likely), or don’t want you to read the source material and realize they’ve gotten something terribly wrong. Or maybe they’re just terrified that you’ll click on the link and not come back. Or maybe all of the above. Either way, they treat you like infants.

Don’t let them get away with it. Demand better. This is 2014. I hate to use the term “mainstream media” in such a derisive tone that went out of style in about my third year of blogging–right about the time Sarah Palin started calling it the lamestream media–but even The Washington Times should have figured out how to hyperlink by now.

Cost is NOT Price, and Neither Cost, nor Price, are Value

Prices Provide a Misleading Measure of Dollar Devaluation
Forbes Magazine Online – Keith Weiner

There’s not a human being alive who doesn’t know the dollar is falling. Everyone over 25 has stories of what prices were like, way back when (and younger people have heard them). I remember when gasoline was 60 cents a gallon, and my mom remembers when it was 20 cents.

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen acknowledges the official objective to push the dollar down by 2 percent per year. This intention is behind the Fed’s ill-conceived loose money policy.

It’s important to measure each drop. This is not just to keep a scorecard on the Fed, but because a change in the dollar skews historical comparisons and distorts business decisions, like giving increases to workers and pensioners….

Read the whole piece, and then come back…

The thesis statement of the piece is correct, in that prices provide a misleading indicator of currency valuation (and that our weak dollar policy, as pursued by every administration since Bush 1 to some degree or another, is fundamentally wrong and destructive for that matter).

Unfortunately the author suggests that simply using a different price denomination and comparison (to gold) is a less misleading indicator… In this, he’s absolutely incorrect.

What you really want to compare is purchasing power parity (PPP) as measured by equivalent standard of living, expressed as a dollar cost in constant dollars normalized to average labor hour wage or compensation.

i.e. this item costs 5 minutes of average labor, this costs 8 hours, this costs 20 years; the cost to maintain this equivalent normalized standard of living across an aggregate population is 1940 hours of median labor wage etc… etc…

Note, this is NOT an expression of the fallacious labor theory of value, it is an explicit measure of purchasing power parity as actual cost, INCLUDING opportunity cost (in terms of time), not currency denomination.

The critical function isn’t price, and it isn’t wage… it’s cost, in this case expressed as a cost to value ratio as a normalized dollar (to make it easy to relate to wages and prices).

Cost is not price; it’s a totalized measure of inputs including resources, time, and opportunity.

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

“Bad” or “Wrong” or “I don’t like it” is not equivalent to “Unconstitutional”

In a comment on someone elses post, another reader wrote “The DEA is an unconstitutional and illegal agency”.

This bugs me… We frequently see these sorts of statements made about the DEA, the ATF, the federal reserve (where ok, there’s at least a rational and reasonable though flawed argument to be made… most of the people shouting stuff like that above aren’t making those arguments, but still)… Basically any federal agency that they don’t like, or which enforces laws, or uses delegated powers which they personally don’t like.

No, the mere existence of the DEA is not unconstitutional or illegal. It is perfectly constitutional in that it is an executive agency chartered to enforce the laws promulgated by the legislative branch.

The fact that the federal government has no constitutional authority to outright ban or criminalize such substances as the DEA is chartered to regulate, or to ban or criminalize their manufacture, use, or possession (and only limited power to regulate their sale. No, sorry, regulating interstate commerce and making such laws as necessary for the general welfare does not grant them such broad and deterministic powers… and Wickard v. Filburn is bad law and needs to be overturned), does not mean that all laws relating to such substances are illegal or unconstitutional. There are legitimate regulatory powers that such an agency may lawfully and constitutionally exercise.

AS CURRENTLY EXTANT AND IN THEIR CURRENT ROLES AND ACTIONS… The DEA often engages in unconstitutional behaviors, and acts to enforce unconstitutional laws. That much is certainly true. But they are not inherently unconstitutional, or illegal.

Those are actually really important distinctions. Not just semantics or distinctions without difference.

This is so, because you go about addressing the issues, and solving the problems, differently. Things which are blatantly and directly illegal or unconstitutional are best addressed in one way. Things which are peripherally so, are best addressed in a very different way.

You have to shoot at the proper target, with the proper ammunition.

Also, it’s really important to remember, that “bad and stupid” or “harmful” or “undesirable”, or “pointless”; does not necessarily mean “unconstitutional”. Nor does “constitutional” mean “good”, or “useful” or “effective”.

That’s not even a matter of judges discretion or interpretation… The constitution actually provides far less protection of rights, and limitation of powers, than people believe it, expect it, and wish it to (at least explicitly… the 9th and 10th amendments… there’s much bigger and messier issue).

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

Windowpanes, Pencils, and Paperclips

A few days ago I wrote something on facebook that bears repeating here:

A comprehensive understanding of the pencil problem, combined with a thorough understanding of the broken window fallacy (and its inputs and corollaries… Hazlitt for example), makes a pretty good inoculant against socioeconomic lies and stupidities.

Although they are implied by the conditions above, perhaps one should also specifically reference the scale and complexity problems, the perfect information fallacy, the perfect man fallacy, and the law of unintended consequences…

Some of our readers may be unfamiliar with the pencil problem.

In comments, the novelist Ryk Spoor provided a decent explanation, which I’m going to paraphrase here, with my own edits and revisions (and the addition of the last bit, about planning and control):

No one man, can make a pencil, or at least a pencil which could be sold economically.
In general terms, the pencil problem, is that even simplest and most common objects in our civilization generally require an immense number of people and inputs; to not merely build, but manufacture and sell in sufficient numbers, to make it worthwhile to build them cheaply (or at least so that they can be sold economically).

The applies to everything from cars and computers, to pencils, to paperclips.

If you wanted ONE paperclip, it would be an epic undertaking, from locating the appropriate ores, refining them, turning them into steel, figuring out how to draw the steel into the appropriate size of wire, and then finally producing the paperclip from that wire. The amount of effort involved in it would be months of your labor, assuming you had the talent and resources to do it at all.

Instead, you go to a store and buy a 100ct box of them for a dollar; or even at minimum wage, a few minutes of your time for a hundred of the things.

Multiply that by all the different types of goods and services in a modern civilized society, and it starts to become clear just how many people, in how many different specialties, with how much infrastructure, are needed to keep everything running.

Given that scale and complexity, it should also be clear how impossible it would be to plan, control, and manage, anything approaching a national economy or infrastructure centrally; or in fact in any way other than as devolved and decentralized as possible.

The original statement of the problem in this way came from an essay by Milton Friedman (which was a restatement of an earlier essay, “I, Pencil” from Leonard Read, which was a restatement of Hazlitt, which was a restatement of Bastiat and back down the chain).

A video of Friedman explaining the problem:

I am a cynically romantic optimistic pessimist. I am neither liberal, nor conservative. I am a (somewhat disgruntled) muscular minarchist… something like a constructive anarchist.

Basically what that means, is that I believe, all things being equal, responsible adults should be able to do whatever the hell they want to do, so long as nobody’s getting hurt, who isn’t paying extra

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