Active Shooter Drills and Terrorizing Children

As a kid, I loved days when we had fire and tornado drills. It was something that broke up the monotony of day. There was nothing like scurrying down to the cafeteria and huddling by the floor with your best friends, “preparing” for a hypothetical tornado but really talking about what you had for lunch and what your were doing over the weekend. Oh yea, and if there was ever an actual tornado, stay away from the window and cover your neck. OK–got it.

Tornado and fire drills are probably a good idea. Though both are fairly rare occurrences, teaching children, and adults for that matter, to be prepared for tornadoes and fires should probably be considered a best practice.

But not all drills invoked such feelings during my school years. By the time I got to middle school, we hosted “active shooter drills.” These drills taught us the following. In the event someone comes into the school with a gun and the intent to kill everyone, turn off the lights and huddle in the corner of the room. Assuming the assailant has really poor vision and can’t see through the glass door, you’ll be safe. (The unspoken lesson went like this. If the shooter isn’t blind and can see through the door, pray that you’re in the middle of the huddle and not on the border.) As opposed to making me feel safe, these drills placed a kernel of worry in the back of my mind. Would today be the day that someone comes to the school with a gun?

I was in junior high when 9/11 changed the American psychological landscape. I remember going home and seeing the coverage on every news channel, including Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon. After that, we had to have drills every so often about what to do in the event of a terror attack. (I honestly cannot remember what the drills entailed.)


Politics Creates Conflict

36930686_MOne interesting thing to note about the political statements coming from candidates as the primaries approach is the adversarial nature of their rhetoric. They don’t hesitate to attack their primary opponents despite the fact that they broadly agree on most things. Yes, Republicans will take an occasional jab at Hillary, but mostly they are attacking each other, despite all they have in common. Meanwhile, Hillary and Bernie are debating who’s more progressive, and even what progressive means.

Candidates don’t talk about what they have in common. Politics brings out and amplifies any differences, regardless of how small they might be. Politics creates conflict, because if one person wins, others lose.

Compare that to market transactions, which are always cooperative because market exchange does not occur unless all parties to a transaction agree. Market transactions occur peacefully and leave everyone satisfied, even though the transacting parties might disagree about almost everything.

When you go to a store, do you check with the sales clerk to see if you share the same religious beliefs, agree on immigration policy or second amendment rights, or have the same views on abortion or same-sex marriage? No, it never comes up. In markets, people can disagree about almost everything and yet still cooperate. In politics, people can agree about almost everything, but politics makes adversaries of even those who hold similar views.

Politics creates conflict. Markets create cooperation.

Will Congress Fix Its Electronic Health Records Fiasco?

26925793_MThere is some hope that Congress will fix—at least partially—the largely bungled Electronic Health Records (EHRs) deployment on which it has spent $30 billion since 2009. Doctors are very frustrated by EHRs, which interfere with their practice of medicine. The current government program to have them installed nationwide should be abandoned.

Tomorrow, the Senate will mark up a number of bills to remove the regulatory burden in health care. One of them will address EHRs. Will it help? Maybe a little. First, it would force the federal government to reduce the administrative burdens associated with EHRs. Second, it would force the federal government to defer to the private sector on interoperability.

Interoperability refers to competing EHRs communicating with each other. The health IT landscape is overwhelmingly complex, and it is unsurprising that the federal government struggles to create and implement appropriate standards for interoperability. A recent Government Accountability Office report surveyed 18 nonfederal initiatives to improve health IT:

Conversely, representatives from two initiatives said that current federal work on standards duplicates existing private sector efforts, and representatives from a third initiative expressed concern that the government is not flexible enough to account for changing technologies and should therefore leave this issue to the private sector.

As for MU*: “Representatives from 10 of the initiatives noted that efforts to meet the programs’ requirements divert resources and attention from other efforts to enable interoperability.”

(*MU refers to Meaningful Use, the federal program which pays doctors and hospitals to install EHRs.)


Trumping Washington Won’t Make America Great Again

trump_565x550Americans have begun voting in the process to select the 44th person to succeed George Washington as President. Unfortunately, missing from the process have been the principles that animated Washington as America’s “indispensable man,” in historian Forrest MacDonald’s words. The character that made him “first in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen” has been violated far more than venerated.

This lack of character has been widespread in America’s nomination free-for-all, but the deficiency is most striking in the case of Donald Trump, whose “Make America Great Again” slogan should reflect our founding ideals. It is perhaps best illustrated by the chasm between what citizens have witnessed and Washington’s Rules of Civility and Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, written before the first U.S. president was 16 years old, which focused on behaving “according to the custom of the better bred.” Consider, for example, how little the following rules have been honored (spelling and punctuation updated):


Imprisoning the Messenger

There are none so blind as those who will not look

There are none so blind as those who will not look

Those behind the prosecution of the Planned Parenthood/StemExpress sting videographers might be surprised by the stunning parallels with an earlier case: that of pioneering investigative journalist William T. Stead, imprisoned for exposing the horrors of human trafficking of girls into forced prostitution more than 130 years ago.

Stead was drawn into the anti-trafficking crusade by Bramwell Booth, son and successor to Salvation Army founder William Booth, and his wife Florence. Girls as young as 12 or 13 were routinely lured into the sex trade by ads for domestic service, as well as sold to procurers by their parents. Thousands of young English girls were routinely bought and sold for brothels worldwide, and while Florence had been saving girls individually, the Booths realized that to stop the trade they would need powerful allies.

Booth turned to his friend William T. Stead, the crusading editor of the influential Pall Mall Gazette. Stead hatched a plot to “buy” a girl to show how easily and commonly it was done.

When approached through an intermediary-procurer, the alcoholic mother of 13-year old Eliza Armstrong readily agreed to sell her daughter for £5.


Section 1332, Where Are You?

ACA plansPeople are starting to get excited about another Obamacare work-around: The section 1332 waiver. This refers to a section of Obamacare that allows states great flexibility in how they deliver Obamacare within their borders. The curious thing about section 1332 waivers is that they can only be issued as of January 1, 2017.

Why? Why not allow states to get section 1332 waivers as of October 2010, when Obamacare’s first regulations took effect? Or January 2014, when the gushers of tax credits began to flow through the exchanges? Who knows? Maybe the administration just thought they needed a few years for the cement around Obamacare to solidify.

Newt Gingrich and Tom Daschle have co-authored a report on how states can use section 1332 waivers to execute policy preferences either to the left or the right of Obamacare. Anne Phelps of Deloitte & Touche LLP has also written a report describing the benefits of using a section 1332 waiver.

Both clarify that section 1332 waivers have their limits: They cannot increase the federal debt, reduce comprehensiveness or affordability from the Obamacare status quo ante, or reduce the number of people covered.


No, Senator Sanders, the Fed Was Always a Creature of Cronyism

fedReforming the Federal Reserve can brighten the future of American democracy—but unless the reforms reflect an understanding of how and why our central bank was created, the Fed will continue to serve the interests of the privileged few at the expense of the rest of us. Regrettably, presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ misunderstandings about the origin of our central bank could steer the public away from supporting the most badly needed changes and make a bad thing worse.

In his letter to the New York Times on Dec. 23, Sanders claims that the Federal Reserve is “an institution that was created to serve all Americans (which) has been hijacked by the very bankers it regulates.”

“Hijacked” is misleading terminology. The Fed was created on behalf of bankers seeking government favors. Sanders unwittingly propagates the myth that it was created to “serve all Americans.”

More than a century ago, advocates for the creation of a central bank told the American public that the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 would take away control of the money supply from the big banks and give it to the people. To win support, they spread the slogan, “Break the grip of the money (banking) trusts.” Once the Act was made law, the public was told to expect “maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.”


Ted Cruz and Health Reform

TedcruzSenator Ted Cruz has won the Iowa Republican caucuses. Over the weekend, Chris Wallace of Fox News challenged Sen. Cruz on his proposal “to sell health insurance across state lines,” citing my argument that federal action to mandate this would be ineffective. The argument in question appeared in an op-ed in The Hill last October, although I have made it previously elsewhere.

In fact, Sen. Cruz’s proposal to sell health insurance across state lines does not appear in his presidential campaign platform. It is in a Senate bill he proposed last March, in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decision in King v. Burwell. That case was decided last summer in favor of the Obama administration. If it had gone the other way, Obamacare would have collapsed in most of the states (which have federally facilitated health insurance exchanges, i.e.

Few politicians in Congress prepared for this possibility. Sen. Cruz and a handful of his colleagues did. However, the Supreme Court got the case wrong, so any pressure on the administration to change Obamacare through legislation evaporated.


Mandated Paid Maternity Leave ... Again.

momTime recently published an article discussing the ever-debated issue of mandated paid maternity leave. The article’s author, Belinda Luscombe, titled her article, “Please Stop Acting as if Maternity Leave is a Vacation.”

Included with the article were the standard statistics. The United States is the only OECD country to not offer guaranteed paid leave, etc. etc. But she added some additional “arguments” as well.

She discussed how many individuals reacted to Obama’s recent announcement that he would sign a memorandum offering federal employees a minimum of six weeks paid leave when a child arrives. She noted that many people stated something along the following lines, “if people want to have kids, we, the taxpayers, shouldn’t have to pay for their time off.” She describes such responses as “juvenile.”

She continues on, pointing out that the survival of our species depends on people having children and that family leave is, alas, not a vacation. She concludes her article by stating that “yes, parents choose to have children. But they’re doing it for all of us, like jury duty, or being the designated driver....they’re taking one for the team.”


Reflections on National School Choice Week

School Choice Week - 2016Last week was National School Choice Week, with more than 16,000 events from coast to coast shining a spotlight on effective education options for students.

Today, parental choice in education encompasses a variety of education options:

Eight states and the District of Columbia allow parents to enroll their children in any public school they wish, regardless of where they live.

Another 43 states and DC allow public charter schools. Altogether more than 6,700 charter schools enroll over 3 million students.

Public magnet schools, 3,200 nationwide, enroll over 2.6 million students in all 50 states and DC.

Parental choice in education also includes a growing number of private and online learning options as well:

Fully 27 states and DC offer private school parental choice programs, including publicly-funded voucher scholarships, privately-funded tax-credit scholarships, tax credits, and tax deductions. These programs are helping more than 1.2 million students and their families nationwide.