California’s Parent Trigger Law Is (Finally) Helping Improve Public Schools

Lawmakers in California passed the Parent Trigger law back in
2010. The law allows parents of children attending failing public
schools to force major changes if half of the parents sign a
petition. Last year, parents of children attending Desert Trails
Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., pulled the parent trigger
and transformed the school to a public charter school called Desert
Trails Preparatory Academy. “We’ve seen major, major progress…since
the beginning of the year,”
says Debra Tarver, executive director of Desert Trails Preparatory
Academy
.  

In other California school districts,
just the threat of Parent Trigger is helping parents get what they
want
.

Back in 2011, Reason TV covered the first ever attempt by
parents, with the help of the non-profit organization Parent Revolution, to use the
Parent Trigger. While the effort by parents at McKinley Elementary
to use the Parent Trigger ultimately failed, parents at other
California schools are figuring out how use the law to their
advantage, and at least seven other states have adopted some form
of the Parent Trigger.

“California’s Parent Trigger Law: Compton Parents Take
on the Public School System,” produced by Paul Feine and Alex
Manning. About 8:30 minutes.

Original release date was March 2, 2011. The original writeup is
below.

Last year, parents of students in failing California public
schools were given a reason to be hopeful when Sacramento
politicians passed something called the “parent trigger” law. The
way the law works is that if 51% of parents at a failing school
sign a petition, they can turn the school into a charter school,
replace the staff or simply use the petition as a bargaining chip
to initiate a conversation about change.

On December 7, 2010, with help from the non-profit group Parent
Revolution, parents of children attending McKinley Elementary in
Compton became the first group of parents to pull the parent
trigger. Their dream was to transform the school into a Celerity
charter school. Instead, the Compton parents were thrust into a
prolonged fight with supporters of the status quo: the Compton
Unified School District, the teachers’ unions, Gov. Jerry Brown and
Tom Torlakson, the newly elected Superintendent of Public
Instruction.

This is the story about a group of parents in Compton who are
fighting to give their children a better education.

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Veronique de Rugy Says Free the Horse Masseuses

Celeste Kelly, Grace Granatelli, and
Stacey Kollman make their living by providing massage services to
horses and other animals. For more than a decade, these three women
have supported themselves by doing what they love while alleviating
the pain of animals and bringing comfort to their owners. But if
established veterinarians and bureaucrats in the state of Arizona
and Maryland have their way, the women will not only be barred from
their chosen livelihood, they could face up to $3,500 in fines and
six months in jail. The therapists are in trouble because they lack
official licenses from their local State Veterinary Medical
Examining Boards. But obtaining a license is absurdly difficult.
And unfortunately, writes Veronique de Rugy, this abusive treatment
of American entrepreneurs isn’t confined to horse masseuses.
Unlicensed hairdressers, barbers, and hair braiders, too, were
under attack in Washington, Utah, the District of Columbia,
California, Mississippi, Minnesota, and Ohio before the Institute
for Justice step in.

View this article.

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Baylen Linnekin on New York City’s Loser Soda Ban

SodaThis week the New York State Court of Appeals,
the state’s highest court, heard New York City’s appeal of the
city’s soda ban. The ban has already been soundly rejected
(“slammed down,” as one New York news station puts it) by two lower
courts in the state. It’s also faced furious opposition from
millions of New Yorkers and Americans around the country of all
political and ideological stripes, and has served to galvanize the
cause of food freedom like perhaps no other issue to date.

This week’s hearing served as a reminder that the ban may be on
its last legs. If the Court of Appeals upholds the lower court
rulings, writes Baylen Linnekin, then the ban is as dead as he
predicted it likely would be back in August.

View this article.

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Judge Strikes Down Wisconsin Gay Marriage Recognition Ban

Wisconsin wedding cakesAdd Wisconsin to the states
where a federal judge has struck down a ban on gay marriage
recognition. Judge Barbara Crabb
has ruled
that the constitutional amendment in Wisconsin
outlawing gay marriage recognition “violates planitiffs’
fundamental right to marry and their right to equal protection of
laws under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution.”

ABC affiliate WISN has the whole 88-page ruling
posted here
. She notes in her conclusion:

In light of Windsor and the many decisions that have invalidated
restrictions on same-sex marriage since Windsor, it appears that
courts are moving toward a consensus that it is time to embrace
full legal equality for gay and lesbian citizens. Perhaps it is no
coincidence that these decisions are coming at a time when public
opinion is moving quickly in the direction of support for same-sex
marriage. …

Citing these changing public attitudes, defendants seem to
suggest that this case is not necessary because a majority of
Wisconsin citizens will soon favor same-sex marriage, if they do
not already … (citing article by Nate Silver predicting that 64%
of Wisconsinites will favor same-sex marriage by 2020). Perhaps it
is true that the Wisconsin legislature and voters would choose to
repeal the marriage amendment and amend the statutory marriage laws
to be inclusive of same-sex couples at some point in the future.
Perhaps it is also true that, if the courts had refused to act in
the 1950s and 1960s, eventually all states would have voted to end
segregation and repeal anti-miscegenation laws. Regardless, a
district court may not abstain from deciding a case because of a
possibility that the issues raised in the case could be resolved in
some other way at some other time.

The judge has given both sides 10 days to respond to the ruling
so it doesn’t seem as though the weddings are going to be happening
immediately. Wedding cakes in Wisconsin are made out of big cheese
wheels, right? So bakers with religious objections to gay marriage
shouldn’t be a problem.

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Hurricane Season Sales Tax Holidays: Save Now, Pay Later

Public Domain

Hurricane season is upon us and to help flip-flop-wearing
Floridians prepare, Gov. Rick Scott recently approved a nine-day
sales tax holiday, which ends Sunday.

Batteries, flashlights, generators, weather radios, and water
are all on the list of things you can buy without paying the
state’s 6 percent sales tax.

The tax holiday, which is really a government
stimulus in disguise
, is just
one of three that Scott has bestowed upon the state
.
Louisiana and Virginia have already held their hurricane
season tax holidays. But in states not lucky enough to be the
subject of Mother Nature’s watery wrath, back-to-school events tend
to win similar temporary tax reprieves. In 2013, 17 states put
on tax holidays for education.

Gov. Scott and other politicians enjoy touting the benefits of
these sales tax vacations because they are popular with voters.
They say it helps the poor, and the retail
rush boosts the economy. But are those claims true?

The short answer from the Institute on Taxation and Economic
Policy is “no.”

In a 2013
report
, the institute addresses claims that the holidays
inflate retail sales: 

Increased sales during sales tax holidays have been shown to be
primarily the result of consumers’ shifting the timing of their
planned purchases.

And who are the consumers who are best able to shift the timing
of their planned purchases?

Wealthier taxpayers are often best positioned to benefit from
the holidays, since they have more flexibility to shift the timing
of their purchases to take advantage of the tax break—an
option that isn’t available to families living paycheck to
paycheck.

The report found other problems with the the economics of
government-sponsored shopping seasons as well, including retailers
exploiting them by temporarily increasing prices or watering down
sales promotions, and the increase of administrative costs for
state and local governments that normally collect the
tax. 

In the long run, the study concludes,

Revenue lost through sales tax holidays will ultimately have to
be made up somewhere else, either through painful spending cuts or
increasing other taxes.

Steve Chapman came to the same conclusion in a
2010 article
 for Reason in which he asked:

If sparing shoppers the sales tax is such a blessing, why don’t
our leaders get rid of it the whole year round? If it’s a dose of
adrenaline to a weak economy, why not repeat the treatment next
month, and the month after? If we can increase state collections by
suspending the sales tax, couldn’t we increase them even more by
abolishing it?

Might as well get your reduced-price
chainsaws
 now! You’ll pay the difference later anyway.

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Interview: Daniel Schulman Talks About Sons of Wichita, His Biography of the Koch Brothers.

“Sons of Wichita: Q&A with Daniel Schulman About His Koch
Brothers’ Biography” is the newest Reason TV video. Nick
Gillespie talks with Schulman about the Koch brothers’
libertarianism and the future of American politics.

About 15 minutes. Click above to watch or click below to go to
the full video page with links, resources, and more.

Related: “Libertarianism 3.0: Koch and a
Smile,” Nick Gillespie’s take on how the Kochs helped build the
modern libertarian movement and how their “visionary paradigm could
frustrate the left and alter the right by fusing social tolerance
with fiscal responsibility.”

View this article.

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Alexander Shulgin, RIP

Alexander Shulgin, who

died
this week at the age of 88, was a remarkable man who
combined an intense curiosity about altered states of consciousness
with amazing chemical creativity and scientific rigor. Over the
years Shulgin synthesized hundreds of psychoactive compounds that
he carefully tested on himself, his wife, Ann, and a small circle
of friends—a process he described in his 1991 book
PIKHAL: A Chemical Love Story
, a 978-page tome that
includes notes on the production and effects of 179 such chemicals
along with a personal and professional memoir. (The title stands
for “Phenethylamines I Have Known and Loved”; the sequel was called

TIKHAL
, for “Tryptamines I Have Known and Loved.”) Perhaps
best known as a popularizer (though not the creator) of MDMA, which
he said “enabled me to see out, and to see my own insides, without
reservations,” Shulgin embodied an open-minded yet responsible
approach to drugs that should be a model for psychonauts as well as
the politicians who vainly try to control them.

“Every drug, legal or illegal, provides some reward,” Shulgin
wrote in the introduction to PIKHAL. “Every drug presents
some risk. And every drug can be abused. Ultimately, in my opinion,
it is up to each of us to measure the reward against the risk and
decide which outweighs the other.” His great passion was for
psychedelics, the “mind-manifesting” drugs with effects similar to
those of mescaline, psilocybin, and LSD, which he saw as
“treasures” that “can provide access to the parts of us that have
answers,” facilitating “exploration of this interior world” and
“insights into its nature.” It amazed him that legislators and
regulators would presume to intrude into this deeply personal
realm, especially in a society that claims to respect privacy,
freedom of inquiry, and freedom of conscience.

“Our generation is the first, ever, to have made the search for
self-awareness a crime, if it is done with the use of plants or
chemical compounds as the means of opening the psychic doors,”
Shulgin wrote. “How is it…that the leaders of our society have
seen fit to try to eliminate this one very important means of
learning and self-discovery, this means which has been used,
respected, and honored for thousands of years, in every human
culture of which we have a record?”

That remains a bit of a puzzle, even to people who have studied
the series of moral panics that comprise the history of American
drug policy. But by highlighting the profound, life-enhancing
potential of forbidden intoxicants without denying their hazards,
Shulgin boldly pointed the way to a more tolerant alternative.

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First-Grader Finds Toy Gun, Turns It In, Gets Suspension

Listen!Pennsylvania first-grader Darin Simak brought a
different backpack to school this week, failing to notice the toy
gun concealed inside it. When he realized that he had inadvertently
brought the weapon—which is not a real weapon at all—to Martin
Elementary in New Kensington, he immediately informed his
teacher.

Simak was promptly suspended for violating the school district’s
“zero tolerance” policy against weapons,
according to WTAE
:

The New Kensington-Arnold School District superintendent said
that bringing a toy gun to school violates the district’s policy at
the highest level and requires a child to be suspended immediately
until a meeting can be held to discuss what happened and whether
punishment is warranted.

Simak’s parents sent him to school the next day anyway, thinking
the punishment was too ridiculous to be enforced. But
administrators take imaginary firearms very seriously, and refused
to let Simak return to his classroom. His father eventually picked
him up from school.

School zero tolerance policies require administrators to suspend
or expel (and in some cases, arrest), students who break the
rules—even inadvertently, in Simak’s case. The absurdity of

arresting children for harmless mistakes
has begun to faze the
general public, however, and some lawmakers are pressing districts
to revise the policies.

Thankfully, Simak won’t face any of the harshest disciplinary
possibilities. The school board declined to expel him, and the boy
will be allowed to return to school on Monday.

I sure hope he learned his lesson.

Hat tip:
Jim Treacher

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Governments Constantly Tap Your Calls, Warns International Telecom

HeadphonesGovernments frequently tap private
communications, block users’ access to content and services, and
that’s just what we can legally be told, UK-based
telecommunications giant Vodafone reveals in its first
law enforcement disclosure report
. The report, which the
company says really should be issued by the governments that impose
demands on communications companies, calls on officials to be more
transparent in their surveillance efforts. It also asks for an end
to the practice of governments tapping directly into communications
networks, bypassing the operators themselves and making monitoring
and disclosure virtually impossible.

Vodafone sold its interest
in Verizon Wireless last year, and no longer operates in the United
States, so the report doesn’t detail American practices. But it
does reveal surveillance at least comparable to that of the NSA in
the 29 countries in which the company provides services and has
received government demands for cooperation in the past year.

All governments have incorporated national security exceptions
into national legislation to give legal powers to agencies and
authorities. Some governments have constrained those powers to
limit the human rights impact; others have created much
wider-ranging powers with substantially greater human rights
impacts. Meanwhile, agencies and authorities have the scope to
apply advanced analytics techniques to every aspect of an
individual’s communications, movements, interests and associations
– to the extent that such activity is lawful – yielding a depth of
real-time insights into private lives unimaginable two decades
ago.

Those powers can be very extensive—so much so that the report
includes a
legal annexe
detailing the laws and agencies in various
countries authorizing and carrying out interceptions. In Australia,
for instance, the Telecommunications Act of 1997, the Australian
Security Intelligence Act 1979, and the Crimes Act 1914 all
authorize real-time interception of communications under different
circumstances varying from law enforcement to national
security.

In the U.K., the Telecommunications Act 1984 (yes, very
appropriate) gives the state broad power to issue orders to
telecommunications companies and forbid them to breathe a word
about the matter.

France requires that telecoms store data about users’
communications for a year, and a new law taking effect in 2015
requires companies to provide real-time location data to
intelligence agencies—essentially formalizing the use of cellphones
and other devides as tracking beacons.

Oversight of powers to intercept communications and force data
disclosures varies tremendously from country to country, as you
would expect from a list that includes established democracies
alongside overt police states.

Because of the difficulty in tracking the sort of content that
governments block, the report doesn’t delve deeply into access
restrictions. Very often filters are placed in parts of the network
that companies can’t monitor, and telling people about banned
information and services is itself forbidden in many countries.

“Refusal to comply with a country’s laws is not an option,”
Vodafone’s report says, rather defensively. It’s a claim that has
become something of a mantra for companies pressured to reveal data
about users or otherwise submit to controversial government
controls, especially in the wake of Edward Snowden’s revelations
about snooping by the National Security agency and its overseas
partners.

If the claim isn’t completely true, it’s close enough, since
most exceptions have been firms, like
Lavabit
, that have
ceased operation rather than comply
.

Telling the public about the full range of intrusions into
private communications also isn’t an option, since some disclosures
are illegal in certain countries. Defiance threatens not just
consequences for corporate wallets, but even personal danger. “In
some countries, individual Vodafone employees would be put at
risk,” the report warns. The country operates in garden spots
including Albania and South Africa, so emphasize the word
“risk.”

It’s also not clear how many governments directly tap
communications networks, since that capability can’t be monitored
by the company. Hungary appears to allow such monitoring, the U.K.
might (separate reports
say it does
), while Germany and Spain appear to have no legal
provisions for such access. But how officials interpret their
countries’ laws is up to them.

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Brooklyn Bids for 2016 Democratic National Convention

From a few years ago spanning back to, oh,
always, it would have been unthinkable for New York City to vie for
a major national event by offering to hold it in Brooklyn.
But in a formal bid announced Friday, NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio is
seeking to
host the 2016 Democratic National Convention
at downtown
Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. 

“The shift to Barclays Center from Madison Square Garden, a
Manhattan institution that has played host to four Democratic
conventions and one Republican, would be freighted with symbolism,”

writes
 The New York Times‘ Michael M. Grynbaum.
“Bill Clinton, who ushered in a new era of Democratic centrism, was
nominated for president in 1992 after a dramatic entrance into the
Garden’s cavernous arena.” 

But Clinton-era Democratic centrism is as out-of-vogue as ironic
trucker hats in Williamsburg. Perhaps a nominating convention in
Brooklyn “would be a way to underscore any leftward tilt in the
Democratic Party’s platform,” Grynbaum suggests.

The Barclays Center, is should be noted, is part of
the controversial
Atlantic Yards redevelopment project
. Unlike the more organic
growth in other parts of Brooklyn, this redevelopment involved the
city coming in with eminent domain statutes blazing and totally
gutting an entire neighborhood. The area around the Barclays
center—which de Blasio describes in his bid letter as “one of the
most dynamic and resurgent neighborhoods” in the city—is now a
cesspool of chain stores and restaurants surrounded by some of the
worst traffic I’ve ever encountered in all of New York
City. 

“The progressive spirit of New York City has never been stronger
or more vibrant that it is today,” de Blasio wrote in his letter to
the Democratic National Committee (DNC). New York was among 15
cities invited by the DNC to submit convention bids.

The recent trend in Democrat and Republican nominating
conventions has been to hold them in swing state cities, the better
to rally the soccer moms. But there are a few reasons why Democrats
could ultimately choose Brooklyn for 2016—the most obvious being
that the ostensible frontrunner for the Democrats, Hillary Clinton,
has made NYC her adopted home. 

Also, without another candidate like circa-2008 Barack Obama,
Democrats will face a typically tough time getting young voters
motivated (unless the Republicans go full-tilt so-con, that is).
Though today’s 20-somethings may skew liberal, they don’t
necessarily skew Democrat. So building a little millennial
fervor at the convention, if possible, couldn’t hurt. And it seems
a whole lot more possible to attract young liberal types in and to
New York City than, say, middle America. 

Anyway, for a fun take on all this see The Washington
Post
, where Philip Bump reports live
from an imaginary future DNC convention
in Brooklyn. “We
strongly recommend that you not leave the greater
Barclays/Bloomberg/Uber area,” our future tour guide cautions.
“It’s not dangerous, as such, but outside of the immediate vicinity
we will not be able to provide you with the proper trigger warnings
for your excursions.”  

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