The National Today

Florida board to fortify schools against shooters, teachers want stricter gun controls

A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories with The National newsletter's Jonathon Gatehouse.

Newsletter: A deeper dive into the day's most notable stories

A student from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., crosses her hands showing the words Don't Shoot during the national school walkout on March 14. The 17-minute protest, one minute for each victim of the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting on Feb. 14, called attention to Congressional inaction on the issue of gun control. (Chrisotbal Herrera/EPA-EFE)

Welcome to The National Today newsletter, which takes a closer look at what's happening around some of the day's most notable stories. Sign up here and it will be delivered directly to your inbox Monday to Friday.


TODAY:

  • New measures announced by school authorities in Broward County, Fla., indicate they don't have much faith that student protest efforts will result in more gun control — or bring an end to classroom shootings
  • Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, has finally broken his silence on the data scandal swirling around his company, but it doesn't appear to be helping
  • French scientists are sounding the alarm over a "catastrophic" drop in bird populations in rural areas


Planning for the next massacre

Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., begin their spring break tomorrow.

Many will use the time to travel to Washington D.C. for Saturday's March for Our Lives rally near the White House, one of 839 anti-gun violence demonstrations scheduled to take place during a day of action across America and around the world.

But authorities in Broward County have already let the students know that they don't have much faith their efforts will result in more gun control — or bring an end to school shootings.

Yesterday, the local board of education sent home a letter about its plans to "fortify" the campus where 17 people were killed and another 17 wounded in a Feb. 14 massacre.

Students from Montgomery County, Maryland, schools protest gun violence in front of the White House in Washington on Feb. 21. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
When students return to class at the beginning of April, they will be issued new see-through backpacks to ensure that no one is carrying a weapon. They will also have to wear ID badges.

Classroom doors will be "locked at all times," states the letter.

Armed police already stand by outside the school, which will soon look more like a jail than a place of learning. Permanent metal detectors will soon be installed at the school's new "single point of entry" — a system that will be replicated in all other area schools once fences are built.

The expanded "safety protocols," as the school district calls them, come in the wake of security scares at Stoneman Douglas earlier this week. The younger brother of the confessed shooter was arrested for trespassing on campus, and two other students were found to be carrying knives.

Florida authorities are now using a new law passed after the massacre to prohibit Zachary Cruz — brother of the Parkland killer Nikolas — from possessing or buying guns. He has also been ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation, and a judge set his bail at $500,000 US — far beyond the standard $25 for such misdemeanours.

Although it doesn't appear that the people who work in America's schools believe that such steps will actually protect them, or their students.

A new Gallup survey of teachers, released today, asked educators to name "one thing" that could be done to prevent school shootings. One third of respondents said "stricter gun laws," and a further 22 per cent suggested banning assault weapons, while 19 per cent would like to see better funding for mental health.

Enhanced security measures, like armed guards and bulletproof windows, were mentioned in 15 per cent of answers.

Zachary Cruz, right, the brother of the Florida school shooting suspect, is seen on a closed circuit television monitor as he waits to make his first appearance on charges of trespassing on the grounds of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Tuesday. (Amy Beth Bennett/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP)
Just seven per cent of teachers surveyed agreed with President Trump's plan to arm staff.

The long-term effects of school shootings are also top of mind today, following a new Washington Post data investigation that determined that 187,000 students from at least 193 primary or secondary schools have first-hand experience with gun violence on campus. A shocking number that "exceeds the population of Eugene, Ore., or Fort Lauderdale, Fla.," the paper noted.

The New York Times, meanwhile, has stitched together a video portrait of the final seven days of the man who killed 58 people in a Las Vegas shooting spree last October, wounding 700 others. The footage, gleaned from security cameras in hotels, restaurants and casinos, presents a terrifyingly banal vision of Stephen Paddock, as the 64-year-old eats alone, gambles all night long, and tips staff for helping him lug his 21-suitcases stuffed with guns and ammunition to his 32nd floor hotel suite.

Mass killings, it appears, are simply business as usual for some in America.


#TheresZuck

Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, has finally broken his silence on the swirling scandal over allegations that another firm — Cambridge Analytica — used the data of 50 million Facebook users to try and sway elections around the world.

And it doesn't appear to be helping.

The 33-year-old was contrite in a sit-down interview with CNN last night, apologizing for a "major breach of trust," and the "biggest mistake" his company has ever made.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, seen here in Nov. 2017, apologized Wednesday for a 'major breach of trust,' and the 'biggest mistake' his company has ever made. (Jeff Roberson/Associated Press)
But his offer to testify before the U.S. Congress, and seeming double-negative acceptance of more government oversight — "I'm actually am not sure we shouldn't be regulated," he said — haven't succeeded in calming the waters.

This morning, Germany's Justice Minister Katrina Barley called the scandal a "threat to democracy," noting that people were "against their will forced to interact … with hate speech." She is asking for a meeting with Facebook's European management and demanding immediate solutions to the site's data security and privacy problems.

Israel's privacy watchdogannounced today that it is launching an investigation to see if the personal data of citizens was used in a way that violates national law.

And there are signs that Facebook advertisers are becoming nervous about associating their brands with Zuckerberg's suddenly tainted company. Mozilla, the maker of the Firefox web browser, says it is "pressing pause" on its Facebook ads until the platform strengthens its privacy protections.

"We found that its current default settings leave access open to a lot of data," Denelle Dixon, Mozilla's chief business and legal officer, wrote in a blog post, "particularly with respect to settings for third party apps."

Facebook has expressed outrage over the misuse of its data by Cambridge Analytica, the British firm at the centre of the major scandal rocking the social media giant. (Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP/Getty Images)
And in the U.K., a trade body that represents major advertisers is scheduled to meet with Facebook later this week to express its concerns.

"I don't think they're bluffing. They are going to exert real pressure," David Kershaw, the head of M&C Saatchi, one of the world's biggest ad firms, told the BBC. "I think that clients have come to a point, quite rightly, where enough is enough."

Facebook's stock price continues to feel the pressure, falling three per cent in early trading today. Almost $46 billion US has been trimmed off the company's market value since Friday, and Zuckerberg's personal net worth has decreased by more than $5 billion.

Although not everyone is out to get the Facebook chief, or experiencing schadenfreude over the money troubles of the world's fifth-richest man.

Tim Berners-Lee, the Oxford professor who created the World Wide Web, posted a series of sympathetic tweets last night.


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The alarm over 'Silent Spring'

French scientists are sounding the alarm over a "catastrophic" drop in bird populations in rural areas.

Over the past 15 years, the overall number of birds in France's countryside has fallen by a third, with some species in far steeper decline than others. Partridge populations have decreased by 80 per cent, for example, and meadow pipit counts are down 70 per cent.

The underlying reason, according to two new studies, is the heavy use of agricultural pesticides, including neonicotinoids, which have all but wiped out the insects upon which the birds feed.

Partridge populations have decreased by 80 per cent in France over the past 15 years, according to bird studies. (Harry Murphy/Getty Images)
The problem may be even more acute in other parts of Europe, with the continent's overall farmland bird population down 55 per cent since 1980, per a 2017 bird census taken across 28 different countries.

The French government has vowed to cut pesticide use in half by 2020, but sales have been steadily increasing.

And while the European Union has moved to restrict some neonicotinoids — nicotine-based pesticides that have been linked to a sudden decline in honeybees  it has yet to enact a full ban, with farmers simply switching to different brands.  

The Ortolan Bunting is an endangered species in France, under pressure from environmental factors as well as hunters. (Bob Edme/Associated Press)
The French bird findings follow a global assessment of 200 neonicotinoid studies released last month. It determined that while the pesticides do protect against pests like aphids, leafhoppers and grubs, they don't improve crop yields. The authors argued the benefit against pests should be weighed against the "overwhelming evidence" of negative effects on pollinators and arthropods, especially water bugs.

Health Canada's Pest Management Regulatory Agency has been studying neonicotinoids for almost six years, but is not expected to make a final decision on their use until at least 2019. It would take several more years to enact a phased-in ban.

Quebec Superior Court has ruled that a class-action suit brought by beekeepers against neonicotinoid makers Bayer and Syngeta can proceed to trial. (Adam Wyld/Canadian Press)
There has been significant pushback from agricultural lobbies, who dispute the science and argue that a ban would cost farmers millions.

The question could end up being settled via the courts.

Last month, the Quebec Superior Court ruled that a class-action suit brought by beekeepers against two neonicotinoid makers — Bayer and Syngeta — could proceed to trial.

A Canada-wide suit is expected shortly.


Quote of the moment

"We were really quite horrified, and fascinated."

- Fisheries and Oceans ecologist Jared Towers, explaining the reaction of marine scientists who observed a male killer whale drowning an unrelated calf so he could mate with its mother. Their study on orca infanticide was published in the journal Nature this week.

The killer whale calf swims with its mother moments before the attack. (Jared Towers)

What The National is reading

  • First rebels and families leave defeated Syrian town (BBC)
  • Canada's most drought-vulnerable places (CBC)
  • Breitbart's readership plunges (Politico)
  • Peru's president undone by corruption scandals he promised to end (Washington Post)
  • Zambia slaps Canadian mining giant with $8 billion bill (Africanews)
  • Threat to U.S. high school traced to Ontario teen (CBC)
  • Organizers deny that people will have to pay to see Pope during visit (Irish Times)
  • 'The stench of it stays with everybody': Inside the Super Mario Bros movie (Guardian)

Today in history

March 22, 1988: Janet Jones loves Wayne Gretzky

And so does everyone else in Canada. The Great One's fiancée isn't all that eloquent about her affections. "It's amazing … we are so in love. It's very exciting," she says. But Wayne does make a cameo in an acid wash jean jacket.

Jones talks about being in love with Canada's hockey hero. 1:44

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About the Author

Jonathon Gatehouse

Jonathon Gatehouse

Has covered news and politics at home and abroad, reporting from dozens of countries. He has also written extensively about sports, including seven Olympic Games and a best-selling book on the business of pro-hockey.