Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Kaiser Health News on lead and baby foods

From Kaiser Health News points to other general sources of lead than paint and water:

The Environmental Defense Fund, in an analysis of 11 years of federal data, found detectable levels of lead in 20 percent of 2,164 baby food samples. The toxic metal was most commonly found in fruit juices such as grape and apple, root vegetables such as sweet potatoes and carrots, and cookies such as teething biscuits.

The organization’s primary focus was on the baby foods because of how detrimental lead can be to child development.

According to the FDA, lead makes its way into food through contaminated soil, but Neltner suspects that processing may also play a role.

“I can’t explain it other than I assume baby food is processed more,” Neltner said.

The Environmental Defense Fund report notes that more research on the sources of contamination is needed.

FDA has set guidance levels of 100 parts per billion (ppb) for candy and dried fruit and 50 ppb for fruit juices. The allowable level for lead in bottled water is 5 ppb.

Concern over fruit juices flared up in 2012 when Consumer Reports found that 1 in 4 samples of apple and grape juices had lead levels higher than the FDA’s bottled-water limit of 5 ppb.

The Environmental Defense Fund report was ultimately directed at the food industry and FDA in the hopes of getting limits and standards updated.

Comments (0) | |

PBS and school privatization

Via Naked Capitalism comes Brett Robertson’s Why Is PBS Airing Right-Wing-Sponsored School Privatization Propaganda? (Media Matters).  I like Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me and sometimes Car Talk while driving to places, if they happen to be on. Otherwise I tend to avoid listening to Marketplace and the news segments. This has been true for me for a decade anyway.  MA rejected increasing the cap on charter schools.   I found many unaware of the lack of oversight and accountability.  There are charter schools directly supervised by public officials, but I could not find many publicly discussed.

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos and her department have pushed for an expansion of privatized school choice programs in the proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, particularly in the form of private school vouchers. Now a propagandistic three-part documentary series called School Inc. will help DeVos in her efforts to gain public support for expanded private school choice options. The series has already aired on PBS stations in some markets and will be shown on more this month.

A majority of people across the partisan spectrum oppose private school vouchers, programs that redirect public education money to pay for private school tuition. Vouchers are problematic for many reasons, including their history of allowing for discrimination against LGBTQ, disabled, and special education students, their impact on reducing public education funding, and their ineffectiveness in boosting academic achievement.

Despite these problems, private school vouchers are a long-standing priority of the corporations and right-wing funders backing the education privatization movement. The late Andrew Coulson, long-time head of the Cato Institute’s Center for Educational Freedom, was the driving force behind School Inc. The Cato Institute is a right-wing, libertarian think-tank that calls for the elimination of public schools in support of greater “educational freedom” to choose from a free market of privately run schools.

In addition to School Inc.’s roots in the radical, libertarian Cato Institute, education historian and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch found that the film was funded by a number of arch-conservative foundations with ties to the “dark money ATM” DonorsTrust and the Ayn Rand Institute. Ravitch has prescreened School Inc. and provided this scathing review to The Washington Post:

This program is paid propaganda. It does not search for the truth. It does not present opposing points of view. It is an advertisement for the demolition of public education and for an unregulated free market in education. PBS might have aired a program that debates these issues, but “School Inc.” does not.

Comments (5) | |

The Hidden Cost of Privatization

The Hidden Cost of Privatization by Nina Shapiro at Institute for New Economic Thinking  is an excellent read.

This conception of government, of course, is not new. “Small government” has been a hallmark of the Republican Party for decades, and the privatization of government properties and services has been increasing worldwide since the 1980s. In the earlier period it centered on the privatization of state-owned enterprises, but in more recent times it has shifted to government services (after the 1980s, there were not many government enterprises left to sell off). Privatization today is both more varied and extensive than it was in the past, and since its objective seems to be nothing less than the privatization of the state itself, the question of the state’s “agenda” is critical. We must address the questions about the government that Keynes raised almost a century ago, and we must address them, as Keynes emphasized, without the laissez-faire presumptions of his times and ours, for it is not the case, as he famously wrote, that “private and social interests always coincide.”

The public has interests in common, such as the extension of markets and protection of persons and their properties, and the justness of laws and law enforcement matters too, as do educational opportunities.

(Adam) Smith highlights the importance of an educated public in his discussion of the functions of government. The government must facilitate the instruction of the people as well as the commerce of the nation, and this was the case even though that instruction could be provided privately, as the charges for it could be, and were, exorbitant. The wealthy could afford them, but the public at large could not.

Comments (3) | |

Sunday thoughts on how awful

It’s Sunday, so I take a break from nerdy econ analysis and speak my mind.

Last November 9 we woke up to a living nightmare. The next four years were bound to be awful. The only question was, how awful?

The very tiny silver lining as of now is that, so far, it has been about as limited an awful as it could reasonably be.

The simple fact is, those things that the Executive could worsen all on his own, he is doing so. But those things that require Legislative action or Judicial approval have either not materialized or have been stopped in their tracks.

The Executive has almost unlimited freedom of action in foreign policy, so it was a foregone conclusion that China and Russia were going to seize the opportunity to expand their power and influence, and they are doing so. Taiwan is already suffering diplomatically, and it isn’t a good time to be one of the Baltic States either. The EU is looking aghast at Trump’s view of NATO, and will probably vivify their moribund “European Defense Force” at least until 2021.

It is also pretty clear that Trump means to erase Obama from the history books, if for no other reason than Obama humiliated him at the 2011 White House correspondents dinner. So every Executive Order or program undertaken by Obama is being systematically obliterated. This includes deferral of action against illegal immigrants/undocumented workers. There’s not much that can be done there, but even so, the Courts have occasionally stepped in, and Trump himself seems to want to allow the Dreamers to stay.

Comments (1) | |

Is Trump’s Apprenticeship Program Like His Infrastructure Program?

Is Trump’s Apprenticeship Program Like His Infrastructure Program?

It looks like it might be in a crucial way.  Both involve lots of rhetoric about expanding programs that many support, apprenticeships and infrastructure.  However, on looking at them closer to the extent we can see anything specific aside from the rhetoric, it looks like they involve actual cuts in funding support for existing programs related to both apprenticeships (and more broadly worker training and retraining) as well as for in-process infrastructure projects such as those funded by CIG, in favor of vague plans for  some sort of private support for these programs, apprenticeships or infrastructure.

As it is, it looks like the rhetoric and privatization proposals for apprenticeships are much vaguer than those for infrastructure.  For the latter we have had the specific proposal to privatize air traffic control, a proposal that has previously gone before Congress only to draw opposition from GOP senators, not all of those  yet on board, along with supposed tax breaks for privatizing other parts of the infrastructure.

What is supposed to constitute the support for the private replacement for  the currently publicly supported apprenticeship programs is much less clear, although one suspects that it will be the usual GOP panacea, some tax breaks.  I  suspect that we shall have to wait and see, which is ironic given that supposedly Trump was pushing this recently at least partly to distract us all from his self-incrminating tweets, but those tweets have so distracted his own administration that they seem increasingly unable to formulate any sort of detailed or  concrete plan for any real policies, if they ever were able to do so.  And this latest rhetoric on apprenticeships is just another embarrassing example of this floundering incompetence.

Barkley Rosser

Comments (6) | |

Intelligence and Education

I’ve noted a few times that the political center needs to come to grips with research on genes and intelligence or we risk ceding the field to people with scary impulses and frightening goals. I think something like what the center-left position should be is reasonably well articulated by Richard J. Haier. Haier is a professor emeritus in the University of California at Irvine medical school, editor in chief of the journal Intelligence, and he was one of the signators of the Mainstream Science on Intelligence: An Editorial With 52 Signatories, History, and Bibliography in 1994.

Here is a recent article by Haier:

Historically, assaults on intelligence research were launched as a reaction to studies that suggested that average intelligence test scores were lower for some disadvantaged and minority groups. Combined with the possibility that intelligence might be genetically determined, this incendiary combination resulted in efforts to discredit the validity of intelligence tests and genetic studies. Concurrently, there was a single-minded focus on environmental factors as the predominant, if not only, influence on differences in mental abilities and the cause of achievement gaps.

This has led to 50 years of earnest and expensive but largely futile attempts to reduce education achievement gaps. These include focuses on early childhood education, raising students’ expectations, smaller classes, better teacher training, more testing and greater accessibility of challenging classes. Such interventions should not be expected to reduce gaps appreciably given the consistent research that shows that such variables do not influence academic achievement all that much – especially compared with the large effect of a student’s intelligence.

Education is for individuals. It does not matter if there are average intelligence differences among groups defined by poverty or race because there is more overlap than separation. As in modern medicine, any genetic influences, although real, are best thought about as probabilistic rather than deterministic. Basic neurobiology is the same for all humans, and both genetic and neuroimaging research connects neurobiology to intelligence. Understanding the complexities of how this works has potential for designing ways to improve mental ability and maximise education for all students, irrespective of background.

No one is well served by education reforms that neglect research findings on the nature of intelligence and its central role in student achievement. Neuroscience and intelligence research cannot solve all the issues of failing schools and education, but it is time to follow the data and add what we know from these perspectives to discussions about what research to fund, and what reforms to try next.

(The bolding is mine.)

While this may be anathema to much of our educational and academic establishment, it is, from what I can tell, pretty close to the position of the best -known researchers in the field like Stephen Pinker and James Flynn. Which is to say, the position is mainstream science on intelligence.

We ignore that at all of our peril.

Tags: , , , Comments (30) | |

When Somebody Called “Mad Dog” Is The Only Adult In The Room

When Somebody Called “Mad Dog” Is The Only Adult In The Room

In the last few days it has come to pass that twice US Secretary of Defense, James “Mad Dog” Mattis has shown himself to be the only adult in the room in the Trump administration.  His first such exhibition of adulthood came during the bizarre spectacle of Trump’s first full televised cabinet meeting.  Trump openly demanded verbal obeisance from those assembled, promptly delivered by all but one in the room, with some of them embarrassingly effusive, such as Reince Priebus declaring it to be a “blessing” to serve Trump.  Ugh.  Even SecState Tillerson chimed in with a relatively perfunctory bit of praise for Trump.  Only Mad Dog Mattis refused to go along, making a statement praising US military personnel around the world without a single word about Trump.

And then we have the under reported event yesterday that I saw on Juan Cole’s blog that Mattis signed a $12 billion dollar deal for F-15s with Qatar.  Now I am not in general a big fan of  these Middle East arms deals with anybody, but in this case this blatantly goes against Trump’s absolutely stupid and probably corrupt (Saudis paid $270,000 in hotel bills at Trump’s hotel in Washington since Trump took office) support for the Saudi move to blockade Qatar and pressure it into  going along with Saudi aggression in Yemen and more generally against Iran.  Both Tillerson and Mattis made verbal statements last week arguing for a more balanced approach there, only to have Trump double down on supporting this very stupid policy.  Tillerson is  not able to cut deals independently supporting Qatar, but Mad Dog Mattis has just done so.
Maybe Trump will fire him, but I kind of think that maybe even he is  not quite that stupid in the current circumstances.  So there we have it, having to thank somebody nicknamed “Mad Dog” twice in a few  days for being the much=needed adult in the room.

Barkley Rosser

Comments (15) | |