Digest: 7 July 2013

Abstract

Policymakers working on US education reform should not focus so strongly on accountability, and should look to other more successful foreign systems for guidance. – It is unclear whether the large-scale collection of all US metadata would have prevented the 9/11 attacks, the problem then was not insufficient access to information but rather failure to act on information. — The Roberts Court is teeing up major constitutional issues for reversal, most recently a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. – Predatory lenders, and their shareholders and directors, are profiting handsomely off those who are having trouble getting from one paycheck to another. – Education is fundamental to social mobility, the current erosion of income amongst broad swathes of the population is unprecedented in recent US history and is likely to undermine social mobility. — An Australian study  shows that GMO foods cause multiple serious pathologies in pigs and cattle, and are not as safe as the governments of the US and UK have been suggesting.

Highlight

In Mapping Children’s Chances, BBC News presents a slideshow of maps produced by UCLA’s World Policy Analysis Centre, Adult Labour Database.  The maps provide easily readable visual representations of “children’s well-being, education and family life” around the world.  Represented topics include: the availability of paid leave for mothers/fathers of infants, the constitutional provision of rights of education for children with disabilities, whether mothers are guaranteed the ability to breastfeed at work, the amount of education required for primary-school teachers, the limits of work hours that can be performed by 14 year olds, minimum age to purchase alcohol, whether smoking is banned in schools, whether the wearing of seat belts is mandated by law, availability of dentistry personnel, laws regarding discrimination on basis of ethnicity, unemployment benefits, and availability of safe drinking water.

Economics

In Revealed: The £1 Billion High Cost Lending Industry, Jason Lewis (for The Bureau of Investigative Journalism), discusses the remarkable growth of the short-term lending industry in Britain.  Otherwise known as ‘payday’ lenders, this industry offer funds to those in need at annual interest rates of as much as 4,000%.  These companies have been making profits margins of over 30% in the last year; total turnover of the firms rose from £242 million in 2009 to £1.4 billion in 2012.  In the UK these loans are not regulated as strictly as in the US, allowing an opportunity for some US firms, and their shareholders and directors, to profit handsomely off those who are having trouble getting from one paycheck to another.

Environmental

In First Long Term Study Released on Pigs, Cattle Who Eat GMO Soy and Corn Offers Frightening Results, Christina Sarich (for Nation of Change) discusses the results of an Australian study that shows that GMO foods are not as safe as the governments of the US and UK have been suggesting.  The study has found that multiple pathologies arise in pigs and cattle fed on GMO soy and corn.  These results have not been reported by the research divisions of companies like Monsanto.

Political

In Fact-Check: The NSA and Sept 11, Justin Elliot (for Nation of Change) discusses how contrary to arguments set forth by defenders of NSA surveillance, it is unclear whether the large scale collection of all US metadata would have prevented the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Elliot describes the he problem then was a matter of having information and not acting on it.  Further, that the security services had the ability and authority at the time to track the relevant calls being made.

In The Chief Justice’s Long Game, Richard L. Hasen (for The New York Times) discusses a trend quickly developing in the Robert’s Court of teeing up major constitutional issues in order to reverse them.  In the most recent example, the Roberts Court has deemed unconstitutional a key provision in the Voting Rights Act, specifically Section 5, which requires states to get federal permission to change voting laws in jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination.

Social

In Why American Education Fails, Jal Mehta (for Foreign Affairs) discusses the view that in reforming US education, policymakers should avoid focusing solely on accountability. Foreign systems that consistently score higher than the US do so by employing approaches that are in many respects the inverse of the US approach.  These methods are not foreign to the US, they are the foundation stones of any successful business – investment in fundamentals.

In Thirteen Economic Facts about Social Mobility and the Role of Education, Michael Greenstone, Adam Looney, Jeremy Patashnik, and Muxin Yu (for The Hamilton Project at The Brookings Institution) discuss the importance of education for social mobility, and how increasing discrepancy of wealth is likely to undermine social mobility.   The current erosion of income amongst broad swathes of the population is unprecedented in recent US history.  Because skills require education and resources in their development, the change taking place can be expected to decrease the competitiveness of precisely the population groups that fueled the growth the US has known over the last sixty years.  Without broad participation, economic growth must inevitably be stunted.