Supplemental: Flint's poisoned children, then versus now!

SATURDAY, JANUARY 23, 2016

Scribe takes a look at the record:
Does USA Today's David Mastio know what he's talking about?

More specifically, does Mastio know what he's talking about concerning elevated levels of lead in the blood of children? Specifically, in the children of Flint, Michigan?

We don't know how to answer these questions. That said, Mastio is deputy editorial page editor of USA Today. In an earlier life, he was an environmental reporter for The Detroit News.

Trigger warning! Mastio also worked for the Washington Times for three years! That fact may convince you to stop reading this post right now.

Increasingly, we modern liberals like our stories uncomplicated and novelized, with perfect villains and victims. If that's the way you like your tales, we advise you to stop reading this post, if only based on Mastio's prior affiliation.

For everyone else, we recommend Mastio's new, detailed report about Flint. We'd like to see it fleshed out by environmental and medical reporters, if any such people exist.

Warning! The magic phrase "Governor Rick Snyder" won't be served to you in every sentence of Mastio's piece, as happens when you watch Rachel Maddow pretend to report this event. If that omission will kill the fun, we advise you to stop reading now!

No amount of Mastio's report is safe for people who like their tribalized news reports to display the familiar logic of dreams and fairy tales. Before we get to Mastio's report, let's explain how we hit upon it.

In the past few weeks, we've been puzzled by a basic pair of statistics concerning the situation in Flint. These statistics lie at the heart of the clear, concise report which helped make Flint a national topic.

According to that clear, concise report, 4.0 percent of children in Flint now show elevated levels of lead in their blood. Before the switch in Flint's water supply which produced the current story, the figure stood at 2.1 percent, according to that report.

We'd seen those figures in many news reports. They struck us as odd, and yet not odd, given the novelization which defines so much of our "news product."

Why did those figures strike us as odd? Because 4.0 and 2.1 are somewhat similar figures!

According to that pair of statistics, a figure of 4.0 percent was so upsetting that it touched off a national front-page story about the poisoning of Flint's low-income children.

By way of contrast, the pre-existing figure, 2.1 percent, had been accepted, by one and all, in a state of complete total silence. You never would have heard a word about the children of Flint if that pre-existing situation had been maintained, with just 2.1 percent of those children being "poisoned."

In short, 4.0 percent touched off a political firestorm on our own liberal channel. But when the figure stood at 2.1 percent, no one gave a fig or a farthing, or even a good rat's ascot. When 2.1 percent of kids were "poisoned," it wasn't even worth discussing, even though that was more than half the current figure!

On face, that situation struck us as odd, and yet not odd. In the past several weeks, we've Googled and Nexised about, trying to see if we've misunderstood those figures in some way.

We've also tried to find national figures for elevated levels of lead—figures which would let us put Flint's situation into a broader perspective.

What percentage of children nationwide test for elevated levels of lead? In Flint, that report seemed to say that the figure now stands at 4.0 percent. But what's the figure nationwide? We're sure that statistic exists somewhere, but we haven't been able to find it, certainly not in any of our nation's "news reports."

(Rachel doesn't have time for statistics. She's too busy saying "Rick Snyder," while fashioning the EPA as a hero of her tribalized fairy tale.)

Let's be honest. Within the world of American journalism, no one actually cares about the kids in Flint, Michigan. Similarly, no one actually cares about what is happening in low-income schools around the nation. That fact is proven by the way our mainstream news orgs, and our own liberal heroes, refuse to report even the simplest facts about the rising test scores achieved by the nation's black and Hispanic kids.

Nobody cares about those kids, except to the extent that they can be used, at occasional times, to produce exciting stories of the type which attract eyeballs and please a tribal audience. No fact on this planet could be more clear, and no fact is less often discussed.

What's the role of low-income kids within our corporate news business? Multimillionaire cable stars like to jump in when a villainous story can be created, keeping viewers barefoot and happy and thereby justifying $7 million salaries. But the overwhelming evidence tells us this—no one actually cares about the nation's low-income kids, except to the extent that they can be used to generated simple-minded, tribally-pleasing tales.

This brings us back to Mastio's report, which we encountered yesterday in our latest search for the types of data mentioned above. At one point in his report, Mastio even links to statistics of the type we had been trying to locate!

Early on, Mastio makes a few standard points. "As any public health official will tell you, there is no safe level of lead," he writes. "Once you are exposed, lead can haunt you even as it disappears from your blood."

A few other points are obvious. First, the problems that followed the switch in Flint's water supply have created a gigantic public inconvenience, with residents unable to use their own tap water.

The switch in water supply also created a real public health problem in which, according to that pair of statistics, almost twice as many children in Flint have elevated levels of lead.

Public officials seem to have made groaning mistakes in the course of creating those problems. But in the bulk of his report, Mastio notes a significant fact—present-day American adults grew up with much higher levels of lead in their blood than today's children in Flint. Mastio even says this:

"Even after Flint’s disaster, the city’s children have far less lead in their blood than their parents or grandparents did at the same age."

Some people want to rant and rail about whoever their villains may be. On Morning Joe, you're told that the EPA is the villain in Flint. Twelve hours later, Maddow will tell you it's Governor Rick.

If all you want is the chance to live in the realm of the fairy tale, you can turn to one of those novelized pseudo-news programs. If you want a wider array of facts, we'll recommend Mastio's report, which includes information like this:
MASTIO (1/22/16): In 2005, Michigan completed the years-long process of collecting 500,000 lead blood tests from children in the state under 6. Back then, 26% of kids tested—that's more than one in four—had blood lead levels (5 micrograms per deciliter or greater) that would cause concern today. In the hardest hit parts of Flint now, only 10.6% of kids have such concerning levels of lead in their blood.

How can that be? While drinking water management in Flint has obviously been a mess in recent years, it's a mess that comes amid one of the greatest public health and environmental triumphs in U.S. history.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data are clear. In the late 1970s, 88% of Americans ages 1 to 5 had at least 10 micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood, or twice as much as today's level of concern.

By the early 1990s, only 4.4% of children were exposed to so much lead.
And year by year since then, according to more than 31 million blood tests compiled by the CDC just since 2005, lead has been steadily disappearing from American kids’ blood.
Please note: According to Mastio, 88 percent of American kids had at least ten micrograms per deciliter of lead in their blood in the late 1970s! And please note this additional point:

As Mastio says, ten micrograms is twice as much lead as today's official level of concern. In 2012, five micrograms per deciliter became the official point of concern.

According to that recent study in Flint, 4.0 percent of the city's kids have lead levels that high. But according to Mastio, almost everyone had higher levels of lead when current generations of adults were kids.

What is likely to happen to kids who have five micrograms or more? The adults who are stampeding the public about that question grew up with much higher levels of lead! Perhaps that's why their sense of proportion so commonly seems to fail them!

Two final points:

Across the country, how many kids have five micrograms of lead or more? How many have ten micrograms?

Mastio links to this voluminous chart, which he sources to the CDC. If we're reading that chart correctly, only 0.53% of kids nationwide now have ten micrograms or more.

Also this, however:

If we're reading that chart correctly, it looks like roughly 3.5 percent of kids nationwide have levels of five micrograms or more. That would mean that Flint's kids, at 4.0 percent, are right around the national norm, at least based on that one study.

Are we reading that chart correctly? We'd like to see specialists tackle these points. In theory, Rachel Maddow or Joe Scarborough could help us with these basic points. But she's too busy chanting "Governor Snyder" while he chants "EPA."

In closing, we want to note another point by Mastio. Near the end of his piece he says this: "What happened in Flint starting in 2013 needlessly risked the health of thousands of people...Of this, there is no question. But it also true that the health threat in Flint is being exaggerated."

Is that true? Without any question, exaggeration is the lifeblood of our culture's successor to "news." But is this matter being overstated? We can't exactly tell you.

That said, Mastio offers an intriguing view about the harm such exaggeration can cause. Especially from a snarling conservative, we were struck by the highlighted point:
MASTIO: After years of progress [in the reduction of lead levels], context-free panic over events in Flint is counterproductive. It feeds the cynical idea that government always fails. And, when a more sober analysis of the health threat in Flint eventually emerges, it will damage the credibility of the politicians, public health advocates, scientists and journalists who raised alarms shorn of nuance.
According to Mastio, this latest panic could "feed the cynical idea that government always fails." If you watch Morning Joe, you'll be told it's the feds. If you watch the Maddow Show, you'll be told it was Governor Snyder.

Might this "panic" feed some such cynicism? We have no idea. But that is certainly what has happened as horrible people like Rachel and Joe refuse to discuss the rising test scores of the nation's good, decent, admirable black and Hispanic kids, a code of silence which has served all sorts of corporate interests.

How much do you have to hate those kids, and their public school teachers, to keep their improving performance a secret? We don't know how to answer that question. But we can tell you this:

Over on cable, our corporate stars await the next chance to put those children's lives to use. You can't pay "journalists" millions of dollars without producing such outcomes.

48 comments:

  1. Excellent. Can we get you on the TV machine? "Real News with Bob Somerby" has a nice ring to it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. My wife is a bio-statistian and a political liberal. She has consulted for the EPA. She expected to disagree with Mastio's article, but she said it's scientifically sound.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. good thing your wife is a political liberal, otherwise we might doubt what she is saying.

      Delete
    2. My husband was a Republican when we first married. He isn't any more.

      Delete
    3. Is David's wife the same as Bob Somerby's analysts?

      Delete
    4. That's sort of like saying David is his wife.

      Delete
  3. Those lower lead levels may be one reason black and hispanic kids' scores are rising.

    David misspelled statistician, but I won't ridicule him for it. I hope he can learn from his politically liberal wife.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Bob writes: The adults who are stampeding the public about that question grew up with much higher levels of lead! Perhaps that's why their sense of proportion so commonly seems to fail them!

    Bob and I grew up with much higher levels of lead. Just sayin'.

    ReplyDelete
  5. It's pretty easy to find the source of the 4.0% figure if you Google it. It's from a pediatrician who tested samples that had been collected during routine doctor visits.

    http://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/2015/09/24/water-lead-in-flint/72747696/

    "The number of Flint children with elevated blood-lead levels — 5 micrograms per deciliter or more — jumped from 2.1% in the 20 months prior to Sept. 15, 2013, to 4.0% between Jan. 1 and Sept. 15 this year. In certain ZIP Codes, the change was even more troubling, she said — jumping from 2.5% of the children tested to 6.3%."

    It's worth noting that that's not a thorough sampling of the population - that's a doctor testing samples she had on hand, mostly from Medicaid patients.

    Either way, it seems disingenuous to shrug off lead in drinking water as fine because back in our day, we huffed leaded gasoline exhaust and turned out fine. I thought the point of advancing science and medicine was to make each generation better, not hold the next one back because what was good enough for us is what's good enough for them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In the larger sense, I think Bob would agree with you: ANY unsafe level should be addressed.

      But it seems to me that he's pointing out the hypocrisy of news programs taking a small and fixable situation and blowing it up into either "The Democrat's EPA can't fix anything" or "The Republican's amoral free market will poison us all" -- preconceptions depending upon the the demographics a show is pandering to.

      Either way, these programs are pandering to you. In doing so, they avoid talking about substantive things - do you like that?

      Delete
    2. We didn't "turn out fine." We had high crime, social turmoil, wars, and movement conservatism.

      Delete
    3. I guess my problem is with the article under discussion. It's being held up as an example of a reasonable look at the issue, but to my eyes it's an illustration of how one can cherry-pick facts to fit a narrative. That's the kind of thing Bob's supposed to be crusading against.

      The article focuses primarily on blood test results, but lead doesn't stay in the body long. Testing at a given moment in time tells us nothing about what kind of long-term exposure kids had to elevated lead levels.

      The author touched on measured levels in the water, but he contrasted results of VT's testing of more then 250 households in Flint to a sampling of roughly 6,000 households in Washington. Then he cites raw numbers of households, which is completely meaningless when one study sampled from 20 times the number of houses. And when he's comparing those numbers, he does it for households over 300 ppb, selecting a number that favors his argument. Looking at simply "high" levels, a much higher percentage of houses in Flint tested above 15 ppb than did so in Washington.

      It's a well-written article with sloppy, selective arguments. There are better ways to illustrate the media's excesses than this.

      Delete
    4. As Bob makes clear at the beginning of this blog post:

      Scribe takes a look at the record: Does USA Today's David Mastio know what he's talking about?

      More specifically, does Mastio know what he's talking about concerning elevated levels of lead in the blood of children? Specifically, in the children of Flint, Michigan?

      We don't know how to answer these questions. That said, Mastio is deputy editorial page editor of USA Today. In an earlier life, he was an environmental reporter for The Detroit News.


      As Bob points out, many of our well-paid journalists (to the tune of over $7 million/yr) can't seem to find the time to discuss the issue of lead levels in our nation's children, and prefer instead to only discuss the issue when there is red meat to offer to liberals/lefties. Why can't such overpaid journalists cover important topics all the time?

      Delete
    5. Also of interest...

      http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/22/water-lead-content-tests-us-authorities-distorting-flint-crisis

      Delete
  6. "So what if Maddow had the mayor of Flint on over a month ago, it's All CLOWNING, I tell you, ALL of it. NOW, here is your month's supply of Flint water for you and your family. Don't worry about a little lead, I'm drinking it myself.. well, I would if I had to, no problem! Look, do you think I've displayed some kind of irrational animosity towards Rachel Maddow that could cloud my judgement? Don't be so tribal, you lizard brain, drink up!!"
    Love the overselling of anyone who might DARE to have a problem with The Washington Times at the beginning.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Greg's Disappointed FamilyJanuary 24, 2016 at 9:07 PM

      " "Don't worry about a little lead" "

      Where does Greg find this in Somerby's writing?

      He doesn't, so he makes it up.

      Which is par for the course he plays on.

      Delete
  7. For some reason, when it comes to environmental issues, exaggeration is normal and is often considered praiseworthy. E.g., Rachel Carson ddramatically exaggerated the harm from DDT in The Silent Spring. DDT was banned, which allowed malaria to flourish. As a result, wiki says, there may have been 20 million preventable deaths. Yet, Carson is regarded as a hero, not a villain.

    Many or most of Al Gore's predictions about climate change have not come about. E.g., on Jan 25, 2006, he predicted that the planet was doomed in ten years, unless very dramatic action was taken. No such action was taken, but nobody thinks the planet will be doomed as of tomorrow. Yet, Gore is still regarded as a hero by many.

    Based on this history, it's Business-as-Usual that politicians and media exaggerate the harm from the lead in Flint's water.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Does the oil extraction industry pay you or are you just a useful idiot?

      Delete
    2. Gore didn't say the earth would be destroyed by now, he said we could reach a point of no return.

      Delete
    3. For some reason, when it comes to environmental issues, exaggeration is normal and is often considered praiseworthy. E.g., Rachel Carson ddramatically exaggerated the harm from DDT in The Silent Spring. DDT was banned, which allowed malaria to flourish. As a result, wiki says, there may have been 20 million preventable deaths. Yet, Carson is regarded as a hero, not a villain.

      DDT has not been banned. What you are saying here is not true...

      http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/rehabilitatingcarson

      Delete
    4. hardindr -- wiki says [Silent Spring's] publication was a seminal event for the environmental movement and resulted in a large public outcry that eventually led, in 1972, to a ban on the agricultural use of DDT in the United States.[10] A worldwide ban on its agricultural use was later formalized under the Stockholm Convention, but its limited use in disease vector control continues to this day and remains controversial,[11][12] because of its effectiveness in reducing deaths due to malaria, which is countered by environmental and health concerns.

      Caesar -- you're correct. A point of no return in ten years, which is tomorrow.

      Not only did Gore turn out to be wrong, but his original prediction was not a part of any IPCC Report. It was, at best, someone's speculation or hypothesis. At worst, it was an intentionally scary lie.

      Delete
    5. I think the link for the article cited by hardindr is http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/rehabilitatingcarson

      Delete
    6. David, scientific hypotheses (not considered speculation) are based on evidence and thus not mere guesses. If you do not extend knowledge beyond what you have in hand, doing science is incapable of making advances. It is far better to get worried about climate change and do something to curb our excesses than to dismiss hypotheses (and projections) as too speculative to be concerned about and do nothing. You dismiss Gore as if everything he says is wrong because he is wrong in some particular. On what basis can you say that we have not already reached the point of no return?

      This is like the argument for the existence of heaven and hell. If you live an exemplary life to avoid hell, what have you lost if you are wrong? If you live a reprobate life because hell is a fiction, what have you lost if you are wrong? Far better to assume Gore and others are correct and fix our planet, even if they were a tad overcautious in predicting when bad effects would become irreversible. It staggers the mind that anyone would take such a risk with the life of our planet, especially in the name of politics.

      Delete
    7. DiC: Nothing you in the wikipedia article you mentioned supports your contention that DDT has been banned. DDT usage is banned for agricultural purposes, but is still allowed for malaria control.

      For more information:

      http://scienceblogs.com/deltoid/category/ddt/

      Delete
    8. You are correct, hardindr. Still, they did stop of mostly stop using DDT, even for malaria control.

      Delete
    9. David, we just had the warmest year on record. We may indeed have reached a point of no return. Still, we should do what we can to limit the damage.

      Delete
    10. DiC: If you read any of the information I provided to you, one of the reasons for the curtail of DDT's usage was that it was no longer effective due to mosquitos evolving a resistance to it.

      Delete
    11. "on Jan 25, 2006, he predicted that the planet was doomed in ten years,"

      Cite, please.

      Delete
    12. "nobody thinks the planet will be doomed as of tomorrow"

      Actually, plenty of people think we are now past the point of no return on disastrous anthropogenic climate change.

      So, you're wrong.

      Delete
    13. Joel -- On Jan. 26, 20016, CBS News reported
      ...unless drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases are taken within the next 10 years, the world will reach a point of no return, Gore said.

      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/2006-al-gore-does-sundance/

      Delete
    14. Joel -- On Jan. 26, 20016, CBS News reported
      ...unless drastic measures to reduce greenhouse gases are taken within the next 10 years, the world will reach a point of no return, Gore said.

      http://www.cbsnews.com/news/2006-al-gore-does-sundance/

      Delete
    15. A big difference from your overly exaggerated "doomed in ten years" misquote.

      Delete
  8. Excellent. The reflexive "Nevertheless, any level is too high" response illustrates the left's need to cling to truthy narratives it feels are important.

    In this case, that faulty narrative is also highly useful, as lead levels are now invoked with increasing frequency to explain differences in academic performance and behavior of black children, so that the obvious culprits of 75% illegitimacy and absent or negligent parenting can be obscured.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It seems right to address the things that can be corrected. Unless you are going to force people to marry and stay married (forbid divorce) and also forbid dying and anything else that would interfere with parenting (disability, too much work), how are you going to address the things you claim are causal?

      Delete
    2. One step would be to stop forcing people not to marry. That's an unintended consequence of our welfare system. Another step was taken by Bill Clinton. That was to reform welfare so as to push people to get off welfare. President Obama made some controversial changes, which might or might not have reduced the value of Clinton's reform, depending on who you believe.

      Delete
    3. How does it benefit children when a single mom is forced to work and spend more time away from them and there is no dad to help out? It seems like that exacerbates the problems such children face. Isn't the point to help children learn? In the bad old days, at least the kids had their mom at home, so they didn't lose both parents. It seems majorly inconsistent to complain that single parents harm their kids in school but then turn around and take that parent away from kids too, for major chunks of the day.

      You seem to be assuming that single moms and single by choice and that nonworking people are unemployed by choice. That shows ignorance about the circumstances of both groups of people.

      Delete
    4. A 75% illegitimacy rate suggests these single moms are indeed single moms by choice. How to address these things? "Progressives" who caused and nurtured the problem of perpetual poverty of blacks might start by not bringing up "lead levels" as one of the top 20 causes of behavioral and academic failures for this population to deflect attention from what many must understand but are averse to stating are the more important causes. They might notice that 75% illegitimacy rate, the fact that most of these children are unplanned and unwanted, and the absence or negligence of one or both of their parents. Useless cheerful PSA's encouraging these parents to talk to their children is the "progressive" idea of a remedy.

      Delete
    5. @ 3:41 & 3:00 -

      Breitbart ->>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

      Delete
    6. 3:00,
      Good point about parents having to work multiple jobs to support their families, because business stiffs labor.
      Now, what are you going to do about business stiffing labor?
      If nothing, what will we tell the children?

      Delete
  9. The issue has nothing to do with Flint lead levels relative to a national average but (a) post-switch Flint lead levels to pre-switch Flint lead levels (i.e. the rate appears to have doubled in a very short period of time, likely due to the switch in water source) and (b) that Mich state officials appear to have known for some time that this was the case and did nothing.

    It is perfectly fair to criticize the media (liberal or otherwise) for overlooking the tremendous progress the US has made in areas of public health, crime, education, etc. But that progress does not excuse a doubling of the current rate.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Today's NY Times hit piece on Hillary is by Charles Blow.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "The swipes at him as being soft on the gun industry as some way of cozying up to it, or of being anti-Obama because he wanted Obama to be stronger in pursuing a liberal agenda, or that he wants to scrap Obamacare, simply do not connect.

      Sanders may be a dreamer, but he’s not dishonorable. Trying to sully him in this way only sullies her."

      Truth is a "hit piece" to those still denying Hillary really lost in 2008.

      Delete
    2. Hillary lost like Al Gore lost in 2000.

      It is dishonorable to support guns, whatever the excuse he might offer.

      EVERYONE wanted Obama to be stronger, including Clinton, but that doesn't negate the real accomplishments of Obama's two terms in office. Clinton is trying to point out that Sanders keeps insisting on idealistic goals that are unachievable, to the point that he undermines liberal efforts to accomplish meaningful change. Sanders had the liberty to be pure and to vote against measures that were insufficiently perfect for his tastes only because of the hard work of Democrats to pass their measures. That doesn't make Sanders a better liberal. It makes him someone who is not a team player. But that is obvious when he chose to run against Clinton in the primary, something few other Democrats would do to her.

      Of course Sanders wants to scrap Obamacare. That is the only way to put across single payer. You clearly have not read the various thoughtful analyses of whether Sanders' vision of single payer would be an improvement, especially for low income people, who would pay more under Sanders plan due to the tax increases inherent in it. What is honorable about advocating measures without being specific about how they would work and without acknowledging that they can't all be paid for by a tax on Wall Street -- that some tax increases would be necessary and that those would fall not only on the rich but also on middle and lower income voters?

      Sanders is pretending that any real scrutiny of his proposals -- of the kind any real candidate routinely receives -- is a desperate attack on him because Clinton is slipping in the polls. THAT is dishonorable to claim. Sanders does fine as an arm waver but he has no experience or credibility compared to Clinton. Those who are disappointed by Obama should pay attention to the similarities between Obama's charismatic idealistic promises and the reality of what he could accomplish -- Bernie is more of the same.

      Delete
    3. Sanders lack of experience will undermine him as a viable candidate during the nomination process. He doesn't have enough experience with racial issues to respond competently to questions from BLM or Coates on reparations. That's because he hasn't been a national candidate before. That is going to doom him in the Southern primaries and among more diverse voters and he will not be able to win -- no matter what happens in Iowa and NH. He cannot win without black voters and he doesn't know how to talk to them because he is a single-issue guy from VT. This is how the primary process weeds out non-viable candidates.

      All the white young men who cannot imagine Hillary as president are going to be majorly disappointed in March, if not sooner. Maybe they'll vote for Trump. He has the same misogynistic impulses as they do, so they'll feel right at home.

      Delete
    4. "Hillary lost like Al Gore lost in 2000."

      Damn! Who fixed Florida for McCain?

      Delete
  11. MVP, MVP, MVP!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/25/opinion/michigans-great-stink.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The word "EPA" does not appear in his Op-Ed, bad show...

      Delete