What’s Nature’s Economic Value?

(Full video: http://fora.tv/2010/08/03/Pavan_Sukhdev_What_Is_the_World_Worth)

I wish more people understood this very basic view of nature and the biosphere that supports all life and all civilization.

Species are going extinct and ecosystems are being destroyed at fast rates. I’ve looked at the data before and it’s impossible to really comprehend. There is nothing more important than the biosphere and yet there is nothing that humans treat so badly. People tend to only look at nature in terms of the worth that can be gained by destroying it, but few consider the worth of not destroying nature.

If we don’t collectively start acting according to the precautionary principle, we will inevitably destroy ourselves and possibly most of the biosphere as well. This isn’t an exaggeration. It’s hard to comprehend and most people would rather ignore the problem in hopes it will go away, but sadly reality doesn’t conform to our wishes.

There are still large numbers of people denying man-made global warming despite all the scientific research and despite the consensus of scientists and scientific organizations around the world. When ever I see someone denying the most basic facts of science, I just want to punch them in the face. I don’t get it. Will the average person only wake up when we’re on the brink of extinction? We really need to improve science education in this country and around the world. The only problem bigger than mass destruction of nature is the mass ignorance of the average person.

The following is a good analysis of the failure of ‘free market’ advocates to truly understand the problems of how external costs get placed upon third parties (in terms of our present corporatist/fascist/inverted-totalitarian system, this means pviatized profits and socialized costs).

Reagan: From Liberal to Neocon

Here is an early speech given when Ronald Reagan was still a liberal Democrat.

What he says in this speech still applies today. The odd part is that the gist of his criticisms apply equally to the results of his own trickle-down economics and union-busting. How did Reagan go from being a union leader who fought for average Americans to becoming a cynical neocon who undermined the ability of the working class to have a voice in politics? Working class people are worse off in that their manufacturing jobs have been sent overseas and their wages have decreased. Did Reagan ever care about helping people or was he always in it just for the power?

This isn’t a partisan criticism. I’m genuinely bewildered by Reagan’s motives. He is the only union leader to be elected as president, but he wasn’t even your average union leader. He was elected 7 times as a union leader. He originally defended the New Deal reforms. How does someone like that become a corporate spokesperson?

Chomsky has commented about this quite often.

http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199407–.htm

There was an article in Business Week last week describing some of the consequences of the American state’s vicious anti-labor activities. Illegal firings for union organizing have gone up sixfold, it reckoned, in the past 25 years. In particular, thousands of union organizers have been illegally fired since the start of Ronald Reagan’s presidency in 1981.

According to the US Labor Department, the destruction of the unions as been the main factor in the decline of real wages that has continued since the Reagan era. Health and safety standards in the workplace have also deteriorated: there are laws, but they’re simply not enforced, so the number of industrial accidents has risen sharply in the past ten years. Then there is the effect of the decline of unions on democracy: the unions are one of the few means by which ordinary people can enter the political arena. Finally, there’s a psychological effect. The destruction of the unions is part of a much more general effort to privatize aspirations, to eliminate solidarity, the sense that we’re all in it together, that we care for one another.

But why did Reagan turn against working class people and become a corporate spokesperson? Why did he, as a union leader, turn against his own union members? Why did he become involve in the commie withchunt which was one of the darkest periods of American history?

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0001654/bio

The young Reagan was a staunch admirer of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (even after he evolved into a Republican) and was a Democrat in the 1940s, a self-described ‘hemophilliac’ liberal. He was elected president of the Screen Actors Guild in 1947 and served five years during the most tumultuous times to ever hit Hollywood. A committed anti-communist, Reagan not only fought more-militantly activist movie industry unions that he and others felt had been infiltrated by communists, but had to deal with the investigation into Hollywood’s politics launched by the House Un-Amercan Activities Committee in 1947, an inquisition that lasted through the 1950s. The House Un-American Activities Committee investigations of Hollywood (which led to the jailing of the “Hollywood Ten” in the late ’40s) sowed the seeds of the McCarthyism that racked Hollywood and America in the 1950s.

In 1950, U.S. Representative Helen Gahagan Douglas (D-CA), the wife of “Dutch” Reagan’s friend Melvyn Douglas, ran as a Democrat for the U.S. Senate and was opposed by the Republican nominee, the Red-bating Congresman from Whittier, Richard Nixon. While Nixon did not go so far as to accuse Gahagan Douglas of being a communist herself, he did charge her with being soft on communism due to her opposition to the House Un-Amercan Activities Committee. Nixon tarred her as a “fellow traveler” of communists, a “pinko” who was “pink right down to her underwear.” Gahagan Douglas was defeated by the man she was the first to call “Tricky Dicky” because of his unethical behavior and dirty campaign tactics. Reagan was on the Douglases’ side during that campaign.

The Douglases, like Reagan and such other prominent actors as Humphrey Bogart and Edward G. Robinson, were liberal Democrats, supporters of the late Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his New Deal, a legacy that increasingly was under attack by the right after World War II. They were NOT fellow-travelers; Melyvn Douglas had actually been an active anti-communist and was someone the communists despised. Melvyn Douglas, Robinson and Henry Fonda – a regist

The world we live in today is the vision of Reagan. The administration of George W. Bush and the downfall of the economy was the final culmination of the policies of Reagan. We now have a country with 1 in 200 citizens in prison and a wealth disparity comparable to developing nations. The permanent deficit we now have was created by Reagan. Fiscal conservative? Small government?

What exactly is this vision that Reagan helped to create and promote?

http://www.thewe.cc/weplanet/news/americas/us/ronald_reagan.html

The United States, said Ronald Reagan, “is engaged in a war on terrorism, a war for freedom”

How familiar it all sounds.

Merely replace Soviet Union and communism with al-Qaeda, and you are up to date.

And it was all a fantasy.

The Soviet Union had no bases in or designs on Central America; on the contrary, the Soviets were adamant in turning down appeals for their aid.

The comic strips of “missile storage depots” that American officials presented to the United Nations were precursors to the lies told by Colin Powell in his infamous promotion of Iraq’s non-existent weapons of mass destruction at the Security Council in 2003.

Whereas Powell’s lies paved the way for the invasion of Iraq and the violent death of at least 100,000 people, Reagan’s lies disguised his onslaught on Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala.

By the end of his two terms, 300,000 people were dead.

In Guatemala, his proxies – armed and tutored in torture by the CIA – were described by the UN as perpetrators of genocide.

There is one major difference today.

That is the level of awareness among people everywhere of the true purpose of Bush and Blair’s “war on terror” and the scale and diversity of the popular resistance to it.

In Reagan’s day, the notion that presidents and prime ministers lied as deliberate, calculated acts was considered exotic.

http://newliteraryhistory.com/ronaldreagan.html

Reagan displays none of his storied optimism here. There’s no “Morning in America,” no soaring talk about making “a new beginning.” Instead, he warns that America is on the verge of an apocalyptic doom. It is a bleak speech, verging on despair, that unabashedly employs the most extravagant historical and philosophical comparisons—“Should Christ have refused the cross?”—to denounce our moral weakness and warn of our imminent demise. It is one of the great role player’s darkest roles.

The Speech is disturbing because it shows the paranoid, millenarian side of American conservatism, unleavened by Reagan’s Main Street sunniness. But it is also disturbing because it presents that right-wing vision in its pure form, unsullied by history. The Speech predates Reagan’s entry into the world of politics, with its compromises and accommodations. As president, Reagan ended up backing away from some of his most cherished ideals. He raised taxes, reached agreement with the Communists, folded his cards in the face of terrorism, increased the federal deficit, and expanded the federal government. Reagan never abandoned his rhetoric of good versus evil, but it turned out not to apply to the real world. The Speech allows us to imagine an alternative Reaganist future, in which he lives up to his words—a world where he really does bomb the Soviet Union, get rid of Social Security, and end the progressive income tax. The Speech is a kind of distillation of Reagan’s Platonic right-wing essence. Like Keats’s Grecian Urn, it freezes him, an immortal figure from a strange, lost part of the American id, eternally raging against communism, big government, and liberal traitors.

That future never happened, but Americans think it did. That’s one reason that New Right conservatism continues to wield a disproportionate influence in American life. But the other reason has to do with the inchoate anxieties, wishes, and fears to which The Speech appealed then, and to which the dream it spoke for appeals today.

The Speech tapped into the primordial American myth: untrammeled individuality. There must be a territory for Huck Finn to light out to, a promised land where authority—or government—does not reach. In this always-beckoning frontier, all the hindrances that drag Americans down are left behind. Businessmen can run their businesses as they like, free from the plague of do-gooder bureaucrats. White people need not carry the spurious cross of racial guilt. Unruly and ungrateful minorities—pinkos and softies and degenerates and pointy-heads and uppity women— are shown their place. Above all, the profoundly destabilizing specter of relativism, of compromise, of moral ambiguity, is banished. No longer need Americans accommodate themselves to evil. A divine certainty stretches from sea to shining sea.

This is as much a metaphysical wish as it is a political platform. It is a sermon as much as a speech. And it is in the gap between those two things—the space between the dream of absolute freedom and the reality of a fallen world—that America forever stumbles

What happened around the middle of last century that caused such insanity? How did the entire political system get flipped on it’s head?

Reagan was the first great neocon. The necons were the progressive liberals who became disenchanted with the New Deal and so became cynical-minded progressive conservatives. Looking back, it all seems very strange. The working class was smashed under the heel of corporate power and corporations gained a stranglehold on Washington politics. The American idealism was turned into a dark dream of power for the ruling elite. A movie actor and corporate spokesperson was elected president and he spun inspiring propaganda.

Sadly, there was disconnect between rhetoric and reality. Reagan preached values ideology and free market rhetoric. Government was part of the problem, Reagan told Americans. What Reagan gave Americans was a permanent deficit, an even stronger military-industrial complex, decreasing wages, shrinking middle class, outsourcing of good manufacturing jobs, and a growing wealth disparity.

Eventually, Americans elect George W. Bush who campaigned on the same Reagan neocon vision and gave America the same failures. After Bush is out of office, the Tea Party is taken over by people once again selling the same message of values ideology and fiscal responsibility. More of the same. Endlessly, more of the same. Libertarian Goldwater led to neocon Reagan. Ron Paul libertarians led to the Tea Party. It’s the same pattern repeating. Why? What does it all mean? And why don’t the American people see through the charade?

Public Opinion on Tax Cuts for the Rich

I’ve written about tax cuts for the rich in some other posts, but I don’t think I’ve mentioned the aspect of public opinion. I don’t have any commentary. I just wanted to post the data showing a majority Americans want the tax cuts for the rich to end.

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503544_162-20016602-503544.html

Fifty-three percent of Americans agree with Mr. Obama that the tax cuts for the wealthy should be allowed to expire, while 38 percent do not, according to the poll, conducted Sept. 10-14.

Two of three Democrats think it is a good idea, and most independents (55 percent) agree. Most Republicans (57 percent) think it is a bad idea.

A small minority of Americans (19 percent) think it is a good idea to let the tax cuts expire for households earning under $250,000 a year – a policy no elected official in Washington is promoting, given the state of the economy.

Meanwhile, one third of Americans believe the Obama administration has raised taxes. Fifty percent think taxes have stayed the same, but only 8 percent think taxes have gone down. In fact, most Americans received a tax break in 2009.

This poll shows the majority of Americans support Obama on the issue of taxes. And yet it also seems to show most Americans are oblivious of the fact that they agree with Obama. They’re unhappy with Obama because they think he has raised taxes, but he hasn’t. This is the product of the right-wing spin machine. Conservatives are good at tellng a narrative so compelling that people either ignore the facts or just assume the facts agree with the narrative.

As for tax cuts for the rich, even the Republican party is closely split with 43% of Republicans wanting them to end. I don’t know of any polling data of Tea Party supporters. They’re more conservative than the average Republican and I’d guess they’re for continuation of tax cuts for the rich because that seems to be the position of Tea Party leaders such as Palin and Beck. However, the Tea Party likes to portray itself as independent. Polling the Tea Party would be a good test of their claim of being independent considering a majority of independents also support the ending of the tax cuts for the rich.

And it’s not just one poll showing this majority. Apparently, a majority of polls show this majority.

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/dear_dems_you_can_win_the_argu.html

* A new National Journal poll finds that 56 percent support ending either all the Bush tax cuts or just the ones for the wealthy, while barely more than a third want to keep them all.

* The new Gallup poll shows that 59 percent of Americans — and a majority of independents — supports either ending all the Bush tax cuts or just the ones for the wealthy.

Indeed, Gallup finds that Obama’s proposal — ending the tax cuts for the wealthy but not for everyone else — has the support of 44 percent, more than any other solution.

* A CNN poll in late August found that a majority, 51 percent, favors ending the tax cuts for the rich, and another 18 percent favor ending them all.

It also found that among independents, 44 percent favor ending the tax cuts for the rich, while another 21 percent favor ending them all. Letting the tax cuts for the rich expire has majority support in all regions of the country except the south.

* A recent CBS poll also found a sizable majority, 56 percent, think the tax cuts for the wealthy should expire.

[…] Here’s another one: A recent Newsweek poll found 52 percent support letting the tax cuts for the rich expire, while only 38 percent support keeping them in place.

The CNN poll found the Republican party was 50/50 split on continuing tax cuts for the rich, but most interestingly Republicans showed the stronger support than even Democrats in ending all tax cuts. So, Republican voters are being true to their fiscal conservative ideology while the Republican leadership is being hypocritical and not representing those who voted them into office.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/08/20/only-50-of-gop-supports-e_n_689326.html

Only half of all Republicans and self-identified conservatives favor extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, a new public opinion poll shows. Fewer say they favor extending the Bush tax cuts just for those making less than $250,000 a year.

A study released by CNN on Friday suggests that Republicans face a curious public opinion deficit in their efforts to keep tax rates at current levels for income groups across the board. The party’s base isn’t entirely sold on keeping the rates in place. But they also don’t favor raising them on the wealthy and no one else.

Top officials in the GOP have said they will fight the president’s proposal to extend the Bush tax cuts for the lower and middle classes while allowing those for the wealthy to expire. But few voting blocs appear to back that approach.

According to the survey, only 26 percent of self-identified moderates back extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. Only nine percent of liberals said the same thing. Conventional wisdom would hold that Republicans would be the chief proponents of the proposal. But only 50 percent of conservative respondents said they want tax rates for the wealthy kept in place — the same percentage of Republicans support a full extension of the Bush tax cuts.

As for extending the tax cuts for those making under $250,000 a year, 69 percent of liberals support that approach, 53 percent of moderates, and only 36 percent of conservatives.

Meanwhile, every single age group polled by CNN favored extending tax cuts for just the lower brackets over extending them for all groups (including the wealthy). So too did respondents from every single region of the country.

I’m not sure what all of this means. Tax cuts used to be popular. Does this represent a shift? Even Tea Party supporters who are the most right-wing of the American public have grown critical of the Republican leadership and yet the Republicans in Washington keep pushing the unpopular tax cuts for the rich. Will this issue be a turning point in public opinion? Will the GOP be forced to return to the fiscal conservatism last seen during Eisenhower’s administration?

Previous posts with data, commentary or videos related to tax cuts for the rich:

MSNBC w/ Cenk: Reich – Middle Class & Wages

Cenk Uygur on Tax Cuts for the Rich

Reaganomics & Tax Cuts for the Rich

National Debt, Starve the Beast, & Wealth Disparity

Failure of Conservative Morality in Politics

Liberals are the New Fiscal Conservatives

When Stupid People Don’t Know They’re Stupid

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dunning%E2%80%93Kruger_effect

http://www.nytimes.com/2000/01/18/health/among-the-inept-researchers-discover-ignorance-is-bliss.html?pagewanted=1

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolved-primate/201006/when-ignorance-begets-confidence-the-classic-dunning-kruger-effect

Calvin Hobbes Ignorance

Poor & Rich Better Off With Democrats

Why elections matter, in one graph
By Ezra Klein

I’ve been trying to figure out how to link to Timothy Noah’s series on inequality, which falls under the rubric of “things you should read that I have nothing to say about.” One thing I can say is that Noah, Catherine Mulbrandon and Slate have put an enormous amount of work into creating visuals to accompany the articles, and the results are really impressive. This graph, for instance, is the best visualization I’ve seen of Larry Bartels’s striking data showing how different income groups do under Republican and Democratic presidents:

bartelschart.gif

Much more here.

– – –

This reminded me of two other issues.

First, the deficit has increased with every recent Republican president and decreased with Clinton. Is that an accident that all economic brackets improve under Democrat leadership which is precisely when the deficit has also decreased? I really don’t know what the connection would be, but it definitely undermines the Republican argument that they are the party of ‘fiscal responsibility’ (see: ).

I heard a discussion on the radio the other day. It was about Clinton’s surplus. Gore and Bush had two polar campaign pledges. Gore said he’d put the surplus into a lockbox to save for a rainy day and to put towards social security. Gore’s plan makes sense considering that the surplus was created partly through Clinton’s emphasizing saving over spending. Bush, on the other hand, said he’d give the surplus away with tax cuts. After Bush was elected, 9/11 happened. He could’ve adapted to changing circumstances and saved the surplus, but he didn’t. He created the tax cuts and on top of that he started two wars. That is the complete opposite of ‘fiscal responsibility’. This makes me think of Reagan doing tax cuts while building the military which was the very thing that created our permanent deficit in the first place.

Of course, Bush’s wasting the surplus turned out to be a horrible idea. It would’ve been nice if the surplus had been saved for the rainy day that did come after Bush wasted all the surplus plus some. Yeah, government is the problem… when a Republican is president.

Now, the second piece of data I’m reminded of is related to economic inequality. Of course, as the deficit grew under all these Republicans, the wealth disparity grew which translates into the rich getting richer while the poor get poorer.  But that wasn’t directly what I was thinking about. It’s not just that the rich benefit because, according to the data from The Spirit Level (which I mention in my post ), the rich don’t benefit in all ways. Even the rich in a society with high wealth disparity are worse off in terms of social problems.

For example, take obesity which is a major health problem in the modern world and is related to many health problems from diabetes to heart disease. In high wealth disparity societies, there are higher rates of obesity and even the rich are more obese in these societies. One possible explanation is that societies with many social problems create more stress in the lives of people living there. The human body when growing in stressful conditions responds by increasing fat production as a survival measure.

My point is that Americans do better financially under Democratic administrations and I don’t think it’s an accident that Democrats value egalitarianism. I also don’t think it’s an accident that most strongly Republican states have high economic inequality and high rates of social problems… and. when Republicans are in power, Americans overall do worse financially. Correlation doesn’t necessarily mean causation, but this sure is a whole lot of correlation. If there is another explanation, I’d love to see what it might be.

Sex Ed: Reality Trumps Ideology! Deal With It!

In case anyone cares, here is the evidence proving abstinence-only is ineffective and that comprehensive sex education is effective. This data should already be known to all who consider themselves well informed, but there are those who will dismiss this data and continue promoting abstinence-only. The only reason I posted all of this data is simply to respond to one of those denialists (see comment section: Abstinence Only Education is Proven Effective… Not!).

I could add even more data, more research, more analysis, more charts… but there is no point. Believe it or not. The data is what the data is. If you don’t like it, don’t complain to me about it. I don’t know… maybe, if reality doesn’t conform to your ideology, you should consider changing your ideology… just a suggestion.

“A new study has shown that contraception, not abstinence, is behind declines in teen pregnancy. Researchers from Columbia University and the Guttmacher Institute took a nation-wide look at why it is that teen pregnancy rates are down. In 1995, there were just under 100 pregnancies for every 1,000 teenage women age 15-19, according to the Guttmacher Institute (the figures vary slightly among the three major sources for teen pregnancy rates – the Guttmacher Institute, the National Center for Health Statistics, and the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion).

By 2002, this had gone down to just over 75 per 1,000. According to the new study, 86 percent of the decline is attributable to the use of contraception, while only 14 percent is attributable to abstinence.

Abstinence has only contributed to a small percentage of the overall decline, and none for teens aged 18-19. For those ages 15-17, abstinence was responsible for about 23 percent of the decline, according to the study published in the American Journal of Public Health.”

http://www.perrspectives.com/blog/archives/001354.htm

Just days after Bristol Palin officially became the poster child for her mother’s failed abstinence-only sex education policy, a new report from the CDC revealed that in 2006 Alaska experienced the nation’s fastest growing teen birth rate. While Mississippi suddenly surpassed Texas to earn the dubious leadership distinction, it comes as no surprise that the 10 worst performing states all voted for George W. Bush in 2004.

Overall, teen birth rate jumped in 26 states, combining to reverse a 15-year decline nationwide. But as the AP reported, red states from the ’04 Republican electoral map topped the charts:

Mississippi’s rate was more than 60 percent higher than the national average in 2006, according to new state statistics released Wednesday by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The teen birth rate for that year in Texas and New Mexico was more than 50 percent higher…

…The lowest teen birth rates continue to be in New England, where three states have rates at roughly half the national average, which is 42 births per 1,000 teen women.

While Mississippi’s increase may or may not be a “statistical blip,” it also suggests a cataclysmic failure of now-orthodox Republican social policies. As ThinkProgress detailed, Mississippi is a leading “hotbed of abstinence education.” More disturbing, the state’s draconian restrictions on abortion – including a mandatory requirement that patients must view an ultrasound image prior to receiving the procedure – have left th entire state of Mississippi with only one abortion clinic.

To be sure, partisan debate over the causes of the worrisome jump in teen births is contentious. Republicans no doubt will point to higher rates among Democratic-leaning African-Americans and Hispanics to excuse the dismal performance in their home states. Democrats will rightly point to the proven record of failure for abstinence-only education programs advocated by President Bush and GOP leaders nationwide.

And as the data consistently show, abstinence-only sex education programs simply don’t work. A recent report by researchers at Johns Hopkins showed that teenagers taking “virginity pledges” engage in the same gamut of sexual practices at virtually identical levels as non-pledgers, only with a much lower use of condoms and other forms of contraception. In April 2007, a study conducted by Mathematica Policy Research Inc. of Princeton, N.J. for the U.S. Administration for Children and Families found that children who took part in abstinence-only programs became sexually active at about the same age and had as many sexual partners as those who participated in broader sex education classes. Despite spending $176 million annually and $1.5 billion in the past decade on abstinence programs nationwide, the United States has recently experienced increasing rates of sexual transmitted diseases and pregnancy among teens. (The 3% jump in teen pregnancy rates is the first increase in 15 years.) It’s no wonder that by June 2008, 22 states opted out of President Bush’s abstinence education program and turned down millions of dollars of federal funding that came with it.

Other recent studies are consistent with the CDC’s findings this week. In 2006, the Guttmacher Institute compiled data showing rates of teen pregnancy and lives births to teen mothers for each state. As it turns out, 9 of the 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates voted for Bush in 2004; all 10 with the highest rates of live births among women ages 15 to 19 are reliably Republican. (The Distrct of Columbia is a notable outlier.) Virtually all of them are among the 28 states which continue to receive federal funds for abstinence education. Conversely, 9 of the 10 states with the lowest rates of teen births voted Democratic in 2004; North Dakota was the only red state to crack the top 10. (Sarah Palin’s home state of Alaska was in the middle of the pack at number 23.)

And as with so many measures of social pathology, teenage birth rates are highest in exactly those states that voted for George W. Bush in 2004. Analyses over the past two years revealed that Red State America lags in health care, working conditions, and effectiveness of education systems. Divorce and murder rates, too, are generally highest in the states Republicans call home.”

“More government money has been spent on the cause of sexual abstinence in Texas than any other state, but it still has the third-highest teen birth rate in the country and the highest percentage of teen mothers giving birth more than once.

The rate of student pregnancies in Austin high schools has increased 57 percent since the 2005-06 school year, and rates of sexually transmitted diseases are rising among Travis County teens.

Now some school districts — including Austin — are moving from so-called abstinence-only instruction to a more comprehensive sex education curriculum, also called “abstinence-plus,” which has been taught in few Texas schools.

“We mainly did it because of our pregnancy rate,” said Whitney Self, lead teacher for health and physical education at the Hays Consolidated Independent School District. “We don’t think abstinence-only is working.”

Roy Knight, Lufkin Independent School District superintendent, echoed that view.

“Our data says that what we’re doing isn’t working, and our community is ready for us to do something different,” said Knight, adding that his district’s adoption of an abstinence-plus curriculum was “absolutely driven” by a teen pregnancy rate that is higher than the state average.

Both approaches to sex education teach that refraining from sexual activity is the safest choice for teens.

But abstinence-only gives limited information about contraceptives and condoms and tends to downplay their effectiveness, while abstinence-plus stresses the importance of using such protection if teens are sexually active.”

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?sid=avdScDGCFsdc&pid=newsarchive

“Teenagers who pledged to avoid sex until marriage were as likely to have intercourse as other U.S. adolescents, according to a survey of conduct mostly in 1990s.

Teens who took the pledge also were less likely to use birth control pills or condoms than those making no promise, according to the research in the January issue of Pediatrics. The results show that teens need information on safe sex and pregnancy prevention even if they vow to refrain, a study author said.

The pledges, made orally or in writing, are viewed by advocates as buttressing federally funded education programs that say avoiding pre-marital sex rather than using protection will curb pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. President George W. Bush’s administration more than doubled the budget for abstinence-only education programs since 1999 to $204 million thisfiscal year. More than a dozen states have rejected federal money rather than limit what is taught.

“The results suggest that the virginity pledge does not change sexual behavior,” wrote authorJanet Rosenbaum, a postdoctoral fellow in the department of population, family and reproductive health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. “Clinicians should provide birth control information to all adolescents, especially abstinence-only sex education participants.”

Today’s study relied on surveys of students in 1996, when Congress authorized increased funding for abstinence-only education as part of an overhaul of welfare, and 2001. A Congressionally authorized report in 2007 on the program in that bill, Title V, also found students were no more likely to abstain. That program gets about $50 million a year. Research published in June found that virginity pledges decreased sexual activity in students ages 12 to 17.”

[…]

“The researchers found that 82 percent of those who had taken the oath denied five years later having done so. Fifty-three percent of the teens in the pledge group said they had engaged in premarital sex compared with 57 percent of those who hadn’t taken the pledge. Forty-six percent of those who had pledged abstinence reported using birth control most of the time, compared with 52 percent of those who didn’t pledge.”

Controversy

The difference between these two approaches, and their impact on teen behavior, remains a controversial subject. In the U.S., teenage birth rates had been dropping since 1991, but a 2007 report showed a 3% increase from 2005 to 2006.[33] From 1991 to 2005, the percentage of teens reporting that they had ever had sex or were currently sexually active showed small declines.[34] However, the U.S. still has the highest teen birth rate and one of the highest rates of STIs among teens in the industrialized world.[35] Public opinion polls conducted over the years have found that the vast majority of Americans favor broader sex education programs over those that teach only abstinence, although abstinence educators recently published poll data with the opposite conclusion.[4][36][37]

Proponents of comprehensive sex education, which include the American Psychological Association,[10] the American Medical Association,[38] the National Association of School Psychologists,[39] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[40] the American Public Health Association,[41] the Society for Adolescent Medicine[15] and the American College Health Association,[15] argue that sexual behavior after puberty is a given, and it is therefore crucial to provide information about the risks and how they can be minimized; they also claim that denying teens such factual information leads to unwanted pregnancies and STIs.

The impact of the rise in abstinence-only education remains a question. To date, no published studies of abstinence-only programs have found consistent and significant program effects on delaying the onset of intercourse.[35] In 2007, a study ordered by the U.S. Congress found that middle school students who took part in abstinence-only sex education programs were just as likely to have sex (and use contraception) in their teenage years as those who did not.[42] Abstinence-only advocates claimed that the study was flawed because it was too narrow and began when abstinence-only curricula were in their infancy, and that other studies have demonstrated positive effects.[43]


Criticism of abstinence-only sex education in the U.S. Congress

Two major studies by Congress have increased the volume of criticism surrounding abstinence-only education.

In 2004, U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman of California released a report that provides several examples of inaccurate information being included in federally funded abstinence-only sex education programs. This report bolstered the claims of those arguing that abstinence-only programs deprive teenagers of critical information about sexuality.[44] The claimed errors included:

  • misrepresenting the failure rates of contraceptives
  • misrepresenting the effectiveness of condoms in preventing HIV transmission, including the citation of a discredited 1993 study by Dr. Susan Weller, when the federal government had acknowledged it was inaccurate in 1997 and larger and more recent studies that did not have the problems of Weller’s study were available
  • false claims that abortion increases the risk of infertilitypremature birth for subsequent pregnancies, and ectopic pregnancy
  • treating stereotypes about gender roles as scientific fact
  • other scientific errors, e.g. stating that “twenty-four chromosomes from the mother and twenty-four chromosomes from the father join to create this new individual” (the actual number is 23).[44]

Out of the 13 grant-receiving programs examined in the 2004 study, the only two not containing “major errors and distortions” were Sex Can Wait and Managing Pressures before Marriage, each of which was used by five grantees, making them two of the least widely used programs in the study. With the exception of the FACTS program, also used by 5 grantees, the programs found to contain serious errors were more widely used, ranging in usage level from 7 grantees (the Navigator and Why kNOw programs) to 32 grantees (the Choosing the Best Life program). Three of the top five most widely used programs, including the top two, used versions of the same textbook, Choosing the Best, from either 2003 (Choosing the Best Life) or 2001 (Choosing the Best Path — the second most widely used program with 28 grantees — and Choosing the Best Way, the fifth most widely used program with 11 grantees).

In 2007, a study ordered by Congress found that middle school students who took part in abstinence-only sex education programs were just as likely to have sex in their teenage years as those who did not.[45] From 1999 to 2006, the study tracked more than 2,000 students from age 11 or 12 to age 16; the study included students who had participated in one of four abstinence education programs, as well as a control group who had not participated in such a program. By age 16, about half of each group students in the abstinence-only program as well as students in the control group were still abstinent. Abstinence program participants who became sexually active during the 7-year study period reported having similar numbers of sexual partners as their peers of the same age; moreover, they had sex for the first time at about the same age as other students. The study also found that students who took part in the abstinence-only programs were just as likely to use contraception when they did have sex as those who did not participate. Abstinence-only education advocates claim the study was too narrow, began when abstinence-only curricula were in their infancy, and ignored other studies that have shown positive effects.[46]


Criticism of abstinence-only sex education by the scientific and medical communities

Abstinence-only education has been criticized in official statements by the American Psychological Association,[10] the American Medical Association,[47] the National Association of School Psychologists,[48] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[15] the American College Health Association,[15]the American Academy of Pediatrics,[49] and the American Public Health Association,[50] which all maintain that sex education needs to be comprehensive to be effective.

The AMA “urges schools to implement comprehensive… sexuality education programs that… include an integrated strategy for making condoms available to students and for providing both factual information and skill-building related to reproductive biology, sexual abstinence, sexual responsibility, contraceptives including condoms, alternatives in birth control, and other issues aimed at prevention of pregnancy and sexual transmission of diseases… [and] opposes the sole use of abstinence-only education…”[47]

The American Academy of Pediatrics states that “Abstinence-only programs have not demonstrated successful outcomes with regard to delayed initiation of sexual activity or use of safer sex practices… Programs that encourage abstinence as the best option for adolescents, but offer a discussion of HIV prevention and contraception as the best approach for adolescents who are sexually active, have been shown to delay the initiation of sexual activity and increase the proportion of sexually active adolescents who reported using birth control.”[49]

On August 4, 2007, the British Medical Journal published an editorial concluding that there is “no evidence” that abstinence-only sex education programs “reduce risky sexual behaviours, incidence of sexually transmitted infections, or pregnancy” in “high income countries”.[51]

A comprehensive review of 115 program evaluations published in November 2007 by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy found that two-thirds of sex education programs focusing on both abstinence and contraception had a positive effect on teen sexual behavior. The same study found no strong evidence that abstinence-only programs delayed the initiation of sex, hastened the return to abstinence, or reduced the number of sexual partners.[52][53] According to the study author:

“Even though there does not exist strong evidence that any particular abstinence program is effective at delaying sex or reducing sexual behavior, one should not conclude that all abstinence programs are ineffective. After all, programs are diverse, fewer than 10 rigorous studies of these programs have been carried out, and studies of two programs have provided modestly encouraging results. In sum, studies of abstinence programs have not produced sufficient evidence to justify their widespread dissemination.”

Joycelyn Elders, former Surgeon General of the United States, is a notable critic of abstinence-only sex education. She was among the interviewees Penn & Teller included in their Bullshit! episode on the subject.[54]

Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that abstinence-only sex education leads to the opposite of the intended results by spreading ignorance regarding sexually transmitted diseases and the proper use of contraceptives to prevent both infections and pregnancy.[55]

In July 2009, researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released their analysis of national data collected between 2002 and 2007. Their findings included:[56]

  • Birth rates among U.S. teens had increased in 2006 and 2007, following large declines from 1991 to 2005.
  • About one-third of adolescents had not received instructions on methods of birth control before age 18.
  • In 2004, there were about 745,000 pregnancies among females younger than 20, including an estimated 16,000 pregnancies among girls between 10 and 14.
  • In 2006, about one million young people aged 10 to 24 were reported to have chlamydiagonorrhea, or syphilis. Nearly one-quarter of females aged 15 to 19, and 45% of females aged 20 to 24, had a human papillomavirus infection during 2003 and 2004.
  • In 2006, the majority of new diagnoses of HIV infection among young people occurred among males and those aged 20 to 24.
  • From 2004 to 2006, about 100,000 females aged 10 to 24 visited a hospital emergency department for nonfatal sexual assault, including 30,000 females aged 10 to 14.
  • Hispanic teens aged 15 to 19 are much more likely to become pregnant (132.8 births per 1,000 females) than non-Hispanic blacks (128 per 1,000) and non-Hispanic whites (45.2 per 1,000)
  • Non-Hispanic black youth in all age groups have the highest rates of new HIV and AIDS diagnoses.
This report identifies a number of concerns regarding the sexual and reproductive health of our nation’s young people… It is disheartening that after years of improvement with respect to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, we now see signs that progress is stalling and many of these trends are going in the wrong direction
— Janet Collins, director of the CDC’s National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, July 17
“The weight of the evidence from peer-reviewed scientific journals clearly shows that some comprehensive sex education programs can reduce behavior that puts young people at risk of HIV, STIs and unintended pregnancy, and that these programs do not promote earlier onset of sexual activity or an increased number of sexual partners among adolescents. By contrast, little if any credible research exists to substantiate the claims that abstinence-only programming leads to positive behavior change among youth.”
“In July 2001, Surgeon General David Satcher released a Call to Action on promoting sexual health. Reviewing the evidence on comprehensive approaches to sex education, the Surgeon General found that the ‘evidence gives strong support to the conclusion that providing information about contraception does not increase adolescent sexual activity…[and that] some of these evaluated programs increased condom use or contraceptive use more generally for adolescents who were sexually active.’ “
“In the previous chapter, it was noted that abstinence-only advocates have attributed declines in teen pregnancy in the 1990s to an increased practice of abstinence. Comprehensive sexuality advocates argue that, in fact, most of the decrease in the teen pregnancy rate was due to lower pregnancy rates among sexually experienced young women. An analysis of the decline in teen pregnancy in the 1990s published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows that approximately 25% of the decrease was due to a lower proportion of teenagers who were sexually experienced, while 75% of the decrease can be attributed to lowered pregnancy rates among those young women who were sexually experienced.”
“Recent Research on Abstinence-Only and More-Comprehensive Sexuality Education Messages “Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse,” by researchers at Columbia University, found that programs that encourage students to take a virginity pledge promising to abstain from sex until marriage helped delay the initiation of intercourse in some teenagers. However, teens who broke their pledge were one-third less likely than non-pledgers to use contraceptives once they became sexually active. American Journal of Sociology, 2001. (“Recent Findings from the ‘Add Health’ Survey: Teens and Sexual Activity,” TGR, August 2001)
Emerging Answers, authored by Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates, examined a wide range of interventions designed to reduce teen pregnancy and childbearing, including sexuality education programs. Analyzing the outcome evaluations of programs that met rigorous research standards, Kirby found that comprehensive sexuality education programs that urge teens to postpone having intercourse but also discuss contraception do not accelerate the onset of sex, increase the frequency of sex or increase the number of partners—as critics of sex education have long alleged—but can increase the use of contraception when teens become sexually active. At the same time, the report concludes that there is no reliable evidence to date supporting the effectiveness of abstinence-only education. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001. These findings were echoed in Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior, issued by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in June 2001.
“Abstinence and Safer Sex HIV Risk-Reduction Interventions for African American Adolescents,” by researchers at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Waterloo, reports the results of the first-ever randomized, controlled trial comparing an abstinence-only program with a safer-sex initiative designed to reduce the risk for HIV infection through condom use and with a control group that received health education unrelated to sexual behavior. After one year, the abstinence group reported similar levels of sexual activity as the safer-sex group and the control group. For teenagers who were already sexually active at the inception of the program, there was less sexual activity reported among the safer-sex group than among the abstinence or control group. Those in the safer-sex group also reported less frequent unprotected sex than did those in the abstinence and control groups. Journal of the American Medical Association,1998.”

http://ari.ucsf.edu/science/reports/abstinence.pdf

“The weight of the evidence from peer-reviewed scientific journals clearly shows that some comprehensive sex education programs can reduce behavior that puts young people at risk of HIV, STIs and unintended pregnancy, and that these programs do not promote earlier onset of sexual activity or an increased number of sexual partners among adolescents. By contrast, little if any credible research exists to substantiate the claims that abstinence-only programming leads to positive behavior change among youth.”

“In July 2001, Surgeon General David Satcher released a Call to Action on promoting sexual health. Reviewing the evidence on comprehensive approaches to sex education, the Surgeon General found that the ‘evidence gives strong support to the conclusion that providing information about contraception does not increase adolescent sexual activity…[and that] some of these evaluated programs increased condom use or contraceptive use more generally for adolescents who were sexually active.’ ”

“In the previous chapter, it was noted that abstinence-only advocates have attributed declines in teen pregnancy in the 1990s to an increased practice of abstinence. Comprehensive sexuality advocates argue that, in fact, most of the decrease in the teen pregnancy rate was due to lower pregnancy rates among sexually experienced young women. An analysis of the decline in teen pregnancy in the 1990s published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute shows that approximately 25% of the decrease was due to a lower proportion of teenagers who were sexually experienced, while 75% of the decrease can be attributed to lowered pregnancy rates among those young women who were sexually experienced.”

http://www.guttmacher.org/pubs/tgr/05/1/gr050101.html

“Recent Research on Abstinence-Only and More-Comprehensive Sexuality Education Messages”Promising the Future: Virginity Pledges and First Intercourse,” by researchers at Columbia University, found that programs that encourage students to take a virginity pledge promising to abstain from sex until marriage helped delay the initiation of intercourse in some teenagers. However, teens who broke their pledge were one-third less likely than non-pledgers to use contraceptives once they became sexually active. American Journal of Sociology, 2001. (“Recent Findings from the ‘Add Health’ Survey: Teens and Sexual Activity,” TGR, August 2001)Emerging Answers, authored by Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates, examined a wide range of interventions designed to reduce teen pregnancy and childbearing, including sexuality education programs. Analyzing the outcome evaluations of programs that met rigorous research standards, Kirby found that comprehensive sexuality education programs that urge teens to postpone having intercourse but also discuss contraception do not accelerate the onset of sex, increase the frequency of sex or increase the number of partners—as critics of sex education have long alleged—but can increase the use of contraception when teens become sexually active. At the same time, the report concludes that there is no reliable evidence to date supporting the effectiveness of abstinence-only education. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 2001. These findings were echoed in Call to Action to Promote Sexual Health and Responsible Sexual Behavior, issued by U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher in June 2001.”Abstinence and Safer Sex HIV Risk-Reduction Interventions for African American Adolescents,” by researchers at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Waterloo, reports the results of the first-ever randomized, controlled trial comparing an abstinence-only program with a safer-sex initiative designed to reduce the risk for HIV infection through condom use and with a control group that received health education unrelated to sexual behavior. After one year, the abstinence group reported similar levels of sexual activity as the safer-sex group and the control group. For teenagers who were already sexually active at the inception of the program, there was less sexual activity reported among the safer-sex group than among the abstinence or control group. Those in the safer-sex group also reported less frequent unprotected sex than did those in the abstinence and control groups. Journal of the American Medical Association,1998.”

GRITtv: Patrick Hennessey: Refighting Old Wars

I thought this was perfectly symbolic of America’s role in the world. The US government putting bases all over the world, attacking countries sometimes with little or no good reason given, the military and CIA toppling governments, allying with theocracies and supporting dictatorships when it’s convenient, funding and training foreign military and para-military groups…. and I could go on for pages.

The only difference between the American empire today and the colonial empires of past centuries is that the US government is more powerful and far-reaching than any empire in history. Britain is still a colonial empire. It’s not surprising at all that the British government is the closest ally of the US government.

Britain who has a long history of invading countries predicably supports the US invasion of Afghanistan. Business as usual. The British soldiers just return to occupy the fort in Afghanistan that they built more than a century ago.

It’s not about terrorists or even ultimately about oil. It’s simply about of power.

Libertarians: Privilege & Partisanship

Here are two blog posts that connect. They’re about some of the problems and limitations of the present conservative-leaning libertarian world view. I entirely agree.

http://usjamerica.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/libertarians-and-diversity-or-lack-thereof/

At the above link, the blogger is responding to these articles:

http://reason.com/archives/2009/10/20/are-property-rights-enough

http://www.willwilkinson.net/flybottle/2009/10/25/liberty-in-context/

And he responds with this commentary:

. . . libertarianism – as a political movement – is overwhelmingly white and male.  We tend to think of the racial composition of a political movement as just having electoral consequences, but it also has a profound effect on the core ideology of said movement.  At the risk of oversimplifying a bit, marginalized voices – racial and ethnic minorities, women, gays, etc. – are overrepresented among liberals and as such, the left that has been forced to grapple with the issues and concerns of marginalized communities in such a way as to make liberalism better equipped to deal with these issues.

It seems that insofar that libertarians experience oppression or constraints on their liberty, it is through the actions of the state rather than through culture, which makes sense. Libertarians are overwhelmingly white and male, and in a culture which highly values whiteness and maleness, they will face relatively fewer overt cultural constraints on their behavior than their more marginalized fellow-travelers.  Or in other words, a fair number of libertarians are operating with a good deal of unexamined privilege, and it’s this, along with the extremely small number of women and minorities who operate within the libertarian framework, which makes grappling with cultural sources of oppression really hard for libertarians.  After all – socially speaking – being a white guy in the United States isn’t exactly hard and that’s doubly true if you are well off.

Here is the comment I left:

You hit the nail on the head. What goes for libertarian these days tend to be rich white males. I pointed this out in a recent post of mine:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/24/libertarianism-rich-white-males-of-the-republican-party/

They’re concerned about freedom from rather than freedom for because of the reasons you stated. As they grew up with privilege, they’ve never known prejudice, poverty, and oppression. They don’t understand that there are still people in this country fighting for the basic rights and privilege that they accept as being their normal reality.

The thing is libertarianism wasn’t always this way. According to Chomsky, libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement in Europe. The founding father of American libertarianism was Henry David Thoreau who was very liberal and not pro-capitalist. I wrote about Thoreau’s libertarianism in another recent post:

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/08/30/henry-david-thoreau-founding-father-of-american-libertarian-thought-by-jeff-riggenbach/

The second blog post I mentioned is this:

http://freesmith.wordpress.com/2010/04/19/neo-libertarians/

. . . new libertarians are really disappointed conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists, who seek an intellectual basis for their values and find it in the rock-solid certainty of an ideology characterized by an ethic of individualistic, leave-me-alone, I-can-do-it-myself sufficiency. These disaffected Republicans know the surface of libertarianism; the details, which are hinted at by Stossel’s review and expressed in greater detail by virtually unknown contemporary writers like Virginia Postrel (”The Future and Its Enemies”) and others tend to make our neo-libertarian very uncomfortable.

You see, it’s one thing if “they” lose their house because they violated the laws of the market; it’s quite another if “I” lose my job because my employer can import a Filipino who will work for a quarter of what I was making. Well, to the real libertarian the second example is just as much the laws of the market as the first, so too bad.

These two posts bring up important issues about right-wing libertarians. Too many libertarians are oblivious to the classical liberal roots of libertarianism and too few understand that libertarianism isn’t inherently conservative. There is nothing about the libertarian world view that requires a person to be for conservative ideology such as pro-capitalism, and yet libertarianism is entirely against most of the central positions of mainstream conservatism (nationalism, drug prohibition, and using the federal government to regulate marriage and abortions).

Libertarianism could be a powerful movement if libertarians didn’t make it into a partisan movement and didn’t make into class war. Libertarianism shouldn’t be just for rich white conservatives. If libertarianism doesn’t fight for the rights of all and doesn’t fight for that which oppresses freedom, then can it even genuinely be considered libertarian?

Liberal and even socialist libertarians exist, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the libertarians from right-wing think tanks and Fox News. Libertarianism began as a socialist workers movement in Europe, but you wouldn’t know that by listening to the rich white conservatives who control the libertarian message. I’d love to see a big tent libertarianism. Until that happens, it’s unlikely there will be a third party that can challenge the two party system.