Just Say No–To Funding Abstinence Based Education

The following letter was sent to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid by a group of prominent researchers in adolescent reproductive and sexual health urging and end to funding of abstinence only programs:

Dear Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi and Senator Harry Reid,

As a group of leading scientists who have recently conducted research on adolescents, reproductive health, and abstinence-only education, we are writing to express our strong concern about increasing federal support for abstinence-only education (AOE) programs. This federal support includes monies going to states (Section 510 of the Social Security Act) and those going directly to community and faith-based organizations (the Community-Based Abstinence Education program). Recent reports in professional publications by the authors of this letter have highlighted multiple deficiencies in federal abstinence-only programs. As such, we are surprised and dismayed that the Congress is proposing to extend and even increase funding for these programs. In this letter we identify key problems with abstinence-only education. We also have attached recent scientific reports that are pertinent to the debate over these programs. We note that many of these studies have used nationally-representative data from surveys sponsored by the National Institutes of Health or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The federal programs promoting AOE have prompted multiple scientific and ethical critiques. These critiques were summarized in a January 2006 paper by Santelli, Ott and others. By design, abstinence programs restrict information about condoms and contraception – information that may be critical to protecting the health of young people and to preventing unplanned pregnancy, HIV infection, and infection with other sexually transmitted organisms. They ignore the health needs of sexually active youth and youth who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and questioning for counseling, health care services, and risk reduction education. Withholding lifesaving information from young people is contrary to the standards of medical ethics and to many international human rights conventions. International treaties and human rights statements support the rights of adolescents to seek and receive information vital to their health. Governments have an obligation to provide accurate information to adolescents and adolescents have a right to expect health education provided in public schools to be scientifically accurate and complete.

Rigorous evaluations of AOE programs find little evidence of efficacy for federally-sponsored abstinence education. Several weeks ago Dr. Douglas Kirby, working with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, released a comprehensive review of prevention programs for youth (Emerging Answers 2007). This review found that none of the well-designed evaluations of abstinence-only programs presented strong evidence of an impact on abstinence behaviors. (By contrast, Kirby finds clear evidence that many comprehensive sexuality education programs, which include information on both abstinence and contraception, do help young people delay initiation of intercourse.) The large-scale Mathematica evaluation of the Section 510 program, released in April 2007, found no measurable impact on increasing abstinence or delaying sexual initiation among participating youth or on other behaviors such as condom use. This well funded and very well conducted evaluation examined four exemplary local programs, tracking youth over four years. One of the few measurable impacts of the programs was a decrease in adolescent confidence regarding the ability of condoms to prevent HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. Similar results on program efficacy were found by Underhill, who reviewed abstinence-only programs in a spring 2007 systematic review.

Virginity pledging, one aspect of abstinence programming, appears to have little long-term benefit in preventing outcomes such as sexually transmitted infections, although prevention of these infections is a stated goal of the programs. A spring 2005 longitudinal study by Bruckner and Bearman found that abstinence pledgers, when compared to non-pledgers, experienced similar rates of sexually transmitted infection. Pledgers did delay sexual intercourse for a limited period, but when they did start having sex, they were less likely to use condoms. They were also less likely to seek reproductive health care compared to non-pledgers.

Abstinence until marriage is another stated goal of the federal program; however, evidence from the past several decades indicates that establishing abstinence until marriage as normative behavior would be a highly challenging policy goal. Teitler has shown that over the past 40 years, the median age at first intercourse has dropped (and stabilized) to age 17 in most developed countries. (more…)

Edwards Forms Web Site to Attack Hillary Clinton

In July John Edwards criticized Clinton and Obama for feuding with each other:

“We’ve had two good people Democratic candidates for president who spent their time attacking each other instead of attacking the problems that this country is facing,” Edwards said to a mixture of groans and applause.

I’ve repeatedly provided examples of Edwards violating this himself, both before and after his call for Democrats not to attack other Democrats. Edwards has escalated this further in forming a web site to attack Hillary Clinton, making him look increasingly desperate. From Washington Wire:

Former North Carolina Sen. and Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards launched a Web site today that takes a cloaked strike at front-runner Sen. Hillary Clinton.

Called “America Belongs to Us,” the site is essentially a petition seeking one million voters who promise to withhold their vote for any candidate who “accepts campaign contributions from Washington lobbyists’’ and lobbyist political action committees. The target is clear: Of the three leading Democrats — Edwards, Clinton and Illinois Sen. Barack Obama — only Clinton has refused to turn down special-interest money.

In keeping with Edwards’s increasingly strident (some would say angry) stump rhetoric, the site includes an “outrage of the day.” The debut outrage takes on credit-card companies, which the former North Carolina senator all but accuses of usury by deliberately making credit contracts opaque and confusing to the average consumer. The site says credit-card companies and banks have spent nearly $750 million on political contributions and lobbying since 1998.

Edwards’ hypocrisy is seen when his own record is compared. A tremendous percentage of Edwards’ contributions come from a single source–trial lawyersEdwards also didn’t come out too well when The Washington Post looked at how pure the candidates were on campaign finance issues. Edwards was the most secretive with regards to revealing the identities of his big fund raisers:

Edwards is no less tainted by the trial-lawyer money he scoops up by the bucketful than he would be by lobbyist contributions…

Indeed, who takes money from lobbyists is the wrong question about an essential subject. Instead, voters who care — and I think voters should care — ought to ask: What is the candidate’s history on campaign finance reform, lobbying and ethics rules, and open government generally? How transparent is the candidate about campaign and personal finances? What steps will he or she take to limit the influence of money during the current campaign?

On these, there are revealing differences among the Democratic front-runners.

Edwards was part of the legislative team working to pass the McCain-Feingold campaign finance law, but lobbying and campaign reform were nowhere near the top of his agenda in the Senate.

During the 2004 campaign, Edwards gave a useful speech outlining his plan to limit lobbyists’ influence. But, unlike the other Democratic candidates, he refused requests to reveal the identities of his big fundraisers. This time around, after considerable prodding, Edwards agreed to release the names of fundraisers — all his fundraisers, with no specifics about how much they had collected. His campaign argues vehemently that it should be praised for this avalanche of information, not faulted. But the candidate knows who has reeled in $1,000 and who raised $100,000. Why shouldn’t voters?

In concentrating his attacks on Hillary Clinton, Edwards risks repeating the mistakes made by Howard Dean and Dick Gephardt in 2004. Not only might this lead to a victory for Obama, but it might open up the possibility for a second tier candidate such as Bill Richardson moving ahead of Edwards, as David Yepsen recently suggested.

Paul Asked About His Belief in Conspiracy Theories at Debate

After a lot of arguing over who is the purest on immigration at the Republican CNN/YouTube Debate there has finally been a question of interest. Ron Paul was asked a question which touched on his belief in conspiracy theories and a conspiracy to form a North American Union. Paul informed us that the CFR exists, the Trilateral Commission exists, and that, “our national sovereignty is under threat.”

I’m not sure if Ron Paul is as deep into conspiracy theories as many of his supporters, and he did try to play down the conspiracy theory aspect in his answer. Paul’s belief in conspiracy theories has been seen in his writings, as well as in this letter sent to contributors:

I don’t need to tell you that our American way of life is under attack. We see it all around us — every day — and it is up to us to save it.

The world’s elites are busy forming a North American Union. If they are successful, as they were in forming the European Union, the good ‘ol USA will only be a memory. We can’t let that happen.

The UN also wants to confiscate our firearms and impose a global tax. The UN elites want to control the world’s oceans with the Law of the Sea Treaty. And they want to use our military to police the world.

Paul is the only one up on that stage who isn’t totally clueless about national security and Iraq, but unfortunately his propensity to going along with the conspiracy theories of the extremist right limits his ability to be taken seriously.

Rudy Giuliani Charged Affair to Taxpayers

Today’s scandals don’t only involve John Edwards per the previous post. Rudy Giuliani has been caught using taxpayer money for trips with his future wife Judith Nathan. The Politico reports:

As New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani billed obscure city agencies for tens of thousands of dollars in security expenses amassed during the time when he was beginning an extramarital relationship with future wife Judith Nathan in the Hamptons, according to previously undisclosed government records.

The documents, obtained by Politico under New York’s Freedom of Information Law, show that the mayoral costs had nothing to do with the functions of the little-known city offices that defrayed his tabs, including agencies responsible for regulating loft apartments, aiding the disabled and providing lawyers for indigent defendants.

At the time, the mayor’s office refused to explain the accounting to city auditors, citing “security.”

The Hamptons visits resulted in hotel, gas and other costs for Giuliani’s New York Police Department security detail.

Giuliani’s relationship with Nathan is old news now, and Giuliani regularly asks voters on the campaign trail to forgive his “mistakes.”

Does this misuse of tax money represent more of a violation of Republican ideas on fiscal restraint or family values? Or did 9/11 change everything, allowing Republicans to excuse such “mistakes.”

The John Edwards Ticketgate Scandal

There have already been plenty of stories on how John Edwards really used his poverty center as a means to keep his supporters on the payroll and avoid FEC regulations as he began his campaign shortly after the 2008 election. While hardly the greatest scandal of the century, those who see Edwards as a self-serving opportunist will not be surprised by this scandal:

When John Edwards returned to his alma mater in 2005 to found a poverty think tank, the multimillionaire attorney sought more than just a salary: He also wanted tickets to University of North Carolina sporting events.

But the exact details of what Edwards asked of the Tar Heels remain a secret. Neither the school nor the Democratic presidential candidate is willing to release a “ticket wishlist” described in an e-mail between an Edwards adviser and the school’s former law school dean.

“It seems absurd to me that Senator Edwards or the university would be treating these documents or this issue like it were a state secret,” said Amanda Martin, a Raleigh-based attorney and general counsel of the North Carolina Press Association.

The request for tickets would come as no surprise to Tar Heel fans. A single ticket to a men’s basketball game – the team is currently ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25 – has a face value of about $40 but fetches hundreds of dollars above that on the secondary market. For games against Tobacco Road rival Duke University, a ticket can sell for thousands.

Fans who purchase season tickets are required to donate to the school’s athletic booster fund – with the price going up as the seat location improves. Faculty and staff are assigned seats based on a formula of seniority at the school and the number of years they have held season-tickets.

“The university does not provide or promise sports tickets in connection with the hiring process,” said school spokesman Mike McFarland, noting that the school applied the same standard to Edwards.

Earlier this year, The Associated Press filed requests under the state’s public records law seeking copies of all correspondence between Edwards, several senior advisers and the university’s law school and chancellor’s office.

In response, the school in Chapel Hill provided roughly two dozen e-mails, which center on the creation of the Center on Poverty, Work and Opportunity – the university-based think tank Edwards ran after his failed campaign for the White House in 2004.

In one message, Edwards’ political adviser Miles Lackey refers to a “ticket wishlist” that he planned to send to the school. The university refused to release the document, claiming it falls under an exemption in state law that shelters from public view records related to the employment application process.

The Edwards campaign also refused to release the “ticket wishlist,” saying the school had already released other documents, including Edwards’ employment agreement.

“While e-mails concerning pre-employment contract negotiations will not be released, the outcome of these discussions is and has been public and can be found in Senator Edwards’ employment agreement with the university,” said Edwards spokeswoman Colleen Murray, who said the former North Carolina senator “inquired about the possibility of continuing to purchase, in the future, season tickets as he has for many years.”

The university and the Edwards campaign also declined to release an attachment to a January 2005 e-mail from Lackey that appears to detail his compensation request.

That stands in contrast with Edwards’ decision to release all of his papers from his one term in the U.S. Senate, and the campaign’s statement that it would support the university in releasing public papers from his time at the poverty center.

And it’s a new twist in the ongoing dispute in the Democratic campaign over public records and transparency. Last month, Democratic rival Barack Obama rapped New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton for not hastening the release of some records from her time as first lady. Obama, meanwhile, has said he doesn’t have any copies of his records from his tenure in the Illinois state Senate.

Edwards worked as poverty center director until he declared his candidacy for the White House last December. He earned an annual salary of $40,000. If the school had also given Edwards any tickets as part of his compensation package, Martin said, it would have been required to disclose the grant under North Carolina law.

Edwards Continues To Show Lack Of Respect For Separation of Powers

Usually when politicians make a mistake they will have the sense to either drop the point (or sometimes try to rewrite history such as Bill Clinton on Iraq). One exception is John Edwards, who shows once again why Bob Shrum called him a “lightweight” and “a Clinton who hadn’t read the books” and why a National Journal survey ranked him as the most overrated Democratic candidate.

Edwards’ anti-Democratic threats against Congress should they fail to pass his flawed health care plan have been the subject of criticism both for being unrealistic as first proposed and for being far too similar to the Republican efforts to concentrate excessive power in the Executive Branch. When Edwards first brought up his threats the idea was generally laughed at but didn’t get very much attention. After raising this threat again in an ad in mid November, Edwards received wide spread criticism. Edwards has apparently learned nothing about how democratic nations work since his days of working on the Patriot Act.

Any sensible politician would realize it was time to drop the idea, but Edwards has decided to continue to play the authoritarian populist despite a steady drop in support which some, such as David Yepsen, see as a possible collapse. John Edwards repeated his threat in an interview on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards said it’s “absolute nonsense” to suggest he’s grandstanding with his vow to take government health coverage away from Congress if it fails to adopt a plan that insures all Americans.

“It is nonsense, absolute nonsense. We are going to have to have someone who goes in and shakes things up,” Edwards said Monday during “The Exchange with Laura Knoy” on New Hampshire Public Radio.

Critics of the former North Carolina senator point out it would take a change in federal law, not an executive order, to remove health care from Congress, which has the same plan as all federal government employees.

Edwards is currently tied with Bill Richardson for third place in New Hampshire, a state with libertarian leanings where his populist message is not as welcome as in Iowa.

Billie Piper Returning to Doctor Who


The BBC has confirmed rumors that Billie Piper, who played Rose Tyler, the first companion to Doctor Who after the series was revised, will be returning for three episodes in the upcoming season. Piper was named most popular actress at the National Television Awards in 2005 and 2006.

There will be quite a few returning companions next season. Catherine Tate, first seen in the Christmas special, The Runaway Bride, will return as Donna for the entire season. Freema Agyeman will return for part of the season after appearing in an arc on the Doctor Who spin off Torchwood. There are also rumors that John Barrowman, a previous companion who now stars in Torchwood as Captain Jack Harness, will also appear next season. A Doctor Who spin off staring Piper had been considered at one point.