Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Abortion Rate Continues to Decline

The Guttmacher Institute released their annual study on abortion rates. I think the most stunning fact is that abortion rates are almost at the level they were in 1974 when Roe v. Wade was decided. good news in my view. There is also a host of other demographic information for anyone serious about abortion reduction. Here is the Washington Post report:

In the first comprehensive analysis since 1974 of demographic characteristics of women who have abortions, researchers found that the overall drop in the abortion rate has been marked by a dramatic shift, declining more among white women and teenagers than among black and Hispanic and older women.

"There's been a real change in the picture of women who get abortions," said Rachel Jones, a senior research associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a private nonprofit reproductive health research organization considered to be one of the most authoritative sources on abortion trends. "This is the first time anyone has looked at this in a comprehensive way."

Jones and her colleagues analyzed annual data collected by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and by periodic surveys that Guttmacher has conducted of abortion providers between 1974 and 2004.

The analysis confirmed previous reports that the abortion rate fell to the lowest level since 1974, dropping 33 percent from a peak of 29 abortions per 1,000 women ages 15 to 44 in 1980 to 20 per 1,000 in 2004.

During that period, the proportion of abortions obtained by women younger than 20 dropped steadily, falling from 33 percent in 1974 to 17 percent in 2004. For those younger than 18, it fell from 15 percent of all abortions in 1974 to 6 percent in 2004. At the same time, the proportion of abortions obtained by women in their 20s increased from 50 percent to 57 percent, and the share done for women age 30 and older rose from 18 percent to 27 percent.

Although abortion rates have declined among all racial and ethnic groups, large disparities persist, with Hispanic and black women having the procedure at rates three to five times the rate of white women.

In 2004, there were 10.5 abortions per 1,000 white women ages 15 to 44, compared with 28 per 1,000 Hispanic women of that age and 50 per 1,000 black women. That translates into approximately 1 percent of white women having an abortion in 2004, compared with 3 percent of Hispanic women and 5 percent of black women. Jones attributed that to the focus on reducing teenage pregnancy and on increasing contraceptive use.

In other words, a focus on rducing teenage pregnancy worked between 1974 and 2004. (Note that there are disturbing sings that this progress is no longer occuring). If we want to reduce abortions further, the focus needs to be on older women:

"We've made the most important progress in reducing teen pregnancy and abortion rate, [rather] than reducing unintended pregnancy in older women," Jones said.

"We know from other research that having lower income makes a woman more likely to get an abortion. Women of color tend to be lower-income, and so in turn when confronted with an unintended pregnancy are more likely to have an abortion," Jones said.

The proportion of all abortions performed for women who already had a child increased from 46 percent in 1974 to 60 percent in 2004, reflecting the trend of women who cannot afford to have another child turning to abortion, Jones said.

The findings indicate "we need to figure out efforts to reduce unintended pregnancy, not only among teenagers but among all women, and in particularly women of color," she said. "A lot of policymakers are stuck 30 years back when most women getting abortions are teenagers and college students, and that isn't so much the case these days."

Others said the findings underscore the need to increase access to contraception for poor women.

"Birth control is the best way to prevent unwanted pregnancies," said Laurie Rubiner, vice president for public policy at the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. "Unfortunately there's a large number of uninsured people in this country, and if you are uninsured you are less likely to have access to affordable health care, including affordable birth control."

Read it all here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

A Liberal Woman's Take on Sarah Palin

Some on the left seem so keen on victory in November that they come close (well, ahem, real close) to suggesting that that Sarah Palin should stay home and raise her kids. My decidedly liberal (well, in most ways) wife has a different view. She is an ardent Obama/Biden supporter, but thinks that the candidacy of Sarah Palin has much to celebrate. Here are her thoughts as expressed in an email blast that she sent to her friends around the country:

I think we should be grateful to Sarah Palin. Really.

These are things I think changed when Sarah Palin became the darling of the Republican Right:
1. It's OK for a woman to be politically ambitious. Before this, women were condemned by the Right for such ambition. Sarah Palin is the poster child for political ambition, and the Right just eats it up.
2. It's OK for a woman to be tough. Before this, a tough woman was perceived as not feminine enough -- not enough of a woman. Sarah Palin has shown that a woman can be tough and feminine. You've got to give her that. No more need to dress like a man to be taken seriously at a meeting. It's about time.
3. It's OK for a woman to be a sarcastic bitch. (I gotta tell you, I'm thrilled about this one!) Any other woman who had taken the tone Governor Palin did in her acceptance speech would have been raked over the coals, but now, it's all OK.
4. Being in the PTA, and the carpool, and managing a household now count as real world experience that prepares a person to do something other than be a homemaker, even to govern our nation. Hallelujah! Feminists have been saying for decades that traditional "women's work" was real work that required real skills and should count for something and not be written off. Now the Right has recognized that. Excellent. I'm going to update my resume.
5. It's OK for a woman not to be the primary care giver of her children. This is sort of a corollary to #1, because one of the reasons that women were condemned for political ambition is that they were "not taking care of" their children and families. Sarah Palin is clearly not the primary caregiver for her kids, even for her newborn. (She went back to work when Trig was 3 days old.) That is OK. Really. Families have the right to choose how best to organize themselves, and no two families are the same. Again, feminists have been saying this for decades, but the Right has resisted it mightily. Now, they've embraced it. Good for everyone.
6. The next time the Right wants to take a holier than thou attitude about anyone to the political left of them, we just remind them that Sarah Palin's pregnant, teenage, unwed daughter didn't bother them, that they understood that people are fallible, that we all have our moments of weakness, and that we should not be condemned for our mistakes that we have recognized and atoned for. Also, the Right has said that people cannot be held responsible for the misdeeds of their loved ones (kids, spouses, siblings). Excellent.

This really is progress. Now, any native-born American really does have the opportunity to become president. Best of all, the genie is out of the bottle on these issues and won't be going back in.

[I might add that my wife has lots of foreign policy experience should anyone be looking for a future Vice President. She worked as an expert on Latin America for nearly a decade in the State Department, Defense Department, and White House. The picture above was taken when Allison was with her boss Barry McCaffrey during President Clinton's state visit to Colombia in 2000. She was trying to get a picture with Juan Valdez when Secretary Albright butted in. And she has made her own choices about work/family balance. She left a position with Governor Napolitano to be a fulltime stay-at-home mom for our son.]

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

September 11th: Remembering Friends

On Memorial Day last year, I posted my own memorial for four men and women I called friends and colleagues who died serving this country. Three were solders. One was a civilian. All died serving this country. As I said in that post, "Sadly, most Americans have lost touch with the military. Joining the Army, Marines, Navy or Air Force is something that others do. As a result, a day like Memorial Day is too abstract--we vaguely (and briefly) recall the brave men and women who died while serving this country, but don't remember anyone in particular."

As I did last year, for my memorial for September 11th, I would like to remember two friends who died in the September 11th attack on the Pentagon.

Lieutenant General Timothy J. Maude was the highest ranking officer to die in the September 11th attack of the Pentagon. I knew him as a friend and client. We had lunch together virtually everyday in the Pentagon's General Officer's mess. He was serving as the the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel at the time of his death. He entered the United States Army as an enlisted soldier on March 21, 1966. Upon completion of Officer Candidate School in February 1967, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the Adjutant General's Corps. He served in Vietnam. Lieutenant General Maude was a soldier for more than 35 years, during which time he served in a variety of important command and staff positions, culminating in his assignment as the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel, United States Army. The Maude Foundation website describes Tim well: "Lieutenant General Maude understood the human spirit. He understood that the well being of the Army-soldiers, civilians, retirees, veterans and their families-is inextricably linked to our readiness as a force. The success of the "Army of One" campaign demonstrates his broad understanding of human nature and his creative instincts in delivering on that understanding. He understood that young men and women today are looking for something greater than self and are able to accept the notion of duty to country as the noblest of endeavors. . . . His love of soldiers and his devotion to the Army was deep and genuine. Simply put, Lieutenant General Maude loved soldiers; he loved the Army; he loved this wonderful country. His every action cheerfully reflected this commitment to duty." He indeed cared deeply about the welfare of soldiers.

Ernie Willcher was one of the career Army lawyers who worked with me when I was General Counsel of the Army. He was the go-to guy in our office on most personnel issues. Of the four, Ernie is the person I knew best. He dedicated a lifetime to serving the Army as a civilian lawyer. At the time of his death, he was a consultant and was meeting with Tim Maude on a project about improving the lives of the families of soldiers--ironically, a new website tool for the survivors of soldiers killed in action. Ernie was a very hard worker, a gentle soul, and the most dedicated father I have ever met. He also had many of the most challenging legal issue on his plate while I served as General Counsel, and Ernie never failed me.

September 11, 2001 is only seven years ago. Do me a favor tomorrow: take a break from the 2008 election and please take a moment to think about Tim, Ernie, and their families, as well as the thousands of other victims of the September 11th attacks.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Climate Change: New Evidence for the Hockey Stick

The so-called "hockey stick" chart--which shows a rapid rise in global temperature is a mainstay in arguments that humans are causing climate change--a center of attacks by climate change denialists. A new study offers a revised chart that conforms the hockey stick chart. Climat Feedback explains the development:

The contentious ‘hockey stick’ climate change graph has again been upheld as broadly accurate, doubtless to the rage of climate denialists/sceptics/whatevers.

A team led by Michael Mann of Penn State University has looked at a whole range of proxies for surface temperatures over the last 2,000 years in an attempt to counter criticism of the graph, which showed a long ‘handle’ and a sharp upturn (the blade).
Their findings? As the Christian Science Monitor puts it: “It still looks a lot like the much-battered, but still rink-ready stick of 1998. Today the handle reaches further back and it’s a bit more gnarly. But the blade at the business end tells the same story.

”The previous hockey stick had been accused of relying too much on data from tree rings so this PNAS study may silence some of the critics when it appears later.

Read it all here. There is good coverage here as well.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Time for Decency: What They Said

If you are are tempted to make political use of the pregnancy of Sarah Palin's daughter's pregnancy, please heed these words.

First, from Hilzoy:

It's easy, in the midst of a political campaign, to forget that the people involved are, after all, people. Some of them -- Sarah Palin, for instance -- place themselves under a media spotlight of their own free will. Others -- her daughter, for instance -- wind up there through no fault of their own. Imagine yourself in her position: there you are, seventeen years old, pregnant, unmarried. Maybe you understand what happened and why; and maybe your parents and friends do as well. But zillions of bloggers and reporters and pundits are about to make the most personal details of your life into a political issue, and they don't understand it at all. And yet, despite that, they are about to use you and your unborn child to score points on one another, without any regard whatsoever for you and your actual situation.

I want no part of this. None at all. To those of you who think otherwise: that's your right. But ask yourself how you felt when Republicans scored points using Chelsea Clinton, who didn't ask to be dragged into the spotlight either.

. . .

If the past is any guide, some people will respond to this post by saying that the Republicans would not hesitate to use Democrats' teenage children to score political points. That may be. Three responses: first, so what? Just because they do it doesn't mean that we should. Second, any argument for going there would have to assume that this would, in fact, be a political winner, and thus that not using it would entail some sort of political sacrifice. I am not at all convinced that that is true. Most importantly, though, there are some lines I'm not willing to cross no matter what the other side does.

Second, here is Barack Obama:

I have heard some of the news on this and so let me be as clear as possible. I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics, it has no relevance to governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18. And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off limits.

In the days and weeks ahead, there will be plenty of legitimate questions about Palin (such as her membership in the fringe Alaskan Independence Party, her deception about her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere, and Troopergate). Leave her family--especially her children--out of the fray.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Can Democrats Get Votes From the Faithful

The obvious answer to the heaqdline is, of course, yes. After all, I am an active member of a church, worship there weekly, and I am an enthusiastic Obama/Biden supporter. The real question is whether Obama/Biden can win the votes of socially conservative religious voters (both Catholics and Evangelicals). The New Yorker has a very interesting analysis:

The most effective Democratic religious outreach has been performed by the Democrat to whom it comes most naturally, Obama. Almost as soon as he joined the Senate, Obama became a prized booking on the speech circuit, where he proved to be fluent in what Jesse Jackson once called “faith talk.” Obama spoke forthrightly about his Christian beliefs and about his conversion experience (“Kneeling beneath that cross on the South Side in Chicago, I felt I heard God’s spirit beckoning me”), in a way that was hardly customary for Democratic politicians. In casting Republicans as the dangerous God Party, Democrats had turned themselves into the Secular Party so resolutely as to seem almost hostile to religious faith—a perilous position in a country where ninety-two per cent of the population believe in God, more than two-thirds believe in the presence of angels and demons, and nearly a quarter have said that the attacks of September 11, 2001, are prophesied in the Bible.

Obama addressed this problem in a remarkable speech on June 28, 2006, at a gathering of the Christian-left group Call to Renewal, in Washington, in which he offered a frank critique of liberal queasiness regarding faith. “There are some liberals,” Obama said, “who dismiss religion in the public square as inherently irrational or intolerant, insisting on a caricature of religious Americans that paints them as fanatical, or thinking that the very word ‘Christian’ describes one’s political opponents, not people of faith.”

Echoing the themes of Deal Hudson’s 1998 Catholic-voter report, Obama said, “The single biggest gap in party affiliation among white Americans today is not between men and women, or those who reside in so-called red states and those who reside in blue, but between those who attend church regularly and those who don’t.” He told secularists that they “are wrong when they ask believers to leave their religion at the door before entering into the public square,” and suggested that “a sense of proportion should also guide those who police the boundaries between church and state.”

He went on, “Not every mention of God in public is a breach to the wall of separation—context matters. It is doubtful that children reciting the Pledge of Allegiance feel oppressed or brainwashed as a consequence of muttering the phrase ‘under God.’ I didn’t. Having voluntary student prayer groups use school property to meet should not be a threat, any more than its use by the High School Republicans should threaten Democrats.”

The entire article is well worth a read--and it concludes that the juty is still out on whether Obama can indeed win these voters.

Genetic Diversity in Europe

Well. I am back from a tough month at work followed by a week's vacation. In searching the web today, I found Ed Young's fascinating account about how European genes mirror European geography:

Within a drop of blood, you can find all the information you need to reasonably guess where a person came from, without ever having to look at their face, name or passport. Small variations in our DNA are enough for the task. They can be used to pinpoint someone's place of origin to a remarkable degree of accuracy, often to within a few hundred kilometres.

The new discovery comes from a team of Swiss and American researchers led by John Novembre at UCLA, who wanted to understand how the human genome varies on a continental scale. To that end, they looked at the genomes of over 1.300 people sampled from almost three dozen countries across Europe. The sample was originally collected by GlaxoSmithKline to hunt out genetic variations that influence the effectiveness of drugs and their side effects, but Novembre's team put it to use in understanding the links between genes and geography instead.

They analysed at single-letter differences in DNA ("single nucleotide polymorphisms" or SNPs) at about 200,000 places in each of the genomes. They compared this data to each person's country of origin as well as that of their grandparents if possible.

. . .

The result was startling - the genetic and geopolitical maps of Europe overlap to a remarkable degree. On the two-dimensional genetic map, you can make out Italy's boot and the Iberian peninsula where Spain and Portugal sit. The Scandinavian countries appear in the right order and in the south-east, Cyprus sits distinctly off the "coast" of Greece.

Zoom in closer, and the map even reveals distinct genetic cluster within Switzerland based on the language people speak. German-speaking Swiss cluster to the east, Italian speakers to the south and Francophiles to the west. Even so, the clusters overlap and in general, the data reveals a genetic continuum between Europeans, where the borders of the genetic map are fuzzier than those of its geographical counterpart. As far as genes are concerned, the closer together two people live, the more similar their DNA is.

. . .

The results have implications for a lot of biomedical research. Many scientists are scanning entire genomes on a hunt for SNPs that affect a person's risk of diseases like cancer or their reaction to drugs. Novembre says that researchers who are running these "whole-genome studies" need to bear in mind where their sample has come from. Even if a study looks at a small and seemingly related parts of Europe, it would have to adjust for any geographical influences in the genetic variations it uncovers.

Read it all here.