Across the Nation, Parents and Teens are Taking Action

The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported on a high school in Mullica Hill, NJ, that is drawing criticism from concerned parents over their peer-education sex ed program. These parents have organized and even created a Web site for parents to sign a petition and get a look at the “very graphic” curriculum their teens are being subjected to. Some of the “disturbing” material chosen for its particularly lurid content, includes information on things that kids don’t know about (masturbation), things they should never know exist (condoms) and things they should never consider (tolerance of the LGBT community).

Depressing and intolerant as that may seem, students and parents in other communities are taking positive steps toward education, such as a group of teens in Utah who lobbied their senators for full disclosure in sex ed.

In addition, not all parents are as reactionary as those few in Mullica Hill, NJ. In fact, some open-minded and involved parents are becoming advocates themselves, such as a group of parents in Pittsburgh who have started a petition for comprehensive sex ed. They are supported in their efforts by the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

In a warmer part of the country, Palm Beach County, FL, has realized that abstinence-only programming won’t help their state’s teen pregnancy woes; they are set to enact in April a sex-ed curriculum that teaches sixth graders about STD’s and seventh graders about condoms.

Peer education is taking off on the West Coast as well. In the San Fernando Valley, one program, Promoting Alternatives for Teen Health, is a peer-to-peer curriculum aimed mainly at poor Latinos. I wonder if the concerned New Jersey parents could look at the grim statistics on HIV infections and pregnancy rates amongst these teens and still insist they shouldn’t learn about condoms.

Another grim reason for increased sex education: unprotected oral sex may be more dangerous than originally thought. A recent study links unprotected oral sex to certain dangerous side-effects, including some rare throat and mouth cancers that previously were seen mainly in older heavy smokers. We can therefore expect to see such anomalous cancers in youth become more common if abstinence-only programs continue to preach a message where sex is shrouded in mystery and protection is never discussed.

Marshall at Duvall

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ID folks lose another battle. And don’t censor the bloggers

Wow. Is anybody else a little freaked out by the fact that Republicans want Jack Bauer to water board House Democrats? I just think that’s going a little too far. And it seems everybody can’t stop talking about that controversial article yesterday in the New York Times. You know the one I mean. Poor Ashton Kutcher. Having to call all up all those A-list guests like Madonna and Salma Hayek and tell them they needed to get Hepatitis shots? That must have really bummed out his birthday party.

So, perhaps I can be forgiven if a few stories may have escaped my attention.

So … scientists in Florida are cautiously celebrating over the state Board of Education’s changes earlier this week to its education curriculum. For the first time, the teaching of evolution is spelled out in Florida’s science standards. Anti-evolutionists had hoped to take advantage of the revamping of the curriculum and had been leading a campaign to champion the latest incarnation of intelligent design. Since Dover, pro-ID groups have been pushing for their latest attack on the teaching of evolution – what is often referred to as “critical analysis” or “teach the controversy.” The ploys are designed to raise doubt about the legitimacy of evolution and create opportunities to force creationist talking points into the classroom.

From the Sun-Sentinel:

The standards state that evolution is “the fundamental concept underlying all of biology and is supported by multiple forms of scientific evidence.” That statement rankled opponents, some of whom had urged the board to add an academic freedom provision that would have allowed teachers to “engage students in a critical analysis of that evidence.

After a lengthy battle, the board rejected the ploy. Instead, it voted to include the words “theory of” in front of references to evolution as a concession to one of the board’s vehement opponents to the standards. Yes, yes, we all know evolution is a scientific theory, so there is no harm to the truth. But some educators are a little concerned that the word theory will be used as a wedge by those who know so little about science – this level of ignorance continues to astound me – that they believe a scientific theory is merely a hunch.

Also, MSM take note: Here’s an interesting article in the Guardian on what happens when the courts, ruling in the interests of a corporation, step on the First Amendment rights of the blogosphere.

Last week, Swiss-based Bank Julius Baer obtained a court order to stop the anonymously run website Wikileaks from posting internal company documents that purported to show the bank’s Cayman Islands branch involved in money laundering and tax evasion. But the court order went even further, demanding that the entire website, which be shut down. (Wikileaks publishes leaked documents that often prove incriminating for governments and corporations.)

But the shutdown order backfired as bloggers rushed to Wikileaks’ defense, posting the very documents the bank was working to suppress. The Guardian article says, “mirror copies of the website sprouted like weeds.”

“Clearly, the court and Bank Julius Baer underestimated the ingenuity of the web development community,” the whistleblower protection group Project on Government Oversight wrote on its blog.

What makes this case especially interesting is that much of the Internet remains unexplored territory for issues like libel, privacy and even prior restraint. It will be interesting to watch how the courts handle these kinds of cases over the next several years.

Lauri in York

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Oral Sex: The New Frontier

Although arguably more intimate than vaginal or anal intercourse, oral sex is the new third and a half base. To put off taking their relationship to the next level and all of its risky consequences – including pregnancy and STDs – teens are giving their male partners blow jobs and eating out their female partners like it’s no big deal. Unfortunately, they do not realize that these behaviors can also lead to some unwanted party favors.

Between 1973 and 2004, the rate of HPV-related oral cancers among people in their 40s has almost doubled, according to researchers from Johns Hopkins. By “bathing [their throats] with HPV-infected fluid” – possibly THE BEST description of oral sex, I might add – Dr. Bernadine Healy implies that teens are significantly increasing their chances of developing cancer in their tonsils and at the base of their tongues. This is based on the idea that the number of teens engaging in oral sex has significantly increased in recent years. However, sexperts at Guttmacher and SIECUS argue that this might be a misconception: it’s possible that this much oral masturbation has been around for a long time, but teens have just kept it to themselves. Regardless, it is known that rates of STDs are on the rise, and we must protect our youth.

According to Dr. Healy, the solution is simple: scare the beep out of them. In a recent U.S. News and World Report posting, Dr. Healy states that “providing our young people with graphic medical information and stern parental and medical guidance is long overdue.” That’s right, show them gruesome pictures of the worst cases of pharyngeal gonorrhea and oropharyngeal cancer ever documented and then try to convince them that this could happen to them. On top of that, have their parents remind them to abstain from any and all sexual activity, including oral sex, every time they leave their house. Right, that should totally work…

Wrong. As we all know, the scare tactics used by abstinence programs don’t work. Teens look at pictures of mouths, eyes, vaginas and penises with hideous blisters, patches of irritated skin, enflamed lumps, leaky pustules – well, you get the picture – and cannot conceive of the fact that their bodies would ever look like that after a few hookups. Although they need to be aware of the risks, it is more important to empower children to practice safe sex.

Also, what kid listens to everything their parents say? I mean, how many of you did things just because your parents told you not to, especially when their only explanation for not taking part in something seemingly fun was “Because it’s dangerous.” Does not the term adolescent refer to a developmental stage during which humans engage in rebellious acts? All hope it not lost, however; children do listen to their parents, but only when parents are truly willing to talk to them about things. Healy’s “stern guidance” is not the answer.

While Dr. Healy acknowledges that teaching safe sex is important, the doctor fails to recognize some of the less obvious downfalls of close-but-not-quite comprehensive sexuality education. The answer truly is a combination of comprehensive sexuality education for both parents and teens, including how to engage in open conversations regarding sexuality. Although some adults in positions of power do not know this, teens everywhere are beginning to fight the good fight. Just this week, junior high school students in Utah were lobbying lawmakers for better sex education. Because their parents know so little, they need teachers to tell them “how to have protected sex.” If children can understand that they will at some point need to know how to protect themselves from STDs and pregnancy, why can’t lawmakers?

Stephanie at Duvall

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Admit it. That was no doubt your first thought when you poked your head out from under the covers this morning, wasn’t it? The Heritage Foundation’s doomsday clock has been ticking for 15 hours, 12 min., 12 sec. (No. 32 sec…55 sec.! Oh God! Hold me!) and we’ve not yet been attacked.

Ah ha! Proof of an intelligent designer!

Because certainly, there can be no other explanation, which you know because, if you’re like me, you had a discussion this past weekend with some family members, who shook their heads and moaned the danger we now face because of those soft-on-terror Democrats.

When you tried to explain to them that the fact that the Democrats have finally exhibited a spine and refused to give in immediately to the carte blanche demands of the Bush Administration’s blanket immunity to the telecoms does not mean that we have handed over all weapons in the war on terror, these are also the same family members who suddenly turn blank faced and whimper, “It’s all so complicated. I just don’t know who to believe!” And then they inevitably follow up with such gems as, “But shouldn’t we be willing to trust our government?” and “If people have nothing to hide, why should they care?”

So, when Uncle Mel starts to shake his head and pout the next time the subject of illegal wiretapping comes up (Just can’t keep your mouth shut, can you?) send along this easy-to-understand video designed to make the complicated sound simple for even the least astute of your family relatives. Look Auntie Anna, it’s a cartoon! With snuggly talking bears! (Warning: The viewer must be able to understand the concept of irony.)

Lauri in York

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This will be a day long remembered: House Ds stand up to Bush

The president has said that American lives will be sacrificed if Congress does not change FISA.

But he has also said that he will veto any FISA bill that does not grant retroactive immunity.

No immunity, no FISA bill. So if we take the president at his word, he’s willing to let Americans die to protect the phone companies. –Senator Edward Kennedy

Finally, finally, finally. Like an abused spouse who finally says, “Enough,” the House Democrats stood up to the fearmongers at the White House and went on a ten-day recess without approving a FISA modification bill. The bill that the White House wants would allow surveillance to take place without a court order and would grant retroactive immunity to telecom companies. As a result, the temporary Police America Act will expire tomorrow.

Glenn Greenwald has coverage here, and Daily Kos has coverage here and here.

Andy in Harrisburg

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U.S. Senate does something right. Don’t get used to it.

It wasn’t all doom-and-gloom this week in Washington. Yesterday the U.S. Senate passed a bill to require the CIA to use the Army Field Manual as its guide on interrogations, effectively banning waterboarding. Senator Casey voted for the bill, Senators Specter and McCain- a victim of torture at the hands of the North Vietnamese- voted against it, and Senators Clinton and Obama did not vote.

The bill passed, 51-45, but faces a veto threat from the Emperor, errr, the President.

Wait, wait, for the last year, I could have sworn it takes 60 votes to pass a bill in the Senate. (/snark)

Andy in Harrisburg

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A plague on both their houses: Senate Republicans, Democrats assault Constitution, pass bad FISA bill

Updated and bumped, Thursday at 10:50am: Good segment on Countdown with Keith Olbermann last night featuring Professor Jonathan Turley of George Washington University.

Turley: “The Senate is actively working with the White House to cover up a crime.” Ouch.

Amnesty for mega-corporations and surveillance without a court order carried the day yesterday in the Democrat-led Senate. A majority of senators from both parties, who take an oath to uphold the Constitution when they are sworn into office, voted down all amendments that would have brought the FISA bill into line with that pesky ol’ Fourth Amendment and would have held rich telecom companies responsible for breaking the law.

As we poke through the smoldering ruins, the burning question is, “How did Specter, Casey, and the three senators running for president vote?” Here’s the breakdown:

The Dodd amendment: To strip telecom amnesty from the bill
Yeas: Casey, Obama
Nays: Specter, McCain
Not voting: Clinton
Failed, 31-67

Feingold-Dodd amendment: Ban on bulk collection, require individual court orders
Yeas: Casey, Obama
Nays: Specter, McCain
Not voting: Clinton
Failed, 37-60

Feingold-Webb-Tester amendment: Require a court order if the government knows one person is in the U.S., unless it is an emergency or a known terrorist
Yeas: Casey, Obama
Nays: Specter, McCain
Not voting: Clinton
Failed, 35-63

Final passage
Yeas: Specter, Casey, McCain
Not voting: Clinton, Obama
Passed, 68-29

Glenn Greenwald has more:

It’s worth taking a step back and recalling that all of this is the result of the December, 2005 story by the New York Times which first reported that the Bush administration was illegally spying on Americans for many years without warrants of any kind. All sorts of “controversy” erupted from that story. Democrats everywhere expressed dramatic, unbridled outrage, vowing that this would not stand. James Risen and Eric Lichtblau were awarded Pulitzer Prizes for exposing this serious lawbreaking. All sorts of Committees were formed, papers written, speeches given, conferences convened, and editorials published to denounce this extreme abuse of presidential power. This was illegality and corruption at the highest level of government, on the grandest scale, and of the most transparent strain.

What was the outcome of all of that sturm und drang? What were the consequences for the President for having broken the law so deliberately and transparently? Absolutely nothing.

Now the ball is in the House’s court, which is dealing with it today.

Andy in Harrisburg

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Are you pre-pregnant? Read this!

To any who would cry foul at the idea that sexism is still alive and well today, I would point to the latest tactics of th so-called “pro-life” movement. By shifting the attention to the fetus, they are trying to drive home the fact that the woman has, since conception, become a mere vessel for the child. Her life becomes secondary to that of the fetus she is now carrying. In fact, regulations by the CDC suggest that all women should consider themselves “pre-pregnant,” basically preparing her body, or baby factory, to be ready at all times to be taken over, her will or consent notwithstanding, by pregnancy.

Well, as a pre-pregnant female, I now spend my days crocheting baby booties and reading What to Expect When You’re Expecting (In The Next 10-20 Years) and signing up for Google alerts on fetal health, which is how this article found its way to my hands.

The author, Annie Murphy Paul, writes about recent developments in our understanding of fetal pain, namely, that it’s controversial. The article begins by citing how treatment of premature infants has changed since experiments measuring infant stress levels show that levels are significantly lower when they have been administered anesthesia.

Many leading scientists caution, however, that the way they measure pain is an imperfect science. We can never compare the way a fully developed human process brain signals to the way a fetus might. After all, as one scientist cautioned, “A fetus is not a baby who just hasn’t been born yet.”

But, of course, hanging over neonatal health developments is the specter of the pro-life movement, which appears to have latched on to this new and controversial science like a dog to a bone. While some scientists have decided that fetal pain, as much as we can understand it, develops at 20 weeks, others insist that it occurs “relatively late” in the pregnancy. Opponents to this “pain at 20 weeks” idea call such a concept “a shoddy, sentimental argument.”

Yet, shoddy and sentimental is just the kind of science the conservatives in Congress love. After all, need we reminisce long on Bill Frist’s air-tight diagnosis of Terri Schiavo from hundreds of miles away? Already, states, as well as the U.S. senate, have introduced legislation that, before an abortion, requires the doctor tell his patient the fetus can feel pain and offer (or require) the administration of anesthesia for the fetus.

The message from the Right is clear: the pain they are worried about is not the woman’s. The life they are worried about is not the woman’s. Hijacking science, they are trying to alter society’s perceptions of the fetus in dangerous ways.

Marshall Bright is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania and an intern at the Clara Bell Duvall Reproductive Freedom Project, ACLU of Pennsylvania

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