Around Mendo Island

Cascadia: Family Planning Kick-Starts Prosperity




Could low-income Cascadians benefit from the strategy that propelled Japan and South Korea up the league table of incomes?

Cascadia is known for mountains and salmon, technology, and modern urban gateways to Asia. But   wellbeing is marred by economic hardship for a third of families, who struggle to pay for basic household necessities.

For many, unsought pregnancy compounds this hardship, with poverty and mistimed or unwanted pregnancy fueling each other in a cycle that stacks the odds against many parents and their children.

Poverty is a complex equation. But if current policies and cultural trends continue, the good news is that the reproductive empowerment factor is changing, and not just in Cascadia. According to Pew Research Center projections based on recent trend lines, by 2060, American women from four major demographic groups—Black, White, Hispanic and Asian-American—may have approximately the same stable near-replacement birthrate, a sign that parenthood is more often becoming an intentional choice and less an unexpected circumstance.

Couples across all of these groups will be having babies later than our parents and grandparents did and having them under circumstances of their own choosing. This shift in family formation may create a window of opportunity to reduce poverty.

The converging trend lines in the 2060 Pew projections reflect two factors:

  1. Typical preferred family size has been dropping in the United States for half a century.
  2. More recently, more women are now able to bring their lives into line with their intentions, avoiding mistimed and unwanted pregnancy because of remarkable improvements in contraceptive technologies, access, and services.

In King County, Washington, for example, teen pregnancy is down by 55 percent, thanks, in part, to the fact that young women can now obtain safe, modern IUDs and implants through Planned Parenthood, school-based clinics, public clinics and a growing number of primary care settings.

Advocates who care about childhood poverty, in particular, are cheering this news. As the Annie Casey Foundation states in its 2017 Kids Count report (p. 10-11): “Delayed childbearing has many positive benefits. When young women postpone having children, they are more likely to complete high school and obtain postsecondary education or training, and they are more likely to be employed. However, it’s not just maternal age that matters: outcomes for children are better when pregnancy is planned and parents are emotionally and economically prepared to raise a child.”

Reducing inequality

Improvements in contraceptive technologies and services benefit all demographic groups but especially families in poor and disadvantaged communities because they are disproportionately vulnerable to early and unsought pregnancies and associated impacts. Some 35-50 percent of all pregnancies in Washington and Oregon are unintended according to the mother’s own report, but the experience of mistimed and unwanted pregnancy skews dramatically against people whose lives are already most brittle. As documented by the New England Journal of Medicine, US women below the poverty level are five times more likely to have an unintended pregnancy than women with incomes at more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

The consequences cascade across generations.

Of the 1.5 million unplanned births in the United States each year, 1 million of these children are born into poverty. Half of these children are born to women who were using some form of contraception at the time, suggesting they were actively attempting to delay pregnancy for better timing or different circumstances. Unplanned pregnancy increases the likelihood that young parents drop out of school. It can disrupt a budding career and lead to a less healthy birth. These impacts on education, employment, and health limit economic opportunity for parents and children.

For many reasons, upward mobility is decreasing in the United States, and most American children born into the lowest two quintiles stay there as adults. Some segments are finding themselves downwardly mobile. According to the Population Reference Bureau, the poverty rate has increased for all young women except for those with college degrees. Less than ideal birth timing doesn’t explain this lack of mobility—or, worse, descent into poverty—but it does compound it. When pregnancy is unexpected, parents often miss the chance to build resources–social, emotional, educational and financial—before getting hit with the demands of parenthood. The inability to prepare can be especially consequential for people who already have the odds stacked against them because of racism, class, or education status.

In communities plagued by mistimed and unwanted pregnancies, modern family planning services hold potential to make a transformative impact. The benefits accrue not just to women themselves but also to men and children, and the communities of which they are a part, including the benefits that are economic.

The demographic dividend

Internationally, economists discuss a phenomenon called the demographic dividend or demographic bonus. A demographic dividend occurs when the birthrate drops quickly, across a generation or two, so that the number of working adults is high compared with the number of dependent children and elders. The reduced number of dependents allows households to save and invest, and it lets parents—especially women—participate more wholly in the economy. As fertility rates fall, resources free up to start or expand businesses or invest in public education and infrastructure.

This windfall is time-limited, because within a few decades, the curve flattens out and societies must then address the needs of an aging population. But when managed well, the demographic dividend opens a window of opportunity through which an individual family—or even a whole country—can jump to the next level of prosperity.

Many Asian countries experienced a demographic dividend in the 1950’s and 1960’s, with Japan leading the way followed by “tiger economies” including Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, and Hong Kong.

After South Korea’s fertility rate plummeted, its gross domestic product grew by 2,200 percent between 1950 and 2008. But a drop in birthrate doesn’t automatically create an economic boom according to  United Nations analysts.

“To maximize this dividend, countries must ensure young people entering the work force are equipped to make the most of the opportunities before them. To do this, countries must do more to protect human rights, including reproductive rights, improve health, including sexual and reproductive health, and provide skills and knowledge to build young people’s capabilities and agency.”

This is exactly what South Korea did—expanded access to family planning and invested heavily in the competency of young people. Challenges remain as South Korea now enters the next phase of the demographic curve, but the country’s trajectory stands in contrast to Latin America, which has done neither to the same degree and now faces a “lost generation” of almost 20 million young adults who are considered “NiNis” (ni estudian, ni trabajan, “neither studying, nor working”). Many would be willing workers, but a global knowledge-based economy in which technology is rapidly replacing unskilled labor leaves them few options.

What’s happening in Cascadia? 

Leaders in Washington and Oregon have made strong commitments to modernizing family planning, ensuring broad access to top tier contraceptives—long acting IUDs and implants that otherwise can be hard to obtain or cost prohibitive. In August, Oregon passed a Reproductive Health Equity Act. The law encodes into state law some of the same protections as the national Affordable Care Act, and it extends coverage to those who had been left out because of gender identity or immigration status. In primary care settings, Oregon’s One Key Question program has created a national model for asking women about their pregnancy desires so that clinicians can support their objectives.

In Washington, advocates for reproductive freedom plan to submit an Oregon-style bill in the 2018 legislative session. The governor’s office has worked to ensure that providers receive fair compensation when they provide family planning services to low-income women, including top-tier IUDs and implants.  Barriers remain: most significantly, only a small percentage of health professionals—even those who say they provide family planning services—are trained to offer IUDs and implants, the most effective contraceptives. But if public commitments hold, positive trends toward later and more intentional parenthood will continue.

And yet, weak investments in education and job training create uncertainty about how much young Washington residents will be able to continue gaining from the potential economic advantage of better family planning.  Washington has yet to meet even the minimum constitutional responsibility to fully fund public education as laid out in the McCleary Decision. Washington falls below the national average on graduation rates. Cuts to higher education funding led to the second highest tuition increase in the nation between 2008 and 2014.

Education in Oregon is also seriously underfunded—which creates particular challenges for the whopping 58 percent of Oregon children being raised by someone with a high school diploma or less. According to the 2015 report “Decades of Disinvestment: The State of School Funding in Oregon” high school graduation rates are the fourth lowest in the country and class sizes are the third highest. Matching the per-capita investment in education of high-achieving Massachusetts would require an additional $3 billion annually.

British Columbia also falls behind the East Coast in funding, with the second lowest level of funding per student in Canada, but in contrast to Oregon, British Columbia has maintained high levels of academic achievement.

Again, many factors are at play, but one may be that in Washington and Oregon teen pregnancy—the most common reason girls drop out of school and a top reason that boys drop out—is more common than in British Columbia. The rate of births to teen mothers in Oregon and Washington is double that of British Columbia (and to continue the East Coast comparison, double that of Massachusetts).

Who is at risk in our region?

Among those who have not reached America’s middle class, including many recent immigrants, families and whole communities may yet reap a form of demographic dividend from better access to modern family planning information and service—or, conversely, may fall further behind without that access.

About a third of the population in Idaho, Oregon and Washington lies either below the federal poverty line or just above it. (The United Way recently conducted a series of regional analyses called The ALICE Project, where ALICE is an acronym used to describe folks who are living just one step above the federal poverty line: Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed, in other words, people who are employed full time but struggle to pay for basic household necessities. One ALICE report covers Idaho, Oregon and Washington.)

People often associate poverty with minority racial and ethnic groups and with recent immigrants, but the poor-plus-ALICE population of the Northwest states is a microcosm of the region’s racial and ethnic mix, with only modest overrepresentation of Black and Hispanic people among the poor. A stronger statistical predictor of membership in the poor-plus-ALICE cohort—one that cuts across racial and ethnic groups—is being a single woman who is the head of a household.

In British Columbia, poverty is similarly associated with gender and parenthood, and more births. Women are more likely to be poor than men. And while only 10 percent of the population falls below the poverty line (a different poverty line than in the United States, unfortunately), 20 percent of children do.

A promising model for Cascadia

A bold anti-poverty program in Delaware with a focus on family planning suggests that it doesn’t have to be that way.

In 2016, a donor collective called the Blue Meridian Group decided to pool a billion dollars to make some “big bets” that would reduce poverty and increase opportunity for young people. Blue Meridian methodically analyzed interventions, seeking powerful theories of change, strong leadership, and the potential to scale up. (See What Makes a Nonprofit Big Bettable?) Then they made multiyear multimillion dollar commitments to a handful of nonprofits that fit the bill.

One of these grantees was Upstream USA. In 2012, Upstream teamed up with Delaware governor Jack Markell to upgrade contraceptive access statewide, ensuring that all Delaware women have same-day, no-barrier access to all contraceptive methods including previously hard-to-get IUDs and implants. Governor Markell explains the program’s purpose:

“I got into politics with the simple idea that I could create an environment where more people could achieve their full potential. I’ve come to believe that helping women achieve their own goals and become pregnant only when they want to may be one of the most important things we can do in this regard. There are very, very few times when you can create better outcomes, save money, and create opportunity all at once – and this is one of those rare times.”

Results in Delaware are just starting to trickle in, but a similar program in Colorado has been life changing and state changing. Teen pregnancies and abortions are down by 54 and 64 percent respectively, and repeat teen pregnancies dropped by 63 percent.  Delaware Contraceptive Access Now and the corresponding locally-attuned awareness campaignbrought together health care systems, policy makers, generous donors, technical consultants, insurers, trainers from across the country and even Uber, which provided free transportation for women traveling to and from medical appointments.

Today, a third of Cascadian families are financially precarious—struggling to pay for basic household necessities. Full, free access to modern contraceptive technologies and services isn’t the whole answer—not even close—but it is a powerful upstream solution. The ability to time pregnancies and make parenthood a choice rather than a circumstance creates space for young people to invest in themselves.

Whether young Cascadians get this intergenerational advantage depends in part on our collective courage and will. Systemic transformation like that in Delaware and Colorado requires not only strong leadership but strong partnerships—in this case mutual trust and teamwork between three major sectors of society: the public sector, philanthropic sector, and private sector. Luckily all are strong here in Cascadia.

Our region has the opportunity to create our own demographic dividend. By making focused investments in health and education that build our human capital, we can take advantage of dramatically improved family planning to help Cascadian families who are currently being left behind to flourish instead.

Valerie Tarico, Ph.D., Sightline fellow, is a psychologist and writer in Seattle. She is the author of Trusting Doubt and Deas and Other Imaginings and the founder of Her articles can be found at

Katharine Harkins, CNM, MPH, is Co-founder of Resilient Generation, a field catalyst focused on advancing reproductive health and rights in Washington state and beyond.

My Friend Bill…


From Dave Smith

I had a good buddy, Bill Smith, during and after High School growing up in Miami, Florida. I lost track of him after moving to California in 1963. Now and then I would try to track him down to no avail. Then when Facebook came along I still could not find him.

A few months ago I decided to just enter Bill or William Smith and not add a location. There are a lot of Bill Smiths. Browsing around all of a sudden this photo appeared:

I said aloud: “That’s Bill!”. He lived in Georgia and had worked in the electronics industry all his life.

We started messaging. We reminisced about Bill’s 1957 Ford Station Wagon that frustrated us so much when every 1957 Chevy would beat us drag racing. We laughed about how we had ended up on opposite sides of the political spectrum. If I had stayed in Miami, would I now be a right wing gun nut who loves Trump and hated Obama like Bill? He had served in the infantry in Vietnam. I had joined the National Guard Band and applied for Conscientious Objector status before my 6 years was up. He suffers from Agent Orange poisoning.

Bill was a superb athlete. His father had been a football coach where he spent his early life in Pennsylvania, but he absolutely refused to play school sports where I’m sure he would have been a star on any team. Instead, we played a lot of pickup sandlot football and baseball around parks in Miami. I would always try to be on Bill’s team because, even though I was faster, he was bigger, and when I tried tackling him playing football without helmet or pads, he would get the ball and come in low and blast the shit out of me.

When I sent him a photo of me holding an Impeach sign next to a woman holding a Planned Parenthood sign in front of the Ukiah courthouse, that was it… he stopped responding.

We stay touch in now and then and I plan to visit him someday in Georgia.

Here’s my friend Bill…


Michael Laybourn: There seems to be a some confusion about Sonoma Clean Power’s offer to include Mendocino County…


From Michael Laybourn

There seems to be a some confusion about Sonoma Clean Power’s offer to include Mendocino County. Maybe this will clear things up a bit: A CCA or “Community Choice Energy” gives customers a choice in their energy provider. With Community Choice Energy, cities and counties contract with a licensed energy service provider to purchase greener energy in bulk and charge less in some cases. help local business to build renewable energy generating facilities, and implement energy efficiency programs. This efficient public/private partnership makes it possible to get the greenest energy at the best rates. This is how we should be able to purchase energy. It is local control. From a local company that doesn’t need to have a huge profit to make shareholders happy and overpay it’s executives.

But PG&E doesn’t like competition. We saw that when they spent 45 million dollars to change the California constitution to eliminate the competition to stop Marin County and other Community Choice Energy projects. And lost, because they were wrong.

More PG&E facts from the San Jose Mercury News: “At 6:11:12 pm PDT on September 9, 2010, a huge explosion occurred in the Crestmoor residential neighborhood of San Bruno, near Skyline Boulevard and San Bruno Avenue. This caused a fire, which quickly engulfed nearby houses. The explosion and resulting fire leveled 35 houses and damaged many more. Three of the damaged houses, deemed uninhabitable, were torn down in December, bringing the total to 38. As of September 29, 2010, the death toll was eight people.

In January 13, 2012, an independent audit from the State of California issued a report stating that PG&E had illegally diverted over $100 million from a fund used for safety operations, and instead used it for executive compensation and bonuses. In August, 2016, PG&E was convicted of six felony counts for crimes the company committed before and after the 2010 San Bruno explosion, which killed those eight people and destroyed the residential area.”

MICHAEL FOLEY: Why I Am Not Marching for Science Today


[This one’s for Ron. ~ds]

Today’s March for Science is touted as a defense of informed democracy against ignorant tyranny. But the “science based policy making” that liberals defend is often just another form of tyranny, and a poorly informed one at that. Policy should ultimately be based on our values. It must be reality based, to be sure. But “science” does not provide the sure guide to reality that proponents claim. That claim is based on Science as religion, as dogma, not on science as an ever correctible practice. The reason that climate denial is so outrageous is that it defies the only approximation science has to established fact, a scientific consensus. But much of the science invoked in court, in Congressional testimony, and in bureaucratic rule-making lacks that sort of surety.

The case of Annie Dookhan is a dramatic illustration. The Massachusetts chemist was convicted in 2013 of falsifying evidence in the state drug lab where she worked. Some 21,000 people were convicted of drug crimes as a result of her work. It took years of litigation, and the threat that prosecutors would have to retry all those cases, to get those people exonerated. How could this happen? Because courts routinely take “science based” evidence from police and prosecutors as fact, opening the way to just such abuses.

Warning! Corporate Democrats May Use Anti-Trump Momentum to Shore Up Their Failed Policies



From Michael Foley
The Next American Revolution

The sign said “Trump is a Ruskie”. Another read “I’m Still with HER.” And others: “Thank you Obama,” “Thank you Michelle.” At the Inauguration protests and at the Women’s March, loyal Democrats and Hillary supporters turned out to defend their party. On the dais Inauguration Day, Democratic Congress people wore buttons that said “Save Our Care,” meaning Obamacare. And at the Justice Department, the investigations went on into ties of Trump people with the Russians.

None of this is unexpected. None out of line. But it bespeaks an eagerness – largely unconscious on most people’s part, no doubt – to defend the party that was from the party that might be. To reassure Democratic loyalists that “It wasn’t our fault” that Trump won.

Whatever the verdict on that question, it’s clear that the Democratic Party has alienated voters, and not just its supposed working class base. The young, the left, the hyper-educated didn’t turn out for the Party’s standard bearer. More tellingly, as Bernie Sanders pointed out, the Party has been losing elections for a long time, so that today Republicans control most state legislatures and governors’ seats, not to mention both houses of Congress and the Supreme Court. And this was a party that was deeply divided almost up to election day in November and a wreck when Obama took office eight years ago. A party whose wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were deeply unpopular when it lost control of Congress two years before Obama’s ascendancy, and which subsequently brought the nation to the brink of economic ruin.

The Coming Dictatorship of Donald Trump?



From Michael Foley
The Next American Revolution

We have won power in Germany, now we have to win over the German people.

– Adolph Hitler, on being appointed Chancellor of Germany

Donald Trump’s Inaugural Speech was a study in right wing populist demagoguery. Rejecting the politics that have enriched elites like himself and his cabinet picks and now ensconced them in power, he reiterated over and over the claim that his election was a victory for all those Americans who had been left behind by the triumph of the predatory capitalism he represents so well and by the political class that protects and promotes it.

Trump’s indictment of the ruling class and his account of the impact of their policies on ordinary Americans was certainly justified, even if partial and hypocritical. His call for an America first policy – as if American trade and foreign policy was not always about America first – and his bizarre depiction of foreign governments stealing companies and jobs from America foreshadowed a shake-up in U.S. foreign policy that in certain respects is long overdue. Whether the trade pacts he deplores are really vulnerable or the protectionism he invoked will amount to anything remains to be seen.

His notion that the U.S. must no longer pour money into building up other countries squares badly with his utter commitment to the Israeli state, the all-time top recipient of U.S. economic and military aid. And it is anybody’s guess how he intends to “eradicate Islamic terrorism” while standing behind Israel’s annexation of Palestine. But his rhetoric responds nicely to the perception of many Americans that the U.S. government does more for others abroad than for its own people and that we face existential threats “out there”.

TODD WALTON: Here’s To You


You You

You You by Todd

Under The Table Books

“We have not all had the good fortune to be ladies. We have not all been generals, or poets, or statesmen; but when the toast works down to the babies, we stand on common ground.” Mark Twain

I would like to propose a toast to the coming year, 2017. May this be a good year for you and your loved ones, and for your neighborhood, your community, and the world. May this be the year we start to turn things around as a species living on a planet of finite resources and a biosphere overtaxed by greenhouse gases.

It seems to me that sharing is the not-so-secret key to solving many of our problems, both as individuals and as a society—not just sharing the wealth and ride-sharing, but sharing our ideas and feelings with each other.

I was in the grocery store the other day and looked around at my fellow shoppers, and I realized we were all kind of ignoring each other, not in a malicious way, but in the way that has become the habit of people in our society. Even when I smiled at people, most of them were unaware I was looking at them, so they didn’t see the smile I was giving them.

Atheist Christmas…



From The Archives
ROBERT INGERSOLL (1833 – 1899)
The Great Agnostic

Again we celebrate the victory of Light over Darkness, of the God of day over the hosts of night. Again Samson is victorious over Delilah, and Hercules triumphs once more over Omphale. In the embrace of Isis, Osiris rises from the dead, and the scowling Typhon is defeated once more. Again Apollo, with unerring aim, with his arrow from the quiver of light, destroys the serpent of shadow. This is the festival of Thor, of Baldur and of Prometheus. Again Buddha by a miracle escapes from the tyrant of Madura, Zoroaster foils the King, Bacchus laughs at the rage of Cadmus, and Chrishna eludes the tyrant.

This is the festival of the sun-god, and as such let its observance be universal.

This is the great day of the first religion, the mother of all religions—the worship of the sun.

Sun worship is not only the first, but the most natural and most reasonable of all. And not only the most natural and the most reasonable, but by far the most poetic, the most beautiful.

The sun is the god of benefits, of growth, of life, of warmth, of happiness, of joy. The sun is the all-seeing, the all-pitying, the all-loving.

This bright God knew no hatred, no malice, never sought for revenge.

All evil qualities were in the breast of the God of darkness, of shadow, of night. And so I say again, this is the festival of Light. This is the anniversary of the triumph of the Sun over the hosts of Darkness.

Let us all hope for the triumph of Light—of Right and Reason—for the victory of Fact over Falsehood, of Science over Superstition.

And so hoping, let us celebrate the venerable festival of the Sun.


Localism in the Age of Trump…



From Richard Heinberg

2016 will be remembered as the year Donald Trump—a wealthy, narcissistic political novice with a strong authoritarian bent—was elected president of the United States after campaigning against economic globalization. The events are fresh enough in many people’s minds that feelings are still raw and the implications are both unclear and, for many, terrifying. For those who have spent years, in some cases decades, denouncing globalization and seeking to build a localist alternative, this is surely a vexing and confusing moment.

When the World Trade Organization’s ministerial conference in 1999 erupted into “the Battle of Seattle,” demonstrators voiced arguments that might resonate with the average Trump voter. They asserted that, for the United States, globalization was resulting in the offshoring of manufacturing that would otherwise have occurred domestically; that while American consumers were gaining access to cheaper consumer products, the hourly wages of workers were stagnating or falling in real terms due to competition with foreign labor; and that the investor class was benefitting significantly while the wage class was losing ground. All of these points were more recently driven home, to great effect, by The Donald.

However, the localist critique of globalization went much further than anything Trump himself has articulated. Anti-globalization activists decried a “race to the bottom” in environmental protections with each new trade deal, as well as the global loss of thousands of indigenous languages and locally-adapted forms of architecture, art, agriculture, and music in favor of a uniform global commercial culture dominated by corporate advertising and centralized industrial production methods. Further, teach-ins organized by International Forum on Globalization (IFG) beginning in the 1990s; books by the movement’s intellectual leaders (John Cavanagh’s and Jerry Mander’s Alternatives to Economic Globalization; Kirkpatrick Sale’s Dwellers in the Land and Human Scale; Michael Shuman’s Small-Mart Revolution and The Local Economy Solution; Helena Norberg Hodge’s Ancient Futures); and thousands of on-the-ground locally rooted cooperative efforts scattered worldwide promoted a vision of a green, sustainable, equitable bioregionalism.

WILL PARRISH: Local Impacts of Standing Rock




On Sunday, November 6, in Redwood Valley, several hundred people gathered to listen to activists report back from Standing Rock where they had stood in solidarity with Native American Tribes, known as Water Protectors, opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline.

One such speaker was Jassen Rodriguez, a Mishewal Wappo tribal member whose ancestral landbase includes much of Sonoma, Napa, and southern Lake counties. He had just returned from a three-week sojourn to North Dakota, where had had stayed at Oceti Sakowin, or Seven Council Fires, an encampment named for the seven bands of the Sioux people where a ceremonial fire has remained burning for many months.

Elders at Standing Rock had granted Rodriguez the responsibility of tending the sacred fire on behalf of the entire camp, and he choked back tears as he recounted the experience.

“It was the greatest honor of my life,” Rodriguez said. “It was an incredible blessing. The entire experience was a spiritual awakening.”

Opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline has galvanized support from all over the world. Constructed mainly by Fortune 500 company Energy Transfer Partners, the pipeline originates in the Bakken oil patch and traverses North Dakota, South Dakota and Iowa, and ends in Illinois, linking to transmission routes to the East Coast and Gulf Coast.

For several months, indigenous people, environmentalists and Great Plains residents have protested the project because it threatens water quality and myriad sacred sites of the Standing Rock Sioux. It will also contribute to the global climate crisis.

On December 4th, the Standing Rock resistance achieved a major breakthrough when the Army Corps of Engineers denied Energy Transfer Partners’ request for an easement to build the pipeline beneath the Missouri River, requiring a full environmental impact statement before that part of the project can proceed.