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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 02:48 PM
Original message
Here's a thought-provoking comment (or a comment-provoking thought?) from TOD
Edited on Mon Sep-19-11 03:01 PM by GliderGuider
http://www.theoildrum.com/node/8365#comment-837794

The first 90 billion or so humans to live on earth hardly messed up the planet at all in sustainability terms. The most recent 10 billion did the damage. That deserves more thought than it usually gets. Pretty much every planet-level ecosystem challenge that's going to hell in a handbasket on earth today did quite well with the first 90 billion humans. Pretty rigorous model, that.

The angst with which we approach such seemingly-intractable problems generally stems from an unspoken assumed imperative to have billions of human brains and bodies existing simultaneously, which is a subset of our recent experience and cultural disconnect from anything but the immediate future. Yet "Billion of humans at once" has been modeled in the real world and been found wanting. The desirability of having a billion humans alive on earth at once, versus say a couple million, is a values call which is deeply entangled with our steep cultural discount rate and our anthro-exceptionalist technocentric self-image.

On edit: I'm personally in favour of a planetary population number that ends in "million" rather than "billion", though I have no idea how we'd get there from here without invoking the four horsemen. We tend mistake quantity of life for quality of life.
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AtheistCrusader Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 04:05 PM
Response to Original message
1. I'm firmly in the zero population growth camp.
But I fear that won't be enough.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 07:51 PM
Response to Reply #1
2. No, we need negative population growth.
A reduction of fertility to well under replacement (say to a TFR of 1.5) along with an average 5-year reduction in global life expectancy would be useful changes.

Of the 100 billion or so people who have ever lived, only 7 billion are alive today. Unfortunately, we 7 billion are consuming the future out from under the next 100 billion who might have lived, but now may not have that opportunity. When we expand our temporal horizons out to encompass those who preceded us and those who may follow, the insanity of our present behaviour becomes starkly visible. The only way to keep from stealing their lives is to reduce our own numbers, starting now. But we know of no way to do that, and if we did know a way, we wouldn't be willing to follow it.

What a strange situation for a sapient ape to be in.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 08:27 PM
Response to Reply #2
3. "But we know of no way to do that, and if we did know a way, we wouldn't be willing to follow it"
Edited on Mon Sep-19-11 08:31 PM by kristopher
That simply isn't true. We have a great deal of knowledge of what cultural forces drive both population growth and decline. The key, in fact, lies in the fruits of general prosperity: education, labor specialization, and decent health care.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 09:52 PM
Response to Reply #3
4. There is no evidence that any nation's population has declined because of those factors.
Edited on Mon Sep-19-11 10:20 PM by GliderGuider
Until such a decline has actually happened, claiming that it will is a religious statement, not a scientific one.

Of the 20 major countries (population > 2 million) whose population declined between 2002 and 2008, 15 were either Soviet Republics or Warsaw pact nations. I suspect their decline had rather more to do with economic hardship. See Virginia Abernethy's Fertility Opportunity Hypothesis for one possible explanation.

The other five are Hong Kong, Lesotho, Guatemala, Iran and Germany. Germany's decline was only 1%, and it's the only candidate for those effects you believe in. The population of every other nation over 2 million is either rising or flat.

In order to get world population down to say 100 million before the Sixth Great Extinction decides to claim us as well, we will need to do a lot better than just flattening our growth curves. Fortunately, I expect many parts of the world to follow in Russia's footsteps over the next 50 years.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Mon Sep-19-11 10:46 PM
Response to Reply #4
5. ???
So let me get this straight: Until it happens it is a religious belief - then you say it's happening???

What it appears you are actually doing is trying to cloud the facts. You wrote:
1. "There is no evidence that any nation's population has declined because of those factors. Until a decline has actually happened, claiming that it will is a religious statement, not a scientific one"
2 . "Of the 20 major countries (population > 2 million) whose population declined between 2002 and 2008... I suspect their decline had rather more to do with economic hardship"

That contains:
1a) "Until a deline has happened..."
2a) "...20 major countries ... population declined between 2002 and 2008"
Which agrees with me.

1b) "There is no evidence that any nation's population has declined because of those factors."
2b) "...I suspect their decline had rather more to do with economic hardship"
The data, when carefully examined, say otherwise.

All of these nations fit the criteria I stated.
"The key, in fact, lies in the fruits of general prosperity: education, labor specialization, and decent health care."
Countries in long term decline.
6.1 Eastern Europe and Former Soviet Republics
6.2 Armenia
6.3 Belarus
6.4 Bulgaria
6.5 Greece
6.6 Japan
6.7 Hungary
6.8 Ireland
6.9 Lithuania
6.10 Russia
6.11 Ukraine

It's happening and it's well studied - we aren't just guessing. The population decline correlates with the transition to a culture where people feel secure that their children will grow to adulthood and where the division of labor assures the care of elderly. This entails good universal education and decent healthcare.


You make me think of Jimmy Durante:

Did you ever get the feeling that you wanted to go,
But still had the feeling that you wanted to stay,
You knew it was right, wasn't wrong.
Still you knew you wouldn't be very long.
Go or stay, stay or go,
Start to go again and change your mind again.
It's hard to have the feeling that you wanted to go,
But still have the feeling that you wanted to stay.
Do, re, mi, fa, so, la, si, do.
I'll go.
I'll stay.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 11:07 AM
Response to Reply #5
6. The determinants of population decline
Edited on Tue Sep-20-11 11:22 AM by GliderGuider
You seem to be pinning your hopes on the Demographic Transition Model, while ignoring other factors. I'd suggest caution when looking for universal umbrella explanations for population changes. Take a look at the paper I linked under "Lithuania" to see the range of determinants of child-birth. You might also read up on Dr. Abernethy's "Fertility Opportunity Hypothesis". Fertility rates are strongly affected by political, social and economic instability, as well as the positive factors taken into account in the DTM.

Now, let's look at your list of countries in a little more depth.

6.2 Armenia



The population of Armenia glitched down right after the breakup of the Soviet Union (consistent with the effects of economic, political and social upheaval) and has leveled out since then. It has not continued to decline significantly.

6.3 Belarus



The population of Belarus began to decline following the breakup of the Soviet Union, consistent with the effects of economic, political and social upheaval.

6.4 Bulgaria



The population of Bulgaria also began to decline during the breakup of the Soviet Union, consistent with the effects of economic, political and social upheaval.

6.5 Greece



The population of Greece does not appear to be in decline yet.

6.6 Japan





The population of Japan is not in long-term decline yet. It's currently about flat, but is projected to decline in the future as death rates continue to climb.. Their declining birth rate may be one of the success stories of Demographic Transition. On the other hand, it could be an expression of Dr. Hans Selye's General Adaptive Syndrome - a stress response. I don't think an airtight case could be made for either interpretation.

6.7 Hungary



Hungary may be the best candidate for a pure Demographic Transition explanation. Their population has been declining since about 1980, and TFR has declined rapidly is the last 20 years, from 1.82 to 1.33. I've found a suggestion that supports this:

One major reason for the overall decline of the birth rate appeared to be the increasing number of highly educated and economically active women who, as in other countries, tended to have fewer children. Age appeared to play no role in the declining birth rate. In 1986 women married at an average age of 24.6 years, a figure only slightly higher than in 1948, when the average age was 24.5. In the 1980s, the typical family had only two children (reflecting a dramatic decrease from the final decades of the nineteenth century, when the average number of children per family had been five).

6.8 Ireland



The population of Ireland does not appear to be declining at the moment.

6.9 Lithuania

Lithuania turns out to be a fascinating case study in fertility. It exhibits factors of both the negative (Fertility Opportunity) influence and the positive (DTM) influence on fertility rates.



The population of Lithuania began to decline during the breakup of the Soviet Union. I found an excellent research paper on the determinants of fertility decline in Lithuania - here are some excerpts from the PDF.

This first one points toward Abernethy's Fertility Opportunity Hypothesis (people don't have kids in times of political and economic upheaval):

An enormous economic decline, which accompanied the fundamental political, economic and social changes in Lithuania, was a very important and powerful cause for the drop in fertility at the beginning of the 1990s. Economic instability played the most important role here. This is frequently identified as one of the most powerful reasons for a low fertility level (Rossier 2005).

The second excerpt points towards more typical Demographic Transition determinants:

The effect of the determinants typical of all post-communist countries experiencing transformational challenges was strongest in Lithuania in the 1990s, especially in the first half of the decade. Later, however, they became kind of supplementary
determinants and gave way to other types of determinants. Second demographic transition factors, cultural factors (shifting values) and new technology (availability of modern methods of contraception), have an increasingly stronger effect on the fundamental family changes and low fertility. Among these factors, the most important are diffusion of individualisation due to the consolidation of market relations, increasing freedom of choice due to the democratisation of the society, and the liberalisation of value-orientations and lifestyles.

I really recommend this whole paper - it illustrates the wide range of factors that can influence child-bearing decisions.

6.10 Russia



Russia's population began to decline with the breakup of the Soviet Union, but has leveled off since 2006. Fertility rates show the same trend:



In 2006 Putin instituted a policy of cash for babies to try and reverse the decline. It appears to be helping raise fertility rates somewhat.

6.11 Ukraine



The population of Ukraine began to decline following the breakup of the Soviet Union, again consistent with the effects of uncertainty noted in the paper on Lithuania. The evolution of their fertility rate mirrors that of Russia:



So where does that leave us? Out of ten countries in your list:
  • Japan, Greece and Ireland are not actually shrinking (yet).
  • Only Hungary shows demographic transition effects leading to an outright decline in population.
  • Lithuania is a complex case showing the effects of both upheaval and benign demographic transition.
  • Armenia, Belarus, Bulgaria, Russia and Ukraine show the effects of social, political and economic instability rather than demographic transition.
Because it looks like the world is about to enter a protracted period of social, political and economic instability, I would expect the evolution of populations to echo the behaviour of Russia rather than that of Hungary. I also expect the population of Greece and Japan to start falling as we enter the new global regime.

If the global economy were to continue growing for the next 50 years we could expect the DTM to produce at least a stabilization, and possibly a small decline of our population. Since such growth now appears less and less likely, the door is open for much more rapid declines in fertility rates due to spreading upheaval, turmoil and instability. Add to that the rising death rates noted in both Japan and Russia, and we have the recipe for effective population reduction.

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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 11:26 AM
Response to Reply #6
7. Please address the obvious irrationality of your post #4
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 12:32 PM
Response to Reply #7
8. Well, since you asked so nicely...
Edited on Tue Sep-20-11 12:37 PM by GliderGuider
As I showed above, the DTM is only a clear factor in the population decline of Hungary and a partial factor in Lithuania.

The fact is that the other eligible candidates (e.g. most of the OECD) exhibit either stable or rising populations, rather than declining ones. This is a clear signal that relying on DTM factors as a general means of inducing population decline invokes a mechanism that has not been demonstrated. Insisting that it will inevitably work, therefore, is an expression of faith rather than science - especially given the plethora of counter-examples like Australia, USA, Canada, France, Britain, Scandinavia, China etc.

On the other hand, there is convincing evidence that economic and social instability does in fact trigger fertility and population decline. That mechanism has indeed been demonstrated, so it falls into the category of science rather than faith.

Now please address the issues I raised in post #6, that appear to leave your faith in DTM in tatters?
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 12:49 PM
Response to Reply #8
9. You are using a red herring.
Edited on Tue Sep-20-11 12:51 PM by kristopher
I was specific as to the necessary social elements that have to be associated with prosperity, which is not a part of the "model" you are trying to claim I'm using.Your descent into a jumble of jargon and arcane acronyms is typical of bluster and does not hide the fact that you have yet to address the specific points raised.

This analysis demonstrates how you are inappropriately trimming the data.

http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook/c02cont.htm
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 01:11 PM
Response to Reply #9
10. The problem is that prosperity does not generally lead to population decline.
Edited on Tue Sep-20-11 01:12 PM by GliderGuider
No matter what factors you include.

Now, about post #6...
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 01:37 PM
Response to Reply #10
11.  "But we know of no way to do that, and if we did know a way, we wouldn't be willing to follow it"
Edited on Tue Sep-20-11 01:39 PM by kristopher
That is what you claimed.

My response was: "That simply isn't true. We have a great deal of knowledge of what cultural forces drive both population growth and decline. The key, in fact, lies in the fruits of general prosperity: education, labor specialization, and decent health care."

I elaborated in a subsequent post, "It's happening and it's well studied - we aren't just guessing. The population decline correlates with the transition to a culture where people feel secure that their children will grow to adulthood and where the division of labor assures the care of elderly. This entails good universal education and decent healthcare."

You've provided nothing to support your original false claim nor to cast doubt on what I wrote. All you HAVE done is to throw out a lot jargon and acronyms while pulling red herrings replete with cherry picked and/or trimmed data.

For example, the fact that the causal social factors are included is extremely relevant to your claims that I'm using the "model" you wish to argue against. Since that "model" doesn't discuss causal social factors at all it is clear that I am, in fact, not predicating my view on it.

Then there is the way you are trimming the data by excluding countries such as Japan. You may not consider that they are undergoing population decline, but that is not what the data shows. When a train weighing X tons traveling at Z speed requires Y feet to stop and there is an obstruction Y minus 200 feet ahead, it may be correctly stated that "there is a train wreck in progress".
http://www.stat.go.jp/english/data/handbook/c02cont.htm

In short, if you want to have an honest discussion then you need to engage honestly. You've thoroughly poisoned this well with a totally dishonest approach that commenced in post #4.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 01:55 PM
Response to Reply #11
12. Most population declines that are happening are the result of socioeconomic trauma.
Edited on Tue Sep-20-11 01:57 PM by GliderGuider
We know that works, but we aren't generally willing to use it deliberately as a population remedy.

I perhaps should have been clearer about my first phrase: "We know of no way to do that humanely." I claim that there is no proven way to bring down populations humanely. The best we've been able to do is reduce the rate of growth, which isn't the same thing. We might figure out something in the future, but we don't have a proven technique yet.

You appear to be claiming we do have such a technique. If so, could you expand on it and provide some backup? I saw Japan's population projection, and I'm sorry you're miffed that I excluded it. What factors do you think are driving Japan's drop in TFR, and can they be generalized to, say, France? Can you show a reason to discount General Adaptation Syndrome as the driver?
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 02:46 PM
Response to Reply #12
13. What is "Socioeconomic trauma"?
What is that, war? Depression? Recession? The record is very clear that events like that are not associated with population declines of any duration at all. While there may be small negative blips on the curve, subsequent years tend to not only erase those declines but to actually produce a net gain.

As far as "General Adaptation Syndrome" I know of no application of that concept, which deals with individual physiological responses to stress, in social or anthropological theory related to human population dynamics. You are apparently basing your entire view on what is clearly an inappropriate theoretical construct . The theory is appropriate to the research that Seyle conducted in the area of the physiological response to stress. Extrapolating that into a grand theory settling "The Population Debate" (Morrison) amounts to junk science - especially when it is contradicted by a vast body of work.

I told you what anthropologists have concluded are the requisite social factors related to population decline, you can take it from there (or not as you can certainly continue to pursue an education via The Oil Drum). I looked at this issue a number of years ago but as it isn't something I deal with very often I'm not geared to go into a detailed discussion at this time, nor am I inclined to go back over ground I consider settled. If you want to pursue it you will see the same pattern that Japan is following in a number of nations where the requisite social conditions prevail - don't forget to allow for immigration.

Perhaps you could benefit from reading some of the material that the UN has generated on building a sustainable world.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 03:06 PM
Response to Reply #13
14. The collapse of the Soviet Union qualifies.
That was definitely associated with ongoing population decline in a number of countries.



Population of Belarus:


BTW, what's your definition of a "sustainable" world? I think the UN's definition is far too narrow and anthropocentric, and I don't think we can get to true long-term sustainability (i.e. multi-hundreds of generations for all existing organisms) with anything over 100 million humans on the planet, and possibly less.
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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 03:16 PM
Response to Reply #14
15. You are jumping to a conclusion.
As I said events like that are characterized by temporary changes in the slope of the curve. Your graphs are simplistic and meaningless to the issue at hand. You really are dedicated to junk science, aren't you? For some people it is a fact of life they occasionally encounter, for you it is a way of life.

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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 04:35 PM
Response to Reply #15
16. Didn't I already tell you that I'm not much into science any more?
Science is interesting and useful and all that, but it's not the only way to give meaning to the world. I've chosen a different path - let's just say that I'm now a lot more fascinated by correlation than causation.

"There are more things in heaven and earth, kristopher,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."


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kristopher Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 05:42 PM
Response to Reply #16
17. If so then why dress up your dogma as science.
Rejecting the essence of science while trying to cloak nonsense in its trappings presents you in a very clear but unflattering light.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Tue Sep-20-11 05:48 PM
Response to Reply #17
18. It's an old habit, hard to break.
I really don't care much about being flattered, but thanks for thinking of my feelings.
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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-22-11 09:23 AM
Response to Reply #4
20. There are a few more with slowly decreasing populations
From the UN figures, the rate of natural increase (ie births - deaths, so migration doesn't cloud the figures) was negative, between 2005 and 2010, for Italy, Portugal and Japan, as well as Germany and former Warsaw Pact nations. And the Total Fertility Rate was below the 1.5 you mentioned for Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Germany, Portugal, Italy, Austria, Spain, Switzerland and Greece, as well as Warsaw pact countries.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-22-11 03:41 PM
Response to Reply #20
22. Thanks for the UN link. It's interesting that out of 200 countries they track
Only 17 countries show declining populations (including Japan). Of those, only Hungary and Germany have long-term records of natural population decline, going back to the early 1970s. Italy's decline goes back to the 1980s, while Japan and Portugal have only tipped over into very mild declines (0.2% and 0.3% respectively) in the last 5 years.

The other 11 nations that are in decline are all ex-Soviet or Warsaw pact nations, whose decline all began immediately following the breakup of the Soviet Union. They show decline rates ranging from 0.6% to over 6%.

The other 183 countries in the world are all still growing.

I'm quite convinced that the data supports a statement that socioeconomic upheaval is a much stronger driver of population decline than prosperity - after all, except for Germany, the richest nations in the world are all still growing...
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muriel_volestrangler Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-22-11 05:28 PM
Response to Reply #22
23. But it does show that many developed countries have got TFRs that will cut population
in the long term. Sure, upheaval cuts a population faster - a lot of emigration, a lot of illness - but a desirable outcome (a gradually shrinking, but prosperous, population) can be worked for.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-22-11 05:38 PM
Response to Reply #23
24. Do we have a long term left before the upheaval takes hold?
Edited on Thu Sep-22-11 06:12 PM by GliderGuider
From where I sit, it looks like it's already under way.

Emigration doesn't cut aggregate numbers. That's why we were just looking at natural growth rates. People tend to emigrate to better-off areas, where their consumption tends to increase.

Since we're already in overshoot, the longer we keep growing (in both numbers and prosperity) the worse it gets.

Frankly, it's not our numbers that are going to do us in over the short term, it's our consumption and the consequent ecological degradation. That's why I personally hope we see a major, long-term drop in global prosperity levels. It would reduce both our numbers and our consumption quite rapidly, which would be kinder to all the other species on the planet, and in the long run to our own as well.

On edit: We all try to work toward desirable outcomes, but the definition of "desirable" can be very personal.
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stuntcat Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-22-11 02:06 PM
Response to Reply #2
21. yah.
Edited on Thu Sep-22-11 02:08 PM by stuntcat
I'm too late to rec! Even if population growth is slowing in some places, the number is still rising too fast. And humanity's wonderful "progress" just means consuming more energy and land, so if the billion toddlers scraping by now end up living near as comfortably as we do then their lives will take like 100 times as much energy.
If no more babies were born ever, then ALL the kids now still have 80-90 years ahead of them, I mean the ones who don't starve to death before they're 6. The decline in our number would still be too slow, but still any decline is good.

It blows my mind how people could give this century to their children. I don't exactly blame my Mom for making me, I mean how many options did a young lady in the 60's South have? But children born now will know that their parents had mountains of evidence of what they'd be seeing when they grew up.
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GliderGuider Donating Member (1000+ posts) Send PM | Profile | Ignore Thu Sep-22-11 06:11 AM
Response to Original message
19. It's nice that a fact checker showed up in that TOD thread.
Edited on Thu Sep-22-11 06:14 AM by GliderGuider
Too bad it didn't help. :sarcasm:
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