Monday, December 28, 2009

NPR examines OK abortion law

The National Partnership for Women and Families reports that the National Public Radio news show All Things Considered recently ran a story on a controversial new Oklahoma law that requires women seeking an abortion to answer a long list of questions about their reasons for seeking the procedure.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My word!

Nigel at rosetta moon has a fascinating essay on "The Trouble with Modern Scrabble."

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Ellen Goodman is retiring

Boston Globe columnist Ellen Goodman is retiring. She says that a lot has changed in the 40 years that she's been a journalist.
Today, half the law students and medical students are female. But only 15 of the Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs. We had the first serious female candidate run for president ... and lose. We had a mother of five, a governor and a Title IX baby run for vice president ... as a conservative.

The Equal Rights Amendment was defeated because people were scared into believing that women could end up in combat. Now, nearly a quarter-million women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, 120 have died, 650 have been wounded. But still no ERA.

What a story this has been to cover. Women now hold the majority of jobs ... because men have lost more of them. Women earn six out of 10 college degrees ... yet earn 77 cents for every male dollar.

I've kind of lost track of Ellen Goodman over the years, maybe because I don't read much mainstream news any more (even were I to subscribe to the Daily Oklahoman, they don't carry any columnists further to the left than say, George Will). But I think I'm going to miss her, and not just because it's a sign that I'm getting old that a columnist that I used to read regularly when I was in college has reached the age of retirement.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

It's not just a white Christmas

It's an actual blizzard. has the details.

Senate passes health insurance bill, capitalists cheer, patients mourn, progressive House Democrats fight back

As you've probably heard already, the US Senate passed its version of the health insurance reform bill today. The Associated Press (courtesy of calls it an historic occasion:
WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats passed a landmark health care bill in a climactic Christmas Eve vote that could define President Barack Obama's legacy and usher in near-universal medical coverage for the first time in the country's history.

The 60-39 vote on a cold winter morning capped months of arduous negotiations and 24 days of floor debate. It also followed a succession of failures by past congresses to get to this point. Vice President Joe Biden presided as 58 Democrats and two independents voted "yes." Republicans unanimously voted "no."
The Motley Fool site, which offers stock investing advice, is glad to be "closer to capping off the long process that's weighed on health-care stocks this year. If it's made into law, the $871 billion bill will represent the largest expansion of health-care coverage since the creation of Medicare in 1965." Commentator Brian Orelli notes that
Someone has to pay for this thing, and it's been interesting to see who has the most clout in Washington. Pharmaceutical companies negotiated early. Medical-device companies like Boston Scientific (NYSE: BSX) and Medtronic (NYSE: MDT) looked like they were going to get a big hit, but managed to whittle down their tax considerably. And cosmetic treatments like wrinkle removers and breast implants made by Allergan and Johnson & Johnson (NYSE: JNJ) managed to get their proposed tax removed altogether. Tanning salons (and their customers) apparently don't have that great of a lobby; they've been slapped with a 10% tax, which will raise an estimated $2.7 billion over the next 10 years.

The only question now is whether the companies will end up being able to pass the costs along to consumers. Will investors have to pay for health-care reform with their portfolios or their pocketbooks?
Orelli doesn't know (or doesn't care) that there are vast numbers of us out here without stock portfolios who need access to health care. For us, the news is not very good. At, Donna Smith describes the Senate Bill as "a lump of Christmas coal all polished up with sparkling rhetoric. " She knows what she's talking about from personal experience.
I went broke while carrying health insurance, a disability insurance policy and a small healthcare savings account. And if I get sick under this mess of a plan, it will happen to me again. Little has changed except that millions more of my fellow citizens will join my ranks.
Smith describes exactly how this can happen, and her entire post is well worth reading.

Meanwhile, progressive Democrats in the House of Representatives are pushing back against the watered-down Senate bill, which lacks a public option. New York Democratic Rep. Louise Slaughter says that the Senate bill is so fatally flawed that it could not be successfully reconciled with the House bill passed earlier this fall. She calls for the defeat of health care legislation in its current form. And California Reps. Barbara Lee and Lynn Woolsey have mounted what calls "a full-throated defense of the public option."

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Will healthcare bill destroy the Right?

Nathan Newman at TPMCafe thinks that it will. It's an interesting post. Newman says that
You have some bloggers treating the health care bill as a sell-out to the rightwing and many on the Right treating it as the slipperly slope to socialism. While the latter is probably a bit far, I actually side more with the political analysis of the right; while progressives didn't get as much as they wanted, they got enough to put in place a dynamic that will be almost impossible for the right to reverse. The working middle class will have a clear monetary stake in federal spending each year and participation in the broader welfare state. That reality will profoundly change both political rhetoric and budgetary politics in ways in which the modern conservative movement can not survive.

There will be a few stormy years to come but in two decades, this week's votes in the Senate I predict will come to be seen as a turning point in American history and the cementing of progressive power for decades to come.
I hope that Newman is right about this, but it might merely mean that the Right and the Republican party rely more on anti-feminist, anti-gay social conservatism in order to keep power.

Pray tell

Thanks to Alternative Tulsa for a link to a report about this bizarre call by our own Senator Tom Coburn for Americans to pray that a Democratic senator would be unable to show up for a vote on the health care bill.

Perhaps there is a more charitable explanation for Coburn's prayer request. Perhaps he would only pray for a Democratic Senator to get stuck in traffic, or to take a long nap and oversleep, rather than to die or be injured. But a senator with a lick of sense would know that these words could be interpreted in a very bad way.

If I were a praying person, I would pray that Oklahoma had at least one senator with a lick of sense. Coburn will face the voters again in 2010.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Health care live chat tonight @ six

Congressman Anthony Weiner, a New York Democrat who is a proponent of a strong public option, is conducting a live chat on health care reform tonight at seven eastern time (which would be six o'clock out here in Oklahoma).

Rep. Weiner says:
There's a lot to discuss. Some have said that progressives shouldn't support the current Senate proposal. Without the public option, they say, there's not enough to provide genuine competition to insurers.

Others have said that we should focus our energies on how to improve whatever emerges from the Senate. Once the Senate passes a bill, it will go to a conference committee to be reconciled with the House bill. That process could be a real opportunity to move the Senate bill closer to the one we passed in the House.

Looks interesting. If I weren't working tonight, I would log in and check it out.

That super-thin model on the cover was probably airbrushed to look that way

Womens eNews has the details.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bad news from DC, good news from Oklahoma

Blogger Robin Marty tells all in a reproductive rights news roundup at An Oklahoma law that would require women seeking abortions to answer more than 30 invasive questions has been blocked again for the time being. Marty also has more information on the abortion compromise that gained the vote of conservative Democrat Ben Nelson for the health insurance reform bill. This is the compromise that allowed Democrats to win a key procedural vote at one o'clock this morning, virtually guaranteeing passage of the Senate bill by Christmas Eve.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Feminists condemn Senate health bill compromise

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid apparently has succeeded in cobbling together a filibuster-proof health insurance bill that can pass the Senate before Christmas. In the process, he has made a bill of questionable benefit even worse, according to John Nichols at Among the changes weakening the bill were concessions to right-wing Democratic Senator Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
To get Nelson's vote, Reid had to agree to restrict the availability of abortions in insurance sold in newly created exchanges.

"I know this is hard for some of my colleagues to accept and I appreciate their right to disagree," Nelson said of the anti-choice language. "But I would not have voted for this bill without these provisions."

The question now is whether supporters of abortion rights can -- or should -- back a bill that not only disrespects but disregards a woman's right to choose.

While President Obama made a bizarre statement Saturday about how he was "pleased that recently added amendments have made this landmark bill even stronger," the co-chairs of the Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus signaled deep disappointment with the Senate compromise.
The compromise has also angered mainstream feminist organizations that have supported the health insurance reform bill up until now. Groups opposing the compromise include the National Partnership for Women and Families, EMILY's List, and NARAL. The National Organization for Women has gone so far as to oppose passage of the health insurance bill if the anti-choice amendment remains.

Over at RH Reality Check, blogger Rebecca Sive is also calling for defeat of the health insurance bill in its current form:
If the bottom line in all this is that we won't be getting healthcare reform, but we might be getting healthcare finance reform, is it too much to ask that the Democratic women members of the House and Senate insist on eliminating any kind of two-tiered system for paying for abortions-one for the rich and one for the poor. Is it too much to ask that they say to do otherwise isn't reform of any kind; it's the same bad business as usual, and we won't have it?

I can understand someone who believes abortion is wrong and must be prohibited under all circumstances; hence, my respect for Senator Nelson. What I don't understand is women who are complicit in the use of government power to deny their poorer sisters access to the healthcare they, the richer sisters, get. This looks like what we used to call in the 70s "identifying with the oppressor." It's still a very bad idea.

So, here's this week's talking point for the Democratic women Senators:

Have the courage of your convictions: Stand-up, and say what Ben Nelson said: "There isn't any real way to move away from your principle on abortion, and we won't."
Update: Thanks to Feminist Peace Network on Facebook for linking to this explanation by Washington Post blogger Ezra Klein on how the latest anti-choice compromise is supposed to work:
The basic compromise is that states can impose the Stupak rules on their own exchanges, but the rules will not be imposed by the federal legislation. I've been assured that at least one plan in each state will cover abortion, but I'm still trying to get clarification on how that works (my hazy understanding is that at least one of national non-profit plans, and probably more, will include abortion coverage, and they'll be offered in all states).

Saturday, December 19, 2009

US lesbian soldier seeks asylum in Canada

Womens eNews reports that after suffering through months of anti-lesbian verbal and physical abuse, Private Bethany Smith received the anonymous death threat that convinced her to leave her post at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky in 2007, and head for Canada in the hopes of receiving asylum there.
"It said that they were going to break into the supply room and get the keys to my room and beat me to death in my bed," Smith said, adding that the letter came only a couple months after she learned the Army was deploying her to Afghanistan. "It was at that point that I knew I was more afraid of the people who were supposed to be on my side than people we were supposed to be fighting overseas."

More than 12,000 service members have lost their jobs because of the U.S. military's so-called "don't ask, don't tell" policy. A disproportionate number of those discharges are women, according to 2008 statistics gathered by the Washington-based Servicemembers Legal Defense Network from the government under the Freedom of Information Act.
After two years in Canada, Smith is still fighting to receive asylum. In November, Canadian Federal Court Justice Yves de Montigny ruled that the country's refugee board should reconsider Smith's case, which it had earlier denied.

The entire article is short and well worth reading.

Friday, December 18, 2009

I couldn't bring myself to sign this

I recently received an email from NARAL Pro-Choice America: asking me to sign a petition to moderate Republican Senator Olympia Snowe of Maine. The petition reads as follows:
We, the undersigned, ask you to vote for the health-reform bill and stand firm against attempts to block women's access to insurance coverage for abortion.

Health reform is too important to be held up by the anti-choice politics of Sen. Nelson. You have shown courage, leadership, and independence by voting against anti-choice amendments in the Senate Finance Committee and voting to move the bill forward. We ask you to stand with us again. We're counting on you, Sen. Snowe. Thank you.
And you know, I almost signed the darned thing. But then I remembered that the health care reform that I would be urging her to back has no public option, no Medicare buy-in for people 55-64, no meaningful method to control the unconscionable waste and price-gouging of our for-profit medical system. And I just couldn't bring myself to support that. Am I wrong? What do you think? If you would like to sign the NARAL petition, you can do so here.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Not the climate change I was hoping for

Reclaiming Medusa on Facebook for linking to this post at by Naomi Klein. As I write this, the Unites Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen has been teetering on the brink of failure. In order to get the conference moving again, the Obama administration -- in the person of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton -- is pushing to seriously weaken the Kyoto Protocol in return for the financial assistance poor countries desperately need to cope with the effects of climate change that they've already suffered.

This offer is being spun very differently in the mainstream media -- for instance, see this version of the story in the New York Times. In that version of the story, the US offer of aid may save the climate talks from failure, by forcing developing nations -- including China -- to be more "transparent" about its level of carbon dioxide emissions.

The official UN home page for the conference has cross-posted this article from the Associated Press, noting that President Obama is extremely unlikely to promise any significant reduction in US emissions of greenhouse gases.  Western European nations will likewise be unwilling to make serious cuts in their own emissions. Developing nations have called on western developed nations to cut their greenhouse gas emissions at least 34 percent from their 2005 levels by 2020.

The situation puts a person in mind of the debate here at home over healthcare reform. Once again, the Obama administration will try to achieve a cosmetic change and then repackage it as substantive progress.

Lucinda Marshall of Reclaiming Medusa also has a blog called Feminist Peace Network, on which she has posted this interesting and comprehensive set of links to news and analysis about the climate change conference.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Senate to take up single payer reports that the Senate will take up Bernie Sanders's single-payer health plan today.

Update 12/17/09: Senate Republicans used extreme obstructionist tactics to completely block discussion of Sanders's amendment to the health care bill. See this post by John Nichols of The Nation, crossposted at

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Throwing in the towel on health care reform...

That's what John Nichols at says Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid is doing.
So, as it stands now, Reid appears to be ready to try and pass a health-care "reform" bill that includes neither a public option or and expansion of Medicare to cover millions of uninsured Americans in the 55-to-64 age bracket.

In other words, the legislation Reid will try to get passed before Christmas is not health-care reform any longer, it is insurance reform.

And even that is giving the proposal more credit than is probably deserves. The legislation expands access to health care to millions of Americans. That's a good thing -- perhaps even good enough to merit the support of reformers who are determined to get more care to more Americans. But it does so by setting up a scheme that uses scant federal resources to dramatically enrich insurance and pharmaceutical companies. And it fails to establish the government-backed competition, in the form of a public option of Medicare expansion, that might have kept insurance companies in line.

Thus, at the very best, just half the goal of serious reform is met. More Americans will have health-care. But that progress will be purchased at enormous, and potentially unsustainable, cost to the taxpayers.

Just read this guy's post, okay?

Writing at, Mike Elk explains why My Grandmother Takes a Stand for Gay Marriage in Church Despite Being a Glenn Beck Follower

Monday, December 14, 2009

Worse things than infidelity

Dave Zirin at actually has something thought-provoking to say about the Tiger Woods mess.

For example:
This is what we call chickens roosting. The least attractive part of Woods's persona--including all recent peccadilloes--is his complete absence of conscience when it comes to peddling his billion-dollar brand. As we have been writing for years here at The Nation, Tiger's partnership with the habitual toxic waste dumpers Chevron and the financial criminals in Dubai deserves far more scrutiny from the sports press than it's received (none).

Then there was the Philippines. As detailed in the documentary The Golf War, the Filipino government, in conjunction with the military and developers, attempted in the late nineties to remove thousands of peasants from their land, known as Hacienda Looc, to build a golf course. They resisted and three movement leaders ended up dead. Where was Woods? He was brought in by the government to play in an exhibition match and sell golf (not explicitly the course, wink, wink), all for an undisclosed fee. The government called it "The Day of the Tiger" and followed his--assumedly G-rated--actions for twenty-four hours. The Golf War filmmakers show clips of Woods saying to kids, "I want all of you to learn and grow from this experience. Invariably you're gonna learn life, gonna learn about life because golf is a microcosm of life." Meanwhile the developers of the course were thrilled at the PR boost his appearance gave their project. Macky Maceda, a vice-president for Fil-Estate Land, Incorporated, the golf course developer in Hacienda Looc, commented, "Oh, I think it's going to be a great picker upper for the entire country in general. Everybody's feeling kind of down with this economic crisis. And Tiger is just, I know it, he's going to give everybody a good feeling."

Senate health insurance bill gets worse and worse

Chris Bowers at Open Left has the details.

MAPS citizens panel won't have veto

According to, Mayor Mick Cornett says that there is no need to give a citizens advisory panel veto power over how money from the recently approved MAPS 3 proposal is spent. Former Mayor Kirk Humphreys says that the panel needs veto power in order to be effective in its work.

OKC residents wishing to serve on the oversight board can send a resume of no more than two pages to

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Give war a chance?

I've been trying to fight off a cold, and didn't have a chance to read this thoroughly, but Paul Rosenberg has an analysis of President Obama's War-Is-Peace Prize speech over at Open Left. It looks really interesting, and I'm going to read it sometime soon when I have some mental energy.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Lesbian wins Houston mayoral runoff

AMERICAblog reports that open lesbian Annise Parker has triumphed in a runoff election to be elected mayor of Houston, despite being subjected to homophobic attacks.

According to AMERICAblog, both Parker and her opponent in the nonpartisan runoff election, Gene Locke, are Democrats. According to the Wikipedia entry on Parker, the 53-year-old Parker worked for more than 20 years in the oil and gas industry, and has a long record of involvement in mainstream civic organizations. She was elected to an at-large position on the Houston City Council in 1997 and served on the council until being elected city controller in 2003, a post she has held since that time. She has been with her life partner, Kathy Hubbard, since 1990.

Other than the fact that Parker has been open about her lesbianism, she sounds like a fairly conventional mainstream politician. But also according to Wikipedia, "she co-owned Inklings Bookshop with business partner Pokey Anderson from the late 1980s until 1997." I thought that the name of the bookstore sounded familiar, and a bit more searching confirmed that Inklings is or was a feminist bookstore.

Nevertheless, the LA Times blog describes Parker as a "conservative," which is probably an accurate description.

Friday, December 11, 2009

I don't know what to think of this

Yesterday I received an email (as "a member of Hillary Clinton's online community") inviting me to join Frankly, I don't know what to think of this invitation. The website itself looks useful and interesting. When I looked at it , the posts had such themes as fair trade, and stopping the Stupak Amendment. There was a video of Hillary Clinton addressing the fourth World Conference on Women in 1995 in Beijing, telling attendees that "women's rights are human rights." There was a link to an Equal Pay Action Kit.

So what's not to like?

This little paragraph from the invitation email gave me pause:
Here at, we're proud of Hillary's leadership as Secretary of State: working to rebuild our global alliances and serving as a strong voice for human rights. Our progressive agenda includes supporting these new directions in foreign policy, and also focuses on economic and work-family issues here at home, including the need for health care reform and new initiatives to combat the too-high rate of unemployment. We are advocates for an America engaged and active, domestically and internationally, supporting policies that truly reflect our values.
I couldn't help but wondering if these "new directions in foreign policy" include the sending of 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan by the administration that Clinton is part of. And I'm sorry, sisters, but I can't sign up to support that.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What happened to a family that didn't want an abortion, but needed one

AlterNet has cross-posted a story from about an anti-choice Catholic couple that found compassion and help from Dr. George Tiller when they discovered that the mother was carrying a baby that would be unable to live.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Senate health bill negotiations more complicated than you've heard

First, the good news.

Bridget Crawford at Feminist Law Professors reports that
The Nelson-Hatch amendment (the Senate version of the Stupak ban) has been rejected in the Senate by a 54-45 vote. The roll call result is here. The amendment would have placed significant restrictions on private health insurance coverage for abortion services.
Then the more complicated news.

The mainstream news report that I heard when I woke up this morning said that the public option had been removed from the Senate health care bill by a "gang of ten" made up of five liberal and five conservative senators. Jason Leopold at reports that the situation is actually more complicated than that.

Disappointing, but not necessarily surprising reports that Oklahoma City voters passed the MAPS 3 sales tax extension with more than 54 percent of voters favoring the measure.
The Yes for MAPS watch party, held in a Cox Convention Center ballroom, featured giant projection screens and flat screen televisions showing election coverage, a lighting system projecting colorful designs around the room and an ice sculpture adorning one of several food tables.

As election results came in, partygoers cheered while dining on upscale foods and vast selections of artisan breads, cheeses, meats and fresh vegetables.

A person can't help wondering if there was any cake left over for the rest of us to eat.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Remembering the Montreal Massacre

Unlike Lilian Nattel, I have a strong (if somewhat blurry) memory of finding out about the Montreal Massacre that took place twenty years ago today. But I didn't remember that today was the 20th anniversary of that catastrophic event until I read Natel's thoughtful analysis of what happened that day at the Polytechnique Institute when Marc Lepine walked in gunning for feminists and killed 14 women engineering students. has a link to Catherine Porter's "Lessons of the Montreal Massacre," at the online edition of the Toronto Star, and also a link to an edgier analysis at Bastard Logic. Historiann and Feminist Law Professors also have remembrances.

Finally, Peggy Seeger's song, "I'm Gonna Be an Engineer," always seems like a fitting memorial for the victims and survivors of the Montreal Massacre. Here is a version sung by her brother Pete in concert in the late 1970s.

Why I'm voting "no" on MAPS 3

On Tuesday, I'm voting against Oklahoma City's MAPS 3 proposal because the tax used to fund it -- the sales tax -- falls hardest on poor and working class people, who will benefit least from the projects that the tax will pay for.

MAPS stands for Metropolitan Area Projects.  The Oklahoma Gazette has a summary of the current proposal. MAPS 3 is a big, $777 million Christmas tree with something for everyone. It seems to have been constructed with the obvious hope of  getting people who have different beliefs about which projects are appropriate to vote for the whole proposal in order to get the parts they like.

Some of the proposed projects include a downtown park, a downtown streetcar system, bicycling and walking trails, 70 miles of sidewalks throughout the city, and aquatics centers for senior citizens. Other projects include improvements to the Oklahoma State Fairgrounds and new boating and recreational facilities on the Oklahoma River. I would be inclined to vote for many of those projects -- although I'd rather see public transit dollars spent on improving the transit system citywide, which is currently almost unusable.

But in order to get any of those projects, I would also have to vote to fund a new $280 convention center, which I consider a silly and offensive waste of money. It's a gift to wealthy downtown business owners from the rest of us, who can't really afford it. In the short term, this project would create some construction jobs. In the long term, it would create low-end minimum wage jobs with few or no benefits. And this one project would take up more than a third of the entire amount of money raised by the proposal.

I'm figuring that any one who is reading this blog post probably cares what I think about this topic, but I'm also figuring that you might like other sources of information. Here are some sources that I checked out: has an interesting history of MAPS, which began in 1993 with a "temporary" one-cent sales tax. The tax has never expired, because voters have repeatedly approved extensions of the tax for new projects.The first set of  MAPS projects has often been credited with revitalizing Oklahoma City's downtown in the 1990s. MAPS for Kids was approved in 2001, and the sales tax collected under that proposal for seven years seems to be funding much needed capital improvements for metropolitan area schools. Most recently the tax has gone for renovations to the Ford Center in order to draw a professional basketball team to town.

To read arguments in favor of MAPS3, you can go to or Propents have also produced a fairly tedious YouTube video.

Several groups oppose the extension of the one cent sales tax. There is the Campaign Against MAPS, which links to a website called Kill the Maps Tax. There is a Facebook page for Not This MAPS. Some opponents of MAPS seem to come from the extreme-right "teabagger" perspective. The blog for Kill the Maps Tax links to the site of radio talk show host Mike Shannon, who also seems to represent a hard right-wing perspective.

One piece of information that made a big impression on me was something not directly related to the MAPS controversy at all. This report from the OK Policy Blog, describes the way taxes in the state of Oklahoma affect different groups of people. That blog post links to an article from the Tulsa World, which shows that poor people are the ones who pay the highest percentage of their income in sales taxes, while better off people pay a higher percentage of their income in income taxes.

I do have a small amount of ambivalence about my "no" vote on Tuesday. Some of the projects are worthwhile. I don't trust the organized opposition to the tax extension, much of which is based on a far-right political perspective that I don't want to support. But the Christmas-tree approach to the sales tax measure is bad public policy. And the sales tax used to fund the proposal would force poor people buying the necessities of life to subsidize wealthy developers.

I would be willing to vote "yes" on a property tax or a graduated city wage tax to fund projects that benefited the entire population, but I'm voting "no" on MAPS 3.

UN treaty proves powerful force for women's rights

Inter Press Service describes how the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has become "an increasingly successful tool for challenging discriminatory laws and battling violence against women and girls." CEDAW was adopted 30 years ago this month by the UN General Assembly.
The 186 countries that that have both signed and ratified the Convention pledge to ensure equal recognition, exercise and enjoyment of human rights by women without discrimination. Only the Holy See, Iran, Nauru, Palau, Somalia, Sudan, Tonga and the United States have not signed and ratified the Convention.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Mammography not always a smashing success

Thanks to FeministPeaceNetwork on Facebook for a link to a commentary on the breast cancer screening controversy by the ever-wonderful Barbara Ehrenreich.

A federal government advisory panel recently proposed that women not receive routine mammograms before age 50, and to receive mammograms only every other year after that. These new proposals quickly became controversial, with many people, including feminist activists, charging that they were an effort to save money at the expense of women's lives. Ehrenreich argues that feminists should embrace the new guidelines, using her own experience as a cancer survivor to illustrate:
One response to the new guidelines has been that numbers don’t matter -- only individuals do -- and if just one life is saved, that’s good enough. So OK, let me cite my own individual experience. In 2000, at the age of 59, I was diagnosed with Stage II breast cancer on the basis of one dubious mammogram followed by a really bad one, followed by a biopsy. Maybe I should be grateful that the cancer was detected in time, but the truth is, I’m not sure whether these mammograms detected the tumor or, along with many earlier ones, contributed to it: One known environmental cause of breast cancer is radiation, in amounts easily accumulated through regular mammography.

And why was I bothering with this mammogram in the first place? I had long ago made the decision not to spend my golden years undergoing cancer surveillance, but I wanted to get my Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) prescription renewed, and the nurse practitioner wouldn’t do that without a fresh mammogram.

As for the HRT, I was taking it because I had been convinced, by the prevailing medical propaganda, that HRT helps prevent heart disease and Alzheimer’s. In 2002, we found out that HRT is itself a risk factor for breast cancer (as well as being ineffective at warding off heart disease and Alzheimer’s), but we didn’t know that in 2000. So did I get breast cancer because of the HRT -- and possibly because of the mammograms themselves -- or did HRT lead to the detection of a cancer I would have gotten anyway?
Ehrenreich also links to a post by noted breast cancer specialist Dr. Susan Love, explaining the new guidelines. Love notes that the guidelines don't say that no women under 50 should receive mammograms, but that the test shouldn't be done routinely. It should be an individual decision made by a woman and her doctor with an understanding of both the benefits and risks:
One key shift has been in our understanding of the biology of breast cancer. We used to think there was just one kind of cancer that grew at a steady pace; that when it reached a certain size, it spread to the rest of the body. As a result, it seemed to make sense that we could save lives if a screening test could identify the cancer while it was still "early," before it had spread. That's how we developed the notion of early detection. And it works, sometimes.

In the best of hands, mammographic screening in women over 50 will reduce a woman's risk of dying from breast cancer by 30%. That is a lot, but it is not 100%. Why? It turns out that breast cancers are not all the same. There are at least five kinds, with different growth rates and levels of aggression. Some are so aggressive that they will have spread before they are visible on a mammogram or form a lump. Some are very slow growing or may not even have the ability to spread, so there is no benefit from finding them early. This is because of the biology of the disease, not the limitations of screening.

One of the reasons that mammography is a less effective tool in young women is that they have a higher rate of these aggressive tumors. Younger women also have breast tissue that is more sensitive to the carcinogenic effects of low-dose radiation. Calculations by a research team in Britain published in the British Journal of Cancer in 2005 suggest that it is possible for women to develop cancer because of the cumulative radiation from yearly mammograms starting at 40 or younger. Finally, mammograms are generally less accurate in younger women who have dense breast tissue, which can mask a cancer. Thus the balance of risk versus benefit is not as clear.
Ehrenreich says, at the end of her post, that what we really need is a new women's health movement that is willing and able to ask hard questions about the causes and treatments of breast cancer, and not falling for the propaganda of what she calls "the cancer industrial complex." I wholeheartedly agree.

Empire assimilates Obama

One of my favorite blogs, Can it happen here? has an excellent analysis.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Troop surge will "magnify the crime against Afghanistan" has reposted an eloquent opinion piece from The Guardian/UK by Malalai Joya, a feminist activist and former member of the Afghan Parliament. Joya says:

After months of waiting, President Obama is about to announce the new US strategy for Afghanistan. His speech may be long awaited, but few are expecting any surprise: it seems clear he will herald a major escalation of the war. In doing so he will be making something worse than a mistake. It is a continuation of a war crime against the suffering people of my country.

I have said before that by installing warlords and drug traffickers in power in Kabul, the US and Nato have pushed us from the frying pan to the fire. Now Obama is pouring fuel on these flames, and this week's announcement of upwards of 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan will have tragic consequences.

Do yourself a favor. Read the whole thing.

An anniversary to celebrate

On Facebook, I'm a fan of the Southern Poverty Law Center, and that is how I found out that this week is the anniversary of the first sex discrimination case against the federal government, filed by the SPLC back in 1972. In Frontiero v. Richardson, the SPLC successfully challenged an Air Force policy that automatically granted medical, dental, and housing benefits to the wives of married servicemen -- but required servicewomen to prove their husbands relied on them for more than half of their support.