Lucinda Marshall

Can the BP Spill Cause Miscarriages and Birth Defects?

Imagine that you are a woman living on or near the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps, you are pregnant or hope to be soon. And, perhaps, your partner is one of the fishermen who has been helping to clean up from the BP oil disaster. He comes home at night coughing and barely able to breath and his skin is irritated from contact with the oil.

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Why Is the CDC Recommending Lysol For H1N1?

A few days ago, I saw an ad on television proclaiming that using Lysol will keep your countertops safe from H1N1 germs. This sounded hugely useful to me in case someone with the flu starts hacking and wiping snot all over your kitchen and bathroom because you certainly can’t inoculate a countertop and you wouldn’t want the poor thing to get sick. It also occurred to me that if there is a shortage of vaccine (although from news reports in recent days, it sounds like exactly the opposite is true and there is glut of the vaccine because apparently enough people aren’t properly scared), maybe we could all just spray ourselves with Lysol.

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The Biggest Breast Cancer Risk Factor That No One Is Talking About

During October, women are bombarded with media telling us what we can do to stop breast cancer. Article after article after television human interest segment informs us about personal risk factors such as smoking and being overweight (although 70 percent of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer have none of these factors) and about genetic risks (which only account for 10 percent of breast cancers.) We are bombarded with stories about the importance of getting mammograms and other tests. Then there are the survivor stories (usually about women much younger, whiter and cover-girl prettier than the average breast cancer survivor) that pull at our heartstrings. But there is very little mention of environmental factors such as auto exhaust, and chemicals like parabens and phthalates that we are exposed to every day.

The most deafening silence, however, is about radiation, which is a 100 percent known cause of cancer. We are exposed to radiation in a variety of ways, through X-rays, CT scans and mammograms, but also by living near a nuclear power plant or having been exposed to weaponry that uses depleted uranium.

Leuren Moret is geoscientist who has been working for a number of years to raise awareness about the dangers of radiation, an issue she became concerned about after hearing Native American women who live near areas where nuclear weapons have been tested talk about cancer and other health problems they are experiencing and by a visit to Nagasaki and Hiroshima, Japan. In this interview, she talks about what we know about the relationship between radiation and breast cancer.

Lucinda Marshall: In your recent article published in Namaste magazine, "Populations Exposed to Environmental Uranium: Increased Risk of Infertility and Reproductive Cancers," you wrote about a scientific study that found that "radiation is the only known cause of breast cancer in mice" and about findings that show that Navajo women who live near uranium mining operations have very high rates of breast cancer. What does that tell us about the connection between uranium and radiation and cancer?

Leuren Moret: The scientific study that found "radiation is the only known cause of breast cancer in mice" was conducted at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, home of the Manhattan Project -- the World War II atomic bomb development project which produced the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs -- and where they have been studying the biological/environmental effects of radiation for 68 years. After billions of dollars in research funds, however, they could never identify the cause of breast cancer in women.

The newest published peer-reviewed study, by a Navajo researcher, provides the scientific evidence published by U.S. government sources that low levels of uranium in drinking water, below EPA drinking water standards, is an estrogen and hormone disruptor. The animal studies are important because we have the same hormones and similar estrogen responses as animals.

Before 1945, cancer mortality was very rare. Large increases in cancer mortality in the past 100 years begin with the Hiroshima and Nagasaki atomic bombs dropped on Japan in 1945. A Japanese government map of the major causes of death in Japan from 1899 to 2004 shows that cancer mortality increased rapidly after 1945. With the introduction of each new nuclear technology since 1945 -- atmospheric testing, nuclear power plants, depleted uranium -- it is obvious that ionizing radiation is a major cause of cancer globally, and uranium is a major radioactive component of nuclear weapons, including depleted uranium weapons systems introduced to the battlefield in 1991 in Gulf War I.

This breast cancer map from Centers for Disease Control data (see below illustration) identifies that within a 100-mile radius of nuclear reactors is where two-thirds of all U.S. breast cancer deaths occurred between 1985 and 1989. The map (see below illustration) of nuclear power plants in the U.S. identifies them as the major cause of breast cancer in the U.S., as well as nuclear weapons labs in New Mexico, Idaho, Washington and California. This is further confirmed by the breast cancer clusters identified in Japan and California, which occurred where it rained the day the Chernobyl radiation cloud passed over and the rain deposited the fission products in the environment.

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How Effective Is the HPV Vaccine?

When Merck and Co. introduced Gardisil, the media acknowledged that there were some concerns about the safety, effectiveness and cost of the vaccine, but the concern quickly died, and the media for the most part allowed itself to be sucked up into the excitement that finally there was a vaccine that could prevent cancer. After I wrote a piece addressing the issues mentioned above as well as Merck's lobbying and marketing blitz ("Making the HPV Vaccine Mandatory is Bad Medicine") along with several blog posts here (see below for links), I took a great deal of flak, much of it from feminist friends who wondered how I could possibly bad-mouth this pharmaceutical wonder that might save so many lives.

The answer quite bluntly had to do with looking beyond the very well-funded Merck hype and examining the facts. But beyond myself and a few others, the media did not make much effort to investigate whether the hype was justified or appropriate.

Last week however, The New York Times ran several articles by Elizabeth Rosenthal (here and here) that finally address the points that I had raised. Rosenthal writes that, according to the New England Journal of Medicine,

"Two vaccines against cervical cancer are being widely used without sufficient evidence about whether they are worth their high cost or even whether they will effectively stop women from getting the disease."

Shifting the Blame in Gender-Motivated Violence

Anna Greer has a very thought-provoking piece in Wo! Magazine about the use of the passive voice in describing gender-based violence. She writes:

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The Silencing of Tracy Barker

Heart over at Women’s Space has an excellent, comprehensive report on Tracy Barker another Halliburton/KBR employee who experienced hrorendous sexual harassment and assault while working in Iraq. The blog takes a hard look not only at the facts of the case but also why it has received relatively little attention compared to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones,
“I don’t know why Jamie Leigh Jones, who spent only four days in Iraq, has received the amount of publicity and support she’s received, compared with Barker who spent over a year there in both Baghdad and Basra. I can’t help but wonder whether it is because, as Barker was told, “Gang rape sells, not sexual assault or ‘just’ rape.� I wonder whether it might be, in part, because Barker is French Basque/Spanish and is hence a woman of color, therefore not the kind of complainant the blonde American Jamie Leigh Jones is, or because Jones’s father was the kind of man who could gain the immediate attention of a Republican legislator with a quick phone call, securing his daughter’s release within three days of the attacks on her. I wonder if it might be, in part, because Barker is a mother of five, instead of a young woman in her 20s with no children. I wonder whether it was because Barker saw too much, knew too much, including about the attacks of Halliburton employees on Iraqi women as well as Halliburton employees. I wonder if, despite Mokhtare’s own admissions, Barker going to his room – even though as part of her job, it was up to her to address the problem he said he had with his air conditioner � made her claims less interesting or credible somehow. I suspect, in part, it might be because at times, Barker has seemed to castigate and blame herself, to express guilt and remorse for being unable in her drugged exhaustion to fight Craig Grabein off when he raped her, in the way, women often blame ourselves, as though it is up to us to keep men from raping us, instead of up to men to stop raping women.
Whatever the reason, the silencing of Tracy Barker is an outrage. Her story must be heard, and she must receive justice. To that end, I have written this post. Please, spread the word.�
Kudos to Heart for putting all of this together and asking the necessary questions.

Dyncorp Used Armored Car To Transport Prostitutes in Iraq

Wow–I know I sure feel safer knowing that my tax dollars were used to transport prostitutes rather than protect someone on a dangerous mission (albeit that I probably would be quite opposed to whatever the mission was, but that’s another topic):

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The Abortion Conversation We Should Be Having

Far too often, I have the nagging feeling that we're having the wrong discussion. About what? Pretty much darned near everything but none more so than the endless pro-life vs. pro-choice debate.

During a recent community conversation in Louisville, KY, Loretta Ross, the National Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective offered what I think is a far more productive framework for discussing the abortion issue. Ross posits that abortion is only part of the issue of reproductive health and rights, which she points out include not only the right not to have a child but also the right to have a child.

On their website, SisterSong defines reproductive justice as an intersectional theory that integrates reproductive health and social justice emerging from the "experiences of women of color whose communities experience reproductive oppression. It is based on the understanding that the impact on women of color of race, class and gender are not additive but integrative, producing this paradigm of intersectionality." The site also points out that,

"The intersectional theory of Reproductive Justice is described as the complete physical, mental, spiritual, political, social, environmental and economic well-being of women and girls, girls, based on the full achievement and protection of women's human rights. It offers a new perspective on reproductive issue advocacy, pointing out that as Indigenous women and women of color it is important to fight equally for (1) the right to have a child; (2) the right not to have a child; and (3) the right to parent the children we have, as well as to control our birthing options, such as midwifery. We also fight for the necessary enabling conditions to realize these rights."

Obviously that language goes far beyond the run-of-the-mill pro/anti abortion rhetoric. By using this framework, we can start to see abortion not as an isolated issue of choice, but part of a far more complex set of issues. And the truth is, despite Roe v. Wade, "choice", like so many other choices is a right of privilege. If you are poor, or live far from a clinic, there is not much of a choice.

Ross also stressed that abortion needs to be seen as a human rights issue and points to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which declares the right of every person to live free of slavery. And being forced to bear children is most certainly a form of slavery as Ross is quick to point out.

The flip side of the abortion rights issue, the right to have children is every bit as important a matter within the framework of Reproductive Justice. Although it is an issue in this country, it is even more so in less developed nations that have high maternal mortality rates.

Every year, more than half a million women die of complications of pregnancy and childbirth as a result of economic, cultural and political injustice. More than 99% of those deaths are preventable. Jane Roberts, co-founder of 34 Million Friends of UNFPA points out that. "Lack of family planning commodities and of health care workers to educate about and furnish family planning to eager consumers is the root cause of the 40 million abortions which take place every year, half of which are risky, illegal, unsafe. If the world really cared for its women, this would not be happening. About 70,000 women die during the abortion or the immediate aftermath, millions more suffer temporary or permanent disability. Then they are "compassionately" offered PAC (post-abortion care) by our government and others."

Yet as a recent U.N. report points out, the "sharp decline in international funding for reproductive health is threatening global efforts to reduce poverty, improve health and empower women worldwide." According to Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, executive director of the U.N. Population (UNFPA), "The result is increasing numbers of unwanted pregnancies, rising rates of unsafe abortion, and increased risks to the lives of women and children." Obaid also noted that, "research indicates that ensuring access to family planning alone would reduce maternal deaths by 20 to 35 percent and child deaths by 20 percent."

As Ross points out, it isn't that choice is not an issue, but rather that it is one of many connected reproductive justice issues that need to be addressed. And that is the conversation we should be having.

Iraq War Vet Accused of Raping a Three Month Old Baby

This gruesome report from Jackson, Michigan serves as a reminder that the sexual violence and the blatant disregard for the lives of civilians, particularly women and children, that is an inevitable part of militarism does not end when soldiers leave the battlefield:
"A former Army paratrooper who served two tours of duty in Iraq has been ordered tried on charges of raping and critically injuring a 3-month-old girl.
Kirk Coleman is charged with first-degree criminal sexual conduct and first-degree child abuse, charges that carry up to life in prison.The girl sustained brain damage and 17 broken bones and is undergoing therapy. District Judge R. Darryl Mazur ruled Tuesday there's enough evidence to warrant a trial.
Coleman allegedly told investigators he blacked out after drinking heavily and taking pain killers and awoke to find the injured baby in her crib."
Unfortunately, as reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo indicate, we are likely to see more of these cases as soldiers come back from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Military Provides Funeral With Full Honors for Rapist

Anne K. Ream has an excellent Op Ed in the Los Angeles Times that examines whether a man who is convicted of rape in a civilian court should still be entitled to military burial with full honors because he was honorably discharged from the military prior to when he committed the rape.
"To be clear, changing the military burials policy would be a largely symbolic act. The Department of Justice conservatively estimates that fewer than 40% of all rapes are reported to authorities, demonstrating how infrequently sexual predators are held accountable. The military in particular has a long history of downplaying or decriminalizing the violence against women committed by men in its ranks. A 2003 Veterans Administration report on military sexual trauma estimated that 60% of women in the Reserves and National Guard experienced rape, sexual assault or sexual harassment while on active duty. Defense Department figures show that there were nearly 3,000 accusations of sexual assault in the military in 2006, up 24% from 2005."
"It is tempting, and far too easy, to maintain that the military exists in a realm separate from the civilian world. We tell ourselves that the moral ambiguities demonstrated by soldiers who have gone to battle on our behalf cannot be understood by, or be subject to the laws that govern, the rest of us. But the policies our military establishes to respond to violence against women are not merely abstractions. They are expressions of the military's values, and our own.
In the wake of mass violation of women and girls during the conflicts in Kosovo and Rwanda, rape and sexual violence were for the first time codified as distinct crimes under international law. How telling then, and how troubling, that our country's policy on military burials is at odds with international standards the United States worked to establish."

WaPo Columnist Blames US Feminists for Oppression of Saudi Women

We had so much fun playing the feminist blame game a few weeks ago, that we thought oh what the heck, let's do it again. This week's installment comes from the WaPo's Ann Applebaum who reminds us that the oppression of Saudi women is the fault of American feminists:

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Halliburton/KBR Must Answer for Multiple Allegations of Sexual Abuse of Employees

I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that the military contractor KBR does not tolerate sexual harassment. Just ask them. Here in all its glory is the memo they sent to their employees disputing the facts in the lawsuit brought by former employee Jamie Leigh Jones alleging that the military contractor locked her in a room for more than 24 hours after she was gang-raped and tried to cover up the facts of the case-an act that should certainly be called something a lot worse than sexual harassment (see here and here for more on the case).

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Saudis Threaten Rape Victim With Additional Sentence if She Appeals Verdict

This post, written by Lucinda Marshall, originally appeared on Feminist Peace Network

The Saudis are continuing to piously justify the recent sentencing of a 19 year old victim of a gang rape to 6 months in jail and 200 lashes for idling in a car with men who were not her relatives, issuing the following statement, according to the Toronto Star
""We reiterate that judicial rulings in this virtuous country ... are based on God's book and the traditions of his Prophet and that no ruling is issued without being based on evidence," said the statement carried by official news agency SPA."
More ominously, the court has said that if the woman appeals the sentence and continues to use the media to raise awareness of the case, it is possible that the sentence will be increased, giving the clear message that the Saudis also consider it a crime to shed light on their deeply misogynist laws.
"The woman's husband has told local media they would appeal, even though the judge had warned that the sentence could be increased again if she loses the appeal.

Bush Accepts Violence Against Women as Long as US Allies Inflict It

This post, written by Lucinda Marshall, originally appeared on Feminist Peace Network

As journalist Mary Kay Blakely pointed out many years ago, sometimes there simply aren't two sides to a story. That is most certainly true in the case of the 19 year old victim of a gang rape who was recently sentenced by a Saudi court to 6 months in jail and 200 lashes. Her crime? Riding in a car with men who were not her relatives. There cannot be any acceptable cultural or legal justification for the violation of human rights, even when the country committing the violation is a U.S. ally.

CNN apparently didn't get that memo if their recent "Saudi: Why We Punished Rape Victim" is any indication. According to the report, the Saudi Ambassador to the U.S. told CNN that Saudi Arabia,
"welcomes constructive criticism and insisted that the parties' rights were preserved in the judicial process."We would like to state that the system has ensured them the right to object to the ruling and to request an appeal," the statement continued, "without resorting to sensationalism through the media that may not be fair or may not grant anyone any rights, and instead may negatively affect all the other parties involved in the case."
The statement also described the progress of the woman's case and explained that it was heard by a panel of three judges, not one judge "as mentioned in some media reports.""
"It said the case was treated normally through regular court procedures, and that the woman, her male companion and the perpetrators of the crime all agreed in court to the sentences handed down.""
And their other choice would have been???

The article goes on to say that U.S. officials have expressed dismay, but not directly to the Saudis. Gee, that is helpful.

Breast Cancer Sells

October means falling leaves, ghosts and goblins, and pink, lots of Pepto-Pink as we observe National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). From Campbell's Soup to Breast Cancer Barbie, it seems as if just about everyone has jumped on the pinkified bandwagon. And although October is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM), we'd much rather be aware of breasts, even sick ones, than talk about black eyes and things that aren't supposed to go on behind closed doors. That point is reflected in women's magazines, which devote much more space in their October issues to breast cancer than they do to domestic violence.

Of nine publications that I recently found on a grocery store magazine rack, all of which advertised breast cancer articles on the covers of their October issues, only two also contained coverage of Domestic Violence Awareness Month (and mentioned that on their covers).* And, what's worse, of the coverage dedicated to breast cancer, much of it was offensive, superficial, misleading, or flat-out wrong.

This year there is even called Beyond Breast Cancer that cheerfully proclaims that there are "10 Good Things About Breast Cancer." Who knew? And just what are the pluses of getting this dreaded disease? According to the bubblegum-colored magazine, one perk is a pair of new boobs that "will face the horizon, not the South Pole.' Better yet, they will be paid for by insurance. Oh, and you get lots of cards and flowers.

Meanwhile, both Good Housekeeping and Woman's Day give incorrect information about mammograms. Good Housekeeping claims that "[N]o one disputes that all women 50 and over should be screened annually." Yet physicians in different countries disagree on how often women over 50 should be screened. While doctors in the United States recommend annual mammograms, those in Europe say every two to three years. In Australia, where a study out last year shed significant doubt on the extent to which mammograms save lives, the recommendation is every two years. Interestingly, in some of these countries, the incidence and death rates for breast cancer are actually lower or comparable to the United States.

When they're not spewing misinformation, the October issues of the traditional women's magazines are offering overly simplistic information about breast cancer risk factors and tips for preventing it. Woman's World (not to be confused with Good Housekeeping discuss factors you can change, such as smoking, and those you can't, like genetics. Missing is any mention about the purported connection between breast cancer and hormone replacement therapy. Also absent is information on parabens, phthalates and other carcinogenic chemicals, which are disturbingly common in consumer goods from lipstick to lotion.

The silence on these subjects mirrors the focus that both the American Cancer Society and Susan G. Komen for the Cure place on the profitable business of curing cancer rather than preventing it, which likely would hurt the bottom line of many of their biggest donors. Consumers are told that shopping will help find a cure -- a message that is not lost on advertisers.

Vogue sings the praises of one prolific advertiser, Ralph Lauren, who this year is selling polo shirts with bullseyes above the breast to target breast cancer. The ad shows a group of young, mostly white women wearing skimpy thongs, the polo shirts and nothing else. Subtle, huh?

A Pine Sol ad in Essence features motorcycle riders Aj Jemison and Jan Emanuel "driving for the cure," which is awfully hard when your vehicle is spewing cancer-causing exhaust. On top of that, Pine Sol contains 2-butoxyethanol (EGBE), which has been linked to fertility disorders, birth defects and other medical problems.

Redbook carries a sparkling wine "Cheers for the Cure" ad. Curiously, their article, "Who Beats Cancer and Who Doesn't," was one of the few risk factor pieces that failed to mention the link between alcohol and breast cancer, something that is highlighted in several of the other magazines.

And what if you or someone you love gets breast cancer? Not to worry, the women's magazines are full of inspiring survivor stories. Unfortunately, while most breast cancer victims are over the age of 50, not one of the nine magazines I analyzed focused on those women and the impact the disease has on their lives. Far more typical is a piece in Vogue discussing a very attractive young woman's agonizing choice to have a preventive double mastectomy because she carries the genes that can cause breast cancer. And with the exception of Essence, whose target audience is black, most of the women in these survivor stories are white, even though black women are more likely to die from the disease.

Despite most of these magazines having sections on health, family and love, only two of them (Redbook and Essence) had any mention of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

While it is questionable that additional awareness of breast cancer is useful, in the case of domestic violence, more coverage would be helpful. Domestic violence is the most common type of violence experienced by women both globally and in the United States. The Family Violence Prevention Fund reports that one out of every three women worldwide is "beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused during her lifetime." Here in the United States, the rate is one in four. In 2005 (the latest year for which statistics are available), 976 women in the United States were killed by by men that they knew. Yet because we tend to see this violence as a private, shameful issue, only 20 percent of rapes and 25 percent of physical assaults against women in this country are reported to the police.

Also underreported is the great financial toll domestic violence takes on communities. FVPF estimates that the health-related costs of "rape, physical assault, stalking and homicide committed by intimate partners exceed $5.8 billion each year." About 70 percent of that goes toward direct medical costs; the other 30 accounts for indirect costs such as lost wages.

Though lacking in many other details, this month's article in Redbook did attempt to demonstrate how common domestic violence really is, with featured pictures of two women as well as two men who knew a woman who had been affected by domestic violence.

And the article in the October issue of Essence, which delves into why black America is "so silent" about the violence that is committed against black women (a number that nearly doubled between 2003 and 2004, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics), also pinpoints why more coverage in these magazines would be more useful. ""Awareness, or lack thereof, is also a factor, says Rose Pulliam, president of the National Domestic Violence Hotline and the National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline. "We have to find a way to talk about domestic abuse that doesn't demonize our men but creates a way of looking at this as something to discuss openly," she says.

What to take away from all this? The bottom line, literally, is that we shrink away from black eyes. Breasts, on the other hand, are highly marketable commodities, as these magazines' advertising and helpful hints about pink products attest. Glamour even uses breast cancer awareness as an opportunity for a little full frontal nudity, featuring young, pretty and oh-so-white survivors with their best come hither looks. This emphasis on youth and whiteness is a true disservice to older women who are far more likely to get this disease and black women who are more likely to die from it.

Such irresponsible coverage of breast cancer and blindness to domestic violence suggest that many publications are less concerned with women's health than with making a buck. By tugging at consumers' purse strings instead of promoting their well-being, these magazines fail to serve the women who read them.

*The magazines surveyed for this article were: Essence, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Women’s Day, Women’s World, Ladies Home Journal, Glamour, Vogue and Beyond Breast Cancer.

Is Pink the New Color of Death for Women?

This post, written by Lucinda Marshall, originally appeared on Feminist Peace Network

R.J. Reynolds has introduced a new cigarette targeted specifically towards women. You can tell that Camel No. 9 is a girl thing because it has lots of shocking pink on the box. According to the New York Times,
"For decades, Camel has been a male-focused cigarette; only about 30 percent of Camel buyers are female. By comparison, for competitive brands like Marlboro and Newport, women comprise 40 percent to 50 percent of customers. Almost half of adult smokers are women, so that limited Camel's potential.
Wall Street analysts praise the introduction of Camel No. 9, in regular and menthol flavors, as a further step by the R. J. Reynolds, a unit of Reynolds American, toward a new marketing strategy. The goal is to refocus on the biggest, most popular -- and most profitable -- brands, which include Kool as well as Camel."
Anyone want to make bets that these greedy corporations also make big contribution to finding "The Cure" for breast cancer while they promote lung cancer which actually kills more women than breast cancer does?

In a blisteringly excellent Op Ed in the Washington Post, Rep. Lois Capps (D-CA) takes both R.J. Reynolds and also the numerous women's magazines that are running ads for these "Barbie Camels" to task. She writes,
"Camel No. 9 cigarettes are the pink version of Joe Camel, or, as one Oregon newspaper put it, "Barbie Camel." And R.J. Reynolds's marketing strategy is abetted with giveaways to fashion-conscious young women that include berry lip balm and hot pink cellphone jewelry, mini-purses and wristbands. The tagline for Camel No. 9 is "light and luscious"; how better to sell a cancer-causing cigarette than to make it sound like a tasty treat? There's even a Camel No. 9 "stiletto" line, meant to evoke images of the sexy shoes.
Someone should remind R.J. Reynolds that there's nothing sexy about emphysema or dying prematurely from cancer. No amount of pretty pink packaging can obscure the fact that lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer among American women -- a truth that underscores tobacco companies' desperate search for new smokers."

What Katie Couric Should Be Reporting From Iraq

This post written by Lucinda Marshall, originally appeared on the Feminist Peace Network

Given the number of journalists that have been killed in Iraq, I have no idea what motivates American journalists to continue to don flak jackets for the purposes of 'reporting' whatever it is that the Pentagon wants them to report. But kudos to CBS's Katie Couric for having the courage to point out that that was exactly what she was doing.

In an interview on Face the Nation she duly praises the marketplace that the military took her to visit,
"Well, I was surprised, you know, after I went to eastern Baghdad, I was taken to the Allawi Market, which is near Haifa Street, which was the scene of that very bloody gun battle back in January. And, you know, this market seemed to be thriving, and, uh, there were a lot of people out and about, a lot of family-owned businesses and vegetable stalls. And so you do see signs of life that seem to be normal."
Presumably the same one that Rep. Mike Pence (R-IN) praised for looking like a marketplace in Indiana. The staged nature of the obligatory marketplace photo op bears an eery resemblance to the Nazi's model concentration camps of WWII. But then Couric qualifies her remarks,
"Of course, that's what the U.S. military wants me to see. So you have to keep that in mind, as well. But, there, I think, there definitely are areas where the situation is improving. But everyone agrees, Bob, that if these people, the people of Iraq, do not get basic services like electricity, like running water, it will be impossible to win their hearts and minds and have them fully support the national unity government or anything that's going on here."
It should be noted that $6 billion dollars later, the rebuilding of Iraq's energy sector still needs $50 billion more to once again be functional. One wonders if before the Bush Administration bombed the country to smithereens they ever took a moment to calculate the cost of rebuilding what they had destroyed. But I digress, here is my fantasy:

Why Male Military Veterans Are Committing Sexual Assault at Alarming Rates

A recent study by the Department of Justice found that military veterans are twice as likely to be incarcerated for sexual assault than nonveterans. When asked about the finding, Margaret E. Noonan, one of the authors of the study, told the Associated Press, "We couldn't come to any definite conclusion as to why." The intrinsic and systemic connection between militarism and violence against women, however, makes this finding far from surprising.

Sexual violence has been a de facto weapon of war since the beginning of the patriarchal age. Raping and assaulting women is seen as a way to attack the honor of the enemy, and women have always been the spoils of war. The result is that many types of violence against women are exacerbated by militarism, including the indirect effects on civilian populations both during hostilities and after the conflict ends and soldiers go home. These include:

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Is Breast Cancer Awareness a Marketing Sham?

[An earlier version of this piece appeared in In These Times]

After 24 years of shocking pink ribbons, it has become impossible not to be aware of breast cancer. But does all that thinking pink really contribute to "The Cure," or is it actually designed to keep us from seeing red?

Breast cancer is clearly the poster child disease for cause marketing. It doesn't kill as many women as lung cancer or heart disease, but breast cancer attacks the most visible symbol of female sexuality, and as the porn industry has amply proven, sex sells.

There is no other disease that we try to eradicate by going shopping. We are bombarded with all manner of wonderful pink things we can buy to raise money to help fight breast cancer. Everything from makeup to a line of clothing from the Ford Motor Company. Never mind that the makeup contains ingredients linked to cancer and auto exhaust contains known carcinogens, it's all for a good cause.

But in the opinion of Jaynse Ashley, who has undergone three surgeries for breast cancer, "We don't see little penis trinkets being sold to 'support prostrate cancer awareness,' now do we? I cannot adequately articulate how disgusting I find the marketing of trinkets, appliances, etc. on the backs of those of us in this battle. The contribution percentage is negligible compared to mark-up on the product. How dare they use women in this battle to line their pockets? There will be a reckoning and I hope I live to see it."

Much of the information that is spewed out in the name of awareness focuses on personal risk factors that we can't change, such as genetics and family history. The American Cancer Society (ACS) devotes its entire explanation about what causes breast cancer to genetic factors, despite the fact that by their own admission, only 5-10 percent of breast cancer is hereditary.

Only one paragraph in their discussion of risk factors is devoted to environmental pollutants, which it terms an unproven connection. Yet according to Breast Cancer Action (BCA), there are over 100,000 synthetic chemicals in use in the U.S., more than 90 percent of which have never been tested for their impact on people.

A new study by the World Wildlife Fund links pollutants to breast cancer because of what researcher Andreas Kortenkamp calls a "cocktail effect" of exposure to multiple chemicals that mimic estrogenic effects. In light of recent research that suggests a link between the recent dramatic drop in breast cancer rates and the decreased use of hormone therapy, it is urgently important to continue research into these effects.

As BCA points out in State of the Evidence 2006, "Considerable resources continue to be spent to encourage women to make changes in their personal lives that might reduce their risk of breast cancer. But many factors that contribute to the disease lied far beyond an individual's personal control and can only be addressed by government policy and private sector changes."

BCA urges the use of the precautionary principle in addressing the dangers of pollutants where an "indication of harm, rather than definitive proof of harm, triggers policy actions."

Yet despite all the ribbons and races, instead of a cure, we are left with many unanswered questions, not just about what causes cancer but also how we detect and treat it. Almost 10 percent of breast cancer deaths worldwide are in the U.S. despite our aggressive detection and treatment protocols. Women are advised by organizations such as the American Cancer Society and the Komen Foundation to get annual mammograms starting at the age of 40.

By contrast England, Canada and Australia only recommend routine mammograms every few years after the age of 50 and not at all for younger women unless there is a specific cause for concern. According to Breast Cancer Australia, the national organization that administers mammograms in Australia, "At this point in time, available scientific evidence does not justify a national mammographic screening program which would actively recruit women ages 40-49 years."

Recent research by the Nordic Cochrane Centre in Denmark also raises questions about the effectiveness of mammography. In a study of 2000 women, they found that one woman would have her life prolonged but 10 would undergo unnecessary treatment and 200 women would experience unnecessary anxiety because of false positive results. According to the authors of the study, it is "not clear whether screening does more good than harm."

Why then are American women still being advised to get so many mammograms? While we would like to believe that the medical advice we get is based solely on good medical practice, it is important to note that companies such as General Electric and DuPont, both of which manufacture mammography equipment, are also large donors to organizations such as Komen and ACS and also make products that have been linked to cancer. In addition, General Electric owns NBC, which leaves the potential of a conflict of interest in news reporting about breast cancer by NBC News.

The standards for treatment of breast cancer also raise many questions. Until recently, virtually all women with breast cancer underwent chemotherapy despite the fact that of those who receive chemo, 15 percent will benefit, 25 percent will get worse and 60 percent didn't need it in the first place.

Recent research has also found that the side effects of chemo are much greater than previously known. And for all the hoopla about drugs such as Reloxifene and Tamoxifen, we still don't know whether either drug actually prevents cancer or just delays its occurrence.

AstraZeneca, which makes Tamoxifen, is the the primary corporate sponsor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Like many other pharmaceutical companies, they are supporters of the American Cancer Society and the Komen Foundation. Clearly from the point of view of these companies, it is much more beneficial to fund 'cures' than to eradicate the disease in the first place or to support non-medical treatments such as exercise which has been shown in numerous studies to lower hormone levels and can reduce the chance of getting or dying from breast cancer by as much as 60 percent.

There is an inherent conflict of interest when organizations that provide guidelines for treating a disease also receive funding from corporations that benefit financially from the recommended treatment.

Breast cancer patients deserve a national policy where further research into the causes of breast cancer is paramount, and where standards of treatment and diagnosis are based on the health of patients, not corporations. This many years later, we need to move beyond awareness and start demanding answers.

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