"Do or Do not. There is no try."

The Cancer Komen Must Cure Is Right Wing Extremism

When the United States invaded Iraq in 2003 and took possession of a troubled land that was more geographic expression than country (as  Metternich once said of Italy), I remember thinking at the time that we were far less likely to export democracy to Iraqis than Iraqis were to teach us a lesson about how fragile are the cultural foundations upon which democracy rests.

American society has been fracturing for some time. This is due to many factors: growing anxiety over jobs in a global economy; changing  demographics as the nation becomes less white and Christian; the rise of identity politics, specifically more politically aggressive religious groups; and communications technologies that allow individuals to self-segregate  by ideology with dual citizenship to places like Fox “Nation” or Hannity’s “America.”

What may have once been an academic curiosity has now metastasized into a genuine concern: Intensifying political polarization  is threatening the ability of our community to hold together as both our politics and our government become increasingly dysfunctional.

To better understand one’s country and its own internal dynamics it is often advantageous to step away and see what lessons might be learned by studying the experience of other countries.

And for America this is especially true of the Middle East, where the more intimately America becomes entangled with that troubled region the more our own domestic politics absorb through osmosis the Middle East’s distinctive tribal pathologies and torments as well.

Christian fundamentalists, for example, are not merely obsessed with Israel because daydreaming about the Jewish State’s eventual  destruction by the armies of the Anti-Christ at the Battle of Armageddon  lets them act out their rapture fantasies from the Book of Revelation. The Religious Right also draws inspiration from Israel for what the Right might be able to accomplish here as they watch ultra-Orthodox groups transform Israel’s democracy into a Jewish theocracy.

In an article titled “The Troubling Rise of Israel’s Far Right,” New Republic literary editor Leon Wieseltier cites reports in the New York Times showing that the list of controversies – and confrontations — between secular and ultra-Orthodox Jews is growing weekly.

Organizers of a conference on women’s health, for example, barred women from speaking from the podium.

Ultra-Orthodox men spit on an eight-year-old girl “whom they deemed immodestly dressed.”

The chief rabbi of the Israeli Air Force resigned because the  army would not excuse ultra-Orthodox soldiers from attending events  where female singers perform.

Jerusalem’s police commander was depicted as Hitler on posters because he allowed public buses with mixed-sex seating to drive through  ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods in violation of that sect’s religious  dogmas — an intolerance the American Catholic bishops might want to think about as they use words like “totalitarian” to describe their dispute with President Obama over coverage for  contraception in health care plans.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews even went so far as to prohibit a distinguished woman scholar whose book on pediatrics was being honored  by Israel’s Ministry of Health from sitting with her husband at the ceremony or accepting her prize in person since  women were forbidden from stepping on stage.

The New York Times article, said Wieseltier “provoked widespread revulsion” in the US, as it ought.

The origin of the problem, both there and here, is the infusion of fundamentalism into politics.

Fundamentalism is less religious than psychological — an aspect of personality that abhors ambiguity and demands certainty, and thus authority, in every aspect of their lives, whether political or religious. Fundamentalism is fundamentally incompatible with liberalism and with the emphasis in liberal societies on the autonomy of the individual and individual free will.

“Like all liberal societies, says Wieseltier, “Israeli society  contains anti-liberal elements, and these anti-liberal elements, both  religious and secular, have become increasingly prominent, and  increasingly wanton, and increasingly sickening.”

Of chief concern is the treatment of women in Israeli society.

The “odious misogyny of the ultra-Orthodox” is not yet typical of Israeli life in general since the ultra-Orthodox have seceded from it, says Wieseltier. But gender discrimination is typical of traditional  Judaism where “there is no equality between men and women in theory and  in practice.”

Whatever freedom women enjoy in Jewish religious life, he says, “has been accomplished by movements and institutions that have broken with the inherited understandings.”

There are many rabbis, even among the more orthodox, “who have  shown glimmers of compassion for women and tried to mitigate their  doctrinal contempt for secular Jews,” says Wieseltier.

But more typical  is the rabbi who said that: “Only one who believes in the God of Israel  and in the Torah of Israel is entitled to be called by the name ‘Jew.'”

Using that standard, said Wieseltier, one of the more extreme Jewish sects declared that the total Jewish population in the world amounts to only about one million.

“Our worst enemies never eliminated so many of us,” said Wieseltier.

As the radicalization of Israeli Judaism continues apace,  Wieseltier said the bigger problem is that “Israeli politics is open to  these closers.” That is especially true given the outsized influence  Israel’s parliamentary democracy gives to small parties.

If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is disgusted by the tightening grip of orthodoxy in his country he doesn’t seem to be doing  much to stop it, says Wieseltier. “Nobody ever suffered political damage by pandering to obscurantism and folk religion,” he says. “And that is  how gender segregation came to some of the public sphere of a secular  state.”

All these developments are unique in their own way, “but the pattern is hard not to see,” says Wieseltier. “There are fevers on the  right, anti-democratic fevers. These are the excrescences of Benjamin  Netanyahu’s base. The outrage is not that these forces have gone too far, but that they have gone anywhere at all.”

The pattern is also hard not to see here in America.

An Israeli-style, orthodox-fueled fracturing  of the American community took place just last week in the  otherwise inexplicable schism that at least temporarily existed between Planned Parenthood  and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Foundation.

That two organizations so committed to the same vital mission of fighting for  women’s health would be at bitter loggerheads is a stunning  reminder of the destructive nature of fundamentalist mindsets that let nothing stand in their way of achieving their ideological obsessions.

“We’re talking about breast cancer here!” said one exasperated  women’s health advocate when she first heard the news that Komen was pulling funding from Planned Parenthood.

As Daily Beast’s Michelle Goldberg reports, in the first 24  hours after Komen announced its decision to pull $700,000 in funding,  Planned Parenthood raised about $400,000 from outraged supporters  online. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg chipped in $250,000 and the Amy  and Lee Fikes Foundation also donated another $250,000.

Within the Komen organization itself, the Connecticut affiliate publicly rebuked the parent agency over the new policy, says Goldberg,  writing on its Facebook wall: “Susan G. Komen for the Cure Connecticut  enjoys a great partnership with Planned Parenthood, and is currently funding Planned Parenthood of Southern New England. We understand, and share, in the frustration around this situation.”

The Denver Komen affiliate said it too planned to continue grants to Planned Parenthood no matter what the organization’s top executives  might have to say about it.

And so it begins: the unraveling, fracturing and eventual disintegration of any organization, institution or communitiy invaded by the cancer of  right wing fundamentalism which fails to find a cure.


By: Ted Frier, Open Salon, February 5, 2012

February 6, 2012 Posted by | Religion, Right Wing | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Angry At Komen? You Should Be Furious At Mitt Romney And The GOP

My email inbox has been flooded over the last three days with messages of outrage over Susan G. Komen for the Cure’s surprise metamorphosis into a purveyor of right-wing culture wars – a change that the organization is now frantically trying to undo. Americans have been shaken by the news of a formerly respected and loved organization with a trusted brand turning on many of the low-income women who it had previously taken pride in serving.

I too am angry at Komen’s decision to put right-wing ideology ahead of its purported public health mission. But our deeper anger should be directed at someone else: the Republicans in Congress and GOP leaders who consistently make the same choices involving many times more money, and many times more women’s lives. The shock of the revelation of Komen’s new policies only highlighted how numb many of us have become to the larger, unrelenting attacks on women’s health by right-wing elected officials.

The grants to Planned Parenthood that Komen would have severed totaled $680,000 over the last year – a total that the organization thankfully made up in two days from contributions that have poured in in response to the Komen betrayal. Let’s put that in perspective. Last year, the House GOP voted to zero out the entire  $317,000,000 Title X family planning budget – including about $75 million that would have gone to Planned Parenthood’s preventative care and treatment programs for low-income women.

Deciding that this plan wasn’t disastrous enough, the House also passed an amendment to eliminate all federal funding to Planned Parenthood, an estimated total of $363 million, much of which goes to care for the Medicaid patients who make up almost half of Planned Parenthood’s clientele. The amount that Komen would have cut from Planned Parenthood’s women’s healthcare was significant– but the amount that House Republicans were prepared to cut was 500 times larger.

The right wing understands this. Anti-choice groups have rejoiced over the Komen decision, seeing it as a stepping stone to what has always been their ultimate goal: eliminating women’s reproductive rights and destroying Planned Parenthood along the way.

Those who value comprehensive women’s health care need to make the same connection. What Komen did was wrong. What the Republican Party tries to do every chance it gets is hundreds of times worse.

I doubt that Mitt Romney will dare to take a stand on the Komen controversy. But it doesn’t matter. We know where he is on this issue — and not just because we know how he feels about poor people. Last year, Romney supported the amendment that would have eliminated 500 times as much money from Planned Parenthood’s health care services, cutting off a million and half of its most needy patients. So did Newt Gingrich. So did every other major GOP presidential candidate. So did all but seven House Republicans.

The Komen decision was shocking to so many because, in part, we expect more integrity from a nonpartisan women’s health organization than we do from our politicians.

But the stakes from our politicians are bigger. Planned Parenthood provides critical services to millions of American women each year. In 2010, it provided nearly 750,000 breast exams and 770,000 Pap tests to women seeking critical cancer screening. It provided more than four million tests and treatments for STIs. It provided affordable contraception to low-income women, preventing an estimated 584,00 unintended pregnancies. Planned Parenthood estimates that one in five American women has received care from the organization in her lifetime.

Without Komen’s funding, Planned Parenthood would have rallied. Without federal funding, nearly half of its 3 million patients – including many from disadvantaged neighborhoods and rural areas –  would lose their care.

Yes, we should be angry at Komen for the Cure. But, like the Right, we need to recognize that this is ultimately a symbolic fight in a much bigger battle.

Today, Komen gave in to the overwhelming response it received from Americans who value women’s health over partisan politics. Our elected officials should face just as much pressure. Take the email you sent to Komen and copy Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, John Boehner and Mitch McConnell. They need to hear the same message, and face the same backlash, five hundred times over.


By: Michael B. Keegan, President-People for the American Way, Published in The Huffington Post, February 3, 2012

February 3, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Political, “Dumb And Deadly”: A Black Mark On The Pink Ribbon

Hard as I try, I can only conjure up two words to describe the decision on the part of Susan G. Komen For The Cure to pull its support of Planned Parenthood.

Dumb and…Deadly.

For years, Komen and Planned Parenthood have worked together to improve the opportunities for women to discover and get treatment for one of the most insidious of diseases—women’s breast cancer. And they’ve made a great pair. Together, these organizations have done an enormous amount of good when it comes to bringing the illness to the public’s attention and providing the services that have, undoubtedly, saved a great many lives.

Today, this partnership has been torn apart and, contrary to what one might have anticipated just twenty-four hours ago, it is not Planned Parenthood who finds itself struggling to make up the lost funding. The organization has benefitted from a massive inpouring of contributions since the news broke.

Rather, a review of the Susan G.Komen Facebook page makes it all too clear that their own organization is likely in line for a very bad year on the fundraising front given the large number of people who are deeply offended and distressed by the decision and have sworn to cut off their contributions to the group.

While it is tempting to say that the ‘good guy’ in this sad tale has emerged victorious, nothing could be further from the truth.

You see, the big loser in this story will be future breast cancer victims who may not get the diagnostic services or treatment required to save their lives as a result of what is sure to be a drop in funding for the Komen effort.

That is a true tragedy and one that certainly never had to be.

Despite the severe backlash being heaped on Komen For The Cure by one-time supporters, the organization continues to argue that there was nothing political about its decision. But nobody is buying this because it’s simply too hard to swallow.

Komen is sticking to the story that they had no choice but to pull the funding once Republican Congressman Cliff Sterns, a long-time opponent of Planned Parenthood, began a Congressional investigation to determine if Planned Parenthood has violated the rules that prohibit them from spending taxpayer money on abortion services. The Komen group argues that their governing principles do not permit them to contribute money to any entity under Congressional investigation.

But stupid is as stupid does. And, as noted, Komen For The Cure has behaved with shocking stupidity.

If Komen believes that Planned Parenthood provides a valuable service to the women Komen seeks to help and believed that PP did so before the investigation commenced last fall, why in the world would they permit such a congressional investigation—and one that has no time limit and could drag on until Democrats return to power and take over the investigating committee—to interfere with something as important as helping women with breast cancer? At no time has Komen suggested that Planned Parenthood was failing to use the money provided by Komen for the intended purpose. Had this been their position, their decision would have made a great deal more sense.

Are Komen’s rules of operating more important than the very purpose of their existence? If they believed that Planned Parenthood played an important role in helping women with breast cancer before, why would they do anything to interfere with that work, let alone use an investigation into whether or not PP is misusing taxpayer money for abortions – not breast cancer services—as a reason to withdraw their aid?

What if Rep. Sterns’ investigation does turn up some instances of Planned Parenthood breaking the rules? Does this mean that the work they do in support of women with breast cancer no longer ‘counts’? Are women who are in danger of losing their lives suddenly not deserving of help because some others may have received an abortion with some taxpayer money?

Anyway you look at it, this is an illogical and remarkably (here’s that word again) stupid decision.

I understand that there are many people who vehemently oppose abortion and that this would lead them to have a big problem with Planned Parenthood for providing the same.

But these people claim that they are ‘right to lifers’, devout in their desire to protect life.  This, once again, causes us to wonder why these folks would take so strong a position when it comes to the lives of the unborn yet are unwilling to take such a position on behalf of a woman who has walked on the planet for a few years already. I simply don’t understand why right to life organizations everywhere are not imploring Susan Komen For The Cure to reinstate the funding to Planned Parenthood so that lives of affected women can be saved – just as they want to save the lives of the unborn.

While Rep. Sterns has taken the time to deny any involvement with Komen’s decision, and I take him at his word, why has he not acknowledged that, while he may be seriously opposed to abortion services, he can still support the work of Planned Parenthood—and Komen’s contribution to that work—when it comes to helping women facing a deadly disease? It is, after all, saving lives that Congressman Sterns proclaims himself to be all about.

Shame on the Susan G. Komen For The Cure for forgetting their mission and the reason so many people have financially supported their efforts and walked so many miles in support. Shame on Congressman Sterns along with any other opponent of Planned Parenthood’s involvement in abortion who cannot see the sheer hypocrisy of hating PP for taking lives while remaining unwilling to stand up for the services of PP that save lives.

I can’t think of a better example of how far afield we have gone when a charity devoted to fighting cancer allows politics to become its guiding force.


By: Rick Ungar, Contributing Writer, Forbes, February 1, 2012

February 3, 2012 Posted by | Women's Health | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

New Health Insurance Rules Would Let Consumers Compare Plans In “Plain English”

What would your health insurance cover if you got pregnant? How much could you expect to pay out of pocket if you needed treatment for diabetes? How do your plan’s benefits compare with another company’s?

Starting as soon as March, consumers could have a better handle on such questions, under new rules aimed at decoding the fine print of health insurance plans.

Regulations proposed by the Obama administration on Wednesday would require all private health insurance plans to provide current and prospective customers a brief, standardized summary of policy costs and benefits.

To make it easier for consumers to make apples-to-apples comparisons between plans, the summary will also include a breakdown estimating the expenses covered under three common scenarios: having a baby, treating breast cancer and managing diabetes.

Officials likened the new summary to the “Nutrition Facts” label required for packaged foods.

“If you’ve ever had trouble understanding your choices for health insurance coverage . . . this is for you,” Donald Berwick, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services, said at a news conference announcing the proposal.

“Instead of trying to decipher dozens of pages of dense text to just guess how a plan will cover your care, now it will be clearly stated in plain English. . . . If an insurer’s plan offers subpar coverage in some area, they won’t be able to hide that in dozens of pages of text. They have to come right out and say it.”

Industry representatives said complying could prove onerous for insurers. “Since most large employers customize the benefit packages they provide to their employees, some health plans could be required to create tens of thousands of different versions of this new document — which would add administrative costs without meaningfully helping employees,” Robert Zirkelbach, press secretary for the industry group America’s Health Insurance Plans, said in a statement.

Insurance shoppers would also have to keep in mind that their actual premiums could change after they finalized their application, particularly in the case of plans for individuals, which can continue to adjust benefits based on detailed analysis of members’ health history over the next three years. (After 2014, the health-care law will essentially limit insurers to considering only three questions about applicants: how old they are, where they live and whether they smoke.)

The regulation, which is subject to a 60-day public-comment period, essentially fleshes out details of a mandate established by the the health-care law. But it also clarifies a question that the law left somewhat ambiguous: How soon into the application process can shoppers get the summary from insurers?

The regulations would require insurers to provide the summary on request, rather than waiting until someone applies for a policy or pays an application fee, a position that drew praise from consumer advocates.

“If consumers are really going to be able to compare their options, they should be able to easily get this form for any plan that they would like to consider,” said Lynn Quincy, senior health policy analyst for Consumers Union, the nonprofit publisher of Consumer Reports.

In addition to supplying the summary on demand, insurers would have to automatically provide it before a consumer’s enrollment, as well as 30 days before renewal of their health coverage. Plans must also notify members of any significant changes to their terms of coverage at least 60 days before the alterations take effect.

The summary form, which can be sent by e-mail, must be no longer than four double-sided pages printed in 12-point type. In addition to listing a plan’s overall premiums, co-pays and co-insurance amounts, it must include charts specifying the out-of-pocket costs for a range of specific services. A copy can be viewed at

By: N. C. Aizenman, The Washington Post, August 17, 2011

August 19, 2011 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Consumers, Corporations, Government, Health Care, Health Reform, HMO's, Insurance Companies, Pre-Existing Conditions, President Obama, Public, Regulations | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drugs and Profits: Pharmaceutical Companies Should First Do No Harm

Last year the Food and Drug Administration rescinded approval of the drug Avastin for treating breast cancer patients, prompting a firestorm of criticism. The decision was denounced by some politicians as health care rationing, and by breast cancer patients who feared that they would be deprived of a drug that they felt had helped them immensely.

But these criticisms ignore the facts: Avastin was rejected simply because it didn’t work as it was supposed to, and the F.D.A. should resist the aggressive campaign by Genentech, the drug’s maker, to get that ruling reconsidered at a hearing in late June.

Avastin has been on the market for seven years, and combined with other drugs it is effective in treating, but not curing, some colon, lung, kidney and brain cancers. It inhibits the development of new blood vessels and in so doing can starve a growing tumor.

Treating a breast cancer patient with Avastin costs about $90,000 a year, and Genentech could lose $500 million to $1 billion a year in revenue if the F.D.A. upholds the ban.

A clinical trial published in 2007 demonstrated that Avastin, when paired with the chemotherapy drug Taxol, halts the growth of metastatic breast cancer for about six months longer than chemotherapy alone. Genentech then asked the F.D.A. for approval of Avastin, combined with Taxol, for use against metastatic breast cancer.

This halt in tumor growth is known as progression-free survival. But delaying the worsening of cancer does not necessarily prolong life, and Avastin was not shown to lengthen patients’ overall survival time. So Genentech argued that the drug led not to longer life, but to improved quality of life.

In 2007, an F.D.A. advisory committee rejected the application, deciding that the toxic side effects of Avastin outweighed its ability to slow tumor growth. The F.D.A., however, overrode the committee and granted what is called accelerated approval, allowing Avastin to be used pending further study. The criteria for full approval was that Avastin not worsen overall survival and that the drug provide clinically meaningful progression-free survival.

To support its case Genentech submitted data from two additional clinical trials in which Avastin was paired with chemotherapy drugs other than Taxol. Like the first trial, neither showed a survival benefit. Both showed an improvement in progression-free survival, though this outcome was much less impressive than in the original study. In addition to seeking full approval for the Avastin-Taxol combination, Genentech also asked the F.D.A. to approve the use of Avastin with the drugs used in these follow-up studies.

Genentech presented progression-free survival as a surrogate for better quality of life, but the quality-of-life data were incomplete, sketchy and, in some cases, non-existent. The best that one Genentech spokesman could say was that “health-related quality of life was not worsened when Avastin was added.” Patients didn’t live longer, and they didn’t live better.

It was this lack of demonstrated clinical benefit, combined with the potentially severe side effects of the drug, that led the F.D.A. last year to reject the use of Avastin with Taxol or with the other chemotherapies for breast cancer.

In its appeal Genentech is changing its interpretation of its own data to pursue the case. Last year Genentech argued that the decrease in progression-free survival in its supplementary studies was not due to the pairing of Avastin with drugs other than Taxol. This year, however, in its brief supporting the appeal, Genentech argues that the degree of benefit may indeed vary with “the particular chemotherapy used with Avastin.” In other words, different chemotherapies suddenly do yield different results, with Taxol being superior. The same data now generate the opposite conclusion.

Perhaps more troubling is the resort to anecdote in the brief to the F.D.A. and in the news media.  Oncologists recounted their successes, and patients who were doing well on Avastin argued for its continued approval. But anecdote is not science. Such testimonials may represent the human voices behind the statistics, but the sad fact is that there are too many patients who have been treated with Avastin but are not here to tell their stories.

Avastin will not disappear because of the F.D.A. decision. It remains available for treating other cancers, and research to find its appropriate role in breast cancer treatment continues. In the meantime, the F.D.A., which is expected to make its decision in September, needs to resist Genentech’s attempt to have it ignore scientific evidence.

Serious progress in the treatment of cancer will not be the result of polemics, lobbying or marketing. Genentech’s money and efforts would be better spent on research for more meaningful treatments for breast cancer.

By: Frederick C. Tucker, Jr., Oncologist and Op Ed Contributor, The New York Times Opinion Pages, May 24, 2011

May 25, 2011 Posted by | Big Pharma, Capitalism, Consumers, Corporations, Government, Health Care, Health Care Costs, Health Reform, Pharmaceutical Companies, Politics, Public Health, Regulations, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Women, Women's Health, Womens Rights | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


%d bloggers like this: