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The Tally Ho

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

HPV: "honor killing on the installment plan"

NOTE: This post discusses genital warts, cancer, and the latest antics of the Religious Wrong. I think you should read about all these topics. If you have a particularly weak stomach, though, consider yourself warned.


The glorious thing about the Internet is watching the memes rise and fall--not those hideous magazine-style quizzes, but the random facts and ideas that show up within the same week from such disparate soruces. This week, everyone's talking about HPV, or human papillomavirus. There are more than 100 types of this virus, and they cause everything from the wart on your foot to genital cancers. Some types are sexually transmitted. Most types are not. Don't wrinkle your nose like that; chances are startlingly good that you, dear reader, have one of those HPV types floating around in your skin. About 50% of sexually active men and women acquire genital HPV at some point, though I wouldn't presume to make any comments about your sex life. The prevalence (total number of cases) in the U.S. is 20 million. The incidence (number of new cases each year) is 6 million, or more than 16,000 new cases each day, in the U.S. Now that you know all that...

The Kaiser Daily Reproductive Health Report on May 20th announced that "Merck's HPV Vaccine Produces Stronger Immune Response in Girls, Boys Ages 10-15 Than Women Ages 16-23." ("Wait, there's a vaccine?" you say. "How can I get this vaccine? Oh, frabjoyus day!" Keep reading.) Merck has a vaccine. GSK has a vaccine. They have both proven the efficacy of these drugs, and they're just about to hit the market. I'm cautious of Merck's Phase III results, because they are based on follow-up antibody tests and do not represent actual rates of infection. However, the Phase II results are stunning: "A study of the Phase II trials published in the April issue of the journal Lancet Oncology showed that Merck's vaccine was 89% effective at preventing infection with the four HPV strains and 100% effective at preventing cervical cancer, precancerous lesions or genital warts." (emphasis mine, quote from previous link) Because they are vaccines, these drugs are only effective for people who don't yet have any of these types of virus (of course). This report gives a good reason to target younger groups: the vaccine seems to work better on children under 15. Is that because of their young immune systems, or because this group is less likely to be sexually active and more of them will benefit from vaccination? I don't know. Neither do they.

People are worried about this disease. Dan Savage recently addressed this topic in his "Savage Love" column, and went on the record as saying "HPV is not a big deal," before documenting the prevalance and incidence of the infection, as well as its possible long term consequences, over his next two responses. Condom use only cuts the transmission of HPV infection by about 50%, since the virus spreads by skin-to-skin contact.* Savage rightly points out that the majority of folks with HPV will never get cancer or have a single wart, and that many healthy people are able to clear the HPV infection on their own within a couple years. According to my clinical sources, most of the persistant cases of HPV or warts occur in patients who are over 30 and/or smokers. We knew that smoking raised your risk of lung cancer, but did you know that it raises your risk of cervical or penile cancer, too, if you have a persistant high-risk strain of HPV? More good facts from the clinic: a "high risk" type of HPV is a type that is more likely to be associated with cancer or precancerous lesions (that's "abnormal Pap" to you, ladies). The "high risk" types are not the same types that are likely to manifest as genital warts. Let go of the ick factor. If you do have a wart on your body, that is not the type of HPV that gives people cancer. The only types that will kill you are the ones you will never see.
*And no, you cannot spread genital HPV if you have a wart on your hand, no matter where you may be putting those hands on your own or anyone else's body. Stop worrying. We haven't gotten to the frightening part yet.

Cervical cancer, however, is frightening. "About 250,000 women worldwide die annually from cervical cancer, and the American Cancer Society estimates that about 3,700 women die of the disease each year in the United States." (from Kaiser DRHR) If we could cut the rate of HPV infection, we would also be dramatically dropping the rate of cervical cancer--and HPV-associated penile and anal cancers, which occur at much lower rates but are still horrifying to the folks who contract them each year. Katha Pollitt, in her article "Virginity or Death!" summarizes the opposing viewpoint well:

Wonderful, you are probably thinking, all we need to do is vaccinate girls (and boys too for good measure) before they become sexually active, around puberty, and HPV--and, in thirty or forty years, seven in ten cases of cervical cancer--goes poof. Not so fast: We're living in God's country now. The Christian right doesn't like the sound of this vaccine at all. "Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful," Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council told the British magazine New Scientist, "because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex." Raise your hand if you think that what is keeping girls virgins now is the threat of getting cervical cancer when they are 60 from a disease they've probably never heard of.

I remember when people rolled their eyeballs if you suggested that opposition to abortion was less about "life" than about sex, especially sex for women. You have to admit that thesis is looking pretty solid these days. No matter what the consequences of sex--pregnancy, disease, death--abstinence for singles is the only answer. Just as it's better for gays to get AIDS than use condoms, it's better for a woman to get cancer than have sex before marriage. It's honor killing on the installment plan.

There's a flaw in this logic. Maher seems to be concerned about young women engaging in premarital sex. Pollitt restates her attitude as saying, "it's better for a woman to get cancer than have sex before marriage." Maher doesn't say anything about young men, however. If "good" women are abstinent until marriage, and men aren't required to be, then we won't cut the rates of HPV--or any other sexually transmitted infection--at all. The most heartbreaking stories I hear from my friends in the Local Health Clinic (which serves a primarily Catholic Latina population) are about the women who come in to the clinic because they are too ashamed to go to their regular doctors, even though they know something is wrong with their bodies. They test positive for chlamydia or herpes or genital warts, and they cry and can't figure out how they got these diseases because they are good girls and have only slept with their husbands, and my friends at LHC get to explain to them that if that's true, they must have gotten the diseases from their husbands. The clinicians suggest (for bacterial stuff) that their husbands come in as well to get tested/treated, and the women refuse to tell their husbands because THEY will get accused of cheating. These women can't negotiate condom use, or don't believe in condoms anyway, so they will continue to get reinfected with these STIs. These are the women that Maher and the Family Research Council would fail to protect from cervical cancer: the women who have followed their religious institution's silly abstinence rules and who have never been educated about what risks they're taking by choosing a mate who hasn't followed those rules. It's not just the women who sleep around who will die from cancer. As long as this disease is allowed to spread, every woman--and many men--are still at risk. It's imperative that we vaccinate as many healthy people as we can, as soon as we can. If the Religious Wrong is gearing up for a "Plan B"-style fight in the FDA, they may be able to hold off government recommendations for this vaccine for months or possibly years. EVERY DAY they fight, they will have failed to protect our citizens from 16,438 new cases of this virus.

Frightened now?

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Senate Fight

[Edited by Wells - replaced Kerry's remarks with the actual floor speech]

Mr. Wells is doing a great job covering the ongoing Senate ruckus over the judicial filibuster. Unfortunately for y'all, he's doing it in emails to me rather than posting it here. Fortunately the power of cut and paste allows me to share them with you myself. Bill Gates has truly done more to make my life better than I ever have. Other than convincing a wonderful woman to marry me, I haven't been all that big on self improvement. This idiot-accessible net thing, on the other hand, rocks, and Office allows me to fool older co-workers into thinking I have a work ethic.

Anyway, here's Wells:

Thu, 19 May 2005 12:29:59 -0400 [T]hese are good remarks on the Senate floor today. Sen. Stabenow from Michigan went on after and basically said that if this works then the filibuster everywhere is up for grabs. She talked about how in the not too distant future Great Lake region will not be able to defend itself from the Southwestern and Western states from stealing their natural resources (water) instead of accept the fact that no one should be moving there. That without the filibuster the Great Lake Senators will not be able to protect their state interests. If you think this is crazy, the late Senator Paul Simon (D-IL) predicted as much in the late 90s - and Darren can tell you how it pops up in almost every Michigan election. While this act isn't really about Owens and really about paving the way for a wingnut justice on the Supreme Court, the implications in other areas are a threat to states, as well as a host of other Senate responsibilities.

Remarks as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President, I've addressed the Senate on several recent occasions to set the record straight about Senate history and the rules of this Chamber. I'd much rather address ways to cut health care costs or bring down gas prices. But the Majority Leader has decided that we will spend this week debating radical judges instead. I'm happy to engage in that debate, but I want it to be accurate.

For example, the Majority Leader issued a statement last Friday in which he called the filibuster a "procedural gimmick." I took some time yesterday to correct that assertion. The filibuster is not a gimmick. It has been part of our nation's history for two centuries. It is one of the vital checks and balances established by our Founding Fathers. It is not a gimmick.

Also, Republicans have not been accurate in describing the use of the filibuster. They say the defeat of a handful of President Bush's judicial nominees is unprecedented. In fact, hundreds of judicial nominees in American history have been rejected by the Senate, many by filibuster. Most notably, the nomination of Abe Fortas to be Chief Justice of the United States was successfully filibustered in 1968. And during the Clinton Administration, over 60 judicial nominees were bottled up in the Judiciary Committee and never received floor votes.

In addition, Republicans engaged in explicit filibusters on the floor against a number of Clinton judges, and defeated a number of President Clinton's executive branch nominees by filibuster. It's the same Advice and Consent Clause - why was a Republican filibuster of Surgeon General nominee Henry Foster constitutional, but a Democratic filibuster of Fifth Circuit nominee Priscilla Owen unconstitutional? The Republican argument doesn't add up.

And now, the President of the United States has joined the fray and become the latest to rewrite the Constitution and reinvent reality. Speaking to fellow Republicans on Tuesday night, he said that the Senate "has a duty to promptly consider each...nominee on the Senate floor, discuss and debate their qualifications, and then give them the up or down vote they deserve."

Duty to whom? The radical right wing of the Republican Party who see within their reach the destruction of America's mainstream values?

It's certainly not duty to the tenets of our Constitution or to the American people who are waiting for progress and promise, not partisanship and petty debates.

The duties of the United States Senate are set forth in the Constitution of the United States. Nowhere in that document does it say the Senate has a duty to give presidential nominees "an up or down vote." It says appointments shall be made with the Advice and Consent of the Senate. That is very different than saying that every nominee receives a vote.

This fact was even acknowledged by the Majority Leader on this floor last week. Senator Byrd asked the Majority leader if the Constitution accorded "to each nominee an up or down vote on the Senate floor?"

Senator Frist's answer? "No, the language is not there."

Senator Frist is correct. And the President should read the same copy of the Constitution that Senator Frist was referring to.

It is clear that the President misunderstands the meaning of the Advice and Consent Clause. The word "Advice" means "Advice." President Clinton, consulted extensively with then-Judiciary Committee Chairman Hatch. Senator Hatch boasts in his autobiography that he personally convinced President Clinton to nominate Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer to the Supreme Court instead of more controversial choices.

In contrast, this President has never ever sought or heeded the advice of the Senate. But now he demands our consent.

That's not how America works. The Senate is not a rubber stamp for the Executive branch. Rather, we're the one institution where the Minority has a voice and the ability to check the power of the Majority. Today, in the face of President Bush's power grab, that's more important than ever. Republicans want one-party rule. The Senate is the last place where the President and his Republican colleagues can't have it all. And, now President Bush wants to destroy our checks and balances to ensure that he does get it all.

That check on his power is the right to extended debate. Every Senator can stand up on behalf of the people who have sent them here and say their piece. In the Senate's 200 plus years of history, this has been done hundreds and hundreds of times...to stand up to popular presidents arrogant with power...to block legislation harmful to America's workers...and yes - even to reject the President's judicial nominations.

Who are the nominees now before the Senate?

Priscilla Owen is a Texas Supreme Court Justice nominated to the Fifth Circuit. Justice Owen sides with big business and corporate interests against workers and consumers in case after case, regardless of the law. Her colleagues on the conservative Texas court have written that she legislates from the bench. Her own colleagues have called her opinions "nothing more than inflammatory rhetoric," her interpretation of the law to be "misconceptions," and even rebuked her for second guessing the legislature on vital pieces of legislation. If she wanted to legislate, she should run for Congress. If she wants to interpret and uphold the law, she should be a judge. She can't do both.

In case after case, Justice Owen's record marks her as a judge willing to make law from the bench rather than follow the language and intent of the legislature or judicial precedent. She has demonstrated this tendency most clearly in a series of dissents involving a Texas law providing for a judicial bypass of parental notification requirements for minors seeking abortions. She sought to erect barriers that did not exist in law, such as requiring religious counseling for minors facing a tough choice.

Janice Rogers Brown, a California Supreme Court justice nominated to the D.C. Circuit, is using her seat on the bench to wage an ideological war against America's social safety net. She wants to take America back to the 19th Century and undo the New Deal, which includes Social Security and vital protections for working Americans like the minimum wage. Every Senator in this body should tell the more than 10 million working Americans already living in poverty on minimum wage why someone who wants to make their life harder and destroy their hopes and dreams should be elevated to a lifetime to one of the most powerful courts in the country.

Justice Brown has been nominated to the court that oversees the actions of federal agencies responsible for worker protections, environmental laws, and civil rights and consumer protections. She has made no secret of her disdain for government. According to Justice Brown, government destroys families, takes property, is the cause of a "debased, debauched culture," and threatens civilization.

Moreover, Justice Brown received a "not qualified" rating from the California Judicial Commission when she was nominated for the California Supreme Court in 1996 because of her "tendency to interject her political and philosophical views into her opinions" and complaints that she was insensitive to established legal precedent.

Speaking recently at a church on "Justice Sunday," Brown proclaimed a "war" between religious people and the rest of America. Is this someone we want protecting the constitutional doctrine of separation of church and state, or freedom for all Americans to practice religion?

She has expanded the rights of corporations at the expense of individuals -- arguing to give corporations more leeway against attempts to prevent consumer fraud, to stop the sale of cigarettes to minors, and to prevent discrimination against women and individuals.

Janice Rogers Brown may be the daughter of a sharecropper, but she's never looked back to ensure the legal rights of millions of Americans still fighting to build better lives for their children and children's children.

These are the nominees over which the Republican leadership is waging this fight. And they are prepared to destroy the Senate that has existed for over 200 years to do it.

The Senate is a body of moderation. While the White House is the voice of a single man, and the House of Representatives is the voice of the Majority, the Senate is a forum of the states. It is the saucer that cools the coffee. It is the world's greatest deliberative body.

How will we call this the world's greatest deliberative body after the majority breaks the rules to silence the minority?

This vision of our government - the vision of our Founding Fathers - no longer suits President Bush and the Republicans in the Senate. They don't want consensus or compromise. They don't want advice and consent.

They want absolute power. And to get it, the President and the Majority Leader will do all they can to silence the Minority in the Senate and remove the last check on Republican power in Washington.

The White House is trying to grab power over two separate branches of government - Congress and the Judiciary - and they're enlisting the help of the Republican Senate leadership to do it.

Republicans are demanding a power no president has ever had, and they're willing to break the rules to do it.

And make no mistake Mr. President. This is about more than breaking the rules of the Senate or the future of seven radical judges.

At the end of the day, this about the rights and freedoms of millions of Americans.

The attempt to do away with the filibuster is nothing short of clearing the trees for the confirmation of an unacceptable nominee on the Supreme Court. If the Majority gets its way, George Bush and the far right will have the sole power to put whoever they want on the Supreme Court -- from Pat Robertson to Phylis Schlafley. They don't want someone who represents the values of all Americans, someone who can win bipartisan consensus. They want someone who can skate through with only a bare partisan majority, someone whose beliefs lay in the fringes of our society.

Nobody will be able to stop them from placing these people on the highest court in the land - extremist judges who won't protect our rights and who hold values far outside the mainstream of America.

Here's what's really at stake here:

The civil rights of millions of Americans.

The voting rights of millions of Americans.

The right to clean water to drink and safe air to breathe for millions of Americans.

The right to free speech and religious beliefs.

The right to equality, opportunity and justice.

And, nothing less than the individual rights and liberties of all Americans.

It is up to us in this Chamber to say no to this abuse of power. To stand up for the Constitution and let George Bush and the Republican Party know that the Supreme Court is not theirs to claim.

This debate all comes down to this: will we let George Bush turn the Senate into a rubber stamp to fill the Supreme Court with people from the extreme right's wish list?

Or will we uphold the Constitution and use of advice and consent powers to force the President to look to the mainstream?

Mr. President, I hope it's the latter. I know that is what my fellow Democrats and I will fight for, and I hope the responsible Republicans we've heard from will have the courage to join us.

And Senator Kerry's floor speech:
John Kerry on “Nuclear Option” on Judicial Nominees

“The Constitution didn’t mandate a rubberstamp for George Washington, and the Constitution doesn’t mandate a rubberstamp for George Bush.”

Below are the remarks of Senator John Kerry on the Senate floor this afternoon. Senator John Kerry Time for Profiles in Courage May 19, 2005 Remarks As Prepared for Delivery Senate Floor on gaining total control notwithstanding the rules. And members of Republican leadership who know what’s at stake work with the Administration to spread mistruths. But none of leadership’s arguments stand up to Constitutional scrutiny. None of them. None of these hollow, tortured, poll-tested statements like “up or down votes” or “unprecedented” are valid. They sound good, but they’re not true, and we all know it. Yet Senators continue to fall in line, turning this into a debate about twisted terminology, not the Constitution, history and rights of Senators.
And I think there would be more outrage if the value of truth had not been so diminished by this Administration. We have a budget that comes trillions short of counting every dollar we plan to spend. We had a Medicare actuary forced to fudge the numbers and lie to Congress to keep his job. We had falsified numbers in Iraq on everything from the cost of the war to the number of trained Iraqi troops to a “slam dunk” case for weapons of mass destruction. We have an Administration that continues to want to fund fake newscasts to mislead people all across America.

The Administration’s willingness to consistently abandon the truth has done great damage. Americans are less willing to listen – less likely to trust or take anything that is said in Washington seriously. They know, as many of us have said, that we ought to be wrestling with a crisis in healthcare and nuclear proliferation in North Korea. The people know what’s wrong with our politics, and sadly here in the Senate the leadership isn’t listening.

So now we find ourselves in a struggle between a great political tradition in the United States that seeks common ground so we can do the common good – and a new ethic that, on any given issue, will use any means to justify the end of absolute victory over whatever and whoever stands in the way.

The new view says if you don’t like the facts, just change them; if you can’t win playing by the rules, just rewrite them. The new view says if you can’t win a debate on the strength of your argument, demonize your opponents. The new view says it’s okay to ignore the overwhelming public interest as long as you can get away with it.

And this time the Republican leadership has gone farthest of all to get away with it, hoping to convince Americans that by breaking the Senate rules they are acting to defend the Constitution, honor the words of our Founding Fathers, and avert a judicial crisis.

But we all know this debate is fueled by ideology, not by defense of democratic principle or some shortage of judges on the bench. The facts have been repeated clearly again and again, and are repeatedly brushed aside and ignored. But with over 95% of the judges already approved, we all know this is nothing more than a power grab by an Administration bent on controlling every aspect of our government, even if that means weakening it.

The Bush Administration and their allies in Congress hope to get away with it by playing with words to sell the public on a scheme the public would never buy if we had an honest debate. Words with great meaning – Constitution – Founding Fathers – votes – history – precedent – are being twisted and robbed of their meaning. The Administration underestimates the American people on this. Americans value the Constitution. They understand its intent. They understand that the strength of our democracy is best judged by the enduring strength of the minority.

When people heard the term “nuclear option” they rightfully recoiled. They were confident that dismantling the filibuster and silencing the minority would have as catastrophic an effect on their democracy as a nuclear blast would on our security. But the majority’s reaction was not to play by the rules, but rather to change slogans. So in an act of transparent hypocrisy, the majority changed the slogan to “constitutional option” and embarked on a series of hollow arguments based on mythical constitutional provisions – confident in their belief that if you speak an untruth enough eventually you’ll confuse enough people. Well, you can change the slogan, but you can’t change the fact that diminishing the rights of the minority diminishes the spirit of our Constitution The Bush-Republican leadership arguments are false. I have heard it argued that our Constitution mandates specific voting protocol for all judges. They’ve used their new catch phrase “up or down votes” hundreds of times in recent days. Those words don’t appear once in our Constitution. No one should be fooled. It doesn’t mean constitutional. It doesn’t mean democratic and it doesn’t mean fair. It’s code for dissent-proof, minority-proof and filibuster-proof. And there is nothing in our Constitution or our history to suggest that the nominee of any president is so special as to be excused from the scrutiny of the minority – or granted immunity from the tools of democracy that protect that minority.

My colleagues are well aware that the power of advice and consent is granted to the Senate, and that the Constitution says nothing about how the Senate shall provide that advise and consent. They know the Senate is free to make its own rules, as the Constitution clearly states. They know the Senate’s role in the nominating process was designed to be active and decisive.

Benjamin Franklin was so concerned about ceding excessive power to the executive that he advocated that nominations originate in the Senate. He was not alone. At our Constitutional Convention the process for appointments was one of the last and most difficult accords reached by our Founding Fathers.

And it did not take long before the new Congress exercised its Constitutional powers. In 1795, Senators who were friends and colleagues of the founders themselves, and who surely knew their intent, defeated George Washington’s nomination of John Rutledge to be Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

In 1968, Republican Senator Robert Griffin captured the spirit of this event when he said: “That action in 1795 said to the President then in office and to future Presidents: ‘Don’t expect the Senate to be a rubberstamp. We have an independent and coequal responsibility in the appointing process; and we intend to exercise that responsibility, as those who drafted the Constitution so clearly intended.’”

The Constitution didn’t mandate a rubberstamp for George Washington, and the Constitution doesn’t mandate a rubberstamp for George Bush. In 1795, the rejection of Washington’s nominee was heralded as the Constitution working, not failing. There is no doubt that an active, coequal partnership was intended.

This resounding rejection of George Washington, our revolutionary leader, helped seal the death of monarchy in this country. The genius of empowering the Senate and the minority was that, by limiting the executive, the Senate legitimized the executive. So when I hear my colleagues arguing that the Constitution mandates that the will of the majority always trump the minority, I don’t hear the wisdom of our Founding Fathers – I hear the same blind activism that characterizes the judges they intend to force on the federal bench. The actions of some Senators come closer to rewriting the Constitution than defending it.

Another argument we have heard is that the filibuster itself is unconstitutional. That argument is also deeply flawed. The Constitution, in Article I, Section V, grants each house the power to “determine the Rules of its proceedings.” The framers deferred rule-making responsibility to us.

Over the past 200 hundred years, our predecessors in the Senate have taken the role of consent very seriously, and created time-tested rules to assure the rights of the minority and balance the power of government.

With a “hold” a single Senator can delay a presidential nominee. A single committee chairman can block a nomination by simply refusing to hold hearings. Until recently the Blue Slip process allowed Senators to reject nominees from their home state. And the right to extended debate, or the filibuster, is granted to any group of more than two-fifths of the Senate – making it more inclusive than any of these other accepted and oft-used practices.

These rules were not created by the Democratic Party when George Bush was elected. The filibuster was used as early as 1790 when Senators from Virginia and South Carolina filibustered against a bill to locate the first Congress in Philadelphia. That was a filibuster of one, because in 1790 unanimous consent was needed to end debate. Think about that. Those legislators, who were friends and even founders themselves, permitted a filibuster of one. Knowing that, today’s activist arguments buckle under the weight of history.

The unfortunate truth is that some Senators have fashioned themselves activist legal scholars, using a false reading of the Constitution to paint their opponents as obstructionists while pursuing their political agenda at the expense of our democracy. I think some of my colleagues forget the Senate was designed specifically to be a moderating check on the President, not a rubberstamp for executive will.

My colleagues also forget, as they demonize the filibuster, that it has been a force for good. But farmers don’t forget. Farmers don’t forget when Senators from rural states used the filibuster to force Congress to respond to a crisis that left thousands of farmers on the brink of bankruptcy in 1985. The big oil companies don’t forget. The big oil companies don’t forget when Senators used the filibuster to defeat massive tax giveaways they lobbied for in 1981. And I don’t forget when 10 years ago I came to the floor and filibustered to prevent a bill that would have gutted public health, safety, consumer and environmental protections. That bill never passed, and we know the country is better for it.

Some Senators come to the floor with a practical argument about our courts. They claim that because we have not rubberstamped each and every one of George Bush’s nominees, the nation faces a crisis because of a shortage of judges on the bench. They ignore that over 95% of the president’s nominees have already been confirmed. They ignore the fact that our courts have the lowest vacancy rate in decades.

What is threatened is a delicately balanced system that for 214 years successfully prevented the Executive from usurping power granted in good faith by the American people. And that threat manifests itself in a “nuclear option” that threatens the character of this Senate. The integrity of this Senate is threatened when the majority attempts to change the rules by breaking the rules. The balance of power is threatened when the power of advice and consent is gutted. Our democracy is threatened when we set the dangerous precedent that minority rights can be silenced whenever they inconvenience the majority. And I believe that our courts and the justice they are meant to deliver are threatened by some of the judges President Bush has nominated.

But some of my colleagues have argued that Democrats filibuster these judges because we simply dislike them, or disagree on ideology or policy. That’s couldn’t be farther from the truth. We have confirmed countless judges who we disagree with, but respect as responsible, impartial arbiters of the law. It is these activist judges who we seek to keep off the federal bench. It is these judges who want to rewrite our laws from the bench that we believe are unqualified for lifetime appointments. And we stand against them in defense of, not as a threat to, the Constitution.

We have also been accused of unprecedented acts with respect to these nominations. Surely my colleagues have not forgotten that 69 of President Clinton’s judges were buried in Committee. Was it fair? Maybe not. Did you hear the minority hiding behind mythical constitutional values in a short-sighted attempt to break the rules? Of course not.

The Majority Leader himself has voted to filibuster a nominee, yet now he tells us he is moved by deeply held Constitutional principles.

President Johnson’s nominee to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Abe Fortas, was defeated in a filibuster. Tennessee Republican Howard Baker articulated the minority’s position, saying, “The majority is not always right all of the time. And it is clear and predictable that the people of America, in their compassionate wisdom, require the protection of the rights of the minority as well as the implementation of the will of the majority.”

Throughout our history Presidents and majorities have always had to govern a nation where minority rights were protected. Until this day Presidents and majorities have respected that tradition. They were humbled and inspired by lessons from history that some of my colleagues seem to have forgotten.

In 1937, President Roosevelt attempted a court-packing scheme to assert his influence on the courts. His own party said no. Thomas Jefferson once attempted to impeach a Supreme Court Justice who disagreed with his political agenda. His own party said no.

When my colleagues complain of lack of precedent, remember these precedents. They were fair. They were just. They affirmed the rights of the minority. And they did it all in respect of the Constitution and in defense of the judiciary. Our predecessors stood up to their own party leaders because they valued the real strength of this democracy more than the short-term success of their partisan agenda. The question is – will we live up to that test?

Recent predecessors of Senate Republicans have repeatedly urged respect for this legacy. Former Republican Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker said destroying the right to filibuster “would topple one of the pillars of American Democracy: the protection of minority rights from majority rule.” Former Republican Senator Charles Mathias said, “The Senate is not a parliamentary speedway. Nor should it be.” Former Republican Senator Bill Armstrong said, “Having served in the majority and in the minority, I know it’s worthwhile to have the minority empowered. As a conservative, I think there is a value to having a constraint on the majority.”

My colleagues should defend their judges, but defend them without tearing down our Constitution and our Founding Fathers, or destroying the rules and character of the United States Senate. Defend your judges without ceding dangerous and corruptive levels of power to this Administration. Defend your judges without erasing 214 years of wisdom and sacrifice that raised this nation from tyranny and spread freedom across the globe.

Our Founding Fathers would shudder to see how easily forces outside the mainstream now seem to effortlessly push some Senate leaders toward conduct the American people don't want from their elected leaders: Abusing power. Inserting the government into our private lives. Injecting religion into debates about public policy. Jumping through hoops to ingratiate themselves to their party’s base, while step by step, day by day, real problems that keep American families up at night fall by the wayside here in Washington.

Congress, Washington, and our democracy itself are being tested. We each have to ask ourselves, will we let this continue? To those in this chamber who have reservations about the choices their leadership has made, and who worry about the possible repercussions on our Constitution and democracy, look at history and find the courage to do what’s right. History has always remembered those who are courageous, and will remember the courageous few who lived up to their responsibility and spoke truth to power when the Senate was tested – so that power did not go unchecked.

The Senate and the country need Senators of courage who are prepared to make their mark on history by standing with past profiles in courage, and defending not party, not partisanship, but defending principle and democracy itself.

Thu, 19 May 2005 16:49:37 -0400 F**k, we lost Hagel. He just lost his McCain mav label - probably for Dobson support if he wins the primary against the entire GOP Senate (Frist, Allen, Brownback, Man-on-Dog if he wins reelection)

that leaves it at 50-50. 45 Dems + McCain, Chafee, Snowe crossing the aisle for sure. This leaves the need to get 3 out of Warner, Specter, Sununu, Collins, Voinovich, Graham, Domenici, Luger, and Murkowski that have to be gotten. I thought Hagel was a key as it would give cover to others to cross. Murkowski was just elected, and her father is unpopular. Sununu is in NH, so hes fine. Warner and Specter aren't running again, but Specter could lose his chairmanship if he votes with Reid... . Out of that list, only Graham is volunerable, so I don't know what gives....

Sounds like our boy has been getting a lot of really important work done today, doesn't it?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Be kind to your pizza dude(tte) friends

... because that duck may be somebody's mother.

Adri sent me a fabulous link from "This I Believe," a reincarnation of a 1950s radio series that features citizens reading essays on their personal beliefs. Monday's segment featured Sarah Adams' philosophy: be cool to the "pizza dude". (Full text is available from preceding link.)

Let's face it: We've all taken jobs just to have a job because some money is better than none. I've held an assortment of these jobs and was grateful for the paycheck that meant I didn't have to share my Cheerios with my cats. In the big pizza wheel of life, sometimes you're the hot bubbly cheese and sometimes you're the burnt crust. It's good to remember the fickle spinning of that wheel.

First, the Lebowski-esque terminology is priceless. Yes, let us all remember our "pizza dude," he who brings us piping-hot, cheese-laden sustenance for under $20, plus tip. (You do tip your pizza dude, don't you?) He travels through wind, rain, snow, and fog, not to deliver the mail or save anyone's life, but because you're hungry and don't want to cook. He works for a ridiculously low sum of money. He fuels his car and funds his own repairs. There are few jobs more selfless.

What if he is not a "pizza guy" at all?

My friend KAH delivers pizza a few nights a week, to supplement her income as a kickass microbiologist. (I am not making that part up.) It earns her a little extra money for health insurance, and also gives her a priceless opportunity to ponder the latest gender assumptions in our society. Have you ever looked for the "pizza girl?" The title sounds demeaning. "Pizza deliveryperson" is far too clinical, while "pizza deliverer" is awkward to say and sounds uncomfortably biblical. Some folks attempt to ignore the deliveryperson altogether by saying, "Pizza's here!" or, "Hey! Pizza!" as if they were greeting their dinner, and not the person holding it. KAH was impressed the other day by an older man, who opened the door without looking closely at her and said something along the lines of, "Hey, son, how's it going?" When he saw the obviously female person behind the pizza, he stuttered and backtracked and told her he supported what she was doing. She told me it was charming, and after thinking about it a while, I agreed. In an era where both men and women take extra (sometimes extraordinary) jobs to make ends meet, it seems fitting to remind people that pizza delivery--or any other job--is no longer just a man's lot.

And, from recent conversations with KAH, a few reminders. Yes, it's still customary to tip--fifteen percent, or even twenty-five percent if it's sleeting/the middle of the night/out in the boondocks/dodging a guard dog. The terms of the delivery do not include catching runaway pets or children. If you want your food, be home to receive it. Make the street number visible. Do not change your mind and say you don't want the food anymore. Say thank you.

And what do we call this person? I'm still open to suggestions.

Friday, May 13, 2005

The death of prose

Let's get away from hypocritical politicians for a moment, shall we?

Another week, another round of misspelled and misspoken student questions. "How do you get privats parts cancer?" they ask. I generally don't mind their grammar, unless it's a particularly egregious mistake or a word that I've intentionally made them write down as a vocabulary term. After all, it's not my job to judge or grade them, thank heavens. I'm in a school right now where the teachers do well with that task, thank you. But I'm concerned that the students who are being taught to write precisely and concisely may actually be penalized for that talent, now that the SAT has got an essay component. The NYTimes wrote on May 4 that "SAT essay test rewards length and ignores errors of fact". Since it's already been archived, I will quote extensively:

"It appeared to me that regardless of what a student wrote, the longer the essay, the higher the score," Dr. Perelman [one of the directors of undergraduate writing at Massachusetts Institute of Technology] said. A man on the panel from the College Board disagreed. "He told me I was jumping to conclusions," Dr. Perelman said. "Because M.I.T. is a place where everything is backed by data, I went to my hotel room, counted the words in those essays and put them in an Excel spreadsheet on my laptop."

In the next weeks, Dr. Perelman studied every graded sample SAT essay that the College Board made public. He looked at the 15 samples in the ScoreWrite book that the College Board distributed to high schools nationwide to prepare students for the new writing section. He reviewed the 23 graded essays on the College Board Web site meant as a guide for students and the 16 writing "anchor" samples the College Board used to train graders to properly mark essays.

He was stunned by how complete the correlation was between length and score. "I have never found a quantifiable predictor in 25 years of grading that was anywhere near as strong as this one," he said. "If you just graded them based on length without ever reading them, you'd be right over 90 percent of the time." The shortest essays, typically 100 words, got the lowest grade of one. The longest, about 400 words, got the top grade of six. In between, there was virtually a direct match between length and grade.

He was also struck by all the factual errors in even the top essays. An essay on the Civil War, given a perfect six, describes the nation being changed forever by the "firing of two shots at Fort Sumter in late 1862." (Actually, it was in early 1861, and, according to "Battle Cry of Freedom" by James M. McPherson, it was "33 hours of bombardment by 4,000 shot and shells.")

Dr. Perelman contacted the College Board and was surprised to learn that on the new SAT essay, students are not penalized for incorrect facts. The official guide for scorers explains: "Writers may make errors in facts or information that do not affect the quality of their essays. For example, a writer may state 'The American Revolution began in 1842' or ' "Anna Karenina," a play by the French author Joseph Conrad, was a very upbeat literary work.' " (Actually, that's 1775; a novel by the Russian Leo Tolstoy; and poor Anna hurls herself under a train.) No matter. "You are scoring the writing, and not the correctness of facts."

How to prepare for such an essay? "I would advise writing as long as possible," said Dr. Perelman, "and include lots of facts, even if they're made up." This, of course, is not what he teaches his M.I.T. students. "It's exactly what we don't want to teach our kids," he said.

SAT graders are told to read an essay just once and spend two to three minutes per essay, and Dr. Perelman is now adept at rapid-fire SAT grading. This reporter held up a sample essay far enough away so it could not be read, and he was still able to guess the correct grade by its bulk and shape. "That's a 4," he said. "It looks like a 4."

I'm appalled for several reasons. First, because more and more writers are buying into the idea that length matters. Despite everything that news editors and business writers have been telling us for years, we think that if we write three pages on a topic, we will always convey more information than if we write one. Second, it's not just the SAT board that grades for length. As students in high school and college, we all learned how to beef up or slim down a paper with margin, font, and point changes. Third, and most crucially, our society seems to be losing its ability to think critically and question written facts, no matter what we believe about their source. (Anna Karenina? Upbeat?) Last year's report from the National Commission on Writing, a group of educators convened by the College Board, which creates the SAT, claims that "about a third of the companies reported that only one-third or fewer of their employees knew how to write clearly and concisely. The companies expressed a fair degree of dissatisfaction with the writing produced by recent college graduates - even though many were blue-chip companies that get the pick of the litter." (NYTimes editorial, May 15) Careful readers will notice that the College Board financed this study, and perhaps will even wonder why Staples' editorial doesn't mention the controversy over factual errors reported two weeks ago. Many colleges are still deciding whether and how to use the scores, and claiming that these scores would only be used in conjunction with other writing samples.
"The difficulty that universities find themselves in, if there's a whole raft of qualified applicants, is that you need some sorting mechanism," said Doug Hesse, a professor of English who directs the honors program at Illinois State University. "So, especially in a time of budget cuts at public universities, when you don't have much people power, a test score, even a flawed one, is hard to resist." (quote is from previous link)

Expect more and more students and workers to sign on to the idea that supersized essays are better, and that incorrect facts are better than no facts at all. Would you like fries with that?

Thursday, May 12, 2005

The Nation on Hager's Family Values

The vile nature of this man and his policy goals just keep rising to the top of the headlines. Some days when I read about him I feel like he's the serial killer in a bad horror movie--one attack would be enough to leave you scared, several attacks will leave you horrified and disgusted, but the wretched excess continues.

The Nation's article discusses a minority report Hager claims he sent to the FDA upon their request, allegations made by his former wife of marital rape and sodomy over the course of seven years, his continuing role in the debate over emergency contraception, and his expected reappointment to the FDA panel after his term expires on June 30. The article concludes:

As disturbing as they are on their own, Linda Davis's allegations take on even more gravity in light of Hager's public role as a custodian of women's health. Some may argue that this is just a personal matter between a man and his former wife--a simple case of "he said, she said" with no public implications. That might be so--if there were no allegations of criminal conduct, if the alleged conduct did not bear any relevance to the public responsibilities of the person in question, and if the allegations themselves were not credible and independently corroborated. But given that this case fails all of those tests, the public has a right to call on Dr. David Hager to answer Linda Davis's charges before he is entrusted with another term. After all, few women would knowingly choose a sexual abuser as their gynecologist, and fewer still would likely be comfortable with the idea of letting one serve as a federal adviser on women's health issues.

Read the full article here.

Found via the ever-fabulous Bitch. Ph.D.


More good news in the debate over EC: it appears to inhibit ovulation, but not implantation, according to a recent study by the Population Council's ICCR. (Link opens a PDF.) More reason to wonder: why, exactly, must Hager and his cronies scream so loudly over this medication?