Thursday, May 24, 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Posted by: "Priscilla Huang" firstname.lastname@example.org huangpris
Fri May 18, 2007 10:10 am (PST)
Dear NAPAWF members and allies,
Yesterday, the Senate reached a deal on a compromise immigration bill. Although the proposal offers a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, the process could take up to 13 years and would require the head of household to return to his or her home country and pay over $5,000 in fines and fees. The plan would also establish a temporary-worker program, but fails to offer a path to permanent legal residency for these workers.
The Senate "compromise" also includes a plan to replace most family-based immigration categories with a merit-based system that would award points based on educational achievement, technical work experience and English fluency. The proposal would eliminate adult children and sibling categories, and place a cap on the number of visas available for citizens to bring in their parents. This is a significant departure from our current system where family reunification has been a core value of the United States' immigration system since 1965.
NAPAWF is concerned that the plan will have an adverse impact on Asian and Pacific Islander immigrant women. Historically, family sponsored immigration has been a significant source of the Asian and Pacific Islander community's growth. Immigrant women in particular enter the United States through family-based visas at disproportionately higher rates than men. Clearly, Asian and Pacific Islander women have a strong stake in this debate. NAPAWF strongly believes that comprehensive immigration reform must preserve, and not eliminate, the country's current family-based categories for immigration.
It's not too late to act! The Senate is expected to bring the bill to the floor for debate next week. Our friends at the Asian American Justice Center and Asian Law Caucus have made it easy for you to tell your senators to preserve our family-based immigration system. See the action alerts below:
Protect Asian American Families:
Call Your Senator Today!
Wednesday, April 11, 2007
Enough with the apologies. Don Imus is a foul-mouthed barbarian and an incorrigible repeat offender. Clearly heâ€™s got to go.
The corporations that promote Imus and provide him with a protective shield apparently believe that ongoing expressions of racism and sexism are fine, as long as they contribute to the bottom line. Itâ€™s time to make them recalculate.
Here are three things you can do to get Don Imus fired:
Do it for the Scarlet Knights, for yourself and for all of us who deserve a healthier media environment. Itâ€™s tough to boycott a radio show or a television broadcast, but itâ€™s oh-so-easy to buy a different brand of light bulb. Jeffrey R. Immelt - Chairman & CEO Don Imusâ€™ radio show is broadcast via CBS Radio a division of CBS Corp. Les Moonves is the President/CEO of CBS Corp Call Les Moonves directly: (323) 575-2600 Imus is a moveable object. We can get him fired.
1. Boycott General Electric (GE).
Don Imus appears on MSNBC television in the morning. MSNBC is part of the NBC News Division. General Electric owns 80% of NBC. So buy another brand of light bulb. Hold off on buying that GE washer/dryer set until Imus is out of there. For a long list of GE consumer products that you can refuse to buy, visit www.ge.com/en/product/home/index.htm.
Hit GE in the wallet and hit them hard. Remind them that you have a long memory and that you expect Imus to stay fired.
Send a note to GE Chairman and CEO Jeffrey Immelt letting them know youâ€™ve switched brands â€“ moved on to Sony, Whirlpool, whatever â€“ and that youâ€™ll consider buying GE again when Imus is gone. Send a copy to us at email@example.com.
Phone: (203) 373-2211
General Electric Company
3135 Easton Turnpike
Fairfield, CT 06828-0001
2. Take it to the Top.
He needs to hear from you. He already knows Imus is at least a temporary liability. Moonves and the CBS Board of Directors need to hear from you that he is an unsustainable, permanent liability. And we need to hear from them exactly how the protection of racist and sexist speech on their stations aligns with their mission, values and strategic plan. Demand a statement from the board as a whole and from each individual member.
Board member Bruce S. Gordon, until recently the Executive Director of the NAACP, has just called for Imus to be fired. Back up Mr. Gordon as he takes the lead in convincing his fellow board members that CBS can no longer afford Don Imus. Again, copy us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
FAX: (323) 653-8276
7800 Beverly Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90036
3. Create an Irresistible Force.
Forward this e-mail to everyone you know. WORK YOUR LISTS!!! Expand the GE boycott, keep the pressure on the CBS board of directors. Imusâ€™ two-week suspension is time for the suits to calculate how much itâ€™s going to hurt them to keep him on board. Itâ€™s your job to let them know itâ€™s going to hurt real bad.
Itâ€™s tough to boycott a radio show or a television broadcast, but itâ€™s oh-so-easy to buy a different brand of light bulb.
Jeffrey R. Immelt - Chairman & CEO
Don Imusâ€™ radio show is broadcast via CBS Radio a division of CBS Corp. Les Moonves is the President/CEO of CBS Corp
Call Les Moonves directly: (323) 575-2600
Imus is a moveable object. We can get him fired.
Women of Color Resource Center
Out of Imus's Bigotry, a Zero Tolerance for Hate
By Michael Wilbon
Wednesday, April 11, 2007; E01
If calling the Rutgers women's basketball players "nappy-headed hos" was the first deplorable and offensive utterance out of shock jock Don Imus's mouth, there probably wouldn't be a national firestorm over his reprehensible characterization. If this was some rare event, then there wouldn't be organizations lining up to demand he be fired. If this was the first time, or second, or 10th, probably Imus wouldn't have been suspended for two weeks from his syndicated radio show, which is simulcast on MSNBC.
But there's nothing rare about Imus's vile attacks. This is what he does as a matter of course. Imus and his studio cohorts have painted black people as convicts and muggers and worst of all, apes. Not only do they find it funny, they expect everybody else will as well.
Sid Rosenberg, whom Imus once fired, then rehired, said one morning in 2001 that Serena and Venus Williams would be better off posing in National Geographic than Playboy. He knew he was saying Serena and Venus are closer to wild animals than women.
Please don't tell me it's not fair to hold Imus accountable for that remark and others like it because it didn't come out of his mouth. Imus hires the people who utter this filth and, in fact, wants them to go as far as possible because he believes it insulates him to a certain degree from the harshest criticism.
This is what Imus has done for years and years, and Viacom and NBC Universal pay him a king's ransom to do it. Imus has been questioned about his tactics over the years, and he says repeatedly and dismissively, "Get over it." He certainly isn't the only morning shock jock doing this, but he's the one whose behind is being scorched now and justifiably so.
Imus is the one who said in 1995 of Gwen Ifill, an accomplished, award-winning black journalist of incredible dignity and grace: "Isn't the [New York] Times wonderful. . . . It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House."
It's Imus who called William C. Rhoden, the veteran Times sports columnist, "a quota hire." Of course, the work, accomplishments or stature of their targets do not matter to Imus and his stooges. He makes fun of former attorney general Janet Reno's Parkinson's disease.
So "nappy-headed hos" wasn't some weak moment of great exception on the Imus show. In 1997, during a "60 Minutes" profile, Mike Wallace confronted Imus and a former producer who quoted Imus as saying he'd hired a staffer to "do nigger jokes." When I mentioned that earlier this week on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption, Imus responded on his show that it simply did not happen -- though I see it in a 2000 issue of the Columbia Journalism Review and had a producer access it through a transcript (also the audio version) on National Public Radio.
Wallace: "You've told Tom Anderson, the producer, in your car coming home that Bernard McGuirk is there to do nigger jokes.'"
Imus: "Well, I've . . . I never use that word."
Tom Anderson: "I'm right here."
Imus: "Did I use that word?
Anderson: "I recall you using that word."
Imus: "Oh, okay, well then I used that word, but I mean . . . of course that was an off-the-record conversation . . ."
Wallace: "The hell it was."
So, you'll excuse me if I dismiss Imus's apology as bogus. He's apologized in the past, told veteran black journalist Clarence Page on the air he would "promise to cease all simian references to black . . . black athletes." That was before Imus went back to the ape references, probably within a week.
Understandably, this has led to a whole lot of folks calling for Imus's head. Personally, I'd rather see Imus have to confront anger, scorn and ridicule every single day. I'd rather see him have to deal with the accusation of being a bigot. I'd rather the criticism come at Imus from every angle, indefinitely, rather than have him slink away to private life.
You'll have to excuse me for not believing a man can utter this brand of filth month after month, then proclaim testily he's not a bigot. Firing, in some ways, would let him off the hook too easily. I'll defend Imus's right to free speech, while pointing out that those of us who find him and his goons contemptible have the exact same right to free speech. I'd rather see Imus squirm in the face of withering criticism than be fired and turn up six months later as some kind of martyr.
I'd rather see him snubbed by Cal Ripken, who refused to go on the air with Imus after his remarks about the Rutgers women. Ripken was supposed to appear on the Imus show yesterday to promote his new book.
Already a little squeamish about appearing on the show, Ripken's decision to tell Imus no became an easy one after the latest spewing. "It was set up by the publisher, but I said no because I don't want anybody to perceive that I condone those comments because I don't," Ripken said in a telephone conversation yesterday. "And if you go on that show, that's exactly what the perception would be."
Ripken said he does not want to be seen as someone wielding a moral compass. But I wonder now how many of these prominent journalists and politicians who use the platform Imus provides (and therefore give him cover) will have as much conviction as Ripken displayed.
Imus, not surprisingly, is trying to frame the discussion in a way that paints him as a good guy who did a stupid thing, which might be okay if he wasn't such a serial offender. Yes, Imus routinely has riveting political discussions, as recently as last fall when he engaged Harold Ford, then running for the U.S. Senate, in conversations about running for office as a young black man in the South, in this case Tennessee. When Imus says he's not unfamiliar with black people, he's telling the truth. He's not some idiot segregationist who seals himself off from black people, which is what makes these episodes even more disgusting.
If you believe the bosses at Viacom and NBC Universal have any guts, and I'm not sure I do, then you might believe the suspension represents a warning of zero tolerance from here on in and that Imus is one more incident from being dumped. And while I'm not agitating for Imus to be fired, I'd certainly raise a toast if it happens. Until then, what Imus has prompted is a necessary national conversation. The meeting with the Rutgers women is necessary -- so is the vigil to stand over him and remind him that even if he doesn't get it, many of us do.
What Is Revealed By a Crack in the 'Good Person' Facade
What Is Revealed By a Crack in the 'Good Person' Facade
By Lynne Duke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, April 11, 2007; C01
They never mean it, do they?
Comedian Michael Richards didn't mean to exude racism when he exploded in an N-word tirade at a heckler during a performance.
Actor Mel Gibson didn't mean to exude anti-Semitism when he drunkenly blamed Jews for the world's wars.
And following the curious pattern, radio personality Don Imus didn't mean to demean and humiliate those Rutgers University basketball players when he called them "nappy-headed hos."
They never mean it. It's as if some involuntary reflex makes them do it -- perhaps anger, in Richards case; or alcohol in Gibson's. But how to explain Imus? He tried to generate some edgy laughs for an audience that delights in the daily shots he takes at whomever he feels like shooting (blacks, gays, women, especially Sen. Hillary Clinton). Or perhaps, some suggest, the episodes reflect an impulse toward racism and sexism, forever lurking just beneath the surface of public life, judging by the number of episodes we have witnessed in recent years.
Racism? That word. So many bristle at it, wishing it weren't so, denying its existence, calling those who raise it paranoid. Like it isn't a fact of American life.
Jim Sleeper, a lecturer at Yale University and author of "Liberal Racism: How Fixating on Race Subverts the American Dream," is not all together comfortable with the word "racism." He believes it's often flung about carelessly, as part of what he calls a "blame game" that damages race relations further.
And yet he acknowledges that these words as weapons don't just spring from mistakes or gaffes, but from some deep recess within.
"Whatever it is, it's in them," Sleeper says of the animus that propels bile from men who, with their public platforms, could be helping propel the nation's racial discourse forward. "Instead, they're carriers of the virus rather than cures."
Roger Wilkins knows racism, has witnessed it, experienced it, studied it.
"It's deep in the culture," he says. A George Mason University professor and author of "Jefferson's Pillow: The Founding Fathers and the Dilemma of Black Patriotism," he talks of the comfort zone that has been afforded many in the majority culture, white men in particular, to exercise a kind of systemic social superiority that allows them to put down folks of a different kind. It's what Wilkins calls "white male privilege" and the "psychic comfort" it offers.
"I think with Imus it really is that he's been getting away with so much stuff for so long that he misjudged the size his comfort zone," said Wilkins.
Indeed, suddenly Imus seems rather squeezed, beset by the innocence of the young women of Rutgers, by the broadcast companies that have, suddenly, decided to pull his coattails with that two-week suspension; by the professional haranguing of the likes of the Rev. Al Sharpton, who is not without baggage in the realm of public excoriation, owing to his inflammatory past as a rabble-rouser connected to a case of fabricated police abuse.
"I find it amazing that Reverend Al Sharpton has become the ethical officer for America," says Mitchell Moss of New York University.
Some have pointed out that young women are routinely and unfortunately called "hos" in some rap lyrics. "That doesn't make it any more right for anyone to say it, it doesn't matter if you are African American, Caucasian, Asian, it really doesn't matter," said Rutgers team captain Essence Carson at a news conference yesterday. "All that matters is it's wrong."
Sometimes there's a price to pay.
Former Virginia senator George Allen lost his reelection campaign after he lobbed an ethnic slur meaning monkey at an opposition campaign worker. And early this year "Grey's Anatomy" star Isaiah Washington was forced to undergo behavioral counseling when he derided a co-star for being gay.
The infamy of the loose tongue has plagued public figures for decades. In the late 1980s, House Republican leader Robert H. Michel pined on television for the "fun" of the days of "Amos 'n' Andy." Los Angeles Dodgers executive Al Campanis was fired after saying in a 1987 TV interview that blacks weren't qualified for sports management jobs and, more strangely, that they lacked "buoyancy" in a swimming pool. And who could forget sports commentator Jimmy "The Greek" Snyder lauding the breeding in the days of slavery that he said produced the black athlete of today? He predicted darkly that "if blacks take over coaching like everybody wants them to, there is not going to be anything left for the white people."
Afterward, Snyder said, "I apologized. I admitted I made a mistake in what I said and how I said it and was willing to let my record speak for itself." CBS fired him anyway.
Of his "hos" comment, Imus said pretty much the same thing yesterday on "Today." "It was comedy. It wasn't a malicious rant. I wasn't angry. I wasn't drunk. I wasn't stating some sort of philosophy. As I stated yesterday morning, I'm not a racist. And I've demonstrated that in my deeds and my works."
This is the classic appeal to the "authentic self," says Orlando Patterson, a Harvard University sociologist. In other words, trying to override bad behavior by pushing the notion that deep down you are a good person. It goes like this:
"You've just got to believe I'm a good person. You've got to believe me. I'm telling you and this is the truth."
"It's a kind of arrogance, if you ask me," says Patterson.
This lack of honesty, this denial, could be a reason this unfortunate phenomenon of bilious public language keeps happening again and again and again, Patterson said.
This time, the young female athletes of Rutgers are collateral damage, their courageous basketball season forever associated with the "nappy-headed ho" slur.
Team member Matee Ajavon said yesterday: "I think it kind of scars us. We grew up in a world where, of course, racism exists and there's nothing we can do to change that. I think we've come a long way from where we were, you know, dealing with slavery. . . . But I think this has scarred me for life."
Misogyny in the Morning
By Eugene Robinson
Tuesday, April 10, 2007; A17
What would possess nappy-headed radio host Don Imus to think "nappy-headed hos" was an amusing way to describe the Rutgers University women's basketball team? Why would it occur to him to say such a thing even in private conversation, much less to millions of listeners on CBS Radio and the MSNBC cable network?The simple answer would be -- all together now -- racism. Imus employed that horribly offensive phrase against young black women who are students at a great university and who also happen to be superb athletes. If I had a daughter on that team, I'd want to slap that cowboy hat right off Imus's unkempt head.At this writing, Imus is in full self-flagellation mode. He made the offending comment last Wednesday. On Thursday, he dismissed the whole thing as unimportant. On Friday, as criticism mounted, he apologized. Yesterday, MSNBC and CBS Radio suspended his show for two weeks. By then, Imus had entered the soul-searching phase, apologizing again and telling listeners, "I'm not a bad person. I'm a good person, but I said a bad thing. But these young women deserve to know it was not said with malice."I can accept that Imus doesn't believe he is racist, but "nappy-headed hos" had to come from somewhere. Jobs have been lost and careers ruined for similar rhetorical offenses. The Revs. Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton have called for Imus to resign or be fired, as have officials from the NAACP and the National Association of Black Journalists. I'd shed no tears if Imus were compelled to retire to his ranch, where he could sit at a microphone every morning and regale the livestock with late-breaking opinions.But I'd rather lock him in a room with the parents of those Rutgers kids and let him try to explain himself. I'm not sure that kicking him off the air would accomplish much of anything, since there would still be plenty of morning radio jocks spewing racism, misogyny and other forms of cruelty for the amusement of gridlock-bound commuters. Howard Stern, another radio superstar who has expanded into television, recently held a degrading "Miss Black Howard Stern" contest.Drive-time radio has become a free-fire zone, a forum for crude and objectionable speech that would be out of bounds anywhere else. There's an intimacy about radio. The medium creates the illusion of privacy -- it's just the jock and his or her entourage speaking to you, the listener, alone in your car where nobody else can hear.Maybe, in your heart of hearts, you think some of those stereotypes are true -- about black people, or white people, or Latinos or Asians. Somewhere on the radio dial you'll find some jock who not only agrees but is willing to say so out loud, willing to ridicule those "others" and thus cut them down to size. You can have all your prejudices confirmed on your way to work. It's almost like putting on a suit of psychological armor.If anything, Imus is more substantive and less offensive than many of his competitors. In a sense, that's one reason for his current predicament. Prominent politicians and other notables regularly call in to his show, and sometimes actual news is made -- which brings him greater scrutiny. You can be a shock jock or you can be a respected interviewer, but you can't be both.One question remains, though: Why would Imus think to use the word "ho" to describe those young women from Rutgers -- or, for that matter, to describe any women?The word is an abbreviation of "whore" that was introduced to the popular lexicon by hip-hop music and that appears to have become firmly established. We know what the word used to mean, but it's not so clear just what it means now.Rappers use it as basically a synonym for "woman," but their lyrics are so focused on sex that the word retains the connotation of loose morals. The word is often used these days in contexts where that sexual connotation is ignored. It's still there, though.It's easy to surmise that Imus came out with the word "ho" because hip-hop is an African American art form and he associated the word with black women. He knew nothing about those women from Rutgers, except that they were black. It's hard to imagine him describing, say, a Swedish basketball team as a bunch of "stringy-haired hos."That's something for Imus to think about as he performs the ritual public examination of his soul -- and fights to keep his job. Meanwhile, the rest of us should banish that hateful word "ho" from the language.
LET’S say a word about the girls. The young women with the musical names. Kia and Epiphanny and Matee and Essence. Katie and Dee Dee and Rashidat and Myia and Brittany and Heather.
The Scarlet Knights of Rutgers University had an improbable season, dropping four of their first seven games, yet ending up in the N.C.A.A. women’s basketball championship game. None of them were seniors. Five were freshmen.
In the end, they were stopped only by Tennessee’s Lady Vols, who clinched their seventh national championship by ending Rutgers’ Cinderella run last week, 59-46. That’s the kind of story we love, right? A bunch of teenagers from Newark, Cincinnati, Brooklyn and, yes, Ogden, Utah, defying expectations. It’s what explodes so many March Madness office pools.
But not, apparently, for the girls. For all their grit, hard work and courage, the Rutgers girls got branded “nappy-headed ho’s” — a shockingly concise sexual and racial insult, tossed out in a volley of male camaraderie by a group of amused, middle-aged white men. The “joke” — as delivered and later recanted — by the radio and television personality Don Imus failed one big test: it was not funny.
The serial apologies of Mr. Imus, who was suspended yesterday by both NBC News and CBS Radio for his remarks, have failed another test. The sincerity seems forced and suspect because he’s done some version of this several times before.
I know, because he apparently did it to me.
I was covering the White House for this newspaper in 1993, when Mr. Imus’s producer began calling to invite me on his radio program. I didn’t return his calls. I had my hands plenty full covering Bill Clinton.
Soon enough, the phone calls stopped. Then quizzical colleagues began asking me why Don Imus seemed to have a problem with me. I had no idea what they were talking about because I never listened to the program.
It was not until five years later, when Mr. Imus and I were both working under the NBC News umbrella — his show was being simulcast on MSNBC; I was a Capitol Hill correspondent for the network — that I discovered why people were asking those questions. It took Lars-Erik Nelson, a columnist for The New York Daily News, to finally explain what no one else had wanted to repeat.
“Isn’t The Times wonderful,” Mr. Nelson quoted Mr. Imus as saying on the radio. “It lets the cleaning lady cover the White House.”
I was taken aback but not outraged. I’d certainly been called worse and indeed jumped at the chance to use the old insult to explain to my NBC bosses why I did not want to appear on the Imus show.
I haven’t talked about this much. I’m a big girl. I have a platform. I have a voice. I’ve been working in journalism long enough that there is little danger that a radio D.J.’s juvenile slap will define or scar me. Yesterday, he began telling people he never actually called me a cleaning lady. Whatever. This is not about me.
It is about the Rutgers Scarlet Knights. That game had to be the biggest moment of their lives, and the outcome the biggest disappointment. They are not old enough, or established enough, to have built up the sort of carapace many women I know — black women in particular — develop to guard themselves against casual insult.
Why do my journalistic colleagues appear on Mr. Imus’s program? That’s for them to defend, and others to argue about. I certainly don’t know any black journalists who will. To his credit, Mr. Imus told the Rev. Al Sharpton yesterday he realizes that, this time, he went way too far.
Yes, he did. Every time a young black girl shyly approaches me for an autograph or writes or calls or stops me on the street to ask how she can become a journalist, I feel an enormous responsibility. It’s more than simply being a role model. I know I have to be a voice for them as well.
So here’s what this voice has to say for people who cannot grasp the notion of picking on people their own size: This country will only flourish once we consistently learn to applaud and encourage the young people who have to work harder just to achieve balance on the unequal playing field.
Let’s see if we can manage to build them up and reward them, rather than opting for the cheapest, easiest, most despicable shots.
Gwen Ifill is a senior correspondent for “The NewsHour With Jim Lehrer” and the moderator of “Washington Week.”
HPV Vaccine: Public Health Boon or Big Pharma Bull?
By Terry J. Allen, In These Times
Posted on March 13, 2007, Printed on April 11, 2007
Merck launched its new cervical cancer vaccine with a major advertising and lobbying blitz, and pushed to make the drug mandatory for all 11- to 12- year-old girls. Cervical cancer, caused by the sexually transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV), affects 10,000 women in the United States every year, and kills 3,700. The toll is far greater in the developing world, where women lack diagnostic Pap tests.
Gardasil may well be what Merck claims: a lifesaving vaccine that protects against key HPV strains without any significant side effects. Because the drug is most effective on unexposed populations, the FDA recommends vaccinating girls as young as nine -- before they are sexually active.
Merck -- along with Women in Government (WIG), a recipient of Merck funding -- went one step further, advocating mandatory vaccination. WIG has introduced bills in 20 states; in Florida, Merck helped write the legislation. In Texas, brushing aside abstinence junkies and the legislature, Gov. Rick Perry issued an executive order requiring vaccination for all girls entering the sixth grade unless parents opt out.
The stealth timing (late on Friday, just before Super Bowl Sunday), politics (Perry is a pro-abstinence Christian Conservative), and speed of Perry's order (just months after the FDA approved the vaccine and before all the data have been published) raised questions. It soon emerged that the WIG state director is the mother-in-law of Perry's current chief of staff, and his former chief of staff is now one of Merck's three Texas lobbyists. The governor received $6,000 from Merck's political action committee.
While Perry's pace is suspect, Merck's is transparent. If Gardasil becomes routine, the $360 course will generate annual sales of $3.2 billion by 2010. This potential windfall has led cynics to dub the push the "Help Pay for Vioxx" program. Before Merck withdrew the arthritis drug in 2004, it may have caused almost 28,000 deaths, according to FDA estimates. In one Texas liability trial, lawyers produced documents and e-mails from Merck scientists discussing Vioxx's potential heart risks as early as 1997, more than two years before it went on the market.
In the meantime, people will have to weigh the risks of trying a new vaccine. While there are good reasons for women to take Gardasil -- especially if they lack access to regular Pap tests -- there are also solid reasons for waiting before making it mandatory. (They do not include the paranoid belief that all vaccines are evil, or the worry that protecting against an STD encourages girls -- already undeterred by fear of AIDS, pregnancy, fumbling teenage foreplay, eternal damnation, or being labeled a slut -- to indulge in unbridled sex.)
"The safety of new agents cannot be known with certainty until a drug has been on the market for years," according to a 2002 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. "Serious ADRs [adverse drug reactions] commonly emerge after Food and Drug Administration approval." Reacting to outrage over Vioxx and other drug safety debacles, the FDA announced on Jan. 30 that it will eventually require comprehensive safety reviews of new drugs 18 months after their introduction.
For now, assurances of efficacy and safety are only as good as the data on which they are based. While more than 20,000 women between ages 16 and 26 took part in trials, the sample of 9- to 15-year-old girls was small -- only 1,184. And since no participants have been followed for more than five years, long-term effects remain unknown.
"The published data looks great, but at the very least, I would like to see efficacy data among 11- and 12-year-olds, which won't emerge until they are sexually active," says Karen Smith-McCune, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco.
It also takes time to assess whether data are comprehensive and reliable, and mirror real-world conditions. Merck outsourced some of its Gardasil trials to Contract Research Organizations (CROs) in the developing world, including JayaJan Pharmaceutical Research in India. CROs are part of a $14 billion industry that recruits subjects and runs trials for Big Pharma. Conflicts of interest can arise when CROs are paid royalties only after a drug is approved rather than getting a set fee independent of results, or when CROs believe favorable findings will lead to future contracts. Merck spokesperson Amy Rose refused to specify how, or even if, the company oversees CROs.
The FDA -- hobbled by underfunding, politicization and dependence on Big Pharma money -- has few resources to assess foreign trials and relies on drug companies. Even U.S. studies are subject to manipulation, as when researchers simply exclude unfavorable trials from those submitted to the FDA.
Of course, none of this means that Gardasil is unsafe. Few things in medicine are guaranteed, and odds are good that the HPV vaccine is a life-saving breakthrough. But consumers, activists, health professionals, and parents wanted the option of waiting for more data. The mighty PR stink they raised smothered Merck's lust for an instant blockbuster. On Feb. 20, the company announced it would immediately stop lobbying state legislatures to make vaccination mandatory.
Terry J. Allen is a senior editor of In These Times. Her work has appeared in Harper's, The Nation, New Scientist and other publications.