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Weekly Pulse: Palin revives death panels, boobs against breast cancer and the anti-gay bullying crisis

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Don’t look now, but Sarah Palin is back on her death panel kick, just in time for Halloween. No, really, don’t look. It just encourages the former governor of Alaska to recycle the exhaustively debunked allegation that health care reform will involve bringing the elderly and the disabled before “death panels” who will judge whether they are fit to live.

David Corn of Mother Jones caught Palin referencing the thoroughly debunked myth in her latest interview with the conservative website Newsmax. Oh, and she says she won’t rule out a presidential run in 2012.

Boobs against breast cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. The National Cancer Institute estimates that over 207,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and that nearly 40,000 will die of the disease this year. Breast cancer is the second-most common form of cancer in women.

Amie Newman of RH Reality Check notes that even Kentucky Fried Chicken is getting in on the awareness action with pink chicken buckets “for the cure.” This month, KFC is donating 50 cents from each rosy-hued tub of Original Recipe chicken to Susan G. Komen For The Cure, a leading breast cancer advocacy group. The promotion is expected to raise between $1 million and $8 million for breast cancer research and activism. That’s between 2 million and 16 million buckets of chicken. It’s more of a barometer than a donation, really.

The fewer buckets they sell, the more awareness has been raised. Newman notes that KFC’s french fries are an unusually rich source of acrylamide, a probable human carcinogen found in deep fried foods. In a recent study, women with the highest acrylamide intakes were at 43% greater risk for hormone-positive breast cancers.

Some marketers have decided that the root cause of our society’s lack of breast cancer awareness is our lack of breast awareness in general. This doesn’t seem quite right, especially because the breasts most likely to get cancer (those of women over 50) are seldom the breasts featured in the the various “save the gazongas” campaigns we’re subjected to every October.

Martha Pitts of the Ms. Blog wonders whose bright idea it was to “raise awareness” about breast cancer by inviting women to list their bra color as a Facebook status update. Pitts wonders how learning about friends’ underwear will motivate anyone to learn more about breast self-exams or mammograms. According to Ann Pietrangelo of Care2, the latest breast cancer “awareness” meme took a turn for the Dada-esque. This year, women were invited complete the sentence: “I like it on the…” referring, of course to where the Facebook user likes to keep her purse. Obviously, they need a meta-awareness campaign to explain what this has to do with breast cancer.

Monica Potts of TAPPED reminds us that while activists and policy makers are wrangling about access to mammograms, which may or may not improve women’s odds of surviving breast cancer, about 4000 women a year still die of cervical cancer in the US, despite the fact that the disease is almost completely preventable with routine Pap smears.

Anti-gay bullying

In other public health news, anti-gay bullying is making headlines all over the country. A series of high-profile suicides by bullied gay youth have riveted national attention on the issue. The statistics are sobering. Suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people, and LGBTQ youth are at significantly higher risk of suicidal behavior than their straight peers.

Nine out of ten LGBTQ youths told researchers that they had been harassed at school and two out of three said they felt unsafe at school because of their orientation, Jessica Strong reports for Campus Progress.

In Minnesota, three gay students the Anoka-Hennepin school district have committed suicide this year and the district is facing increasing pressure to crack down on homophobic bullying. However, not everyone’s on board.

Andy Birkey of the Minnesota Independent reports that the head of a Christian rock ministry called “You Can Run But You Can’t Hide” is opposing the anti-bullying programs, which he considers to be a recruiting tactic for gays, and by extension, child molesters (?!). Birkey also reports that Minnesota’s Republican gubernatorial hopeful, Tom Emmer, has said he won’t sign an anti-bullying bill if he is elected. Emmer has a strongly anti-gay record as a state legislator. The department store chain Target drew the ire of national gay rights groups when it gave a major donation to a pro-Emmer PAC.

Coming out for…

Monday was National Coming Out Day. To mark the occasion, Richard Kim published a piece in The Nation arguing that tougher criminal penalties aren’t necessarily the solution to anti-gay bullying. Bullies are, after all, mirroring the prejudices they see in adult society:

It’s tougher, more uncertain work creating a world that loves queer kids, that wants them to live and thrive. But try -- try as if someone’s life depended on it. Imagine saying I really wish my son turns out to be gay. Imagine hoping that your 2-year-old daughter grows up to be transgendered. Imagine not assuming the gender of your child’s future prom date or spouse; imagine keeping that space blank or occupied by boys and girls of all types. Imagine petitioning your local board of education to hire more gay elementary school teachers.

Kim argues that simply heaping more punishment onto bullies is an easy way out for a society that doesn’t want to grapple with widespread homophobia.

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