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Susan G. Komen and the Cancer Within

by Clinton Fein on February 10, 2012

in Analysis,Clinton Fein,Health,Healthcare,News,Opinion

Post image for Susan G. Komen and the Cancer Within

Editor’s note: Politics is controversial. Art is controversial. Where politics and art meet can be very controversial. We recognize the image above, and the words below, may seem controversial  to some, but we respect our readers, and believe they would rather be challenged to examine, explore, and as they seek to understand.  

In image and word this piece represents and explains the actions Susan G. Komen For The Cure has taken against Planned Parenthood and women’s rights, bowing to anti-abortion activists while supporting the sale of pink guns and events like “Shoot For The Cure.” 

The beleaguered Susan G. Komen Foundation, in the wake of its decision to defund Planned Parenthood and subsequent reversal following an avalanche of criticism, inadvertently ended up subjecting itself to harsh scrutiny and a blazing media spotlight that shows no sign of stopping just yet, and from which it can’t run nor hide.

Brand damaging allegations, comments, old press releases, and on and off the record comments and accusations leave absolutely no doubt that the organization is steeped in political ideology that permeates its decision making and fractures its credibility.

Think Progress revealed further evidence that Komen lied about there being a political motivation to their decision in their widely publicized reversal, reporting that last December, former Press Secretary for George W. Bush, Ari Fleischer, was secretly involved in Komen’s Planned Parenthood strategy (if you could call it that).

Fleischer personally interviewed candidates for the position of “Senior Vice President for Communications and External Relations,” grilling them on how they would handle the controversy over Komen’s relationship with Planned Parenthood.

Fleischer, self-described long-time friend of CEO Nancy Brinker and vocal critic of Planned Parenthood, confirmed that he would, of course, be paid once the key communications position was filled.

No doubt, this will appease the anti-abortion critics of Komen Foundation who don’t want their money going to the funding of abortions when it could be better spent hiring disgraced liars that are friends with the CEO.

The Komen Foundation did an excellent job of “borrowing” the red ribbon from the Visual AIDS Artists Caucus, who created it in 1991 as a symbol to promote awareness about AIDS and HIV. The Visual AIDS Artists Caucus was clear that the ribbon was to be used as a consciousness raising symbol, not as a trademark. While the red ribbon had an enormous impact when first worn by Jeremy Irons at the 1991 Tony Awards, it didn’t take long for it to become a rote, unconscious, politically correct fashion accessory for celebrities to wear to awards shows.

From the very outset, politics has been involved with the pink ribbon. The choice of the color resulted from an effort by Self magazine and the cosmetics company Estée Lauder to sidestep Charlotte Haley, an activist who had begun a peach ribbon campaign to pressure the National Cancer Institute to increase its budget for cancer prevention research, and did not want to commercialize the endeavor.

Komen didn’t just step in and successfully appropriate the pink ribbon, promoting it as an international symbol of breast cancer awareness. They stylized it to make it their own, and took ownership of the color pink itself.

And while they can’t actually claim ownership to the pink ribbon, per se, what Komen has trademarked — with the viciousness of the MPAA and RIAA combined — is the string of words “for the cure™” (along with 200 other registered trademarks).

In 2007, to celebrate its twenty-fifth anniversary, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation officially changed its name to Susan G. Komen for the Cure. And as the organization grew, so too did its bullying tactics.

Last year, spending more than $1 million in donor funds, Komen aggressively launched dozens of legal battles against small charitable organizations daring to use “for the cure” or the color pink to raise funds. “It is startling to us that Komen thinks they own pink,” Mary Ann Tighe, told the Wall Street Journal after Komen challenged her over the color for her “Kites for a Cure” lung-cancer fund-raiser. “We cannot allow ourselves to be bullied to no purpose.”

Komen has also been accused of “pinkwashing” by organizations such as Breast Cancer Action, by allowing companies to slap pink ribbons on carcinogenic products. Evidenced in their Think Before You Pink™ campaign . And in documentaries like Léa Pool’s Pink Ribbons, Inc., in which she questions just how far the millions raised through pink ribbon marketing campaigns, go towards fighting breast cancer. (As opposed to hiring expensive political flaks like Ari Fleischer, perhaps.) Or the book that inspired the documentary, Dr. Samantha King’s Pink Ribbons Inc.: Breast Cancer and the Politics of Philanthropy.

Slapping carcinogenic products with the pinkwashed Komen stamp of approval is not the only thing that appears to counter the organization’s supposed laser beam focus on breast cancer – and its “pro life” stance.

Even though Komen continues to insist that there is no politics or ideology in their decision making and that “providing hope for a cure must drive our efforts,” many supporters were alarmed to learn of a cozy relationship between Komen and gun makers — exacerbated by Komen’s strenuous denials and the subsequent unearthing of documentation to the contrary. Komen has been slow and clumsy attempting to explain the questionable link between breast cancer awareness, prevention, treatment and research with gun sales. Accusations that further strain the entire “pro-life” underpinning of their Planned Parenthood fiasco.

Events such as “Shoot for the Cure,” or the Pink Hope 22 handgun available on Discount Gun Sales (recently removed in the wake of the accusations of politicization and right wing mission creep) give more than just a little credence to the pinkwashing accusations and embracing of what are traditionally considered right wing causes.

“We do not have partnerships with any firearms manufacturer,” Komen told Huffington Post when probed. Jim Clune, communications manager for the Puget Sound Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure confirmed the denial. “This fundraising scheme is not sanctioned by us; we had no knowledge of it. We have not received a single penny from this gun seller. It is a rogue scheme,” he claimed.

With Komen spending millions to police and protect its mark, it stretches credibility that they are either uninvolved or unaware of anything using their name, slogans or color.

Naturally, some intrepid reporting by Village Voice and others revealed that Komen’s gun loving ways are, in fact, quite well documented and guns and events in their name can’t suddenly be hidden. From the First Annual Susan G. Komen Shoot for the Cure event in Illinois  to pink rifles and pistols, Komen is clearly wielding its power to keep money flowing in wherever it can, at the expense of its scruples, and focus.

How else to explain the loss of nearly $12 million dollars in research money to eradicate breast cancer this year alone following Komen’s decision to cease funding any organization affiliated in any way, shape or form, with embryonic stem cell research.

In a cryptic statement on its web site, Komen denies “defunding” human embryonic stem cell research, vowing it would continue to “focus its research efforts on the most promising areas of science.” Adding: “To this point, embryonic stem cell research has not shown promise for application in breast cancer.” For an organization with credibility issues, this kind of obfuscation does little to rebuild their brand, or treat their constituents with the transparency, respect and intelligence they deserve.

Nancy Brinker has done a formidable job in raising funds. And promoting herself. Of that there is no denying. The billions raised by the organization renders the upward of $5 million annual salary she draws, insignificant. By comparison.

And while she may be unabashedly Republican, she isn’t overly generous with her political donations. Blogger and activist Michael Petrelis reveals of the $186,000 in total donations she’s given over the years, 98% of checks went to GOP pols and PACs, and just $3,750 went to a Democratic candidate. Of course she supports the winners like Mark Foley (who resigned in a sexting scandal) and the rabidly anti-abortion Rick Santorum, who would have Susan G. Komen give birth to the spawn of a rapist, were she alive and to suffer such a horror.

Komen’s red-faced about turn was about money and their clueless tone deafness to reality outside the rich, white Republican bubble. Maybe she was too busy checking up to see how the Promise Me fragrance - the first and only proprietary fragrance developed with Susan G. Komen for the Cure — was doing, and coincidentally sharing a name of the title of Nancy Brinker’s book, which purchasers of the fragrance were lucky enough to get for free.

Ralph Reed, disgraced chairman of an organization that has the audacity to call itself the Faith and Freedom Coalition, weighed in, calling the reversal “deeply disappointing.” Ralph Reed, known for his conspiring to steal from Native Americans with convicted lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, tricked Christians into supporting gambling initiatives whilst laughing all the way to the bank. Unfortunately for the anti-abortion critics of Komen, sad media outlets like MSNBC quote him as a spokesperson for their cause with a straight face. Other ethicists like Bernie Madoff and Casey Anthony were presumably unavailable. And Timothy McVeigh and Jeffrey Dahmer are dead.

The drumbeat to fire the failed gubernatorial candidate, anti-gay, anti-abortion Karen Handel, (who is neither a doctor nor a scientist) who was hired as senior vice president of policy reached a crescendo culminating in her resignation Tuesday. Prior to the reversal last week, a defiant Nancy Brinker told MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell that Handel did not play a “significant role” in this decision.

In her resignation letter to Brinker, dripping with a nauseating mix of self-pity and piety, Handel wrote: “I am deeply disappointed by the gross mischaracterizations of the strategy, its rationale, and my involvement in it. I openly acknowledge my role in the matter and continue to believe our decision was the best one for Komen’s future and the women we serve. However, the decision to update our granting model was made before I joined Komen, and the controversy related to Planned Parenthood has long been a concern to the organization. Neither the decision nor the changes themselves were based on anyone’s political beliefs or ideology. Rather, both were based on Komen’s mission and how to better serve women, as well as a realization of the need to distance Komen from controversy.”

Good distancing there, Karen. Denying poor women mammograms and putting the brakes on any kind of promising stem cell research really better serves women. Almost as much as launching trademark lawsuits keeps Komen focused on its mission. Or selling pink dishtowels.

Jim Galloway at the Atlantic Journal Constitution reports that Handel refused a severance package that might have bought her silence, opting instead for a press conference this afternoon. Rest assured, with Sarah Palin-like speaking fees in mind, Karen Handel will become the new anti-Planned Parenthood spokesperson, with national road shows and frequent visits to Fox News.

Perhaps using Komen as a stepping stone was Handel’s objective all along. She successfully convinced Brinker — preoccupied becoming the Martha Stewart of Breast Cancer — to take the decades of good work done in the name of her sister, Susan, and toss them aside by demonizing Planned Parenthood and turning Komen into a marginalized, anti-abortion political football. Except for the demonizing of Planned Parenthood, for whom Komen’s gargantuan public relations catastrophe is a financial touchdown.

And within just one week, over 50% of the graduating class of the Yale School of Public Health sought to rescind Nancy Brinker’s invitation to give a commencement speech. Although Yale chose to honor the invitation, one of the students who had signed a petition to withdraw the invite, Vanessa Lamers, told Yale Daily News that she believes having Brinker as a speaker would “tarnish the school’s reputation.” How quick and how far the mighty have fallen.

Just like a bitter, ugly frauds named Cliff Stearns or Mike Pence have failed in their blatant mission to cripple Planned Parenthood on the taxpayer’s dime. Stearns is one of those big spending, big government panderers who initiated an inquiry to determine whether Planned Parenthood is being truthful in its denial that it uses any taxpayer funding to perform abortions.

Stearns, a Republican congressman from Florida, of course,  introduced a bill in 2011 that would only provide federal funding to organizations that flagrantly violate the relationship between doctor and patient and show women unnecessary sonograms of fetuses and advise against ending pregnancies. When it comes to the living though, he’s pro-death, and believes big government should be monitoring everything from steroids to art. In 2010, with straight faces, Citizens Against Government Waste named Stearns a “Taxpayer Hero,” for a second time.

Mike Pence is an unfortunately unaborted Indiana Republican and former talk show host that loathes Planned Parenthood almost as much as he does women. In 2011 he introduced a bill to the House that would ban federal funding for abortion providers. Hatred of women and reproductive health is not uniquely Republican though. Several pro-life Democrats cosponsored the bill. The amendment to defund Planned Parenthood passed the House of Representatives easily but lost 42 to 58 in the Senate.

And so you have it. A few Catholic bishops in Missouri and Ohio shifted their gaze from the crotches of prepubescent children and sheltering and shuffling pedophiles long enough to convince their parishioners to boycott Komen because of their ties to Planned Parenthood and stem cell research. A few right wing nutcases threatened to disrupt Komen events or boycott sponsors. Along with the pro-gun, anti-abortion politicos, allowing women to die in the name of “conscience rights” of doctors. Komen, already in bed with the very people declaring war on women’s health, didn’t need much arm twisting.

“We have made mistakes in how we have handled recent decisions and take full accountability for what has resulted, but we cannot take our eye off the ball when it comes to our mission. To do this effectively, we must learn from what we’ve done right, what we’ve done wrong and achieve our goal for the millions of women who rely on us. The stakes are simply too high and providing hope for a cure must drive our efforts,” declared Nancy Brinker in the wake of Karen Handel’s resignation, as if a sudden refocus on the ball, from which eyes and efforts were largely diverted, will make the whole ugly mess just disappear. But in the haze of her astonishing arrogance, Nancy Brinker doesn’t seem to realize she’s lost control and the ball has already rolled away.

Komen’s mean-spirited, politically motivated board decision to change its policy late last year would have cut nearly $700,000 to Planned Parenthood and their affiliates. But the entire plan, along with Ari Fleicher’s containment strategy blew up in their faces.

Planned Parenthood in just one week received almost $3 million — four times the amount it usually receives from the Komen annually — with high profile donations from the likes of Michael Bloomberg and Lance Armstrong. And a whole lot of former Komen donors, who didn’t realize quite who they were supporting, and won’t be going back.

In this whole drama, two things are certain.

Planned Parenthood is no Acorn, and is not going anywhere soon. Not if anyone who cares about women’s health has anything to do with it.

Nothing short of Nancy Brinker’s immediate resignation will give Komen so much as a fighting chance to regain a shred of credibility and possibly survive in a smaller, more focused capacity. It may however, be too late, given just how much the cancer has spread.

Clinton Fein is an internationally acclaimed author, artist, and First Amendment activist, best-​known for his 1997 First Amendment Supreme Court victory against United States Attorney General Janet Reno. Fein has also gained international recognition for his Annoy​.com site, and for his work as a political artist. Fein is on the Board of Directors of the First Amendment Project, “a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to protecting and promoting freedom of information, expression, and petition.” Fein’s political and privacy activism have been widely covered around the world. His work also led him to be nominated for a 2001 PEN/Newman’s Own First Amendment Award.

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{ 1 comment }

Deb Ragosta April 20, 2012 at 7:59 pm

If the name of the foundation is "Komen for the Cure" it would be logical to assume they are doing something for the cure. Prevention is not a cure. Education is not a cure, catching breast cancer early is not a cure. Sadly, despite millions raised in the name of the "cure," very little goes to research (2 to 3% goes to metastatic bc research.) In all the years since Nancy Brinker started her juggernaut, the number of women and men dying in this country every year has not changed significantly and is still more than 40,000. Nancy, keep taking millions for yourself so you can look good as the "face" of breast cancer fundraising, but the recent planned parenthood debacle has uncovered you for what you are – a woman so obsessed with your image and the image of your foundation, you have completely lost sight of what it means when you say you are "for the cure."

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