Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Great Imposters

According to conventional wisdom, there are three things you should never talk about in polite company, sex, politics, and religion. I'm about to address all three. I'm not going to be coarse, crude, or offensive, but I will be direct. Some readers may not like what I have to say, and a few might even take offense. Know in advance, that is not my intent, and read on if you choose.

You're welcome to agree or disagree and leave comments. Comments are moderated, but as long as the comments are civil (no name calling, insults, blaming, or demonstrably false information), I will allow them whether I agree with them or not. Remember, this is my soapbox, and your right to free speech does not mean I have to allow you to use my soapbox to say it. Be civil, or it won't be allowed here.

Let me start with I've never been a member of any political party. My views are most closely aligned with the Libertarian Party, but not completely because most Libertarians actually want (in my view) too little government. However, given that the nature of government is to grow, take more power, take more money, and become too intrusive, I welcome people fighting for "too little" govt as it helps counteract the natural tendency of bureaucracy. But this post isn't about the Libertarian Party.

This post is about the modern Republican Party, the GOP.

Most of my life, I've tended to side with the Grand Old Party on many issues, in large part because, despite the existence of several minor parties, most offices have don't have a minor party candidate running, so the choice is often between a Republican and a Democrat. On many issues, the GOP has been more closely aligned with my beliefs than the Democratic Party. That's not to say that I haven't supported and voted for numerous Democrats and more than a few minor party candidates, I have. I have always voted for candidates, not political parties.

Once upon a time, the GOP actually stood for some good things. See, many years ago, they actually believed in less government and individual liberty. According to Wikipedia:
American conservatism of the Republican Party is not wholly based upon rejection of the political ideology of liberalism, as many principles of American conservatism are based upon classical liberalism.

Founded in Northern States in 1854 by anti-slavery activists, modernizers, ex-Whigs and ex-Free Soilers, the Republican Party quickly became the principal opposition to the dominant Democratic Party...

"Free labor" referred to the Republican opposition to slave labor and belief in independent artisans and businessmen. "Free land" referred to Republican opposition to plantation system whereby the rich could buy up all the good farm land and work it with slaves, leaving the yeoman independent farmers the leftovers. The Party had the goal of containing the expansion of slavery, which would cause the collapse of the Slave Power and the expansion of freedom.

The GOP supported business generally, hard money (i.e., the gold standard), high tariffs to promote economic growth, high wages and high profits, generous pensions for Union veterans...
Classical liberalism is the philosophy committed to the ideal of limited government, constitutionalism, rule of law, due process, and liberty of individuals including freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, and free markets.

Once upon a time, they had sound fiscal policies, and fought for individuals, and less government, and small business, and farmers. That Republican Party no longer exists. The current Republican Party bears little resemblance to that GOP. They call themselves conservatives, but that's only a half-truth, they're reactionaries.

The Republicans' attempt to write religious beliefs into law at the federal level is a full fledged assault on the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
That guarantee of freedom of religion, also guarantees everyone else freedom from your religion. That applies to the current assaults on access to birth control, abortion, homosexuality, marriage, and others. Your rights end where they start to infringe on the rights of others. If you don't understand and honor that concept, you are not qualified to hold elected office in this country.

If you're opposed to using birth control, abortion, modern medicine, modern electric/electronic conveniences, or working on the Sabbath (whichever day you consider that to be), you have a right to hold that belief. Likewise, if you believe in abstinence only as "sex education", no pre-marital sex, and the teaching of creation (in church or church schools), that is your right. If you're an atheist or agnostic, that is your right. What you do not have a right to do is force others to abide by those beliefs.
"Frankly, one of our political parties is insane, and we all know which one it is." - Bruce Bartlett, former Economic Advisor to President Reagan.

The fundamentalist Republicans' attempts to outlaw abortion, or to make it more traumatic (it's already very traumatic for the woman) for women, attempts to make birth control harder to obtain, attempts to teach creation in public (e.g. taxpayer funded) schools, animosity toward and denial of benefits to homosexuals, and other such attempts to force their religious views on everyone are unconscionable. They have simultaneously abandoned all compassion and offers of aid to those in need (in direct violation of the teachings of the Bible they cite as their guide), while citing that same Bible as "proof" of the moral superiority of their views on these topics. They have perverted the Republican Party into an instrument to impose their religious beliefs on everyone. This faction of the Republican Party (which includes much of the leadership of the GOP) is not morally superior, they're morally bankrupt.

If you believe in the things this country and/or the Republican Party were founded upon, then search your conscience and see whether or not you can allow these imposters to continue to distort everything this country and the GOP were founded to support.

This power grab by the fundamentalists has been going on for far too long. I have fought against it, I have denounced it, and in some ways, I've overlooked it, while hoping it would improve. I'm sorry I waited so long. I can no longer tolerate this corruption of our government for their own purposes, and I can no longer grant them the use of the term Republican Party.

It's time we demand that these imposters stop calling themselves Republicans. The party leaders and beliefs they espouse are a disgrace to the legacy and beliefs of the founders of the Republican Party, and to the founders of our country. I don't know what I'll call them, perhaps we should just call them "The Great Imposters".

Reform the Republican Party, or end it, but don't let this faction destroy everything it once stood for, and what this country stands for.

A brief note: From a strict constitutional perspective, states may have the power to make laws regarding religion, however, they have that power only by agreement of the residents of that state, it's not an inherent power of the state. I am personally opposed to granting states that power, yet there is nothing in the US Constitution to prohibit it. Perhaps there should be, but it's not there now. That's a subject for another discussion. See the NYT Op-Ed in the related links section below.

Related links:

Friday, February 3, 2012

A Black Eye For Pink Ribbons

When I first heard Susan G Komen for the Cure (Komen) was disqualifying Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PP) from future grants, I was disappointed. I've been a supporter of both organizations, and I respect the work Komen has done to bring awareness, education, and research to breast cancer. I've sponsored people in the 3-Day and I've bought "Pink" products. I've always been a vocal supporter of their work.

I also respect and value the work of PP and do not wish to see their funding cut. They provide access to valuable sexual health services, information, and education for more than 3 million of people annually. Let me state that I am not in favor of abortions. However they are legal, and I believe they should be legal in most of the circumstances where they are now legal. You may hold a different opinion, but I invite you to read on. This post isn't about abortion.

I did a lot of research the past couple days, here's what I found:
  • Despite claims to the contrary, abortions represent only 3% of the services PP provides and only ~10% of their patients. 97% are non-abortion services and 90% of PP patients do not receive an abortion. PP isn't just about abortion, it's about all those other services.

  • The grant from Komen to PP affiliates was for less than $700,000 annually. It's less than 1% of the budget of either organization. It's less than the combined salary of the Presidents of the two organizations (more on that later). Given the size of these two organizations, it's not really worth arguing about. It's a tempest in a tea pot.

If it's not worth arguing about, then why am I bothering to write about it? Because I found out a lot more:
  1. Because of the publicity around this, PP raised more than an extra $1M in 48 hours, completely offsetting the annual loss from Komen in 2 days. In reality, PP doesn't need any funding from Komen.

  2. PP was using those dollars to provide additional breast examinations. A lot of examinations. Komen grants paid for approximately 170,000 of 4,000,000 breast exams performed by PP over the time that Komen has been giving grants to PP. 6400 of those resulted in a referral for Mammogram. That's a lot of exams, and a lot of lives that may have been saved. So, by any measure, I think it was worth the money.

  3. In FY 2008 and 2009, PP spent 16% of it's revenue for management, general, admin, and fundraising expenses (non-service expenses). 1% for international family planning services. 17% for domestic non-medical services. The remaining 66% went for providing medical services those who need it. In FY2008, PP and it's ~ 100 affiliates had total revenue of $1.1B (revenue for just the national office was $106M).

    The President's compensation was $384,295 (based in NY with a high cost of living).

  4. In 2007 Komen spent 60.3% of revenue on (grants for) research, education, and treatment of breast cancer. That means 39.7% went for admin, fundraising, office expenses, travel, and other overhead. In 2008, it was worse, less than 49% went to (grants for) research, education, and treatment, over 51% went for overhead. In 2008, only 40% of the revenue went to research.

    Komen had total revenue of $159M. The President's compensation was $558,607 (based in Dallas with a much lower cost of living).

That's right, only around half the donations to Komen went toward the very things they're raising funds for, and less than half actually goes toward finding treatments or cures.

How can the President of Komen face families and friends of breast cancer patients and ask them for their time and money, knowing that she is earning more than 10 times the national household income, knowing that she earns 5, 10, or 20 times as much as the very people shes asking to donate money, while it's those very donations that pay her salary?

To me, that is unconscionable. She may fit in with the wealthy donors and large corporate donors, but I can't see how that's at all consistent with the mission of Susan G Komen for the Cure. I've been a business owner, I know you need to hire quality people, and you may have to pay more for them, but the discrepancy between the pay of the Presidents of these two organizations highlights how inefficient and cavalier Komen has been with our donations.

Why Komen was wrong:
Two days after it started, Komen put out a video explaining their position and reasoning. They had adopted rules that prevented people or organizations that were under investigation from applying for new grants. While that sounds like a prudent way to protect funds of the charity, there is a serious flaw. An investigation does not mean any law or policy has been broken, it just means some official agency has started an investigation. In this instance, one Senator started an investigation of PP based upon pressure from anti-abortion groups.

PP has not been accused of or charged with a crime, much less been found guilty. And that is the major flaw with Komen's new policy. PP was being punished without even being accused, charged, or given a chance to defend themselves. Innocent until proven guilty, and they should at least remain eligible until they've been formally charged with a crime.

The Future:
Today, Komen reversed their decision and will be revising their new policy. But for me, it's too little, too late. See, I've already done the research, and I don't like what I found. I can no longer support Komen, they're too wasteful with donations. They also appear to be driven by political factors rather than by the needs of the patients. That's not what I expect from an organization who claims to be "for the cure".

Another problem with Komen is that we no longer need to raise awareness of breast cancer. You can't drive down the street, or walk through a store without seeing pink ribbons and other pink products. We're all very aware now. It's time to cut back on the advertising and awareness, and focus the money on research and treatment.

Komen has been the center of several other recent controversies. So called "pinkwashing" - putting a pink ribbon on unhealthy products, and threatening other charities and organizations over using the phrase "for the cure" or "for a cure".

This incident has shined a light on the darker aspects of Komen. If they "clean up their act", get the overhead costs down to a reasonable level, including significantly reducing the pay of the President and other officers or board members to be in line with other such organizations, then I'll reconsider. I'm still in support of finding effective treatments and cures for all types of cancer, including breast cancer, but until I see a major change, Komen is off my list of charities that I support.

Komen did the right thing, for the wrong reasons:
Numbers 3 and 4 above point to a fundamental problem with charities funding charities. Komen takes 40%-50% for overhead, and PP will have another 16% overhead. The result, only about 40% of people's initial donation is actually going toward these breast cancer screenings. Even if the percentages are smaller, you're still going to see double overhead. For that reason, and that reason alone, Komen should deny future requests from charities, including PP. PP can perform their own (more efficient) fundraising, making even more money available for patient care.

Update 2014-01-06:
Komen has changed many executives, slightly lowered pay for the replacements, but they're paying $475K/yr to their new CEO. Still very high compared to PP and most other large charities. They also had 22% lower revenue.

Related links: