The Susan G. Komen foundation has been under fire the past few days.  That pressure is well deserved; it’s coming after Komen — an organization that professes to care about women’s health — pulled its funding for Planned Parenthood.  (Komen has since reversed that decision because of a furious outcry online.  Maybe.)

Komen said over and over that their decision to pull funding from Planned Parenthood was not about politics.  That simply can’t be true.  It was a pathetic attempt to pander to right-wing, anti-abortion groups who have had knives out for Planned Parenthood for years.  More evidence that the decision was about abortion: Mother Jones is reporting on another of Komen’s grants that appears to violate its new policy.

The Planned Parenthood decision has put Komen under a good deal of scrutiny.  The more we find out about them, the more questions arise about their activities.  A look at their financials (2010 is available on their website in a PDF) is educational.

  • For their fiscal year 2009-10, Komen brought in $310 million in revenue, goods, and services.  They had an additional $80 million in other income (interest, investment income, restricted funds becoming unrestricted.  That’s about $390 million in revenue.  Not bad.
  • They spent about $360 million.  This is how that breaks down: Research – $75 million (about 21%).  Public Awareness (advertising and other public outreach, in other words) – $141 million (39%).  Health Screenings $41 million (11%).  Treatment – $20 million (0.5%).  Fundraising – $36 million (10%).  Administrative costs – $41 million (11%).
  • Let me spell this out (this was pointed out by Chris Broom on Facebook, who adapted it from a post on DailyKos).  They spent $77 million in overhead costs.  Compare that to the $76 million they spent on research, which probably has its own grant overhead costs.

So their priorities don’t really seem to be curing breast cancer, just by looking at the numbers.  The DailyKos post says that this makes sense because there really isn’t any economic benefit to curing breast cancer.  But there certainly is great economic benefit in treating breast cancer and working to find a cure.  There’s a human benefit to both.

Pink Walther P22

File photo of the Walther P-22 Hope Edition 3.4″ to be sold for breast cancer awareness. (Credit: Discount Gun Sales, LLC)

Then there are some other activities that are questionable.  They created a partnership with a Seattle gun distributor to sell pink handguns.  Apparently this fits in with the pink spatulas and pink ribbons for awareness that Komen is so well known for.  What’s the next deadly promotional item to be made pink?

Can someone explain to me exactly how selling handguns contributes to women’s health?  It seems to me that it does exactly the opposite.  Guns kill people, you see.  Is the new Komen motto “Save a life by taking a life”?  It seems apt, although it’s intellectually dishonest when taken in light with the Planned Parenthood decision (about abortion no matter what Komen says).  It’s a common disease in the Republican Party these days.  But that’s another post.

I’m not going to soft-pedal how I feel about the handgun thing.  It’s disgusting.  It’s another sop to the right wing, just the same way the Planned Parenthood decision was.  It’s wrong.

I think the Komen foundation needs to remember what its true mission is.  It’s supposed to be about women’s health and finding a cure for breast cancer, which is a worthy cause.  That’s what all those people giving all that money expect.  Somehow, it seems to me, Komen has lost its way.  Until it finds its way back, I won’t be supporting them (I was thinking about walking in 2013).  Any donation dollars I was going to give them will be going to Planned Parenthood (and maybe anti-gun causes too) instead.

I’ve spent most of this evening watching the State of the Union and the Republican response.  Here are some thoughts on those:

The State of the Union

  • I liked the agenda that President Obama laid out.  That’s not much of a surprise, really, for those who know me or who have been reading the sporadic posts on this blog.  (I hope to post more as the election gets closer.  We’ll see if I can make that happen.)  The fact is that we do have a major problem with the economic equality in this country.  The middle class is threatened.  The deck is stacked in favor of the very wealthy.  Obama is right when he says that we have to level the playing field.  We should be giving tax breaks to companies that move manufacturing back to the United States, and we should penalize those (through the tax code) that offshore jobs and profits.  These are common sense steps that we should have taken long ago.
  • We do have to get the money out of politics.  A constitutional amendment is needed, though.  Bernie Sanders’ proposed amendment is a great place to start.  (Actually, I think it should be passed as is.)
  • I liked Obama’s confrontational tone.  The Fix called it “Confrontation Wrapped in Kumbaya”.  I like that; it’s an apt description.  Obama fully played on the fact that Congress’s approval rating is extremely low, lecturing them about their inaction.  He promised action where Congress has been inactive.  He can do a lot through executive order, but that is not as good as legislation.  He demanded that Congress send him bills this year and promised to sign them.
  • I don’t have a lot of hope that Congress will actually act, though, the cameras kept panning to shots of stony-faced Republicans who seemed to want to be anywhere else.
  • The Republicans didn’t seem to take kindly to that scolding tone, and cleared out of the chamber pretty quickly.  I enjoyed that.  One never likes being lectured to, especially when one knows that the person doing the lecturing is right.

The Republican Response

Mitch Daniels, the governor of Indiana delivered the Republican response.  I was struck by a few things.

  • The use of the phrase “loyal opposition”.  I see a lot of opposition in the Republican agenda during Obama’s presidency.  But I have not seen a lot of loyal.  When the Senate minority leader’s stated goal is to make Obama a one-term president, how is that loyally caring for the people’s business?  How is the president supposed to work to find a middle ground, when there isn’t any to begin with?
  • Mitch Daniels talking about budget math is really pretty rich.  Daniels was President Bush’s budget director.  A strong case can be made that the deficit and debt issues that the Republicans care so much about now can be laid at the feet of President Bush and his tax cuts.  And then fighting two wars.
  • The claim that Steve Jobs was a jobs creator was embellished, to say the least.  Apparently Daniels missed the New York Times article from January 21.  Steve Jobs created jobs, all right, but Daniels neglected to mention that most of those were overseas.

I see a lot more of the same coming from Republicans.  They still don’t want to work with President Obama, despite the record low approval rating that Congress enjoys.  So President Obama will need to do what he can via executive order, and he’ll have to go out on the road and really sell his plan.  And he’s going to have to pick a couple of things he absolutely has to have and fight for them in Congress the way he hasn’t the past three years.

Once again, John Boehner can’t keep his caucus in line.  This fact contributes to the absolute disgrace that is Congress these days.  The Republican leadership makes deals with the Democrats and then reneges because Boehner can’t get the Republican votes needed to pass a law.

Let’s be honest here – the tea partiers are holding this up for reasons completely unrelated to the payroll tax holiday.  They want quick action on the Keystone XL Pipeline and more discretionary spending cuts, according to Ezra Klein.  The American people are the ones who will pay the price in higher taxes – taxes that are in fact regressive, so the rich won’t pay anything more than they already do.  And Boehner says that the House has finished the work of the American people and is saying that the ball is back in the Senate’s court.

Boehner also says that a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday is a non-starter because the House doesn’t want any more half measures that might “cause uncertainty.”  Dana Milbank’s column today points out the lie there:

On Monday, the bar owner’s son aligned himself with House conservatives in opposition to a broadly bipartisan plan to extend a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans.

This new position, essentially reversing the one Boehner voiced a mere three days earlier, proves anew that the old-school speaker is less a leader of his caucus than a servant of his radical backbenchers. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say he’s their barkeep.

Three times at a news conference on Friday, Boehner was asked whether he could support a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, as Senate Democrats and Republicans were planning. Three times, Boehner declined to state an objection to the two-month extension (he objected to a different part of the agreement, about an oil pipeline, which the senators subsequently changed to his liking).

“I just gave you an answer. How much clearer can I be?” Boehner said, refusing to take issue with the two-month extension.

And so senators passed the extension, 89 to 10. Tea Party heroes Pat Toomey and Marco Rubio voted for the compromise. The fiercest budget cutter of them all, Sen. Tom Coburn, voted for it. Republican lions such as John Cornyn, Jon Kyl and Mitch McConnell voted for it. Only seven Republicans voted “no.”

McConnell, the Senate Republican leader who negotiated the compromise, kept Boehner informed at every step — and was confident enough in Boehner’s acquiescence that his office sent out a notice saying there would be no more legislative business in the Senate until 2 p.m. on Jan. 23. But Boehner’s backbenchers — particularly the Tea Party freshmen — had other ideas, and, in a Saturday teleconference, made clear to Boehner that he would have to abandon the compromise.

The House Republican freshmen have become a bit tipsy with power, and freshman Rep. Steve Womack (R-Ark.) on Tuesday boasted at a news conference that his class is “performing more like sophomores now than freshmen.” Actually, their performance is more sophomoric than anything, but they’ve been able to deliver a string of insults to Boehner, most notably the July revolt that forced the speaker to pull his debt-limit plan from the floor. If Boehner needs any more evidence he’s out of style in his party, he can ponder the rise in the presidential race of Newt Gingrich, the man Boehner tried to depose from the speakership 15 years ago, losing his leadership position in the process.

On Tuesday, Boehner had the unpleasant task of going before the cameras to explain why his House Republicans, after championing tax cuts for millionaires, would be voting against a tax cut for ordinary Americans.

“You know, Americans are tired of, uh,Washington’s short-term fixes and gimmicks,” Boehner began. Behind him in the hallway outside his office, four American flags provided patriotic cover for the reversal. He complained that “the Senate Democratic leaders passed a two-month extension” — omitting mention that Senate Republicans, with Boehner’s knowledge and tacit support, had agreed.

So rather than pass a two-month extension, he’s willing to have the tax cuts lapse entirely when they expire at year end?

“I don’t believe the differences between the House and Senate are that great,” Boehner said, by way of reassurance. But this only confirmed that his side was making a big stink over nothing.

Why didn’t he raise warnings earlier about the two-month extension? “Uh, we expressed our reservations about what the Senate was doing,” he said.

What did he make of the fact that 90 percent of the Senate supported the compromise? Boehner, in reply, demanded to know why “we always have to go to the lowest common denominator” — which is exactly what he had done in letting his backbenchers lead him.

The speaker denied the obvious truth that he had encouraged the compromise before opposing it. He licked his lips, gave a “thanks, everybody” and disappeared.

The sophomoric freshmen must have needed their barkeep to serve them another round.

This is what happens when you make a deal with the devil to get power.  The Republican establishment made that deal with the Tea Party to win the 2010 Congressional election.  They made this bed.  Gridlock has ensued for the entire term.  Congress is an absolute disgrace with something like an 11% approval rating (who ARE the people who approve, by the way?).  And now, again, the American people that they profess to love so much will suffer.  The rich won’t, remember, because the payroll tax is regressive.  Nice going, Republicans.

“Send in the Clueless” is the headline from the op-ed by Paul Krugman in today’s New York Times.  I borrowed it for this post because it’s just so perfect.  Krugman, as usual, is exactly right.  He says it so much better than I did in my post on the state of the Republican field.

Think about what it takes to be a viable Republican candidate today. You have to denounce Big Government and high taxes without alienating the older voters who were the key to G.O.P. victories last year — and who, even as they declare their hatred of government, will balk at any hint of cuts to Social Security and Medicare (death panels!).

And you also have to denounce President Obama, who enacted a Republican-designed health reform and killed Osama bin Laden, as a radical socialist who is undermining American security.

So what kind of politician can meet these basic G.O.P. requirements? There are only two ways to make the cut: to be totally cynical or to be totally clueless.

I think Krugman is right on when he says:

The Washington Post quotes an unnamed Republican adviser who compared what happened to Mr. Cain, when he suddenly found himself leading in the polls, to the proverbial tale of the dog who had better not catch that car he’s chasing. “Something great and awful happened, the dog caught the car. And of course, dogs don’t know how to drive cars. So he had no idea what to do with it.”

The same metaphor, it seems to me, might apply to the G.O.P. pursuit of the White House next year. If the dog actually catches the car — the actual job of running the U.S.government — it will have no idea what to do, because the realities of government in the 21st century bear no resemblance to the mythology all ambitious Republican politicians must pretend to believe. And what will happen then?

That’s the right question.  What, exactly, will happen if the Republicans win the White House next year?  They will actually have to govern if they are elected.  (Which, by the way, I think would be an unmitigated disaster.)

They’ve said exactly nothing about how they plan to do that.  They just talk about how bad the government is, how it must be cut, that we have to cut taxes and regulation, and somehow – magically – prosperity will return to the United States.

Wishing doesn’t make it so.  Cutting the government – and putting more people of work as a result, incidentally – will not make it so.  It will hurt more than it helps.  Real interest rates on the debt are negative.  The government should be taking advantage of this opportunity and spending more in the short term while taking a long term view on deficits, which do need to be dealt with.

Government is not the root of all evil in America, as the Republicans would have us believe.  There are many, many things it can do better, but there is a place for government in our lives.  The government should be the one to pay for and run prisons, or build and maintain roads, or run schools, or myriad other things.  We can’t simply starve the beast and hope everything gets better.  And the Republicans either don’t realize this or are so cynical that they don’t care.  I don’t really know which is worse.

The Republican presidential field is remarkable for one reason.  They’re doing the best they can to distinguish themselves in how unremarkable they are.  I’ve talked about some of this before, but with the events of the past few days in this race, I need to talk about it again.

EJ Dionne wrote about this in his column today.  (And that’s before Herman Cain’s truly impressive gaffe on Libya today.  If you watch the video of that one, you’re left wondering if he knows anything at all.)

Dionne made some points today about the lack of depth in the field.  That it wasn’t Perry’s brain cramp (which can happen to anyone and is a little bit forgivable), but what’s really bad is his lack of depth.

What really matters is the subject that sent Perry’s brain into lockdown. He was in the middle of describing sweeping changes in the federal bureaucracy closely connected to his spare vision of American government. One presumes a candidate for president ponders such proposals carefully, discusses them with advisers and understands their implications.

Forgetting an idea at the heart of your program, in other words, is not the same as forgetting a phone number, a friend’s name, a football score or the title of a recently read book.

Perry’s memory lapse showed that he wasn’t asserting anything that he is truly serious about because he is not serious about what government does, or ought not to do. For him, governing seems a casual undertaking.

“And I will tell you,” he declared, “it’s three agencies of government when I get there that are gone: Commerce, Education and the — what’s the third one there? Let’s see.”

Yes, let’s see what “gone” might imply. Would Perry end all federal aid to education? Would he do away with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the part of the Commerce Department that, among other things, tracks hurricanes? Energy was the department he forgot. Would he scrap the department’s 17 national labs, including such world-class facilities as Los Alamos, N.M., Oak Ridge, Tenn., or — there’s that primary coming up — Aiken, S.C.?

I’m not accusing Perry of wanting to do any of these things because I don’t believe he has given them a moment of thought. And that’s the problem for conservatives. Their movement has been overtaken by a quite literally mindless opposition to government. Perry, correctly, thought he had a winning sound bite, had he managed to blurt it out, because if you just say you want to scrap government departments (and three is a nice, round number), many conservatives will cheer without asking questions.

“He hasn’t given them a moment of thought.”  Doesn’t that just nail the problem with the GOP today?

It is a brainless field.  They brainlessly spout off talking points (to huge cheers, mind) about the evils of government, about how taxes and spending and regulation must be cut, about foreign policy (see Herman Cain’s moment from today), or torture (both Michele Bachmann and Herman Cain say that they would waterboard people again).  They all attack science and intellectual work as evil liberal plots.  And conservative voters — even those who should know better — lap it up.

It’s a frightening prospect.  Someone from this field — my guess is that it will be Romney — will be the nominee, and someone else from this field will be the running mate.  That person has a pretty decent chance at beating President Obama next November.  Others in this field may be in line for Cabinet positions.  These are the people who would run the country.  And they haven’t thought anything they say they want to do through.  It’s simply about being the president, not actually governing if they win.  How can that not be scary?

I’ll leave off with Dionne’s last paragraph:

There are honorable exceptions: Bill Bennett, for one, and to some degree — hard to admit, I know — Karl Rove. But that so many other members of a movement theoretically devoted to traditional values on sexual matters would eagerly jump into this mess on Cain’s side speaks volumes about its condition. To paraphrase Bennett from another context, where’s the outrage about a conservatism that is losing both its intellectual moorings and its moral compass?

What is it with the Republicans these days?  I’m talking, specifically, about the Republican presidential field.  It’s absolutely nuts.  You know it’s really nuts when Pat Robertson, of all people, is saying that it’s bad.  (I mean, can you believe this?  This is the guy who blames floods and other natural disasters on gay people.  You can’t make this stuff up.)

The one guy who could actually be elected from that group has to tack so far to the right to get past the wing nuts that have taken over the party that he’s making campaign ad after campaign ad for Obama in the general election.  The other guy who’s actually reasonable can’t gain any traction because he’s reasonable.  The nominal frontrunner (depending on which poll you’re reading) is a mediocre pizza chain executive who’s never held office.

I feel like I’ve stepped into the Twilight Zone and am waiting for Rod Serling to step out of the shadows and tell me it’s all okay.  But of course he never does because this is reality.  Surreal and real at the same time.  Go figure.  Such is the state of the Republican Party as it tries to find anyone other than Romney for the nomination next year.

Let’s briefly examine the field:

  • Mitt Romney – this is the one guy who could beat Obama next year.  But the wing nuts are driving him so far to the right that he’s looking more and more like a wing nut too.  He just hangs in and hopes to be still standing when the latest flavor of the week flames out.  And not be so far to the right that he can’t come back for the general election.  You just know Obama can’t wait to run some of the things Romney has said in this primary as campaign ads in the general election next year.
  • Jon Hunstman – he could probably beat Obama next year, too, but he can’t get any traction because he worked in a Democratic administration (as ambassador toChina), and has no money, probably also because he worked in a Democratic administration.
  • Herman Cain – the mediocre pizza chain executive.  All he can talk about is 9-9-9, even though it’s been repeatedly shown to belong in the pile of ordure it came from.  He’s polling so well precisely because the Republican Party can’t stand Romney.
  • Rick Perry – this is the guy who touts his C average in college.  He’s trying to make himself look more attractive by making himself look stupid.  He’s also the guy with the racist name on his ranch.  And the one who tried to bring back the “birther” controversy in Parade magazine, of all places.  (Does anyone else mistake that magazine for coupons, as Jon Stewart notes?  I always toss it, unread.)  He’s also the candidate who said that appearing in debates was a mistake.  Pardon me for thinking it’s somewhat important to see how candidates think on their feet.  A debate is a friendly venue compared to sparring with some world leaders.
  • Newt Gingrich – Mr. Family Values himself.  This is the former speaker of the House, who resigned from Congress in disgrace, attempting a comeback like Richard Nixon’s.  He’s also the stand-up guy who informed his wife of divorce proceedings while she was in the hospital.  (Gingrich disputes this, of course.)  I always admired his intellect – he always seemed to be the smartest of this motley bunch – but he seems to think that the way ahead is to deny established science.
  • Michele Bachmann – Ms. Wing Nut herself.  I can’t believe I was saying that we needed to take her seriously.  Well, those words certainly weren’t true.  I guess the old adage about giving them enough rope is true.

Let’s be real here.  The economy is horrid and has remained so for a long time.  People are rightly upset about that.  Obama gets the blame for that because he’s the president, and the president gets the blame for everything.  Kind of like an oldest child.  And because of that, President Obama is in a tough fight for reelection.  He’s beatable.  But the Republicans are handing the election to him.  I’m an Obama supporter, so I don’t like saying or reading that he’s vulnerable.  But he is.  The election in 2012 is going to be hugely important.  We have real problems in this country.  I see Obama trying to address them, Republicans trying to stop him, and then blaming him for not doing anything.  And the presidential candidates are doing the same thing.

I think the Republican Party needs to grow up.  They claim to be the adults in the room, but what I see is a group of people who childishly deny something despite the facts.  (Just watch The Daily Show for myriad examples.  Jon Stewart and his staff are masterful at putting that together.)  What happened to the intellectuals of the GOP?  Did they all check out when Bill Buckley shuffled off the mortal coil?

The Republican Party has taken a real slide in intellectualism lately.  They’re all smart enough, but seem to want to be stupid.  Constantly.  It makes one truly despair for the future.

I haven’t wanted to talk about Mormons much; I have a Mormon family member.  I respect his right to believe what he wants.  He’s found something in the LDS church, the same as I have in Reform Judaism.  I think that’s fantastic.

Unlike some people, I don’t think Mormonism is a cult, and I don’t think they’re weird.  All religions, if you look at them from the outside, are a bit weird.  I think freedom of religion is a very good thing.  Mormons have that right, as do Catholics, Jews, evangelical Christians, or the Moonies.

I certainly did not like the way the Mormon church jumped into the Proposition 8 battle here in California.  I also didn’t like the way the Catholics got into that debate.  I think some of what the Mormons did was beyond shady, and I really don’t like the way they tried to cover their tracks.  If you have a position on some issue, and you’re working toward that end, just come out and say it.  But they have the right to do it, under our current laws.

But I have a real issue with the practice of posthumous baptism.  Maureen Dowd’s column (quoted below; emphasis mine) is on this today.  That is an absolute violation of those people’s freedom of religion.  It’s tantamount to identity theft.

Another famous nonbeliever, Christopher Hitchens, wrote in Slate on Monday about “the weird and sinister belief system of the LDS,” the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Aside from Joseph Smith, whom Hitchens calls “a fraud and conjurer well known to the authorities in upstate New York,” the writer also wonders about the Mormon practice of amassing archives of the dead and “praying them in” as a way to “retrospectively ‘baptize’ everybody as a convert.”

Hitchens noted that they “got hold of a list of those put to death by the Nazis’ Final Solution” and “began making these massacred Jews into honorary LDS members as well.” He called it “a crass attempt at mass identity theft from the deceased.”

The Mormons even baptized Anne Frank.

It took Ernest Michel, then chairman of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, three years to get Mormons to agree to stop proxy-baptizing Holocaust victims.

Mormons desisted in 1995 after Michel, as the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported, “discovered that his own mother, father, grandmother and best childhood friend, all from Mannheim, Germany, had been posthumously baptized.”

Michel told the news agency that “I was hurt that my parents, who were killed as Jews in Auschwitz, were being listed as members of the Mormon faith.”

Richard Bushman, a Mormon who is a professor emeritus of history at Columbia University, said that after “the Jewish dust-up,” Mormons “backed away” from “going to extravagant lengths to collect the names of every last person who ever lived and baptize them — even George Washington.” Now they will do it for Mormons who bring a relative or ancestor’s name into the temple, he said.

Americablog has been talking about this since (and some other practices) at least 2009.

As I’ve said, I believe in freedom of religion.  But that doesn’t extend to posthumously stealing someone’s identity.  Richard Bushman, quoted in Dowd’s op-ed, says that this practice has stopped.  But it’s happened pretty recently.  And with the “lying for the lord” practice, I’m not so sure it’s believable.

Anne Frank is a Jew.  President Obama’s mother is whatever religion she was before she died.  I think — and this starts with the evangelicals but certainly doesn’t end there — that people ought to stay out of other people’s business all together, whether that business is religion or being gay, or whatever.  American society seems to have forgotten that, which is a real shame.