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Time to cut the ribbon

It didn’t take long for a new outrage to break me out of my melancholy. And I must say… I saw this one coming. To quote the bard, something was rotten in the state of Denmark.

No need to give a lot of background. The Susan G. Komen Foundation pulled their $700,000 grant to Planned Parenthood for breast cancer screening exams. If you don’t know this, your head is in the sand and you probably don’t read blogs.

In October 2010, I stated my distaste for Komen’s pink ribbon campaign every October. As I said, I’m not pro-cancer. I am, however, against marketing that uses blatant consumerism to promote a cause. Pink cement trucks, pink hand guns, and even pink buckets of chicken.

Nothing like promoting the consumption of artery-clogging fat in pursuit of the almighty buck. And maybe all of this would be worth it if a cure was to be found. Again, my cynicism rises up. There is just way too much money involved. Too much money in research; too much money in treatment; too much money in fundraising. As I stated in my 2010 post, if tonight I discovered a ten-cent tea bag that would completely cure cancer, I fully believe that I would be dead by Sunday. It would ruin the lives of too many wealthy foundations and executives. I have no proof, of course. But wouldn’t that make a great movie? Call it Fatal Cure. Cast Liam Neeson, Ashley Judd, and John Malkovich (as the evil cancer association exec, of course) and you’d have box office gold.

The KFC tie-in alone proves that the Komen people have no scruples. So can we be done with the yearly assault of Pepto Bismal products and clothing? But don’t listen to me. Here’s a great post by Cancer Bitch, a cancer survivor who is also sick being pink’d every October. Or, go to Think Before You Pink, an organization seeking more transparency and accountability by companies participating in cancer promotions. This story in the Sacramento Bee revealed how the Komen Foundation has been giving less and less of its huge fortune to cancer research (from 26% to just 16%), and more and more to marketing and self-promotion. On the other hand, the National Breast Cancer Research Foundation gives 88% of its money to cancer research. Snap.

As far as Komen goes, it will now be fun to watch the backpedaling. People will resign or be fired. Damage control will be in full force as a significant portion of their funding goes bye-bye. This is not something you can just apologize for and move on. Whether this was a business move (unlikely) or a political move (duh!), it was incredibly stupid. By tying their future to the Tea Party, they have just alienated half (at least) of the country. And if their policy is not to give grants to organizations under any sort of investigation, Mother Jones wants to know if they are going to withdraw their $7.5 million grant to Penn State. Snap, again. And do you really think that people this stupid are suddenly going to come up with a cure for cancer?

Also, the backlash might finally bring an army to the defense of the undersieged Planned Parenthood organization–something the Komen folks probably didn’t foresee. Conservatives seem to really hate this organization. As my friend Bluz at Darwinfish2 and others have pointed out, only 3% of PP’s activities go to providing abortions. So, why the target? Is it because they provide health services to poor and uninsured women? Perhaps. More likely, it is because they are really the only national organization to do so. Conservatives love to say that PP is responsible for 1 of 4 abortions in this country. That’s because no other national organization provides health services to these women as PP does. Most abortions are performed at private health clinics, usually for women with means and/or insurance. For the poor, the young, and the uninsured, there is no one else to fill the gap, both for family planning and cancer screening procedures. That’s what makes the Komen decision so insidious. It’s not just a policy stance or opinion, it puts the lives of millions of women in danger. It will lead to many more unwanted pregnancies–and more abortions.

Of course, you can choose not to care. You can eat your yogurt from pink cartons. You can run 5Ks to add to Komen’s ridiculously large bank account. You can wear your pink ribbons and t-shirts because it’s just so socially conscious. But as of now, the Komen Foundation has ceased to be a charitable fund-raising organization and has, instead, become a Right-wing political action committee. That’s fine. They are free to do that. But know this… there’s no going back.

Komen CEO Nancy Brinker

BREAKING NEWS: Well, I couldn’t even finish this post before the Komen people completely caved. Apparently, there is “going back.” CNN is reporting that Komen’s funding of PP will be restored, this according to Senator Frank Lautenberg.

From now on, going on a weekend bender fueled by Jack Daniels, cocaine, gambling, and prostitutes, and then apologizing afterward to all your family and friends while vowing to do better will be called “Pulling a Komen.”

By aborting their original decision, does this mean that Komen founder and CEO Nancy Brinker will resign? Probably not. Does it mean that she won’t continue to seek ways to destroy Planned Parenthood? Probably not.

As for me, I plan to keep avoiding the pink ribbons. Doing so doesn’t mean that I don’t support cancer research and support for its victims. Believe it or not, there are other organizations fighting the good fight, such as:

The National Breast Cancer Coalition

The Breast Cancer Research Foundation

The Black Women’s Health Imperative

I’m sure there are more. Feel free to mention your own.

In the meantime, three cheers for the hackers who broke into the Susan G. Komen Website last night to tell the truth.

You’ve gotta love nerds. God bless their Star Wars-loving, Dungeons and Dragons-playing little hearts.

The post that makes me a cynical bastard

Welcome to one of my least PC posts ever. But all I can think about this month, in almost every store I shop at, is, How soon can Pepto-Bismol month be over? Am I a terrible person? I’m not pro-cancer, believe me. I am as sympathetic to those who suffer and to those who have lost loved ones as anyone. But I find myself strangely unmoved by Madison Avenue’s annual multi-million-dollar-effort to make me care… and give. “Oh, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness month? What are these breasts of which you speak? And they get cancer? Who knew? Yes, I would like to buy that large cappuccino with the pink ribbon on it. Thank you for making me care!” 

Believe me, I’m aware. I’m reeeeally aware. But I just can’t help but wonder if this is as much about finding a cure as it is about lining the pockets of corporate America and of Big Medicine. I guess I’m just not that pink. Instead, color me cynical.

Every October begins the media blitz known as National Breast Cancer Awareness Month (NBCAM). The message is “Help us find a cure” and “Get Your Mammogram!” Little mention is made of avoiding the causes of cancer. Curiously, NBCAM was originally created by a drug company—now called AstraZeneca. In addition to producing cancer treatment drugs, AZ also profited off the sales of cancer-causing herbicides. But I digress. How about a little history:

The origin of the “ribbon” started in the 1990s, when 68-year-old Charlotte Haley began making peach ribbons by hand in her home. Her daughter, sister and grandmother all had breast cancer. She distributed thousands of ribbons with a message that read: “The National Cancer Institute annual budget is $1.8 billion, only 5 percent goes for cancer prevention. Help us wake up our legislators and America by wearing this ribbon.”

As word spread about the Haley’s ribbon, executives from Estée Lauder and Self magazine asked her for permission to use it. Haley refused. She wanted nothing to do with them. She said they were too commercial. But they really wanted that ribbon so they lawyered up and were advised to come up with another color. They chose pink, because focus groups said it was “soothing, comforting and healing.” Then, in stepped PR and marketing firms, eager to make a buck by creating more corporate sponsorships. Soon Haley’s grassroot peach ribbons were history, and the pink ribbon became the darling of corporate America. Companies use the pink ribbon to sell their products and boost their image with consumers as they boost their bottom lines. Meanwhile, breast cancer rates continue to rise every year.

How much money is raised? Well, Yoplait gives ten cents for every yogurt purchased. Uh, no. I’m sorry. They give a dime if you send back the foil lid thingy. That means, if you eat 3 yogurts a day for the entire month–and mail in all the lids–you will provide a whopping $9.30 toward cancer research. (Yoplait: But if we can get all of America to eat 3 yogurts a day…) Yoplait is made with milk from cows that have been injected with the synthetic recombinant bovine growth hormone (called rBGH or rBST). There are numerous health concerns surrounding rBGH, and breast cancer is one of them. Money is also raised through the sale of cosmetics that contain chemicals suspected of causing cancer, a golf tournament on a course sprayed with pesticides, one dollar for each mile you test-drive a polluting car, and by companies that market disease-inducing junk foods.

In just one year of funding (2007), the National Cancer Institute (NCI) spent $572.4 million on breast cancer research. That same year, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) spent an additional $705 million. The Susan G. Komen for Cure Foundation had total revenues that year of nearly $162 million, and have invested nearly $1 billion in breast cancer since its founding in 1980. Those are just the big dogs. There are hundreds of organizations that raise funds in the name of breast cancer research, or the private companies that invest in and pursue new drugs and devices for use in diagnosis and treatment.

Make no mistake, breast cancer research and treatment is a multibillion-dollar industry. With all those billions of dollars in research over all these years, it almost makes you wonder whether or not a cure will ever be found. Or, if perhaps someone out there doesn’t want a cure to be found. Something tells me that if I discovered a tea bag that cost ten cents and cured cancer, I would be dead within the week. I know that in one of my recent posts I stated that I don’t believe in conspiracies because people talk. Here’s my exception–in cases where billions of dollars are at stake. And it’s not just breast cancer. As of 2009, Jerry Lewis’ telethons have raised $2.45 billion for muscular dystrophy. How’s that cure coming? Have we even cured a disease in this county since polio? Oh wait, we have. Erectile dysfunction. And we did that without getting someone like David Hasselhoff to hold a telethon. Again, ew.

So, why does breast cancer get all the attention? Oh yeah, ta-tas. I guess they will always be more exciting than lungs and livers and prostates; never mind the fact that lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer. When do lungs get a month? What about prostate and liver and skin cancers? Ew, I don’t want to know what color those ribbons would be.

Again, I’m not unsympathetic to those whose loved ones have been stricken. It breaks my heart. I just wonder if their grieving and misery isn’t being used and manipulated into selling a lot of crap and making someone(s) a lot of money. That cure should be coming any day now. Meanwhile, at least we can stimulate the economy a bit, eh?


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