Thursday, May 31, 2007

Any Suggestions?

My sister starts her 16-week cycle of chemotherapy today? What does a person say to wish her well? I couldn’t find a Happy Chemo! section at the local Hallmark store and somehow wishing her luck doesn’t seem right either, (Good luck purposely injecting your body with toxic chemicals!).


Friday, May 25, 2007

Question Of The Day

When it comes to addressing the inadequacies of public school funding there are those of a certain political ideology who are fond of exhorting that the answer isn’t simply “throwing money at the problem”. This argument is used by people attempting to demonstrate their fiscal responsibility, when in actuality it is most often a thinly veiled disguise for a much more sinister agenda. Namely, the dismantling of public schools and the demonization of those across the political aisle.

Never mind the fact that we have never actually tried throwing an adequate amount of money at schools. In fact in many cases, such as special education services, the federal government doesn’t even fund its own mandates. Instead schools are expected to meet an ever increasing list of state and federal standards and outcomes in order to prove that they are worthy of a pittance that rarely comes close to meeting the inflationary cost of doing business.

Schools that fail to meet adequate yearly progress are subject to federal administrative takeover and loss of funding. Students at those schools are allowed the opportunity to transfer to another school in hopes of a better education - as if shifting students rather than fixing the system is the solution. If circumstances persist, underperforming schools may be closed all together.

I was thinking about this as I heard the news that Congress recently passed a $100 billion appropriation to fund the continual occupation of Iraq. With public support for the occupation at an all time low, an increasing number of retired military personal expressing concern over the President’s handling of the situation and a cumulative price tag of nearly half a trillion dollars, I would expect the so-called fiscal conservatives to be lining up like a Greek Chorus in defense of our precious tax money.

Ad yet, nothing.

Where are the calls for standards and outcomes? How about a performance-based funding strategy with allocation directly tied to the number of liberated Iraqis? If military administrators are unable to maintain a satisfactory level of competence, will enlisted personal be allowed to transfer to a different assignment? Will those failing administrators be replaced? At some point, if the situation doesn’t improve, they must surely plan to shut things down altogether. Afterall, its about supporting the troops, and they deserve better than what they've been given.

In recent government history, making "tough choices" has become code language for budget cutting. Whose making the tough choices now? For that matter, whose even asking the questions? If school administrators demanded money for their operations the way the President does they would be hung in effigy by the self-appointed economic watchdogs. And then they wouldn't get the money.

How long until the fiscal conservatives declare that simply “throwing money at the problem” in Iraq will no longer make a difference?

The silence is deafening.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Uff Da! (Corrected Spelling*)

Last night we catered a Syttende Mai party at the home of the Royal Norwegian Consulate General on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. The party consisted mostly of old, silver-haired white people. There were a few token brunettes and one young woman who looked ambiguously ethnic but for the most part you knew darn well you were in financially secure confines of the Western Suburbs.

While it’s a long-running joke in Minnesota that Scandinavian Food is hopelessly bland, that myth is not entirely accurate. Few things in the world are more flavorful, or more pungent, than that Nordic favorite, Pickled Herring. One wiff is sure to make the eyes water, a small bite can send the mouth into spasmodic puckering the likes of which only Jim Carey could imitate. It may not be good flavor but it is flavor nonetheless.

Needless to say Herring was in abundance last night, and was one of the more popular items on the menu along with Smoked Salmon, Pasties and several blocks of cheese the size of small boulders. These may not have been the most refined palates in the world but they loved their fish, and ate it with abandon.

The essence and bouquet of Pickled Herring aside, many of the party guest found the Seared Tuna to their liking, until their taste buds registered the accompanying Wasabi Paste. That's when the sirens went off.

"Uff Da!"

"Oh geez, dat has a little bite to it, den!"

"Lena, get me some water, der!"

Fortunately the guest were able to neutralize the sensation with Boiled Potatoes and Deviled Eggs.

* FrankenKristin, who excels at revealing my numerous flaws, alerted me to the correct spelling of Uff Da. Damn Danes!!! After all these years they are still trying to control us Norwegians.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Well, The Truth Is...

Someone told me the other day that they no longer participate in the Susan G. Komen Foundation Race for the Cure because, as they put it, “the Komen Foundation funds abortion clinics”. The basis for their argument went something like this:

1. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is dedicated to funding research to eliminate breast cancer.
2. Some of the money raised during the Race for the Cure is granted to organizations such as Planned Parenthood.
3. Planned Parenthood is an abortion clinic.
4. A foundation dedicated to breast cancer research should not fund abortion clinics.

In order to strengthen their case against the Foundation the following supporting arguments were made:

1. Although a few studies have questioned the link, research has shown a direct correlation between abortions and breast cancer .
2. Several executives at the Susan G. Komen Foundation make over $90,000 per year.
3. Employees of a non-profit organization shouldn’t make that much money.

Since I am not an expert on, nor have any affiliation with, The Susan G. Komen Foundation I was surprised to hear all these thing and decided to do some investigation.

But first a little history.

The Susan Komen was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1978. Before her death at the age of 36, she asked her sister to do everything possible to bring an end to breast cancer. As a result, The Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation (SGKF) was created in 1982. The primary mission of SGKF is to eradicate breast cancer as a life-threatening disease by advancing research, education, screening and treatment.

Research advancement is achieved through relationships with medical and cancer centers throughout the United States, as well as internationally. Treatment and screening programs, primarily funded through the Foundation’s Affiliates, produce affordable treatment and screening for the medically underserved and other target populations. The Foundation’s reach has expanded tremendously since its inception, due in large part to the Komen Race for the Cure Series and other fundraising programs and events.

More than 25 years later, the SGKF is a global leader in the fight against breast cancer and is one of the world’s largest private funders of breast cancer research and community outreach programs. As a direct result of their work, today more than 75% of all women over the age of 40 receive regular mammograms, the single most effective tool for early detection of breast cancer. When caught early enough, the 5-year survival rate is 98%.

In an effort to find out a little bit more I went to the Komen Foundation website and did a search on administrative costs. There I found the 2005-06 Final Audited Financial Statement. It states that in FY 2006 the SGKF listed its total contributions as $228 million. Add to that the interest on investments and the net total revenue came in at just under $243 million.

Expenses were broken into two categories, supporting services and program services. Supporting services included general and administrative costs totaling roughly $21 million, and fundraising costs which were $25 million for a total of $46 million. Program services included $61 million for research, $71 million for public health information, $27 million for health screening services and $13 million for treatment services. The grand total of which is $172 million or almost four times as much as that spent on supporting services.

In fact, if you take the $21 million for administrative cost as a percentage of the total expenses ($218 million) you will find that it makes up slightly less than 10% which is standard practice in the non profit world. While you could argue that a non-profit executive should be driven by altruistic motives, a $90,000 salary is quite small compared to those in for-profit health care.

So what about the claim that the SGKF funds abortion clinic, specifically, Planned Parenthood. There’s more to that story as well.

In addition to funding research, SGKF, working through a network of Affiliates, also funds non-duplicative, community-based Screening, Treatment, and Educational Programs (STEP) for underserved populations. According to the 2005 STEP Report, SGKF awarded 1384 STEP grants in 2005 designed to use proven strategies in serving diverse populations reaching those most in need of screening, treatment, assistance and education. Of those 1384 grants roughly 20 were awarded to Planned Parenthood clinics. A review of the recipient list reveals that not one of those clinics used their STEP grant award to support anything other than programs dedicated to breast cancer. Here is a partial list:

Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains Glenwood Springs Health Center
Glenwood Springs, CO
-Glenwood Springs Health Center of Planned Parenthood of the Rocky Mountains (PPRM) is committed to ensuring that women of all ages obtain regular breast cancer screenings, with the goal of identifying breast cancer at an early and treatable stage. Our target population is uninsured and underinsured women, Latinas and women otherwise in need.

Planned Parenthood of Idaho
Boise, ID
- Planned Parenthood of Idaho (PPI) will continue to address the need for breast cancer education and screening among low-income women and Latinas in southwestern Idaho. We will continue our breast cancer screening fund, which provides PPI clients having breast abnormalities with referrals and financial assistance for follow-up services with breast cancer specialists in Boise and Twin Falls. PPI will also expand outreach efforts to the Latina community in southwestern Idaho.

Program Planned Parenthood of Northern New York, Inc.
Watertown, NY
-Planned Parenthood of Northern New York (PPNNY) and the State University of New York at Potsdam (SUNY Potsdam) have teamed up to create a campus-based outreach program to provide breast health education and to promote importance of early detection and screening for breast cancer. PPNNY and SUNY Potsdam will offer interactive breast health education workshops and events throughout campus during the academic year. These events are designed to increase awareness of the incidence of breast cancer in young women and to promote positive breast health and the importance of early detection and diagnosis as a means of prevention. The outreach program will reach students in campus housing, in local sororities and throughout the college campus.

Planned Parenthood of Connecticut, Inc.
New Haven, CT
-The South Norwalk Breast Cancer Early Detection Program’s goal is to identify breast cancer in the early stages, while it is still responsive to treatment. The Program works with women who have no insurance or whose insurance does not cover breast cancer screening, and targets women over 40 or women ages 35-39 who have risk factors for breast cancer.

The list goes on but the essence is the same. Not only is Planned Parenthood’s role in the detection and treatment of breast cancer laudable, it is vital. To demonize SGKF for its relationship with Planned Parenthood is a mistake.

As for Planned Parenthood itself, while they do indeed perform abortions, clearly that is not all they do. Regardless of how you feel about abortion, reproductive health care or the racist Eugenics of Planned Parenthood’s founder Margaret Sanger, the organization has taken on an important role in the fight against breast cancer and it is unfair to simply dismiss it as an abortion clinic while ignoring their other essential services.

Lastly, the Abortion-Breast Cancer connection. For decades, pro-life advocates have attempted to draw a link between abortion or miscarriage and breast cancer. The issue became political in 2002 when the National Cancer Institute posted information potentially linking abortion and breast cancer on its website, despite the lack of evidence. The connection was debunked in 2003 by a panel of international experts put together by the US National Cancer Institute. Those findings were supported recently by and extensive study released by Harvard University. Even Fox News admits that there is no connection between abortion and breast cancer so it must be true.

Ultimately it comes down to this, everyone is entitled to donate to the charities that best fit their values and interests. But those decisions should be based on fact, not anecdote.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Pink Ladies

Today my 36 year-old sister has surgery to remove cancer from her breasts. My mother, a survivor herself, will be by her side. Please think nice thoughts for her.


I saw my sister yesterday afternoon. The surgery was successful. The doctors believe that they were able to remove all of the cancer and did not see signs that it had spread anywhere else in her body. She looked and sounded good as felt incredibly relieved.