Tuesday, December 15, 2009


[A note about names. In this post I often refer rather familiarly to Senator Joe Lieberman as “Joe” and to Hadassah Lieberman as “Hadassah”. I simply couldn’t think of a better way to alleviate any confusion about which Lieberman I’m discussing when. Using “Senator Lieberman” would do for Joe but “Mrs. Lieberman” doesn’t provide enough of a visual clue for Hadassah - at least if you desperately need new glasses as I do. So my apologies for the familiarity.]

When I read this morning that FireDogLake was calling on Susan G. Komen for the Cure (the breast cancer foundation) to disavow any knowledge of Hadassah Lieberman, wife of Joe Lieberman, I spent some time trying to track down the ins and outs of this story. Here’s how it seems to go.

In the Spring of 2006 (probably) Hadassah Lieberman quits working for Hill & Knowlton after less than a year of employment. She seems to have made $77,000 during her time there.

Hadassah Lieberman joins Komen. I cannot find the exact date but this post was written in November of 2007 and Hadassah was already at Komen.

On November 5 (yes, November) of this year, Joe Conason wrote a Salon article in which he discussed the contradictions he saw in Hadassah Lieberman’s work with Komen and her husband’s opposition to Democratic forms of health reform (which I am hereinafter going to refer to as Demcare simply for lack of a better term). Depending on how you read it, it’s either a plea for Hadassah to convince Joe to support Demcare or a sarcastic slap at the idea that Mrs. Lieberman could possibly be sincere in her support women’s health issues given her husband’s political position on Demcare and her ties to “the insurance-pharmaceutical-lobbying complex that employed her for decades.” (Given Conason’s earlier - 2008 - article about Hadassah Lieberman, I’m betting on the latter.)

On the night of Tuesday, December 8 (yes, December now) of this year, the New York Times reported “Reid Says Deal Resolved the Impasse on the Public Option”. The deal “would sideline but not kill the public option”; proposed the buy-in to Medicare for those aged 55-64; and did that weird thing where the Office of Personnel Management would re-create the Federal Employee Health Benefits Plan. According to the NYT:

In announcing the agreement, Mr. Reid was apparently trying to create a sense of momentum for the health care legislation, which has been on the Senate floor for nine days, with no immediate end in sight.

On the morning of Wednesday, December 9, Joe Lieberman released the following statement:

“I am encouraged by the progress toward a consensus on proposals to send to the Congressional Budget Office to review. I believe that it is important to pass legislation that expands access to the millions who do not have coverage, improves quality and lowers costs while not impeding our economic recovery or increasing the debt.

“My opposition to a government-run insurance option, including any option with a trigger, has been clear for months and remains my position today.

“Regarding the ‘Medicare buy-in’ proposal that is being discussed, we must remain vigilant about protecting and extending the solvency of the program, which is now in a perilous financial condition.

“It is my understanding that at this point there is no legislative language so I look forward to analyzing the details of the plan and reviewing analysis from the Congressional Budget Office and the Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid services.”

The Corner said this statement:

pours some cold water on the talk of a huge Senate health-care breakthrough. He signals that the public-option trigger won’t work for him, he raises a red flag about the Medicare “buy-in” expansion ... , and he says the proposals will have to be fully scored by CBO and analyzed by the CMS actuary before they can be taken up — all of which are problems for the Dems.


Reid’s strategy depends on building a sense of inevitability with this proposal. That doesn’t seem to be happening this morning, if Lieberman’s reaction is any guide.

On the morning of Friday, December 11, Jane Hamsher of FireDogLake put up a post (hereinafter “the letter post”) reproducing a letter she sent to Komen explaining why it was inappropriate for Komen to associate with Hadassah Lieberman. She explains that her concerns were caused by that Salon article from November.

Late Friday afternoon, The Plum Line reported that Komen did not intend to sever its ties to Hadassah Lieberman.

On Sunday, December 13, Joe Lieberman:

[makes] the rounds [of the Sunday political shows] to say that no, he will not vote for any plan that has a medicare buy in, a public option, or basically any of the other proposals to throw liberals a bone.

The progressives are, of course . . . well, livid is probably too weak a word.

On Monday, December 14, Hamsher puts up a post calling for the celebrities who support Komen to “join me in asking the Foundation to end its ties with [Hadassah] Lieberman, whose professional agenda is antithetical to the cause they purport to advance.” Let’s call this “the celebrity post”.

Also on December 14, Joe Lieberman told The Washington Times that “the campaign to push his wife out of Komen” is "over the line and offensive.”

On December 15, Hamsher responds to Lieberman’s statement with another post. Let’s call this one “the outrage post”.

Somewhere along the line - I don’t know exactly when because it’s not dated - Komen put up a statement on Hadassah Lieberman in which they state, in part:

Hadassah Lieberman has long been associated with Susan G. Komen for the Cure®, working with us on breast cancer education and awareness in other countries as a Susan G. Komen Global Ambassador. Her efforts have been invaluable and we intend to keep tapping her expertise to fulfill our goal to bring breast cancer programs to women in countries who have few resources to battle this disease.

Mrs. Lieberman’s efforts on our behalf are separate and unrelated to our advocacy on health reform.

To me this looks mostly like a simple case of Hamsher going after Hadassah Lieberman because Joe Lieberman is obstructing - or is seen as obstructing - Democratic attempts to pass a health reform bill that includes something approximating a public option, although I suspect Hamsher’s previous very ugly history with Lieberman figures in as well. I don’t like this for a number of reasons. First, I don’t in general think we should attack or punish politicians we don’t agree with by trying to take their spouses’ jobs away from them. I think this principle holds whether we’re talking about a very rich politician whose spouse has a very nice job or a not so rich politician whose spouse has a crummy job. Family should be off limits and family member’s jobs should especially be off limits.

Second, this is very sexist. Hamsher’s letter post is somewhere between hysterically funny and deeply disturbing to anyone who has managed to pass Feminism 101. Basically Hamsher urges Komen to dump Hadassah partly because:

It is widely known, however, that not only has Senator Lieberman been an instrument of obstruction to the kind of health care reform advocated by Susan G. Komen for the Cure... [snip]

... as Hadassah travels the globe under the banner of Susan G. Komen for the cure, decrying the inadequacies of our health care system and the desperate need to reform it, her husband is at home to kill the reform efforts we so desperately need.

In other words, Hadassah should lose her job because her husband (at least according to Hamsher) doesn’t support the kind of work her employer is doing. This is ludicrous. Women get to have lives separate from their husband’s. They even get to have opinions that disagree with those of their husbands. Why, I hear that Mary Matalin often does work her husband doesn’t support.

Third, this is the same old “lobbyist” bugaboo which pretty much ignores reality. Besides her husband’s politics, Hamsher also attacks Hadassah Lieberman for having worked for a major player in the health industry. Well, yes she did. In fact, she’s worked for several major players in the health industry. To put it another way, Hadassah Lieberman has lots (see also the linked pdf for more detail) of professional experience in the health care industry. She also has lots of community service credentials and she has political connections through her husband’s job. In other words, her background makes her perfect for an organization like Komen. The hard truth is that people who truly understand a problem or an organization or an industry must - almost by definition - be insiders. This is even more true if those people have some influence and some political connections. Someone like me, on the other hand, would have no possible conflicts of interest, no ties to other players - and no hope of even getting anyone’s attention much less getting anything done. As comment 47 (well worth reading in its entirety) on Hamsher’s post asks:

So, what do we fear? That Mrs. Lieberman will suddenly be advocating for what? Increased cancer rates to profit current clients of her former employer? The thing we seem to be saying here is, you once worked for a company that represented clients we don’t like. Now you’re disqualified from meaningful work in a cause you may care about. Let’s applaud her for working for a good cause, for which she is probably being paid much less than she was as a lobbyist. And if its volunteer, let’s thank her for working hard on a cause we care about.

Fourth, it’s not like Hadassah Lieberman just joined Komen. She’s been there for at least two years. If Hamsher is so terribly, terribly concerned about Hadassah’s pernicious influence on Komen she should have said something earlier. Yet I can find no indication that she did so. Neither Hamsher herself nor any of the other blogs I’ve read about Hamsher’s crusade mention any previous objections by Hamsher to Hadassah’s tenure at Komen.

So, no, I don’t like Hamsher attacking Hadassah Lieberman in order to further her little war with Lieberman. But what I like even less is Hamsher attacking Komen itself to further that war. Yet, unable to persuade Komen to dump Hadassah, that’s exactly what she does. Hamsher’s celebrity post is presented as an attempt to get those celebrities who support Komen to pressure Komen to drop Hadassah. Rather, the post is actually an attack on the Komen Foundation itself.

Hamsher begins by writing that she asked the Foundation to “stop using money that was raised for cancer research to pay Hadassah Lieberman”. (Not exactly but we’ll let that slide.) The Foundation, reports Hamsher, “issued a statement saying that they refuse to do so.” Hamsher then calls upon celebrities “to join me in asking the Foundation to end its ties with Lieberman, whose professional agenda is antithetical to the cause they purport to advance” (emphasis mine).

Hamsher continues:

The death of health care reform will no doubt please the clients of Hadassah Lieberman’s lobbying firms, but it would appear to be out of step with the goals of the Susan B. Komen Foundation. ... They are by far the biggest breast cancer organization, with close ties to the Republican Party. Executive Director Nancy Brinker was appointed by George Bush as Ambassador to Hungary in 2001, shortly after the Komen Foundation helped defeat a meaningful Patients Bill of Rights and promoted the watered down version Bush advocated. [snip]

Despite the obvious questions this raises about the impact of environmental factors on breast cancer occurrence, the Komen Foundation focuses its resources on developing treatments that increase the profitability of pharmaceutical companies like the ones that employ Mrs. Lieberman rather than prevention. Unlike other breast cancer organizations, they refused to sign on to the 2006 Consensus Statement on Breast Cancer and the Environment.

The drugs that are developed by the Komen money are being put out of the financial reach of average middle class women by Hadassah Lieberman’s lobbying firms. ... When the underlying causes of breast cancer are never addressed in a way that benefits women who will never be able to pay those high prices to stay alive, the name might as well be the “Race for the Cure You Can’t Afford.”

Translation? Komen isn’t really helping women with breast cancer or women who may get breast cancer or their families or the search for a cure. No, Komen is just an arm of the Republican Party funneling money not just to Hadassah Lieberman but also to pharmaceutical companies. Real translation? If Komen won’t support Hamsher’s quest to punish Lieberman, then Hamsher is going to do her damnedest to make sure people stop supporting Komen.

But wait. Perhaps I’m being too harsh. Surely if Komen is so awful then Hamsher has always had these concerns about Komen and this is the umpty-umpth time she’s taken the Foundation to task. If so, I can’t find any evidence of it. Rather Hamsher’s concerns about the Komen Foundation seem to have sprung full-grown like Athena from the head of Zeus. Using Google as a search engine and looking within the FireDogLake domain for entries that contain the word “Komen” and do not contain the word “Hadassah” I found 10 entries. In most of these, Komen appears only in the comments. For example, in this post comment #179 provides a link to a Komen Foundation press release on a study of the role of environmental factors in breast cancer. There is one FireDogLake post that actually mentions the Komen Foundation in the body of the post. Written by Lisa Derrick, the post applauds Obama’s choices for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In describing former recipients of the Medal, Derrick says:

The recipients all share a commitment to bettering the human condition, and include: ... Nancy Goodman Brinker, founder of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the world’s leading breast cancer grass roots organization;

So while there’s no evidence Hamsher previously supported the Komen Foundation there’s also no evidence she ever previously felt compelled to detail its manifold transgressions. Until, of course, it got between her and Joe Lieberman.

Threatening the vocational or avocational status of a private citizen to punish her husband is cruel, sexist, stupid, and tiresome. Threatening the financial well-being of an entire charitable organization because you hate the husband of one of its employees is monstrous.



About money. In cruising around the blogosphere, I’ve found a number of commenters who insist that Komen paid Hadassah Lieberman lots of money or hundreds of thousands of dollars. As far as I can tell, there are no reliable figures on what Komen paid Lieberman. In her celebrity post, Hamsher says:

How much is she being paid? It’s hard to tell — the Senate Finance report only indicates that it’s “more than $1000.” But money paid to spouses is one of the primary ways that members of Congress manage to wander into serious money while in office, and Hadassah made $328,000 in speaking fees in one year.

In this formulation, Hamsher is pretty clear that the $328,000 is from all speaking fees not just from Komen. By her outrage post, Hamsher is not being quite so clear:

If Senator Lieberman would like to talk about the “merits,” he should explain what his wife has done to merit $328,000 in speaking fees in one year rather than trying to obscure the issue with his theatrical brand of “outrage.”

Although Hamsher refers to “speaking fees” without claiming the entire amount came from Komen, the context - Hamsher is responding to Lieberman’s comments on his wife’s association with Komen - leaves the impression the entire amount came from Komen. (The reviews of Hadassah Lieberman on the Harry Walker Speaker Bureau site come entirely from Jewish groups which leads me to believe those groups are where Hadassah does most of her speaking.)

The simple fact is that we don’t know how much Komen paid Hadassah Lieberman or what they paid her for. (You can view Komen’s most recent annual report here. Download the “2007-2008 Annual Report - low resolution” pdf and see page 13 for a general breakdown of revenue and expense.)

About faux manufacturing. In her outrage post, Hamsher refers to Joe Lieberman’s “manufactured outrage”. In an August 2006 post about Lieberman, Hamsher refers to his “faux indignation”. Apparently nothing Hamsher ever says about Joe or Hadassah Lieberman is ever truly outrageous and therefore any reaction to it must be faux manufacturing.

About slippery writing. It seems to be thick on the ground at FireDogLake. Hamsher’s easily misinterpreted reference to how much money Hadassah Lieberman makes is one example. Similarly when I read her celebrity post statement that:

The drugs that are developed by the Komen money are being put out of the financial reach of average middle class women by Hadassah Lieberman’s lobbying firms ...

I assumed Komen was contributing money to drug companies. But in Komen’s statement in support of Hadassah they say:

It’s been reported that Susan G. Komen for the Cure provides funding to pharmaceutical companies. That is simply not true. We have never funded pharmaceutical company research – our grants, totaling $450 million, have gone to research institutions in the U.S. and abroad. Another $900 million in Susan G. Komen for the Cure funding has gone to programs in communities world-wide. We will commit another $50 million to research in the coming year.

After I read that, I reread Hamsher’s post and realized that she never actually said Komen was giving money to drug companies; she merely let it be understood.

In her outrage post Hamsher slides into shape-shifting territory. Responding to Lieberman’s statement that:

My wife is a private citizen in a movement that is looking for a cure for breast cancer and educating women about what they should do to protect themselves from breast cancer.

Hamsher replies:

If Hadassah Lieberman wants to volunteer to educate women about breast cancer, I think that’s great. But she has no special qualifications for this - nothing that Komen should be paying her for ...

Yet Lieberman never claimed his wife was educating women and as I’ve discussed above Hadassah Lieberman’s “special qualifications” lie in the fund-raising and interest-garnering fields. Surely Hamsher understands that charities must raise money and attract interest so she is being rather disingenuous here.

On Susan G. Komen for the Cure. I don’t know much about them except that when you say “breast cancer charity” almost everyone thinks of them. In the course of researching this post, I did a little reading and I discovered that Jane Hamsher’s is not the first attempt to drag them into a political fight. This article on one pro-life group’s clash with Komen will sound very familiar to anyone who reads Hamsher’s posts.

On one point of agreement with Jane Hamsher. In May of 2007 Hamsher wrote:

[Battling breast cancer] is scary enough when you have insurance and the resources to be able to get the treatment you need — I can't even imagine how frightening it must be to know you can't.

On that point, Ms. Hamsher and I are in perfect agreement.


Lynne said...

This is like the old spoils system in reverse: to the victor belongs the pillaging!

This going after politicians' families is such a third-world tactic. It creates an implicit threat to everyone who might oppose the ruling party.
Shades of "The Lives of Others."

Grim said...

Michael Moore -- who is arguably as important as FDL, and vastly richer -- is apparently trying to organize a boycott of the entire state of Connecticut over it. Not only can the wife not have a life independent of her husband: no woman in the state can have a life independent of her Senator!

(Nor any men, either.)

It's not about principles, feminist or otherwise. It's just panic: frantic casting about for any weapon that comes to hand. It's the last struggle against the grip of fear, just before the end comes.

Figment and Reality said...

I see the basic issue is one of rampant activism without a lick of common sense.

Targeting the family member is odious if it is an attempt to gain influence over the Senator. But targeting family members, businesses and charities is just another example of the activism with ill conceived targets.

For example, "Life Decisions International identifies corporations that are boycott targets due to their support for the biggest abortion company in the world. New boycott targets, appearing on the pre-Christmas 2009 edition of the Planned Parenthood boycott list include Buffalo Wild Wings (restaurants), Estée Lauder (cosmetics/personal care products), Computer Sciences Corporation (information technology), and United Parcel Service (shipping services).

Companies that continue as subjects of the pro-life boycott include EBay, Wells Fargo (including Wachovia), Nike, Time Warner (HBO, AOL, etc.), Bank of America, Walt Disney, Johnson & Johnson, Lost Arrow (Patagonia, etc.), Chevron, and Nationwide Insurance, and Sonic (restaurants), among others.

The new Boycott List includes an expanded "Dishonorable Mention" section, which identifies charitable groups that are associated with Planned Parenthood either through donations or joint programs.

Those groups include AARP, Lions Clubs, the American Cancer Society, Camp Fire, Girls Inc., Girl Scouts, Kiwanis Clubs, the March of Dimes, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, Rotary Clubs, the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, the Salvation Army, the YWCA, and YMCA, among others." (http://www.lifenews.com/nat5618.html)

Susan Koman, is on their list, so if you disagree with Hamsher and strongly agree with the LDI positions, you still must be anti-Susan Koman Foundation. This is just plain crazy.

As a result of people like Hamsher, LDI and other activist groups, I am more likely to do the opposite of FireDogLake. I am likely to provide added support or buy goods from those stores merely because they are being targeted by places like LDI and Hamsher. While LDI may be a small player in the anti-Susan Koman world, and Hamsher is saying to throw out "Hadassah" for perceived conflict of interest it seems they are both throwing out the good with the bad by encouraging action without reasonable thought. Compromise does not seem to be in either Hamsher's or LDI's vocabulary.

Elise said...

it seems they are both throwing out the good with the bad by encouraging action without reasonable thought.

I've been saying for a couple of weeks now that I'm going to write a blog post called "You're a poopy head! No, you're a poopy head!" Everyone who does this - on either side - drives me nuts.

And I did hear about Moore's boycott of Connecticut, Grim. My husband asked if anyone started calling for a boycott of Nebraska after the Nelson deal.

As for Third World tactics, there seem to be far too many of those floating around these days. We've somehow ended up living in a political climate where the ends justify the means.