Visit to a dying and ignorant planet

A fellow-blogger I recently discovered, GC, writing as Your Nibbled News, frequently makes some very astute observations. His post today is about our Earth vs Trump, and is well worth the read. The post needs no further introduction, as it speaks for itself. Thank you, GC, for this post and for permission to re-blog!

Your Nibbled News - 2017 YNN

Save the earth

“Facts which at first seem improbable will, even on scant explanation, drop the cloak which has hidden them and stand forth in naked and simple beauty.”   —   Galileo Galilei

T H E   D I S H A R M O N Y  O F   I G N O R A N C E 

Galileo Galilei was an Italian polymath: astronomer, physicist, engineer, philosopher, and mathematician. He played a major role in the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century.

Donald J. Trump is the 45th  president of the United States: a billionaire, bully , egotist, tycoon who with a simple signature on a piece of White House foolscap has disavowed scientific evidence and caused the world to slip back into the dark ages where the world is once again flat and a  company’s profit sheet healthy and viable.

Of course his own planetary provincial…

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And Now It Is France’s Turn …

This Sunday, the people of France will head to the polls to elect a new president.  I have been following the election, though not as closely as I might have liked, given all the other issues that occupy my mind and time these days.  Though there are eleven candidates in the running, it seems clear that the results of the first round will come down to four: Marine LePen, François Fillon, Jean-Luc Mélenchon, and Emmanuel Macron.

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Now, caught up as we are in our own Trumpian-drama here in the U.S., some might ask why the French election matters to us.  The simple answer is that this election may be the deciding factor in whether the EU survives the remainder of this decade. Whether you like the concept of globalization or not, it is a fact of life, it is here to stay, and the peoples of this earth are connected … what happens in France affects the U.S., and vice versa. So let us take just a few minutes to examine the election and the candidates, and what the results might mean, not only for France, but for the world. France is the world’s sixth-largest economy, is a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council and is a nuclear-armed power. It is also one of the U.S.’ oldest and most reliable allies. So yes, what happens in Sunday’s election matters to the U.S.

With eleven candidates in the running, it is highly unlikely that any will earn a majority of more than 50%, which means the top two candidates will be in a runoff election on 07 May.  Let us take a quick look at the two who are expected to score the highest:

LePen

  • Marine LePen – is rather a female version of Donald Trump, anti-immigration and promising to ‘make the country safer’ and also ‘more French’. She is a far-right conservative who inherited the leadership of the National Front Party from its founder, her father Jean-Marie Le Pen, who is known for his anti-Semitic views. For many, she is the candidate of pessimism, the choice of “unhappy France”, focusing on long-term high unemployment rates and the problems associated with immigration and the refugee crisis. A terrorist attack in Paris that killed one police officer on Thursday may also bolster Le Pen on Sunday, and one has to wonder if … well, I leave it at that.

Le Pen’s platform includes promises of radical, jarring change that starts with   rewriting the constitution; enforcing the principle of ‘national preference’ for French citizens in hiring as well as the dispensing of housing and benefits; reinstating the franc as the national currency rather than the euro, pulling out of NATO’s integrated command structure; and slashing immigration to one-tenth of its current annual level. In addition, she proposes to hold a ‘Brexit-like’ vote to remove France from the European Union (EU).

Yet while Le Pen has many ideas for the future of France, she has few plans for how to implement them.  If she does win the final vote, some say France should prepare for an administration defined by “constant crisis,” paralysis, and brutal economic blowback. Sound familiar?

Macron

  • Emmanuel Macron – is an independent centrist and the founder of the progressive En Marche! (On the Move!) party. He has been dubbed by some the “French Obama”, due to his charismatic style. Although Macron appears to be slightly leading the pack, his roles as an official in the Hollande government and as an investment banker have led to attacks that he is an elite globalist, deeply entrenched within the status quo. He is viewed as a centrist who wouldn’t radically alter the status quo.

Macron’s platform includes exiting the coal industry and focusing on renewable energy sources, job training, a reduction in the unemployment rate, reductions in corporate income tax rates, flexibility of labour laws, education reform and federal spending cuts.

Though Sunday’s results are largely anticipated to end in a runoff between LePen and Macron, it is worth a brief glance at the other two leading contenders who are not far behind in the polls:

Fillon

  • François Fillon – represents the  center-right Republican Party. Although Fillon led early polls, his popularity sunk amid corruption allegations. He refused to withdraw his candidacy despite calls from figures in his own party demanding he move aside. Fillon, seeing the potency of LePen’s platform among frustrated French voters, has taken an increasingly firm stance on the threat of importing terrorism — a move that could steal votes from Le Pen.

Melenchon

  • Jean-Luc Mélenchon – is the radical far-left creator of the France Unbowed movement. Often compared to former progressive presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, Mélenchon fights for economic socialism, higher taxes on rich French, and an increased scope for government programs.

Around the globe, the ‘populist’ or ‘nationalist’ movement is gaining momentum.  Its two wins thus far have been Brexit and the election of Donald Trump.  Both Austria and the Netherlands have rejected populist candidates Norbert Hofer and Geert Wilders.  How France will vote remains to be seen, but the main fear is that if LePen wins the election, the changes will lead to chaos, not only for France, but for the European continent and the U.S. as well.  We have seen the chaos created by both Brexit and Trump, and my hope is that the French will look at the UK and US and decide to reject the far-right, sticking with a more moderate candidate.

On Thursday, France suffered a terrorist attack whereby one police officer was killed and two others wounded.  Daesh quickly claimed responsibility.  It is interesting timing, coming just three days before the election, and leads to a few questions, since LePen is, similar to Trump last year and Wilders earlier this year, advocating a ban of Muslims and strong anti-terrorist measures, and an attack so close to election day may enable fear to influence the votes of some.  I will leave the questions to your imaginations.  The Guardian published an editorial titled The Guardian view on the French presidency: hope not hate, calling for voters to keep a cool head, not letting Thursday’s attack influence their vote.

The issues facing the candidates in France’s election are far more complex than I can cover here, and the candidates far more in depth, but I have tried to summarize briefly.  The election will certainly be worth watching, even for those who have no vested interest, but rather an indirect one.

The Games Little Boys In Men’s Bodies Play …

fishIt was just another week in the White House and beyond.  I almost feel guilty about writing some of the juvenile posturing going on with Trump & Friends … it’s almost like shooting fish in a barrel … I don’t even have to work at it.

First there was Trump’s poke at North Korea, when he said an “armada” was on the way to the Korean Peninsula, eliciting threats from the North Korean government.  Only trouble … the “armada” wasn’t actually heading to North Korea, but rather to the coast of Australia to play … war games!

Now the latest in the little boys’ games:

Russian Planes Buzz Alaska Four Nights in a Row  

My first thought, on reading the above headline was that perhaps they had seen Sarah Palin on her front porch watching them and had come buzzing by for a closer look at America’s #1 Bimbo!  But no, that cannot be right, for she is in Washington with former Idiot of the Week, Ted Nugent, and Kid Rock.

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Nugent, Rock, Trump, Palin

So what was Russia so interested in at our back door?  Nothing.  Just like Trump’s blustery implied threat to North Korea, it is nothing more or less than a game of cat and mouse. It is a game that has been played for decades: I still think the pilots were hoping to get a closer look at Sarah sunbathing on her porch.

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“Over the Baltic, just off the coastlines of NATO members Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Russian military aircraft were intercepted 110 times by allied planes in 2016. That was a decrease from the 160 recorded intercepts in 2015, but it has been enough to keep both sides well-versed in the protocols of flying in close proximity.” Paul McCleary, Foreign Policy, 21 April 2017

But then there was Jeff Sessions who, for some reason unknown to mankind, at least the portion of mankind with a cerebrum, said this:

“I really am amazed that a judge sitting on an island in the Pacific can issue an order that stops the President of the United States from what appears to be clearly his statutory and Constitutional power.”  Okay, so Jeffrey does not have his hands on the playthings that Trump, Putin and Kim Jong-un have, but he is still one of their gang and has his own toys.  Unfortunately, he spent so much time playing with his toys that he failed History 101 and did not realize that Hawaii is not just some little ‘island in the Pacific’, but in fact is actually the 50th state in the nation and has been since 21 August 1959. The other thing he may have forgotten is that Judge Derrick Watson came up for confirmation in 2013, Sessions himself voted to confirm the judge to the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii.  Well, what the heck … Sessions is 70 years of age … the guy really cannot be expected to remember everything, now can he?

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An island in the Pacific:  Kaneohe, Oahu – 2010

A number of fun & funny comments stemmed from Sessions’ ignorance, but these were my favourites:

  • “Please don’t dis[respect] Hawaii as it gives us papaya, coffee, helicopter parts and the last competent president.”  
  • “We should let @jeffsessions know that New Mexico is a state too. Otherwise the wall might get built in the wrong place.”  laughing

And then on to Trumpie himself who is getting bored since the generals took his toys away … so he decided to play ‘bully’ over … cows!

cows “In Canada, some very unfair things have happened to our dairy farmers and others, and we’re going to strategy working on that. Canada, what they’ve done to our dairy farm workers, it’s a disgrace.”  What, you may ask, did Canada do to draw the wrath of the playground bully?  Canadian dairy producers recently decided to collectively lower their prices in order to compete with cheaper, American imports. About 70 dairy producers in both Wisconsin and New York are reportedly affected by the new policy. Best I recall from my college economics courses, this is competitive business practice and does not signify “a disgrace”.

Donnie T., for his part, is threatening to “tear up” the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but he was threatening that even before the election, so … ho-hum.  What else is new? One comment I found humorous in the UK’s Independent was: “Don the Con is a great example as to why boys and girls should learn history and to read, write, and speak clearly. He lacks these basic building blocks and has unenviable analytical skills. The word “moron” comes close to capturing the extent of his abilities, although lumping him in with morons might be disrespectful to morons.”

As you can see, it has been a week of business at the playground, complete with toys and playground bullies.  Stay tuned next week for more fun and games …

Happy Earth Day – 2017

Tomorrow is Earth Day, an annual event created to celebrate the planet’s environment and raise public awareness about pollution. The day, marked on April 22, is observed worldwide with rallies, conferences, outdoor activities and service projects.

earth-3Started as a grassroots movement, Earth Day created public support for the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and contributed to the passage of the Clean Air Act, the Water Quality Improvement Act, the Endangered Species Act and several other environmental laws.

A bit of history:

The first Earth Day was in 1970. Then-Senator Gaylord Nelson, after seeing the damage done by a 1969 massive oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, was inspired to organize a national “teach-in” that focused on educating the public about the environment.

Nelson recruited Denis Hayes, a politically active recent graduate of Stanford University, as national coordinator, and persuaded U.S. Representative Pete McCloskey of California to be co-chairman. With a staff of 85, they were able to rally 20 million people across the United States on April 20, 1970. Universities held protests, and people gathered in public areas to talk about the environment and find ways to defend the planet.

“Groups that had been fighting against oil spills, polluting factories and power plants, raw sewage, toxic dumps, pesticides, freeways, the loss of wilderness, and the extinction of wildlife suddenly realized they shared common values,” according to a History of Earth Day.

In 1995, President Bill Clinton awarded Nelson the Presidential Medal of Freedom for being the founder of Earth Day. This is the highest honor given to civilians in the United States.

Earth Day continued to grow over the years. In 1990, it went global, and 200 million people in 141 countries participated in the event. Which brings us to tomorrow, when more than 1 billion people are expected to participate in Earth Day 2017.

This year, in light of the recent cutbacks in the EPA, legislation and ‘executive orders’ signed by Donald Trump to reverse protections to our environment, the scientific community is planning marches all around the nation on Earth Day.  The Science March in Washington, D.C., is expected to draw tens of thousands of people to the Mall, and satellite marches have been planned in more than 400 cities on six continents.

science

Rush Holt, head of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), says that this is not simply a reaction to President Trump’s election, but that scientists have been worried for years that “evidence has been crowded out by ideology and opinion in public debate and policymaking.”

Although a number of scientists, including Bill Nye, CEO of the Planetary Society, will be speaking at the Washington event, no politicians have been invited to speak.  Caroline Weinberg, a public health researcher and co-organizer of the march, explains, “Science is nonpartisan. That’s the reason that we respect it, because it aims to reduce bias. That’s why we have the scientific method. We felt very strongly that having politicians involved would skew that in some way.”

Although Trump’s recent policies may not be the sole reason for the Science March, there can be no doubt that they are a factor.  During his campaign, Trump stated that, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.” Then, once in office, he appointed Scott Pruitt to head the EPA. This is a man who, as Oklahoma attorney general, had sued the agency many times and who, during an interview in March, said he did not believe that human activity is a primary driver of the observed climate change — a statement at odds with scientific research. Trump has also stated his belief that there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism – a theory that has long since been disproven by the scientific community.

Some might ask just what good a march will do in terms of protecting the environment.  The mission statement of the March begins, “There are certain things that we accept as facts … The Earth is becoming warmer due to human action. The diversity of life arose by evolution”. The purpose is public awareness and education.  Under the Trump regime, scientists’ voices have been muted, in some cases stifled.

Staff at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the departments of the Interior, Agriculture, and Health and Human Services have been ordered not to send out news releases, create new blog entries or update official website content. They also must seek agreement from senior officials before speaking to the media and in some instances Congress. The National Parks Service was temporarily banned from tweeting.

According to meteorologist and journalist Eric Holthaus, “It’s broader than about limiting communication. Scientists are seeing this as a full scale attack on truth itself and the principle that government should take scientific information onboard and incorporate it into policies and so act for society as a whole.”

Perhaps Elizabeth Hadly, professor of biology, geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University, said it best:

“If we cannot discuss facts openly – in public, in academia, in business, in government – how can we have meaningful dialogues so essential to serving people’s needs? How can democracy, based on public discussions and trust in our societal truths, survive? And so we will march.”

When a house becomes broken down and unsafe, we can move to another house. But when our planet becomes broken and unsafe, we have no other planet to move to.  When we can no longer breathe the air, drink the water, or grow food on the land, we perish.

Happy Earth Day!

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The Case For Compulsory Voting …

There are a number of reasons that we in the U.S. find ourselves with a madman at the helm.  Certainly, the Russian connection played a role, though it remains to be seen just how much of a role.  James Comey, perhaps pressured by another, played a role.  Voter laws that disenfranchised members of certain groups had a role.  But perhaps the largest reason was voter apathy … many were simply too lazy or too disgusted with both candidates to take an hour out of their year to go vote.

Only about 25% of eligible voters voted for Donald Trump.  Let that one sink in for a moment.  About ¼ of citizens over the age of 18 voted for Trump, yet he now sits in the Oval Office.  Voter turnout in the 2016 election was only around 55%.* Barely half of all those who had the opportunity to make their voices heard chose to do so.  That, my friends, is pathetic. It should be criminal … and in some places it is.

In Australia, voting is compulsory for federal and state elections for citizens aged 18 and above. A postal vote is available for those for whom it is difficult to attend a polling station. Early, or pre-poll, voting at an early voting centre is also available for those who might find it difficult to get to a polling station on election day. Eligible citizens who fail to vote at a State election and do not provide a valid and sufficient reason for such failure, will be fined. The penalty for first time offenders is $20, and this increases to $50 if you have previously paid a penalty or been convicted of this offense.

While compulsory voting is not widespread around the globe, there are 22 countries with mandatory voting laws on the books, of which 11 actually enforce said laws.  In most cases, penalties for failure to vote are minimal, a slap on the wrist, but the law does compel most to vote.  Higher voter turnout leads to governments with more stability, legitimacy and a genuine mandate to govern. Let us look at some of the pros and cons of compulsory voting.

Pros

  • A higher degree of political legitimacy: the victorious candidate therefore represents a majority of the population.
  • High levels of participation decreases the risk of political instability created by crises or charismatic demagogues.
  • Removes obstacles for minorities and other marginalized groups who are typically disenfranchised by voter laws.
  • Makes it more difficult for extremist or special interest groups to get themselves into power or to influence mainstream candidates. If fewer people vote, then it is easier for lobby groups to motivate a small section of the people to the polls and influence the outcome of the political process.
  • Since campaign funds are not needed to goad voters to the polls, the role of money in politics decreases.

Cons

  • It is essentially a compelled speech act, which violates freedom of speech because the freedom to speak necessarily includes the freedom not to speak.
  • People do not wish to be compelled to vote for a candidate they have no interest in or knowledge of.
  • Certain religions, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, may be against political participation.

I believe the ‘pros’ far outweigh the ‘cons’, and the arguments against compulsory voting are easy enough to overcome.  A system for compulsory voting may include an exclusion based on religious beliefs.  I have no sympathy with the argument that people may not have knowledge of a candidate.  Perhaps 50, or even 20 years ago I might have, but today, with the touch of a button people can educate themselves about the candidates and their platforms.  To fail to do so is simply a matter of laziness.  When it comes to not liking either candidate, there may be an option on the ballot to select ‘none of the above’.  At least in this case, it is understood that the voter is making a statement, stating a preference.

As for the argument that it may infringe on a person’s right to free speech, I would claim that along with rights come responsibilities.  The right to vote is equally a responsibility to participate in the election of the people whose decisions will affect every person within the country.  Voter apathy is either not caring or being too lazy to spend one hour a year going to the polls to make your voice heard.  Voter fatigue, however, is something entirely different, and I believe that it was this, more than anything, that led to the low turnout in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections. The campaign began in earnest in July 2015, and from that time forward we were subjected to almost non-stop debates, media coverage, rallies, political advertisements, and divisive vitriol.  Campaigns and election seasons have become almost non-stop, as we have seen by the fact that Trump is already campaigning for re-election in 2020.  I would very much like to see a moratorium on all campaign advertisements and events until three months prior to the actual election.

One final argument in favour of compulsory voting is that it is likely to lead to more moderate, less extremist candidates winning office.  According to political scientist, Waleed Aly:

“In a compulsory election, it does not pay to energize your base to the exclusion of all other voters. Since elections cannot be determined by turnout, they are decided by swing voters and won in the center… That is one reason Australia’s version of the far right lacks anything like the power of its European or American counterparts. Australia has had some bad governments, but it hasn’t had any truly extreme ones and it isn’t nearly as vulnerable to demagogues.”

While I understand that, especially in today’s political climate, it is highly unlikely we will adopt a system of mandatory voting, I would be in full support of such a measure.  The current system under which only 25% of the population selected the leader whose chaotic leadership is wreaking havoc in our nation makes our system far less of a democracy than we believe. (I found an interesting breakdown by state of voter turnout in the 2016 election.)

Compulsory voting would solve only a part of the problem with U.S. elections.  The other two remaining issues that render our current system less than fully representative of the population are gerrymandering and the electoral college.  An overhaul of both these would certainly lead to more representative outcomes, but until every person who is eligible to vote chooses to do so, We The People will continue to be led by leaders who were not elected by the majority of the citizenry, but rather the most outspoken.

* Interestingly, the highest voter turnout in the past two decades was in 2008, when 62.2% of voters participated in the election of Barack Obama.

They Did Not Know Where A $13 Billion Ship Was????

On the 9th of April, it was reported that the US navy had deployed a strike group towards the western Pacific Ocean, to provide a presence near the Korean peninsula. Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, said China agreed with the Trump administration that “action has to be taken” regarding North Korea. “President Xi clearly understands, and I think agrees, that the situation has intensified and has reached a certain level of threat that action has to be taken,” Tillerson said.

“US Pacific Command ordered the Carl Vinson strike group north as a prudent measure to maintain readiness and presence in the western Pacific,” said Commander Dave Benham, spokesman at US Pacific Command.

“When you a see a carrier group steaming into an area like that [it] is clearly a huge deterrence.” – White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, 11 April 2017

“We are sending an armada, very powerful. We have submarines, very powerful, far more powerful than the aircraft carrier. We have the best military people on Earth.  And I will say this: he is doing the wrong thing.” – Donald Trump, 12 April 2017

In light of all this, the world held its collective breath, understanding that two madmen, each with very short emotional fuses and the capability of starting Armageddon, were playing a very high-stakes game of chicken.

map-1But guess what?  There was no “armada” headed to the Korean peninsula.  The USS Carl Vinson was not even pointed in the direction of North Korea.  There was not so much as a tiny sailboat aimed at the Korean peninsula.  The USS Carl Vinson and its accompanying flotilla were, in fact, sailing south to take part in a preplanned training exercise with the Australian navy!

The question arises:  Did the entire Trump administration perpetuate this lie in order to threaten North Korean President Kim Jong-un and make the world sit up and take notice?  Or did they truly have no clue where the naval flotilla was?  Either way … this is the most blatant example yet of the mass incompetence and chaos in the White House!

Allegedly, now that the Carl Vinson and its strike force are finished training with the Australian navy, they are heading to the Korean peninsula, though it will be next month before they reach their destination.  I have no idea if this is true, given the propensity of Trump & Co. to lie, and the entire fleet may well be in dry-dock for all I know.  However, Sean Spicer, asked to clarify why he lied, fell back on newspeak:

“The statement that was put out was that the Carl Vinson group was headed to the Korean peninsula. It is headed to the Korean peninsula.”  Newspeak.

spicer-air-quotes

Defense Secretary James Mattis also refused to say that he had wrongly contributed to the narrative that an American flotilla was racing toward the Korean peninsula:

mattis“In our effort to always be open about what we’re doing, we said that we were going to change the Vinson’s upcoming schedule. We’re doing exactly what we said, and that is, we’re shifting her. Instead of continuing in one direction, as she pulled out of Singapore, she’s going to continue part of her cruise down in that region, but she was on her way up to Korea.”  Doublespeak.

Joel Wit, a co-founder of the 38 North programme of the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said the confusion was “very perplexing”. “If you are going to threaten the North Koreans, you better make sure your threat is credible. If you threaten them and your threat is not credible, it’s only going to undermine whatever your policy toward them is.”  Makes sense, but I think we can all agree that there is no policy … policy has been replaced with spur-of-the-moment tweets and off-the-cuff rants.

It is clear that what we mostly believed to begin with is true.  We can never believe anything we are told by this administration.  This lie was beyond ‘alternative fact’ … is was a bald-faced lie whose only possible purpose was to threaten and bully Kim Jong-un and deceive the American public.  I, for one, am incensed.

Games like this are NOT how we keep America safer, NOT how to make America ‘great again’, but instead are how we endanger every life, not only here, but around the globe.  Donald Trump and his minions must be removed from office as quickly as possible … there is no other choice if we wish to preserve the human race.

Good People Doing Good Things – Dr. Sanduk Ruit & Dr. Geoffrey Tabin

Every Wednesday morning, I write about good people who are giving of themselves, their time, their money, or whatever resources they have to help others.  Some weeks I write about millionaire philanthropists, or foundations, other weeks, average, everyday people like you and me who are doing small things that make big differences in the lives of others.  Today I would like to introduce you to a pair of doctors, Dr. Sanduk Ruit, a Nepalese eye surgeon, and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin, an American eye surgeon and world-renowned mountain climber.

Together, these two eye surgeons have restored sight to more than 150,000 patients in 24 countries. Doctors they’ve trained have restored sight to 4 million more. They are on a mission to completely eradicate preventable and curable blindness in the developing world, and they have made a great start.

In 1995, Drs. Ruit and Tabin founded the Himalayan Cataract Project, which began as a small outpatient clinic in Kathmandu. It has since spread throughout the Himalayas and across Sub-Saharan Africa, providing education and training for local eye-care professionals, and has overseen around 500,000 low-cost, high-quality cataract surgeries.

Dr. Ruit was responsible for developing a simplified technique for cataract surgery that costs only $25 and has nearly a 100% success rate.  His method is now even taught in U.S. medical schools, though in the U.S. you will not find cataract surgery for $25.

In 2015, Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times visited Dr. Ruit in Hatauda, in southern Nepal, and observed the process.  The patient was a 50-year-old woman, Thuli Maya Thing, who, blinded by cataracts for several years has been unable to work.  “I can’t fetch firewood or water. I can’t cook food. I fall down many times. I’ve been burned by the fire. I will be able to see my children and husband again — that’s what I look forward to most.”  The process to remove Thuli’s cataracts and replace them with new lenses took about five minutes per eye. When the bandages came off the next day, her vision tested at 20/20!

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Thuli Maya Thing

In the United States, cataract surgery is typically performed with complex machines and costs upward of $5,000.  When asked in a 2013 interview with Prospero of The Economist why the surgery the same procedure could not be replicated in the U.S., he answered …

“In America we do not have a health-care system, we have a crisis-intervention system where everyone demands and expects the best possible outcome and looks for someone to blame if things are not perfect. We have so much wasted time, so many middle men, redundancies, third-party payers, legal issues.”

All of the Himalayan Cataract Project’s facilities strive to be completely financially self-sustaining through a unique cost-recovery program in which the wealthy patients subsidize the poor patients. One third of the patients pay the full $100 for a complete work-up, modern cataract surgery, and all post-operative care. Twenty percent of the patients pay a smaller amount based on what they are able to pay. The remaining third of the patients receive the cataract surgical care entirely free. With this model, the facilities are able to cover all costs.

Additionally, the doctors have created a system whereby everyone works up to their potential and no one does anything a person with less training can do. This maximizes the most expensive element, which is the time of the doctors and nurses. They have also been able to bring down the material costs through local manufacturing and elimination of waste. Imagine if these methods were used in the industrialized world … we would not need the ongoing healthcare debate we are perpetually undergoing in the U.S.!

wed-second-sunsJournalist David Oliver Relin shadowed the doctors for nearly two years, an effort that culminated in the book Second Suns, published in June 2013, about the heroic accomplishments of the two doctors.  Sadly, the author committed suicide in November 2012 due to controversies over another book he wrote, Three Cups of Tea.  I have not read Second Suns, but took a quick glance at the sample on my Kindle, and it seems well worth the read.

I had a good chuckle over a story related by Dr. Tabin:

“One story I enjoyed learning from the book was that Dr Ruit had tried to get rid of me by sending me to work in Biratnagar, Nepal, during the monsoon. At the time I thought I was needed there but in fact it was because he found my enthusiasm annoying. He was sure that the 40-degree heat with 99% humidity and lots of biting insects, plus the difficult state of the hospital, would send me scurrying back to America.”

In developing nations, suffering from blindness affects not only the blind person but also members of his/her family. Where there are few paved roads and where terrain is rugged and mountainous, a blind person has incredible difficulty moving around and depends on a caretaker. There are no social services available to the blind, and individuals who are blind cannot contribute to family income. A blind person, unable to care for themselves in such a harsh environment requires the help of a family member, which essentially takes two people out of being able to contribute to family income, or community life. With sight restored, many patients would be able to return to work and to traditional roles in their families and societies.  Drs. Ruit and Tabin have dedicated their lives to restoring sight to blind people in some of the most isolated, impoverished reaches of developing countries in the Himalaya and Sub-Saharan Africa.

Last Sunday, 16 April, the two doctors were featured on CBS’ 60 Minutes and it is well worth checking out!

I have tremendous admiration and respect for these two men, and they are certainly prime examples of good people who are doing good things for others.  I have included a few links below … I think you would especially enjoy the article written two years ago by Nicholas Kristof which includes a short video.  Hats off to Dr. Sanduk Ruit and Dr. Geoffrey Tabin!

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Nicholas Kristoff Article

Interview with The Economist

Himalayan Cataract Project

Buyers’ Remorse Is Setting In For Some In PA Who Voted For The President

As we approach the 3-month anniversary of Trump in the Oval Office, I find nothing for which to congratulate him. He has blundered far more than he has succeeded in virtually any area, leaving many of us who were not his fans to begin with wondering if those who voted for him understand the magnitude of his mistakes, if they are beginning to have regrets. Fellow-blogger Gronda takes her research to swing-state Pennsylvania to see what people there think. Turns out, some are regretting their choice, others are still supportive and still sporting their yard signs and bumper stickers. But I am encouraged that at least some are beginning to ‘see the light’, to realize that Trump made many promises, most of which he either cannot keep or never intended to keep. Please take a few moments to read Gronda’s excellent post and think about her concluding paragraph, for it should have meaning for each and every one of us, regardless of party affiliation, socio-economic level, gender or race. Thank you, Gronda, for your work on this piece and for permission to re-blog!

Gronda Morin

Image result for jon ossoff gayThere is a recent Pennsylvania poll demonstrating that buyers remorse is beginning to felt by some who voted for the republican President Donald Trump. He will always have his hard core supporters but outside of this group, those who voted for him are having second thoughts. There is a recent poll which supports this premise as well as a first hand account by a reporter who returned to the scene of a county which delivered a narrow victory for our president.

Let’s hope that this state of voters’ regrets is a true mirror of how Americans are feeling across the country. Today, 4/18/17, there is a Georgia special election taking place to fill the republican seat previously held by the current HHS Secretary Tom Price. The president won in this district by about 1%. If the highly qualified democratic contender Jon Ossoff prevails in this race, this will be a positive sign for…

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Yet Another Poor Choice …

Last week, while we were intently focused on the bombing of an alleged Daesh hideout in Afghanistan, the increasing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, and Trump’s various incoherent tweets ‘n twits, there was other news, largely unnoticed.  This one crossed my radar yesterday ……

On Wednesday, Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, formally announced Candice Jackson as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, a position that does not require Senate confirmation. Ms. Jackson will act as assistant secretary in charge of the office until the position of secretary is filled. By law, she can serve in the position for only 210 days, however we have seen how Trump reverses laws with a swipe of his pen. DeVos has not yet selected a nominee, who would require confirmation by the Senate.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) is a sub-agency of the U.S. Department of Education that is primarily focused on protecting civil rights in federally assisted education programs and prohibiting discrimination on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, handicap, age, or membership in patriotic youth organizations.

In the 2016 fiscal year, the office processed almost 17,000 civil rights complaints, and opened 4,000 investigations. In the days after the Trump administration rescinded the guidelines allowing transgender students to use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, representing 60 organizations, sent a letter to Ms. DeVos asking for the next head of the civil rights office to have a track record of upholding student rights, and fighting systemic and individual cases of discrimination. The coalition, which includes organizations like the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc. and the National Women’s Law Center, called it “one of the most significant decisions you and the president will make with regard to the civil rights of the nation’s students.”

Jackson has very little to qualify her for this position, as she has scant experience in the field of civil rights law. She is a longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, who has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by an economist, Murray N. Rothbard (in line for a future Idiot of the Week award), who is strongly against both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

During her senior year at Stanford, Jackson complained that she was discriminated against because she was Caucasian, and said that “giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem.”  Around the same time, she also condemned feminism, saying, “In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals. College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards. I think many women are instinctively conservative, but are guided into the folds of feminism before discovering the conservative community.”

While everyone is certainly entitled to their personal opinion, Ms. Jackson’s opinions appear to be the direct antithesis to the ideology and responsibility of the office she has been tasked to oversee, in a manner similar to other Trump advisory selections.

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book, titled Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine, in which she criticized liberals for placing too much emphasis on helping women and people of color. She also wrote that sexual harassment laws and policies ignore “the reality that unwanted sexual advances are difficult to define.”  Hard to define? Interestingly, when a number of women accused Donald Trump of sexual assault and harassment during the presidential campaign, Jackson referred to the women as “fake victims” who were lying “for political gain,”

There is nothing in Jackson’s past to indicate that she would aggressively protect civil rights in schools and college campuses.  In fact, quite the opposite, since she appears to find sexual harassment “difficult to define”.

So, just as we asked why Scott Pruitt was selected to lead the very department (EPA) he had sued thirteen times, we must ask why a woman who does not appear to support civil rights was tapped to lead the Office of Civil Rights?  The answer, I believe, is two-fold.  First, Trump appears determined to undermine certain offices and administrative agencies by selecting people whose beliefs are 180° different from the purpose of the office.  Second, there is Ms. Jackson’s contribution to Trump’s campaign last year.  What did she contribute?

Jackson helped the Trump campaign connect with three of former president Bill Clinton’s accusers in order to invite them to the second presidential debate before which Trump held a press conference with them highlighting President Clinton’s ‘victimization’ of them. Also of benefit to the Trump campaign, Jackson highlighted Hillary Clinton’s former role as a public defender, during which she represented a man accused of raping a 12-year-old girl.  I firmly believe this position is a reward for the role she played in helping Trump in his smear campaign against Hillary Clinton.

Betsy DeVos’s first official policy act was to support the Trump administration’s decision to rescind the Obama administration’s federal guidance protecting the rights of transgender students. News organizations reported that DeVos was personally opposed to the action but went along with it. She went along … with a policy to which she was opposed.  What does this say about her willingness to fight for the rights of others?

The current administration has shown disdain for the enforcement of civil rights in the U.S. by the appointment of Jeff Sessions, a proven racist, to the office of Attorney General.  The selection of Jackson to lead, albeit temporarily, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights is yet another slap in the face to the rights, of women, minorities, and the LGBT community.