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

I find I must dig back through the archives and repeat my good people post from April 2017 this week, for I am simply too frustrated tonight to settle into writing a new one.  My apologies, but I really think you’ll enjoy reading about these two guys!


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!

Wed-Thuli

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!

wed-two-docs

Nicholas Kristoff Article

Interview with The Economist

Himalayan Cataract Project

Fly … or No-Fly?

We’ve all heard much talk of whether or not the U.S. should establish a ‘no-fly zone’ over Ukraine to protect the country from attack from Russian planes.  Representative Adam Kinzinger was among the first to call for a limited no-fly zone and since then, others have jumped on the bandwagon.  Even Ukraine’s President Zelenskyy has asked NATO to establish such a no-fly zone.  But is it really a good idea?  I’ve read the pros and cons and I think Nicholas Kristof sums it up best in his latest newsletter …


Here’s Why I’m Against a No-Fly Zone

It increases the risk of a Russian-American war, even of a nuclear exchange. That doesn’t seem worth it.

Nicholas Kristof, March 10

Almost nothing would be as satisfying right now as shooting down a Russian Mig that was bombing a Ukrainian apartment block or hospital. So it’s understandable that there are growing calls for the United States to impose a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

The Russian bombing of a maternity hospital in Mariupol, Ukraine, on Wednesday is just the latest war crime of this nature, and there may be many more. In Chechnya and Syria, Russia repeatedly bombed hospitals and clinics, reflecting a doctrine that emphasizes terrorizing civilian populations and forcing them to flee.

Ukrainian leaders are pleading for the U.S. to impose a no-fly zone, and Senator Roger Wicker of Mississippi supports the idea. (Senator Rick Scott of Florida goes further and says that it’s worth considering dispatching U.S. ground troops to Ukraine.)

I’ve often argued for no-fly zones in other regions, from Darfur to Libya, so you might thing I’d be in favor this time as well. There’s no question that Russia is using its air power to commit mass atrocities.

But I’m against the calls for a no-fly zone in Ukraine, and I think President Biden is right to resist. The big difference from Darfur isn’t a principled one but pragmatic: In this case, a no-fly zone could escalate into a war between two superpowers.

Let’s understand that a no-fly zone is not some neat and bloodless intervention. It means that we shoot Russian planes out of the air, and our planes are also at risk of being shot down. To protect our planes, we would begin by striking Russian anti-aircraft positions, killing Russians. In other words, the first step of a no-fly zone is going to war with Russia.

This would be an undeclared war of uncertain legality. There is an enormous difference between supplying lethal weaponry to Ukraine and directly bombing Russian anti-aircraft batteries or shooting down Russian aircraft.

Vladimir Putin’s instinct has often been to double down. So what if he reacts to America downing a Mig by lobbing a few missiles at U.S. bases in Europe? Do we then fire missiles at Moscow? Where does this end?

I already think there is a small but non-zero risk of nuclear weapons being used (most likely tactical nuclear weapons, not strategic ones) as a result of the Ukraine crisis. If the U.S. and Russia are shooting down each other’s aircraft and firing mortars at each other’s bases, the risks go up enormously.

The risks of a no-fly zone also have to be weighed against the benefits. A no-fly zone, if successful and if it did not lead to World War III, could prevent Russia from establishing air superiority over Ukraine. That would be important. But it would not be likely to fundamentally change the outcome of the war, and Putin would still be able to blow up hospitals with his ground-based mortars, missiles and RPGs.

The blunt reality is that the main way Putin turns cities to rubble is ground artillery, not bombers. Artillery is a crucial element of Putin’s firepower and military doctrine, but do we really want to propose that we also take out Russian artillery positions?

Resisting a no-fly zone does not mean doing nothing. We can and should do everything we can to stand against Russia as it bombs a maternity hospital.

We can take other steps, particularly the transfer of more weaponry to Ukraine’s resistance, more intelligence sharing about specific targets for Ukraine to take out, more economic pressure on Russia and on oligarchs, and more effort to transfer Migs from Poland or other countries to Ukraine. All that will help Ukraine and bog Russia down while reducing the risk of triggering a larger war.

But a no-fly zone is different.

A no-fly zone is a useful tool that can often advance humanitarian objectives. But in this case, Putin would still have artillery and other tools to commit war crimes, and a no-fly zone would increase the risk of an American-Russian war, even of a nuclear exchange, with incomparably greater casualties than anything plausible in Ukraine alone. On this I reluctantly agree with Biden: That does not seem worth it.

Random Thoughts From A Bouncy Mind

Just a few thoughts from the bouncing mind inside my head …

I had to laugh when I read in a news aggregator that with both Senate and House back in chambers, we should prepare for what “… could be a frantic couple weeks of legislative action.”  Legislative action???  In today’s inert Senate???  Who do they think they’re kidding?  The most action we are likely to see from the United States Senate in the coming weeks are them posturing on various news shows and faux news shows to trash talk the other side.  If any meaningful legislation comes out of the Senate anytime soon, I will be in shock.

The Senate has been discussing the infrastructure bill for months now.  It is allegedly now a bi-partisan bill that the Republicans insisted be pared down from its original status, but even then, it doesn’t have enough Republican support to overcome the damn filibuster.  Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer is trying to move things along and asking for a cloture vote on Wednesday, and the Republicans want to know what his big hurry is!  As I said, they’ve been playing tiddly winks with it for months … meanwhile, roadways, bridges, water and sewage facilities and more continue to deteriorate.  WHAT THE SAM HELL do the Republicans think they’re doing?  Nothing … that’s what they’re doing.  Not one damn thing.  Oh wait … they ARE still collecting their paychecks, so I suppose that qualifies as doing something.  That amounts to a minimum, by the way, of $6,692 twice monthly.  Do any of you make that kind of money for sitting on your patooties all day?  No, I didn’t think so, but you ARE paying these jerks!

Meanwhile, the For the People Act seems to have been all but forgotten … I haven’t heard mention of it from any member of Congress recently.  FOR THE PEOPLE!  Even its name should stir some tiny shred of conscience among our elected officials, but what are they doing?  Playing games … with our lives!  How many of them have appeared on Fox News in the past month?  They have time to go preen their ugly mugs, but not time to give serious consideration to a bill that would protect this nation from autocratic bigots!

I read last night about some of the arguments that lawyers are using to attempt to keep their clients who infiltrated the Capitol on January 6th out of prison.  Leave it to high-paid lawyers to twist words and infer motives.  One guy’s lawyer says he shouldn’t be found guilty because his mother says he has “an amazing work ethic” and that he bought clothes and shoes for the residents of a nursing home where he worked as a nurse’s aide.  Never mind, I guess, that he is a member of the radical militia group the Three Percenters, and never mind that he entered the Capitol on January 6th wielding a baseball bat and a noxious chemical spray.

Overall, the lawyers are blaming everyone except their clients, the people who perpetrated the crimes.  Among those they blame are the media, naivete, trauma, unemployment, the pandemic, Washington elites, and their clients’ childhoods.  Sorry, fellas, it doesn’t pass the smell test.  These were people old enough to know better, so forget all the excuses.  They did what they did despite knowing that it was illegal, that it was likely to result in injuries or death … as in fact it did.  In my book, every single person who entered the Capitol without just cause that day should serve a minimum of five years in prison, no exceptions.  Those whose violence ended in property destruction or injury to others should serve 20 years in prison, no quarter given.  End of story.  Make an example of them so that next time, people will think long and hard before participating in an insurrection.

Nicholas Kristof is one of my favourite New York Times columnists, and I have shared his work more than once here on Filosofa’s Word.  A Pulitzer Prize winner, Kristof has written an op-ed column about international human rights and the disenfranchised for the New York Times for two decades.  Rumour has it that Kristof is now considering running for governor of Oregon, his home state, to replace the current governor, Kate Brown, who will reach her term limit in 2022.  So far, it’s just a rumour, but rumours have a way of becoming reality.  Kristof has the right sentiments, but I’m not sure he has the right temperament for the job.  Politics is dirty business, but … hey, it would be good to see a man of conscience, a man with an actual functioning brain and heart, in a position of power.

Thumbs up to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for rejecting two of the five Republicans chosen by Kevin McCarthy to participate on the committee that will be investigating the events of, and those leading up to, the January 6th attack on Congress and the Capitol.  The two she rejected are Jim (aka Gym) Jordan from Ohio and Jim Banks from Indiana.  Both voted against certifying the election on January 6th, which in my mind is reason enough to keep them off of this committee.  I know more about Jordan than I do Banks, but Jordan is a real piece of work that I wouldn’t trust to clean up the dog poop from my yard, let alone trust with something this important.  There is no doubt in my mind that McCarthy’s purpose in selecting these two Jims was obstruction.  Personally, I’d like to see him choose Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney … republicans that have shown they have a conscience, that they put country before party.

Well, I think I’ve shared enough of the thoughts from my bouncy mind for now.  Have a great afternoon!

Daryl Davis Is Still Going Strong

In 2017, Keith and I both wrote about a man named Daryl Davis, a Black man who is doing more than his share to help white supremacists stop being white supremacists, one at a time.  If you’re interested, here are links to Keith’s post and mine.  Last weekend, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Nicholas Kristof’s column looked to Davis and his technique in hopes of taking a page from Davis’ playbook to find ways to deal with people on the other side of the many divisive issues we are confronted with today. I think it is well worth considering …


‘How Can You Hate Me When You Don’t Even Know Me?’

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

One of the questions I’m asked most is: How do I talk to those on the other side of America’s political and cultural abyss? What can I say to my brother/aunt/friend who thinks Joe Biden is a socialist with dementia who stole the election?

I’ve wondered about persuasion strategies, too, because I have friends who have their pro-Trump or anti-vaccine biases validated every evening by Tucker Carlson. So I reached out to an expert at changing minds.

Daryl Davis, 63, is a Black musician with an unusual calling: He hangs out with Ku Klux Klan members and neo-Nazis and chips away at their racism. He has evidence of great success: a collection of K.K.K. robes and hoods given him by people whom he persuaded to abandon the Klan.

His odyssey arose from curiosity about racism, including about an attack he suffered. When Davis was 10 years old, he says, a group of white people hurled bottles, soda cans and rocks at him.

“I was incredulous,” Davis recalled. “My 10-year-old brain could not process the idea that someone who had never seen me, who had never spoken to me, who knew nothing about me, would want to inflict pain upon me for no other reason than the color of my skin.”

“How can you hate me,” he remembers wondering, “when you don’t even know me?”

Davis began to work on answers after he graduated from Howard University and joined a band that sometimes played in a Maryland bar that attracted white racists. Davis struck up a friendship with a K.K.K. member, each fascinated by the other, and the man eventually left the K.K.K., Davis said.

One of Davis’s methods — and there’s research from social psychology to confirm the effectiveness of this approach — is not to confront antagonists and denounce their bigotry but rather to start in listening mode. Once people feel they are being listened to, he says, it is easier to plant a seed of doubt.

In one case, Davis said, he listened as a K.K.K. district leader brought up crime by African Americans and told him that Black people are genetically wired to be violent. Davis responded by acknowledging that many crimes are committed by Black people but then noted that almost all well-known serial killers have been white and mused that white people must have a gene to be serial killers.

When the K.K.K. leader sputtered that this was ridiculous, Davis agreed: It’s silly to say that white people are predisposed to be serial killers, just as it’s ridiculous to say that Black people have crime genes.

The man went silent, Davis said, and about five months later quit the K.K.K.

Davis claims to have persuaded some 200 white supremacists to leave the Klan and other extremist groups. It’s impossible to confirm that number, but his work has been well documented for decades in articles, videos, books and a TED Talk. He also has a podcast called “Changing Minds With Daryl Davis.”

“Daryl saved my life,” said Scott Shepherd, a former grand dragon of the K.K.K. “Daryl extended his hand and actually just extended his heart, too, and we became brothers.” Shepherd ended up leaving the Klan and gave his robes to Davis.

Davis’s approach seems out of step with modern sensibilities. Today the more common impulse is to decry from a distance.

The preference for safe spaces over dialogue arises in part from a reasonable concern that engaging extremists legitimizes them. In any case, society can hardly ask Black people to reach out to racists, gay people to sit down with homophobes, immigrants to win over xenophobes, women to try to reform misogynists, and so on. Victims of discrimination have endured enough without being called upon to redeem their tormentors.

Yet I do think that we Americans don’t engage enough with people we fundamentally disagree with. There’s something to be said for the basic Davis inclination toward dialogue even with unreasonable antagonists. If we’re all stuck in the same boat, we should talk to each other.

“Daryl Davis demonstrates that talking face-to-face with your ideological opponents can motivate them to rethink their views,” said Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. “He’s an extraordinary example of what psychologists have repeatedly shown with evidence: In over 500 studies, interacting face-to-face with an out-group reduced prejudice 94 percent of the time.

“You won’t get through to people until you’ve earned their trust,” Grant added. “You’re not likely to earn their trust until you’ve met them face-to-face and listened to their stories.”

There’s a reason we try to solve even intractable wars by getting the parties to sit in the same room: It beats war. If we believe in engagement with North Koreans and Iranians, then why not with fellow Americans?

At a time when America is so polarized and political space is so toxic, we, of course, have to stand up for what we think is right. But it may also help to sit down with those we believe are wrong.

“If I can sit down and talk to K.K.K. members and neo-Nazis and get them to give me their robes and hoods and swastika flags and all that kind of crazy stuff,” Davis said, “there’s no reason why somebody can’t sit down at a dinner table and talk to their family member.”

America Is Back Again??? Not So Fast …

The former guy’s slogan was Make America Great Again, but every single thing he did dragged this nation further and further from that ideological ‘greatness’.  I would argue that the United States has never been any more ‘great’ than many Western nations, worse than some.  But, greatness is relative and subject to interpretation, so perhaps my standards are higher than some.  However, the nation was certainly at one time much ‘better’ than it has been for the past four years.

When Joe Biden traveled to Europe for the G7 earlier this month, he announced that “America is Back!”  And certainly he has brought us back to respectability among our allies, a respectability that was completely gone under the former guy, who treated our adversaries better than he treated our allies.  However, the U.S. has bigger problems and, in some ways, no we are not back.  Columnist Nicholas Kristof explains where we are lagging and what it will take to fix our problems.  For the record, I agree with most all of what he says, though there are one or two things I might argue with.


The Biggest Threat to America Is America Itself

June 23, 2021

By Nicholas Kristof

“America is back” became President Biden’s refrain on his European trip this month, and in a narrow sense it is.

We no longer have a White House aide desperately searching for a fire alarm to interrupt a president as he humiliates our country at an international news conference, as happened in 2018. And a Pew Research Center survey found that 75 percent of those polled in a dozen countries expressed “confidence in the U.S. president to do the right thing,” compared with 17 percent a year ago.

Yet in a larger sense, America is not back. In terms of our well-being at home and competitiveness abroad, the blunt truth is that America is lagging. In some respects, we are sliding toward mediocrity.

Greeks have higher high school graduation rates. Chileans live longer. Fifteen-year-olds in Russia, Poland, Latvia and many other countries are better at math than their American counterparts — perhaps a metric for where nations will stand in a generation or two.

As for reading, one-fifth of American 15-year-olds can’t read at the level expected of a 10-year-old. How are those millions of Americans going to compete in a globalized economy? As I see it, the greatest threat to America’s future is less a surging China or a rogue Russia than it is our underperformance at home.

We Americans repeat the mantra that “we’re No. 1” even though the latest Social Progress Index, a measure of health, safety and well-being around the world, ranked the United States No. 28. Even worse, the United States was one of only three countries, out of 163, that went backward in well-being over the last decade.

Another assessment this month, the I.M.D. World Competitiveness Ranking 2021, put the United States No. 10 out of 64 economies. A similar forward-looking study from the World Bank ranks the United States No. 35 out of 174 countries.

So it’s great that we again have a president respected by the world. But we are not “back,” and we must face the reality that our greatest vulnerability is not what other countries do to us but what we have done to ourselves. The United States cannot achieve its potential when so many Americans are falling short of theirs.

“America’s chronic failure to turn its economic strength into social progress is a huge drag on American influence,” said Michael Green, chief executive of the group that publishes the Social Progress Index. “Europeans may envy America’s corporate dynamism but can comfort themselves that they are doing a much better job on a host of social outcomes, from education to health to the environment.

“Rivals like China may see the fraying of America’s social fabric as a sign of strategic weakness,” he added. “Emerging economies, whose citizens are starting to enjoy quality of life ever closer to that of Americans, may be less willing to take lectures from the U.S. government.”

Biden’s proposals for a refundable child credit, for national pre-K, for affordable child care and for greater internet access would help address America’s strategic weaknesses. They would do more to strengthen our country than the $1.2 trillion plan pursued by American officials to modernize our nuclear arsenal. Our greatest threats today are ones we can’t nuke.

America still has enormous strengths. Its military budget is bigger than the military budgets of the next 10 countries put together. American universities are superb, and the dynamism of United States corporations is reflected in the way people worldwide use their iPhones to post on their Facebook pages about Taylor Swift songs.

But they also comment, aghast, about the Capitol insurrection and attempts by Republicans to impede voting. American democracy was never quite as shimmering a model for the world as we liked to think, but it is certainly tarnished now.

Likewise, the “American dream” of upward mobility (which drew my refugee father to these shores in 1952) is increasingly chimerical. “The American dream is evidently more likely to be found on the other side of the Atlantic, indeed most notably in Denmark,” a Stanford study concluded.

“These things hold us back as an economy and as a country,” Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, said Tuesday.

More broadly, the United States has lost its lead in education overall and in investments in children. The World Bank Human Capital Project estimates that today’s American children will achieve only 70 percent of their potential productivity. That hurts them; it also hurts our nation.

We can’t control whether China builds more aircraft carriers. We can’t deter every Russian hacker.

But to truly bring America back, we should worry less about what others do and more about what we do to ourselves.

A Growl-Worthy Story

When I read Nicholas Kristof’s column yesterday evening, I found myself growling.  Republicans in this country need to put their money where their mouth is.  Talk is cheap, and actions speak louder than words! By their actions, the Republican Party is proving that all their talk about supporting families is just that … talk.  Take a look at Kristof’s column and I think you’ll be growling by the midpoint.


Turning Child Care Into a New Cold War

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

June 5, 2021

For a country brimming with “pro-family” politicians, the United States sure is a tough place to raise a family.

We Americans like to think “We’re No. 1,” but one recent study found that the United States was the second worst out of 35 industrialized countries as a place for families. We ranked behind Bulgaria. Behind Chile.

Now we have a historic chance to support children and families, for President Biden’s American Families Plan proposes programs such as high-quality day care and pre-K that are routine elsewhere in the world. You might think that the “pro-family” Republican Party would be eager to translate platitudes into practical help. But you’d be wrong.

“You know who else liked universal day care?” tweeted Senator Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican. She cited the old Soviet Union, apparently suggesting that there is something Communist about day care, and falsely claimed that participation would be mandatory under the Biden plan.

J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” warned, “‘Universal day care’ is class war against normal people.” Senator Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican, denounced efforts “to put Washington even more in the middle of your life, from the cradle to college.” Senator Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, railed at “lefty social engineering.”

In Idaho, a Republican state representative, Charlie Shepherd, explained that he was against a day care measure because “that makes it easier or more convenient for mothers to come out of the home and let others raise their child.” He later apologized because his remarks “sounded” sexist.

This is sad because the G.O.P. is right to hail the importance of family. Having loving, supportive parents who read to children, hug them and help them with homework — that’s crucial for kids. One University of Minnesota study found that maternal attachment at age 3 was a better predictor of high school graduation than I.Q.

So Republicans are correct that healthy families make a healthy nation. Democrats sometimes are too reluctant to acknowledge the toll of dysfunctional families, for fear of blaming the poor for their poverty, but it’s difficult to have a serious conversation about improving opportunity and equity in the United States without acknowledging the complicated problems in many homes.

Some eight million American children — roughly one in eight — live with a parent with a substance abuse problem. Millions more live in a household with domestic violence. Others are latchkey kids who look after younger siblings because parents are working and no day care is affordable.

Families desperately need help. In other countries, they get it. In the United States, they get empty homilies about the importance of family.

As a poorer nation in World War II, the United States could afford to operate an excellent day care program to enable moms and dads to hold jobs in the war economy. A follow-up study found that children in that wartime day care went on to enjoy higher high school and college graduation rates and earned more money as adults.

As of 2019, only 34 percent of American 4-year-olds attended state-funded preschool, and an important new study underscores why America needs national high-quality pre-K. In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Boston offered public programs for 4-year-olds but couldn’t meet demand, so a lottery was used to determine which children to accept.

Scholars have now found that the long-term effects of this random assignment were enormous. Children who had been accepted into pre-K were 18 percent more likely to enter college on time. They were more likely to graduate from high school and get better SAT scores, and were less likely to be incarcerated while in high school and disciplined as often. Effects were particularly strong for boys.

This new study is part of an enormous body of research showing that the greatest leverage we have to help people may be early in life, as brains are developing.

Skeptics say early childhood programs are expensive. Sure — but poorer countries can afford them. And educational failure and juvenile delinquency are even more costly, and also undermine American competitiveness around the world.

Senators say they care about crime. Well, here’s a way to reduce juvenile crime: Offer high-quality pre-K. They say they want to help young people attend college. So back the Biden plan for pre-K. In other words, this isn’t spending, but high-return investment.

It’s odd that Republicans perceive early childhood programs as a Democratic plot. One of the best states for early childhood programs is Republican Oklahoma, and Oklahomans don’t see pre-K as Communist but as common sense: If you don’t invest in children at the front end, you pay at the back end.

Biden’s effort to slash child poverty and create systems for day care and pre-K could be historic. It’s the most important policy issue of 2021. These initiatives would do for children and families what Social Security and Medicare did for the elderly.

So, please, Republicans, come to your senses: Helping children isn’t the first step to Communism. It’s a step to strengthening America’s families, and thus to strengthening America.

Focusing On People … ALL People

There are numerous ideological differences between the two major political parties in the United States today, some are superficial, others deep-rooted.  But one of the main ones, I believe, is what their view of the purpose of government is.  The Democratic Party largely believes in investing in people, while the Republican Party is more concerned with investing in Profit … profit for the already wealthy, that is, not for the average Joe.

I have shared two-time Pulitzer Prize winner Nicholas Kristof’s work before, and his column yesterday in the New York Times is another that needs to be read, pondered and absorbed.  He makes the case for President Biden’s proposals for investment in the people of this nation, and he makes it well.  If the Republican Party chooses not to participate, then perhaps it’s time we leave them behind … for the greater good, the good of the nation and all of its people.


Joe Biden Is Electrifying America Like F.D.R.

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

YAMHILL, Ore. — The best argument for President Biden’s three-part proposal to invest heavily in America and its people is an echo of Franklin Roosevelt’s explanation for the New Deal.

“In 1932 there was an awfully sick patient called the United States of America,” Roosevelt said in 1943. “He was suffering from a grave internal disorder … and they sent for a doctor.”

Paging Dr. Joe Biden.

We should be cleareyed about both the enormous strengths of the United States — its technologies, its universities, its entrepreneurial spirit — and its central weakness: For half a century, compared with other countries, we have underinvested in our people.

In 1970, the United States was a world leader in high school and college attendance, enjoyed high life expectancy and had a solid middle class. This was achieved in part because of Roosevelt.

The New Deal was imperfect and left out too many African-Americans and Native Americans, but it was still transformative.

Here in my hometown, Yamhill, the New Deal was an engine of opportunity. A few farmers had rigged generators on streams, but Roosevelt’s rural electrification brought almost everyone onto the grid and output soared. Jobs programs preserved the social fabric and built trails that I hike on every year. The G.I. Bill of Rights gave local families a shot at education and homeownership.

Roosevelt’s Public Works Administration provided $27,415 in 1935 (the equivalent of $530,000 today) to help build a high school in Yamhill. That provided jobs for 90 people on the relief rolls, and it created the school that I attended and that remains in use today.

In short, the New Deal invested in the potential and productivity of my little town — and of much of the nation. The returns were extraordinary.

These kinds of investments in physical infrastructure (interstate highways) and human capital (state universities and community colleges) continued under Democratic and Republican presidents alike. They made America a stronger nation and a better one.

Yet beginning in the 1970s, America took a wrong turn. We slowed new investments in health and education and embraced a harsh narrative that people just need to lift themselves up by their bootstraps. We gutted labor unions, embraced inequality and shrugged as working-class America disintegrated. Average weekly wages for America’s production workers were actually lower in December 2020 ($860) than they had been, after adjusting for inflation, in December 1972 ($902 in today’s money).

What does that mean in human terms? I’ve written about how one-quarter of the people on my old No. 6 school bus died of drugs, alcohol or suicide — “deaths of despair.” That number needs to be updated: The toll has risen to about one-third.

We allocated large sums of taxpayer dollars to incarcerate my friends and their children. Biden proposes something more humane and effective — investing in children, families and infrastructure in ways that echo Roosevelt’s initiatives.

The most important thread of Biden’s program is his plan to use child allowances to cut America’s child poverty in half. Biden’s main misstep is that he would end the program in 2025 instead of making it permanent; Congress should fix that.

The highest return on investment in America today isn’t in private equity but in early childhood initiatives for disadvantaged kids of all races. That includes home visitations, lead reduction, pre-K and child care.

Roosevelt started a day care program during World War II to make it easier for parents to participate in the war economy. It was a huge success, looking after perhaps half a million children, but it was allowed to lapse after the war ended.

Biden’s proposal for day care would be a lifeline for young children who might be neglected. Aside from the wartime model, we have another in the U.S.: The military operates a high-quality on-base day care system, because that supports service members in performing their jobs.

Then there are Biden’s proposed investments in broadband; that’s today’s version of rural electrification. Likewise, free community college would enable young people to gain technical skills and earn more money, strengthening working-class families.

Some Americans worry about the cost of Biden’s program. That’s a fair concern. Yet this is not an expense but an investment: Our ability to compete with China will depend less on our military budget, our spy satellites or our intellectual property protections than on our high school and college graduation rates. A country cannot succeed when so many of its people are failing.

As many Americans have criminal records as college degrees. A baby born in Washington, D.C., has a shorter life expectancy (78 years) than a baby born in Beijing (82 years). Newborns in 10 counties in Mississippi have a shorter life expectancy than newborns in Bangladesh. Rather than continue with Herbert Hoover-style complacency, let’s acknowledge our “grave internal disorder” and summon a doctor.

The question today, as in the 1930s, is not whether we can afford to make ambitious investments in our people. It’s whether we can afford not to.

Justice Must Be Done For Jamal Khashoggi

Yesterday, the U.S. Intelligence report on the brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was made public.  The bottom line, as I said from day #1, is that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS) ordered the hit on Khashoggi.  No surprise there … the former guy remained buddy-buddy with MbS and claimed he had nothing to do with it, but those of us capable of adding 2+2 and coming up with an answer of 4, knew better.  So, what comes next?  Apparently nothing.

The Biden administration has concluded that it could not risk a full rupture of its relationship with the kingdom, relied on by the United States to help contain Iran, to counter terrorist groups and to broker peaceful relations with Israel. Cutting off Saudi Arabia could also push its leaders toward China.  I understand the reasons … I really do.  However, I think there comes a point when we must take a stand.  If we don’t, then how can we claim to be a nation of justice, of human rights and humanitarian values?  I share with you Nicholas Kristof’s column in the New York Times that goes into a bit more detail than I am able to do.


President Biden Lets a Saudi Murderer Walk

The crown prince killed my friend Jamal Khashoggi, and we do next to nothing.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeNicholas Kristof

By Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

The United States government publicly identified Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia as the murderer of an American resident, and then President Biden choked.

Instead of imposing sanctions on M.B.S., Biden appears ready to let the murderer walk. The weak message to other thuggish dictators considering such a murder is: Please don’t do it, but we’ll still work with you if we have to. The message to Saudi Arabia is: Go ahead and elevate M.B.S. to be the country’s next king if you must.

All this is a betrayal of my friend Jamal Khashoggi and of his values and ours. But even through the lens of realpolitik it’s a missed opportunity to help Saudi Arabia understand that its own interest lies in finding a new crown prince who isn’t reckless and doesn’t kill and dismember journalists.

What should Biden have done?

As a matter of consistency he should have imposed the same sanctions on M.B.S., including asset freezes and travel bans, that the United States imposed in 2018 on lower-level figures who carried out the murder of Khashoggi. These sanctions should also apply to the stooges and front companies that M.B.S. has used to accumulate assets around the world.

“The key message that should be sent not only to M.B.S., and others in the Saudi Court and government, but also to other would-be killers of journalists around the world, is that there is a heavy price to pay for such crimes and nowhere to hide,” Agnes Callamard, who as a United Nations official investigated Jamal’s killing, told me.

The United States should also have suspended arms sales to Saudi Arabia. United States law bars military assistance to security units involved in gross human rights abuses, and that is true of security forces under M.B.S., who also serves as defense minister.

Biden reportedly feared that sanctions on M.B.S. would poison relations with Saudi Arabia. Yes, that’s a legitimate concern, and I agree that it’s often necessary to engage even rulers with blood on their hands. But in this great balancing of values and interests, the towering risk is that M.B.S., who is just 35, will become king upon the death of his aging father and rule recklessly for many years, creating chaos in the Gulf and a rupture in Saudi-American relations that would last decades.

In other words, it’s precisely because Saudi Arabia is so important that Biden should stand strong and send signals — now, while there is a window for change — that the kingdom is better off with a new crown prince who doesn’t dismember journalists.

M.B.S. is the sixth crown prince Saudi Arabia has had over the last decade, and only one of them (King Salman) rose to become king. Two died, and two were deposed. If it becomes clear that Saudi Arabia will not have a workable relationship with the West if M.B.S. becomes king, perhaps we’ll see a seventh crown prince. That’s not the U.S. dictating to Saudi Arabia, but pointing out reality.

“King Salman and any independent advisers he may still have would be well-advised to consider how unsustainable it will be for the kingdom to retain M.B.S. as crown prince,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now. “M.B.S. has proven time and again to be a liability and a danger for the kingdom, reviled and avoided by the international community.”

American officials sometimes say that if we don’t sell weapons to Saudi Arabia, then France or Russia will. But what Saudi Arabia gets from America is not only high-tech weaponry but, far more important, an implicit promise of defense from Iran or other countries. France and Russia can’t provide that.

Some Saudis tell me that it’s a foregone conclusion that M.B.S. will become king. Maybe. But the fact that M.B.S. has detained rivals, like Prince Ahmed bin Abdulaziz (who is broadly admired in Saudi society) and Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, suggests that he doesn’t think it’s a done deal.

“It’s not a given that if you’re crown prince, you’re going to become king,” noted Dr. Khalid Aljabri, who is currently in the United States but has close ties to senior Saudi royals, and whose father was allegedly targeted for murder by M.B.S. “Just apply the law. Sanction MBS! If they sanction MBS, the whole country would come to a standstill, and King Salman would have no choice but to remove his son, even if he doesn’t want to.”

Perhaps I’m biased because I knew Jamal. Some may think: It’s too bad about the murder, but other leaders have killed people, too. True, but M.B.S. poisons everything he touches. He kidnapped Lebanon’s prime minister. He oversaw a feud with Qatar. He caused the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen. He imprisoned women’s rights activists. He has tarnished his country’s reputation far more effectively than Iran ever could.

So, Mr. Biden, it’s not a human rights “gesture” to sanction M.B.S. Jamal was a practical man who didn’t believe in mushy gestures — but he did dream of a more democratic Arab world that would benefit Arabs and Americans alike. And by letting a murderer walk, you betray that vision.

Your thoughts?

Wise Words From A Wise Man

Last night, I read Nicholas Kristof’s column from yesterday, an open letter to his conservative friends.  While he is kinder and more forgiving than I am, I do agree with most of what he says, so I’ve decided to share his letter here with you.  Mr. Kristof has twice won the Pulitzer Prize, as well as numerous other honours far too numerous to list here.


A Letter to My Conservative Friends

Hold us accountable, but please do the same for the charlatans who deceive you, use you and cheat you.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

  • Jan. 27, 2021

AMHILL, Ore. — This is an open letter to some of my old friends and neighbors who believe that Donald Trump won re-election, who think that face masks are for wimps and who fear that Democrats are plotting to seize their freedom.

Dear friends and neighbors,

Relax! We liberals aren’t plotting to round you up in “re-education camps.”

I was horrified when a couple of old friends here asked if they were in danger for having supported Donald Trump. I gently told them that they were in no peril — and I was stung that they felt greatly relieved to hear it.

Yes, I know that Fox News is peddling nonsense about Democrats setting up re-education camps, and that a Wall Street Journal column asked, “If you were an enthusiastic Donald Trump supporter, are you ready to enter a re-education program?”

Folks, you’re being played. Again.

These are some of the same charlatans who argued last year that, as Fox News put it, the coronavirus is “just like the flu” and that mask mandates are a step toward “tyranny.” More than 400,000 coronavirus deaths later, some people are dead because they believed that drivel.

Then there’s the rubbish about the election. This month, just days before Joe Biden’s inauguration, a childhood friend told me confidently that Trump would swoop in to serve a second term. When I told him he was wrong, he was astonished that I could be so poorly informed, and he helpfully advised, “Don’t pay attention to those liars in the mainstream media.”

You’ve been hoodwinked, exploited and manipulated by con artists waving flags, casting lies and monetizing bigotry. Steve Bannon, who suggested beheading Dr. Anthony Fauci, defrauded Trump supporters into donating to build a border wall and then used some of the money for himself, according to a federal indictment.

Here on our family farm, we received a direct mail appeal warning about “Islam in Yamhill Schools” and pleading for donations to protect Christianity. No, that isn’t about conservative values, but about spreading hate and hysteria while grabbing at your wallet.

So let’s give America a chance to heal. And, as I told my worried friends, don’t hesitate to stand up for your conservative values. We need Republicans! America benefits from a loyal opposition.

For example, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week called for trying harder to keep schools open. On that issue, Republicans have been more right than many Democrats.

But half a century ago we didn’t need the racist George Wallace wing of the Democratic Party, and today we don’t need the wing of the Republican Party that embraces conspiracy theories and winks at violence.

The grand question: Without that wing of today’s G.O.P., what’s left?

One glimpse of the conundrum: The G.O.P. representation in Congress is losing Rob Portman, a widely respected senator who announced he will step down, and just gained Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, an extremist who in 2019 endorsed the idea of shooting Nancy Pelosi in the head. When a party loses a statesman and gains a kook, that’s a bad omen.

Meanwhile, the Hawaii G.O.P. this week recommended the “high quality” commentary … of a Holocaust denier. Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich warned on Fox News that Democrats are trying to “exterminate the Republicans.” Sure, Democrats sometimes say and do dumb things, too, but there’s no symmetry.

As I see it, the last, best hope is twofold. First, Republican leaders must learn that extremism is a losing strategy. Only one G.O.P. candidate for president has won the popular vote in the last three decades, and the loony Arizona Republican Party has lost about 10,000 members since the riot in the U.S. Capitol and its censure of party elders like Cindy McCain. If Trump is further discredited through prosecutions or scandals, it is possible (though far from certain) that his malign influence on the party will diminish.

Second, to dampen that extremism, advertisers should stop supporting networks that spread lies and hatred, and cable companies should drop channels that persist in doing so. As a start, don’t force people to subsidize Fox News by including it in basic packages.

Is this a slippery slope? Yes, and it makes me queasy. But we all recognize that there are red lines: Neo-Nazis and Ku Klux Klan grand wizards have First Amendment rights, but we shouldn’t pay to give them microphones, nor should commentators on the left or the right get megaphones to promote violence. Extremists enjoy free speech but shouldn’t be buttressed by advertisers or our cable fees.

So, conservative friends, fear not: We’re not plotting to lock you up in detention camps. We need you to keep us honest. But you’ve been scammed in ways that have hurt the country we all love. Hold us accountable, but please do the same for the charlatans who deceive you, use you and cheat you.

Wise Words And A Question

ACBAlways a voice of reason, Nicholas Kristof has written yet another introspective and timely column in yesterday’s New York Times.  Whereas I tend to rant, Kristof is the calm voice of reason, yet even he admits that the United States may be on a backward-facing treadmill.  He concludes his column with an important question for us all.  I urge you to read what he says …


Will We Choose the Right Side of History?

In Amy Coney Barrett, Republicans are once again backing a Supreme Court nominee who could take us backward.

nicholas-kristof-thumblargeBy Nicholas Kristof

Opinion Columnist

Amy Coney Barrett has been following recent precedent in her confirmation hearing before the Senate, pretending that she has never had an interesting thought in her life.

Is it illegal to intimidate voters at the polls? She didn’t want to weigh in. A president postponing an election? Hmm. She’d have to think about that.

What about climate change? “I have read things about climate change,” she acknowledged, warily emphasizing that she is not a scientist. “I would not say I have firm views on it.”

If she had been asked about astronomy, she might have explained: “I have read things about the Earth being round. I would not say I have firm views on it.”

But for all the obfuscation, which nominees of Democratic presidents have engaged in as well, there is no hiding the essential truths that Barrett: A) is very bright; and B) would solidify a conservative Supreme Court majority whose judicial philosophy has been on the wrong side of many of the great issues of my lifetime.

We sometimes distinguish between “liberal judges” and “conservative judges.” Perhaps the divide instead is between forward-thinking judges and backward-thinking judges.

Partly because of paralysis by legislators, partly because of racist political systems, forward-thinking judges sometimes had to step up over the last 70 years to tug the United States ahead. Those judges chipped away at Jim Crow and overturned laws against interracial marriage, against contraception, and fought racial and sexual discrimination.

Just this week, Bernard Cohen, the lawyer who won the interracial marriage case in the Supreme Court in 1967, died — a reminder of how recent such progress is. In that case, Richard and Mildred Loving, a white man and Black woman who married in Washington, D.C., had moved to Virginia, where the police barged into their home at 2 a.m. and arrested them in bed for violating an anti-miscegenation law. Forward-thinking justices struck down such laws — and that wasn’t about “activist judges” but about decency, humanity and the 14th Amendment.

It was as recent as 2003 that enlightened Supreme Court judges struck down state sodomy laws that could be used to prosecute same-sex lovers. Three backward-thinking justices, including Antonin Scalia, Barrett’s mentor, would have allowed Taliban-style prosecutions of gay people for intimacy in the bedroom. (Barrett refused in the hearing Wednesday to say whether the case was rightly decided.)

It is true, as some conservatives argue, that this path toward social progress would ideally have been blazed by legislators, not judges. But it is difficult for people who are denied voting rights to protect their voting rights, and judicial passivism in these cases would have buttressed discrimination, racism, sexism and bigotry.

That brings us to another historical area where conservatives, Barrett included, have also been on the wrong side of history — access to health care.

Over the last hundred years, advanced countries have, one by one, adopted universal health care systems, with one notable exception: the United States. That’s one reason next month’s election is such a milestone, for one political party in America is trying to join the rest of the civilized world and provide universal health care, and the other is doing its best to take away what we have.

The G.O.P. is succeeding. Census data show that even before the Covid-19 pandemic the number of uninsured Americans had risen by 2.3 million under Trump — and another 2.9 million have lost insurance since the pandemic hit. Most troubling of all, about one million children have lost insurance under Trump over all, according to a new Georgetown study.

I’m not trying to scare readers about Barrett joining a conservative majority to overturn the Affordable Care Act. My take is that Democrats are exaggerating that risk; the Republican argument in the case, to be heard next month, is such a legal stretch that it’s unlikely to succeed fully, even if Barrett is on the court.

But it is possible, and that would be such a cataclysm — perhaps 20 million Americans losing insurance during a pandemic — that it’s worth a shudder. It should also remind us of the importance of renewing the imperfect, on-again-off-again march of civilization in America, away from bigotry and toward empowerment of all citizens.

Barrett is not a horrible person; on the contrary, she seems to be a smart lawyer with an admirable personal story. Yet she’s working with a gang of Republican senators to steal a seat on the Supreme Court. This grand larceny may well succeed. But for voters, this hearing should underscore the larger battle over the direction of the country.

Voters can’t weigh in on the Barrett nomination, but they can correct this country’s course.

Here’s the fundamental question: Will voters reward the party that is working to provide more health care, or the party that has painstakingly robbed one million children of insurance? Will voters help tug the United States forward, or will they support the backward thinkers who have been on the side of discrimination, racism, bigotry and voter suppression?

At the polls, which side of history will you stand on?