Thank You, Cokie

She passed on Tuesday at the age of 75.

Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs.

The story goes that her older, 3 year old brother couldn’t pronounce “Corinne” when she came home from the hospital, he called her Cokie, and that was that.

She had a keen, life-long deep understanding of politics, especially here in the United States.  She grew up in politics — her father, then her mother both held seats in the US House of Representatives from Louisiana — and chose the path of chronicling the many stories around public affairs rather than governance.

Not only did she choose a life in the “fourth branch”, but her voice and balanced, thorough analysis of issues — and broad public appeal therein — guided her to become one of the “Founding Mothers” of National Public Radio, and more broadly, one of the women in leadership roles in public journalism.

She was so good on NPR that commercial leader ABC hired her as well. She reported from both outlets for more than three decades.

Her voice remained steadfast and consistent in our public discourse, and even in recent years as she had begun to step back, I always felt a certain calm and certainty of what was true when I heard her speak on whatever the topic of the day was.

I was shocked when I heard the news of her passing on Tuesday morning while driving to work.  On the commute home at the end of the day, I was fortunate to hear on another public radio station, Classical KDFC, the afternoon DJ Robin Pressman pay tribute to Roberts with a dedication of the first 5:00pm Commute Song (what KDFC calls “The Island of Sanity”), Felix Mendelssohn’s “On Wings of a Song 34 #2”.

Cool to hear that peaceful, uplifting music anytime, especially as nod to one of the great voices of our time.  Thanks for your insights and wisdom and positive effect on our national conversation, Cokie.  

Would that we can honor you as Rachel Martin suggested on Up First today, when she closed with what was perhaps your simple credo for living:  “Do the work. Be fair. Be kind. And lift each other up.”   


More on Cokie Roberts found here.

More on Cokie Roberts as one of the Founding Mothers found here.



Labor Day 2019

I think about Labor Day and a lot of different thoughts go through my mind.

What’s the origin of the holiday in this country?  “Beginning in the late 19th century, as the trade union and labor movements grew, trade unionists proposed that a day be set aside to celebrate labor, ” according to Wikipedia.

What, if any, is our U.S. Labor Day’s association with International Worker’s Day on May 1st?  Turns out that “May Day” is linked to an ancient traditional festival time in Europe, and similar labor movements in that region selected that date to also associate with honoring and further the cause of workers. That occurred around the same time in Europe that it did here in the U.S.

I think about the early 20th century novel, “The Jungle,” and the fictional account of very real working conditions in the meat packing industry in the northeastern U.S. around that same time period.

How far have we come with regulations and minimum wages in that time, to give rank and file workers safer conditions and enough income to live a reasonable life?  Lots of data, some objective results, but plenty of subjective opinion on those topics to be had, for sure.

Then I consider the hardest, most physically demanding jobs and who does that work.  Think about the people that work in extreme physical conditions, so that others might benefit from seasonal produce or the freshest catch.  How difficult is that work?  How much do those folks make?  Would I want to do that work?

I think about people I know that do white collar work and make good income; some are associated with organized labor, some are not.  I consider the various aspects of work today, and the manner in which plenty of white collar, high-skill workers also can be exploited and might benefit from organizing. 

Throughout the world we can say that collective bargaining has been good for workers in the industrialized world over the last one hundred and forty-odd years. We can also say that wages have increased, working conditions have improved, and society on the whole enjoys a higher standard of living along that same period of time.

Sure there’s still more work to do.   But I’ll spare you the red star or the fist clenched in the air.  We have to say that the owners and the governments and society in many countries have supported the workers’ cause, to everyone’s benefit.

In my humble view, Labor Day should be a day when we remember and appreciate all those workers, of all shapes and sizes and trades, all the rank and file whole make our economy churn.   Those that, through there hard work, make our country a better place to live.

We should appreciate, and honor labor, on Labor Day,  and everyday.


More on:

Labor Day

May Day

The Jungle


Collective Bargaining

Freedom isn’t Free

When we talk about personal freedom — or that as a nation — it’s important to remember that freedom only comes with effort, vigilance, and fortitude. 

Whether it’s liberty we enjoy in the United States and celebrate this week, or freedom from worry and personal struggles, they both require work. Everyday. It doesn’t just happen.

I (for one) forget this simple fact from time to time, especially with respect to my own challenges in daily life. Remember you have to fight for your freedom everyday. It’s up to you. Protect your self, your family, your dreams and goals.

Same with our country: if we want things to change, to be different, hopefully better, we have to fight. Hard. And protect what we believe in, what we hold most dear.

Freedom isn’t free. But it’s worth fighting for. 

Tears With No Refuge

Following is a guest blog post from a close friend, originally shared via Facebook.  Powerful, important words from deep within.  Please read, and share if you feel so moved.  My thanks to Kim for offering her personal perspective.

Tears With No Refuge by Kim Brown Montenegro

I have struggled to put words to my emotions around the shootings in South Carolina.

I am a Methodist Pastor, a woman of color, family roots in the South, my heart has been broken. It is broken by the destruction.

My stomach churns and I can’t quite find my equilibrium. Nothing quite sits right. After this shooting, I was in the sanctuary with my four-year-old daughter who was innocently playing. My mind started to run with scenarios about how I would escape with her if someone were to come in and start shooting.

I was reminded, Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the nine others at “Mother” Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church were not shot because they were Christians, they were shot and killed because they were Black. It was a planned and orchestrated assassination on Black people.

I write this, to you, White people. I beg of you to listen to me. Please stop debating the merits of this unarmed Black person being shot or another unarmed Black person being shot.

And for the love of God, please stop killing People of Color because:

They went to the store at night (Travon Martin)
They called they police to stop a robbery (Duane Brown)
They are waiting in their car for their children (Manuel Loggins Jr.)
They Have Asperger’s (Stephon Watts)
They are Intoxicated (Johnnie Kamahi Warren)
They are selling cigarettes on a corner (Eric Garner)
They are holding a toy gun that is sold in the store in which you are shopping (John Crawford III)
They are walking in a dark stairwell (Akai Gurley)
They are playing outside (Tamir Rice)
They are driving an unregistered car (Walter Scott)


They are Attending a Bible Study (The Rev. Clementa Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, The Rev. Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, Tywanza Sanders, Ethel Lance, Susie Jackson, Depayne Middleton Doctor, The Rev. Daniel Simmons, Myra Thompson)

No one should be killed for doing any of these things. The residual pains of these events affect our whole nation. This is the difficult conversation about privilege that we continually want to disengaging from in this country.

My question to you is: how has privilege affected your life? Have you examined yours? Have you used your power and privilege as a tool to help others?

It is difficult work, but it is essential to us living up to our pursuit of liberty, and justice for all.

Paul Farmer & Partners In Health: One Man’s Inspiration & Perseverance to Help Others Spans the Globe

[Originally published in May 2012, this article was my first with Humaneity Magazine.]


You would be hard-pressed to find two countries seemingly more dissimilar than Haiti – small, impoverished nation located in the Caribbean Sea – and Russia – former 19thcentury empire and Cold War adversary to the US, and recent heavy-hitter in the energy sector. However, these two countries have at least one characteristic in common: Both have impoverished people who have been woefully under-served when it comes to healthcare.

Among the people who have answered the call to help those in need in both countries is one man, Dr Paul Farmer, and his organization, Partners In Health (PIH). Dr Farmer was the subject of Tracy Kidder’s novel: “Mountains Beyond Mountains”. Together, Dr Farmer and PIH passionately pursue the dual goals of providing healthcare to the poor and teaching communities how to help themselves out of poverty.

Farmer & PIH
It all started with one man’s vision in the 1980s, and his awareness of the extreme poverty and corresponding healthcare needs of the poor in Haiti. In the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, the humble efforts of a few has grown into one of the best models for delivering healthcare and helping low-income communities develop services to continue that care in the long term.

Dr Farmer’s intense interest and focused commitment to help the poor in Haiti developed while he was a medical student in New England. In fact, during much of his free time as a student at Harvard Medical School, Dr Farmer would pack his books and travel to Haiti’s Central Plateau to work with the poorest of the poor. “I can’t sleep,” Dr Farmer explained, “there’s always somebody not getting treatment.”

His work in the Central Plateau provided the impetus for founding the not-for-profit organization PIH in 1987 with a few other committed partners soon after graduating from medical school with a focus on infectious diseases and medical anthropology. The group defined their mission clearly and succinctly. As the organization’s tagline declares, their efforts would be toward “providing a preferential option for the poor in healthcare”.

In addition to Haiti – and at the urging of longtime supporter Father Jack Roussin – PIH expanded its efforts to tend to the long-ignored needs of the poor residents in Carabayllo, a shantytown district near Lima, Peru. It was here that PIH first encountered tuberculosis (TB) and drug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB).

Into Siberia they go

It would be this specific work with TB and MDR-TB that would lead to PIH extending its reach far beyond the Western hemisphere to Russian Siberia a few years later. PIH entered Russia in 1998 when they identified the opportunity for research and treatment of MDR-TB in that country. As Dr Farmer explained, “We went back to [the Gates Foundation who had provided grant funding for other projects] and said, ‘Look, you know, there’s a very big problem [with MDR-TB] in Russia as well’,” asking for their support. As result, the grant that provided funds for efforts in Peru was reworked to provide services in Russia.

PIH initially had a narrow medical focus – but vastly wider geographic focus – in Russia than any of its other projects. From a base in the region of Tomsk Oblast, Siberia, PIH began collaborating with the Russian Ministry of Health to combat one of the world’s worst epidemics of MDR-TB.

In partnership with the Division of Social Medicine and Health Inequalities (DSMHI) at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the US, PIH focused on improving clinical services for MDR-TB patients in Tomsk while undertaking training and research to catalyze change in the treatment of MDR-TB across the entire Russian Federation. No small endeavor!

These joint efforts got a major boost in 2004, when PIH and DSMHI helped their partners in Tomsk secure a five-year US$10.8-million grant from the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria for efforts to improve prevention, diagnosis, as well as treatment of TB and MDR-TB.

Key components of PIH’s clinical efforts include improving diagnostics in order to detect cases earlier, developing a comprehensive strategy to promote adherence among patients, improving infection control in hospitals and clinics, and decreasing transmission of TB to HIV-positive patients. PIH’s work in Tomsk also encompasses health education for the public, as well as clinical and program management training for medical personnel.

In 2006, PIH launched Project Sputnik, an outreach program to improve the reach and consistency of care needed with MDR-TB patients who were either not receiving care or, more likely, had refused treatment in the past.

Dmitriy Taran, Sputnik’s project director, confirms the meaningful results they’ve realized, explaining, “The application of effective patient management is at the core of our success.” PIH has seen far fewer patients slip through the cracks as a result. As one patient said emphatically upon being asked about the project’s efforts, “We need this program, we need Sputnik.”

PIH Russia also supervises a treatment program that targets prison colonies in the region specifically intended for inmates with TB.  Such population-specific focus and response with needed resources are making a difference to reduce the spread of the disease as well.

Patients receive TB medication in clinic (image courtesy of PIH)

PIH’s positive effect has indeed spread beyond the Tomsk Oblast. As reported recently by Natasha Arlyapova, PIH-Russia’s summer program for young scientists (a program that is now in its fourth year) is helping set a new standard in public healthcare throughout Russia. What started as a fight against a deadly epidemic has grown into helping one of the world’s largest countries improve the quality of life via better care for its people.

  • Dr Farmer’s good work certainly has grown considerably these past 30-plus years, from Haiti to Peru to Russia, and other places where the poor remain the most marginalized and vulnerable to killer infectious diseases.SIDEBOX:
    Quick facts about tuberculosis (from the World Health Organization):
  • Overall, one-third of the world’s population is currently infected with the TB bacillus.Five to 10 percent of people who are infected with
  • TB bacilli (but who are not infected with HIV) become sick or infectious at some time during their life. People with HIV and TB infection are much more likely to develop TB.
  • WHO estimates that the largest number of new TB cases in 2008 occurred in the Southeast Asia region, which accounted for 35 percent of incident cases globally. However, the estimated incidence rate in sub-Saharan Africa is nearly twice that of the Southeast Asia region with over 350 cases per 100,000 population.
  • An estimated 1.7 million people died from TB in 2009. The highest number of deaths was in the Africa region.
  • In 2008, the estimated per capita TB incidence was stable or falling in all six WHO regions (Africa, the Americas, Eastern Mediterranean, Europe, Southeast Asia and Western Pacific). However, the slow decline in incidence rates per capita is offset by population growth. Consequently, the number of new cases arising each year is still increasing globally in the WHO regions of Africa, the Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asia.

Partners In Health –