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Nicholas Kristoff is Wrong

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As someone who usually agrees with Nicholas Kristof, I was amazed at his New York Times column "Bleeding Heart Tightwads." I'm astonished that he was unable to see that the Arthur Brooks study that he cited was both flawed and prejudiced.

Brooks and Kristof would have us believe that liberals just aren't as charitable as conservatives. Nonsense -- we liberals just aren't as busy taking credit for all our charity. Many of us work in businesses or professions that earn far less but that contribute more to society -- we not able to give ourselves exorbitant salaries that allow for ostentatious charitable giving. Few of us can give huge sums to a designated charity that will enable us to get into an exclusive country club where we can meet the right business contacts. Many of us are uncomfortable with establishment charities that pay their executives outrageous salaries, amass huge endowments (not quite so huge, thanks to that great philanthropist Bernie Madoff), hold fancy fundraisers where the rich and powerful can take expensive tables and network with potential customers and connected politicians.

One of my friends believes in what she calls "The Un-united Way". As we walk down the streets, she stops and gives money to people who clearly seem to need it. Does she ask for a tax deduction or social status? No, she just helps people.

Another friend is a terrific speaker and could make a fortune as a motivational guru. Instead, she travels all over California speaking about the outrageous costs and injustices of the death penalty. She could make money as a columnist, but instead she writes letters to editor.

How about comparing graduate students? I'd be willing to bet that those conservatives who pursued an MBA and went on to participate in Wall Street scams gave lots to charities that get counted in Mr. Brooks' study. But did he count my liberal daughter who worked just as hard for a Masters in Counseling and went on to manage a shelter for abused women and children in Harlem? She didn't make the kind of money that allowed her to make big contributions, but she contributed a great deal.

What about the liberal, small business owners, including almost every independent book store, who cut their own compensation (and it wasn't much to begin with) before asking their employees to take pay cuts. Contrast this to the, oh, so charitable titans who pride themselves on cutting thousands of employees at each opportunity.

Brooks claims Europeans aren't charitable. Well perhaps they give in a way that Brooks doesn't write about -- or know about. My friends in Rome aren't looking for tax deductions or kudos, but every night they cook beautiful dinners for the homeless - not served soup-kitchen style, but at beautifully set tables. They treat the poor with respect, giving them a great amount of support and counseling.

One reason there may not be nearly so many charities in Europe is that the government takes care of its people with single-payer health care, safe-schools, affordable universities, and care of the elderly. My European friends are shocked that the US doesn't offer free prenatal care for all. There, it's not charity -- it's a right.

Nicholas Kristof and Arthur Brooks have provided plenty of fodder for right wing talk shows, but they have based their assumptions on incomplete and manipulated statistics. And as Mark Twain said "There are lies, damn lies, and statistics."