Saturday, May 20, 2017

Yup, he really IS as hollow as he seems

“When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now, I’m basically the same.” — Donald J. Trump, 2014

IF THAT quote doesn't succeed in scaring the pants off of you, I don't know what will. This is the guy to whom we've given the nuclear codes. Someone who is six, maybe seven years old.

In 1987 Tony Schwartz ghost-wrote The Art of the Deal for Donny, and in the process spent almost a year observing and listening to him. Based on that experience, Mr. Schartz can affirm . . . and has . . . that SCROTUS (so-called ruler of the United States) is natively unintelligent. Scarily so. (FYI: He wrote about SCROTUS' child-level, 200-word vocabulary in an article for The Huffington Post that I shared with you some months ago in a post called Even Worse Than We Thought, If That's Possible.)

Here's the deal: we can probably survive a dunce 'serving' as President. After all that's undoubtedly what we had in George W. Bush. But worse than that, so so much worse — SCROTUS is utterly devoid of a moral compass. It's certainly always seemed like that, but Mr. Schwartz had the opportunity to witness it, and it goes all the way back to childhood.

And at the risk of becoming repetitious, let me just say this one more time, "Oh my god, we live in a stupid country!!!" 

It's not like any of this is news! It's not like DJT has been hiding who he is! Nope. But we elected him anyway. So I guess we deserve whatever happens to us.

Below is a piece from The Washington Post that my pal from my graduate school days at Washington State University, Bill Arthur, hipped me to.

I wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’ with Trump. His self-sabotage is rooted in his past.

The president's behavior, explained.

By Tony Schwartz 

May 16, 2017

Why does President Trump behave in the dangerous and seemingly self-destructive ways he does?

Three decades ago, I spent nearly a year hanging around Trump to write his first book, “The Art of the Deal,” and got to know him very well. I spent hundreds of hours listening to him, watching him in action and interviewing him about his life. To me, none of what he has said or done over the past four months as president comes as a surprise. The way he has behaved over the past two weeks — firing FBI Director James B. Comey, undercutting his own aides as they tried to explain the decision, disclosing sensitive information to Russian officials and railing about it all on Twitter — is also entirely predictable.

Early on, I recognized that Trump’s sense of self-worth is forever at risk. When he feels aggrieved, he reacts impulsively and defensively, constructing a self-justifying story that doesn’t depend on facts and always directs the blame to others.

The Trump I first met in 1985 had lived nearly all his life in survival mode. By his own description, his father, Fred, was relentlessly demanding, difficult and driven. Here’s how I phrased it in “The Art of the Deal”: “My father is a wonderful man, but he is also very much a business guy and strong and tough as hell.” As Trump saw it, his older brother, Fred Jr., who became an alcoholic and died at age 42, was overwhelmed by his father. Or as I euphemized it in the book: “There were inevitably confrontations between the two of them. In most cases, Freddy came out on the short end.”

Trump’s worldview was profoundly and self-protectively shaped by his father. “I was drawn to business very early, and I was never intimidated by my father, the way most people were,” is the way I wrote it in the book. “I stood up to him, and he respected that. We had a relationship that was almost businesslike.”

To survive, I concluded from our conversations, Trump felt compelled to go to war with the world. It was a binary, zero-sum choice for him: You either dominated or you submitted. You either created and exploited fear, or you succumbed to it — as he thought his older brother had. This narrow, defensive outlook took hold at a very early age, and it never evolved. “When I look at myself in the first grade and I look at myself now,” he told a recent biographer, “I’m basically the same.” His development essentially ended in early childhood.

Instead, Trump grew up fighting for his life and taking no prisoners. In countless conversations, he made clear to me that he treated every encounter as a contest he had to win, because the only other option from his perspective was to lose, and that was the equivalent of obliteration. Many of the deals in “The Art of the Deal” were massive failures — among them the casinos he owned and the launch of a league to rival the National Football League — but Trump had me describe each of them as a huge success.

With evident pride, Trump explained to me that he was “an assertive, aggressive” kid from an early age, and that he had once punched a music teacher in the eye and was nearly expelled from elementary school for his behavior.

Like so much about Trump, who knows whether that story is true? What’s clear is that he has spent his life seeking to dominate others, whatever that requires and whatever collateral damage it creates along the way. In “The Art of the Deal,” he speaks with street-fighting relish about competing in the world of New York real estate: They are “some of the sharpest, toughest, and most vicious people in the world. I happen to love to go up against these guys, and I love to beat them.” I never sensed from Trump any guilt or contrition about anything he’d done, and he certainly never shared any misgivings publicly. From his perspective, he operated in a jungle full of predators who were forever out to get him, and he did what he must to survive.

Trump was equally clear with me that he didn’t value — nor even necessarily recognize — the qualities that tend to emerge as people grow more secure, such as empathy, generosity, reflectiveness, the capacity to delay gratification or, above all, a conscience, an inner sense of right and wrong. Trump simply didn’t traffic in emotions or interest in others. The life he lived was all transactional, all the time. Having never expanded his emotional, intellectual or moral universe, he has his story down, and he’s sticking to it.

A key part of that story is that facts are whatever Trump deems them to be on any given day. When he is challenged, he instinctively doubles down — even when what he has just said is demonstrably false. I saw that countless times, whether it was as trivial as exaggerating the number of floors at Trump Tower or as consequential as telling me that his casinos were performing well when they were actually going bankrupt. In the same way, Trump would see no contradiction at all in changing his story about why he fired Comey and thereby undermining the statements of his aides, or in any other lie he tells. His aim is never accuracy; it’s domination.

The Trump I got to know had no deep ideological beliefs, nor any passionate feeling about anything but his immediate self-interest. He derives his sense of significance from conquests and accomplishments. “Can you believe it, Tony?” he would often say at the start of late-night conversations with me, going on to describe some new example of his brilliance. But the reassurance he got from even his biggest achievements was always ephemeral and unreliable — and that appears to include being elected president. Any addiction has a predictable pattern: The addict keeps chasing the high by upping the ante in an increasingly futile attempt to re-create the desired state. On the face of it, Trump has more opportunities now to feel significant and accomplished than almost any other human being on the planet. But that’s like saying a heroin addict has his problem licked once he has free and continuous access to the drug. Trump also now has a far bigger and more public stage on which to fail and to feel unworthy.

From the very first time I interviewed him in his office in Trump Tower in 1985, the image I had of Trump was that of a black hole. Whatever goes in quickly disappears without a trace. Nothing sustains. It’s forever uncertain when someone or something will throw Trump off his precarious perch — when his sense of equilibrium will be threatened and he’ll feel an overwhelming compulsion to restore it. Beneath his bluff exterior, I always sensed a hurt, incredibly vulnerable little boy who just wanted to be loved.

What Trump craves most deeply is the adulation he has found so fleeting. This goes a long way toward explaining his need for control and why he simply couldn’t abide Comey, who reportedly refused to accede to Trump’s demand for loyalty and whose continuing investigation into Russian interference in the election campaign last year threatens to bring down his presidency. Trump’s need for unquestioning praise and flattery also helps to explain his hostility to democracy and to a free press — both of which thrive on open dissent.

As we have seen countless times during the campaign and since the election, Trump can devolve into survival mode on a moment’s notice. Look no further than the thousands of tweets he has written attacking his perceived enemies over the past year. In neurochemical terms, when he feels threatened or thwarted, Trump moves into a fight-or-flight state. His amygdala is triggered, his hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis activates, and his prefrontal cortex — the part of the brain that makes us capable of rationality and reflection — shuts down. He reacts rather than reflects, and damn the consequences. This is what makes his access to the nuclear codes so dangerous and frightening.

Over the past week, in the face of criticism from nearly every quarter, Trump’s distrust has almost palpably mushroomed. No importuning by his advisers stands a chance of constraining him when he is this deeply triggered. The more he feels at the mercy of forces he cannot control — and he is surely feeling that now — the more resentful, desperate and impulsive he becomes.

Even 30 years later, I vividly remember the ominous feeling when Trump got angry about some perceived slight. Everyone around him knew that you were best off keeping your distance at those times, or, if that wasn’t possible, that you should resist disagreeing with him in any way.

In the hundreds of Trump’s phone calls I listened in on with his consent, and the dozens of meetings I attended with him, I can never remember anyone disagreeing with him about anything. The same climate of fear and paranoia appears to have taken root in his White House.

The most recent time I spoke to Trump — and the first such occasion in nearly three decades — was July 14, 2016, shortly before the New Yorker published an article by Jane Mayer about my experience writing “The Art of the Deal.” Trump was just about to win the Republican nomination for president. I was driving in my car when my cellphone rang. It was Trump. He had just gotten off a call with a fact-checker for the New Yorker, and he didn’t mince words.

“I just want to tell you that I think you’re very disloyal,” he started in. Then he berated and threatened me for a few minutes. I pushed back, gently but firmly. And then suddenly, as abruptly as he began the call, he ended it. “Have a nice life,” he said, and hung up.

Tony Schwartz is the chief executive officer of the Energy Project, which helps companies tap more of people’s capacity by better meeting their core needs so they can perform more sustainably. He is the author, most recently, of “The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working.”

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Watch this video

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” — Stephen Hawking

YOU'VE probably been hearing a great deal about the Dunning-Kruger effect of late — the phenomenon in which an incompetent person is too incompetent to recognize his own incompetence. In the video at the bottom of the page, following a short Huffington Post written intro, the astute and exceedingly intelligent Stephen Fry explicates the Dunning-Kruger effect and Salience Bias

Stephen Fry Explains Why Some People Believe Everything Donald Trump Says
“The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence.”

By Ed Mazza
May 12, 2017

Some supporters of President Donald Trump believe just about everything he says, even when he’s wrong. And Trump himself seems to have absolute confidence in his own beliefs ― again, even when he is demonstrably wrong.

But there is a psychology lesson that could help explain it, according to Cambridge University-educated actor Stephen Fry, who was voted the most intelligent person on TV in the United Kingdom.

For example, researchers found students who were least proficient often overestimated their own abilities.

“The skills they lacked were the same skills required to recognize their incompetence,” Fry said. “The incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

That’s now known as the Dunning-Kruger effect.

In a new clip that Pindex put together, Fry also explains how Salience Bias and the power of repetition help shape views more than facts.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The world's fate in the (tiny) hands of a child

“If you love friends, you will serve your friends. If you love community, you will serve your community. If you love money, you will serve your money. And if you love only yourself, you will serve only yourself” — Stephen Colbert

THE ONLY thing keeping me sane — or as close to it as I hardly am these days — are The New York Times, The Daily Show and Stephen Colbert's The Late Show. Below, from The New York Times.

When the World Is Led by a Child

By David Brooks
May 15, 2017

At certain times Donald Trump has seemed like a budding authoritarian, a corrupt Nixon, a rabble-rousing populist or a big business corporatist.

But as Trump has settled into his White House role, he has given a series of long interviews, and when you study the transcripts it becomes clear that fundamentally he is none of these things.

At base, Trump is an infantalist. There are three tasks that most mature adults have sort of figured out by the time they hit 25. Trump has mastered none of them. Immaturity is becoming the dominant note of his presidency, lack of self-control his leitmotif.

First, most adults have learned to sit still. But mentally, Trump is still a 7-year-old boy who is bouncing around the classroom. Trump’s answers in these interviews are not very long — 200 words at the high end — but he will typically flit through four or five topics before ending up with how unfair the press is to him.

His inability to focus his attention makes it hard for him to learn and master facts. He is ill informed about his own policies and tramples his own talking points. It makes it hard to control his mouth. On an impulse, he will promise a tax reform when his staff has done little of the actual work.

Second, most people of drinking age have achieved some accurate sense of themselves, some internal criteria to measure their own merits and demerits. But Trump seems to need perpetual outside approval to stabilize his sense of self, so he is perpetually desperate for approval, telling heroic fabulist tales about himself.

“In a short period of time I understood everything there was to know about health care,” he told Time. “A lot of the people have said that, some people said it was the single best speech ever made in that chamber,” he told The Associated Press, referring to his joint session speech.

By Trump’s own account, he knows more about aircraft carrier technology than the Navy. According to his interview with The Economist, he invented the phrase “priming the pump” (even though it was famous by 1933). Trump is not only trying to deceive others. His falsehoods are attempts to build a world in which he can feel good for an instant and comfortably deceive himself.

He is thus the all-time record-holder of the Dunning-Kruger effect, the phenomenon in which the incompetent person is too incompetent to understand his own incompetence. Trump thought he’d be celebrated for firing James Comey. He thought his press coverage would grow wildly positive once he won the nomination. He is perpetually surprised because reality does not comport with his fantasies.

Third, by adulthood most people can perceive how others are thinking. For example, they learn subtle arts such as false modesty so they won’t be perceived as obnoxious.

But Trump seems to have not yet developed a theory of mind. Other people are black boxes that supply either affirmation or disapproval. As a result, he is weirdly transparent. He wants people to love him, so he is constantly telling interviewers that he is widely loved. In Trump’s telling, every meeting was scheduled for 15 minutes but his guests stayed two hours because they liked him so much.

Which brings us to the reports that Trump betrayed an intelligence source and leaked secrets to his Russian visitors. From all we know so far, Trump didn’t do it because he is a Russian agent, or for any malevolent intent. He did it because he is sloppy, because he lacks all impulse control, and above all because he is a 7-year-old boy desperate for the approval of those he admires.

The Russian leak story reveals one other thing, the dangerousness of a hollow man.

Our institutions depend on people who have enough engraved character traits to fulfill their assigned duties. But there is perpetually less to Trump than it appears. When we analyze a president’s utterances we tend to assume that there is some substantive process behind the words, that it’s part of some strategic intent.

But Trump’s statements don’t necessarily come from anywhere, lead anywhere or have a permanent reality beyond his wish to be liked at any given instant.

We’ve got this perverse situation in which the vast analytic powers of the entire world are being spent trying to understand a guy whose thoughts are often just six fireflies beeping randomly in a jar.

“We badly want to understand Trump, to grasp him,” David Roberts writes in Vox. “It might give us some sense of control, or at least an ability to predict what he will do next. But what if there’s nothing to understand? What if there is no there there?”

And out of that void comes a carelessness that quite possibly betrayed an intelligence source, and endangered a country.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

A different kind of Mothers' Day story

“Sometimes the strength of motherhood is greater than natural laws.” — Barbara Kingsolver, American author

ALTHOUGH today, here in the United States, we celebrate mothers, I believe we should celebrate all women: those who are mothers, those who wanted to be mothers but didn’t get the chance, those who once were mothers, those who mother those around them including other people’s children, animals, wounded adults, the elderly, all of nature and the earth. Because women so often are the nuturers and the caretakers of all life around them.

Below is a story from the Des Moines Register about a mother who’s trying her best to still mother.

For these kids, mom’s voice comes in the mail — from prison

By Courtney Crowder

May 10, 2017 

MITCHELLVILLE, Ia. — Kristine Gordon walks swiftly toward a table replete with books, each bright, multi-colored cover staged upright with pages outspread just so or placed in a fanned stack for easy browsing.

But Gordon wasn’t interested in perusing. She knew exactly what book she wanted.

Gordon and her 9-year-old daughter have a deal: Every month they switch off who gets to choose the title Gordon is recorded reading to her little girl. This month was her child's turn, and she wanted “Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

As an inmate living at the Iowa Correctional Institution for Women, Gordon is nervous. She can’t just order any work off Amazon or request a specific title; she is at the whim of donations. So her eyes darted from book to book until she found “Wimpy Kid’s” bright red cover. “Yes!” she whispered, clutching the book close.

For 20 years, the Storybook Project of Iowa has recorded offenders reading books and has mailed the text and the recording to their children. They’ve weathered changes in the prison system in their mission to promote literacy and strengthen the sometimes strained relationship between children and their incarcerated mothers. 

Rooted in the idea that strong families are the building blocks of a successful society — and children feel deep affection for their parents whether locked up or not — organizers said the Des Moines-based Storybook Project provides a highly controlled opportunity for children to connect with their mothers without having to visit a prison. 

“Most kiddos are impacted negatively by any separation from their mom, and these women are still 'mom' behind bars,” said Tabby Kuehl, director of the Storybook Project. “Most kiddos don’t know what has happened. They just know mom is not around and they miss her. So if I can do this one thing to get mom to read to her children, and encourage them and help them build confidence and be able to better address whatever is going on in those kiddos' lives, I’m going to do that.”

 It's natural for children to want to have a bond with their parents. Pop culture is peppered with shows about people seeking out birth mothers, and Facebook abounds with requests to help find long-lost fathers. As University of Iowa professor Rachel Marie-Crane Williams put it: It’s not fair to punish an incarcerated women’s children, who just want to have a relationship with their parent like most other kids, simply because of crimes committed by the mother.

While Iowa hasn't seen a dramatic increase in female prisoners recently, Department of Corrections predictions show the population of women inmates stands to grow by almost 30 percent over the next decade. In Iowa, about 58,000 children, or 8 percent of the child population, have experienced parental incarceration, according a report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a philanthropic nonprofit tracking child welfare issues.

Familial incarceration can lead to children experiencing “disenfranchised grief,” according to the National Resource Center on Children and Families of the Incarcerated. And kids with incarcerated parents are also more likely to endure household instability or live in poverty, the center reported.

“Having a parent incarcerated is a stressful, traumatic experience of the same magnitude as abuse (and has) a potentially lasting negative impact on a child’s well-being,” including increasing children’s mental health issues like depression and anxiety, said the Annie E. Casey report. 

Storybook, which is run by the nonprofit Visiting Nurse Services of Iowa and funded through donations and the occasional grant, hopes to counteract those negative outcomes by allowing parents and children to bond over books. The program is a win-win in the eyes of Williams, who pointed out that in Iowa, about one-third of children in kindergarten through third grade do not read at grade level. 

The group of about 25 women who read every month includes women who are in prison for life, said Betty Trost, a retired lecturer in family and consumer sciences at Iowa State University and one of the founders of the Storybook Project in Iowa. Often, volunteers don’t know the women’s crimes, but if they did, it isn’t their job to judge, but to help them and their families as they are now, Trost said.

Gordon, 30, is in the midst of a 17-year sentence for involuntary manslaughter and leaving the scene of a crash resulting in death. She apologized profusely during her trial, the Register previously reported, and members of the deceased’s family spoke on her behalf in court.

When Gordon came into the system about five years ago, she was aware the statistics said her daughter would be adversely affected by her imprisonment. But as she atoned for her crime, she made a promise to better herself as a mother. 

Enter: Storybook.

“Storybook makes me feel like I can do something positive, that I can be a positive influence,” Gordon said. “Being able to send her books and the recordings makes me feel like I’m doing something good for her, and it can be hard to feel that way when you are incarcerated.”

“Wimpy Kid” in hand, Gordon and a volunteer walk over to a table that’s been separated from the room by a small divider splashed with images from “Thomas the Tank Engine.” All around the meticulously organized library, these little dividers — painted with characters from “Dora the Explorer” and “The Simpsons” — offer touches of life on the outside, but the distractions are only momentary.

As Gordon begins to read, the prison PA system goes off, its stern voice loudly offering a jarring contrast to the lilt she is using to emote.

Gordon, a bookworm herself, started with Storybook in an attempt to get her daughter to read more.

“When she was younger, she struggled with reading,” Gordon said, “so it was nice to give her books that I thought she might enjoy, that might catch her attention.”

Her daughter ate the books up, and her reading improved greatly, said Joshua Potter, the daughter’s father. Almost five years later, Gordon’s daughter can barely contain her excitement when she knows a book is coming, Potter said. The Register is not naming the daughter at the request of her family.

Education is where researchers see the greatest disparity between children with incarcerated parents and those without, said Kristin Turney, a sociologist whose research focuses on the intersection between criminal justice and family life.

“Kids with incarcerated parents are less likely to graduate high school, less likely to go to college and more likely to have worse grades,” Turney said.

Reading to young children, as women who participate in Storybook do, is one way to combat those figures. Getting a child to read stimulates brain development and helps with critical thinking, vocabulary and social skills, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

There isn’t much data on how programs like Storybook affect kids, but Kuehl and her volunteers regularly survey the inmates they serve to better understand what they hear from their children.

Almost 70 percent of inmates “reported that their child talked to their caregiver about the book they receive,” Storybook found in its 2016 survey, and more than 60 percent of children have “requested a specific book" for their mom to read to them. More than 80 percent of inmates also “reported that Storybook has helped strengthen their relationship with their child.”

Gordon’s daughter loves the books she gets, Potter said, and chats with him regularly about what she thought about the story and the characters. He believes the program has "definitely" helped his daughter maintain a relationship with her mother.

For Gordon, the physicality of sending a book means her daughter will have something tangible to hold when she needs to feel close to her mom.

“It has always been comforting to know that with Storybook she didn’t have to miss me because she could sit in her room and listen to the recording and read the book that I had read to her,” Gordon said. “It meant we could stay connected even when we weren’t.” 

A few lines in, Gordon realizes there are a lot of drawings in “Wimpy Kid.” So after she reads each page’s text, she goes back and describes the pictures she sees, sometimes offering asides like, “That’s silly!” 

Unlike many other moms in prison, Gordon has a lot of contact with her daughter. Potter brings their daughter to the prison often because he believes “it’s important for a girl to know her mother no matter the circumstances.”

Also unlike a lot of other female prisoners, Gordon had a good relationship with her own mother.

“Growing up, my mom and I, our bonding time was she sat and read a book, and I sat and read a book, and we would bond over reading books together,” she said.

She lived a fairly normal life, swimming at North High School and winning the state title for two-person controversy debate as a sophomore. She graduated from North in 2005 and gave birth to her daughter in 2007.

But she was plagued by addictions after high school and had many run-ins with the law. She had been barred from driving due to her fourth OWI when she fatally hit Clayton Evan Payne, 58, in 2013.

Gordon told police she thought she hit an animal and pulled over, but panicked and fled when she saw a crowd gathering around a person, the Register reported. Pedestrians always have the right of way in a crosswalk. However, witnesses told police that Gordon had a green light, wasn’t speeding and swerved in an attempt to avoid Payne.

In court, Gordon told the Payne family that at the time of the crash, she’d recently lost her father.

“Knowing that I caused that pain to another family is tearing me apart,” she said. “It will haunt me forever.”

Some of the deceased’s family members met with Gordon in the weeks before her sentencing, according to Register reporting at the time. They wanted to caution her against ending up like Payne, who had struggled with drug and alcohol addiction and was living in a halfway house at the time of his death.

Joanne Payne, Clayton's mother, hasn't forgiven Gordon, but said she isn't troubled by Gordon finding ways to connect with her daughter.

"It's probably a good thing," she said.

In prison, Gordon has remained sober and on good behavior. She believes that despite her past, she can still affect the world in a positive way. "I made mistakes," she said, "but I am not the same person that I was."

“She is a hard-working, solid offender,” said social worker Sheri Floyd. “She has a job. She doesn’t get in trouble, and she volunteers for different programs, and that is true for most of the readers.”

Gordon dreams about her daughter listening to her recordings, she said. She can see in her mind’s eye her daughter carrying around the books and cracking their spines when she wants to feel close to her mom. 

More than anything, Gordon says she wants to be a positive influence on her daughter, to teach her right from wrong as a person who has been on both sides.

“I want to be able to show her that being a girl isn’t something that is limiting,” she said. “You can do anything you want even if you are a girl...I want her to know that she is smart and capable, and if she wants to do something and sets her mind to it, she can do it.”

Most mothers will eventually leave prison and face the formidable task of re-entering society. In Iowa, 94 percent of female inmates will leave the prison system at some point, according to the DOC.

And when Gordon, who is due for release in 2021, and her fellow inmates do get out, they will confront a family system that has grown and changed while they were away. For many prisoners, life on the outside will be tough, said Williams, a University of Iowa professor. It will be hard for them to nail down a job, to find adequate housing or possibly to get custody or visitation rights to their children.

“A felony is akin to a civic death, but if you have strong family connections before you get out, you reduce your chances of failing and going back into the system,” she said.

Even though Gordon has stayed in contact with her daughter, she still worries about how difficult it will be to get involved in her life on the outside. She wants her daughter to know that you can make mistakes and still figure out a way back to right.

"Just because you have made bad choices doesn’t mean you are a bad person, so it is OK for her to make a mistake,” she said. “I hope they are not the same mistakes that I have made, clearly, but Storybook enables me to influence her in a positive way and show her that positive things can happen even if you are in a not-so-positive situation."

As Gordon finishes "Wimpy Kid's" first chapter, she marks the page with a specially selected animal bookmark and tells her daughter to continue reading. She ends her recording with an enthusiastic, “I love you.”

Gordon walks over to the check-in desk, fills out the mailing envelope and writes the book and her daughter’s name on a blank CD.

She pauses over the envelope, now stuffed with a book and a CD, and holds her hand over her daughter’s name as if trying to will more love into the package. A smile crosses her face, and she pats the envelope before looking up at the volunteers.

“Can I sign up for next month?” she asks.

How to donate:

The Storybook Project of Iowa is most in need of monetary donations, but is always looking for mailing supplies and books. Digital donations can be made at, and any other gifts can be mailed to The Storybook Project, c/o Tabby Keuhl, 1111 9th St., Ste 320, Des Moines, IA 50314. Call 515-288-1516 for more information on volunteering or contributing.

Saturday, May 13, 2017

The Republican assault on women's healthcare

“The GOP is crafting policy on an issue that directly impacts women without including a single woman in the process. It’s wrong.” — Kamala Harris, US Senator from California

REPUBLICANS are waging war on women's health. By now you know that 13 Senators have been chosen to draft the Senate version of a bill to replace Obamacare. None of them are women. 

Why should we worry? After all the House bill that Republicans passed does a fine job of looking after us. From The New York Times:

SCROTUS and members of Congress celebrate passage of health care repeal in the House of Representatives

The Health Care Bill’s Insults to Women

By the Editorial Board
May 12, 2017

When Representative John Shimkus questioned, during a debate in March, why men have to pay for prenatal care, it was a sign of things to come. Soon Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, was joking that older men didn’t need maternity care. When asked about repealing a requirement of the Affordable Care Act, Senator Pat Roberts replied, “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms.”

These sophomoric jokes and flippant disregard for women’s health by Republicans would have been bad enough had they not been followed by the passage in the House of the American Health Care Act.

If it becomes law, it will harm millions of Americans, including the poor, sick and elderly. But it will be especially disastrous for women. Among other damaging provisions, it:


About half of the 2.5 million patients who visit Planned Parenthood centers every year, and about 20 percent of women of reproductive age nationwide, rely on Medicaid for their health coverage. Under the House bill, they would no longer be able to use Medicaid for care at Planned Parenthood centers, more than half of which are in rural or underserved areas. In 105 counties, Planned Parenthood operates the only clinic offering a full range of reproductive health services.


The House bill eliminates the Affordable Care Act requirement that insurers cover certain essential services. Many of these services, like mammograms, birth control, and prenatal and maternity care, are used primarily by women. Women are more likely than men to use mental health care and prescription drugs, both of which are considered essential under the Affordable Care Act. If the requirement is scrapped, plans could choose not to offer such services. Plans that offer maternity care could become prohibitively expensive.


By cutting $880 million from Medicaid over 10 years, the House bill removes a crucial source of coverage for many women’s health services. Almost half of all births in the country, and 75 percent of publicly funded family planning services, are covered by Medicaid. Slashing Medicaid funds would be especially harmful to black and Latina women, who are more likely than white women to be insured through Medicaid.


The bill allows states to waive the requirement that insurers cover people with pre-existing conditions without charging higher premiums. While it’s not yet clear how insurers would respond, many of the conditions that prompted insurers to deny coverage or raise premiums before the requirement was in place, including depression, lupus and multiple sclerosis, are more common in women. Some insurers also denied coverage or charged higher premiums to women who had given birth by C-section.


The bill bars anyone from using federal subsidies to buy insurance that covers abortion. It also bars small employers from using tax credits to pay for plans that cover abortion for their employees. The likely result: Most insurers would drop abortion coverage, and the few plans that did cover abortion would become prohibitively expensive.

The bill now goes to the Senate, where the majority leader, Mitch McConnell, initially convened a health care working group composed of 13 men and no women. Following widespread criticism, the group invited Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, to a meeting, but it is unclear whether she will become a regular member.

Meanwhile, Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, is at work on her own health care plan. She and Senator Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska have opposed efforts to strip funding from Planned Parenthood. Senators from states like Ohio that took the Medicaid expansion have also expressed reservations about the A.H.C.A.’s cuts to that program. Republican moderates will have a crucial role to play in the coming months, as the Senate decides what, if any, provisions of the House bill it will keep. It will be up to them to make sure women’s health is not treated as a joke.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Karl, Sean and Senator Amy Klobuchar

"Friends come and go, but enemies accumulate." — Karl Schilling, humanitarian, photographer and friend extraordinaire

SUNDAY EVENING, May 7, was the first test of Polk County Democrats' new leadership, and wowza, what a spectacular showing. Sean Bagniewski, the recently-elected chair of PCD, and his events team had a mere five weeks to put together a dinner featuring United States Senator, Amy Klobuchar. The Minnesota Senator had a window in her schedule that Sean didn't want to miss, so he and his skilled organizers got busy and pulled it off with aplomb. More than 300 area Democrats attended.

Amy is a Senatorial rock star. In 2016 she ranked first out of all 100 Senators for the most bills enacted into law in the 114th Congress.

I was also delighted to be present to see Karl Schilling receive the Polk County Democrats Volunteer of the Year Award. He so deserves it. In addition to leading the South Side Area Democrats, he's President of the Iowa Organization for Victim Assistance, works with area veterans who need help and lobbies on behalf of union workers. All that plus he and his staunchly supportive wife, Peg, take remarkable bird photographs. (The photos below of Senator Klobuchar are ones Karl took that night.) 

Another little aside about Karl: he's an inveterate storyteller with a trove of pithy, original quotes. The one at the top just happens to be one of my favorites for its brevity and truth.

Senator Amy Klobuchar

The estimable and honorable former
Congressman Neal Smith with Senator Klobuchar

Sean Bagniewski presenting Karl with the
PCD Volunteer of the Year  Award

Karl making his acceptance speech

Peg, Karl and me

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Thank you, France

“It is my responsibility to hear and protect the most fragile.” — Emmanuel Macron, newly elected President of France

DEAR FRANCE, Thank you so very, very much for being 30.1% smarter than we are in here in the United States and 18.1% smarter than the UK. Question: are you accepting refugees from the US? I hear that you're quite fond of jazz. Paul is a superior jazz trombonist. He and I also successfully manage a 17-piece Big Band. We could get one up and going anywhere you want us to. Just sayin'.  

This from The New York Times:

Why Macron Won: Luck, Skill and France’s Dark History

By Adam Nossiter
May 7, 2017

PARIS — The French presidential runoff transcended national politics. It was globalization against nationalism. It was the future versus the past. Open versus closed.

But in his resounding victory on Sunday night, Emmanuel Macron, the centrist who has never held elected office, won because he was the beneficiary of a uniquely French historic and cultural legacy, where many voters wanted change but were appalled at the type of populist anger that had upturned politics in Britain and the United States. He trounced the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen, keeping her well under 40 percent, even as her aides said before the vote that anything below that figure would be considered a failure.

His victory quickly brought joy from Europe’s political establishment, especially since a Le Pen victory would have plunged the European Union into crisis. But in the end, Mr. Macron, only 39, a former investment banker and an uninspired campaigner, won because of luck, an unexpected demonstration of political skill, and the ingrained fears and contempt that a majority of French still feel toward Ms. Le Pen and her party, the National Front.

For the past year, a pressing political question has been whether widespread public frustration against Western political establishments had morphed into a global populist movement. Britain’s vote to leave the European Union last June, followed by the presidential election of Donald J. Trump in the United States, created the impression of a mounting wave. Ms. Le Pen, stalwart of the European far right, was the next truly big test.

But Ms. Le Pen’s challenge was different because French history is different. She has spent the last six years as president of the National Front single-mindedly focused on one objective: erasing the stain of her party’s association with the ex-collaborationists, right-wing extremists, immigrant-hating racists and anti-Semites who founded it 45 years ago.

She knew — as her father, the party patriarch Jean-Marie Le Pen, always refused to acknowledge — that she would always be a minority candidate as long as she reminded the French of perhaps the greatest stain in their history, the four years of far-right rule during World War II. Inside and outside the party this process was called “undemonization” — a term suggesting the demons still associated with her party. The French do not want them back.

“There was no choice. I couldn’t vote for Le Pen. You’re not going to vote for the extremist,” said Martine Nurit, 52, a small-restaurant owner who had just cast her ballot in Paris’s 20th Arrondissement on Sunday. She had voted for the far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon in the first round, on April 23, and it was with “not an ounce of joy” that she voted for the “business-oriented” Mr. Macron in the second.

“Mostly, I voted against Le Pen,” she said.

In the end Ms. Le Pen failed to “undemonize,” spectacularly. She failed during the course of the campaign, when her angry rallies drew the Front inexorably back into the swamp from which it had emerged. And then she failed decisively in one of the campaign’s critical moments, last week’s debate with Mr. Macron, when she effectively “redemonized” herself and the party, as many French commentators noted.

Supporters of Emmanuel Macron celebrated his victory on Sunday outside the Louvre in Paris. Credit Laurent Cipriani/Associated Press

It was an hourslong tirade against Mr. Macron, laced with name-calling and epithets, and woefully deficient in substance. She appeared lost on subject after subject, fumbling on one of her signature issues — withdrawing from the euro — that is opposed by a majority of French. Something essential about Ms. Le Pen, and the National Front, had been revealed to France.

Mr. Macron, on the other hand, demonstrated a quality that French voters, unlike many Anglo-Saxon ones, have long found essential in their successful candidates: cool mastery of the critical issues confronting the country. Where Ms. Le Pen repeatedly lost herself in the weeds, Mr. Macron sailed right through them. Whether he will now be able to translate that knowledge into action is another question.

So far he has been the beneficiary of spectacular luck.

Four months ago he was polling a distant third, an all-but-certain loser whose maverick, nonparty movement was considered promising for the future but unripe. The soaring banality of his rhetoric appeared to turn off as many voters as it inspired. His rallies began in enthusiasm but soon sagged under the weight of his speechifying.

But that was before the center-right front-runner François Fillon imploded under the weight of an embezzlement scandal, fueling Mr. Macron’s rise in the general election in April and into the final pairing with Ms. Le Pen. Many Fillon voters turned reluctantly to Mr. Macron on Sunday, rejecting Ms. Le Pen, who had made a concerted pitch for voters of Mr. Mélenchon, the fourth-place finisher, who advocated a similar anticapitalist platform. And Mr. Macron was lucky to face Ms. Le Pen, a candidate considered simply unacceptable by a majority of the French.

But he also played his limited hand with great skill from the beginning, outmaneuvering his elders. First, he wisely renounced the man who had given him his break, the deeply unpopular Socialist president François Hollande, quitting his post as economy minister in Mr. Hollande’s government before it was too late. Then, he refused to take part in the Socialist Party primary in January, rightly judging that party activists would dominate and choose a far-left candidate on the fringes, who would then be devoured by Mr. Mélenchon — exactly what happened.

Mr. Macron’s final correct bet was that French voters, like those elsewhere, were disgusted by the mainstream parties, having judged the policy prescriptions of both the establishment right and left as failures in dealing with France’s multiple ills. He positioned himself in the center, drawing on left and right, balancing protection of the French welfare state with mild encouragement for business, in an attempt to break through France’s employment and productivity stagnation.

But Mr. Macron’s pro-market views stirred much opposition. Mr. Mélenchon not only refused to endorse him, but also encouraged the idea that Mr. Macron and Ms. Le Pen were equivalent menaces — a calculation endorsed by many far-left voters. Nearly half the first-round electorate voted for candidates hostile to the free market and to capitalism. Even if they voted for Mr. Macron on Sunday to save the country from Ms. Le Pen, they did so without enthusiasm.

Some of the antipathy sprang from his hermetic persona, as a caricature of the elite-educated, know-it-all technocrats, perpetually encased in a dark suit, who have guided France for much its postwar history, usually from behind the scenes, and whose record is mixed.

“He’s not someone I feel a lot of conviction for,” said Thomas Goldschmidt, a 26-year-old architectural firm employee in Paris who voted for Mr. Macron after supporting the Socialist Benoît Hamon in the first round. “He’s someone who raises a lot of questions. It’s a vision of society that is too business-friendly,” Mr. Goldschmidt said. “It’s this whole idea of making working life more uncertain. We just can’t bet on it, that everyone out there can be an entrepreneur. Society isn’t built like that.”

Mr. Macron seems aware that his large victory isn’t a large mandate, that the pressure is now on to ensure that France’s reprieve from the National Front is not just a temporary one. “If I fail to solve” France’s problems “or fail to offer a solid start to solving them, in five years it will be even worse,” he told the left-wing news website Mediapart on Friday night. “What nourishes the National Front will be even more virulent,” he added.

Without an established party behind him, Mr. Macron’s most immediate hurdle will be in June’s legislative elections for France’s Parliament. He has promised to field candidates in all 577 parliamentary districts, but whether he can do so is unclear. Nor is it clear how many Socialists will support his program.

The National Front could win as many as 100 seats in the new Parliament, according to some analyses, making it a formidable opposition party. Indeed, even as Ms. Le Pen was soundly defeated on Sunday, she still managed a showing that not too long ago would have been unthinkable. And in her concession, she made it clear that she was already looking toward the parliamentary elections, and the future.

Then there is the potential opposition represented by Mr. Mélenchon, who won in some of France’s biggest cities — Marseille, Toulouse and Lille — and is already claiming the mantle of Mr. Macron’s principal opponent on the left. His voters, as much as Ms. Le Pen’s, do not trust Mr. Macron.

“My responsibility will be to unite all the women and men ready to take on the tremendous challenges which are waiting for us, and to act,” Mr. Macron said. “I will fight with all my power against the divisions that undermine us, and which are tearing us apart.”