Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Learning to see beyond oneself

“Be unselfish. That is the first and final commandment for those who would be useful and happy in their usefulness. If you think of yourself only, you cannot develop because you are choking the source of development, which is spiritual expansion through thought for others.” — Charles William Eliot, American academic chosen as Harvard's president in 1869, transforming the provincial college into the preeminent American research university 

SHINY’S tail is still dragging. I’ll explain later. 

In the meantime, here’s a human interest story I saved — a view into an intractably isolated life. It feels like watching a tortoise in super slow-mo. Will he ever, ever take a step? 

It’s from The New York Times series, Couch, which features essays by psychotherapists and patients about the experience of emotional and psychological therapy.





Feed Your Dog, Feed Your Soul

By Jeanne Safer  
March 1, 2016 

Of all the patients I have seen in my 40 years as a psychoanalyst, Daniel was the strangest. He was the most inaccessible, inwardly tormented and infuriating man I have ever known, and yet he stayed in therapy with me for over a decade, calling faithfully every week — he insisted that his work schedule precluded coming in person — even though he spent many of those sessions in silence or addressed me as if I were inanimate. He drove me crazy, he haunted me and he moved me, sometimes all in the same session.

The reason he came to me was simple. He wanted, as he put it, to “become a participant in the human race,” and to learn how to relate to others of his species. I was hired to teach him how to do it.

Daniel initially chose me for this job because he had read a book I wrote about “problem siblings” that resonated with his own childhood. He had been terrorized by his older brother’s daily violent outbursts, which his parents had done nothing to contain, and had concluded early on that relationships offered no comfort or satisfaction, merely depletion and misery.

Needing or being needed by anyone seemed perilous to Daniel. He barely exchanged a word at work with colleagues whom he’d known for years, and his home, which he shared with his extraordinarily longsuffering wife (who had problems of her own), had the air of a monastery, where words were exchanged only by necessity.

Daniel rarely followed through on anything I recommended: having brief conversations by appointment with his wife, going to the company cafeteria, keeping a journal of his thoughts, emailing me between sessions. He would always agree to try, and then find excuses or forget the assignment.

After nine years of this, I was at my wit’s end. The only thing that kept me going when I lost hope of ever getting through to Daniel was that occasionally he spoke with real feeling about the depth of his loneliness, and his dread that he would never find a way out of the “bunker” he had constructed to keep himself safe.

Then one day, I got an idea. There was another inhabitant of Daniel’s household — Jeff — whom I learned of only years after Daniel and I began therapy, because Jeff was so little a part of his consciousness. Jeff was a dog of an unusual breed that Daniel’s wife doted on and that he utterly ignored, never feeding, petting or walking.

My idea was to enlist Jeff as my co-therapist to help Daniel break through his isolation. I proposed to Daniel that he take some responsibility for Jeff’s care, preparing and feeding him dinner daily — his wife would continue to do the morning shift while he was at work — and that he observe his emotions as he did so.

The plan actually piqued Daniel’s interest, since no talking was involved and the encounters would not require as much from him as human contact would. He agreed to make a serious effort.

Every session thereafter I asked for a progress report. “I’m doing O.K. with it,” Daniel invariably said, but on closer examination it always turned out that there were gaps in his fulfillment of his obligation that he glossed over and then rationalized away. “I didn’t do it yesterday because there was a TV show around dinner time I didn’t want to miss,” he might say, or “I was out of town” or “I went running.”

The task itself, which seemed simplicity itself to me — at feeding time, open can, fill bowl, wash bowl — proved herculean for Daniel. The sticking point, as we both had anticipated, was reliability. Daniel would have to provide things for Jeff — consideration and support — that nobody had ever given him.

Still, I refused to let Daniel off the hook. “You can’t just assume that your wife will take up the slack,” I cautioned him. “Jeff still has to be fed every single night on schedule, just like you do. Now he depends on you for survival — you have to keep his needs in mind and provide for them.”

He chafed at this, but he took it to heart.

Then one day, Daniel made an announcement that surprised me as much as it surprised him. “Today I heard the dog eating,” he said. “I noticed it. I liked it.” This was the first time that Daniel could recall having ever been pleased, rather than threatened, by being aware of the presence of another. For a man who by his own account “rushed through” every social interaction, unable to savor it, this was remarkable.

Jeff was more forgiving of Daniel’s derelictions than I was. And as Daniel became a more reliable, even if far from perfect, master, Jeff — whom Daniel never called by name — took notice, wagging his tail at Daniel’s approach. “The dog just jumped up and laid down by my feet,” he reported with unconcealed delight one session. “It’s a wonderful thing. I have an effect on others.”

This was the first time I had heard joy in Daniel’s voice. Jeff’s expression of gratitude, responsiveness and appreciation made Daniel’s efforts feel worthwhile to him. “Feeding your dog is feeding your soul, feeding your humanity,” I said, and Daniel responded with a striking reformulation of the same thought: “I’m only fed when I’m feeding.”

The next session, Daniel reported another milestone. “Today,” he said, “the dog and I looked each other in the eye.” I suggested that he start to call Jeff by his name, to indicate that they had a mutual relationship.

There were signs of real love developing between Daniel and Jeff. “I miss it when I don’t feed the dog,” Daniel said one day. “He’s so happy to see me. I’m becoming part of his life. I pat his belly and stroke his head.”

There were still limits to Daniel’s engagement. He had yet to take Jeff for a walk, for example. But I left the two of them alone to work out that issue at their own pace. I tried to be as patient with Daniel as Jeff was.

Finally, one night, unprompted, Daniel took a leap of faith. He turned to his wife after dinner and said: “I’m lonely. I haven’t treated you well or thought about you for all these years. I was too afraid to let myself care about anything or anybody, but I know you care about me. I want to make it up to you.”

She reached for his hand.

Then he took her for a walk.

Jeanne Safer, a psychoanalyst in New York, is the author of six books, including the forthcoming “The Golden Condom and Other Essays on Love Lost and Found.”

Details have been altered to protect patient privacy.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

A duck and a dog

“Some people talk to animals. Not many listen though. That's the problem.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

SHINY IS exhausted, so today you get two videos — each adorable enough in their own right, let alone the two of them together, to give you the will to live.







Saturday, March 26, 2016

If

“We have forty million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.” — Rudyard Kipling

I MENTIONED the poem If in passing to a beloved friend. He was unfamiliar with it, so I promised to send it to him. By Rudyard Kipling, it's one of my all-time-ever, favorite poems, and I'm sharing it now with you. Some of you will know it and be warmed by the rereading. Those of you who haven't read it before, I'm predicting, will be knocked back by how inspirational it is. 




If

If you can keep your head when all about you
 Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
  But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
  Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
  And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
  If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
  And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
  Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
  And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
  And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
  And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
  To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
  Except the Will which says to them: “Hold on!”

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
  Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
  If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
  With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
  And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Maybe it really isn't you

“Psychotherapy theory turns it all on you: you are the one who is wrong. If a kid is having trouble or is discouraged, the problem is not just inside the kid; it's also in the system, the society.” — James Hillman, American psychologist

IT SEEMS obvious to me that in order for a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, counselor or other mental health guide to provide the most meaningful help, s/he would necessarily have to see those with whom they work as whole human beings living in the world, not Cartesian parts. This op-ed piece is from The New York Times.  



   

Why Therapists Should Talk Politics


By Richard Brouillette

March 15, 2016

“I’m meeting my boss later,” my patient said. “I’m worried she’s going to tell me I’m not pulling my weight, and that I should volunteer to work more hours to show my commitment.”


This tension had been building at her job for months, and she feared that there would be a tacit threat in this meeting: work longer hours, uncompensated, or we will push you out. She was already finding it hard to spend so much time away from home. But she couldn’t afford to risk unemployment.


“What am I supposed to tell my children?” she asked, breaking down.


My stomach knotted. Such worries among my patients are becoming so common, so persistent, that I find myself focusing less and less on problems and neuroses that are specific to individual patients, and more and more on what is happening to the fabric of daily life.


As a psychotherapist with a private practice in Manhattan, I see a lot of early- and mid-career professionals coping with relentless email and social media obligations, the erasing of work/life boundaries, starting salaries that remain unchanged since the late 1990s. I see “aging” employees (30 and up) anxiously trying to adjust to a job market in which people have to change jobs repeatedly and cultivate their “personal brand.” No one uses all her vacation days. Everyone works longer hours than he would have a generation ago.


Typically, therapists avoid discussing social and political issues in sessions. If the patient raises them, the therapist will direct the conversation toward a discussion of symptoms, coping skills, the relevant issues in a patient’s childhood and family life. But I am growing more and more convinced that this is inadequate. Psychotherapy, as a field, is not prepared to respond to the major social issues affecting our patients’ lives.


When people can’t live up to the increasingly taxing demands of the economy, they often blame themselves and then struggle to live with the guilt. You see this same tendency, of course, in a variety of contexts, from children of divorce who feel responsible for their parents’ separation to the “survivor guilt” of those who live through disasters. In situations that may seem impossible or unacceptable, guilt becomes a shield for the anger you otherwise would feel: The child may be angry with her parents for divorcing, the survivor may be angry with those who perished.


This is no different at the social level. When an economic system or government is responsible for personal harm, those affected can feel profoundly helpless, and cover that helplessness with self-criticism. Today, if you can’t become what the market wants, it can feel as if you are flawed and have no recourse except to be depressed.


Over the last 30 years, I believe, these changes in the workplace have been slowly taking a psychological toll, though in a more diffuse, less detectable way than with any one traumatic event. To a degree that they may not be aware of, people feel less hope and more stress; their self-regard is damaged; they believe they are fated to take what they can get; they exist in a state approaching learned helplessness.


There comes a time when people can’t take it anymore, when too much is being demanded of them. How much blame can people tolerate directing at themselves? My sense is that psychotherapists are playing a significant role in directing this blame inward, but an untenable or unjust environment is not always just a fact of life, and therapists need to consider how to talk about that explicitly.


Too often, when the world is messed up for political reasons, therapists are silent. Instead, the therapist should acknowledge that fact, be supportive of the patient, and discuss the problem. It is inherently therapeutic to help a person understand the injustice of his predicament, reflect on the question of his own agency, and take whatever action he sees fit.

When I am in this situation with a patient, I will introduce into our dialogue the idea that what is happening is unfair. This opens an opportunity for us to explore how my patient reacts to the notion that he is being mistreated, which can be revelatory and vital to the therapy.


I once had a patient who had reached a breaking point with the situation in the startup where she was employed. In her therapy, she had been struggling for two years with the idea that it was possible to have authentic communication in relationships. Our therapy helped her hone her anger into a courageous, well-considered and pointed group email that resulted in nearly half of her co-workers supporting her and prompting direct labor negotiations with the chief executive.


The supportive role therapy plays in such events may strike some people more as social work or organizing than as mental health treatment. But that would be wrong. Therapists need to consider such political interaction in the consulting room as inherent to the therapeutic process. Patients become motivated to change the world around them as a solution to what had become internal stressors. This is an experience of not just of external but internal change, bringing new confidence and a sense of engagement that becomes a part of the patient’s character.


You would be surprised how seldom it occurs to people that their problems are not their fault. By focusing on fairness and justice, a patient may have a chance to find what has so frequently been lost: an ability to care for and stand up for herself. Guilt can be replaced with a clarifying anger, one that liberates a desire — and a demand — to thrive, to turn outward toward others rather than inward, one that draws her forward to make change.


Wednesday, March 23, 2016

An epic story of art and war

"The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance." — Aristotle

I'VE RHAPSODIZED in the past about what truly remarkable Facebook friends I have. It's because they are.

The below story is from The Kansas City Star. It's longish read, and a little complicated, but well worth the time. And the way cool thing for me, anyway, is that Luis Quintanilla's son, Paul, who is mentioned but not named in the article, is my friend. (In case you can't tell, I'm completely in awe of him and his father and his father's work.) 

I've been to The Prado, and now I want to go back, but first stop, Kansas City.




A family’s global story of war and art takes a surprising turn in Kansas City

By Steve Paul
March 21, 2016

On a trip a year ago to the Prado, Spain’s great art museum in Madrid, Julián Zugazagoitia, CEO of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, was taken aback when he learned that the institution’s leader wanted a few words.

Zugazagoitia was just visiting, along with a Nelson trustee, and wasn’t expecting any high-level meetings.

But in a few minutes, the Prado’s board president showed up, pulled his Kansas City visitor aside and apologized to the trustee that they were now going to be speaking in Spanish. It was the only way to say what he wanted to say, to speak from the heart, he said. His message to Zugazagoitia was this: “How all of Spain was indebted to your grandfather.”

What a moment, Zugazagoitia recalled over lunch the other day: “It was just beautiful for me because it happened in a cherished space, an art museum.”

And what a story Zugazagoitia has to tell.

It’s a family story with details he has only recently begun to compile. And it’s a global story — about war, fascism, immigration, art and much more — that, astoundingly, comes together and gains meaning only because of one serendipitous thing. Of all the places in all the world that Zugazagoitia’s career might have taken him when he left New York five years ago, he landed in Kansas City.

A few months after that visit to the Prado in 2015, and nearly five years after arriving here to become the Nelson’s new leader, Zugazagoitia one day realized he had an hour to spare. He finally dropped into a place he’d been thinking of for some time. He made his way to the second floor of UMKC’s Haag Hall, a venerable limestone building at 52nd Street and Rockhill Road. He’d heard about some frescoes that wrap a large stairway landing and he wanted to take a close look.

The frescoes were painted in 1940-41 by an artist in exile from war-torn Spain, and completed 75 years ago this month. The artist’s name was Luis Quintanilla. He’d spent that academic year in residence at what was then the University of Kansas City. Zugazagoitia knew that Quintanilla had been friends with his namesake grandfather, who was a writer and a government official for Republican Spain during the years of upheaval that erupted into the Spanish Civil War of 1936-39.

He expected that he’d find an image of his grandfather somewhere in the mural, which is filled with colorful, often humorous figures and collectively titled the “Don Quixote Frescoes.” He did not. But what he didn’t expect was that after poring over nearly every inch of the paintings he would find that Quintanilla had in fact remembered his great friend. There, in one small corner, was his grandfather’s name, his own name, spelled out in paint and dated 3-26-1941: “A la memoria de Julian Zugazagoitia.”

“It’s a sign of destiny,” Zugazagoitia told me recently. “What are the odds of coming to work in a city and all of a sudden your name’s on the wall.”

Quintanilla was working on the mural here in the fall of 1940 when disturbing news arrived. His friend had fled Spain after his side lost the war and taken his family to Paris. But that year, the German military, who had aided General Francisco Franco’s rise to power in Spain, occupied much of France. The Gestapo arrested Zugazagoitia and shipped him back to Spain, where he was summarily executed.

I first spoke with today’s Julián Zugazagoitia about his grandfather two years ago after coming across his name in a book I reviewed for The Star about the Spanish Civil War. Zugazagoitia got in touch and we talked about Quintanilla and the Haag Hall mural. I’d mentioned Quintanilla’s friendship with Ernest Hemingway, which began in Spain in the 1930s, continued in correspondence and was briefly renewed in person on a lively night in Kansas City that very year, in November 1940.

A few months ago, I ran into Zugazagoitia at an event and I remember how excited he was to tell me about finally seeing the Quintanilla fresco and his grandfather’s name on the wall. And we promised to get together and talk more about what he was learning and how it might intersect with my own interest in Hemingway and his world.

Zugazagoitia has been in touch with Quintanilla’s son, who once wrote an essay about his father and the UMKC murals and includes them at a website (lqart.org). I shared with Zugazagoitia my own essay, as yet unpublished, about that boisterous Kansas City night when the Hemingways and the Quintanillas got together for dinner.

He had started piecing together his family story before he left New York for Kansas City in 2010. He saw an exhibit of Quintanilla’s sketches, and there learned that his grandfather and Quintanilla had been imprisoned together in Spain in 1934. Quintanilla had sketched a portrait of Zugazagoitia slumped in a chair, holding a book, wearing a beret and rounded spectacles.

It was during that period when Hemingway came to Quintanilla’s aid. Someone in Spain had cabled Hemingway in Key West, Fla., a two-word message, intended to get past the Spanish censors: “Luis HOOSEGOWED.” Hemingway helped arrange an exhibit of Quintanilla’s work in a New York art gallery, which caught the attention of Time magazine. And Hemingway was among a coterie of writers and other prominent people who wrote to Spanish authorities demanding they release Quintanilla, Zugazagoitia and the rest.

The whole experience planted a seed for Hemingway. Once he finished the book he was writing at the time (“To Have and Have Not”), he’d go to Spain to cover the violent conflict between the forces of left and right. With all its geopolitical complications, the Spanish Civil War became a prelude to World War II. And it, of course, became the subject of one of Hemingway’s greatest novels, “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” which was published just weeks before his Kansas City reunion with Quintanilla in 1940.

To hear some accounts, Quintanilla spent much of his prison time sketching the people around him, including his jailers and the prison warden. Whether Hemingway’s letter-writing campaign had any influence remains unclear, but ultimately Zugazagoitia and Quintanilla were released in June 1935. Zugazagoitia, a socialist, went on to become Spain’s minister of the interior and eventually he published a history of the war.

After Zugazagoitia’s arrest in Paris in 1940, a sister, his wife and their five children decided it was time to leave Paris. They left France via the port at Marseilles, traveled through Casablanca — this was the period depicted in the great Humphrey Bogart-Ingrid Bergman movie of that name — and made their last stop Mexico City.

His youngest son, also named Julian, was about 11 at the time and later would talk about the difficult passage and the lack of food on the migrants’ boats. He remembered having nothing more than a banana a day and held up that experience as a moment and a food item to be cherished.

Today, Zugazagoitia regrets that that boy, who grew up to become his father, did not live long enough to learn of his own discovery on the Haag Hall wall. His father died about 12 years ago.

Nor was his father around to appreciate what Zugazagoitia learned last year when José Pedro Pérez-Llorca, the Prado’s board president, paid his emotional tribute to the elder Julian Zugazagoitia. Pérez-Llorca, who was born in that fateful year of 1940, became a lawyer and during Spain’s transition from Franco’s decades-long dictatorship to a democratic government in the 1970s, he was one of the seven people who wrote the country’s constitution in 1978. With the martyred Julian Zugazagoitia in mind.

“It was clearly an emotional time,” said Paul DeBruce, the Nelson trustee who stood by as Zugazagoitia and Pérez-Lorca spoke for about 10 minutes. “You could feel the passion in the board president’s voice and demeanor.”

DeBruce went along one day recently when Zugazagoitia wanted to show him the Quintanilla murals.

“He did a wonderful job of starting at the far left of the mural, and talking about what the artist was depicting,” DeBruce said on Monday. “Then he allowed me to discover the bottom right corner on my own. And having been at the Prado to experience that — you can’t make this kind of stuff up.”

Today, as a self-confessed apolitical person, whose life has unfolded in at least five countries — his mother was of German heritage —Zugazagoitia is beginning to frame his family’s experience in the very contemporary narrative of immigration.

“I am an immigrant,” he says.

He can identify with the migration of Middle Eastern refugees that is embroiling most of Europe today and is attuned to the great debate that has shaped American politics of late.

He is proud of what immigrants, like his family, helped bring to Mexico so many years ago, and of the cultural migration that brought creative artists from Europe to the United States during the 1930s and that shaped his own journey to Kansas City.

And because of that, he can revel in “the magic of being reunited with a mural that pays homage to my grandfather in this city.”

Sunday, March 20, 2016

And this would be why

“From the first day that settlers came to this country, the Native American people have been lied to, they have been cheated, and negotiated treaties have been broken.” — Bernie Sanders, March 18, 2016

THE MAN has a moral compass. How could I not support him?! The below article is from U.S. Uncut.



Bernie Sanders Replaces Stump Speech with Epic Call for Native American Justice in Arizona

By Zach Cartwright
March 18, 2016

At a packed rally in Flagstaff, Arizona, Bernie Sanders delivered a passionate speech calling for rights to be restored to Native Americans and indigenous peoples across America.

Sanders spoke to several thousand supporters gathered outside of Flagstaff, in the heart of Navajo Country. According to the Associated Press, Sanders deviated from his traditional stump speech — in which he normally calls for tuition-free college, universal health care as a human right, and a $15 an hour minimum wage — to specifically address centuries of injustices the U.S. government has perpetrated upon Native Americans.

“From the first day that settlers came to this country, the Native American people have been lied to, they have been cheated, and negotiated treaties have been broken,” Sanders said. “We owe the Native American people so, so much.”

Sanders thanked Native American populations for preserving their culture and heritage, and outlined the oppressive policies and broken promises indigenous communities have endured for hundreds of years. 

“All too often, Native Americans have not been heard on issues that impact their communities. They have been told what to do. They have not been involved in the process,” Sanders said to cheers.

“The United States has the duty to guarantee equal opportunity and justice for all citizens, including our first Native Americans. And let us be honest and acknowledge that we are not doing that today,” he continued.

In true Bernie Sanders fashion, the Vermont senator let loose with a flurry of statistics detailing how much tribal nations have suffered at the hands of the U.S. government.

— Today in America, one in four Native Americans are living in poverty, and the high school graduation rate is 67 percent, the lowest of any racial demographic group. The second leading cause of death for Native Americans between 15 and 24 is suicide. And that speaks to incredible despair.

— One in three Native American women will be raped in her lifetime. Most of the offenders are non-Native. Most of the programs dedicated to the tribal nations are underfunded. That has led to inadequate housing, inadequate health care, inadequate education, and insufficient law enforcement.

— Today, Native Americans have a lower life expectancy and higher rates of uninsured than the population at large, and even those who have health coverage have difficulty accessing the healthcare that they need.”

Sanders promised to right those wrongs if elected president. Given his recent U.S. Senate bill — the Save Flat Oak Act, which would return sacred Native American land previously sold to a mining company back to its rightful owners — Sanders has every intention of delivering on his campaign promise.

“The sacred places of our Native American communities cannot and must not be sacrificed for the profits of mining interests,” Sanders said to raucous applause.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

The kind of immigrants Donald Trump likes

“A hypocrite is the kind of politician who would cut down a redwood tree, then mount the stump and make a speech for conservation.” —  Adlai E. Stevenson

Why does none of this surprise me. From ABC News:

Trump Model: Felt Like ’Slave’ Working for Donald’s Agency

By Matthew Mosk, Brian Ross and Randy Kreider
March 10, 2016

A Jamaican-born fashion model is taking on Donald Trump, saying the modeling agency owned by the presidential candidate lured her to New York to work at age 17 with the promise of riches and fame and then treated her “like a slave.”

The model, Alexia Palmer, said in a lawsuit against the agency that she received only $3,880 plus cash advances totaling $1,100 over a three year period, even though Trump Model Management filed immigration documents to obtain a special work visa, called an H-1B, for Palmer, certifying she would work “full-time” and earn $75,000 a year.

“That’s what slavery people do,” Palmer told ABC News. “You work and don’t get no money.” The agency took 80 percent of her earnings as expenses and fees but only found her 21 shoots over three years. And under the terms of her visa, she could not work anywhere else if she wanted to stay in the U.S.

Trump's attorney, Alan Garten, disputed Palmer’s claim, saying she was treated the same as any other fashion industry prospect and made little money because “she had a lack of work."

“Anything she's saying about being treated as a slave is completely untrue,” Garten said. “The greater demand for the model, the better that model does. In the case of the individual you're talking about, there wasn't -- unfortunately -- a lot of demand for the model.”

Immigration experts told ABC News that this type of arrangement -- bringing in a worker on a promise of pay that never comes -- is a troubling abuse of the foreign work program.

Donald Trump's future wife.

“I'd say that somebody's got some explaining to do,” said Robert Divine, a former chief counsel to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency during the Bush administration. “It would be extraordinarily unusual for that to be legal.”

Palmer’s case comes as Trump is increasingly being questioned by his political rivals about his treatment of women and immigrants, and specifically, his frequent use of the guest worker visa known as H-1B. Both Republican presidential candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz took swipes at Trump about his use of foreign workers under the visa program. Trump has vacillated on the subject, defending his use of H-1B visas at his country club resorts, saying American workers would not be willing to take seasonal jobs as waiters and dish washers. He disavowed and then renewed his support for a position laid out in a recent statement, which called for an end to “rampant, widespread H-1B abuse.”

“I will end forever the use of the H-1B as a cheap labor program, and institute an absolute requirement to hire American workers first for every visa and immigration program. No exceptions,” says the statement, posted to Trump’s website.

Trump has criticized companies who use the H-1B program, including Disney, ABC News' parent company. Firms have argued that foreign workers are brought in not to save money but to take on seasonal or specialized jobs that cannot otherwise be filled.

At the same time, The New York Times reported that Hillary Clinton and her political allies are planning to highlight reports of Trump’s derogatory treatment of women.

For the billionaire real estate mogul, the SoHo-based Trump Model Management is a little-known holding in a vast global empire. The modeling business brought the Republican presidential contender between $1 million and $5 million in annual earnings, according to his public financial disclosure reports. The agency has also had a history of ties to Trump’s personal life. He has dated at least two models who worked there, including the woman who would become his third wife, Melania, who made a splash while the two were dating in 2000, posing nearly nude in the cockpit of a Trump private jet for a spread in British GQ.

The agency provided models to show off the fashion brand of Trump's daughter Ivanka, who also "made a lot money as a model, a tremendous amount," Trump told Howard Stern.

The head of Trump Model Management, Corinne Nicholas, served for years as a judge for Trump’s Miss Universe beauty pageants, and a contract with the firm was offered as a prize to winners of Trump’s Miss Teen USA contest. A Trump model helped anchor a short-lived reality show created by Trump for MTV, called Pageant Place. It lasted one season.

The agency’s website says it recruits girls as young as 14, scouting potential talent around the world. More than 100 Trump models have come to the U.S. on H-1B work visas. Federal labor laws require employers to commit to a set wage for those workers, and, to prevent companies from undercutting American workers, that wage must be better than the typical wage for an American worker.

Alexia Palmer, now 22, said she was 17 when she signed with Trump, spotted by a local agency after finishing second place in a Kingston, Jamaica talent contest.

“I was very excited because all the girls in Jamaica wanted to be signed with an agency [in New York],” she said. “When I went there, they were telling me... I’m going to sign with an agency and my life is going to change.”

Her visa application declared that she would have full-time work with Trump Model Management, with an annual wage of $75,000. But in a federal lawsuit she filed last year, she contends that is not what happened. The agency deducted thousands of dollars in fees for a range of services provided to Palmer. Among those, fees for a cell phone, a promotional video, test photos, makeup, airfare to photo shoots, and car service.

Palmer's attorney, Naresh Gehi, said he expects a number of other former Trump Model Management models to join the lawsuit, which he is seeking to have certified as a class action on their behalf.

Gehi called the arrangement “a blatant violation of the immigration laws, a blatant violation of getting people from a foreign land to this country and exploiting them.”

The Trump agency’s lawyers argue that Palmer worked “less than ten calendar days during her entire three year business relationship with [Trump Model Management] -- an amount which indisputably sets her hourly wage well above the federal minimum wage.”

Garten said the agency served as Palmer’s manager, not as her employer, saying “there was no employer-employee relationship.” Instead, he said the arrangement with Palmer was typical for model managers who hunt for prospects and then hope to attract interest in their look from fashion industry customers.

“It's a good-faith estimate of what a model who is marginally successful may make,” Garten said. “Actually most models who are marginally successful make far more than that. She just wasn't.”

Garten said the arrangement with Palmer was typical for model managers who hunt for prospects and then hope to attract interest in their look from fashion industry customers.

“That is how the industry works, and it is fair,” Garten told ABC News. “The agency is entitled to make money off of her work, and the better she does the more she makes... If that it's unfair then you would never have Heidi Klum and Claudia Schiffer and Linda Evangelisa. There would be no models and there would be no industry because no one ever made money.”

Michael Wildes, the New York attorney who handled the visa application for Palmer and other Trump models spoke with ABC News at Garten’s request. He said the pledge of a $75,000 annual wage on Palmer’s H-1B application was “aspirational.” But he said the agency initially considered Palmer an employee when it submitted her paperwork.

“Our position is the application was proper when filed,” Wildes said. “They anticipated an employer-employee relationships. Circumstances changed, and now they’re going to duke it out.”

Wildes said H-1B visas “contemplate an employer-employee relationship” but don’t fit neatly with the way the fashion industry operates. “You have a mess that good employers have to travail,” he said. “Mr. Trump did what he thought was right with offering a visa to this employer.”

Industry experts told ABC News that a reality of modeling is that some management firms take advantage of the models, who have few of the protections offered to actors and performers.

Christopher Kercher, an attorney for a different group of models that is suing a group of modeling firms over what he alleges are their opaque payment practices, said he has closely studied the issues and believes the industry has a problem with the way it treats models as contractors and the way it then deducts thousands in fees for services such as transportation, make-up and online postings.

Kercher called Palmer’s case “utterly eye opening” and “really troubling.”

“That’s got to be on the far end of the curve,” he said.

Fordham Law Professor Susan Scafidi has studied labor rights issues in the fashion industry and said there are definitely some management firms that do better by the models than others. The type of treatment described by Palmer, she said, is “a difficult story, but not an unexpected one.”

“Modeling agencies, unlike those who represent actors for example, front many expenses,” she said. “And often the model is not aware in advance that that's going to come out of her paycheck.”

Scafidi said there should be genuine concern, especially for the young teenagers who leave home on a promise of fame and money.

“When a teenager anywhere in the world, whether it is in New York or in a small town in Brazil or in Jamaica or in Siberia, it's very exciting to be scouted by an agent and told that you are a beautiful young woman and you can walk the runways of the world,” Scafidi said. “I think it's very exciting. And I think a lot of people sign very quickly.”

In Palmer’s case, her mother in Jamaica signed the contract specifying that expenses and fees would be deducted. At the request of ABC News, Scafidi reviewed the expenses and deductions that the Trump firm charged to Palmer. While some items, such as hair and make-up, are typically charged against a fashion model’s earnings, Scafidi said she was surprised to see a $4,000 administrative fee added to the 20 percent management fee.

“The administrative fee seems high and unusual to me, given that there was also a commission built in,” she said.

Of equal concern, Scafidi said, is the immigration process used to import the foreign models.

Gehi, Palmer’s lawyer, said he believes Trump Model Management has repeatedly abused the H-1B visa rules by certifying to the government that the fashion models will earn $75,000 or $100,000 a year -- figures the agency reported in publicly available federal records -- and then failing to pay them anything close.

Robert Divine, the former top immigration official, told ABC News that declarations of wages filed with the federal government are not intended to be estimates. Rather, they are intended to prevent U.S. employer “from using this program to hire relatively cheap professional foreign labor.”

“That document shows how the worker is going to be paid,” Divine said. “So the worker has an expectation they're going to be paid that amount.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Becoming reacquainted with my hip bones

“Pasta doesn't make you fat. How much pasta you eat makes you fat.” — Giada De Laurentiis, Italian-born American chef, writer, television personality

ON CAUCUS night, February 1 here in Iowa, I was looking forward to wearing my "Friends Don't Let Friends Vote Republican" t-shirt. When I put it on, however, the most eye-catching thing was not the clever graphic, but my jiggly, fat belly!


I was aware that I'd been carrying some extra weight, but what I saw in the mirror was the straw that broke the camel's back. Using a scale at Mama Logli's (we've never owned one), I discovered that I weighed 118 pounds — the most I've ever weighed — and I made up my mind to begin a structured weight loss program.


I'm sure I should have researched all the available options, but that felt overwhelming, and frankly, I just wanted to get started doing something while I was still motivated.


We've known Dr. Deb, my NUCCA (upper cervical and cranial) chiropractor, for almost 20 years. Six years ago, I watched her shrink before my eyes: she lost 40 pounds, and she's kept it off ever since. Using her example, Paul and I — he decided to give it a go with me —opted for the same program she used, Take Shape For Life. which offered the added benefit of a coach . . . in this case her. It had worked so well in her life that she trained and became a coach herself. 


Although even at 118, I'm (inexplicably to me at least) still in the normal range for my height, and despite that to a person, anyone to whom I've mentioned being on a diet has questioned my judgment, I've been walking around in my body for a whole bunch of years by now, and I know what I'm supposed to look like and how much weight my frame was built to carry.




Deb is about the same size I am, so she could relate. She explained that it isn't so much about the number on the scale, but where a person carries the fat they have. Fat around organs (belly fat) is the most unhealthy, and that's where mine was.


Since I've been grumbling to her about wanting to lose weight for at least four years, one wonders why it took so long to begin. That's because I was convinced that if I got back in the gym on a regular basis, I could work it off like I did once before.


The only other time I'd seen fit to do something about my weight was roughly 12 years ago when I had ballooned (that was my description of myself) up to 112, at which time I immediately signed up at the Y, hired a trainer (actually two) and ran, lunged, lifted, bench pressed, curled and aerobicized the 12 pounds off. I figured I'd just do it again.


That's what I'd been telling Deb the plan was for four years . . . except that I wasn't doing it, and for the same four years she's been patiently saying, "Well okay, but your success is going to hinge more on what you eat than how much you exercise." (I've poked around a little on the internet and found a number of references to a ratio of 85% food to 15% exercise for losing or maintaing a healthy weight.)


The other thing I felt we needed was a program that provided what Paul and I call "doses" because neither one of us had much of an idea what a sensibly-sized portion looks like, and in my case, up until the last few years, I'd been able to eat pretty much whatever I wanted, whenever and in whatever quantities I wanted — with impunity. Cakes, pies, cookies, ice cream; they all had my name on them (sometimes literally!!). 


This plan consists of eating four or five small prepackaged snacks spaced throughout the day, combined with a lean and green dinner in the evening. Walking or other non-aerobic exercise is fine, but high-energy exercise is discouraged during the weight loss phase. 


So that's our story, morning glory. Paul's goal is to lose 40 pounds, and mine is to lose 18 or 19. In the four weeks since we started, I've lost 12 pounds and Paul has lost 15.


We'll see how it goes from here. It hasn't been what I'd call fun, but it hasn't been hard either. And yeah, I'm glad we doing it. I can see a difference in how I look, and I can see a difference in Paul. One of the added benefits that I was told would occur (but I didn't believe) is that I've had more energy — at least until I came down with the darn flu. I'll keep you posted on my journey to find my hip bones.


Coming soon: How Racism Made Me Fat (and I'm not even kidding).

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Scared yet?

"I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose voters.” — Donald Trump

HERE'S another great offering from Charles M. Blow at The New York Times.


BTW: Not feeling terribly shiny. Well, maybe I am, but for all the wrong reasons. I've been running a fever bouncing around from 101.9 down to close to normal, then back up to 100.5. So I may be shiny from cooking myself from the inside out.



My peepee is this big

Demagogue for President


By Charles M. Blow 

March 3, 2016

Sometimes you have to simply step back from the hubbub and take stock, with cleareyed sobriety, at a moment in history to fully appreciate its epochal import. Now is such a time.


A nativist, sexist, arguably fascist and racist demagogue who twists the truth is the front-runner in the race to become the Republican Party’s presidential nominee, over the protestations of the party’s establishment, who rightly view his ascendance as an existential threat to an already tattered brand.


He is odd and entertaining, vacuous and vain, disarming and terrifyingly dangerous.


And, according to The New York Times, he “could lock up the nomination in May” if he “keeps winning by the same margins.” Furthermore, the Republican Party is seeing record turnout on its way to this end. There is a political revolution in this country but, so far at least, it appears to be one driven in large part by the Republicans.


Let this sink in, America.


Stop thinking that it’s all a joke, a hoax, a game. It’s not. Maybe he began this quest as a branding exercise, but it has morphed into something quite real: a challenge to the collective moral character of the republic. The success of his candidacy so far calls into question the very definition and direction of America.


Later we can condemn the media for its complicity in his rise, the way we and the candidate operated in a symbiotic relationship, exchanging cheap ratings for free publicity, but it can’t be undone now. The candidate has now risen.


This is a guy who began his presidential bid by branding Mexican immigrants as drug mules, criminals and rapists.


This is a guy at whose rallies minorities have been shouted down and even manhandled — like the University of Louisville student Shiya Nwanguma — with little or no condemnation from the candidate.


This is a man who refused to immediately and unequivocally denounce and disavow the former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke, who said on his radio program that voting against the turgid real estate developer was tantamount to “treason to your heritage.” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that we can safely assume that Mr. Grand Wizard emeritus meant white heritage.


Again, America, let that sink in: America’s white heritage candidate, according to the illustrious David Duke, is the person so far winning a plurality of votes in the Republican contests and collecting a large share of that party’s delegates.


Indeed, his candidacy is providing a refuge for, and giving voice to, white fear and anger over the inevitable changing demography of the country, the erosion of the center and the rewarding of whiteness as a commodity.


Anger, not policy, is in fact the cornerstone of his candidacy. His policies are carpaccio-thin. He feeds his followers vague, morning-mirror affirmations like “make America great again” and endless “winning,” while largely avoiding particulars and parrying fact-checkers and his own history of inconsistencies.


And yet, the people who support him, angry at the establishment, their own party, America itself, don’t really care. He has touched their frustration and they feel reflected in his brutishness.


But even beyond the troubling racial realities of his candidacy is the misogyny of it.


This is a man who has called various women “disgusting,” “a slob,” “grotesque,” “a dog.” And he says that he cherishes women.


His candidacy also promotes what would surely be characterized as war crimes — interrogation tactics “a hell of a lot worse than waterboarding,” and killing the families of terrorism suspects.


Not only does he want to build a wall on the border, he wants to round up and deport those undocumented in this country, stop Muslims from entering and send back Syrian refugees.


One last time, America: Pause and let all that sink in.


I don’t want anyone to say, when we look back at this moment, that they didn’t see the signs. I don’t want anyone to feign surprise. I don’t want people to say that they didn’t take it all seriously because they had faith that their fellow citizens would somehow see the light and not allow this candidate to rise.


No. You don’t get that option. He has risen and continues to rise. Most smart money is on him becoming the Republican nominee, unless party leaders can devise some last-minute plan to blunt him.


And, it is not at all clear to me that, whoever the Democratic nominee is, she or he would have a cakewalk to an easy victory in the general election.


Say this out loud: The leading candidate for president on the Republican side is a demagogue. He is on track to be that party’s nominee. He is attracting record numbers of voters to the polls. If he wins the nomination, he could also win the presidency.


Scared yet? Good! Stop laughing this off. It’s not a joke. It’s quite real. And you need to remember the moment that you woke up and realized just how real it was.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Il Duce part two American style

"That's how Mussolini got in, that's how Hitler got in, they took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis." — Enrique Peña Nieto, president of Mexico

I COULDN'T agree more, President Nieto


This story is from Reuters news service for NBC News. You may think he's exaggerating dictatorial candidate . . . oh, excuse me . . . "presidential" candidate, Donald J. Trump's affinity for tyrants, but don't forget that Trump actually . . . really and truly and actually . . . retweeted a quote by Italian dictator and co-conspirator of Adolph Hitler, Benito Mussolini.



Bento Mussolini
If you have a father or grandfather or beloved uncle who fought in WW II, don't dishonor their sacrifice by supporting neofascist, D. J. Trump. Were they alive, your valiant forebears, I'm sure they would wonder with disgust why they had bothered to fight and die to keep their descendants free from such ilk, if you're going blithely vote somebody like Trump in.

Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Trump's Rhetoric: That's How Hitler Arrived

By Reuters

March 7, 2016

Mexico's president has said his country will not pay for GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump's proposed U.S.-Mexico border wall, and likened Trump's "strident tone" to the ascent of dictators like Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini.


President Enrique Peña Nieto comments, published in Monday's Excelsior newspaper, were among the most critical public comments yet by a foreign leader of the New York billionaire.


Trump, front-runner to win the Republican Party presidential nomination for the Nov. 8 election, has sparked outrage in Mexico with his campaign vow to build a wall along the southern U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants and drugs, and to make Mexico pay for it.


Asked by Excelsior whether there was a "scenario" under which Mexico would pay if Trump won the presidency, Peña Nieto was clear. "There is no scenario," he said. "I have to say that I regret (the plan), and of course, I can't agree with this American politician's position."


Trump has accused Mexico of sending rapists and drug runners across the border and vowed to increase fees on some Mexican visas and all border crossing cards to help make Mexico pay for the wall.


Peña Nieto attacked the "populism" of the Trump campaign, which he said sought to put forward "very easy, simple solutions to problems that are obviously not that easy to solve."


"And there have been episodes in human history, unfortunately, where these expressions of this strident rhetoric have only led to very ominous situations in the history of humanity," the Mexican president added.


"That's how Mussolini got in, that's how Hitler got in, they took advantage of a situation, a problem perhaps, which humanity was going through at the time, after an economic crisis.


"And I think what (they) put forward ended up at what we know today from history, in global conflagration. We don't want that happening anywhere in the world," Peña Nieto said.


Mexican Finance Minister Luis Videgaray called Trump's wall a "terrible" idea in an interview last week, while former Mexican presidents Felipe Calderon and Vicente Fox have both compared Trump to Hitler.


In spite of his comments, Peña Nieto stressed that his administration will seek to reach agreement and maintain a respectful relationship with whoever wins the U.S. presidency.


Foreign diplomats are expressing alarm to U.S. government officials about what they say are Trump's inflammatory and insulting public statements.