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03.02.2016 • WEdnEsday • M 1 MORE LETTERS ONLINE

sT. LOUIs POsT-dIsPaTCH • A15

Maggie Quinn of St. Louis says, “While some of the ailiations the Girl Scouts of America holds may be against the values of the Catholic Church, the experience it ofers to youth is priceless and assists to nurture women of change that our society needs, and that should not be overlooked.”

Read and talk about this letter and more letters online at STLtoday.com/letters

Mentorship: A solution to ‘he crisis within’ Helping children • We desperately need more adults to perform this essential, heroic act. BY REBECCA J. HATTER

Nancy Cambria’s special report ”The crisis within” (Feb. 21) was a masterful piece of journalism — one that reflects the realities we see every day at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri. The report underscores the fact that mentorship can often be a Hatter matter of life or death for kids in our region. I’m willing to bet this sounds like an exaggeration to you. After all, the word “mentorship” summons rather gauzy, sentimental images for a lot of people. They think about a beloved soccer coach, or an early boss who passed on the tricks of the trade. In other words, most people don’t associate mentorship with saving lives, or with breaking the

cycle of poverty for an entire family. But that’s exactly what we’re talking about when it comes to the mentorship of children and young adults who are growing up amid poverty, violence, shattered homes and failed schools. Over the past 28 years, I have had the privilege of working with Big Brothers Big Sisters organizations in my native Louisiana; in metropolitan Atlanta; and — since 1994 — here at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, which serves communities from metro St. Louis down to Cape Girardeau. Throughout my career, I have seen the patterns of fear, anger and desolation that “The crisis within” so powerfully describes. As a member of the Ferguson Commission, I have learned about how those patterns can shred the lives of individuals, families and entire communities. Now, through the journalism of Nancy Cambria and the scientific research of Dr. Joan Luby and others, the general public is learning that there’s a name for this chronic

condition: toxic stress. Fortunately, we are also learning that there are ways to counter this phenomenon. One of the most effective is the cultivation of positive, sustaining relationships. As Dr. Luby has found, such relationships can literally aid the healthy development of the brain. This is where the work of mentorship takes on such urgency, particularly for young men and women from low-income families. The renowned Harvard social scientist Robert Putnam has referred to a “mentoring gap” between poor kids and their more affluent peers. Well-educated, economically secure families tend to have stronger, broader social networks than less-educated, economically vulnerable families. This means the children of low-income families have far less access to adult mentors than wealthier kids do. Putnam has written that “nearly two-thirds of affluent kids have some mentoring beyond their extended family, while nearly two-thirds of poor kids do not.”

This gap can contribute to the life-threatening hazards that result from a lack of sustaining relationships. Those hazards may take the form of an increased exposure to violence — or an increased vulnerability to longterm, stress-related health conditions like heart disease, obesity, and depression. At Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri, we’ve long known that mentoring can work wonders in the lives of lowincome children and adolescents. About three-quarters of our Little Brothers and Little Sisters live in households with incomes below $20,000 a year, but with the help of our outstanding Big Brothers and Big Sisters, 95 percent of these kids are graduating from high school — a rate that beats the national average for students of all income levels (87 percent). While we know the power of mentoring, that power is often underestimated or misunderstood. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard the work of Big Brothers Big Sisters described as “nice.” In a

Populists prey on ignorance. Like vampires, they despise any attempt to shine daylight on their ideas.

very limited sense, that’s an accurate word — of course it’s “nice” to see responsible, caring adults helping children. But as “The crisis within” shows, mentoring a low-income child or adolescent is “nice” sort of the way performing CPR or pulling someone out of a burning building is “nice” — it’s an act of potentially life-saving, life-extending generosity that utterly eclipses what we normally mean by everyday niceness. It’s an essential act, and a heroic one — and we desperately need more adults who are willing to do it. There are 1,000 children currently waiting for a Big Brother or Big Sister in our area. Now that the Post-Dispatch has so powerfully shown the importance of relationships in the lives of our least privileged young people, let us call upon the institutions and individuals of this region to step up to this clear responsibility — and this opportunity to solve “The crisis within.” Rebecca J. Hatter is president and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri.

Another proposal that marginalizes women U. City dispute • Feeling sorry for men who go to topless bars, and the girls who work there. BY CHERI HAGNAUER

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez (right) speaks to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at a meeting in 2006.

Path to nowhere Politics • Trump and Sanders play the populist game at our peril. BY TOD ROBBERSON

Presidential candidates Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have clearly tapped into a segment of the American electorate that believes radical change is necessary to fix what’s wrong with the country. People are angry and have lost patience with establishment candidates offering the same ol’ solutions. The Trump and Sanders alternatives lean heavily toward big ideas and bold talk. Their populist pablum draws support with outsized promises that ignore pesky little questions such as how to pay for it, or how to get Congress to go along. Let someone else sweat the details. Voters who find themselves sitting on the fence and toying with the idea of a Trump or Sanders presidency should take a hard look at what happens when oversized dreams Robberson smash head-on into harsh reality. Two international populist figures from the past decade offer a cautionary tale. First, let’s consider the experience of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela. Chavez was a former army colonel who led a bloody coup attempt in 1992. He wound up in prison, but in a bizarre twist of Venezuelan politics, received a presidential pardon. That set the stage for Chavez — clearly someone minimally tethered to democratic principles — to run for the nation’s highest office. He won in 1998 on a populist platform of socialist reforms, a shocking victory that sent oil-rich Venezuela’s longstanding two-party system into upheaval. Chavez engineered the legislature’s dissolution, replaced the supreme court and trashed the nation’s constitution. He methodically set in motion the legal

foundation for him to remain in power for life. Had he not died of cancer in 2013, he’d probably still be president today. On the streets of Caracas’ hillside slums, Chavez was a huge hit. He kicked out foreign oil companies and threatened to seize “bourgeois” golf courses, ranches and farms to redistribute land to the poor. Price controls and import restrictions put a stranglehold on business and led to widespread consumer-goods shortages. Chavez outlined his half-baked, utopian socialist dreams in broadcast monologues and call-in shows that sometimes lasted for hours on end. All notions of presidential decorum flew out the window. Chavez spoke like a street thug. He once called President George W. Bush a “donkey” and, addressing the U.N. General Assembly right after Bush had spoken, complained that the podium “smells of sulfur,” as if Satan had just been there. The guy refused to control his own mouth, but he once told King Juan Carlos of Spain to “shut up.” Venezuela wound up isolated economically. Its only diplomatic friends were countries like Iran, Libya, Ecuador and Bolivia. Today, under Chavez’s socialist successor, Nicolas Maduro, inflation has reached triple digits amid shortages of basic consumer items, such as toilet paper. The Chavez experiment has been such a disaster, even Cuba is backing away. Beware anyone offering a socialist utopia, including Sanders, if the plan isn’t accompanied by a detailed explanation of how to fund it. And for those attracted by Trump’s crude street language, consider the diplomatic isolation that followed Chavez’s verbal abuse. The international tolerance level for this nonsense is very low and, regardless of what Trump supporters might think, international relations are critical. Let’s look at the opposite end of the political spectrum. In Iran, a heavily engineered vote in 2005 led to the

election of conservative extremist Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. He stayed in power until 2013. Like Trump, he was a man who spoke first and used his brain afterward. He spouted lies about the Holocaust. Without concern for the diplomatic consequences, he spoke boldly about attacking Tehran’s enemies and restoring Iran to its former glory as the pre-eminent power in the Persian Gulf region. He promised to make Iran great again. He was a nuclear hawk, refusing to budge even when the international community warned of severe consequences unless Iran curtailed its efforts to enrich uranium to bombgrade quality. Ahmadinejad brought his country to its knees as Western nations, Russia and China reacted with one of the toughest and most unified set of economic-sanctions regimes in world history. Donald Trump is no Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Bernie Sanders is no Hugo Chavez. But all of them took advantage of uncritical, starry-eyed supporters who were far too easily sold on populist promises. Populists prey on ignorance. Like vampires, they despise any attempt to shine daylight on their ideas. Their nightmare is the probing questioner or prying reporter who dares to demand details. When newspapers and broadcast media questioned Chavez, he shut them down and sent their owners into exile. When Fox News’ Megyn Kelly asked Trump a tough question, he attacked her viciously. He mocked New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski’s physical disability. America, be careful about whom you contemplate empowering with the presidency. The crowd-pleasing appeal of big talkers and big dreamers masks the nightmare that almost always accompanies the populist’s rise to power. trobberson@post-dispatch.com 314-340-8382

Living in a household full of males has its moments. I find myself watching sports more often than I would choose, and I eat a lot of steak ... so much steak. Emotional bonding consists of sitting side by side watching sports, talking about sports, and occasionally sharing funny YouTube videos. I believe a son’s development into a respectful man is often created by simply shadowing his father’s behavior. Of course being Mom, and a natural nagger, I often give advice from the female perspective. I hate how our society over-sexualizes and marginalizes women, and I am heartbroken that so many girls think their sexuality and appearance are their worth. I continually tell my boys how important it is to respect all women. The litmus test: “If you wouldn’t want someone doing that to your mother or a sister, don’t do it, and don’t condone it.” Which leads me to breasts. Who wants to see their mother or sister’s breasts? Who wants to see their mother or sister display their breasts to strangers in public, as a part of a job? Raise your hand. A topless sports bar is being proposed for the University City Delmar Loop. I am not an antibreaster. I love breasts. They serve important functions, especially in the baby development arena. If you are a breastfeeding momma, I will defend

your right to feed anytime, anywhere, any way. But breasts are also oversexualized, at least in our society. And much like the word “you” will eventually disintegrate to “u,” I believe that over the next generation, we will become unfamiliar with what an actual breast looks like, due to the proliferation of painfully straining, surgical tennis balls being installed on so many women’s previously normal bodies. I guess women, the natural kind, just aren’t good enough? I feel sorry (a very wee bit) for a man who feels the need to pay to ogle women’s breasts. What type of upbringing must he have had? How sad that shelling out cash to view a young, perkily (fake) breasted woman, who would have nothing to do with him in real life, is how he wants to spend his free time? And how sad for those girls (because, if they choose to do this, they have not, in my opinion, earned the right to use the honorific title “women”) that they think they need to use their breasts to make a living. Here’s a thought, try using your brains, instead. Yes, I feel some compassion for all involved in this sad degeneration into the 1960s Playboy culture, but I don’t really want to mingle with them while strolling the Loop. Truly, if you want to see an excess of unrestrained boobs, don’t go to the Loop, simply visit Jefferson City. Cheri Hagnauer of Kirkwood is a book editor, freelance writer and blogger.

CHRISTIAN GOODEN • cgooden@post-dispatch.com

Joe Edwards, president of The Loop Special Business District and longtime owner of Blueberry Hill and other businesses in University City, returns to his seat after addressing the City Council on Feb. 22 to object to owners of Social House in Soulard opening a similar venue at 6655 Delmar Boulevard.