Robert Stein 1924-2014

Contact Information

If anyone has comments, questions or condolences, please feel free to send a private message to the family at robertstein@optonline.net.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Media Surrenders to Cruz and Crazies

Why is there so much “news” about a freshman Republican senator who is being repudiated by most of his own party? Why do “journalists” still collude in over-inflation of such marginal figures as Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, Herman Cahn and now Ted Cruz? When will “the media” stop manufacturing political leaders out of shameless buffoonery?

In the last century, an alcoholic Sen. Joe McCarthy terrorized the nation by waving scraps of paper and lying about them. From that, journalists learned they had to do more than report with a straight face what reckless politicians were willing to say. Context was vital.

Now it’s all back with a vengeance, and media consumers have to sort out a “false equivalence” between sane and insane realities. Barack Obama and Rafael Edward Cruz are not polar choices in American politics any more than are global and flat-earth models in geography.

Yet the media still can’t resist colorful, even making news out of Cruz’s father telling the Texas Tea Party that the President is an "outright Marxist" who "seeks to destroy all concept of God" and urging the crowd to send him "back to Kenya."

That could be defended as subtle exposure of the roots of Cruz nuttiness were it not surrounded by acres of taking him seriously as a major force in the GOP. “Ted Cruz extends olive branch to GOP senators,” reports Politico with a straight face about his promise not to back their opponents in primary races.

What’s needed is more reporting like a recent New Yorker piece that pairs him with Joe McCarthy and begins thus:

“When Ted Cruz lies, he appears to be praying. His lips narrow, almost disappearing into his face, and his eyebrows shift abruptly, rising like a drawbridge on his forehead into matching acute angles. He attains an appearance of supplication, an earnest desire that men and women need to listen, as God surely listens.”

America survived Joe McCarthy but only after lives were wrecked and national trust was eroded. Ted Cruz will pass too, but more quickly if the media stops puffing him up.


Sickening Debate Over Health

In the most advanced society ever, we argue savagely over the best way to let private companies profit from medical care to ease suffering and keep people alive.

As politicians rant over Obamacare, missing from all the yowling is any acknowledgement that human lives are considered a commodity as surely as they were in the days of slavery.

Even the President, for all his good intentions, is forced to make a rousing speech about his efforts to make a bad system better. The American polity is united in devaluing those who sustain it into objects.

Sixty years ago talking with my Congressman, an able and idealistic future Mayor of New York, John Lindsay, we agreed government had a vital role in health care. When he assumed that any system would be run by insurance companies, I asked, “Why?”

That was before Medicare broke through apathy and opposition to provide for the elderly and prove that government could collect premiums, oversee treatment and pay bills with only clerical help from private companies.

Now ideology rules and, in debating the 2009 law, a single-payer system or public option that would keep billions from going into the pockets of insurers was dismissed out of hand. The President was forced to be “realistic” and settle for half a loaf, a moldy half at best.

Now we are beset by bitterness over those crumbs of humanity. Who are these people and why are they allowed to make life-and-death decisions for us all while posturing for their own political profit?

Reasonable Americans must be choking on their rage, but their health insurance is not likely to pay for medical care to save them.

Is this the best we can do?  
  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Ghostbusting Obama's Haunted House

For Halloween, Barack Obama’s residence is spooked (and not just by the CIA) with visions of a disconnected President wandering the halls unaware of what goblin underlings were doing in his name.

Spying on allies? They never told him. Technical mess with the ACA launch? He didn’t know. In his first term, the President was conceded to be the smartest man in the room, even by opponents. Now he is being morphed into a George W. Bush-like puppet by his own people over-eager to “protect” him from blame.

Even Obama worshippers at MSNBC run a montage titled “Implausible Deniability” while the GOP gleefully labels him the “Bystander President.”

This clown costume does not fit Barack Obama as Americans know him, and it is entirely unsuitable for a President who does not face an election again. What is really going on in a White House, once notable for its buttoned-up atmosphere, now apparently coming apart at the seams?

One obvious answer is that the caliber of people there is not what it used to be, no Rahm Emanuels or David Axelrods to man the barricades against bruising attacks.

Another possibility is that the besieged President has lost sight of Harry Truman’s axiom, “The buck stops here.” No matter how badly things went, and they were bad, Truman took the heat and was admired for it.

Right now, we are seeing the distracted, detached Barack Obama of the first presidential debate with Mitt Romney, who almost blew his reelection campaign. He rallied, become himself again and went on to win.

When Halloween is over, it will be time to shed the masks and let Obama be Obama again. Trick-or-treating is not his style.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

New Obama War Doctrine Tiptoes In

Journalism students are taught to “never bury the lead” but, with a little help from the President, I did just that in my last post, raising the question of whether there is a new Obama Doctrine for military action in the Middle East.

Writing about the aftermath of Benghazi, I cited his National Security Adviser’s interview with the New York Times three days ago, headlined “Rice Offers a More Modest Strategy for Mideast.” It was published on Saturday, clearly not designed to excite maximum reaction.

Yet, unless I misread it, Susan Rice was whispering a drastic change in American foreign policy. “We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” she said, adding, “He [Obama] thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.”

The result, according to the Times: “The blueprint drawn up on those summer weekends at the White House is a model of pragmatism — eschewing the use of force, except to respond to acts of aggression against the United States or its allies, disruption of oil supplies, terrorist networks or weapons of mass destruction. Tellingly, it does not designate the spread of democracy as a core interest.”

Say again? Wouldn’t the “blueprint” rule out or severely limit the use of force against Syria or, depending on interpretation, even Iran?

If there is no wink and a nod to go with this, John McCain and Lindsey Graham should have gone ballistic. Yet so far, there has only been silence. Even if they don’t believe the President means what Rice says, they should be fulminating over this unwarlike stance by someone they vilified to block her nomination as Secretary of State.

It would be sad if a real turn away from further military involvement in the Middle East were overwhelmed by the current news cycle of outrage over the Administration’s spying on citizens and allies.

At the very least, there should be an A for its effort to stop shedding American blood into a bottomless pool.

“We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” Ms. Rice says.

Just so, and that deserves headlines it has not received. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

Benghazi and Beyond

“We’re here to kill Americans.” That chilling statement from an attacker of the US compound reported on 60 Minutes by a pseudonymous witness stirs again the anguish of four deaths last September 11.

The pain of that loss is genuine on all sides, but it doesn’t stop there, rippling into politics as a preemptive strike against a Hillary Clinton run in 2016 and raising even broader questions about what we are doing in the Middle East and why.

Partisan use of that tragedy is well under way. At a hearing in January, the former Secretary of State lost her patience with a GOP senator who kept badgering her.

"With all due respect, the fact is we had four dead Americans," she said, raising her voice as he continued to interrupt. "Was it because of a protest or was it because of guys out for a walk last night who decided to kill some Americans? What difference at this point does it make? It is our job to figure out what happened and do everything we can to prevent it from ever happening again, Senator."

That won’t satisfy her critics, but the blame game is only a sideshow to the larger question: How long can and should the United States be so deeply involved—-and vulnerable—-in the internal mayhem of the Middle East.

Since that hearing, 104 Americans have been killed in Afghanistan alone without a murmur of political protest in Washington. As we obsess about Benghazi, how can we ignore them?

Susan Rice, who lost her chance to succeed Clinton as Secretary of State over that aftermath and is now the President’s national security adviser, has addressed that broader issue by telling the New York Times that “the President’s goal is to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.”

In this new approach, the US would eschew the use of force, except to respond to acts of aggression against the United States or its allies, disruption of oil supplies, terrorist networks or weapons of mass destruction.

If the Obama Administration implements that new policy scrupulously, it would not only honor those who died at Benghazi but help avoid adding to their number American men and women who put their lives on the line to protect their country.

Almost as many have lost their lives in Afghanistan since 9/11/2001 as those who died on that terrible day.
 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Obama Disrespect Disorder

What the President is going through now recalls a life lesson I learned in World War II and never forgot. Barack Obama’s run of apparent incompetence—-on attacking Syria, rolling out health care, over-surveillance —-may be rooted, at least in part, on five years of being publicly pounded by criticism and hatred.

No matter how intelligent, skilled and capable one is, constant bombardment of carping, laced with hatred and disdain, takes its toll at some level. Has anyone ever been subjected to more?

Americans on a less exalted level who have worked for bad bosses can understand what such treatment can do to shrivel a sense of self-worth. What if they were trapped in such a situation with no escape and the whole world watching?

This is not to excuse the President’s shortcomings but to remind fair-minded critics of what he must be enduring.

I learned about it dramatically in my teens. In an office I worked briefly for a lieutenant who was a former college English teacher and life was good. We talked for hours about books and life, and one evening he suggested we take the office jeep to the post movie.

Someone had given me driving lessons and, a few days earlier, I had gone solo to deliver a file across the base. I put it on the seat next to me. At the first turn, papers flew into my face and, by the time I braked to a stop, the jeep was in a ditch on the left side of the road nuzzled against a tree.

We started for the movies in proper military fashion; I was driving, my unsuspecting lieutenant in the passenger seat. A minute later, he was braced against the windshield, gasping. When we arrived at the movies, soldiers were staring at a private being chauffeured by an officer.  

That kind of dumb luck did not last. My boss was shipped out and replaced by his polar opposite, a high-school dropout who had earned a commission during the officer shortage after Pearl Harbor. He despised me on sight and, from then on, it was like being in a Shrinking Man movie. Every day his beady eyes and sarcastic voice shriveled me with disdain, criticism and mockery, and I soon found myself becoming what he saw, an incompetent jerk. I started making mistakes I had never made before.

That experience gave me something of great value. A few weeks showed me what could happen if I let myself be treated that way. I swore I never would again, no matter what. I never did.

Until Barack Obama writes his memoirs, we will have no idea of how years of massive disrespect affected his psyche, but one former private has the utmost sympathy for what the Commander-in-Chief is enduring. As he steps to a podium to rebuff the latest attacks, at least one old soldier is saluting him.


Friday, October 25, 2013

Time Out for Comic Relief

As Halloween approaches, clowns are making news all over.

A GOP precinct chairman loses his job after being cajoled into bigot talk by the Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi. While defending North Carolina’s new law to restrict minority voting, he cites "lazy black people that wants the government to give them everything," adding, “I’ve been called a bigot before. Let me tell you something, you don't look like me but I think I've treated you the same as anybody else. As a matter of fact, one of my best friends is black."

Sarah Palin is back to comment on the woman behind the President who became light-headed during his Obamacare speech:

"With the Obama White House’s total lack of transparency, it’s no wonder that some will ask whether they staged even a fainting lady in the Rose Garden. What was once a major leap in logic has become a single step because President Obama has lied so often and so blatantly.”

Even Rick Santorum is getting into the act by promoting his new movie to counter Satan’s control of Hollywood. “This is a tough business, this is something that we’re stepping out,” Santorum tells evangelists, “and the Devil for a long, long time has had these screens for his playground and he isn’t going to give it up easily.”

 On CNN to trash Obamacare as making the government “a peeping Tom” on everybody’s medical information, GOP Rep. Marsha Blackburn is cornered into blabbing incoherently about the wrong privacy law that applies only to health-care providers.

But perhaps the most unintentional comedy is provided by the chairman of the Republican National Committee hiring a 23-year-old as its first youth director to build “a grassroots infrastructure with the under-30 community.” He promises to “get them more involved in the political process and to help them direct that eagerness to make a change into something tangible.”

Can’t wait to hear how he’s going to do that when he’s interviewed on the Daily Show.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The Beards of October

Watching the World Series recalls childhood days when beards and baseball came together in the House of David team, whose facial foliage was famous back then on the barnstorming circuit.

Unlike today’s Boston Red Sox and many St. Louis Cardinals, their whiskers grew out of religious conviction as members of a commune founded by a charismatic preacher.

They prospered and hired pros like Grover Cleveland Alexander, Satchel Paige and Mordecai Brown, some of whom went unshaven while others wore chin toupees, and inspired imitators, including the Black House of David, an African-American nine that played only in the Negro Leagues.

For today’s integrated major leagues and their TV partners, a Series without teams from major markets like New York and LA is a financial hardship, but can the beards bring out the rubes as they did in the olden days?

For one ancient fan, they succeed only in making his face itch, but all is not lost in the nostalgia department.

Tweeters are excited by signs that Red Sox pitcher Jon Lester may have used a foreign substance in his glove during Game One, the way they did way back when.

Not exactly another steroids scandal, but in these days dominated by statistics and science, any eccentricity is welcome. Beards, long hair, tattoos, anything, as long as they can hit, pitch and field.

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?

Obamacare Tower of Babble

As TV talking heads explain in cyberspeak the superglitches of the ACA rollout, the mind reels. We are back in a Biblical confusion of tongues, an inability to comprehend language that was visited on the builders of the Tower of Babel.

Republican true believers, of course, see this as just retribution for the blasphemy of Obamacare, but the less pious can only wonder at how the most tech-savvy White House ever blundered so badly on the introduction of its signature accomplishment.

People who sent me a million e-mails since I first expressed interest in Barack Obama seven years ago somehow expected the complicated rollout of a 2000-page law passed two years ago with all its moving parts to be accomplished in a few months, a mistake that passeth understanding and now has even Democrats calling for heads to roll.

What does it mean beyond another round of partisan acrimony now that the bitterness of the government shutdown is out of the news?

Everyone now agrees the White House should have started sooner, but more than hubris is involved. For those who wanted a more sensible single-payer system, a Medicare-for-All answer to the back-breaking problem of private insurers who rake off so many of the dollars spent on health care, the sight is heart-breaking.

In this political Tower of Babble in which we live now, is our political system capable of producing anything constructive, or are we doomed to creating only monstrosities and then fighting over how to make them humanly beneficial?

As the White House tweaks away, the ACA will surely eventually start to enroll the uninsured and slowly benefit American health care for those who have been shut out or overcharged. The bugs will go away, and the body politic will recover from the wounds.

But Americans have never been stupid, and they are better-educated and better-informed now than previous generations. Incompetence has never been the main problem, and it isn’t now. Until we get back to governing with relative sanity, mental health will continue to be the obvious national diagnosis.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

New Facing in DC, Inside and Out

“I cannot even stand to look at you," a GOP House leader told the President during negotiations over the Shutdown.

According to Sen. Dick Durbin, Tea Party zealots “say President Obama just doesn't try hard enough to communicate with Republicans. But in a 'negotiation' meeting with the president, one GOP House Leader told the president: 'I cannot even stand to look at you.' What are the chances of an honest conversation with someone who has just said something so disrespectful?"

Durbin’s Facebook post dramatizes just how personal, bitter and, yes, racist the Washington impasse has become.

But in a darkest-before-dawn way, there are signs that next year’s elections could lighten the atmosphere.

Insiders now see seven GOP senators vulnerable to primaries, and even Utah’s Mike Lee, who is not on the ballot until 2016, is being scalded back home with business leaders questioning his chances for reelection.

Scaffolding will go up at the Capitol dome next week to repair “more than 1,000 cracks and deficiencies like stains and rust” that have undermined the structure over past 50 years.

That will serve as an apt metaphor for the work ahead to undo the internal rot that has been eating away there since Barack Obama became the first African-American to occupy the White House less than five years ago.

The Washington infrastructure needs all kinds of new facing.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Coming Obamacare Claims Crisis

Amid all the hubbub about ACA website failures and Obamacare squabbles, completely overlooked is a massive new problem faced by health insurers who will not only have to manage millions of new customers but actually start paying some of their claims.

Their plight may be masked by all those premiums they will collect, but how will they cope with an actual outflow of cash?

As a public service in their hour of need, I am resurrecting herewith a classic memo on how they have avoided such damage to their profits in the past that will have to be slightly revised to deal with the annoying provisions of Obamacare:

“TO: Claims Prevention Department

FROM: President, HMO

Bills are being processed and paid without full use of our avoidance procedures. Since such negligence impacts your company’s bottom line, let me review our guidelines:

1. Use the response “require more information from physician” to its full extent. Some providers fill in code numbers, diagnoses and dates of treatment. But who are these people? Can we trust them with the health of our insured not knowing when and where they went to medical school, how long they have been practicing, and whether they rent or own their Lexuses?

2. Handle phone queries properly. Quick answers deprive members of full participation in their care. For the persistent, employ your half-hour hold capability and, if that fails, tell them the computer is down and promise to call back. That will keep them close to their phones and away from doctors’ offices.

3. Don’t confuse claimants with data overload. Just indicate service is not covered because of a,b,c,d,z or some combination. Our forms make definitions of a,b,c,d,z easily comprehensible with the aid of a magnifying glass and legal dictionary.

4. When all else fails, deny reimbursement with “This claim has been previously considered.” By the time the patient, physician, laboratory and hospital check with one another, no one will be sure who sent or received what. We should not pay twice or, better yet, once.

We will soon have new tools to aid in your work. A revised schedule of “customary fees” will reflect the global economy by factoring in provider charges of emerging nations. And our accountants are number-crunching the promising concept of a receding deductible.

Our new non-discriminatory policy of hiring applicants regardless of IQ, education or Attention Deficit Disorder will insure better results in the future. Remember: A claim denied or delayed is a drop of lifeblood to the health of our organization.”

Some heartless observers may scoff at the pain being inflicted on such hard-working organizations but, for those who sympathize with them, there is some consolation. Think of their chaos if those Washington radicals had passed a law for a single-payer system or Medicare-for-All!


Monday, October 21, 2013

College as a Consumer Product

Living with three high-school grandchildren brings back parental days of anxiety about getting into the best possible college. But the question is: What is the definition of best?

When U.S. News & World Report issued its annual rankings last month, there were no surprises: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, motherhood and apple pie, everything in order.

But there are critics, starting with Barack Obama and his Education Secretary. The list, observed the President, “encourages a lot of colleges to focus on ways to...game the numbers—-and it actually rewards them, in some cases, for raising costs." Arne Duncan echoes him by observing “it has created a lot of perverse incentives.”

As families wait for those engraved envelopes by the mailbox, a New York Times columnist has observed, “The rankings exacerbate the status anxiety that afflicts so many high school students. The single-minded goal of too many high school students-—pushed by parents, guidance counselors and society itself--is to get into a ‘good’ school. Those who don’t land a prestigious admission feel like failures. Those who do but lack the means often wind up taking on onerous debt--a burden that can last a lifetime.”

Making college education a consumer product puts four years of hard work, great expense and critical life experience into the same category as cosmetic ads that promise but never define a secret ingredient that guarantees success.

“You can bash people over the head with information about how empty, useless, or bad-for-you some things are, yet lots of folks will still want to consume them,” says a retired professor and critic of the lists. “Each of us has some kind of tripe that sustains us.”

But buyers should beware, and some are.

To quote a wise-beyond-his-years grandson, “the school I choose will not determine my eventual income, but rather the work I put in and skills I have.” Whatever college he attends will be enriched by him and others like him by much more than the tuition they collect.

Could Health Care Elect Hillary Clinton?

Whatever happens between now and then, Obamacare will still be an issue in 2016 and, if the former First Lady is a candidate, it will bring health care reform full circle after two decades.

That could be a wholesome development for the body politic, taking the debate back to the climate of 1993 before Tea Party rancor reduced it to an ugly surrogate for hatred of America’s first African-American president.

Back then, the Clintons embarked on a serious effort to fix a broken system and, if they made tactical mistakes, the opposition and their eventual defeat occurred in a comparatively rational Washington.

A sadder but much wiser Hillary Clinton, with unquestioned political achievement of her own, would be the ideal President to restore sanity to the issue. At the very least, this time she would not be facing the resentment of an unelected First Lady taking the lead.

As Obamacare rollout unfolds, it will face more than the technical glitches impeding progress. Experience will undoubtedly show possible substantive improvements, but could they be made in the face of Cruz-driven do-or-die rhetoric?  Two years from now, as the 2016 campaign unfolds, there will be enough experience with the Affordable Care Act to identify issues and start making efforts to strengthen it.

Who better to lead the charge than the Hillary Clinton who said in 1993:

“Millions of Americans are just a pink slip away from losing their health insurance, and one serious illness away from losing all their savings. Millions more are locked into the jobs they have now just because they or someone in their family has once been sick and they have what is called the preexisting condition.

“And on any given day, over 37 million Americans—-most of them working people and their little children—-have no health insurance at all. And in spite of all this, our medical bills are growing at over twice the rate of inflation, and the United States spends over a third more of its income on health care than any other nation on Earth.”

If she were running for the White House two years from now, the former First Lady, Senator and Secretary of State would be overwhelmingly qualified to revisit that argument and reassure Americans that Barack Obama’s achievement was not a government takeover but the beginning of a long-term improvement in the state of their health care.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Failed Films, Fascinating Lives

Half a century apart, life does not imitate art but overcomes its shortcomings to tantalize us about the people who create it.

Just as Arthur Miller in 1961 stripped bare Marilyn Monroe’s psychic fragility in her last movie, “The Misfits,” a 2007 failure titled “Evening” unwittingly reveals more about the actors than the tale it unfolds.

Watching on Netflix out of curiosity about the production that brought together the brilliant Claire Danes and her husband Hugh Dancy, I found real-life fascination about others as well abounding in it.

In what was labeled by the New York Times a “miscalculation” and “kitsch romance,” Danes and Dancy fell in love despite a horrendous lack of on-screen chemistry--she as a wobbly narcissist and he an almost unplayable hysteric. Their scenes together, through no fault of theirs, are too soggy to betray a spark.

But there is so much more mismatching. Vanessa Redgrave unbelievably plays Danes as an older woman, who would “rather eat a grand piano than surrender the spotlight. Her character may be dying, but she’s dying importantly, with flattering lighting and not a pearl of drool.”

Heartbreakingly, Redgrave’s real-life daughter, the radiant Natasha Richardson, who would die soon afterward in an accident, plays one of her grown children, full of life and promise.

Late on, Meryl Streep turns up to underact as Redgrave’s blowsy old friend, whose younger embodiment is her own daughter, a beautiful Mamie Gummer who marries the wrong man in the mishmash.

Other talented actresses like Glenn Close, Eileen Atkins and Toni Collette emote but without much purpose.

But like “The Misfits,” “Evening” should be seen not as drama but unintentional biography. Back then, Arthur Miller’s farewell to Marilyn was not only a cruel exposure of an actress and a woman, it also revealed and probably even hastened the last days of two movie icons, Clark Gable and Montgomery Clift.

Both are occasions when the camera tells much more than those in front of or behind it consciously mean to reveal. Incorrigible old movie-lovers can’t help relishing them.


Saturday, October 19, 2013

A Primary Way to Stop the Tea Party

The Shutdown showed a reckless minority empowered by gerrymandering strangling government. Is there a legal way to loosen its grip?

A self-proclaimed political junkie says there is. Reid Wilson on his Washington Post blog enthuses over:

“A top-two primary system, one that incentivizes candidates in even the most conservative or liberal districts to appeal to the vast middle that otherwise plays a limited role in picking members of Congress.

“In California and Washington state, that top-two system is already in effect. And in both states, the hard right and the hard left have seen their influence wane.”

Whether or not such a change can overcome gerrymandering is problematical, but its implementation, sanctioned by the Roberts Supreme Court in 2008, could hardly produce worse results than the election of 2012 in which House Democrats nationally won by over 1.4 million votes but the GOP retained a 33-seat advantage with an overall majority of 17 seats.

In this climate, conservative Republicans are as frustrated as Independent voters. If more states were to embrace a top-two primary system, the Tea Party would no longer be able to rule in Washington with unchecked fanaticism.

It’s time for members of a Radical Middle who still believe in reason to get their chance to shape American politics.


Update: With new polls showing voters increasingly turning against Tea Party tactics, the time is ripe to push for reform of a primary process that keeps their zealots in power to browbeat a majority of Americans.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Can Paul Ryan Lie His Way Out Again?

Last year’s VP loser, like all habitual liars, must have a short memory span and expect others to as well. Otherwise how could Paul Ryan vote to send the nation crashing into default and expect to be taken seriously as a Presidential candidate in 2016?

Even sooner, as chairman of the House Budget Committee, can he go to work with a straight face on the Congressional conference to resolve differences on the upcoming budget?

Ryan’s mendacity is hard to forget, even for a politician. After years of proclaiming her as his idol, he dropped Ayn Rand in a heartbeat when questioned about her as “an outspoken atheist.”

His GOP convention speech set truth meters clanging over lies, distortions and omissions, mounting into double figures. Ryan’s indifference to truth seems more reflexive than expedient. Asked about marathons, he casually noted, “I had a two-fifty something.” When Runner’s World checked, the number was 4.0.

Now he is the Tea Party policy wonk, whose figures are expected to be sound even if his arguments are loopy. Can someone who voted to decimate the economy be a deal-maker?

Only in the same alternate reality that led Mitt Romney to pair up with Ryan, whose entire working life has been not only as one of Rand’s “moochers and looters” but in the 47 percent of Americans “dependent upon government” cited in Romney’s suicidal gaffe. Since college two decades ago, Ryan has been on government payrolls every day of his career, first as a legislative aide and then as a member of the House, never in the GOP hallowed private sector except for an off-campus stint at a fast-food joint.

Now Ryan says, “I look forward to convening the first conference on a budget resolution since 2009. And though a budget resolution by itself can’t resolve our spending problem, I’m committed to making a bipartisan budget conference a success.”

Is that a lie? Are his lips moving?

Blinks and Winks

First McConnell, then Boehner and finally Cruz turns away from the staring contest with the White House, and the 16-day government shutdown is over.

The little clocks in the corner of cable TV screens are gone, and pundits go on to the political postmortems. Next week: the World Series, where there will be only one winner and one loser.

In Washington, nothing is that simple. Paul Ryan voted no and will lead four Republicans on the conference committee on budget resolution with the Senate. Score him eyes wide open for 2016.

Mitch McConnell, facing a tough reelection campaign, did bat his eyes but only after a wink to his constituents by getting a $3 billion earmark for a Kentucky dam.

Other pork consolations, however, vanish as the final vote failed to eliminate an Obamacare tax on medical devices, which gives makers and doctors a license to steal an estimated “$26 billion in excessive spending a year.”

A New York Times editorial tallies the score: “The Republican Party slunk away on Wednesday from its failed, ruinous strategy to get its way through the use of havoc. Hours away from an inevitable market crash, it approved a deal that could have been achieved months ago had a few more lawmakers set aside their animus. President Obama signed the bill reopening the government and lifting the debt ceiling early Thursday morning. 

“The health care reform law will not be defunded or delayed. No taxes will be cut, and the deal calls for no new cuts to federal spending or limits to social welfare programs. The only things Republicans achieved were billions of dollars in damage to the economy, harm to the nation’s reputation and a rock-bottom public approval rating.”

But Boehner is still asking for instant replay: “We fought the good fight. We just didn’t win.”

No, sanity did but, like the World Series, the games will go on but without a limit to how long they will last.

An Apology (and Challenge) to My Grandchildren

The American Dream has become a comatose nightmare. Visiting it daily fills me with grief and guilt. How did my own and following generations let something of such beauty turn into an ugly political boneyard with so few shreds of decency and hope?

Worst of all, how do I explain it all to teen-aged grandchildren who should be looking ahead to their lives only with hope and joy but are beset by rage, hate and despair everywhere? What can I, what can we do but apologize to them for the mess they are inheriting and the anxiety they will have to keep facing?

It’s tempting to hide behind “All this shall pass,” but with how much conviction? The sheer mass of social and political madness is too heavy to overthrow with bromides.

One positive place to start is Thomas Friedman’s post-Shutdown hope: “Short of an economic meltdown, there is only one thing that might produce meaningful change: a mass movement for tax, spending and entitlement reform led by the cohort that is the least organized but will be the most affected if we don’t think long term--today’s young people.”

As sophisticated as they are, they may even appreciate being asked to clean up our mess. Their taste in TV and movies suggests they savor irony.

For the near term, as we foresee only more of the same selfish insanity in Washington, Friedman cites a college tour stirring excitement among the young by a 61-year-old legendary investor who challenges students to rise up against the powers-that-be as his generation did against the Vietnam War.

Accused of fomenting intergenerational conflict, he responds, “No, that war already happened, and the kids lost. We’re just trying to recover some scraps for them.”

It’s a long way from enlisting young people into such a long-term fight and changing the national political landscape, but what other choice is there?

To my own grandchildren, I can only point out that this apology is filled with question marks. It will be up to you to answer them. My money says you will.

The ultimate hope is that, when the time comes, your apology to your grandchildren will be much more benign in a far better world.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Last Station Before Default

As the train wreck nears with no one at the controls, last-ditch outsiders are trying to get to the brakes.

Fitch Ratings puts the US on “rating watch negative” in the light of impending default.

Our biggest creditor China (we owe them $1.3 trillion) calls for replacing the dollar as the world’s reserve currency to “permanently stay away from the spillover of the intensifying domestic political turmoil in the United States” in a “de—Americanized world.”

Even our newest winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics pauses in the midst of the champagne cork-popping to worry out loud. “When I look around,” Robert Shiller says, “I see a great deal of foolishness, and I can’t believe it’s not important economically.”

To say the least. Yet nothing, not even an impending crash of world markets and a panicky Senate, is able to loosen the death grip of the Tea Party on the House throttle.

In these nightmare days, sane Americans may just want to go back to bed and hide under the covers, while the oldest among us keep thinking about those Saturday matinee serials at the movies where you could come back next week and find that somebody or something has braked the train to a screeching stop at the very last minute.

“The Perils of Pauline” was never this nerve-racking.

Update: Surprise, surprise. Congress finally gets back on the track.